What Constitutes a Biblical Marriage?

As a minister of the gospel one of the joys of my job is being able have a part in so many weddings of my congregants. This weekend I get the special pleasure of officiating my very first wedding.  As I have studied and prepared for this extraordinary day the question popped into my head, “What constitutes a biblical marriage?”  The Bible is clear on the role distinctions in marriage.  It is clear that marriage is meant to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life.  Yet, when does a marriage actually start?  What elements are involved in the beginning stages of a marriage?  What seals the marriage to say, “This is when my covenant and union began”?  The Bible is not silent on the matter, but it doesn’t speak definitively either. Thus, identifying the precise moment a man and woman are married in God’s eyes is a bit difficult. Yet, after much study and meditating I believe the answer lies, at least in principle, with three “C’s.”         

Ceremony

            While a wedding ceremony is not prescribed in the Scriptures, we most definitely see it described and illustrated in several places.  A wedding was very much a community and social event.  In Psalm 45 we find the sons of Korah explaining what a royal wedding ceremony looked like.  It was filled with festivities, beauty, gifts, and feasting.   In John 2 we find Jesus performing his first miracle at the wedding ceremony in Cana, a social event.  In John’s Revelation, chapter 19, we find the marriage supper of the Lamb.  This is the symbolic meal culminating and celebrating the marriage of Christ and the church.  In Matthew 25:1-13 we find Jesus telling the parable of the ten virgins.  In verse 10 He says, “And while they went away to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast . . .” Thus we find here and in all of these verses the idea of some sort of ceremony being part of a Christian wedding.  The point that I am making is that it was a common practice for there to be a celebration or a ceremony for the wedding couple.  We find this all over the Old and New Testament.  For that matter, we find it in every culture throughout history.  The ceremony seems to be part of the expectation of a marriage. The festivities that we find in Scripture would often last for days (Matthew 22) and would ultimately culminate with the vows and the giving of blessings.  Thus, for a marriage to take place it seems fitting that there would first be a ceremony.

Covenant

            Besides the ceremony, the most important aspect of the wedding festivities was and is the exchange of the vows, the promise and covenant.  When we look at the biblical record we find that God established marriage in the beginning.  He instituted it in the garden with our first parents, Adam and Eve. The first marriage was based on a covenant promise (Genesis 2:24). The act of marriage consisted of three things: leaving, cleaving, and becoming one flesh. The Genesis 2:24 commandment was repeated by Jesus in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7-8.  The Apostle Paul also used this covenant format in Ephesians 5.

            We find other references to the marriage covenant all over the scriptures. Yet one of the most prominent is found in Malachi 2:14.  The prophet writes, “But you say, ‘Why does he not?’ Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.’”  Here the prophet explains that a marriage covenant is not just “between you and the wife of your youth” but also with “the LORD” who was a witness of this solemn promise and vow.  While we do not have examples of the exact words that were spoken in a marriage covenant we do find certain promises that are to be made between a man and a woman in their covenant.

For the Men:

  • It is a promise to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25)
  • It is a promise to live sacrificially for his wife (Eph. 5:25)
  • It is to lead his wife spiritually (Ephesians 5:26)
  • It is to leave his parents and cleave alone to his wife (Ephesians 5:31)
  • It is a promise of monogamy (I Corinthians 7, Hebrews 13:4)

For the Woman:

  • It is a promise to joyfully submit to her husband (Ephesians 5:22)
  • It is a promise to respect her husband (Ephesians 5:31)
  • It is a promise of monogamy (I Corinthians 7, Hebrews 13:4)

Therefore, for a marriage to be a marriage in the eyes of God a covenant must be part of the process. 

