Introduction to the Marriage Covenant by Jack Kettler
This study will look at the biblical basis of marriage and the divine plan for marriage. As will be seen, there is significant development of the marriage institution in redemptive history. This study is merely an introduction to the subject of marriage.
Old Testament Scriptures:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28)
“And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore, shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:22-24)
The first thing to note is that God is the creator of male and female. Secondly, it is God’s plan for them to multiply or reproduce. Third, God creates the woman out of the man.
Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers perfectly explain verse 24 of Genesis 2:
“(24) Therefore shall a man leave . . . These are evidently the words of the narrator. Adam names this new product of creative power, as he had named others, but he knew nothing about young men leaving their father’s house for the wife’s sake. Moreover, in Matthew 19:5, our Lord quotes these words as spoken by God, and the simplest interpretation of this declaration is that the inspired narrator was moved by the Spirit of God to give this solemn sanction to marriage, founded upon Adam’s words. The great and primary object of this part of the narrative is to set forth marriage as a Divine ordinance. The narrator describes Adam’s want, pictures him as examining all animal life, and studying the habits of all creatures so carefully as to be able to give them names, but as returning from his search unsatisfied. At last, one is solemnly brought to him who is his counterpart, and he calls her Ishah, his feminine self, and pronounces her to be his very bone and flesh. Upon this, “He who at the beginning made them male and female “pronounced the Divine marriage law that man and wife are one flesh.” (1)
New Testament Scriptures:
“Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:6)
From Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on Matthew 19:6:
“5. And said, for this cause—to follow out this divine appointment.
shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?—Jesus here sends them back to the original constitution of man as one pair, a male and a female; to their marriage, as such, by divine appointment; and to the purpose of God, expressed by the sacred historian, that in all time one man and one woman should by marriage become one flesh—so to continue as long as both are in the flesh. This being God’s constitution, let not man break it up by causeless divorces.” (2)
“Husbands love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it… So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.” (Ephesians 5:25; 28)
The Pulpit Commentary on Ephesians 5:25:
“Verse 25. – Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for her. The husband’s duty to the wife is enforced by another parallel – it ought to correspond to Christ’s love for the Church. This parallel restores the balance; if it should seem hard for the wife to be in subjection, the spirit of love, Christ-like love, on the part of the husband makes the duty easy. Christ did not merely pity the Church, or merely desire her good, but loved her; her image was stamped on his heart and her name graven on his hands; he desired to have her for his companion, longing for a return of her affection, for the establishment of sympathy between her and him. And he gave himself for her (comp. ver. 2), showing that her happiness and welfare were dearer to him than his own – the true test of deep, real love.” (3)
There is a clear parallel between husbands and wives and Christ and His Church. This parallel alone makes the marriage covenant more than a mere social contract.
“Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.” (1Timothy 3:2 ESV)
One notable development in the New Covenant is the abandonment of polygamy that was seen in the Older Covenant. In some instance in church, history polygamy has been tolerated depending on unique situations.
Comments on contracts and covenants:
A deal or contract is between two humans and agreed upon with legal measures to enforce such agreements.
In contrast, marriage is far more than a human social contract; it is a divinely instituted covenant.
What is a covenant? It is a contract between two parties with God as a witness.
In light of this, Christian marriage does not make two people mere associates like business partners; they are joined together and recognized as one with God and His Church are the witnesses.
Since marriage is a covenantal agreement, in many ways, it mirrors a church membership or baptismal covenant.
The following entry on marriage provides much-needed material on marriage and development in redemptive history.
Marriage from Fausset’s Bible Dictionary:
“The charter of marriage is Genesis 2:24, reproduced by our Lord with greater distinctness in Matthew 19:4-5; “He which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain, shall be one flesh.” The Septuagint, and Samaritan Pentateuch reads “twain” or “two” in Genesis 2:24; compare as to this joining in one flesh of husband and wife, the archetype of which is the eternally designed union of Christ and the church, Ephesians 5:31; Mark 10:5-9; 1 Corinthians 6:16; 1Corinthians 7:2. In marriage, husband and wife combine to form one perfect human being; the one is the complement of the other. Christ makes the church a necessary adjunct to Himself. He is the Archetype from whom, as the pattern, the church is formed (Romans 6:5). He is her Head, as the husband is of the wife (1Corinthians 11:3; 1Corinthians 15:45). Death severs bridegroom and bride, but cannot separate Christ and His bride (Matthew 19:6; John 10:28-29; John 13:1; Romans 8:35-39).
