God’s Design for Marriage Is Good

Returning to a biblical, creational view of marriage.

by Lita Sanders on June 4, 2024

Today, many Christians struggle to defend God’s design of marriage. The so-called “intolerance” of the Bible against homosexual practice and a whole range of “queer” behaviors and self-identifications is a major reason why many younger people discount Christianity. However, this gender free-for-all has resulted in all-time-high levels of mental illness, suicide, and the medical problems that come with unnecessary, risky, and experimental “gender confirmation” surgeries and hormone treatments.

As people recognize the false promises and permanent damage of this movement, we can be prepared with a grace and truth-filled response from a biblical foundation of marriage.

Compromise Started Long Before Gay Marriage

Long before gay marriage or all manner of trans and queer identities, no-fault divorce turned marriage from something that was expected to last as long as both people lived to an agreement that could be unilaterally terminated anytime for any reason or none at all. When one school of rabbinic thought tried to do that in Jesus’ day, Jesus’ strong rebuke was that “from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8). Heterosexual divorce and serial monogamy was the first step in devaluing marriage, first leading to an increasing number of people living together before, or without even intending, marriage.

If marriage then was just a romantic relationship recognized by certain tax benefits, it made sense for an increasingly godless society to ask why homosexual couples, or even polygamous arrangements, should be excluded from these tax benefits.

Whenever someone challenges the ease with which anyone can get divorced today, there are always many stories where divorce was necessary for a particular situation—and the Bible itself recognizes that those cases exist. But in many cases, divorcees can say things like, “I still love him, I’m just not in love with him” or “She just wasn’t my soulmate.” It is possible to recognize the sad exceptions are needed for reasons of adultery, abandonment, or abuse while criticizing divorce where both spouses agree that no covenant-breaking sin occurred.

Back to Genesis

In Genesis, God first created Adam, but his being alone was the first thing in creation that God called not good

If we want to meaningfully respond to this cultural madness and offer an alternative based in reality, we must go back to God’s design, which is rooted in his creation of man and woman. In Genesis, God first created Adam, but his being alone was the first thing in creation that God called not good. After a repetition of God’s evaluation of his creation as “good” and finally “very good” in Genesis 1, this is meant to be jarring to the ears of the reader. God knows something is still incomplete, but Adam doesn’t yet—so God shows him with an object lesson.

When God paraded various land animals in front of Adam, it was immediately apparent that none of these were comparable to Adam nor were they fit to be a helper for him. God put Adam to sleep and removed a rib and flesh to create Eve.

God described Eve as an ezer kenegdo, ezer meaning a helper—and since Scripture uses ezer for God himself, this term does not denote inferiority. It is also used for military assistance (Isaiah 30:5; Ezekiel 12:14; Hosea 13:9).1 Kenegdo means “corresponding to him,” that is, not superior and not inferior, but equal to him.2 So God created Eve to be the necessary counterpart to Adam, a partner, helper, and even rescuer to help him in their mandate to rule creation and to multiply.

One Flesh Marriage

When Adam is introduced to Eve, he breaks into the first poetic outburst of Scripture. After all the unsuitable creatures he’s seen, she is finally “flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone” (Genesis 2:23). A definition of marriage follows—a man will leave his parents, cleave to his wife, and become one flesh with her.

While the definition of marriage in Genesis is simple, it also excludes many errors. Marriage is between a man and a woman—the “one flesh” union is not possible for homosexual couples. Marriage is also between one man and one woman—polygamy distorts the “one flesh” union by expecting the man to be “one flesh” with more than one woman. It is also expected to be for life—if one flesh is cut apart, that is an amputation, a tragedy that is only undertaken in the most severe circumstances.

