2017 Christian Book Award Winner for Bible Study
"This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church."
Marriage reveals something of eternal significance. From the beginning, God designed marriage to convey a greater reality—the passionate, unfailing, redeeming love of God for sinners, the eternal romance between Christ and his bride. In this volume, Ray Ortlund traces marriage throughout Scripture—from the first marriage in the garden of Eden to the ultimate marriage in the book of Revelation—laying out a transcendent vision of marriage that dignifies our own imperfect unions as a display of the gospel. This book offers insight and hope to every married person today.
Part of the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series.
About the Author
Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) serves as senior pastor of Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is an editor for the Knowing the Bible series and the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, and is the author of several books, including Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. Dane lives with his wife, Stacey, and their five children in Naperville, Illinois.
Miles V. Van Pelt (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Alan Belcher Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages, academic dean, and director of the Summer Institute for Biblical Languages at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson. He also serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Reformed Church in Madison, Mississippi. He and his wife, Laurie, have four children.
Read an Excerpt
Marriage in Genesis
If the Bible is telling us the truth about reality, then we have a way to account for the whole of our human experience — both our grandeur and our squalor. The Bible explains both at a radical level. All our personal stories, with both our glory and our shame, began in the garden of Eden. We are all rooted that deeply. The book of Genesis gives us the categories we need if we are going to understand how we went so wrong and whether we have any future worth living for. I agree with Francis Schaeffer:
In some ways these chapters [in Genesis] are the most important ones in the Bible, for they put man in his cosmic setting and show him his peculiar uniqueness. They explain man's wonder and yet his flaw.
We have good reason, therefore, to consider carefully the early insights of Genesis into ourselves in general and marriage in particular.
The biblical love story begins on a grand scale: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). The story ends on an even grander scale: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away" (Rev. 21:1). The first cosmos was created as the home of a young couple named Adam and Eve. The new cosmos will be created as the eternal home of the Son and his bride. It is not as though marriage is just one theme among others in the Bible. Instead, marriage is the wraparound concept for the entire Bible, within which the other themes find their places. And if the Bible is telling a story of married romance, no wonder that the demonic powers would forbid marriage (1 Tim. 4:1–5). Every happy marriage whispers their doom and proclaims Christ's triumph.
Grandeur sets the tone of the first creation in Genesis 1. God speaks, and light springs into existence out of nothing but vast darkness. God speaks into reality, into shape and fullness and color and life, both heaven and earth, lands and seas, plants and animals. As the creation account concludes, a new universe sparkles through God's creative word. But the whole would have been incomplete without this climactic act of divine goodness:
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Gen. 1:26–28)
The Genesis account of human origins dignifies us all. In the ancient Babylonian creation story, man is degraded. The god Marduk addresses his father Ea:
Blood I will mass and cause bones to be,
I will establish a savage, "man" shall be his name.
Verily, savage-man I will create.
He shall be charged with the service of the gods That they might be at ease!
As the lackey of minor gods who are discontented with their lot, man exists to perform their menial tasks for them "that they might be at ease." But in the biblical vision, man is lifted into both royal activity (Gen. 1:26–28) and Sabbath rest (Gen. 2:1–3; Ex. 20:8–11).
Genesis 1:26–28 makes three assertions about humanity. First, God created man as uniquely qualified to rule over his creation. In verse 26, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" means that God made us for the exalted purpose of representing him. We are images of God — but not in a literal, physical way, as little statues of God. God is spirit, not limited by a body (Deut. 4:12; John 4:24). So God has no edges, no bulk. But we do image God in that we were created to stand for God and to advance his purposes here in his world:
Just as powerful earthly kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erect an image of themselves in the provinces of their empire where they do not personally appear, so man is placed upon earth in God's image as God's sovereign emblem.
The animals are to be identified "according to their kinds" (Gen. 1:21, 24–25). But mankind, and mankind alone, stands tall as royalty "in the image of God." We find our identity not downward in relation to the creation but upward in relation to God. And the glory of the divine image extends to every one of us: "In ancient Near Eastern texts only the king is in the image of God. But in the Hebrew perspective this is democratized to all humanity." All mankind, equally together, was created for the high and holy purpose of bringing the glorious rule of God into the world.
Second, God created man in the dual modality of male and female. Verse 27 is the first poetry in the Bible, rhapsodizing on God's creation of mankind. And the verse's joy comes to a focal point here: "male and female he created them." Nowhere else does the creation account of Genesis 1 refer explicitly to sexuality. Animal reproduction is assumed, but human sexuality is celebrated, though its deeper meaning is not yet explained. The Babylonian version of creation does not even mention the creation of the two sexes, but the Genesis account glories in "male and female he created them." To Genesis and to Jesus, it was highly meaningful that "he who created them from the beginning made them male and female" (Matt. 19:4). The rest of the Bible will explain that meaning with increasing clarity, taking us into the very heart of the story.
