Marriage and the Family: Biblical Essentials

Marriage and the Family: Biblical Essentials

by Andreas J. Köstenberger, David W. Jones

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ISBN-13: 9781433528590
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 05/31/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 176
File size: 968 KB

About the Author

Andreas J. Köstenberger (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is the director of the Center for Biblical Studies and research professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a prolific author, distinguished evangelical scholar, and editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is the founder of Biblical Foundations, a ministry devoted to restoring the biblical foundations of the home and the church. Köstenberger and his wife have four children.

David W. Jones serves as professor of Christian ethics, director of the ThM program, and associate dean for graduate program administration at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jones is also the author of more than a dozen articles that have appeared in various academic publications and a frequent speaker at churches, ministries, and Christian conferences. He currently resides near Raleigh, North Carolina, with his wife and five children.

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What is God's plan for marriage? There is considerable confusion in contemporary culture regarding the nature of marriage. Only by returning to the biblical foundation for marriage and the family will we be able to rediscover God's good and perfect plan for humanity in this all-important area of our lives. In this chapter, we will survey all the major biblical passages regarding marriage in both Testaments.


Rooted in Creation (Genesis 1–3)

In exploring the biblical teaching on marriage, there is no more important paradigm than God's intended pattern for marriage presented in Genesis 1–3. Although Genesis was originally addressed to Israel's wilderness generation in preparation for entering the Promised Land, the early chapters of this book provide the parameters of the Creator's design for marriage in every age. This is reflected in Jesus's and Paul's teaching and applies to our own age as well. Who is this God who had saved Israel from slavery in Egypt and had given the nation the law at Sinai? What are the foundational teachings on the family, societal structures, and sin?

The first three chapters of Genesis provide answers to these questions, initially from the vantage point of ancient Israel, but ultimately for every person who ever lived. In Genesis 1–3, the God whom Israel had come to know as Redeemer and Lawgiver is revealed as the Creator of the universe, the all-powerful, all-wise, and eternal God who spoke everything there is into being. Marriage is shown to be rooted in God's creative act of making humanity in his image as male and female. Sin is depicted as the result of humanity's rebellion against the Creator at the instigation of Satan, himself a fallen creature, and as becoming so much a part of the human nature that people ever since the fall are by nature rebelling against their Creator and his plan for their lives.

The depiction of the original creation of man and woman and the subsequent fall of humanity in Genesis 1–3 centers on at least three very important clusters of principles: (1) the man and the woman are created in God's image to rule the earth for God; (2) the man is created first and is given ultimate responsibility for the marriage relationship, while the woman is placed alongside the man as his "suitable helper"; and (3) the fall of humanity entails negative consequences for both the man and the woman.

Created in God's Image to Rule the Earth for God

The fact that both men and women are created in the likeness and image of their Creator invests them with inestimable worth, dignity, and significance. God's image in the man and the woman has frequently been identified as conveying their possession of intelligence, a will, or emotions. While this may be implied to some extent in Genesis 1:27, the immediate context develops the notion of the divine image in the man and the woman as indicating representative rule (see Ps. 8:6–8). This rule is the joint function of the man and the woman (note the plural pronouns in Gen. 1:28), although the man carries ultimate responsibility before God as the head of the woman.

Theologians have identified two aspects of the divine image in man: a substantive aspect (that is, an analogy between the nature of God and characteristics of humans), and a functional aspect (humans exercising the function of ruling the earth for God). While a substantive element cannot be ruled out, the functional component seems to reflect most accurately the emphasis in the biblical record. This follows from the immediate context of Genesis 1:27, where creation is defined in terms of being fruitful and multiplying and subduing the earth (Gen. 1:28). The first man and the first woman were thus charged to exercise representative rule in part by procreation.

In this sense, then, human beings are "like God." Just as God rules over a large domain — the whole universe — so humanity is given charge of the entire earth to rule it for God. This also establishes the principle of stewardship: God, not the man and the woman, is ultimately owner of the created realm; the man and the woman are simply the divinely appointed caretakers. Moreover, this stewardship is a joint stewardship shared by the man and the woman. Together they are to exercise it according to the will and for the glory of God. Together they are to multiply and be stewards of the children God will give them. And together they are to subdue the earth by a division of labor that assigns to the man the primary responsibility to provide for his wife and children, and to the woman the care for and nurture of her family.

