Three posts have featured God’s Design and Purpose for Marriage, one by Abby Helman, one by Nicki Cochran, and one by Courtney Newberry. One individual reponded with a sincere and thought-provoking question that warranted more than a simple entry in the “comments” box. Here’s the question:
I have been trying for months to find the answer to a question concerning marriage; but, have been unsuccessful. Do you know or have any references to a date in time, when marriage began? By date, I refer to something like 6,000 BCE. Since the OT was written over the span of centuries, but is no older than 3,000 years is it safe to assume that marriage began at or slightly before that date? Any insight into the problem will be welcome and appreciated.
Hopefully, my response will meet up to the expectations of the questioner:
When it comes to creation events, we can know with confidence (1) Who did it, (2) what was done and (3) to some extent, how it was done. But we cannot know for certain the precise answer to when in happened. The best resource we have available for discovering our origins is the Bible. Even so, we need to sort out the kind of resource it is. For example, I think it is historically accurate about what it records about the life of Christ, including what he said. To the point, in Matthew 19:8, he responds to the Pharisees’ question about divorce with a comment about marriage: “In the beginning it was not so.” I believe he was referring to the beginning of creation referred to in Genesis 1: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth. Christ’s comments carry even more weight in light of John 1:1 which says “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” So Jesus, the Word (John 1;14) was involved in the creation of the world and therefore involved in the creation of Adam and Eve as well. So I think it’s legitimate to say that Adam and Eve formed the first marriage. We don’t know WHEN God created them and brought tem together, though we can know THAT he did and, to a certain extent, HOW he did (through his spoken word). In this regard I like Psalm 33:6-9, “He spoke and the world came into being.
I asked one of our Old Testament professors at Dallas Seminary to weigh in on the discussion of “time” and he provided the following perspective. The genealogies in Gen 5 and 10 make it difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at a precise date for Noah or Adam. He says
There are complicated genre questions here, not the least of which is the presence of large numbers in Gen 5 and its similarity to the extraordinary lengths of royal reigns in the Sumerian King List (makes the hundreds of years in Gen 5 meager by comparison).
Second, young earth dating has too many scientific problems to be credible. Bottom-line: I do not think Genesis gives us the kind of data that we in our 21st century, modernist, scientifically oriented world-view want to reconstruct the “biblical” date of creation. This was not a concern at the time of Moses and ancient Israel, as it is today, and the ancient Hebrew writers did not address it directly (which is another way of saying that Yahweh did not see fit to reveal this kind of detail to ancient Israel which only modern readers fuss about).
Third, there are markers in Gen 1:1-2:3 which seem to reflect Mosaic Yahwism, that is, the creation account seems to have been written by Moses or afterwards, e.g., the seven day structure culminating with God’s rest (2.1-3) seems to reflect the Sabbath regulations revealed to Israel for the first time at Sinai (Exod 20), and the Egyptian background seems to be aimed at the concerns confronting the Hebrews coming out of Egypt (although the Egyptians and their creation mythology probably continued to pose a problem for Israel until the time of David). So, I would guess that Gen 1.1-2.3 reflects the time of Moses (ca. 1400 BC, early date; or 1220 BC, late date) or before the time of David (ca. 1000 BC), when the theological polemic seems to have shifted to refute Canaanite mythology. In any case, the comments about marriage in 2.24 seem to be descriptive of existing Israelite culture and practice rather than being prescriptive for all ages (“this is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother …”). While this was generally true of most Israelite marriages, it was Rebekah who left her father and mother for Isaac, etc.
Well, that’s a taste of how complicated the attempts to date events precisely can get. It’s also an example of humility in approaching the Scriptures, not to make them say more than they were intended to say. For the scholars who would like to dig more deeply into matters of early dating, check out the lengthy report that summarizes the findings of a committee organized by the Presbyterian Church of America to shore up the church’s official position on these matters.
Back to the central point: We find our most reliable guidelines for what marriage is all about in the Bible because that is God’s Word intended to provide “training in righteousness” that we may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17). A marriage that reflects God’s character is a fitting way to glorify Him . . . that the world might behold us and know that He is good.