In Ephesians 5:32 translated “this mystery is great,” i.e. this truth, hidden once but now revealed, namely, Christ’s spiritual union with the church, mystically represented by marriage, is of deep import. Vulgate wrongly translated “this is a great sacrament,” Rome’s plea for making marriage a sacrament. Not marriage in general, but the marriage of Christ and the church, is the great mystery, as the following words prove, “I say it in regard to (eis) Christ and in regard to (eis) the church,” whereas Genesis 2:24 refers to literal marriage. Transl. Ephesians 5:30, “we are members of His (glorified) body, being (formed) out of (ek) His flesh and of His bones.” Adam’s deep sleep wherein Eve was formed out of His opened side, symbolizes Christ’s death, which was the birth of the spouse, the church (John 12:24; John 19:34-35). As Adam gave Eve a new name, ‘ishah, “woman” or “wife” the counterpart of iysh, “man” or “husband,” so Christ gives the church His new name; He, Solomon, she, the Shulamite (Song of Solomon 6:13; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:12).
The propagation of the church from Christ, as that of Eve from Adam, is the foundation of the spiritual marriage. Natural marriage rests on the spiritual marriage, whereby Christ left the Father’s bosom to woo to Himself the church out of a lost world. His earthly mother as such He holds secondary to His spiritual bride (Luke 2:48-49; Luke 8:19-21; Luke 11:27-28). He shall again leave His Father’s abode to consummate the union (Matthew 25:1-10; Revelation 19:7). Marriage is the general rule laid down for most men, as not having continency (1Corinthians 7:2; 1Corinthians 7:5, etc.). The existing “distress” (1Corinthians 7:26) was Paul’s reason then for recommending celibacy where there was the gift of continency. In all cases his counsel is true, “that they that have wives be as though they had none,” namely, in permanent possession, not making idols of them.
Scripture teaches the unity of husband and wife; the indissolubleness of marriage save by death or fornication (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9; Romans 7:3); monogamy; the equality of both (iysh) and (ishah) being correlative, and she a “help-meet for him,” i.e. a helping one in whom as soon as he sees her he may recognize himself), along with the subordination of the wife, consequent on her formation subsequently and out of him, and her having been first to fall. (1Corinthians 11:8-9; 1Timothy 2:13-15.) Love, honor, and cherishing are his duty; helpful, reverent subjection, a meek and quiet spirit, her part; both together being heirs of the grace of life (1Peter 3:1-7; 1Corinthians 14:34-35). Polygamy began with the Cainites. (See LAMECH; DIVORCE; CONCUBINE.) The jealousies of Abraham’s (Genesis 16:6) and Elkanah’s wives illustrate the evils of polygamy. Scripture commends monogamy (Psalm 128:3; Proverbs 5:18; Proverbs 18:22; Proverbs 19:14; Proverbs 31:10-29; Ecclesiastes 9:9).
Monogamy superseded polygamy subsequently to the return from Babylon. Public opinion was unfavorable to presbyters and women who exercise holy functions marrying again; for conciliation and expediency sake, therefore, Paul recommended that a candidate should be married only once, not having remarried after a wife’s death or divorce (1Timothy 3:2; 1Timothy 3:12; 1Timothy 5:9; Luke 2:36-37; 1Corinthians 7:40); the reverse in the case of young widows (1Timothy 5:14). Marriage is honorable; but fornication, which among the Gentiles was considered indifferent, is stigmatized (Hebrews 13:4; Acts 15:20). Marriage of Israelites with Canaanites was forbidden, lest it should lead God’s people into idolatry (Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3-4). In Leviticus 18:18 the prohibition is only against taking a wife’s sister “beside the other (namely, the wife) in her lifetime.”