The Man's Ultimate Responsibility for the Marriage and the Wife's Role as His "Suitable Helper"

The apostle Paul's comments on Genesis 1–3 repeatedly root the man's primary responsibility in both the family and the church in the fact that he was created first. Not only does Paul draw attention to the fact that the man was created first, but he also points out that it is not the man who was made for the woman, but the woman for the man (1 Cor. 11:9; see Gen. 2:18, 20) and from the man (1 Cor. 11:8, 12; see Gen. 2:22). Moreover, the man was the one who received the divine command (Gen. 2:16–17), was presented with the woman (Gen. 2:22), and named the woman with a name derived from his own (Gen. 2:23; see 3:20), which also implies his authority.

While Genesis 1 simply notes the creation of man as male and female in God's image, Genesis 2 provides further detail on the exact order and orientation of the creation of man and woman. At the beginning of human history, God made the first man, endowed him with life, and placed him in a garden (Gen. 2:7–8, 15). Moreover, God addressed to the man certain moral commands (Gen. 2:16–17). Prior to the creation of the woman, the man had already begun exercising the divine mandate to subdue the earth, by naming the animals (Gen. 2:19–20). In order to supply his need for companionship, God created the woman to be Adam's wife.

God's creation of Eve demonstrates that his plan for Adam's marriage, and all subsequent marriages, involves a monogamous heterosexual relationship. God only made one helper for Adam, and she was female. What is more, it was God who perceived Adam's aloneness and created the woman. The biblical text gives no indication that Adam was even conscious of being alone. Rather, God takes the initiative in fashioning a compatible human companion for the man. For this reason we can confidently say that marriage is God's idea and that it was God who made the woman as a "suitable helper" for the man (Gen. 2:18, 20 NIV).

But what is the force of the expression "suitable helper"? On the one hand, the woman is congenial to the man in a way that none of the animals are (Gen. 2:19–20; she is "bone of [his] bones and flesh of [his] flesh," Gen. 2:23); on the other hand, she is placed alongside the man as his associate or assistant. On a personal level, she will provide for the man's need for companionship (Gen. 2:18). In relation to God's mandate for humanity to be fruitful and multiply and to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28), the woman is a suitable partner both in procreation (becoming "one flesh" with him, Gen. 2:24) and in the earth's domestication (Gen. 1:28). Her role is distinct from the man's, yet unique and exceedingly significant. While assigned to the man as his "helper" and thus placed under his overall charge, the woman is his partner in ruling the earth for God.

There are, however, those who would blur the biblical roles of man and woman, or deny the wife's subordination. Yet nowhere is the man called the woman's "helper." Thus equality and distinctness, complementarity and submission/authority must be held in fine balance. The man and the woman are jointly charged with ruling the earth representatively for God, yet they are not to do so as "unisex" creatures, but each as fulfilling their God-ordained, gender-specific roles. In fact, since these functional differences are part of the Creator's design, it is only when men and women embrace their God-ordained roles that they will be truly fulfilled and God's creational wisdom will be fully displayed and exalted.

The Fall of Humanity and Its Consequences

The fall witnesses a complete reversal of the roles God assigns to the man and the woman. Rather than God's being in charge, with the man, helped by the woman, ruling creation for him, Satan, in the form of a serpent, approaches the woman, who draws the man with her into rebellion against the Creator. This does not imply that the woman is more susceptible to temptation than the man. It does indicate, however, that God's plan is to have the man, not the woman, assume ultimate responsibility for the couple, extending leadership and protection to his female counterpart. The man, by his absence, or at least acquiescence (Gen. 3:6: "her husband who was with her"; see Gen. 3:17), shares in the woman's culpability; and she, by failing to consult with her God-given protector and provider, fails to respect the divine pattern of marriage. In the end, it is the man, not the woman, who is primarily held responsible for the rebellious act (Gen. 3:9; see Gen. 3:17; Rom. 5:12–14), though the consequences of the fall extend to the man and the woman alike, affecting their respective primary spheres.

