The Divorce Myth
By J. Carl Laney
Next to the days of my physical and spiritual births, June 5, 1971, remains the most significant day of my life. On that day in the presence of my friends and relatives I repeated these words:
"I, Carl, take thee, Nancy, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to hold dear, till death do us part, according to God's Holy Word; thereto I pledge thee my love."
Although I had studied the subject of marriage, read many books, and received much counsel concerning this important step in life, I knew very little about marriage and the commitment that is involved. Only during the last several years have I really begun to understand this unique institution of marriage which joins a man and woman as one flesh. I have pondered the answers to such questions as: "Why did God create Eve?" "Why did God institute marriage?" "What is marriage according to the Bible?" In this chapter we will investigate the Word of God in order to discover answers to these and other questions.
The Creation of Man (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:7)
Since no newspaper reporter was present to observe the creation of the universe, God alone can tell us how the world began. Genesis 1-2 gives us that record. While some people assert that Genesis contains two creation accounts (1:1-2:4 and 2:5-25), it is better to understand chapter one as emphasizing the creation of the physical universe, and chapter two as detailing the creation of man and woman.
Genesis 1:24-31 records for us God's work on the sixth day of creation. On the sixth day God created animals to inhabit the earth—larger domesticated animals ("cattle"), reptiles and insects ("creeping things"), and wild animals ("beasts of the earth"). Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle. . . " (1:26). And so God created man as the crown and culmination of His creative work. Verses 26 and 28 form the twin bases for the central thought in verse 27. Here the Bible reveals three things. First, man is the creation of God, not the result of evolution. Second, man is fashioned in the divine image. Charles Ryrie suggests that the image of God involves man's appointed dominion over the earth and his capacity for moral action.1 Third, man is created a sexual being—male and female; the two terms literally mean "the piercer" and "the pierced."
Genesis 2:7 further reveals that God formed or fashioned man from the dust of the earth, and then breathed into him the "breath of life." The "dust" cannot symbolize animal life and imply evolution, for man's body returns to this material when he dies (Gen. 3:19). The "breath of life" seems to be God's own vital breath that bestows the life which He himself possesses. Lifeless clay became animate by the breath of the Almighty God!
The Provision of Woman (Gen. 2:18-22)
God repeatedly recognized that His creation was good (1:4,10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31), but He acknowledged that it was not good for Adam to be alone (2:18). Adam recognized his own incompleteness when he named all the creatures of the earth—an exercise of his dominion and authority—and "there was not found a helper suitable for him" (Gen. 2:20). While man and woman together are deemed "very good" (1:31), man by himself is incomplete or "not good."
In order to rectify the "not good" situation, God declared, "I will make him a helper suitable for him" (2:18). God designed woman to be man's suitable helper, or literally, "a helper agreeing to him." The Jewish Talmud says, "God did not create woman from man's head that he should command her, nor from her feet that she should be his slave, but rather from his side, that she should be near his heart." Woman was not to be man's slave but rather his helper. The word "helper" (ezer) is used of God in Psalm 33:20 and 146:5, so woman is obviously not an inferior being! She is man's counterpart, agreeing with him mentally, physically, and spiritually. She is divinely designed to assist man in all the activities of life, which include exercising dominion over creation, raising children, and worshiping God!
While Eve is created to be Adam's equal, two things in Genesis 2 suggest the priority of the male over the female. One is the order of creation. The fact that Adam was created first suggests his priority and authority over Eve. Paul makes the same point in his discussion of the conduct of women in 1 Timothy 2:13. The other is the fact that Adam named Eve (Gen. 2:23). The naming of the woman was an exercise of authority and indicates the priority of the man over the woman. Let me clarify that priority and equality are not mutually exclusive concepts. The woman is to submit to her husband even though she is his equal and fellow-heir of the grace of life (Eph. 5:22; 1 Pet. 3:7). Why? Simply because that is the divine order God has established for the home and family. Interestingly, the same order exists in the Trinity, as God is the head of Christ, so man is the head of woman (1 Cor. 11:3). Submission and priority do not suggest inequality, for Christ was submissive yet equal with the Father.
The Institution of Marriage (Gen. 2:23-25)
Imagine Adam's excitement as he beheld with sleepy eyes the most beautiful creature of God's creation. In verse 23 Adam speaks his first recorded words. With ecstasy in his voice he declares literally:
"This one at last
This one shall be called woman
because from man this one was taken!"
After Adam exercised his authority by naming the woman, God proceeded to establish the divine institution of marriage. The words of Genesis 2:24 are frequently construed as those of Adam. However, to attribute such foresight to Adam concerning marriage and family life seems hardly feasible. The New Testament helps us at this point. In Matthew 19:4-5 we read, "He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'" The words of Genesis 2:24 are quite clearly not those of Adam, but the words of the Creator himself.
Genesis 2:24 is the only statement about marriage which is repeated four times in the Bible. It appears first in the creation account of Genesis, then later in the context of Jesus' teaching on divorce (Matt. 19:5; Mark 10:7), and finally in Paul's illustration of the mystery of the church (Eph. 5:31). The verse has three parts and mentions three things which are essential to marriage: to leave, to cleave, and to become one flesh.
Leaving. God's plan for marriage first involves "leaving." The phrase "for this cause" refers to verse 22. It could be paraphrased, "that is why." Because God made woman, man is to leave his parents, with a view to establishing his own family. There can be no happy marriage without this first essential step.
When my little daughter, Elisabeth, was born, I was privileged to be in the delivery room and witness the amazing event. After the birth the attending physician took sharp scissors and cut the umbilical cord which bound Elisabeth to her mother. Was that a cruel, merciless act on the part of the doctor? No! We all knew it to be necessary for her growth and development. Just as a baby cannot grow up unless the umbilical cord is cut, so marriage cannot mature and develop unless the spouse separates from his or her parents in order to establish a new family.
Leaving is not always easy. It is often hard for children to leave their parents, and even harder for parents to let their children go. There are many marriages where the husband or wife is still "tied to mother's apron strings"—living under the authority of Mom and Dad. This allows marital interference by the in-laws and causes unnecessary tensions for the newly married couple. Someone has said that the two best legacies parents can give their children are roots and wings—the security of knowing that Mom and Dad are always there to help and encourage in time of special need, but also the freedom to live one's own life and develop one's own family.
The leaving does not, of course, suggest an abandonment of one's parents. The responsibility to "honor your father and mother" (Ex. 20:12) is applied by Jesus to adult Pharisees in Mark 7:6-13. In the context of caring for widows, Paul encourages believers to make some recompense or return to their aged parents—that is, provide for their needs (1 Tim. 5:3-4)! The Bible never suggests that the young couple avoid all contact with their parents, but that they "let go" of their former lives as a son and daughter in order to cement their partnership as husband and wife!
I remember the tears Nancy shed as we left her hometown shortly after our marriage to spend the summer in Santa Cruz, California, ministering to youth. There were days when Nancy was left by herself and felt quite lonely, but there was no way to return to the nest. Instead of turning to her parents and her former home, she had to turn to me. Together we began to develop a new life—a life that was neither hers nor mine, but ours!