Third, God created man under divine blessing, actively promoting man's glorious destiny. The introductory "And God blessed them," heading verse 28, covers all that God declares in the rest of the verse about humanity fruitfully multiplying and universally ruling. In verse 22, God spoke blessing out over the lower creation: "And God blessed them, saying ..." But here in verse 28, God speaks his blessing to us personally and directly: "And God blessed them. And God said to them ...," authorizing both male and female to rule, to develop successful human cultures, to leave a mark on the world for the glory of God, all under the smile of God's blessing.
To sum up: Genesis 1 presents the newly fashioned world in its pristine beauty, with mankind as male and female, robed in royal dignity, together stewarding God's wondrous creation for the display of his glory. The Old Testament asserts the greatness of the trust we received: "The earth he has given to the children of man" (Ps. 115:16). The first claim of the Bible, then, setting the stage for marriage, is that manhood and womanhood are not our own cultural constructs. Human concepts are too small and artificial a context for the glory of our sexuality. Manhood and womanhood find their true meaning in the context of nothing less than the heavens and the earth, the cosmos, the universe, the entire creation. That is the first claim of the biblical love story.
Now, if we were reading the Bible for the first time, what question might we ask, as Genesis 1 concludes? Turning the page to chapter 2, we might wonder what kind of sequel could match or exceed the glories of the first chapter. But, in fact, what happens next in the biblical story? After the heavens and the earth come together in the first creation, a man and a woman come together in the first marriage. Surprisingly, the Bible moves from cosmic majesty in Genesis 1 to a common everyday reality in Genesis 2: a young couple falling in love. So we might wonder if marriage is out of its depth here alongside the creation of the universe. Or could it be that the Bible sees in marriage more than we typically do? For now, we will put that question on hold, as we attend first to what Genesis 2:15–25 clearly teaches about marriage.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (Gen. 2:15–17)
Now the Bible's range of vision narrows to a localized focal point: the garden of Eden, where the "male and female" of Genesis 1:27 appear as Adam and Eve. As for Adam, on the one hand, we can see here that he was not a caveman. Verses 15–17 show that his world was not crude and primitive. God put him in an environment rich with potential, available for enjoyment and worthy of his thoughtful effort. God's first commandment, emphatically stated, was strikingly open and generous, in keeping with Adam's royal status over the lower creation: "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden." But on the other hand, Adam was not a god. God defined him as responsible to his Creator. Adam was charged by God to develop the garden — "to work it," presumably until the entire world would grow to become an Edenic kingdom of God's glory. Moreover, Adam was to guard the garden from all evil: "... and keep it." That Hebrew verb reappears in Genesis 3:24: "... to guard the way to the tree of life." God did not explain what kind of threats evil and death are. Rather, the divine warning stands in verse 15 "like a door whose name announces only what lies beyond it," so that Adam had to obey God's command as a matter of trust. Adam's role was to assert and enjoy his sovereignty under God, cultivating the garden into an expanding paradise and protecting it from all harm.
But, surprisingly, in this Eden of rich resources and splendid potential, in this paradise unharmed by evil and death, God puts his finger on something that is wrong:
Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." 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. 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. 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. 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."
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Gen. 2:18–25)
Out of something "not good," God creates something very good. This is how the Bible begins to explain the meaning of marriage. God's assessment in verse 18, "It is not good that the man should be alone," is not what we expect in the perfect garden. But his assertion is blunt. "Not good" is stronger in force than a neutral lack of goodness; "not good" is emphatic, definitely bad, a minus factor. But how could it be otherwise? "Love is God's nature, a fundamental characterization of his Trinitarian being." The Bible helps us see that we live in a universe where ultimate reality is relational. For this man to be alone in a world created and ruled by the God who is love — the very fact that it is a perfect world makes his aloneness unthinkable. Therefore, God says, "I will make him a helper fit for him."
"A helper fit for him" is a delicately nuanced, two-sided statement about the man and the woman as originally created by God. On the one hand, the woman is the man's helper. But the word helper cannot imply inferiority, for God himself is our helper: "Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life" (Ps. 54:4). Nor can the word helper suggest dependence, for man and woman are obviously interdependent (1 Cor. 11:11–12). But the word helper does cohere with the fact that God created the woman for the man (1 Cor. 11:9). Verse 18 literally says, "I will make for him a helper fit for him." The woman was made to complement and support the man and to strengthen his exertions for God in this world. The man needed a companion like himself, and yet unlike himself, as the friend and ally he could absolutely depend on. The woman completed the man, and he knew it, for he greeted her with relief: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gen. 2:23). The New Testament will go on clearly to name the man as "head" (1 Cor. 11:3). But his impact for God would be diminished if he were to remain alone without the strong help of a strong woman. He needed her high-capacity contribution. Unified as head and helper, the man and the woman together can prosper as noble servants of their Creator.
