Christians often maintain that marriage and family constitute foundations for society. From a biblical point of view, the argument goes like this. God created humanity. He instituted marriage through Adam and Eve. And through marriage, God founds the institution of the family that make up the backbone of society.
While true, this summary omits key realities that lie behind the two institutions. It tells us of the history of marriage and family but not the thing to which these institutions point nor their origin. Marriage and family are not originally human institutions. They belong to God by essence (family) and by promise (marriage) from before all time.
Families have their origin in the Father. Since he is Father, we have families (Eph 3:15). And the idea of marriage existed before the world’s founding because God promised to marry divinity to humanity in Christ and by the Spirit before the world’s foundation (Eph 5).
Here is what I mean.
In Ephesians 3:14–15, Paul writes: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” The order here is important. Every family receives its name from the Father.
We do not discern that God is a Father of the Son on the basis of human familial relationships. It is just the opposite. Fathers are fathers because God is Father; sons are sons because God has a Son.
Families have their origin in God’s essential identity: Father and Son. The Spirit too plays a role by being the bond that glues divinity to humanity in both Christ and the church.
God promised salvation before the world began (Titus 1:1–2). In this divine promise in which the Father promises to save humanity to the Son and Spirit, we discover the great mystery of our salvation.
And the sign of this mystery is marriage. Marriage unites man and woman together so that they become one flesh. In the incarnation, the Logos united divinity to humanity in one flesh by the Spirit’s act (Luke 1:35). And in the Gospel, Christ unites to individuals among humanity by the Spirit’s act (1 Cor 6:17)
By uniting human nature to divinity, the Logos or Christ could heal and redeem our whole human nature. Yet only by the Spirit and by faith can individual humans enter into this salvation. Marriage particularly points to this saving union with Christ by the Holy Spirit.
If the incarnation united human nature to God, then the Gospel (as portrayed in marriage) unites individual humans to God. The marriage between one man and one woman represents the marriage of Christ, the God-man, to the church.
Paul speaks of marriage’s relationship to the Gospel as a profound mystery. He writes, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). By pausing to reflect on the idea of mystery in Scripture, we can clarify further why marriage and family exist.
A mystery is a previously hidden truth that later becomes revealed. In Scripture, mysteries often refer to God’s plan that becomes clear in Christ. So marriage and (I would argue) family are both mysteries.
God created them to reveal something true and real. They are signs of realities. Marriage reveals the Father’s promise to the Son and Spirit to unite humanity to God through the Logos’ incarnation and specifically the Spirit’s uniting power.
Families exist because God does. They echo the prior reality that God is Father. Families, therefore, at their best, portray the antecedent reality that God is who he is: the Father.