What is God’s original design for marriage?
1. Genesis 2:18 highlights the only thing that “is not good” with God’s otherwise perfect Creation, along with God’s solution: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
A helper is someone who supports, aids, and provides assistance to another. Though it may sound demeaning or derogatory to our ears – as if the “helper” is inferior or deficient in some way – it is important to note that the Bible usually uses this word to refer to the way God himself helps his people (e.g. Psalm 121:1-2; Psalm 124:8).
The word “fit” literally means “one corresponding to” or “a complementary opposite.” The Hebrew word speaks of something that is both different and alike at the same time.
Conclusion: The woman (Eve) was the only helper suitable for the man (Adam) because she was both his equal (human) and his complement (male and female). Adam celebrates Eve’s complementary nature in Genesis 2:23, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh [she’s the same as me]; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man [she’s different than me].”
2. Genesis 2:21-22 says God fashioned Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs while he slept. The early Jews noted that God did not form Eve from Adam’s head (to rule him) or Adam’s foot (to be ruled by him), but from his side (to be his equal companion), under his arm (to be protected by him) and near his heart (to be loved by him).
Conclusion: At a minimum, this portrayal of the woman’s creation is meant to symbolize the deep intimacy, companionship, and care that were meant to be enjoyed between husband and wife.
3. Genesis 2:24 states God’s original design for marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Jesus quoted this verse when he was asked questions about marriage and divorce, demonstrating he viewed this as God’s universal and timeless paradigm governing all marriages (e.g. Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9). Jesus adds his own authoritative conclusion: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
The Apostle Paul also quoted this verse in a discussion on marriage, demonstrating that this is God’s universal and timeless paradigm governing all marriages in the New Testament Church (Ephesians 5:31).
Conclusion: From these verses we draw five universal, timeless conclusions:
1) Marriage is a heterosexual relationship.
2) Marriage is an exclusive relationship.
3) Marriage is the priority relationship.
4) Marriage is an intimate relationship.
5) Marriage is a permanent (covenant) relationship.
Given God’s original design for marriage, what does God think of divorce?
1. Malachi 2:14-16 explicitly states that God views divorce as an act of faithlessness, hatred, and violence.
Faithless: To break a vow, to commit adultery, or to betray and act treacherously against someone to whom you owe loyalty.
Hate: Hatred ranges from loathing and hostility on one end of the spectrum to mere indifference and a lack of care on the other. All forms or degrees of hatred are contrary to the call to steadfast, proactive love.
Violence: The emphasis of this word is on the destruction that results from forceful injustice or disobedience.
2. Jesus said divorce is the result of “hardness of heart” (Matthew 19:8; Mark 10:5). Anyone who seeks or encourages divorce without a biblical justification (see below) is resistant to the expressed will of God.
3. Jesus categorically forbids “no fault divorce” without qualification (Matthew 19:3-6; Mark 10:2-9; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
4. The Bible indicates that a legal certificate of divorce, in and of itself, does not terminate the spiritual covenant of marriage (Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:2-3; 1 Corinthians 7:39).
Conclusion: Despite our culture’s very casual attitudes toward marriage and divorce, the Bible is consistently opposed to divorce. If you are divorced, the Bible encourages you to either reconcile with your spouse or to remain unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:11).
In what cases does God permit divorce?
1. Sexual immorality: Though Jesus states an unqualified prohibition on divorce in Mark and Luke, the parallel passage in Matthew offers a narrow “exception clause” that must be considered: “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
“Sexual immorality” includes adultery, but would also extend to other behaviors like fornication, homosexuality, bestiality, and incest. The straightforward meaning of Jesus’ words is that if you are the victim of a spouse’s infidelity, you are permitted to seek a divorce without incurring guilt. The sin of sexual immorality has already violated the sacred and exclusive nature of the marital covenant.
2. Abandonment by an unbelieving spouse: In 1 Corinthians 7:15, the Bible appears to add a second narrow exception to the law forbidding divorce: “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved.”
This verse contemplates what we might call spousal abandonment. If you are married to a non-believer, you should not seek a divorce (1 Corinthians 7:12-14 makes this explicitly clear). But if the unbeliever does not want to be married to you, you are not obligated to preserve the marriage at all costs. The innocent party to abandonment and divorce incurs no guilt, for the act of abandonment has already violated the permanent nature of the marital covenant.
3. What about abuse? Though the Bible does not explicitly address the topic of domestic abuse, it does reveal God’s heart for protecting the vulnerable (Psalm 140:12; Proverbs 31:9) and delivering them from violence (Psalm 18:48; 140:1). A difficult or disappointing marriage is not, in itself, grounds for divorce; indeed, believers can glorify God by enduring unjust suffering (1 Peter 2:19). But it is reasonable for an abused spouse to flee to a place of refuge and safety (both for self and for dependents). The church will do everything in its power to support and protect victims of abuse, while at the same time respecting the marriage bond and not dissolving it without biblical justification.
Conclusion: Though God never commands or encourages divorce, he does seem to permit it under the very limited circumstances outlined above. Even if you are the victim of one or both of these circumstances, God calls you to forgive, which might include reconciliation if your offending spouse repents.
In what cases does God permit remarriage?
1. The Bible permits remarriage if you are a widow or widower (Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7:39; 1 Timothy 5:14).
2. The Bible permits remarriage if you are the innocent party of a permitted divorce (Matthew 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:15).
In what cases does God forbid or discourage marriage/remarriage?
1. A believer is not permitted to marry a non-believer (Deuteronomy 7:3-4; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Stated positively, God requires believers to be married only “in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39).
2. Except for the two narrow exceptions outlined under the previous question (“In what cases does God permit remarriage?”), a divorcee is not permitted to remarry. Jesus plainly calls remarriage following divorce an act of adultery by both parties (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18).
Conclusion: If a church member wants to marry a non-believer or enter into a marriage either with or as a divorcee who does not meet one or both of the exceptions above that would permit remarriage, the church counsels you against that marriage on the authority of God’s Word. No pastor or other official leader will be permitted to provide premarital counseling or officiate a wedding under those circumstances.
If you are already married or remarried under circumstances which the Bible prohibits, we encourage you to confess the nature of what’s happened in the past and to love your current spouse as Christ loves the Church.
If you meet the biblical qualifications for marriage (i.e., you are marrying someone of the opposite sex who is also a believer and is permitted to be married or remarried), we are happy to help you prepare for marriage well. Please follow the procedures outlined on page 1 of these policies.