This is the first part of a multi-part series on God’s good design for marriage.
It’s no secret that today’s popular culture opposes Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality. The Christian view of marriage has become so incomprehensible in America and throughout Western culture that it is seen as downright offensive. Recent examples include American tech giant YouTube removing a John MacArthur sermon clip on transgenderism as “hate speech,” the Canadian parliament approving a new law which could criminalize preaching and teaching against homosexuality or transgenderism, and Finland’s top prosecutor prosecuting a bishop on criminal charges for publishing a booklet titled, “Male and Female He Created Them.” All that was just last month.
Many Christians are influenced by our culture’s negative view of marriage—and not for the better. But we don’t have to listen to the culture’s lies; we have God’s Word, which is truth. The Bible says a lot about marriage, portraying it in such glorious splendor that the world’s flashy counterfeits look dim by comparison. Every Christian can afford to spend more time tuning out the world and tuning in to God’s Word. That is the goal of this series: to examine God’s good design for marriage, taking as our guide the Word of God itself.
This series will begin, appropriately, in the beginning, by looking at Genesis 1:26-31. Moses wrote Genesis for the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land. Genesis describes God’s promise to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the beginnings of God’s relationship with man. In these verses, God’s creation of the world reaches its crescendo in the creation of man (that is, the race of mankind—men and women). Many Christian doctrines are grounded in these verses, but for the present, let’s consider three specific points.
1. God Created Man
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
Four times in two verses, Moses repeats that God created man. With any human creator, we readily understand that the creator has total power and authority over his creation. He made it, so he decides how it works and what purpose it serves. That is God’s relationship with man, as the frequent analogy of the potter and the clay depicts (Isaiah 29:15-16, Jeremiah 18:1-12, Romans 9:20-21). God has the sole, unquestionable authority and power to determine how mankind works and what purpose we serve. Men may not naturally like that very much, but reality does not conform itself to our desires. We are not gods.
Besides, complaining about God’s authority is foolishness because God’s purposes for mankind are far better than any we could invent for ourselves. We are created “in his own image.” An image, such as we find in a photograph or mirror, is not the thing itself, but it is “like” that thing. It bears a resemblance to it such that an observer can recognize the original in its image. In Genesis 5:3, we find similar language, “When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” Just as a child looks like his parents, so God created man to look like God himself.
These are two ironclad reasons for the dignity of mankind and the sanctity of human life. We are created by God, so anyone who harms or criticizes another human being is harming or criticizing God’s handiwork, God’s prized possession. We bear God’s image, so anyone who harms a person is defacing an image of God’s character.
It’s fair to ask, in what way do humans bear the image of God? After all, “God is spirit” (John 4:24), so he doesn’t have a body like we do. And God is invisible (Colossians 1:15), so to say we literally look like him is nonsensical. The first answer is that, like God and unlike other creatures, we also are spirits. The second answer is that God uses metaphors of the body to describe himself in ways we can understand. In various places, the Bible speaks of God’s eyes (Genesis 6:8), ears (Psalm 18:6), mouth (Numbers 12:8), lips (Job 23:12), face (Matthew 18:10), nostrils (Isaiah 65:5), arm (Acts 13:7), hands (Hebrews 10:31), fingers (Psalm 8:3), back (Exodus 33:23), and feet (Exodus 24:10). Christians don’t understand these passages to mean that God literally possesses all these body parts. Rather, these metaphors describe God’s power in ways we can comprehend. God’s ears refer to what God hears. God’s mouth refers to what God says. Christian meditations on this question could fill libraries (here’s a summary), but, for our purposes, it’s sufficient to establish that God created mankind as an image of himself.
We also read, “male and female he created them.” This phrase helps us to interpret the rest of these verses; when it says God created “man” in his image, we can understand that the text is referring to the creation of both men and women—the entire human race. Another way to say the same thing is that the image of God in mankind is incomplete without considering both male and female. Thus, God’s relationship to his children is explained both as a father (Psalm 103:13) and as a mother (Isaiah 66:13). (This is not to say that God is feminine; God may nurture his children like a mother, but he is their Father (Isaiah 64:8). Scripture exclusively refers to God with masculine pronouns.)
