7 Principles for Marriage and Family Relationships from the Book of Genesis

As the book of beginnings, Genesis has much to say about a multitude of topics, many of which revolve around this year's Evangelical Theology Society conference theme of marriage and family. The purpose of this paper is to discuss seven timeless principles for marriage and family relationships from the book of Genesis. There is nothing particularly profound about these principles from Genesis for the believer. But in a sea of changing opinion on sexual mores and the definition of marriage and family, going back to the beginning provides a foundation for biblical teaching concerning marriage and family that is sadly lacking in today's society. And even the seasoned believer needs to continue to go back to God’s Word to ensure that he or she is on the right path according to God's precepts, not man's. Two presuppositions inform this study. First, Genesis, like the rest of the Scripture, is inerrant and therefore its principles are relevant and authoritative for mankind in any age, including ours. As Andreas Köstenberger has well stated, what is presented here is "what we believe Scripture itself tells us" about marriage and family. This approach "requires a humble, submissive stance toward Scripture rather than one that asserts one's own independence from the will of the Creator and insists on inventing one's own rules of conduct." Given that all full ETS members subscribe to inerrancy, hopefully this presupposition should not come as a surprise to anyone here.

Second, Genesis is not made up of myriads of sources, but is primarily the work of Moses. Sadly, the old JEDP source critical theory of the composition of the Pentateuch (the Documentary Hypothesis, that asserts that the Pentateuch was composed of at least four different written documents authored over 800 years) is not entirely dead in academic circles, but it should be. For criticisms of the theory from an evangelical perspective, see Duane Garrett's Rethinking Genesis. For a moderate critical assessment, see Rolf Rendtorff, The Old Testament: An Introduction. Thus, there are not two different creation accounts, as some incorrectly surmise, with a different (and sometimes contradictory) theological purpose. Genesis 1 gives the overall account of creation, while Genesis 2 fills in further details concerning the creation of man and God placing him in the garden of Eden–all preparatory for the narrative of the Fall in chapter 3.5

With these presuppositions in mind, let us turn to the examination of God's principles for marriage and family demonstrated in the book of Genesis.

Principle #1: Marriage Is a Divine Institution Given by God as a Part of the Created Order.

A first principle seen from Genesis 1 and 2 is that marriage is a divine institution given by God as a part of the created order. Marriage was not "figured out" by man; it was instituted by God right from the start. And it is God's definition that matters, not any later attempts by man to redefine it. Marriage is a part of God's created order as revealed in Genesis 1 and 2. Genesis 1:26–27 states that on the sixth day of creation "God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." Marriage is not specified per se in Genesis 1, but it is clearly instituted in Genesis 2. Genesis 2:18 begins with a striking contrast to the creation account up to this point. Seven times in Genesis 1 God states that His creation was "good" (Heb. תוֺב),6 but now in 2:18 something is "not good" (לֹא-תוֺב). What is "not good" is for man to be alone: "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper corresponding to him." Genesis 2:19–20 makes the point that none of the animals qualify as this helper, so in Genesis 2:21–22 God creates a woman, Eve, out of Adam's rib. All of this work was God's initiative and His design from the beginning. Adam had nothing to do with it!

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