The following paper was written as part of a graduate level introductory course to marriage and family counseling. It has been modified for publication here.
“To Tend and to Watch Over”
God’s Purpose & Intent in Marriage
The purpose and intent of marriage as developed in Marriage and Family this semester by Dr. Dan Allender includes a theology of marriage adapted from the creation narrative and the narrative of the fall of man presented in chapters 1-3 of the book of Genesis. The narrative of Genesis 1-3 shapes the world in which we live today and the culture and context in which marriage exists. Both creation and the fall define marriage and lay groundwork for a hermeneutic by which to view both the dignity and depravity of the unique aspects of human beings being both male and female, and the relationship between them in marriage.
Chapter 1 of Genesis is an account of creation. In Chapter 1 the first human is created, blessed, commanded to be fruitful and multiply, and to have dominion and rule over creation. Genesis 2 outlines the first sabbath, the method by which man was created from the dust, a description of the garden, and instructions to man regarding the way to worship God through service to and tending of the garden. In Genesis 2:16-16 God instructs man on how to safely interact with the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Verses 18-25 record God’s statement that it is not good for man to be alone, an account of Adam’s naming of unsuitable companions (animals), the creation of woman, and Adam’s poetic exclamation in response to woman.
In Genesis 3 the narrative expands to an account of the fall, illustrating the serpent’s temptation of the woman, the interplay of good and evil, and the woman’s consumption and subsequent sharing of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil with man. Chapter 3 also includes a description of God’s encounter with, and subsequent pursuit of, the first humans after the fall. As Dr Allender points out, man and woman hide from God and God’s response is to engage them with questions (“Where are you?”, “Who told you you were naked?”, “Have you tasted suffering?”). Adam blames the woman for his tasting of the fruit, and the woman blames the serpent. The serpent is then cursed and with nearly the same breath, God reveals the first prophecy of a coming messiah in verse 15. Genesis 3 continues to outline the consequences of the fall for both male and female. For female, the curse is pain in pregnancy, which Dr. Allender expands to cover the pain of carrying hope and experiencing loss in relationships, and to desire control over man but suffer under him. For man, God explains, the curse will be a sentence to work in a difficult environment and not find his work fruitful, to struggle to produce when there are no resources, to fight for provision when the struggle produces only heartache and futility. Adam then names his wife “Eve” (interestingly, explicitly giving her an identity as a mother though she has not yet borne children- a message of unique significance to the present generation where women increasingly identify themselves outside of traditional motherhood). God then crafts clothing for Adam and Eve and banishes them from the garden, instructing Adam to cultivate the very ground from which he was formed.
The intent and purpose of marriage is established early in Genesis. 1:27 tells us that humans, in their maleness and femaleness, are (both) the image of God. In 1:28 The blessing to be fruitful and multiply and rule and subdue is given. Although the first three chapters of Genesis outline a larger portrait of the creation and condition of humans, these two verses in Genesis 1 create a framework from which two of Dan Allender’s key concepts for the understanding of marriage are developed. Genesis 1:27 outlines the purpose- it is clear that not just man and not just woman reflect the image of God, but also male and female together, in relationship, reflect the image of God. It is from this framework that a message of equality in marriage can be built. While it is of the opinion of this student that men and women bring unique and different strengths and weaknesses into relationship, Genesis 1:27 indicates that there is no gender that more accurately or beautifully reflects the image of God than the other. Genesis 1:28 outlines the intent for marriage: that together man and woman can become co-creators with God. When God instructs man and woman, both, to “fill and multiply” and “subdue and rule”, God is inviting humans, in and through relationship, to create, to change, and to impact the world around them for good. Genesis 2:24 lays groundwork for the further development of the shape marriage takes in culture, laying a groundwork for the concepts of leaving, weaving, and cleaving outlined in Intimate Allies.
Genesis 3 changes, but does not negate this blessing/challenge of Genesis 1:27-28. In Genesis 3 as the curse falls over man and woman, God himself does not speak curses over Adam and Eve in 3:14, but seeks them out and narrates for them the consequences of their actions. The unique curses for both man and woman bear deep relational difficulties, increasing strife in but not negating God’s plan for, marriage.
Dr. Allender’s teaching of Genesis 1-3 describes God’s delight in the creation of man and woman and his tender handling of them after they make choices that result in a deep schism in humanity’s interrelatedness and relational pattern with God. It is from this context that Allender develops his language of dignity and depravity which shape the concepts of equality, loyalty, and communication that are integral to his outline of the purpose and intent of marriage.