Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Brief Look at the Purpose of Marriage

The purpose of marriage as set forth in Scripture is fulfilling the need for companionship. After God created Adam He said “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). Companionship should not be misunderstood. It was not that Adam needed a companion to sit around and wait for him to “get off work” so they could spend time together. No, he needed an ezer kenegdo, a suitable helper, to provide companionship which included assistance in the tasks God had delegated to him.

This companionship is expressed by two other texts which speak of the marriage relationship. In speaking of the adulteress the author write that she forsakes the “companion of her youth” (Prov. 2:17). The Hebrew term translated companion here is used in Proverbs to speak of the intimacy of friendship (cf. Prov. 16:28; 17:9). Here it is a clear reference to her husband, but making the point that she did not merely leave a stale marriage, but an intimately close friendship to pursue sin. This verse portrays marriage as a close intimate companionship, something far beyond a merely physical or infatuous relationship.

The second text which adds another dimension is Micah 2:14. Here the term “companion” is the translation of a different Hebrew term which speaks of unity, coupling, joining. Therefore marriage is not just two people carrying on as individuals, they are united and joined together at the hip, as it were. Therefore the biblical understanding of marriage is that it is a deep, abiding, intertwined relationship of companionship between and man and a woman.

This is in contrast to the Catholic view of the purpose of marriage which highlights the propagation of the human race in order to fulfill Genesis 1:28. Certainly this is a function of marriage, but if it is a purpose of marriage then so is subduing the earth and having dominion over everything that moves in it (which no one suggests). Therefore propagation of mankind is not a purpose for marriage, but a function of it. Furthermore the context of this passage is not marriage itself but the duty of mankind. Exegetically this passage does not refer to marriage at all and it is only from the rest of Scripture that we can limit propagation to marriage. Anecdotally we know that marriage is completely unnecessary for propagation. Not only to animals do it routinely, but it also is occurring more and more around the world. The number of unwed mothers continues to rise as the number of marriages continues to plummet. Therefore marriage is technically unnecessary for propagating the human race.

Another wrong view of the purpose of marriage is that it legitimizes sex. In other words, the sole difference between a married couple and an unmarried is their sexual relationship (i.e. mating). Mating is distinct from propagation because it refers simply to the joining of two people in a sexual relationship. The arguments against this view are similar to the propagation view. Scripture in no place mentions mating as the purpose of marriage, only a function of it (Gen. 2:24). Yet even the concept of mating is unbiblical because it lacks the existence of a deeper relationship. Just as animals mate and are not faithful to one another, so do people mate apart from any level of relationship and without any thought to faithfulness or companionship. In other words, marriage is unnecessary for mating to occur.

Though marriage is not necessary for propagation and mating, marriage is the means by which propagation is fulfilled and in which a deep and meaningful form of mating occurs. But these are not the purposes of marriage. Marriage is first and foremost the solution to the problem that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18).