Pastor Denny

Pastor, Musician, Martial Artist, and Alliance Church Planter/Pastor of "The Orchard" House Church Community in the Wichita, Kansas area.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What constitutes a marriage in God's eyes?

I had a discussion recently with an individual concerning a couple who considered themselves married but had never obtained a license from the state or performed a ceremony before a civil or religious authority. They had been co-habitating for several years and even had children together. I stated that these individuals were living in sin because they had never been legally married. His response to me was, “Why do I judge them to be in sin just because they haven’t gotten a license from the state or had a wedding ceremony, Where does the Bible say they have to have these to be considered husband and wife or married?”

Well, being from the old school as I am, I just gave him the status quo response that I had always been taught and believed but as I pondered it myself after we parted I realized I didn’t have a good biblical background for my beliefs on the subject either. As I got into a study of marriage in the bible and researched resources on the subject, both biblical in nature and historical, I found my ground was even more shaky. The following is from the text “Ethics for a Brave New World” pg. 301.


Though Paul teaches about Christian marriage (Ephesians 5), he focuses more on how husbands and wives should relate to one another than on what forms a marriage. Thus, this question seems best answered by appeal to the creation ordinances in Genesis 2. Genesis 2 shows that marriage is God’s idea (2:18). After God created the world and the first man, he decided man should not be alone. God created the animals, and Adam named them, but none was suitable as a helper for Adam (2:19–20). God then created Eve from Adam and brought her to him (2:21–22). Verse 23 records Adam’s words of recognition that she was the one suitable to be his helper. The passage ends (v. 24) by setting forth the elements that go into making a marriage in God’s eye.

Verse 24 states that because ( “for this reason”) a man recognizes a particular woman as suitable to be his mate, he leaves father and mother. The word for leave (’āzab) is a very strong word that means more than simple departure. It means “to forsake, leave destitute, or refuse.” The idea is not that a husband and wife no longer can have any relationship with their parents. Rather, they recognize that their relationship to one another must have priority over all other ties. It is in this sense that they forsake or leave their parents.

Marriage also involves a cleaving to one’s mate. The word for cleave (dābaq) means “to cling to, remain close, adhere, be glued firmly.” In this verse it means that once parents are forsaken, the man will not soon return to them. He will stay with his wife and direct his affection and attention to her. She will do the same to him. When the ideas of forsaking and clinging are taken together, it becomes clear that marriage amounts to each partner committing his/her life to the other. It is a pledge to emphasize one’s mate as paramount beyond all other relations (forsaking) and to remain faithful to (cling to) him/her.

The verse concludes by saying they will become one flesh. This speaks of union. The point is not that now there is only one person. Eve still had her own body and mind, as did Adam. Likewise, the phrase is not merely a reference to the sexual union of the partners. Surely, the phrase refers to the sex act, but the context demands that it mean more. We believe the phrase is a metaphor meant to signify the bonding or uniting of the two as a married couple. The sex act outwardly and physically points to the bond that has been created. Some argue that the phrase also signifies the creation of kinship or blood relation (cf. Gen 29:12–14; 37:27; Judg 9:2; 2 Sam 19:13).7

How is this union brought about? It comes into being as a result of two factors. The first is the commitment of life to one another, signified by the forsaking and cleaving of the partners to one another. The second is an act of God constituting or uniting them together. Jesus’command in Matt 19:6 not to put asunder those whom God has joined emphasizes the divine element in establishing the bond.

In my studies of the historical view of marriage I have also found evidence that before the middle ages most legal marriages were either arranged or of mutual consent whereby two individuals, male and female, agreed to a union of marriage and thus became man and wife. There was no secular or religious authority that had to give approval, and the only thing that might be considered equivalent to our contemporary wedding ceremony was the cultural celebrations that might accompany the joining of a man and woman as husband and wife and would sometimes last for days. It wasn’t until the Catholic church attempted to institute the rite of marriage under their authority that the question of legality and recognition before God and the State came into play. Even after this many of the reformers and protestant churches considered marriage to be a secular decision apart from church doctrine or sanction while others felt the clergy were the only ones who could establish a covenant of marriage before God and the Church.

So, I pose the question to those who are much more learned than myself, what constitutes a biblical marriage in our day and is civil license and/or secular/religious ceremony necessary for two people to consider themselves man and wife in covenant relationship with God?


Blogger Geeyosh Josh said...

I'd considered the question myself and asked myself "what is a marriage?" It is a covenant. What are the most basic and essential elements of a covenant as outlined in scripture? An agreement and a consummation. Nothing more. Which lines up perfectly with what you have found. I'm very encouraged! Thanks for sharing.

4:16 PM  
Blogger trvc said...

I am so here right now and I reallyu enjoyed amd appreciate your post. Thank you.

12:39 PM  
Blogger DEVINECASH said...

Thanks pastor Denny for your in depth research into this vital issue of our christian life. But I must stand to say this I might not be correct, As you you rightly stated in your article. in every covenant there must be an agreement, consummation and a witness, the problem lies on the third one. In whom's presence did this agreement take place? I think that is where the Church, the community and secular court comes in to just bear witness that such a thing happened between you and your mate. Thanks


9:51 AM  
Blogger gabz said...

Why does it always have to be man to witness a union, does that mean if brother so and so or pastor so and so is not present to witness the agreement mean that they are not married? Where are the witnesses when there is consumation taking place?

