What Does the Bible Say About Marriage?

Why Marriage Matters in the Christian Life

What Does the Bible Say About Marriage?
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Marriage is an important issue in the Christian life. Vast numbers of books, magazines, and marriage counseling resources are dedicated to the subject of preparing for marriage and marriage improvement. A search of Amazon turned up more than 20,000 books on overcoming marital problems and improving communication in marriage.

But have you ever wondered what the Bible says about marriage? A quick Scripture search reveals more than 500 Old and New Testament references to the words "marriage," "married," "husband," and "wife."

Christian Marriage and Divorce Today

According to statistical analysis done on various demographic groups, a marriage starting out today has about a 41 to 43 percent chance of ending in divorce. Research gathered by Glenn T. Stanton, Director of Global Insight for Cultural and Family Renewal and Senior Analyst for Marriage and Sexuality at Focus on the Family, reveals that evangelical Christians who regularly attend church divorce at a rate 35% lower than secular couples. Similar trends are seen with practicing Catholics and active mainline Protestants. In contrast, nominal Christians, who seldom or never attend church, have higher divorce rates than secular couples.

Stanton, who is also the author of Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in Marriage in Postmodern Society, reports, "Religious commitment, rather than mere religious affiliation, contributes to greater levels of marital success."

If a genuine commitment to your Christian faith will result in a stronger marriage, then perhaps the Bible really does have something important to say on the subject.

What Does the Bible Say About Marriage?

Obviously, we can't cover all 500-plus verses, so we'll look at a few key passages.

The Bible says marriage was designed for companionship and intimacy.

The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him'...and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh.

Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man.' For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. Genesis 2:18, 21-24, NIV)

Here we see the first union between a man and a woman--the inaugural wedding. We can conclude from this account in Genesis that marriage is God's idea, designed and instituted by the Creator. We also discover that at the heart of God's design for marriage is companionship and intimacy.

The Bible says husbands are to love and sacrifice, wives are to submit.

For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of his body, the church; he gave his life to be her Savior. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives must submit to your husbands in everything.

And you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God's word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man is actually loving himself when he loves his wife. No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church. And we are his body.

As the Scriptures say, "A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one." This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. Ephesians 5:23-32, NLT)

This picture of marriage in Ephesians expands into something much broader than companionship and intimacy. The marriage relationship illustrates the relationship between Jesus Christ and the church. Husbands are urged to lay down their lives in sacrificial love and protection for their wives. In the safe and cherished embrace of a loving husband, what wife would not willingly submit to his leadership?

The Bible says husbands and wives are different yet equal.

In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands, even those who refuse to accept the Good News. Your godly lives will speak to them better than any words. They will be won over by watching your pure, godly behavior.

Don't be concerned about the outward beauty ... You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God ... In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat her with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God's gift of new life. If you don't treat her as you should, your prayers will not be heard. (1 Peter 3:1-5, 7, NLT)

Some readers will quit right here. Telling husbands to take the authoritative lead in marriage and wives to submit is not a popular directive today. Even so, this arrangement in marriage typifies the relationship between Jesus Christ and his Bride, the church. 

This verse in 1 Peter adds further encouragement for wives to submit to their husbands, even ones who don't know Christ. Although this is a difficult challenge, the verse promises that the wife's godly character and inward beauty will win her husband over more effectively than her words. Husbands are to honor their wives, being kind, gentle, and understanding.

If we're not careful, however, we'll miss that the Bible says men and women are equal partners in God's gift of new life. Although the husband exercises the role of authority and leadership, and the wife fulfills a role of submission, both are equal heirs in God's kingdom. Their roles are different, but equally important.

The Bible says the purpose of marriage is to grow together in holiness.

1 Corinthians 7:1-2

... It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. (NIV)

This verse suggests that it is better not to marry. Those in difficult marriages would quickly agree. Throughout history it's been believed that a deeper commitment to spirituality can be achieved through a life devoted to celibacy.

This verse refers to sexual immorality. In other words, it is better to marry than to be sexually immoral. But if we elaborate the meaning to incorporate all forms of immorality, we could easily include self-centeredness, greed, wanting to control, hatred, and all of the issues that surface when we enter into an intimate relationship.

Is it possible that one of the deeper purposes of marriage (besides procreation, intimacy, and companionship) is to compel us to confront our own character flaws? Think of the behaviors and attitudes we would never see or face outside of an intimate relationship.

If we allow the challenges of marriage to force us into self-confrontation, we exercise a spiritual discipline of tremendous value.

In his book, Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas asks this question: "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" Is it possible that there is something much more profound in the heart of God than simply to make us happy?

Without a doubt, a healthy marriage can be the source of great happiness and fulfillment, but Thomas suggests something even better, something eternal--that marriage is God's instrument to make us more like Jesus Christ.

In God's design we are called to lay down our own ambitions to love and serve our spouse. Through marriage we learn about unconditional love, respect, honor, and how to forgive and be forgiven. We recognize our shortcomings and grow from that insight. We develop a servant's heart and draw closer to God. As a result, we discover true happiness of the soul.