Marriage – part of God’s good creation
This is section 2 of a series on the Bible and same-gender sexual activity. Here is the series overview.
Genesis 1-2 recounts God’s creation of humans as male and female, along with the union of man and woman in marriage. Both Jesus and Paul see these chapters as foundational for God’s plan for marriage, and they view the marital union described there as a prototype for godly marriages.
Genesis 1-2 is the best place to start in our examination of the Bible’s teaching on same-gender sexual activity: “For the negative prohibitions of homosexual practices in Scripture make sense only in the light of its positive teaching in Genesis 1 and 2 about human sexuality and heterosexual marriage” (John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, 344).
Genesis 1 – God’s Ordered and Purposeful Creation
The whole creation account of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is organized around the “forming” and “filling” of the world, in opposition to the earth being “formless” and “empty” – Genesis 1:2 (see Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 185-186). The first three creation days portray God forming of the world, and the fourth, fifth, and sixth days consist of God filling the world. The creation account emphasizes several points:
- That God creates according to his plans. He speaks, and his intention is fulfilled.
- God’s creation is called “good” and “very good” throughout the account.
- God creates in an ordered way – separating light from darkness and waters from land, creating things “according to their own kinds,” arranging things in seasons and days and years, etc.
For the creation of man and woman, the progression in Genesis 1:26-28 is as follows:
- Verse 26a – God creates man in his image and likeness.
- Verse 26b – Humanity’s relationship to the rest of the created order.
- Verse 27 – God creates man in his image when he creates male and female.
- Verse 28a – The blessing of God – filling the earth through procreation.
- Verse 28b – Humanity’s relationship to the rest of the created order.
Genesis 1:26a introduces the idea of humanity being created in the image of God, which will be explored further in the next section. Verses 26b and 28b are very similar in specifying that humans will govern the earth and its creatures (by ruling wisely on God’s behalf, and not for reckless gain).
The most pertinent sections for our purposes are found in verses 27-28a. Verse 27 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This verse establishes God’s plan for two distinct genders in creation. Man and woman are distinct from one another, but both are made in the image of God. Verse 28 connects this design with the blessing/mandate to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth (which matches the description of the sea creatures and birds of verse 22). There is a close association between gender duality and procreation in the passage (verses 27 and 28a).
Summary: According to Genesis 1:1-2:3, God created humanity as male and female, as part of a good and ordered creation that was meant to fill the earth over time.
A Closer Look at the Image of God in Humanity
Being made in the image of God has several overlapping nuances. It indicates the divinely ordained value of being human (see Gen 6:6; James 3:9), the function of governing the world on God’s behalf (Gen 1:26; Psalm 8), and perhaps the inherent relational nature of humans with God and with one another (if the relational plurality of humans is meant to reflect the relational plurality within the Trinity).
While God made humans in his image, humans also need to be restored to the image of God in Christ (Rom 8:29; Col 3:10), since Christ is the true image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4 and Colossians 1:15). This is made possible when believers become a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and grow into this new creation reality by putting off the old self and putting on the new self, which is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4: 21-24; Colossians 3:9-10).
The image of God reflects the perfection of what humans were called to be. According to the Bible, the standard for perfection is determined not by any innate desire or orientation humans experience, but by the revealed created order God designed before humanity’s fall into sin and by the perfect image and righteousness of Christ.
Genesis 2 – Male and Female Union in Marriage
The passage revisits the creation of the world from a different approach, focusing more on the creation of Adam and Eve. God creates man from the dust, breathes life into him, and puts the man in a garden in Eden. The man’s task is to work the garden and keep it (Genesis 2:15, in contrast to 2:5).
In contrast to the repeated affirmations of the goodness of creation in chapter 1, Genesis 2:18 says it is “not good” for the man to be alone. God decides to “make a helper fit/suitable for him.”
The word for “helper” (ezer) has the notion of “indispensable companion” (see NET Bible study notes).
The word that follows (kenegdo, from a combination of the prepositions ke and neged) is translated in various ways in modern translations:
CEB – “a helper that is perfect for him.”
ESV – “a helper fit for him.”
HCSB – “a helper as his complement.”
NASB, NIV – “a helper suitable for him.”
NET – “a companion . . . who corresponds to him.”
NKJV – “a helper comparable to him.”
NLT – “a helper who is just right for him.”
NRSV – “a helper as his partner.”
The animals are brought to the man for naming. This results in the man seeing his lack of a “helper fit for him.” God makes the woman from the man – “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The woman comes from the man and thus is very similar to him, unlike the animals. But the woman is also different from the man – God did not simply create another man, but he created a woman, who represents a distinct category that is distinguished from “man” throughout the rest of the Bible.
The narrator then explains God’s intention for the partnership between man and woman: the man will 1) leave father and mother, 2) hold fast to his wife, and 3) the two will become one flesh. These are the stated purposes, not just for Adam and Eve, but for all marital unions (see Matt 19:5, Mark 10:7, Eph 5:31).