Our Christian reason for prohibiting such marriage after the wife’s death is because man and wife are one, and the sister-in-law is to be regarded in the same light as the sister by blood. Marriage with a deceased brother’s wife (the Levirate law) was favored in Old Testament times, in order to raise up seed to a brother (Genesis 38:8; Matthew 22:25). The high priest must marry only an Israelite virgin (Leviticus 21:13-14); heiresses must marry in their own tribe, that their property might not pass out of the tribe. The parents, or confidential friend, of the bridegroom chose the bride (Genesis 24; Genesis 21:21; Genesis 38:6). The parents’ consent was asked first, then that of the bride (Genesis 24:58). The presents to the bride are called mohar, those to the relatives’ mattan. Between betrothal and marriage all communication between the betrothed ones was carried on through “the friend of the bridegroom” (John 3:29). She was regarded as his wife, so that faithlessness was punished with death (Deuteronomy 22:23-24); the bridegroom having the option of putting her away by a bill of divorcement (Deuteronomy 24:1; Matthew 1:19).
No formal religious ceremony attended the wedding; but a blessing was pronounced, and a “covenant of God” entered into (Ezekiel 16:8; Malachi 2:14; Proverbs 2:17; Genesis 24:60; Ruth 4:11-12). The essential part of the ceremony was the removal of the bride from her father’s house to that of the bridegroom or his father. The bridegroom wore an ornamental turban; Isaiah 61:10, “ornaments,” rather (peer) “a magnificent headdress” like that of the high priest, appropriate to the “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6); the bride wore “jewels” or “ornaments” in general, trousseau. He had a nuptial garland or crown (Song of Solomon 3:11, “the crown wherewith His mother (the human race; for He is the Son of man, not merely Son of Mary) crowned Him in the day of His espousals”); and was richly perfumed (Song of Solomon 3:6). The bride took a preparatory bath (Ezekiel 23:40). This is the allusion in Ephesians 5:26-27; “Christ loved … gave Himself for the church, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church not having spot.”
The veil (tsaip) was her distinctive dress, covering the whole person, so that the trick played on Jacob was very possible (Genesis 24:65; Genesis 29:23); the symbol of her subjection to her husband’s power, therefore called “power on her head” (1Corinthians 11:10). (See DRESS.) Our “nuptials” is derived from nubo, “to veil one’s self.” She also wore girdles for the breasts (“attire,” kishurim) which she would not readily forget (Jeremiah 2:32). Also a gilded or gold “crown” or chaplet (kullah), a white robe sometimes embroidered with gold thread (Revelation 19:8; Psalm 45:13-14) and jewels (Isaiah 61:10). Late in the evening the bridegroom came with his groomsmen (“companions,” Judges 14:11; “children of the bride chamber,” Matthew 9:15), singers and torch or lamp bearers leading the way (Jeremiah 25:10), the bride meantime with her maidens eagerly awaited his coming.
Then he led the bride and her party in procession home with gladness to the marriage supper (Matthew 25:6; Matthew 22:1-11; John 2:2; Psalm 45:15). The women of the place flocked out to gaze. The nuptial song was sung; hence in Psalm 78:63 their maidens were not praised in nuptial song (Hebrew) is used for “were not given in marriage,” margin. The bridegroom having now received the bride, his “friend’s joy (namely, in bringing them together) was fulfilled” in hearing the bridegroom’s voice (John 3:29). Song of Solomon 3:11, the feast lasted for 7 or even 14 days, and was enlivened by riddles, etc. (Judges 14:12.) The host, not to wear was an insult to him that provided wedding garments. Large water pots for washing the hands and for “purifying” ablutions were provided (Mark 7:3).
These had to be “filled” before Jesus changed the water into wine; a nice propriety in the narrative, the minor circumstances being in keeping with one another; the feast being advanced, the water was previously all emptied out of the water pots for the guests’ ablutions (John 2:7). Light is thrown upon Egyptian marriages by a translation of an Egyptian contract of marriage, by Eugene Revillout. It is written in the demotic character upon a small sheet of papyrus, No. 2482, Cat. Egyptien, Musee du Louvre. It is dated in the month of Choiach, year 33 of Ptolemy Philadelphus, and the contracting parties are Patina, son of Pchelkhous, and the lady, Ta-outem, the daughter of Rehu. The terms of the deed are singular as to the dowry required on both sides, together with the clauses providing for repudiation.
