Question TIme - What is scriptural marriage?
Richard Collings, Caerphilly, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
What is scriptural marriage?
It may be that the questioner had in mind the marriage of believers and was seeking guidance as to what would constitute a scriptural ’Christian’ marriage. However, it must be appreciated that marriage is not something that has been invented by humans; it originated with God and is His arrangement designed for the good of individuals, families and society in general. It is not only His idea but He conducted the first wedding, bringing together one man and one woman in the Garden of Eden, and in so doing He established the precedent for the human race. Because the first marriage took place in Eden, it predates every form of religion or culture, and, as such, there is a definite sense in which unbelievers can be ’scripturally’ married.
There were occasions during the Old Testament era when God tolerated bigamy, but His ideal is clearly defined in the words recorded in Genesis chapter 2, and endorsed by the Lord Jesus, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife’, Mark 10. 4. Writing to the Ephesians, Paul picks up this same thought, but adds to it ‘and the two shall become one flesh’, Eph 5. 31. We can assert, therefore, that a scriptural marriage is the uniting of one man to one woman.
The actual process of the marriage ‘ceremony’ itself will vary from one culture to another. Most readers of this magazine will be used to a formal procedure endorsed by a person legally sanctioned to register the marriage, but this situation might not necessarily be true everywhere. However, in almost every form of society there is recognition that a marriage entails a duty of care, responsibility, and commitment that goes far beyond a mere relationship between a male and female. As already noted from the words of the Lord Jesus, marriage involves a man leaving his parents, and, in cleaving to his wife, he and she establish their own home. The husband becomes the head of the wife, and, as such, he has a responsibility to love her and to care for her, whilst she is to submit to him and show respect to him, Eph. 5. 33.
A marriage does not have to take place in a ‘church’ building, nor does it have to be conducted by a Christian person in order for it to be considered scriptural. As far as I am aware we do not read of any marriages being conducted in the tabernacle or the temple, nor do we have any record of any Old Testament prophet or New Testament apostle conducting such a service. A couple who choose to marry in a registry office, or on a beach in some exotic location, are no less married in the sight of God than those who prefer to conduct proceedings in a more ‘spiritual’ environment.
We are living in days when the sanctity of marriage is being eroded and its intended permanence is being undermined. As to its sanctity, the scriptures state, ‘Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled’, Heb. 13. 4 ESV. This is an instruction to be followed, for the writer is exhorting that marriage, and the marriage bed, should, in every way, be held in honour. That God designed marriage to be a lasting commitment is clearly emphasized in the words of the Lord, ‘So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate’, Matt. 19. 6.
Whilst the scriptures teach that sexual relationships before marriage are immoral we must not think that a marriage has to be consummated before God recognizes it as being valid. Adam and Eve became married when God brought Eve to Adam and he said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’, Gen. 2. 23. Joseph lived with Mary for many months and they were regarded as husband and wife under Jewish law, but their marriage was not consummated until after the birth of Jesus, Matt. 1. 25.