God is the witness, He is the one who brought the two together in the first place and is the pillar of that marriage not man with their laws and relgious minds. Marriage is a covenant made between two people in the presence of God, is that not so?

10:17 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Romans 13:1
God set in place rulers, he ordained them
John 2:1 Wedding ceremony
proper wedding in tradition
John 4:17 Samaritan woman

May I quote Romans 13:1

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

If you research, the bible laws are put into place by God our father. We are to submit to the law that govern us according to the Word given to us by the Father.

John 2 it talks about Jesus attending a wedding in Cana of Galilee.

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: 
according to the law, a traditional marriage ceremony.

John 4:17 Jesus meets the Samarian woman.....The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.

I find it interesting that Jesus did not make a mockery of her. She was living with a man , but he stated you are correct, you have no husband.
This would lend a credence to the fact that in God's eyes living together, does not constitute a marriage.

If a couple makes vows to each other that is wonderful, however in God's eyes unless married by law, or church it does not constitute a marriage. Also, if either party has made a vow, and this vow is broken when either displays volatile behavior, or seeks out others. A man cannot treat a woman badly and expect her to partake in a relationship. If a woman treats a man badly and not according to the law of love and obedience, a man can leave her.
This is just my humble opinion.

Chris Lambert

10:05 PM  
Blogger Jeff ragan said...

adam and eve lived together by reason of makeing a commitment, and in gods eyes they were husband and wife

8:20 PM  
Blogger Jeff ragan said...

there was no priest, or government official to pay for adam and eves, if they were not legal married, then all thier desendants are all illigitamit

8:22 PM  
Blogger Anon Anonymity said...

Well, I'd first like to point out that it is illogical to think that marriage is constituted by the government.

If this where true then Adam and Eve were never actually married and lived in sin the entire time.

God himself even said that you are to take him as your king over any man! Why would the word of man matter to the Lord Almighty?

In my mind, when two people decide they are ready to form the sacred bond of marriage, who is to say that they are not? God is the only witness that I need.

11:34 PM  
Blogger trevor pennington said...

yes Romans says this but our government, in particulary my state (va) has approved same sex marriage.So therefore its become an ungodly government.So should a man and woman submit to a government who has turned its back on God? I think not.1 John 3:20 states God know our own hearts.and 1 Corinthians 7:2, justifies my beliefs further on.

10:10 AM  
Blogger Paloma said...

I'm with Trevor 👍

2:07 AM  
Blogger JoThe believer said...

Trevor you made such a valid point, who can argue with it?
Jeff Ragan, you are so on it.
We must always look to God for direction. How can we put our trust in a government that focuses on everything but God's word, except when it is convenient for them like the swearing on the bible in court, then forbid church and state to intermingle in the next breath!
God's words are in their mouth but their hearts are far from Him. Man's law concerning marriage came long after Adam and Eve, so everybody back then lived in sin? God forbid!


8:59 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

Marriage was instituted by God in the garden we see but we must be faithful to not rip a scripture out of its context and take one unique instance as the set standard for how eveerything should be. For instance no one would read the account of Abraham and how he sent his servent to find a wife for Isaac by waiting at a well and the first lady who gave his animals water was a sign that she was his wife and conclude that that is the way we are to find our wives. To go wait at a well and bring an animal and the first woman to give it a drink is our wives lol. No that would be foolish. So we have to be careful to use a unique situation as the set standard. We have to look at the enitre flow of scriputre not just isolate one text as proof text. If you read scripture in its entiriety you will see that as time went on the people of God submitted to the cultural norms. You never again see a marrriage like you do in Genesis. And you have to realize that was unique because their was no one else around you could even say they were the government. So we see as time went on God clealry gave the institution of marriage into the hand of the Israeli government during the time of Moses which was a Theocracy. Israel was a nation and they had specific laws that had to be followed such as dowrys etc in order for someone to be recognized as truly married. The covenant also if you read historically was not mnerely some words to each other but was a signed document and was legal under the theocracy. Now in the New testament we as Gods people are no longer a physical nation but spiritual and God has given government to guide society just as he did with Israel. Which is why marriage having been given to government for the guiding of it and protecting of the partners involved is given over to the government to guide and if they say we must sign a document then biblically we must do so. If their is no legal covenant then their is no covenent. And as I mentioned dont just say "adam and Eve" because that is not being faithful to the whole of scriptures. This is why even Mary and Joseph were legally married it says in Mattew, they were betrothed. If ceremonies and legalities were unneccesary what do we make of that. Please be careful on your conclusions with this to not mislead others to believe they are married when they are really not. May we not make excuses around Romans 13. The only time we diobey the government isif they command us to sin. Period.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I agree

7:16 AM  
Blogger Turtle Davis said...

I agree

7:17 AM  
Blogger Bianca Basson said...

Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is a loving and caring God, His grace overflows and His love for us is unending. Why would you think he would mock a woman? One of his Father's children.. This is why, I think, many people don't want to know about our Lord and Saviour, people make Him sound the complete opposite to what He truly is. A loving and caring God who would never leave us, no matter how bad our pasts are, with Him, it only gets better and He is waiting for us all with open arms, irrespective of what we have done, even if we have denied Him in the past, His forgiveness is unending! Praise God for our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, for it is through Him that I am saved!

3:10 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Malichai 2 14 Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth against whom you have dealt treacherously though she is your companion and your wife by covenant

6:11 PM  

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