Genesis teaches that men and women are both made in the image of God, and both participate in the inherent dignity of that image. Thus, Christianity has historically taught (usually in opposition to prevailing cultural norms) that men and women possess equal dignity and worth. Moreover, Christians have historically fought to protect the dignity and value of women. This is also why the transgender movement sweeping the Western world cannot be reconciled with Christian teaching. Transgender ideology teaches that gender is a social construct that can be altered and that bodies should be altered to conform to a person’s chosen identity. Christianity teaches that a person’s sex is an innate, immutable characteristic created by God to reflect his character. Thus, cosmetically altering a person’s body is defacing God’s image, lying about his character, and usurping his lordship.
Marriage is implied in this creation of male and female. John Piper writes in This Momentary Marriage, “Marriage is God’s doing because it was his design in the creation of man as male and female.” Jesus himself cites Genesis 1:26 as a prooftext for marriage (Mark 10:6, Matthew 19:4). We’ll explore this more in part two of this series on Genesis 2, where Moses explains that a man and his wife “shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
Mankind exists to portray God’s image as male and female, according to God’s created order. God has the authority to order our lives because he is our maker. But he uses that authority for our good, as we will see in our next point.
2. God Blessed 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.” (Genesis 1:28)
It’s challenging to interpret what Scripture means by the phrase “God blessed them.” Perhaps a rough approximation would be “God made them happy.” The verses that follow explain how, beginning with a succession of imperative verbs: “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion….” If it was unclear from “be fruitful” (the Hebrew word for “offspring” is “seed,” see Genesis 3:15), the use of the word “multiply” makes it clear that God wanted the first human couple to reproduce. Genesis 1 teaches that human reproduction was part of God’s blessing on mankind from the very beginning. And they weren’t told to merely procreate at a replacement rate; they were told to “fill the earth.” Here are two blessings for mankind from God: sex within marriage and, as a result, plenty of children (see Psalm 127:3-5). The culture may mock these truths to its own detriment, but the Bible is very clear on them.
Another part of this blessing is mankind’s role as middle magistrates. God proceeds to tell Adam and Eve to “subdue [the earth]” and “have dominion… over every living thing.” Because of the image of God they bear, they are exalted to a position of authority over the rest of creation (see Psalm 8:5-8). Notice these verbs are all imperatives. While blessings from God, these are also commands from God. Mankind has authority over all creation but is itself under God’s authority. The centurion understood this (Matthew 8:5-13), but Adam and Eve rebelled (Genesis 3:1-7). Learning to live under authority and wielding authority well are crucial aspects of a healthy marriage, as we’ll see later in this series.
3. It Was Very Good
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31)
The last point to consider from Genesis 1 is that everything God made, in his infallible judgment, was “very good.” That includes God’s creation of mankind as male and female in his image, the institution of marriage, and the command to be fruitful and multiply. God designed marriage, and he declared that it was very good.
Perhaps this strikes you as incredible. After all, our world is filled with sad, painful stories of people suffering from spousal abuse, parental abuse, difficult marriages, gender dysphoria, and rebellious children. How could marriage and family relationships, with all the disorder and hurt we see in them, be designed by God and declared “very good”?
First, what we witness today isn’t God’s original design. The Bible explains that our familial relationships are cursed with pain and strife (Genesis 3:16) as the result of our first parents’ rebellion against God (Genesis 3:6). Through their disobedience, sin entered the world, bringing death and suffering along with it (Romans 5:12). As a result of sin, many things God designed for pleasure (like childbearing and marriage) are now full of pain.
But as we struggle against the effects of the curse, we can still affirm that God’s design is good. As we strive to live according to God’s Word, we will come to experience the goodness of his plan. It’s a duty that is filled with pleasure and joy.
Second, God designed marriage for other reasons, which weren’t revealed in Genesis 1. Just because God’s good design for marriage has been sadly marred and warped doesn’t mean that marriage can’t still fulfill some of its good purposes. But that’s for future parts in this series to explore.
Read part two.