After the actual dowry is recited, the sum being specified in shekels, the rights of the children which may hereafter come from the marriage, as well as the payment of the mother’s pin-money, are secured by the following clause: “thy pocket money for one year is besides thy toilet money which I give thee each year, and it is your right to exact the payment of thy toilet money and thy pocket money, which are to be placed to my account, which I give thee. Thy oldest son, my oldest son, shall be the heir of all my property, present and future. I will establish thee as wife.” Practicing in marriage law in Egypt was one of the priestly functions; for at the conclusion the contract states that, “the writer of this act is … the priest of Ammon Horpneter, son of Smin.” The bridegroom was exempted from military service for a year (Deuteronomy 20:7; Deuteronomy 24:5).
Women in Scripture times were not secluded as now, but went about married and single with faces unveiled (Genesis 12:14; Genesis 24:16; Genesis 24:65). Some were prophetesses, as Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, and took part in public concerns (Exodus 15:20; 1 Samuel 18:6-7; Abigail, 1Samuel 25:14-25). The duties of husband and wife are laid down (Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19; Titus 2:4-5; 1Peter 3:1-7). Brawling wives stand in contrast to the model wife, God’s gift (Proverbs 19:13; Proverbs 21:9; Proverbs 21:19; Proverbs 27:15; Proverbs 31:10-31). (On the spiritual harlot, see BEAST and ANTICHRIST.) Woman, harlot, bride, and ultimately wife, i.e. Christ’s church in probation, the apostate church, and the glorified church, form the grand theme of the Bible from first to last. Israel had God for her “husband,” she became a harlot when she left Him for idols (Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:1; Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 3:8; Jeremiah 3:14).
Again, Jehovah is to reunite Israel to Him as His earthly bride, as the elect church is His heavenly bride (Isaiah 54:5, etc.; Isaiah 62:4-5; Hosea 2:19; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:9; Revelation 22:17). The Father prepares for His Son the marriage feast (Matthew 22:1-14). The apostate church, resting on and conformed to the godless world is the harlot riding on the beast and attired in scarlet as the beast. God’s eternal principle in her case as in Israel’s and Judah’s shall hold good, and even already is being illustrated in Rome’s being stripped by the world power; when the church sins with the world, the world the instrument of her sin shall be the instrument of her punishment (Ezekiel 23; Revelation 17:1-5; Revelation 17:16-18).” (4)
KJV Dictionary Definition: marriage:
“MAR’RIAGE, The act of uniting a man and woman for life; wedlock; the legal union of a man and woman for life. Marriage is a contract both civil and religious, by which the parties engage to live together in mutual affection and fidelity, till death shall separate them. Marriage was instituted by God himself for the purpose of preventing the promiscuous intercourse of the sexes, for promoting domestic felicity, and for securing the maintenance and education of children.
Marriage is honorable in all and the bed undefiled. Heb.13.
- A feast made on the occasion of a marriage.
The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king, who made a marriage for his son. Matt.22.
- In a scriptural sense, the union between Christ and his Church by the covenant of grace. Rev.19.”
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXIV:
Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time. 
Scripture Proof Texts 1. Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6; Rom. 7:3; Prov. 2:17.”
This section of the confession represents New Covenant redemptive history development and is the doctrinal position of conservative Reformed Churches.
In light of recent ungodly trends in the society and the courts, churches should twice before performing marriages for those who are not members of the church. Doing this may put a church in an untenable position if refusing to perform same-sex marriage contracts.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) And “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
- Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Genesis, Vol.1, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 22.
- Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 935.
- H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Ephesians, Vol.20., (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 212.
- Fausset, Andrew Robert M.A., D.D., Marriage, Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, 1878
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: THERELIGIONTHATSTARTEDINAHAT.COM
For more study:
Something Greater Than Marriage; A Response to the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Decision: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/something-greater-than-marriage/