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A Man Will Leave His Father and Mother

On November 18, 2009

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, TNIV).

Genesis chapter 2 begins by telling how God created the garden of Eden; how God created man from the dust of the ground, giving him the work of caring for it and the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil lest he die; and how God brought the animals he created to Adam to be named. This is followed by the account of God creating Eve from the side of Adam and bringing her to Adam, who said, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman for she was taken out of man” (v. 23).

Then comes an astonishing statement that has been ignored from the beginning of time. Genesis 2:24 says “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (emphasis added). This seems to imply that the husband will become part of the family of his bride which, in the society of biblical times, probably meant joining her community.

Yet, beginning after the fall in Genesis, the woman was expected to leave her parents and become part of her husband’s family. In the story of Isaac and Rebekah, for example, Rebekah left her family to go to the land of Isaac. This pattern is repeated over and over in the Bible and carries on today. Consider our contemporary wedding ceremonies, which often include the line “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” The bride’s father then answers “I do” or “Her mother and I.” The implication is that the bride leaves her family and the protection of her father to go with her husband and become part of his family.

Most of the world follows a patriarchal social order—where a male is recognized as the head of the family and kinship is traced through the male line. Inheritance of material possessions usually follows the male line. The stronger this pattern is, the greater the prevalence of wife abuse and violence toward women. For evidence we need only examine strongly patriarchal societies such as those in India and in the Middle East.

But this is not what God designed. Suppose that our world practiced the command in Genesis 2:24—given even before sin entered the world. How would marriages look different? Wouldn’t a married couple who came under the care and supervision of the bride’s family be much less likely to experience wife abuse? Her family, including her father, would be nearby to protect her!

Interestingly, the command in Genesis 2:24 was important to the Apostle Paul, who quoted it in Ephesians 5:31 directly after his instructions to husbands to love and care for their wives as they do their own bodies (v. 29). Yet, this command in the creation story is rarely mentioned in our churches. In my scores of years going to church, I have never heard it discussed—even though it is repeated in the chapter of Ephesians that talks at length about submission. I have heard dozens of sermons on the importance of a wife submitting to her husband but never once about a husband leaving his parents to be united with his wife!

We all need to try to read the Bible with fresh eyes—not assuming that whatever interpretation we have heard in the past is the only valid one. Romans 12:2 reminds us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world [such as patriarchy?], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (emphasis added).

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