by Joshua Arnold
March 17, 2022
It’s no secret that popular culture frowns upon Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality. The Bible’s view of marriage as a covenant union of one man and one woman for life has become so incomprehensible in America and throughout Western culture that it is seen as downright offensive.
Many Christians are influenced by our culture’s negative view of marriage—and not for the better.
But we don’t have to listen to the culture’s lies; we have God’s Word, which is truth. The Bible says a lot about marriage, portraying it in such glorious splendor that the world’s flashy counterfeits look dim by comparison. Every Christian can afford to spend more time tuning out the world and tuning in to God’s Word. This series aims to examine God’s good design for marriage by taking the Word of God itself as our guide.
Moses wrote Genesis for the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land. Genesis describes God’s promise to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the beginnings of God’s relationship with mankind.
In Genesis 2, Moses retells in greater detail the creation of man and woman, which he previously summarized in the first chapter. In verse 4, the words “these are the generations” signal a new section, as they do throughout the book (see Gen. 6:4, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, 36:9, 37:2). Verses 5-17 tell how God created man and placed him in the garden of Eden “to work it and keep it.” In verses 18-25, God creates the woman and brings her to the man. They are united in the covenant of marriage, established in 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.” That verse is key to examining the rest of Genesis 2:18-25, where Moses continues to unfold God’s glorious design for marriage.
1. A Helper Fit for Him
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. (Gen. 2:18-20)
The Lord God’s statement in verse 18 is “striking,” writes Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage. “It is striking not just by contrast” (God has repeatedly called “good” all he had made), “but it raises a question: how could Adam be in a ‘not good’ condition when he was in a perfect world and had, evidently, a perfect relationship with God?” Keller explains that mankind images the triune God partly through “our intense relational capacity, created and given to us by God,” which is designed to be fulfilled in relationships with other human beings. “Even in paradise, loneliness was a terrible thing,” Keller concludes. God has ordained two institutions to prevent loneliness: the family and the church. Our culture’s “loneliness epidemic” and related disorders are at least partly due to the lack or erosion of both.
But Keller’s interpretation of verse 18 is not the only compelling one. For example, Dr. Alastair Roberts writes, “The problem of man’s aloneness is not a psychological problem of loneliness, but the fact that, without assistance, humanity’s purpose cannot be achieved.” He finds this purpose in Genesis 1, “the task of filling the earth through child-bearing.” One person, particularly one man, cannot fill the earth alone.
Whatever God meant, after diagnosing the problem, God himself prescribes the solution. He provides the man “a helper fit for him.” This translation is not intended to imply that women are inherently inferior to men (“helper” could also be translated as “companion,” and “fit for” could also be translated as “corresponding to”).
Instead, “the word ‘helper’ corresponding to Adam designates a social role for Eve within her marriage to Adam—a role that is inextricably linked to her biological sex,” writes Denny Burk, president of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Likewise, Burk continues, “Adam’s creation before Eve designates a social role within his marriage to Eve—a role that is inextricably linked to his biological sex. He is to be the leader, protector, and provider within this marriage covenant. And these social roles within the covenant of marriage are not only creational realities, they are also commanded in Scripture.” These distinct, biologically linked, social roles shine most brilliantly when a husband and wife use their roles to “complement” one another, achieving more together than they could alone.
Verses 19-20 prove by negation the importance of human companionship. Before God creates Eve, he parades all the animals before Adam. Adam names the animals, thus exercising dominion over them (see Gen. 1:28), but he does not find what God says he needs, “a helper fit for him.” Only other humans can provide the companionship, love, and affection necessary for biblical marriage. This is the basis of Scripture’s condemnation of bestiality (e.g., Ex. 22:19).
2. The Lord God Caused
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Gen. 2:21-22)
In verses 21-22, God puts Adam to sleep and makes Eve out of his rib. If we allow the Bible to interpret itself (which we should), this creation order (Adam from dust, then Eve from Adam) has a purpose and remains relevant in the church. Paul appeals to this order, “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13), and “man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:8-9), as reasons for the authority, or headship, or a husband over his wife. While these Scriptures are difficult to interpret and apply, and Christians can disagree, they are also “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
However, male headship does not mean female inferiority. Paul continues, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God” (1 Cor. 11:11-12). Nor could Adam take credit for Eve’s creation, since he slept through it, as Matthew Henry notes in his Commentary on the Whole Bible. He adds that if man was “made last of the creatures, as the best and most excellent of all, Eve’s being made after Adam, and out of him, puts an honour upon that sex, as the glory of the man, 1 Co. 11:7. If man is the head, she is the crown.”
Henry also finds meaning in God making Eve out of Adam’s rib. She was “not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”
Having unilaterally prepared and provided for everything in this marriage, God then gives away the first bride; “he brought her to the man.” God procured, endorsed, and effected Adam’s marriage to Eve. Having created man and woman, he bids them be happy together in their innocence.
3. Bone of My Bones
Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen. 2:23)
Happy, indeed, are the first newlyweds. “When the man sees the woman, he responds in poetry,” writes Keller. “At last!” is his first response. This is what he has waited for! Such rejoicing and delight God has designed for all who enter into the covenant of marriage. A husband’s joy over his wife is not only natural but normative; God commands husbands to enjoy their wives (Prov. 5:15-19, Eccl. 9:9). If men paid more attention to this command, they would escape so many temptations to lust and adultery (Prov. 5:20-23), and they would spare their wives from much heartache and sorrow. In addition to the prudential benefits, a husband’s joy over his wife also serves to image God’s joy over his people. Isaiah prophesies about Zion’s coming salvation, “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isa. 62:5).
Adam continues his poem by noting that he has finally met another like himself. Not only does she, like him, have flesh and bones (so far has he advanced in anatomy in his few hours of life), but her flesh and bones came from his. This is the “helper fit for him” God promised to make. While they are alike, Adam is also the head; he names her “Woman,” much as he had previously named the animals, exercising his dominion over them. Thus, Moses finishes recounting the story of the first marriage and inserts the principle of marriage, which we examined previously, in verse 24.
4. Naked and Not Ashamed
And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Gen. 2:25)
Verse 25 concludes this chapter by noting that the man and his wife were naked and not ashamed. That such a condition is worthy of remark implies that there is a shameful sort of nakedness. In fact, chapter 3 will explain how Adam and Eve become ashamed of their nakedness once they become conscious of their sin. It was the first time they had something worthy to conceal from critical eyes. Ever since the Fall, it has been proper for human beings to cover ourselves with clothing because of our sinful condition.
Marriage, a covenant where two persons become one flesh, is the only remaining haven in which such intimacy is still proper. Keller makes this point by contrasting marriage with illicit sexual relationships, where he says both parties feel a need to continually prove themselves. Then he says, “The legal bond of marriage, however, creates a space of security where we can open up and reveal our true selves. We can be vulnerable, no longer having to keep up facades. We don’t have to keep selling ourselves. We can lay the last layer of our defenses down and be completely naked, both physically and in every other way.” Thus, marriage provides mutual security, intimacy, and nourishment within, while presenting a united, delighted exterior—or at least so God has designed it.