Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
In Genesis 2:21-25, Scripture records the oldest institution set up by God - Marriage. With Hollywood trying to spread their ideas about marriage, the increase in separations and divorce, the rise in couples simply "cohabitating", and the world's acceptance of queers marrying each other, it is vitally important for Christians to understand and practice what God intended marriage to be. In this lesson we shall study the institution of marriage itself as outlined in the only authority on the subject - the Word of God.
In God's eyes, what constitutes a marriage? What makes two people married? First, we need to understand the parties involved in a marriage. Most people seem to think that a marriage involves two people, but in reality there are three: a man, a woman, and God. Matthew 19:4-6 says that God joins a male and a female into one flesh. One important fact that we better settle in our mind is that God determines whether two people are married and not man. Not only that, God is directly involved.
Therefore, it is not the government that can say two people are married. It is not the preacher's declaration of them being "man and wife". Nor does living together cause a couple to enter the state of matrimony (that is called fornication). Malachi 2:14 deals with a husband and the "wife of thy covenant" (see also Ezekiel 16:8). Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman at which time God joins them into one person.
What is the meaning of this declaration of unity given in Genesis 2:24 and quoted in Matthew 19:5, "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh". The word "cleave" means to "glue together". Yet a man and a woman are not physically glued together into one. Let us consider the reality of this unity:
Why did God make Eve from Adam's rib rather than creating her from dust? Adam clearly recognized that Eve was made from his own body though they were two distinct persons. Yet, in the sight of God they were one person. They were to dwell together and share their life with one another having a single purpose. The Bible does not say that God breathed into Eve a separate life, she was made from a part of Adam. Their union was to be so close that they could consider themselves to be one person, one body, and one soul.
There is a difference in the relationship a man has with his father and mother before and after marriage. When a man and a woman get married, a new family is born. A home does not consist of parents, children, grandchildren, and so on. A home is a husband and wife and any unmarried children they might have. Each family has a unity of its own being distinct and separate from the homes which produced it.
Many times in the Old Testament we find a man married to more than one wife. Even David, a man after God's own heart, had multiple wives. However, this does not mean that God approved of this practice. In fact, in the case of David, this was in direct disobedience to the command of God for kings not to multiply wives to themselves (Deuteronomy 17:17 ). In addition, in almost all of the cases of polygamy found in the Old Testament, there were problems in the home. For example, Sarah and Hagar, Leah and Rachael, Hannah and Peninnah, David's home, and Solomon's all had problems.
How many times can Matthew 19:5 be true, "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh"?
Monogamy has always been God's plan for marriage. Malachi 2:15 is a difficult verse to interpret and one can find several ideas on its meaning. One interpretation is that the question "And did not he make one?" refers to the fact that God made one woman for Adam and that was Eve. God could have easily breathed His spirit into another woman, "Yet had he the residue of the spirit", but He only made one woman. Why? So that man could produce legitimate offspring born in a true and lawful state of marriage, " That he might seek a godly seed".
It is obvious that not too many couples nowadays see any permanency in marriage. Yet this is not something new. Almost 2000 years ago, the Pharisees came to Jesus asking Him about the issue of divorce as recorded in Matthew 19:3-12. The Bible typically uses the phrase "to put away" when referring to divorce. Jesus gave such a clear answer that it is truly a wonder that any one could get the wrong idea. Jesus said, in verse 6, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder". The phrase "put asunder" means to divide or separate. Jesus, God incarnate, said that when a man and woman become one flesh, no man has the right or authority to separate them back into two again. In other words, men and women are not to separate or divorce each other. If you believe in eternal security, you ought to believe in the permanency of marriage (see Ephesians 5:31-32). Only God can separate a man and woman and that is through the death of one of them (Romans 7:2). Marriage is permanent until the death of the husband or wife. While on this topic, we should note also that in heaven, marriage will no longer exist (Matthew 22:23-30). Now, let us answer some objections to this kind of permanency:
Yes, it is true that the Law of Moses contained some instructions on divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and the Pharisees also pointed this out to Jesus. However, Jesus gave a reason for this, "Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so". God never intended for men and women to divorce, but He allows it just as He does other disobedience from His children. God will not keep people from getting a divorce, but to remarry is to commit adultery (Matthew 19:9, Romans 7:3). For those who have been divorced, you ought to stay single or try to reconcile your marriage. For those who have been divorced and remarried, you cannot and should not undo your current marriage. You ought to treat your current marriage as your only marriage and permanent until death!
In Matthew 19:9, Jesus gave an exception to the permanency of marriage saying, "except it be for fornication". First, let us understand the custom of marriage at the time of Christ as illustrated with Mary and Joseph in Matthew 1:18-19. A man and woman were betrothed or espoused before the actual marriage took place. The espousal was considered the beginning of marriage and could only be terminated with a bill of divorcement. During the espousal, the man and woman were legally considered husband and wife, but they did not live together. Now let us understand as well the difference between the words "fornication" and "adultery". Fornication deals with sex between those who are not yet married, while adultery is used when married people are involved. Notice that Jesus used the word "fornication", dealing with sex before marriage, and not "adultery". Putting this together with the custom of the time, Jesus allowed for divorce only during the espousal period and then only when fornication had been committed. So, Jesus was not giving a case for divorce after the marriage had actually taken place. This interpretation is substantiated on the following two grounds. First, Mark's account of this event does not include the exception of fornication (Mark 10:2-12). Second, if the exception were for the case of adultery, it would be an unnecessary exception since adultery was punishable by death (Leviticus 20:10) which would have terminated the marriage anyway.
In 1 Corinthians 7:10-16, Paul also deals with the subject of marriage and divorce. In particular, verse 15 deals with a marriage between a believer and unbeliever saying "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace". First, note that this passage does not say that people who get married before they were saved are not married. Marriage is an institution for the lost and the saved. Also, note that the believing spouse is not given the right to divorce the unbeliever. Of course the believer cannot stop the unbelieving spouse from departing from the marriage. The issue is whether the marriage is considered by God to be dissolved allowing the believer to remarry. The answer is found in verse 11 (and is consistent with the precepts already presented), "But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband." The bondage spoken of in verse 15 is not the marriage ties, it is the turmoil from living with an unbeliever. If an unbelieving spouse departs, the believer is to remain unmarried or seek reconciliation.