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The Bible and Marriage Part 3
What Makes a Couple Married?
From what we've seen thus far Scripture teaches that God wants couples to be married before living together. Simply deciding to try things out to see if you are compatible not only doesn't work statistically, it is sin in God's sight. Marriage is a sacred covenant relationship between the couple and in the sight of God, witnessed by others who are present. It is a vow to love, honor and be faithful to one another for the rest of your lives. But just what constitutes marriage in God's sight? At what point can a couple say that they are married? This is a difficult question because the Bible nowhere explicitly states what has to take place for a marriage to be legitimate. But that doesn't mean it has nothing to say on the subject.
There are three common viewpoints to be considered:
1. God only Considers a couple married when they are legally married
2. A couple is married in God's eyes when they have completed some kind of formal wedding.
3. God considers a couple to be married at the moment the marriage is consummated. In other words, when they have sex.
Since this is a big subject I would like to give the pros and cons for all three views here, then look at what both Testaments have to say about marriage in future articles. Finally, after all of this we will draw some conclusions.
I. God only considers a couple married when they are legally Married
When taking this view, Scriptural support is given from verses like Romans 13:1-7 and I Peter 2:17. These passages tell us to submit to the government. The argument is that if the government requires something for a marriage to be considered legitimate, then we should do what it asks us.
It is biblical that we should submit to government as long as the requirements don't contradict the Word of God. But there are some weaknesses with this view. First, there were marriages before any government was organized, going back to the first couple, Adam and Eve. People were getting married long before government issued marriages.
Also, even today there are some countries where there is no government recognition of marriage. In other words, there are no legal requirements. And there are some governments that place unbiblical requirements on being married. For instance, there are some countries that require the couple to be married in a Catholic church by a Catholic priest, and in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Obviously, for people who have strong disagreements with the Catholic understanding of marriage being a sacrament there are problems here. It would be unbiblical for them to submit to such a marriage ceremony.
II. A Couple is Married When They Have Completed Some Kind of Formal Wedding Ceremony
Many cultures today have the father of the bride give away his daughter to the bethrothed. This is similar to the way some see God giving away the first woman, Eve to the first man, Adam. It was God who was the overseer of the first wedding (Genesis 2:22). This view has a lot to commend it. Jesus himself attended a wedding ceremony in Cana of Galilee. This can be found in John chapter 2. He even performed his first miracle there of turning water into wine. The Lord would not have attended this event if he hadn't approved.
Of course Jesus' attendance at this wedding doesn't necessarily indicate that God requires a formal ceremony. But it does show us that it is acceptable in His sight. The fact is, nearly every culture in history has had some kind of formal wedding ceremony. There is always some kind of covenant or a proclamation that the couple are actually married.
III. God Considers the Couple Married at the Moment of Consummation
This perspective argues that if any man and woman has sex, then the two of them are automatically married in God's sight. Such a viewpoint is not biblically sound, however. The basis for this argument is the fact that sexual intercourse between a husband and wife is indeed the ultimate fulfillment of the "one flesh" principle of Scripture (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5 and Ephesians 5:31). When the married couple come together sexually, this is the final seal on a marriage covenant. But nowhere in Scripture can you prove that sex automatically makes you married. In fact, the full biblical record argues against it.
We might ask: "What happens to a couple who have been ceremonially married but for some reason, haven't been able to consummate it sexually? Lets say the husband or wife is in an accident, or has to go away for a period of time. Is the couple still married?
Scripture also indicates that a couple who have had sexual intercourse but haven't observed any of the other aspects of the marriage covenant are not married. And verses such as I Corinthians 7:2 tell us that sex before marriage is immorality. If sexual intercourse before marriage could make you married, then it wouldn't be considered immoral.
And we have already talked about the Samaritan woman in John 4 that Jesus encountered. She had five previous husbands, and the Lord told her that the man she now lived with was not her husband. If you read the New Bible Commentary on this passage, it tells us that common law marriage had no religious support in the Jewish faith. And Jesus here agrees with that.
As I have said, before making any conclusions on this matter, I would like to take some time in the next two articles to look at marriage as seen in the Old and New Testaments. But as we have witnessed up to now, marriage is a lot more than just "living together" and the covenant is more than just a piece of paper. So it would seem that it must include some kind of formal ceremony between the couple in the site of God and the witnesses present. It is my hope that those who are Christians will not let the world mold them into its way of thinking in this area, or any other. For the world's way ultimately leads to destruction. God's way leads us to a life of abundance and blessing.