The insight offered here by the Bible is bold. It is saying that the delicate interplay between male head and female helper is not a mutation in human social evolution, to be replaced by later developments; it is a stroke of divine genius, original to our existence. Rightly understood and beautifully lived out, God's wise creation of head with helper is a permanent and glorious reality, not arbitrary or eccentric but traceable even up into ultimacy: "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). Headship did not come down to us historically as an artifact of oppressive patriarchy; it began in heaven and came down into this world creationally as a pathway to human flourishing. The evils of domination and slavery we invented (Ex. 1:13; 2:23). But the head-with-helper dance of complementarity sprang from deep within the intuitions of God himself. We men and women today do not automatically know the steps to this dance. We must learn. But if we will receive it by faith, trusting in the goodness and wisdom of God, we can then explore its potentialities for joyful human magnificence.
At our moment in time and culture, far advanced in the downward slide of Adam's fall, we today might find the head-with-helper arrangement between husband and wife incomprehensibly foreign. We might desire to replace it with strict mutuality, as if man and woman were interchangeable. But a forced blending of gender identities and roles tends toward a more calculating, hair-splitting, political settlement. Biblical complementarity is the arrangement most conducive to being swept away into a wildly glorious romance. Moreover, before we give up on God's design as unworkable, we must understand that all aspects of manhood and womanhood, with marriage and sex and intimacy — these now fragile glories of human existence, were not created for this broken world. They were created for a perfect world, a safe world, far from our own, and are now brutalized and vandalized, partly by being misjudged. My iPhone, for example, is amazing communications technology. And that is what human sexuality is — amazingly sophisticated communications technology. But if I use my iPhone to hammer nails, I will damage it. It was never built to hammer nails. It was built for something far more gentle, and the more effective for being gentle. The only arrangement for sex and marriage that has any chance of working today is that which moves toward restoring our Edenic origins. If we modern Western egalitarians can hold our emotional horses long enough to imagine how a woman might be dignified by helping a worthy man who loves her sacrificially, as both the man and the woman humbly pursue the glory of God together, the profile of man and woman that blessed us in Eden will start looking more plausible as an approach to human happiness today.
On the other hand, "a helper fit for him" asserts the equal worth of the woman. She is fit for him, that is, corresponding to him, on his level, eye-to-eye as his equal, since both equally bear the divine image. The woman is not the man's property or prize of war or political pawn or even, yet, the mother of his children. The woman matters in her own right as the man's unique counterpart, the only one in all the creation who corresponds to him. The man and the woman need and benefit from each other mutually. Their gifts and abilities differ, even widely, but to the advantage of both. The totality of each one's full potential nets out as equal with the other in its capacity to reflect the glory of God, the man in his own way, the woman in her own way. Therefore, between the man and the woman as created by God, personal worth is not stratified to the diminishing of either. Sam Andreades articulates a biblical understanding with wise nuance:
Gender comes in specialties. Specialties are things we all might do sometimes, but the specialist focuses on especially doing them. We may do many things for each other that are the same, but the gender magic happens when we lean into the asymmetries. Just as, physically, both males and females need both androgen and estrogen hormones, and it is the relative amounts that differ in the sexes, so the gender distinctives are things that both men and women may be able to do, and do do, but when done as specialties to one another, they propel relationship.
When we trust God enough to accept his account of manhood and womanhood, the relational quality of our marriages today can open up to deeper possibilities than we could ever create out of our own personal or cultural narratives.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel"
Copyright © 2016 Raymond C. Ortlund Jr..
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 Genesis 15
2 Marriage in the Law, Wisdom, and Prophets 57
3 Marriage in the New Testament 79
4 Marriage in the World Today 111
For Further Reading 118
General Index 119
Scripture Index 124
What People are Saying About This
“The widespread tendency to treat the Bible as if it has been dropped straight down from heaven into the hands of the individual believer significantly inhibits the life and hampers the mission of the church. This series of Short Studies in Biblical Theology holds important promise of helping to remedy this situation with its goal of providing pastors and their congregations with studies of key biblical themes that will foster a growing understanding and appreciation of the redemptive-historical flow and Christ-centered focus of Scripture as a whole. I look forward with anticipation to the appearance of these volumes.”
—Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Emeritus, Westminster Theological Seminary