The question arose at a relationship course that I am attending this month. They wanted to know whether the bible gave an explanation as to when we should consider a couple married. I thought this was an interesting question. In this day and age, we find more couples living together before they get married or sometimes never marrying at all. Is it a legal document that makes two people married? Is it the traditional ceremony?
I decided to do some research but after looking at every scripture which talked about marriage, I found out that not only was the bible not very clear on this but that actually there are very few scriptures on marriage many of which mention marriage only in passing. Several verses on marriage are repeats of other verses. For instance, Genesis 2:24, Mathew 19:5 and Ephesians 5:31 which state, “Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, ‘ for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” This is the first verse on marriage given in the bible. If we view this as a definition of marriage, we see the importance is placed on them leaving their parents and being united. I don’t believe for a moment that it meant that they should abandon their parents but rather they should stop relying on them for financial support and possibly emotional comfort or physical comfort. They are united so they are looking to each other for mutual support now.
1Corinthians 7:2 says, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” From this perspective, we see that a marriage is to keep ourselves safe from making choices that would result in immorality. As purity is something that we would want to maintain, then it is good if the marriage is sustained. It also implies that casual sex or immoral sex does not make a marriage. I have heard some people believe that a couple engaging in sex means that they are married so this simply is not true.
Romans 7:2 tells us “…by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage.” So marriage is one of commitment.
In John 2:1-11 we read about the wedding in Cana, where Jesus performs the miracle of turning water into wine. This is significant because this was Jesus’ first miracle which shows he supported the tradition of a wedding as an important celebratory event.
When we read the beautiful Song of Solomon, we have an example of two people who are very much in love. The expressions are intensely romantic. Here is just a sampling of how the groom feels about his bride:
SOS 4:9 You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. 10 How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume than any spice!
Marriage is meant for two people deeply in love and who aren’t afraid to show it or tell others (if you read more of Song of Solomon, you will see that much of the dialogue is the bride telling her friends how she feels about her lover and the two lovers telling each other.
In Revelation 19:7 and 8, we find the allegory of Christ as the bridegroom and his people the bride. “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” If we use this example then a marriage is ‘bright and clean’ or pure and holy.
Finally, 1 John 3:20 says, “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” Although this verse is not specifically talking about marriage, it does emphasize that what is important to God is where our hearts are at.
So although the bible doesn’t have a lot to say about marriage, we can come to some conclusions.
1. A couple was considered married in biblical times when their marriage was recognized by law and/or cultural tradition and their wedding was a celebratory event.
2. They were advised to be dependent on each other and no longer dependant on their parents.
3. Marriage was advised to safeguard against sexual immorality
4. The best marriage example in the bible was a couple who were deeply in love, pure of heart, committed to one another and have pledged to be faithful to each other.
I would say the love and commitment aspect to be the highest proof of marriage. There is of course the legal requirements that consider a couple married. These vary in different countries. One could argue that not all who are married legally are truly married in their hearts. It is also possible that those who are not married legally may in fact be married in their hearts. There are couples who long to be married legally but are unable to for various reasons. My conclusion is that the important question is not when are we married but how are we to be in our relationships?