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What is Marriage?


by Glenn Stanton

In the Christian worldview and anthropology, it is not possible to consider what it means to be human without considering what marriage is. In God’s creation of Adam and Eve, we do not see just two people – two independent individuals. It may seem this way, but if we pay close attention to God’s narrative, we find they are something much more. They are a union. And in this union they become something that they cannot fully be in their individuality.

In his book, The Nuptial Mystery, Italian theologian Angelo Scola explains this concisely: “The image of God is completed in interpersonal communion.” Austrian theologian Michael Waldstein elaborates in his introduction to Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body:

According to Genesis 2, the creation of human beings reaches its perfection in the communion of persons between man and woman. According to Genesis 1, the image of God belongs to human beings precisely in their perfection. … It follows that the communion between man and woman is part of the divine image. (emphasis added)

Contemporary Orthodox theologian John D. Zizioulas, in his book Being as Communion, adds to this in the recognition that our God is Trinity:

The being of God could be known only through personal relationships and personal love. Being means life and life means communion. … God is a relational being: without the concept of communion it would not be possible to speak of the being of God. … The substance of God … has no … true meaning apart from communion.

This has big implications for being human:

There is not true being without communion. Nothing exists as an “individual,” conceivable in itself. … The person cannot exist without communion.

If we understand anything about what it means to be human, we must know this, as seen in Genesis 2:18 (“It is not good that the man should be alone”). This is precisely what the deeply serious Christian writer John Donne meant in a famous piece of his poetry, “Meditation 17” from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions and Death’s Duel:

No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less …
any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind;
And therefore never send
to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

The happy human life is lived in relation to others. In fact, no human life can be lived or even sustained without communion with others. This is a human universal and a profoundly Christian truth.

And so, the start of all this?

God places the first man and first woman in a relationship right from the beginning, as Jesus tells us (Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-8). It is the most powerful and fundamental relationship that humans can experience, for it initiates all other relationships, doesn’t it? God doesn’t start humanity out as partners in a church or ministry. It is not as business colleagues or as teammates in sports. He doesn’t have Adam and Eve join together in starting an institution of higher learning or a book group, as wonderful as all those might be. Those will come later; but for now, from the beginning, He has something else in mind for them.

The first things we read about Adam and Eve as persons after their appearance in creation are in the following statements:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Genesis 1:28)

And …

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:24-25)

Ideally, this is the relationship from which each of us comes forth, in the full union – emotionally, physically, soulfully, psychologically – of man and woman. And it is out of this love that each of us enters into love; the primary and foundational love of our parents.

Learn more about God’s irreplaceable design in The Family Project® – a 12-session DVD curriculum that explores why God’s plan for families matters today. Take your small group on a life-changing journey to strengthen and encourage families! Get The Family Project® curriculum today.

Glenn Stanton is the director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family, and the co-author/co-creator of The Family Project, as well as the co-author (w/Leon Wirth) of The Family Project book.

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