Why does marriage exist? What purpose does it serve? The world offers plenty of answers to these questions, and sometimes Christians can unconsciously adopt them as their own. If we are to have a right view of marriage, then we need to ensure our view matches what the Bible presents. After all, to espouse Christianity is to espouse the Bible’s worldview for all aspects of creation. So what does the Bible say regarding the reason for marriage?
Scripture’s first argument for the creation of marriage is that it was “not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). It is important we understand the nature of Adam’s loneliness in this passage. Adam’s “being alone” stemmed from being placed in the garden, but not having a partner to share with him the joy of working for the Creator (Gen. 2:15, 18). Adam was the one part of creation that could know the Creator intimately, but he had no one else with whom he could share this experience. God therefore created another being in his image, but one that was different than the man. The purpose of this creation, called “woman,” was to be a helper for man—not a servant, but a fellow worker to share in the task of ruling creation in God’s name (Gen. 1:26, 28). Man and woman would thus share in their God-given responsibilities, as well as their joy in knowing the Creator relationally. This mutual sharing of God between the man and woman would be God’s ultimate cure for their loneliness. For this sharing and partnership, God created a special relationship that would cause the two of them to become “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). By being united together in a uniquely designed relationship, God was building into creation a correspondence to his own relationship with his people.
That marriage was meant to point to the divine-human relationship is confirmed in Ephesians 5:22-32. In this passage, Paul says that the relationship between husband and wife should directly correspond to that of Christ and his church. Paul reveals that the statement “they shall become one flesh,” made in Genesis 2:24, ultimately “refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31-32). Paul does not view marriage as a convenient analogy for how marriage should work. Rather, Paul is saying that marriage was designed from the beginning to purposefully correspond to the covenant relationship of Christ and his church. In other words, God was thinking ahead to the relationship of Christ and his church when he created the marital union between man and woman. If we want to understand the “oneness” of the union between Christ and his church, we need only look at its physical correspondent of marriage, which was created with the purpose of giving us that insight. A married couple is therefore a copy and shadow of heavenly things (Heb. 8:5). No wonder Paul said the marriage union is “profound” (Eph. 5:2).
The correspondence between marriage and Christ’s relationship to his church lies in their both being covenant relationships. A covenant is lifelong, with no additions or annulments being made to it after it has been ratified (Gal. 3:15). Only death can annul a covenant (Rom. 7:2). This special type of relationship is founded on the partners’ ongoing devotion to their vow of covenant fidelity. Thus, it is a relationship that can survive any hardship through the partners’ commitment to something greater than themselves. God created marriage to be this type of relationship because this is exactly how God has joined himself to his people—a relationship that is lifelong, and that survives because of God’s perfect commitment to the fidelity of his covenant promises.
Unfortunately, our marriages often fail to live up to the heavenly reality they were created to reflect. Marriage can be the source of pain and frustration, as both man and woman are bound to a covenant partner who is fallible and sometimes hurtful. By going through these frustrations, a married couple experiences the pain God feels at having bound himself to a covenant partner who is never consistently faithful to their covenant promise. And yet God, unlike us, is truly the perfect covenant partner—always faithful, always patient, always loving, and always committed. God is so committed to his covenant promises that he’s already endured the punishment of our covenant infidelity on himself, so that a better and eternal covenant with humanity could be put in place (Heb. 4:14-10:18). Such covenant commitment from our God, in light of our covenant failures, should be our model as we strive to make our marriages more closely reflect their heavenly counterpart of Christ and his church.
Humanity was created for the purpose of being in a covenant relationship with the Creator, and this meets its most glorious expression in Christ and his church. Marriage was purposefully created to correspond to that divine-human relationship. This is its role; this is why God built it into his “good” creation (Gen. 1:31). It therefore serves a purpose greater than our own emotional happiness; though when marriage is properly understood and served by the covenant partners, it will indeed result in emotional happiness. Recognizing why marriage exists will help us understand what we’re doing when we decide to take a spouse, will help us act appropriately in our marriage, and will help us recognize Satan’s lies about marriage within our own society. With this view of marriage as our backdrop, we can answer another question that I’ll address in my next article: why did God create sex?