Marriage in a Fallen World

After the fall, it didn’t take long for marriage to be affected. God pronounced that the marriage relationship would be characterized by desire and ruling where before there was perfect harmony (Genesis 3:16). In Genesis 4, Lamech is the first recorded polygamist with two wives, Adah and Zillah, and the illicit marriages between the “sons of God” and “daughters of men” were a sign of how wicked the culture had gotten by Noah’s day (Genesis 6:1–2). After the flood, apparently wife-stealing was common enough that Abraham told Sarah to lie twice about her relationship to him (Genesis 12:11–13; Genesis 20:2), and Isaac did the same with Rebekah (Genesis 26:7). And when childbearing was an issue, Sarah (Genesis 16:3), Rachel (Genesis 30:3), and Leah (Genesis 30:9) all had their husbands take concubines to bear children for them.

In the Mosaic law, God made laws to give some protections in marriage. Women were expected to be virgins upon marriage, unless otherwise disclosed, and fraud in this respect was strictly punished (Deuteronomy 22:21), as was adultery after marriage (Deuteronomy 22:22). Wives were entitled to provision and protection and could not be neglected if the husband took another wife he liked more (Deuteronomy 21:10–11). And if a man determined to divorce his wife, he had to give her a bill of divorce that freed her to marry another. There were also limitations on how closely related a husband and wife could be and a prohibition of a man marrying a woman and her sister (Leviticus 18:18).

Various rabbinic schools interpreted the divorce laws differently. One school interpreted them strictly and said that divorce was only valid in cases of immorality like adultery or premarital indecency that was discovered after the marriage. The other school said that divorce could be for any reason at all, for something as frivolous as burning dinner or finding a younger, prettier wife to marry instead.

Jesus turned the whole argument on its head. He said that divorce was not part of the original design for marriage, but God gave those laws because of sin, because of “the hardness of your heart” (Matthew 19:8). God’s original intention was for marriage to be a lifelong loving relationship between husband and wife, but sin made it necessary to include a mechanism for dissolution that would have never happened except for sin.

Marriage in Christ

Christians are called to a higher standard in marriage. Husbands are called to love their wives sacrificially, as Christ loves the church. Wives are called to submit as the church submits to Christ. Together, they are called to bear and raise godly offspring. In addition, all of the “one anothers” that Christians are commanded in relation to each other apply in a marriage where the husband and wife are fellow believers.

Of course, Christians are still sinners, and husbands and wives see each other’s sin more than anyone else. When there is a commitment to continual repentance and sanctification, the forgiveness and encouragement of husbands and wives to each other can help spur each other on to being conformed in the image of Christ.

Unfortunately, sometimes there are patterns of sin that are more extreme and abusive, and when repentance does not happen and reconciliation is impossible, such as in cases of physical abuse, unfaithfulness, and other covenant-breaking actions, divorce remains in place as an extreme measure to mitigate the hardness of heart of the unrepentant spouse. This route should only be taken as a last resort in consultation with one’s pastors, counselors, and other professionals. It should be noted that God, who hates divorce, spiritually divorced unfaithful Israel when they persisted in their spiritual adultery with false gods.

Divorce should be a sad exception to the rule among Christians, whose marriages serve as a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church. In the resurrection, there will only be one marriage—the marriage of Christ to his bride, the church.

Returning to a Christian View of Marriage

Christians have an opportunity to respond with a view of marriage that is inherently challenging, because we’re all sinful.

Social media is full of people who are realizing that various types of postmodern relationships do not lead to fulfilling, stable partnerships. The “trad wife” phenomenon is one response that seems promising on the surface, but if it stops at making and baking homemade sourdough bread, it is just another distraction from the real problem. Another response is the “red pill” masculinity that sometimes goes as far as to shun women entirely, which is no better than if God had left Adam alone in Eden.

Christians have an opportunity to respond with a view of marriage that is inherently challenging, because we’re all sinful. Christ’s disciples even questioned whether it was a good idea to get married, given his elevated standards (Matthew 19:10)! But it is also inherently fulfilling because it follows God’s design for us.


  1. Gordon Wenham, Genesis, Word Biblical Commentary, p. 68.
  2. Victor Hamilton, Genesis, New International Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 175.


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