When Marriage is Questioned


Week of February 10, 2019

The Point: Marriage is between one man and one woman for life.

A Wife for Adam: Genesis 2.18-25.

[18] Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” [19] Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. [20] The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. [21] So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. [22] And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. [23] Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” [24] Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. [25] And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.   [ESV]

“A Wife for Adam [2:18-22].  Our passage begins with a statement that by now should be shocking to any careful student of Genesis. Up to this point everything God has done has been good, and God has pronounced His own benediction on it. Here for the first time we find a malediction, something that is not good. God looks at Adam and says, It is not good that the man should be alone [18]. Out of this judgment comes the creation of one who is to be Adam’s wife and companion. The passage concludes, So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man [21-22]. In these verses we learn that the woman was made for man; she was made from man; and she was given to man – the greatest of all God’s gifts. In the next section we find that she was named by man. On the basis of this created order, the later, New Testament instructions for the relationship of a woman and man within marriage and the function of a man and woman within the church are constructed.

Preparation of Adam. God’s creation of Eve is given in the context of a story, and the first part of that story is the preparation of Adam for Eve’s arrival. Adam had been made in God’s image. Nevertheless, God needed to show Adam that in all the created order, with all its variety, there was still at this time no creature suited to be his companion. Adam’s first lesson was to learn to appreciate his wife. What an interesting way God chose to go about it! Apparently God and Adam stood shoulder to shoulder while God caused a great variety of animals and birds to pass before Adam. As they passed by Adam was to study and name the animals. We have already seen that this was no arbitrary naming, as if Adam had merely pulled names out of the back of his mind and slapped them on the animals that went by. Adam was being asked to study the animals, note their nature and relationships, and then name them accordingly. That is, he was being asked to do what is even today one aspect of the work of a biologist. He was to study and categorize and see whether among this vast array of animals there might be one suited to be a helper for him. The results were negative, as God knew they would be: for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him [20]. The reason for this negative result, as Adam no doubt quickly saw, was that none of the animals had been created in the image of God as he had been. They had bodies. In a certain sense they could be said to have souls, for animals have personalities and are aware of their individualities. But the animals did not have spirits and so could not commune with Adam on the spiritual level. Any interaction or fellowship that Adam had with the animals had to be on the animal’s level because the animal can only communicate on that level. Adam undoubtedly saw this in the parade of animals and realized that if he was to have a companion, the companion would have to be specially created by God and in the image of God, as he was. So Adam was prepared for Eve, and Eve was now to be prepared for Adam. She was to be made for him as his ideal counterpart in this world. Children often get into stages in which they are immensely intrigued by riddles, and one of the riddles that intrigues them is: What is most like half of the moon? If a child asks that riddle, the thing to do is guest everything you can possible think of without guessing the answer. What is most like half of the moon? Half of an orange? No. Half of a basketball? No. Half of an Edam cheese? No. You have to mention everything round and orange colored that you can think of. At last you say, “I give up; what is most like half of the moon?” The answer comes back, “The other half of the moon.” Well, that is right. The thing most like one half of the moon is the other half of the moon. So we ask, “What is most like a man?” The answer is: a woman. “And what is most like a woman?” The answer is: a man. Men and women are different. But they are also more alike than anything else in creation.

