A calling from God: the purpose of marriage

My previous AP article considered the connection between marriage and children. It is a sensitive subject, for various reasons. I could have written about love and marriage, but everyone agrees with that. We need to see Scripture’s wider vision.

Scripture teaches that God wants the offspring of Adam and Eve reigning over the earth, to His glory. So God designed marriage, for children.[1] Perhaps this is an uncomfortable truth, but it is biblical, and pastorally important.

Genesis 1–3 is foundational for all of life. It defines marriage as a covenanted relationship, with covenantal commitments. It gives this mission: ‘be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth…’ Without minimising other purposes, the institution exists to transmit and multiply human life. This is love’s natural outcome. ‘Adam with his wife was formed for the production of offspring’ (Calvin).

On textual details, Adam was not ‘lonely’, but ‘alone/single’. He doesn’t merely require emotional needs met. He requires another with whom he can be ‘one-flesh’. This surely involves ‘one-spirit’, but ‘flesh’ is graphic: ‘physically unified’. ‘Comparable to him’ parallels ‘one-flesh’, bookending 2:18–24. Why emphasise physicality? Because fruitfulness is the focus. The helper ‘will bear children’.

Malachi hits the nail on the head. He asks, ‘Why one-flesh?’ The answer: ‘God seeks godly offspring’ (2:15). This parallels Genesis. ‘Godly’ clarifies that children should be raised in the ‘fear and admonition of the Lord’ (Eph 6:4). God ‘instituted marriage, so that legitimate and pure offspring might be brought forth’ (Calvin).

This is big-picture OT teaching. It’s no small point. With Genesis 1–3, Malachi bookends the OT. Both have ‘blessing’, a worldwide family, a pure temple or Eden, a fruitful land, the enemy trampled underfoot, the Messiah, and fruitful marriage.

Are we fulfilling the vision? The Australian birth-rate is about 1.8. This is sub-replacement level. Yet God is looking for a vast number from all nations raised to know His purposes. It requires sacrifice, but has God’s blessing.

Does God change His mind in the NT? Some say that ‘Be fruitful’ is ‘Fulfilled by Jesus’. This sounds good, but is simplistic. Whilst there are exceptions for those with special gifts and ministries, the NT maintains OT-Jewish practice.

The NT repeatedly says ‘one-flesh’. That invokes the whole OT context.

Fatherhood is divine. God is Father (pater), so ‘every family’ is a patria, the ancient, patriarchal household (Eph 3:15).

Motherhood is a virtue. It is assumed, and commanded (Titus 2:4; 1 Tim 5:14). ‘Marry, bear children’. Women are ‘saved through childbearing’ (1 Tim 2:15)—typically a normal part of life in Christ.

Some think Eph 5:22–33 gives marriage an alternative or higher purpose. Marriage mystically illustrates union with Christ. However, Paul denies that marriage is a ‘mystery’ (5:32; not RSV). Union with Christ is mentioned only as a ‘powerful example’ of ‘the obligations of marriage’ (Calvin). Paul speaks similarly of the master-slave relationship.

Marriage elsewhere does illustrate union—but so does a grapevine. God is a rock, too. These are ‘limited, outward allegories’ (Luther).

What of childlessness, and even the ‘natural’ decline of fertility from around the age of 30? This can bring real grief. Is it wrong or hurtful to say that marriage is about children? Actually, the connection helps explain sadness at childlessness. Children are in our DNA, as it were, but the Fall sabotages the creation. The companionship of marriage still gives purpose, and comfort (1 Sam 1:8). It’s still a real marriage: a covenanted relationship.

Some express it this way. In marriage, there is ‘openness to life’. Plan to have children, help with grandchildren, consider adoption and fostering, support other families, and pursue wider service. This honours the creational vision.

Marriage is not about bartered self-fulfilment. It is a covenanted relationship, with covenantal commitments, that seeks the fruit of godly-seed. This is a calling from God.

[1] Research correspondingly shows children are overwhelmingly more likely to be safe in the married-biological-parents family. VoxPoint, May 2016, 7.