“Becoming one flesh” follows the man’s exclamation that the woman is “bone of my bone” and “flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23), which is consistent with the way that the woman was made from the man’s physical body in Genesis 2:22. “Becoming one flesh” involves being unified (as “a new family” – NET) and reflecting that union in sexual intimacy (see Paul’s enlistment of that meaning in 1 Corinthians 6:16).
Genesis 2 thus reveals God’s purposeful creation of a woman (and women) to exist alongside and be in relationship with a man (and men) in this world. A central feature of this existence and these relationships is the marital union between a man and a woman.
Genesis 1 and 2 in Jesus’ Teaching about Marriage
In Jesus’ appeal to this passage in Matthew 19:3-12 and Mark 10:2-12 notice that Jesus combines Genesis 1:27 (creation of male and female) with Genesis 2:24 (God’s design for marriage). This indicates that Jesus saw that these two passages belonged together to describe God’s purpose for marriage.
Genesis 1 highlights the creation of male and female – both in the image of God. Genesis 2 focuses on the relational union between male and female in God’s plans. As Gospels scholar R. T. France notes, “This combination results in a compelling sequence of thought: the God who first designed humanity in two sexes also laid it down that those two sexes should come together in an indissoluble union of ‘one flesh’” (France, The Gospel of Matthew, 717).
Jesus moves from creation of male and female to union of male and female in marriage and anchors this union in God’s design (“what therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”) There is also a repetition of “from the beginning” in Matthew 19:4 and 19:8. This shows Jesus’ conviction that any proper view of marriage should be founded upon what God revealed from the beginning, in Genesis 1 and 2.
Though Jesus quoted these passages to emphasize the permanence of marriage, his words also reveal his broader understanding of marriage – that God himself designed marriage to be a permanent union of a man and woman.
Ephesians 5:22-33 – Christian Marriage as a Symbol of Divine Truths
In Ephesians 5 the apostle Paul anchors his teaching on marriage in Genesis 2 when he quotes God’s original plan for marriage (Genesis 2:24). This passage also paints a beautiful picture of the correlation between marriage and Christ’s relationship with the church.
Ephesians 5:22-33 is a passage that follows upon the general command to be filled by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), which manifests itself in a number of ways, including general practices of submitting to one another in our Christian relationships (Ephesians 5:21) and godly attitudes and actions in marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33).
Throughout the passage, the wife’s respect of and submission to her husband is said to correspond to the church’s submission to Christ, and the husband’s sacrificial love is said to mirror Christ’s love for the church. Ephesians 5:32 also directly ties the marriage relationship to Christ and the church: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (ESV).
Marriages are described as being between one man and woman in this passage. Though an emphasis on deep intimacy and others-centeredness characterizes the relationship between husbands and wives, the fact that these are relationships between one man and one woman is not incidental to the passage. Paul reaches all the way back to God’s creation of the world to support his ideas on marriage. In Ephesians 5:31, referring back to Genesis 2:24, a man leaves his father and mother to become joined to his wife, resulting in the two becoming “one flesh.” The original plan for marriage that Paul refers to was the uniting of one man and one woman in a permanent bond.
In this passage marriage is linked to both creation and redemption, two central doctrines of Christianity. The tie to creation is clear from the citation of Genesis 2:24. The connection to redemption is found in the marital love Jesus shows his church – “giving himself up” for the church, for her sanctification and cleansing in holiness. See also the same redemptive language in Ephesians 5:2, where Jesus “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice for God.”
Like Jesus affirmed in Mark 10 and Matthew 19, Paul recognized that marriage was defined by God, according to his terms. In the definitions of Genesis 1-2, Matthew 19/Mark 10, and Ephesians 5 marriage is prescribed as being between a man and woman, who unite together as part of God’s basic order for the world (Genesis 1-2), and unite in Christ to point to Christ’s sacrificial work and the intimate union between Christ and his church.
A note on cultural backgrounds and biblical teachings
Ancient cultural perceptions of men, women, and same-sex practices, while informative when viewed in comparison to biblical teachings, are not directly relevant to the biblical view of same-sex sexual activity. The passages above present God’s intent for marriage apart from any cultural consideration and with universal relevance. The Bible begins with Genesis 1 and 2, which establishes a male-female marriage as the one authorized relationship for sexual union. This male-female union is affirmed in the rest of the Bible, and deviations from this norm are attributed to hard-heartedness (see Jesus’ explanation for the divorce instructions in the Mosaic Law – Matthew 19 and Mark 10), or shown to be harmful (in cases of polygamy) or are outright condemned (prostitution, adultery, same-sex sexual activity, incest). God reveals his plans for marriage clearly and consistently throughout the Scriptures.