Made for Adam. Yet in spite of this physical, mental, and moral excellence – far surpassing that of any woman today – Eve was made for the man, as a helper fit for him. In this, among other things, the woman has a clue to her unique position in marriage. This is a point that greatly incenses today’s radical feminists and is sometimes a cause for anxiety even for other women. To speak of woman being made for man, even more to speak of her need to be obedient to the man in marriage, seems to such persons to reek of rank prejudice, inequality, and injustice. These outmoded and obnoxious ideas need to be thrown off; women (like men) need to become autonomous, such persons feel. Here we need clear thinking, and one of the things we need to think clearly about is the meaning of the word “equality.” You cannot talk about this word in general terms. You need specifics. Are men and women equal? It depends on what you are talking about. There are important ways in which men and women are equal. First, they are both created in the image of God. It is this that makes the woman a fit companion for the man (and the man for the woman), and which explains why the animals are not fit companions. Second, they were both placed under the moral command of God and thus given moral responsibility. Third, they were both guilty of disobeying the command of God and were therefore judged by God for their disobedience. Fourth, men and women are alike objects of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Concerning Christian baptism, Paul writes, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus [Gal. 3:28]. Social status, nationality and sexuality are all irrelevant to our qualifications for being members of Christ’s body. Beyond these items, however, equality is nearly an irrelevant concept. In the Bible the human family is introduced as a deliberate parallel to the divine Trinity, and the relationships of husband, wife, and children are similar. Theologians speak of the essential Trinity, which the Westminster Confession of Faith defines as “three persons in the Godhead … the same in substance, equal in power and glory.” They also speak of the economic Trinity in which, although “one in substance, equal in power and glory,” various members of the Godhead deliberately and willingly submit themselves to another in the work of redemption. The Son submits to the Father. The Holy Spirit submits both to the Father and the Son. This relationship is parallel to that of the man and woman within marriage, for as Paul says, the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God [1 Cor. 11:3]. He says the same in Ephesians: Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands [Eph. 5:22-24]. In view of these texts it is difficult to see how so-called “biblical” feminists can insist that these relationships are abolished. They argue that submission is part of the curse, now abrogated by Christ’s atonement. But it is significant that the subordinate relationship of wife to husband is round in Genesis first, not after the fall but before it – in Genesis 2, as we have indicated. We must stress that this relationship is  between a man and woman within marriage and, because of the deliberate divine parallels, within the church, which is the family of God. Nothing in Genesis implies that every woman is to exist for every man, still less be obedient to him. Moreover, even in the case of marriage the submission involved is voluntary. No woman is obliged to accept a proposal. But if she does and if she is a Christian woman, she must know that the pattern for her relationship to that man is found in Genesis 2 where God said that He would make a helper fit for Adam. If she cannot be a helper to her man or does not want to be, the woman should not marry him.

Flesh of My Flesh. The woman is not only made for man, however. She is also made from man, as the account goes on to show in Genesis 2:21-22. Apparently, Adam recognized at once what had happened and declared, This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man [23]. There is something particularly poignant and even poetic about this creation. The woman had been made for man and might therefore be thought by us (thinking now in our fallen sinful state) to be man’s servant. But Genesis has nothing of this. Instead Adam immediately perceives Eve to be his companion and so breaks into verse in celebration of their essential similarity and union.

The First Wedding [2:22-24]. When God brought the first woman to the first man, He did not merely provide Adam with a suitable helper and companion. He also established marriage as the first and most basic of all human institutions. God established a home based on the mutual respect and love of a husband and wife, and all other human institutions came from it. Today marriage is under attack. It is being destroyed, and if marriage falls then all these other institutions – churches, schools, businesses, hospitals, and governments – will inevitably fall with it. It is not difficult to discern directions from which the contemporary attack against marriage comes. There are four. First, marriage is attacked by the rampant hedonism of our age. Hedonism says that the chief goal in life is pleasure and that this is to be pursued regardless of whatever long-range detrimental effects there may be. Generally it denies them. Sex is for fun, says hedonism, and the more of it with the greater variety of partners there may be, the better. Certainly one does not have to be married to enjoy a sexual relationship. The “new morality” says that there are no ethical norms except for the one rather vague norm of love. Anything goes. Anything is permissible “as long as it does not hurt the other person.” Whether it will or not is to be determined solely from the situation. The difficulty, of course, is that it is not so easy to define a situation. A married couple may decide that intercourse outside marriage will not hurt them and that no one else need know. But they cannot be sure that it will not hurt them, and they cannot foresee the consequences that go beyond their own relationship. If nothing else, their decision will change their attitude toward marriage, and that, as I am pointing out, has consequences for the whole of society. A second direction from which an attack on marriage comes is the widespread acceptance of adultery. Indeed, it is worse than acceptance. There is a sophisticated justification for it in the argument that adultery is often a tonic for a lackluster marriage and may well revive it. I have noticed a strange thing about this, however. People who are having affairs readily buy this argument as a defense of their own activity. They feel they are better lovers or at least happier and more interesting spouses to be married to. But when they discover that their spouse has been doing the same thing they are shocked, outraged, wounded and often quickly on the way to the divorce courts. It does not require a great deal of effort to think clearly on this matter. A person simply has to put the burgeoning divorce statistics next to the justification of adultery to see what is wrong. It is not true that adultery helps failing marriages. Adultery actually destroys them. The theory is a lie. No doubt those who want to sin this way and need to justify their conduct will go on believing the lie. But Christians at least should not believe it. Let us stand by the truth and warn even non-Christians of where their sin will lead them. A third source of attack on marriage is the ease of divorce itself, for which our changing social mores and laws are responsible. Which is the better of the two ways? An approach to marriage that recognizes that it is often hard to live together and that therefore determines to work hard to make the marriage viable? Or an approach that demands easy perfection and that is prepared to dissolve the marriage if the perfection is not immediately forthcoming? The second is increasingly common, but it is not for the good of the couple or society. The fourth attack on marriage is more recent and more subtle. It is the legalization of abortion on demand in which abortion is made an exclusively private affair between a woman and her doctor. Why is this detrimental to marriage? It is detrimental because it excludes the father from a decision affecting him from the time-honored obligation and right to defend his child. The conclusion is clear. By upholding the right to kill the newest member of a family, the court makes the state a foe of the family. Marriage, pregnancy, and childbirth act as cohesives holding the family together. Sexual activity separated from the family and from childbearing tends to dissolve the family and destroy other social institutions.