Consummation

            While this aspect of a Christian marriage and wedding was not public it was expected.  Sexual intimacy between a husband and wife is the ultimate fulfillment of the “one flesh” principle found in Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, and Ephesians 5:31.  This act is the final seal on a marriage covenant.  Paul P. Enns remarks:   

“On the first night, when the marriage was to be consummated, the father escorted his daughter to the bridal chamber (Gen. 29:21–23; cp. Judg. 15:1). The bride’s parents retained the bloodstained bed sheet to prove their daughter’s virginity at marriage in case the husband attempted any recourse by charging that his bride was not a virgin (Deut. 22:13–21).”[i]

While consummation closes the wedding, it also marks the beginning of the marriage.  The “two becoming one” motif does start with the sexual union of the married couple but this “one flesh” union is much more than a simple act of sexual intimacy.  Notice the Matthew 19 progression: the man leaves his parents, the man joins (marries) his wife, the two individuals become one.  The last step is what consummates the marriage, but there is much more to it than this. The two are to be so knit together that they behave as one person.  While they are two separate people, this “one flesh” union makes them one, together.  Consummation marks the end of the old individual life and the start of the “one flesh” union that will continue through marriage for the couple.  Therefore, if the couple is biologically able to consummate the marriage, this should be the final seal of the wedding.   

The question may arise, “what about cultural and governmental expectations in marriage?”  Time would fail me in parsing out all of the nuances that are involved in the question.  But in short, while I believe the government has no place in the marrying business, a Christian should do all that is possible to live within the government guidelines for marriage in its land (Romans 13).  Thus, if possible, a couple should follow whatever cultural practices are required by law for them to be recognized as a legally married couple.               

For this article today, I have sought to answer the question, “What constitutes a biblical marriage?”  I believe the biblical evidence, in principle, points to these three C’s: Ceremony, Covenant, and Consummation.  If these things are present and true, then in the eyes of God I believe this constitutes a genuine marriage before the Lord.


[i] Enns, P. P. (2003). Weddings. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1664). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

Husbands, Are You Willing To Die For Your Wife?

I know I am going to date myself, but at one point in time I was a young starry-eyed romantic.  At 14, 15, and 16 years old I would stay up listening to the “soft rock” station so as to be able to tape-record the love songs that I liked (Yes, that is the way we once had to record songs . . .  on a blank cassette tape, before there was online file sharing).  One of my favorite songs was by the early 90’s Canadian star, Bryan Adams.  The song’s title was “Everything I do, I do it for you.”  Some of my favorite lyrics, “Yeah, I would fight for you. I’d lie for you. Walk the wire for you. Yeah, I’d die for you. You know it’s true. Everything I do. I do it for you.”  As a teenage boy, there didn’t seem to be anything more romantic than a song like this.  Yet, now as a married man, and having a much more sensible idea of romance I ask myself, and to those reading this, “are you really willing to die for your spouse?”  Now that the feelings of romance are much less than they might have been before.  How about now that life seems to just be routine?  Are you stilling willing to say words like the above mentioned with as much enthusiasm as a young teenage romantic?  If you truly have a Christ-centered marriage, I would hope the answer would be yes . . . though not in the same way as you would have as a freshman in high school.

I have heard it said, “It is harder to live as a martyr than to die as one.” I believe the same is true when we think about our marriages as well. A one time major sacrifice can be easier than a life filled with little ones.  So, my question is, “Are you willing to die for your spouse daily?”

Dying According to the Scriptures

Our daily Christian life is to be one filled with dying to oneself (Matthew 16:24-26).  It is to be one about putting others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3).  It is about doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31).  As we look to Christ, and worship him, this is the task that he assigns us to.  In other words, Christianity is not a self-centered religion.  It is not a religion of romance.  It is to be Christ-centered, which leads us to have a love for others.  Dying to oneself is to be the daily habit of the Christian.  Are you willing to die daily for your wife’s needs?  Are you willing to put her desires before your own?  If we truly desire to keep the Lord’s commands there is no better place to start than with the one you made a covenant with.  Are you dying for your wife according to scripture?

Dying as Christ Died

You are likely aware of Ephesians 5 where Paul speaks of a Christian marriage in terms of the covenant between Christ and the Church.  Husbands are told to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”  We don’t see this sacrificial covenant love through the eyes of a Greco-Roman romanticized understanding of love.  No, we understand and see this sacrifice that was filled with blood and wrath.  It was a love that led to a substitutionary death and Paul says that this is how we as men are to love our wives.  So men I ask you, “Are you willing to die for your wives?” Christ died for his bride when his bride deserved to die.  If this was some Hollywood tale it would have made for a great romantic movie.  However, this is not a Hollywood tale.  This is the truth about a holy God sending his holy son to die for an unholy bride which he in turns makes holy.  Christ didn’t die for her out of a desire to be romantic instead he died for her in order to make her righteous.