In the case of the woman, consequences ensue in the realm of childbearing and the relationship with her husband. Regarding childbearing, the woman will experience physical pain. As far as the woman's relationship with her husband is concerned, loving harmony will be replaced by a pattern of struggle in which the woman seeks to exert control over her husband, who responds by asserting his authority — often in an ungodly manner by either passively forcing her into action or actively dominating her (Gen. 3:16; see 4:7). The man, in turn, will henceforth have trouble in fulfilling God's command to subdue the earth (see Gen. 1:28). He must extract the fruit of the land from thorns and thistles and eat his bread by the sweat of his brow (Gen. 3:17–19). In the end, both the man and the woman will die (Gen. 3:19, 22).

Nevertheless, God continues to provide for the human couple, clothing them (Gen. 3:21) and, more significantly, predicting a time when the woman's seed — the promised Messiah — will bruise the Serpent's offspring on the head (Gen. 3:15). In the meantime, however, the couple is expelled from the garden (Gen. 3:24) as a sign that their rebellion against the Creator had met with severe sanctions that would cast an ominous shadow on their marriage during their sojourn on earth from that time onward.


Marital Roles according to the Old Testament

Even subsequent to the fall, God's creation design for marriage continues to provide the norm and standard for God's expectations for malefemale relationships. Based on the foundational treatment of Genesis 1 and 2, subsequent chapters of the Hebrew Scriptures provide information on the roles and responsibilities of husbands and wives toward each other. While the reality often fell short of the ideal, this does not alter the fact that the standards that were in place for Old Testament couples and believers were grounded in the pre-fall ideal.

The Role and Responsibilities of Husbands toward Their Wives

The Old Testament does not contain an explicit "job description" for husbands. Nevertheless, it is possible to infer some of the major responsibilities of husbands toward their wives from various portions of the Hebrew Scriptures. Among these are the following: (1) to love and cherish his wife and to treat her with respect and dignity; (2) to bear primary responsibility for the marriage union and ultimate authority over the family; and (3) to provide food, clothing, and other necessities for his wife.

First, a man is to love and cherish his wife and to treat her with respect and dignity. As one endowed with the image of God, commissioned as the man's suitable helper and partner in filling the earth and subduing it, and as his complement provided by God (Gen. 1:27–28), his wife is worthy of full respect and dignity and is to be cherished as his trusted companion and friend. As the foundational creation narrative stipulates, in order to be united to his wife a man is to leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they will establish a new family unit (Gen. 2:24). Part of their marital union will be the procreation of offspring (Gen. 1:28).

Second, from the man's creation prior to the woman, later biblical writers (such as Paul, see 1 Cor. 11:8–9) rightly infer that his is the primary responsibility for the marriage union and ultimate authority over his family including his wife. Consider the following indicators in the opening chapters of Genesis: the man's responsibilities prior to the creation of the woman (Gen. 2:19–20); the man's direct commission by God to keep the garden of Eden and not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15–17); and the man's naming of the woman (Gen. 2:23). While the fall distorted the way in which men exercised their headship in subsequent generations (Gen. 3:16b), men were not to avoid their God-given responsibility to be in charge of their marriage and family and all that this entailed. The man's primary responsibility and ultimate authority is consistently seen in the Old Testament pattern of male heads of households, a system which is commonly called "patriarchy" but which is better described as "patricentrism."

Third, a husband is to provide his wife with food, clothing, and other necessities. While the context is that of a man's responsibilities toward concubines or slave wives, the most important discussion of the husband's duties in this regard is found in Exodus 21:10. This passage stipulates that, "If he [the man] takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights." According to this passage, the husband's obligations toward his wife (and concubines or slave girls) are delineated as involving the provision of food, clothing, and marital rights respectively. This circumscribes the husband's responsibility to provide his wife with peace, permanence, and security (Ruth 1:9 speaks of "rest").