Can We Recover? Is a recovery possible? I do not know. With God all things are possible, but given a fixed set of historical circumstances not all things are – unless there are changes. What I do know is that there will be no recovery unless Christians first recover a sense of what God intends marriage to be and then set about to achieve that in their own lives and communities. The reason I say that Christians are the key to recovery is that only they have a gospel adequate to do what needs to be done. More than anything the innate selfishness of the human heart must be broken. It is a poisonous weed that must be attacked at the root and struck down. That does not happen naturally. It happens supernaturally and then only through the surrender of self to God in salvation. What is most wrong with marriages today, in my opinion, is the love of self that our culture encourages. We put ourselves first. Consequently, if the other person does not contribute to my sense of well-being, serve my goals, and bolster my ego, I am ready to dissolve the relationship. But how does one overcome what is apparently an innate human desire to put oneself first? Humanly speaking, we cannot. But when the love of self is broken at the cross of Christ – when we see ourselves as sinners in rebellion against God and bow before Him – then something happens that inevitably spills over into other relationships. We are less inclined to be self-centered. The second thing that Christians have and others do not, at least to the same degree, is a proper sense of service. We live to serve, not to be served, and for this reason we are willing to submit ourselves to one another within marriage. The husband serves his wife by loving her as Christ loves the church, building her up, and leaving his father and mother in order to live with her exclusively. The wife serves her husband by submitting to him as head of her home. The place husbands and wives learn to do this is in fellowship with Christ, who served us by taking the nature of a servant, assuming human likeness, and humbling Himself and becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross [Phil. 2:8]. Because of Christ, Christians understand service differently from non-Christians. To most non-Christians service means servility; it implies that the one serving is of little or lesser worth. Christians can never think this way. Christ, who has the greatest worth of all, is at the same time the servant. We are being most Christlike when we serve the other person. We can sum up by this statement: A marriage does not exist for me, but for us – for the children and society and for the glory of God. That brings me to my last point, namely, that marriage exists for God’s glory. That is why God instituted marriage. The Bible tells us explicitly that God created marriage in order that by marriage we might understand the most important of spiritual relationships. That is why Jesus is portrayed to us in the Bible as the great bridegroom and husband of the church. It is why we who believe on Him are portrayed as His bride. How are we going to communicate this greatest of all relationships if we who are Christians do not demonstrate it in our marriages? On the other hand, if we do demonstrate it there, then the world around will have a real-life illustration of how God works toward us in Christ to bring us to faith and save us from our sins.”  [Boice, pp. 129-142].

Questions for Discussion: 

  1. Note the Divine initiative in this passage. List what God said and did in these verses. What does this tell you about the importance God places upon marriage and family? Why is it important that God established this order in creation before the fall? (Much of the criticism, even from people who claim to be Christians, against the Biblical position on sexual morality is that the Bible speaks about the custom of the day and not about eternal commandments concerning human sexuality. Thus, if custom changes then sexual restrictions must also change. But, by God setting forth His commandments on human sexuality in the created order before the fall, He is prescribing for His creation the permanent code of behavior that He commands for all His creation.)
  2. What four contemporary attacks on the institution of marriage does Boice give? What consequences for all of society does Boice give as a result of the attacks on marriage?
  3. What hope for recovery does Boice give? What role can the church play in any hope for recovery from the current state of affairs? Pray that God will enable you in your marriage to bring glory to God in the way you honor the institution of marriage that God has blessed us with.


Genesis, vol. 1, James Boice, Baker.

Genesis 1-11:26, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, B & H Publishers.

Genesis, Bruce Waltke, Zondervan.

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