Romance is a wonderful thing.  If I am honest, I would say that I still enjoy going back from time to time and listening to some of those sappy romantic songs from my youth.  They are good for nostalgia and date nights with my wife.  However, when I hear that old Canadian pop-star sing “Everything I do, I do it for you” it speaks to me in a much different way today.  After being married for 12 years I hear, “Am I willing to die to my desires to have a little free time in order to be there for her?  Am I willing to free her to go to Bible study on Saturday while I watch our 7 kids?  Am I willing to lose sleep to take care of our sick 2-year-old so she can catch up on some sleep?”  My understanding of dying for her has changed a lot over the past 12 years.  I can safely say that I love my bride more today than I did the day we said our vows.  I really had no clue what being willing to die for her meant back then.  It looks much different now.  Yet, when I look to the Lord and His Word I start to see it a little better as each year passes.

Husbands, were you once a romantic but now that your wedding day is over a decade or a quarter century ago have you lost that loving feeling?  If you were once willing to hang the moon, climb the highest mountain, swim the widest ocean, or even die for your love back then, are you still willing to die for her today?  I would encourage you to look to the scriptures and to Christ to see what this looks like in the mundanity of life for your wife.  Christ died for his bride, and as long as we live we should be willing to die for ours as well.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

The Family Toolbox (April 2019)

Are Sundays Good for Babies?

The quick answer to the question is, Yes!  Megan Hill reminds us that, “ . . . The disruption of Sunday is a chance to remember that even our schedules are under the Lord’s authority. Once a week, the Lord breaks into our routine and reminds us that naptimes and snacktimes are not ultimate, nor are they determined by our own desires. In all things, we serve the Lord.”

Does Your Schedule Know You’re a Christian Dad?

“We probably won’t see an app come along anytime soon that informs us how our schedule lines up with our responsibilities as Christian dads. But we can pray that the Holy Spirit will grow our love for the gospel and our desire to faithfully instruct our children from that love with as much of our schedule as we can within the limited years in which God places them in our care.”

Five Lessons Learned from Twenty Years of Marriage

These are 5 timeless lessons that we can all learn from, whether you are a newlywed or you have been married for 40 years.  Divito says, “ . . .We still have many struggles. We argue, we can become cold and distant toward one another, and we don’t always see things eye-to-eye. But because of God’s love for us, with Christ’s grace toward us, and by the Holy Spirit’s strength in us, our marriage is like a beautiful flower that continues to flourish with age.” This is a refreshing reminder to all would be married couples or seasoned couples alike.

How to Have Assurance of Your Salvation

“Are you plagued with fears and doubts regarding your salvation? Ask yourself a couple of very important questions as you examine your own soul. Do you have evidence that the Spirit of God is causing you to hate sin and to fight against it? Do you have a love for the church of Jesus Christ? If this is not true of you—you may simply have religion, but your religion apart from genuine faith in Jesus Christ is empty and vain.”

How to Teach Kids to Tell the Truth

“If you’re going to use words—and you are—mean them. Mean what you say, and say what you mean. If you say, “Turn off the video game”—and they ignore you, and you do nothing—then not only does “turn off the video game” come to mean nothing, but all your words lose value. You make your words into a kind of lie, for “turn off the video game” apparently doesn’t mean what it seems to say.”

Young Children are Tricking Parents and Viewing Porn at Alarming Rates

Do you really know what your teens have on their phones?  In this piece we find, “The devastating effects of porn are widely known within the scientific community today, but what many don’t consider is how exposure to porn at an early age can lead to long-term negative social, emotional and cognitive effects.”  This is pretty eye-opening.  I would encourage every parent who allows their youth to have a smart phone to check this out.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell