Male and female he created them
This is part one of a multi-part series on God’s purpose for marriage.
It’s no secret that popular culture today opposes Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality. The Christian view of marriage has become so incomprehensible in America and throughout Western culture that it is considered downright offensive. Recent examples include US tech giant YouTube removing a clip of John MacArthur’s sermon on transgender as ‘hate speech’, Canada’s Parliament approving a new law that could criminalize preaching and teaching against homosexuality or transgender, and Finland’s top prosecutor prosecuting a bishop on criminal charges. the publication of a booklet entitled “Male and female, he created them”. All that was last month.
Many Christians are influenced by the negative view of marriage in our culture, and not for the better. But we don’t have to listen to the lies of the culture; we have the Word of God, which is the truth. The Bible says a lot about marriage, depicting it in such glorious splendor that the flashy counterfeits of the world seem bleak in comparison. Every Christian can afford to spend more time disconnecting from the world and listening to the Word of God. That is the purpose of this series: to examine God’s good purpose for marriage, taking God’s Word itself as our guide.
This series will start, appropriately, at the beginning, looking at Genesis 1:26-31. Moses wrote Genesis for the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land. Genesis describes God’s promise to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the beginnings of God’s relationship with man. In these verses, God’s creation of the world reaches its crescendo in the creation of man (ie the human race – male and female). Many Christian doctrines are based on these verses, but for now, consider three specific points.
1. God created man
Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” Then God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
Four times in two verses, Moses repeats that God created man. With any human creator, we easily understand that the creator has total power and authority over his creation. He did, so he decides how it works and what it’s for. It is God’s relationship with man, as the frequent analogy of potter and clay shows (Isaiah 29:15-16, Jeremiah 18:1-12, Romans 9:20-21). God has the sole and unquestionable authority and power to determine how mankind operates and what it is used for. Men may not naturally like this very much, but the reality does not conform to our desires. We are not gods.
Moreover, complaining about God’s authority is folly because God’s purposes for mankind are far better than anything we could invent for ourselves. We are created “in his image”. An image, such as we find in a photograph or a mirror, is not the thing itself, but is “like” that thing. It resembles him in such a way that an observer can recognize the original in his image. In Genesis 5:3 we find similar language, “When Adam had lived 130 years, he begat a son in his likeness, in his image, and named him Seth.” Just as a child watches to like his parents, then God created man to look to like God himself.
These are two unshakable reasons for the dignity of humanity and the sanctity of human life. We are created by God, so anyone who hurts or criticizes another human being hurts or criticizes the work of God, God’s most precious possession. We bear the image of God, so anyone who harms a person disfigures an image of God’s character.
It is fair to ask, how do humans bear the image of God? After all, “God is spirit” (John 4:24), so he doesn’t have a body like we do. And God is invisible (Colossians 1:15), so to speak, we look like he is foolish. The first answer is that, like God and unlike other creatures, we are also spirits. The second answer is that God uses body metaphors to describe himself in a way that we can understand. In various places the Bible speaks of God’s eyes (Genesis 6:8), ears (Psalm 18:6), mouth (Numbers 12:8), lips (Job 23:12), face (Matthew 18:10), nostrils (Isaiah 65:5), arm (Acts 13:7), hands (Hebrews 10:31), fingers (Psalm 8:3), back (Exodus 33:23) and feet (Exodus 24:10). Christians do not understand that these passages mean that God literally owns all of these parts of the body. On the contrary, these metaphors describe the power of God in a way that we can understand. The ears of God refer to what God hears. The mouth of God refers to what God says. Christian meditations on this question could fill the bookshelves (here is a summary), but, for our purposes, it is enough to establish that God created mankind in his own image.
We also read, “male and female he created them”. This phrase helps us interpret the rest of these verses; when it is said that God created “man” in his own image, we can understand that the text refers to the creation of men and women – the entire human race. Another way of saying the same thing is that the image of God in mankind is incomplete without considering both male and female. Thus, God’s relationship with his children is explained both as father (Psalm 103:13) and as mother (Isaiah 66:13). (This does not mean that God is feminine; God can feed His children to like a mother, but he East their Father (Isaiah 64:8). The Scriptures refer exclusively to God with masculine pronouns.)
Genesis teaches that both men and women are created in the image of God, and both share in the inherent dignity of that image. Thus, Christianity has historically taught (usually in opposition to mainstream cultural norms) that men and women possess equal dignity and worth. Additionally, Christians have historically fought to protect the dignity and worth of women. This is also why the transgender movement sweeping the Western world is irreconcilable with Christian teaching. Transgender ideology teaches that gender is a social construct that can be changed and that bodies must be changed to conform to a person’s chosen identity. Christianity teaches that a person’s sex is an innate and unchanging characteristic created by God to reflect their character. Thus, to cosmetically alter a person’s body is to deface the image of God, to lie about his character, and to usurp his lordship.
Marriage is involved in this creation of the masculine and the feminine. John Piper writes in This temporary marriage, “Marriage is the work of God because it was his purpose in the creation of man as male and female.” Jesus himself cites Genesis 1:26 as proof of marriage (Mark 10:6, Matthew 19:4). We will explore this further in Part 2 of this series on Genesis 2, where Moses explains that a man and his wife will “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
Humanity exists to portray the image of God as male and female, according to the order created by God. God has the power to order our lives because he is our creator. But he uses this authority for our good, as we will see in our next point.
2. God blessed them
And God blesses them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the heavens, and over every animal that moves on the earth. (Genesis 1:28)
It is difficult to interpret what the Scriptures mean by the phrase “God blessed them”. Maybe a rough approximation would be “God made them happy”. The verses that follow explain how, beginning with a succession of imperative verbs: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and rule…”. While it was unclear to “be fruitful” (the Hebrew word for “offspring” is “seed”, see Genesis 3:15), the use of the word “multiply” clearly indicates that God intended the first couple human to reproduce. Genesis 1 teaches that human reproduction was part of God’s blessing on mankind from the very beginning. And they weren’t told to just procreate at replacement rate; they were told to “fill the earth”. Here are two blessings from God for mankind: sex in marriage and, therefore, an abundance of children (see Psalm 127:3-5). The culture may scoff at these truths to its own detriment, but the Bible is very clear about them.
Another part of this blessing is humanity’s role as an intermediary magistrate. God goes on to tell Adam and Eve to “submit [the earth]and “rule…over all living beings.” Because of the image of God they bear, they are exalted to a position of authority over the rest of creation (see Psalm 8:5-8). Notice that these verbs are all imperatives. While the blessings of God are also commands of God. Humanity has authority over all creation but is itself under the authority of God. The centurion understood this (Matthew 8:5-13), but Adam and Eve rebelled (Genesis 3:1-7). Learning to live under authority and exercising authority well are crucial aspects of a healthy marriage, as we will see later in this series.
3. It was very good
And God saw all that he had done, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31)
The final point to consider in Genesis 1 is that everything God did, in his infallible judgment, was “very good.” This includes God’s creation of mankind as male and female in his image, the institution of marriage, and the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. God designed marriage, and he said it was fine.
Maybe that sounds amazing to you. After all, our world is filled with sad and painful stories of people suffering from domestic abuse, parental abuse, difficult marriages, gender dysphoria and rebellious children. How could marriage and family relationships, with all the mess and wounds we see in them, be designed by God and declared “very good”?
First, what we are witnessing today is not God’s original purpose. The Bible explains that our family relationships are cursed with pain and strife (Genesis 3:16) as a result of our first parents’ rebellion against God (Genesis 3:6). Through their disobedience, sin entered the world, bringing with it death and suffering (Romans 5:12). Because of sin, many things that God designed for pleasure (like motherhood and marriage) are now full of pain.
But as we struggle with the effects of the curse, we can still affirm that God’s purpose is good. As we strive to live by the Word of God, we will come to experience the goodness of His plan. It is a duty filled with pleasure and joy.
Second, God designed marriage for other reasons, which were not revealed in Genesis 1. Just because God’s good purpose for marriage has been sadly tainted and distorted does not mean marriage cannot still not fulfilling some of its good purposes. But that’s for future parts of this series to explore.
Read part two.