What Is the Meaning of Marriage?

From the beginning, marriage always signified God’s union with humanity in Christ.

When God created humans in his image, he joined male to female together through marriage. The joining of the sexes carries symbolic meaning that reveals a deep mystery embedded in creation. Paul explains, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). 

 

In Scripture marriage always points to union with God in Christ. In saying this, I want to be quick to affirm that Scripture by no means downplays marriage and family in its natural sense. Far from it, it elevates these things. But its elevation occurs because of marriage’s deepest meaning. From the beginning, marriage always signified God’s union with humanity in Christ.

This is a big claim. So let me cite and comment on a number of biblical passages that, I think, naturally lead to the conclusion that I have stated in my opening sentence. 

Genesis 2

When God created humans in his image, he joined male to female together through marriage. The joining of the sexes carries symbolic meaning that reveals a deep mystery embedded in creation. Paul explains, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). 

In the previous verse, Paul cited Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” So he interprets God’s providential arrangement of the union of the sexes as a mystery. A mystery Paul means, simply put, a previously unrevealed truth about the Gospel.

That is what marriage is. It is a sign that symbolizes the reality of Christ’s union with the church. It points to the reality that “we are members of his body” (Eph 5:30). We have become one flesh with Christ. And through him, we have access to God.  

Sarah And Hagar

Given marriage’s mysterious nature, it makes sense that Paul reads the story of Sarah and Hagar, in the apostle’s own language, “allegorically” (Gal 4:24). The ESV may slightly underplay Paul’s wording here by saying: “Now this may be interpreted allegorically” (Gal 4:24). There is, however, no ambiguity in Greek. Paul cites the story in Genesis 16 and 21, “which is allegorical” (ἅτινά ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα).

To our ears, allegory sounds like an unhitched and unfounded interpretation. Yet for Paul here, that is not the case. He understands that Abraham’s marriage of Sarah and Hagar fulfills not only historical-redemptive promises to Abraham (cf. Gal 3) but also to the mystery of marriage (Eph 5:32). So his allegorical reading of Scripture ties closely to the historical and redemptive storyline of the Bible. 

Abraham married Sarah through whom the Messiah would come to bless the world. But out of a lack of faith, Abraham and Sarah decided to have a child through a slave woman Hagar. Yet as Paul notes elsewhere, only Isaac was the child of promise (Rom 9). And so these two women represent the chosen and non-chosen line for the messiah—the first a free woman and the second a slave woman. 

Read More