Marriage and the Sabbath are the twin institutions of Eden, established by God Himself before the Fall and given to mankind in perpetuity. Not only did God create and found these two great institutions, He shared with us His reasons for doing so.
Regarding the Sabbath, Genesis tells that, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Gen. 2:2-3. In Exodus, we read, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Ex. 20:11. Thus God established the Sabbath as a memorial for all time.
According to these passages, the reason for the Sabbath was to commemorate God’s creation of the world in six days, and His resting on the seventh day. Of course, the creation week is no longer the only reason for the Sabbath. For the children of Israel, it also commemorated their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. (Deut. 5:15). And in a world fallen into sin, we need a day of rest from the work of wresting a living from the cursed earth; the Sabbath is the delightful day that God has lovingly provided to us to meet our need. (Mark 2:27; Isa. 58:13; Luke 11:46; Mat. 11:28-30). The Sabbath is also a sign of ceasing any efforts to secure salvation through our own works, and resting in the Salvation of God provided through Jesus Christ. (Ex. 31:13; Heb. 4:9-10).
But the first and primary reason for the Sabbath, and still the most prominent reason given that it was written by God’s own finger, is to commemorate God’s creation of the world in six days and His rest on the seventh day. That being the case, Seventh-day Adventists who preach and teach Sabbath-keeping, not just for the Jews but for all of humanity, cannot be associated with theories of origins that negate the six-day creation. Evolution is an atheistic theory of origins that Christians cannot endorse, but Christians often do subscribe to compromise theories pursuant to which God worked through the process of evolution or created in several stages over long periods of time, rather than in six days. We are told that these compromises are “the worst sort of infidelity”:
“But the infidel supposition, that the events of the first week required seven vast, indefinite periods for their accomplishment, strikes directly at the foundation of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. It makes indefinite and obscure that which God has made very plain. It is the worst kind of infidelity; for with many who profess to believe the record of creation, it is infidelity in disguise. It charges God with commanding men to observe the week of seven literal days in commemoration of seven indefinite periods, which is unlike his dealings with mortals, and is an impeachment of his wisdom.” Spiritual Gifts, v. 3, pp. 91-92.
As Seventh-day Adventists, we must never undermine the reason for the Sabbath by embracing long-ages geology, or evolution, or compromise theories such as theistic evolution or progressive creation. At the San Antonio General Conference Session, the delegates voted to clarify Fundamental Belief # 6 to make it clear that the creation week was a week just like the weeks we experience today:
God has revealed in Scripture the authentic and historical account of His creative activity. He created the universe, and in a recent six-day creation the Lord made “the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” and rested on the seventh day. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of the work He performed and completed during six literal days that together with the Sabbath constituted the same unit of time that we call a week today. The first man and woman were made in the image of God as the crowning work of Creation, given dominion over the world, and charged with responsibility to care for it. When the world was finished it was “very good,” declaring the glory of God. (Gen. 1-2; 5; 11; Exod. 20:8-11; Ps. 19:1-6; 33:6, 9; 104; Isa. 45:12, 18; Acts 17:24; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2; 11:3; Rev. 10:6; 14:7.)
Sadly, this addition was necessitated by a small but influential minority of Adventists claiming to believe our doctrine, yet holding that the “days” of the creation week could represent long eras or ages rather than literal days. But on the whole, our denomination is zealous to defend the reason for the Sabbath.
What is the reason for the other institution of Eden, marriage? Regarding marriage, Christ said, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Mark 10:6-8). “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Mat. 19:4)
Because God wanted to have marriage, he was forced to create two different sexes? No. Surprisingly, it is just the opposite: Because God created them male and female in the beginning, because He created two different sexes, therefore—for that reason, because of that—He established marriage. Two created sexes are to marriage as the six-day creation is to the Sabbath; that there are two sexes is the reason for marriage, just as the six-day creation is the reason for the Sabbath.
Just as there is more than one reason for the Sabbath, so also there are several reasons for marriage. In Genesis 1:28, Adam and Eve are told to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” God created humanity to reproduce sexually, and one of the reasons for marriage is to conceive and raise children. And in Genesis 2:18, God says of Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” So there are at least two more biblical reasons for marriage: (1) reproduction, and (2) companionship.
And yet when Jesus was discussing marriage, and revealing that divorce was not part of God’s original plan but was a concession to sinful humanity, what did Jesus mention? In that situation, I would have mentioned the reproductive purpose of marriage, since I’ve lately become concerned about the birth dearth in developed countries. Most people in the developed world would have mentioned the companionship purpose, because our culture tends to view marriage solely as a vehicle for securing personal happiness and fulfillment. And yet Jesus mentions neither of those seemingly more obvious rationales for marriage. According to Jesus, the reason for marriage is that God made them male and female.
