Too few Christians have any idea what marriage represents or the significance of its institution in Eden. Marriage either serves God's purposes or it serves man's. If it serves God's purposes it will be a source of joy and strength; if it serves the purposes of individuals it will be a source of constant conflict, as well as personal and social instability.
God created Adam with a purpose; work was given to him before he sinned. God commanded Adam "to dress and keep" the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). Moreover God brought "every beast of the field, and every fowl" to Adam "to see what he would call them." Naming implies more than just a word association; God's work was purposeful. Naming involved understanding and classifying for the purpose of advancing Adam's calling to exercise dominion. Because of Adam's capital of knowledge and understanding, we see his immediate descendants using animals for sacrifice (4:5) and as an economic enterprise (4:40). Civilized behavior and advanced economic activity thus began immediately because of Adam's mature understanding of agriculture (from his dressing and keeping the garden) and animal husbandry. The arts (4:21) and industry (4:22) accompanied the immediate development of urbanization (4:17). Adam's task of naming the animals may have taken a considerable length of time; certainly no zoologist could undertake such a task conscientiously in a brief time frame. We have no idea how long this took; we are only told that in Adam's study of the creatures "there was not found a help meet for him." Thus, God created Eve, also with a purpose, that of being a "help meet" for Adam.
Marriage and Man's Purpose
The purpose of marriage thus begins with man's created purpose, work. Adam worked prior to his marriage to Eve. He thus set the pattern: he showed himself to be a mature and obedient man of God before he took a partner to help him in his work. Marriage is a social unit established to further man's responsibility in his calling, not self-serving ends. Marriage is thus purposeful. This does not mean it is not a source of personal fulfillment, only that such fulfillment is in the context of service to God.
Eve was Adam's "helpmeet" which implies a helper suitable, completing, who could mirror Adam. As Adam was created in the image of God (knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and dominion), Eve was to be a mirroring partner; she reflected what Adam needed. Marriage thus formed a social unit furthering man's calling, work.
The Rhythm of Life
In his joy, Adam declared of his wife, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh." "This is now" can mean, "this is the rhythm." "Bone of my bone" refers to Eve as the structure of his life, and "flesh" refers to life itself.1 Adam was thus saying that his wife was the rhythm of his life's structure in whom he would find his life's context.
Today marriage is seen as a partnering in terms of personal compatibility. But without a larger context of purposefulness, marriage often becomes a shell game of who's fulfilling whose needs. Sinful husbands want wives to fulfill their wants and perceived needs and sinful women want husbands who do likewise. Marriage, then, becomes war or, at best, a peace treaty. Some revolt against such marriages by choosing instead to evade marriage in the single life. God said, however, "It is not good that man should be alone." Evading marriage as an institution is an evasion of maturity and responsibility and God's context for life.
The Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (1932), which my father used in my wedding service and many others, clearly demonstrates the covenantal view of marriage. It includes two sets of vows. I can clearly remember my father's explanation of their significance to Darlene and me, though it was over twenty-six years ago. The first set of vows was offered, in turn, by the groom and bride while facing the minister of God. It represented their covenant before God:
___ wilt thou have this woman [man] to be thy wife [husband], and wilt thou pledge thy troth to her [him], in all love and honor, in all duty and service, in all faith and tenderness, to live with her [him] and cherish her [him], according to the ordinance of God, in the holy bond of marriage?
After this covenant with God was pledged before His minister, the bride was "given away." The father duly endorsed the propriety of and his approval of the covenant by either placing the woman's hand in the groom's or by giving it to the minister of God to do so, adding further solemnity to the next set of vows, the personal covenants. Each would exchange these vows facing one another, for these were personal vows each to the other:
I ___ take thee ___ to be my wedded wife [husband]; and I do promise and covenant before God and these witnesses: to be thy loving and faithful husband [wife], in plenty and in want; in joy and in sorrow; in sickness and in health; as long as we both shall live.
The Marriage Covenant
I have always felt these short vows were particularly beautiful in their elegant style and in their implicit recognition of the double covenant involved in marriage. Marriage is an institution with significance beyond the individuals, who must be called to an understanding of it beyond their own relationship. Marriage must be seen as a personal covenant in terms of a greater covenant before God; it must likewise be governed by a higher law than the fulfillment of personal need. It is an assumption of calling before God and responsibility before Him. Thus, the woman is "given away" to the authority of the husband, and for this reason "a man shall leave his father and mother" (Gen. 2:24). The man leaves the authority of his parents (but not his responsibilities to honor them) and "cleaves" unto his wife. He fully accepts his role as head of the new family, and is directly responsible to God to whom he addressed his vows.
Much has been written in recent years about the personal relationships involved in marriage. Marriage seminars and self-help books tend to emphasize the complexities of understanding one's spouse and responding to them. This is an important aspect of marriage, but not the only one. Personal relationships do not make social institutions and need not be consecrated for "as long as you both shall live" by vows. Marriage is a covenantal relationship which gives us the rhythm and context of life. Personal needs change with time and so personal relationships change, even within a marriage. Our obligation before God, in and through our marriage, however, never changes. That is why we solemnize our vows in the "holy bond" of marriage.
The institution of marriage was made in the Garden before the fall into sin. Sin distorts both men and women from their God ordained purpose and has certainly made the institution of marriage more challenging. The answer to sin, in marriage and elsewhere, is the redeeming power of Jesus Christ, Who makes all things new. If men and women will see marriage in terms of their higher commitment to God, their mutual obligations become clearer, if not easier.
1. R.J. Rushdoony, "The Doctrine of Marriage," Towards a Christian Marriage, (Ross House Books, 1994), Elizabeth Fellersen, ed., 15.
- Mark R. Rushdoony
Mark R. Rushdoony graduated from Los Angeles Baptist College (now The Master’s College) with a B.A. in history in 1975 and was ordained to the ministry in 1995.
He taught junior and senior high classes in history, Bible, civics and economics at a Christian school in Virginia for three years before joining the staff of Chalcedon in 1978. He was the Director of Chalcedon Christian School for 14 years while teaching full time. He also helped tutor all of his children through high school.
In 1998, he became the President of Chalcedon and Ross House Books, and, more recently another publishing arm, Storehouse Press. Chalcedon and its subsidiaries publish many titles plus CDs, mp3s, and an extensive online archive at www.chalcedon.edu.
He has written scores of articles for Chalcedon’s publications, both the Chalcedon Report and Faith for all of Life. He was a contributing author to The Great Christian Revolution (1991). He has spoken at numerous conferences and churches in the U.S. and abroad.
Mark Rushdoony lives in Vallecito, California, his home of 43 years with his wife of 45 years and his youngest son. He has three married children and nine grandchildren.