The Role and Responsibilities of Wives toward Their Husbands

Wives' roles and responsibilities toward their husbands were considered to be essentially threefold in ancient Israel: (1) presenting her husband with children (especially male ones); (2) managing the household; and (3) providing her husband with companionship.

Regarding the first wifely duty, that of presenting her husband with children (particularly sons), people in ancient times married in order to have children. In keeping with the belief that fathers lived on in their children, bearing a child was considered to be an act performed by a wife for her husband. Bearing a son was the noblest contribution a wife could make to her husband and her household. Failure to do so, on the other hand, was viewed as a disgrace. Hence, in the book of Genesis we see that Rachel is desperate that she has not yet borne Jacob any children, and when God later enables her to conceive, she interprets this as God having taken away her reproach (Gen. 30:1, 23).

Second, wives were to manage their household, fulfilling the divine mandate of keeping the garden of Eden prior to the fall of humanity (Gen. 1:28; see 2:15). The wife's responsibilities in ancient Israel in this regard included cooking, clothing the family, tending the garden, and harvesting grain. Yet while there was a general division of labor along those lines, the boundaries were not rigid, and some of these activities were not limited exclusively to women. Abraham (Gen. 18:1–8), Lot (Gen. 19:3), and Esau (Gen. 27:30–31) all are shown to be involved in meal preparations in the Old Testament. Wives also were to supervise household servants involved in domestic chores.

Third, in keeping with God's original purpose for creating her (see Gen. 2:18), the wife was to provide companionship for her husband. While legally his subordinate, ideally the wife served as her husband's confidante and trusted friend (see Mal. 2:14). The mutual trust and intimacy characteristic of an ideal marriage is celebrated in the Song of Solomon (e.g., 2:16; 6:3; 7:10).

Violations of God's Ideal for Marriage in Ancient Israel


The history of Israel witnesses repeated instances of polygamy (or, more precisely, polygyny). While it certainly was within the Creator's prerogative and power to make more than one wife for the man, God intentionally made only Eve, revealing to Adam his plan with the words, "A man [singular] shall leave his father his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife [singular], and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). As could be expected, though, after the fall of humanity, God's ideal of monogamy was not consistently upheld. Within six generations, barely after Adam had died, the Bible records that "Lamech took two wives" (Gen. 4:19).


Excerpted from "Marriage and the Family"
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Copyright © 2012 Andreas Köstenberger and David W. Jones.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1 Marriage in the Bible,
2 Marriage and Sex,
3 Family in the Bible,
4 Reproduction and Parenting,
5 Singleness,
6 Homosexuality,
7 Divorce and Remarriage,
8 God, Marriage, Family, and the Church,

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“If you are looking for just another collection of saccharine clichés about shiny happy Christian families, then you might want to leave this volume on the bookstore shelf. In an era when too many Christians listen more intently to television therapists than to the Bible on the question of the family, this could be one of the most significant books you ever read.”
Russell Moore, President, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; author, Onward

“This book is a treasure trove of biblical wisdom on matters pertaining to marriage, child-rearing, singleness, and sexuality. As Western society struggles to preserve a social identity informed by Christian truths, this study reaffirms God’s will for self-understanding and family ties. Readers seeking the whole counsel of God on these matters will find enormous assistance here.”
Robert W. Yarbrough, Professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary

“These days it is important for us to remember that God has something to say about marriage and family. With all of the competing voices insisting on new definitions and unbiblical patterns, Köstenberger has provided the Christian community with an invaluable resource. I heartily recommend it.”
Randy Stinson, Senior Vice President for Academic Administration and Provost, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“With the current attack on marriage and family now raging at a fevered pitch, Köstenberger’s book is a vital resource that should be in the hands of every evangelical.”
Tom Elliff, Pastor, First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Oklahoma

“Anything Andreas Köstenberger publishes is worthy of attention. His international education and experience, his teaching career, and his Christian character make him an author to be read with both care and anticipation. Sensible, balanced, and biblical, this is a sound and timely summary of the Bible’s teaching on some of the most basic and yet controversial topics in today’s world. I highly recommend it.”
Mark Dever, Senior Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington DC; President, 9Marks

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