Shouldn’t we have the same zeal to defend the rationale for marriage that we show to defend the rationale for the Sabbath? Shouldn’t we want to protect the distinctness of the sexes as carefully as we protect the creation in six literal days? But as I look around our denomination, I do not see much zeal for keeping the sexes distinct, and keeping a sharp demarcation between them. By far the most viewed story posted on our site to date is about the transsexual “elder” at the Hollywood SDA Church. That this could happen in any Adventist Church, even a church in a place I once referred to as"freak show central," shows that we are far too casual about gender bending, far too casual about created gender identity. God created two sexes, and He does not want any more, nor any fewer, than those two.
If we are to protect the rationale for marriage as we protect the rationale for the Sabbath, it means we will have to resist strong cultural forces in the developed world. As Dr. Iskander recently noted, having succeeded in normalizing homosexuality, Western cultural elites have moved on to make transgenderism and the gender identity movement their new cultural and “civil rights” enthusiasm. If we are to protect the distinctness of the sexes, it means resisting attempts to blur the anatomical and biological differences between the sexes. As a church we must stand against that and insist that men are men and women are women.
But protecting the distinctness of the sexes also, and more importantly, means protecting the psychological differences between men and women. Men and women do not think the same way, and that is as God intended. For example, men think of sex as immediate and short term, whereas women have long sexual horizons, starting with a monthly cycle, then potentially a 9-month pregnancy, and then nursing an infant and caring for a young child. A woman’s sexual horizon extends for years, whereas a man is probably thinking only of his next release. A patriarchal society protects the woman by limiting access to her to financially responsible suitors who are willing to make a long-term commitment. By contrast, today’s post-patriarchal “egalitarian” society denies that female sexuality is, or should be, different than male sexuality; it encourages young women to conform to male sexuality by engaging in “hook-ups” with no romantic or emotional commitment. Young women are told they should enjoy this, and when inevitably they find it unfulfilling, empty, or even devastating, the culture’s message is that there is something wrong with them because their sexuality is not like a man’s. A Christian who respects God’s created order will understand that there are important psychological differences between men and women that society should not attempt to change or tamper with.
Protecting the distinctness of the sexes means protecting not only physical and psychological differences but also role differences. God created sex role differences as part of His original design, before the Fall. Adam was created first and was given charge over the Garden of Eden, warned about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and given the task of naming the animals, all before Eve was created. Gen. 2:15-20. Eve was created out of Adam, and as a “helper” suitable to him. Gen. 2:21-23. These created sex role differences are the reason for marriage: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Gen. 2:24. And it was this passage that Jesus quoted when He was asked about marriage.
Here again, if we are to uphold the rationale of marriage by protecting the distinctness of sex roles, we will have to resist the culture of the developed world, which is committed to eradicating sex role differences. Many Adventists seem to believe that sex roles are a societal evil to be rebuked and rejected, a relic of a less enlightened age. But this is unbiblical because, as we have just seen, sex differences, including sex role distinctions, are the reason for marriage, and sex role distinctions were Jesus’ main rationale for marriage.
It is important to note that marriage is God’s plan not just for the Christian Church but for all of humanity. As the Andrews Seminary recently stated:
Divine judgment is pronounced against those who depart from this norm [male/female marriage] . . . These judgments are expressed against peoples and nations that do not have access to the oracles of God, and thus should be viewed as part of God’s guidance for humanity generally and not just for the covenant community (Gen 18-19; Lev 18:24–30; Ezek.16:53–59; Jude 7). This means that Christians have a responsibility to underline in their witnessing the protection and promotion of the divinely instituted importance of heterosexual marriage . . . we should resist, in the spirit of Christ, calls to give up on traditional marriage, which was instituted at Creation, as a vital pillar of social organization. An Understanding of the Biblical View on Homosexual Practice and Pastoral Care, SDA Theological Seminary Position Paper, October 9, 2015, p. 15.
In other words, heterosexual marriage isn’t just for the church, it is “a vital pillar of social organization,” and marriage’s rationale, sex role differences, are equally vital. As a people we must uphold sex role distinctions not only in the family and the church, but in the larger society. We cannot pretend to be supporting marriage while advocating for the eradication of sex roles. This would be to create a society in which marriage makes no sense, just as embracing Darwinism creates an intellectual environment in which the Sabbath makes no sense.
The twin Edenic institutions of marriage and the Sabbath were designed for all mankind for all time. We must never undermine the rationale for either institution by compromising with unbiblical theories of origins or by blurring the distinctions between the sexes.