The Bible almost begins with marriage. Almost, but not quite. Before the book of Genesis tells about the creation of Adam and Eve and about the establishment of marriage, it first gives us a big a big picture of the creation of the whole world. The question we need to ask ourselves is 'how does marriage fit into God's purposes for creation?'
As we read through Genesis 1 a common thread can be established concerning the role of each of the living things that God creates. Vegetation, birds, fish, and the beasts of the earth are all called to multiply and fill their designated realm on earth. Likewise, man is also called to multiply and to fill the earth. However, being made in God's image, man has the additional responsibility of exercising dominion or stewardship over the earth and over the creatures on it. The role of mankind to multiply and to exercise proper dominion over the earth is often described by theologians as the 'creation mandate' or 'cultural mandate'.
In light of this 'creation mandate' drawn from Genesis 1 it can be easily seen why it was not good for man to be alone. A helper was needed in order to fulfil the mandate to multiply and exercise dominion. Thus, Eve was created and we see the first mention of marriage in Genesis 1:24.
Mankind's ability to fulfil the 'creation mandate' was adversely affected when sin entered the world as detailed in Genesis 3. The task of multiplying was made difficult through the coming of pain in childbearing. Likewise, the exercising of dominion too was made difficult as man was destined to subdue the earth only through painful toil. In the latter part of Genesis 3:16 we also see the effects of sin on marriage as it describes friction in the man-woman relationship.
So as we come to the end Genesis 3, we must raise a few important questions. 'How will man's purpose of dominion be achieved now that it is marred by sin?' And 'with the effects of sin, what does it now mean for dominion and marriage?'
Marriage and Dominion in the Old Testament
The adverse effects of sin on mankind's ability to fulfil the 'creation mandate' are clearly evident throughout the Old Testament. Marriage and dominion continue, but clearly changed.
In terms of continuation, the role of human marriage in producing offspring remains significant for dominion. This can be seen in God's promise to Abram – the establishment of a great nation through Abram's offspring in order to achieve a proper dominion where "all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Thus, through Abram's lineage, Israel was established as a prototype of this great nation. However, the overall picture which can be established in the Old Testament is the continual failure of this prototype great nation in exercising a proper dominion. We see this through Israel's disobedience and idolatry which led to struggles and failures in obtaining the promised land – the promised land being a significant Old Testament manifestation of dominion. For example, Judges 1:27-36 details Israel's failure to complete the conquest of the promised land.
Despite the numerous examples of humans getting married in the Old Testament, most of the theological reflection on marriage in the Old Testament is not about human marriage. Rather, it is on the marriage between God and His people – a covenantal relationship. Ezekiel 16 highlights the distorted marriage between God and His people as a result of His people's unfaithfulness. Jerusalem is personified as a faithless prostitute, while God remains a faithful husband. Such a picture lies in stark contrast to the pre-fall oneness of man and God at the beginning of Genesis.
Throughout the Old Testament, we see the effects of sin run rampant on marriage and dominion. It seems that God's purpose for humanity to have dominion was falling apart due to Israel's faithlessness in their covenantal relationship with God. The question to ask now is, 'How will dominion be realised?'
Marriage and Dominion in the New Testament
As we move to the New Testament, it is clear how the Old Testament promises of dominion come to realisation. Ephesians 1:21 states that Jesus to that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come." Colossians 1:16-18 says of Jesus, "For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent." Furthermore, Hebrews 2:8 and 1 Corinthians 15:27 give an image of everything being in subjection to Jesus.
It is clear in the New Testament that mankind's role of exercising dominion comes to fulfilment in Jesus Christ, through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The clear biblical teaching is that Jesus has dominion and all things are in subjection to him. What does this mean for us; for humanity who were given the creation mandate to have dominion? What does this mean for marriage? Are we able to have dominion too or have we missed our chance?
Ephesians 5:22-33 draws parallels between human marriage and our union with Christ. Likewise, the language of marriage is used again in Revelation 19:7-8 to describe the union between Christ and the church. There is a profound contrast when the Jerusalem described in Revelation 21:1-4 is compared with that in Ezekiel. Jerusalem is no longer a prostitute, but is a beautiful bride adorned for her husband. In these verses we witness the complete renewal of the marriage between God and His people which appeared to be so distorted throughout the Old Testament. The effects of sin are also reversed. "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." In the New Testament, there is a clear picture of us being united with Christ in a renewed marriage.
Let's now talk about our role in dominion. The first half of 2 Timothy 2:12 speaks of this, "if we endure, we will also reign with." Likewise, Revelation 5:9-10 speaks of the people ransomed by Christ as a kingdom who will reign on the earth. This kingdom contrasts greatly with the Old Testament prototype of Israel who failed to establish proper dominion. In simple terms, because our husband reigns we too will reign with him. Christ fulfils the mandate of dominion for us and we share in his rule because we are united to him.
Anton Zhang is studying aviation at the University of New South Wales, he is part of a family of four, his hobbies include music, hiking and fencing. He is an active part of the Christian youth work at the Padstow Chinese Congregational Church.
Anton Zhang's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/anton-zhang.html