And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Mark 10:5-9 (ESV)
It doesn’t take a careful look to see that biblical marriage is under attack in our society. Popular culture celebrates every sort of twist and distortion that can be imagined when it comes to the institution of marriage. As a result, it is as important as ever that Christians have a solid biblical understanding of God’s design for marriage. What was God’s intention when he put Adam and Eve together in the garden? What is the biblical purpose of covenantal union between a man and a woman? Why should we promote a biblical view of marriage in our culture? These questions get to the heart of Jesus’ teaching on marriage in Mark 10.
Word always spread quickly when Jesus came around. And, as usual, the Judean crowd gathered to hear him teach. Among the crowd were some Pharisees, who came there to intentionally cause controversy by undermining Jesus’ teaching ministry. And they knew how to cause controversy. Their question had to do with whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus answered their question with a question of his own and asked them what the Bible said about it. The Pharisees went to Deuteronomy 24:1, which indicated that a man could divorce his wife after giving her a certificate of divorce. But Jesus not only knew the scriptures, he also understood them and told the Pharisees that that very law was given because of their hard hearts. That is, God understood the reality of human sin, and gave that command in order to keep sin in check. A faithless husband could not just throw out his wife after tiring of her. If he could, she would be left unable to remarry, without provision, and unlikely to last very long. The command was intended to protect a woman by restricting the sin of her unfaithful husband.
Jesus’ point is that the command in Deuteronomy does not represent God’s ideal design for marriage. Rather, it is a concession given the reality of sin and abusive situations in marriages. Jesus goes on to make his point with regard to God’s ideal for marriage by quoting from Genesis 1 and 2, and the point Jesus wants to make is this:
God’s intends marriage to magnify the glory of his image.
To make this point, Jesus first quotes from Genesis 1:27, “from the beginning of creation God made them male and female.” This verse heavily emphasizes that God deliberately placed his image on the male-female relationship. Three times in verses 26 and 27, humankind is said to be made in God’s image. And, as Jesus points out, this image is specially seen in the covenantal relationship between a man and his wife. Nothing else in creation bears the image of God as do the man and the woman. God made them to magnify the glory of his image into the world that he had made.
To make his point further, Jesus quoted from Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2 gives some extra detail on God’s creation of the man and the woman. God made Adam first and then Eve. When God presented Eve to her husband (note that God gave away the first bride), he exclaimed, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (2:23). This may sound strange to our modern ears, but ancient Hebrew readers would have recognized it as a vow of loyalty (see 2 Samuel 19:12-13). This was the first wedding vow. Adam is saying, “Your blood runs in my veins, and I’ll be loyal to you no matter what.”
The key thing to see is that God brings the man and woman together and establishes a covenantal relationship between them. Thus, from Genesis 1 and 2, we can see that marriage is the union of one man and one woman in a lifelong covenant of loyalty, and it is upon this covenantal relationship that God has placed his very own image.
If the covenant relationship between a man and a woman is intended to magnify the glory of the image of God, then it follows that any perversion of this relationship distorts the glory of the image of God. Any attempt to establish this covenant between any combination of people other than one man and one woman means that God’s image and his glory are trampled in the mud underfoot. Further, to engage in sexual activity with someone with whom there is no marriage covenant detracts from the glory of God’s image as well.
This approach to marriage should also help us understand why God has put such careful boundaries around marriage and human sexuality. This relationship bears his image. God has put up boundaries to protect his glory and his image. It’s easy to see why marriage is under attack on every front. Our enemy would love nothing more than to mar the glory of the image of God. If he can destroy marriage, he tarnishes one of the chief ways God displays the glory of his image.
Jesus’ comments on divorce make excellent sense in light of his quotes from Genesis 1 and 2. If the glory of God’s image is on display in biblical marriage, then for one partner to break the marriage vow and divorce the other is to distort God’s image. When we are unfaithful to our marriage vows, we make God appear unfaithful as well.
Most people buy into the lie that marriage is about personal fulfillment, about finding that one person who will make me happy for the rest of my life. Jesus teaches that marriage is primarily about God and the display of the glory of God’s image. Marriage is not about our satisfaction but about magnifying God’s glory. The best thing is that when we magnify the glory of his image as he has designed, we will be most satisfied. God intended marriage to magnify the glory of his image; we will be most satisfied in our marriages when God is most glorified in them.