What Is the Biblical Definition of Marriage?

Two far-from-perfect people are covenanting their life together — in sickness and in health, for better or for worse — until death parts them. What a beautiful picture of Jesus Christ (the groom) and his never-ending love for the Church (the bride).

Robert Hampshire
Husband and wife in a smiling embrace

It is funny how our perception of things changes over time. For example, as a young child, I thought marriage was about this mysterious thing called “love.” Love was a noun, and whether you had it or not was dependent on whether you checked “yes” or “no.”

As an adolescent, I thought marriage was how you had children — the inevitable next step in adulthood (but come to find out there is more to it than just marriage!). In high school, I thought marriage was about the emotion of love — the poetry, the love songs, the warm, fuzzy feelings.

Then, in college, I thought marriage was about service and action — love was a verb. Now that my wife, Rebecca, and I have been married for 12 years, I have discovered that marriage is all of the above (or even more if we consider what the ancient Greeks had to say about it)!

Many of us have different ideas of what marriage is all about. If you have been married for a while, you have probably discovered that your spouse and you have different ideas — which has probably led to more than a few “discussions.”

The Meaning and Purpose of Marriage

There is also an increasing amount of confusion in our culture on the meaning and purpose of marriage. For example, here are some lies that the culture around us says about marriage:

  • Marriage is an old social custom, created by humans.
  • If I choose the right mate, I will have fewer problems.
  • Choosing to not marry will avoid relationship problems.
  • My marriage or my spouse should make me happy.
  • Divorce is sometimes the only option. 

Sadly, the confusion and misunderstandings about marriage have unraveled the beautiful fabric of what God wove together and have distorted the glad harmony and loving, submissive environment that God designed marriage to be.

But if we are honest, even those of us that have a more “traditional” view are also trying to wade through the messiness of relationships. Because of these things, many of us well know what marriage is not… but what is it? Or more than that, what is the biblical definition of marriage?

While we could look to many passages throughout Scripture to answer this question, we will go to the Book of Genesis to see this simple understanding: God gave us marriage to enjoy and display the gospel.

In the very beginning, God formed the first man, Adam, out of the dust and set him over the Garden of Eden. But soon enough, God declared that “it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18, ESV). Adam needed Eve and the nature of humanity required women.

So, to meet his need, God caused Adam to fall asleep so he could perform the first surgery ever recorded by taking a rib from Adam’s side and creating a woman out of it (“woman” meaning “out of the man”). God did not make Eve from Adam’s head to be above him or from his feet to be below him; he made her from Adam’s rib to be beside him and with him.

Then God sets in motion a meaningful event that would eventually become known as “marriage” when he declares: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, ESV).

It must have been a beautiful wedding. God was the matchmaker, the florist, the officiant, and the Best Man. It was the best honeymoon you could imagine: They lived in a garden together (naked), fed each other fruit, and had no distractions. They were each other’s first kiss, hug, handholding, and everything else! They were literally made for each other. They were open, trusting, intimate, unhindered, and totally unashamed.

Adam and Eve did not create their marriage, it was God who drew the blueprint in becoming one-flesh within marriage. This matters because if God gave it and designed it, then he gets to define it.

God’s Ultimate Design for Marriage

Even though sin would later enter in and distort their relationship (Genesis 3) just as it does ours today, God designed marriage in such a way that offers a couple enjoyment through having a deep friendship, being sexually intimate, sharing life-long experiences, and having a family.

Think about it: God made men’s and women’s bodies in such unique ways that even the act of sex brings pleasure. Those are all gifts from our Good Father who designed marriage for us to enjoy.

But marriage is also an allegory that displays the gospel in a significant way. Because of God’s grace, marriage is a “secondary ordinance” that serves as a visual aid and a tangible reminder of the gospel by comparing God’s relationship with us to a husband’s relationship to his wife. The Apostle Paul plainly explains how marriage is more about Christ than us:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32).

Think about it: Two far-from-perfect people are covenanting their life together based on no matter what they have done in the past, no matter what happens in the future, in sickness and health, and for better or worse until they die. What a beautiful picture of Jesus Christ (the groom) and his never-ending love for the Church (the bride).

The fact that marriage is a picture of the gospel is so important, and it is why any other version of or abuse of marriage (homosexuality, pre-marital sex, pornography, divorce, domestic abuse, adultery, etc.) is so destructive — because it distorts the image that marriage was designed to present.

But the closer a marriage looks like God’s design (with limitless love, mutual submission, forgiveness, kindness, selflessness, etc.), the more it presents the gospel to the world.

Its Definition

So, the right definition of marriage matters... a lot! When God, who created us and knows us, created marriage, he created it for our enjoyment and to display the gospel. It is one of the countless ways that God expresses his grace and love to us.

And because of that, a couple that is focused on God will naturally have a more blessed marriage because they are bound together by the strong “three strands” that Solomon talks about in Ecclesiastes 4:12: The husband, the wife, and God.

Photo Credit:© iStock/Getty Images Plus/Jelena Danilovic

Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, and most recently as the Lead Pastor and Planter of Village Church in Churchville, Virginia. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the Gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.

Originally published October 01, 2020.