biblical marriage

Mark 10:7-9 says that a man should leave his parents and unite with his wife so the two will become one flesh. What God has joined together, let no man separate. It seems that the teachers of the law and Pharisees were always trying to trap Jesus into saying something that would incriminate Him, testing Him and His answers. They were extreme legalists, requiring obedience to the most minute of the letter, even that law that came from God and not men. Of course, Jesus saved His most harsh critique for these religious extremists and used these opportunities to teach some of His most important lessons.

On one of these occasions, the Pharisees asked Jesus if it was legal for a man to divorce his wife, claiming that Moses let a man write a divorce certificate and send his wife away. Then, Jesus replied that Moses allowed this because of the hard hearts of human beings, almost as an accommodation to our sinful nature, as detailed in Mark 10:2-5. Then, He added a lesson we all know if we’ve studied the Bible. We presume that Adam and Eve were married because they had children and generations of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Genesis 2 reminds us that God took one of Adam’s ribs and made Eve from that rib, bringing her to Adam.

She was to be called a woman because she was made from a man, which is why a man leave his parents to unite with his wife. “What God has joined together” is undisputed in this passage, and Adam made it pretty apparent that his heart was given to Eve. What’s not so clear is where they were formally married in the course of events. The lesson on divorce is clear, as is the lesson on marriage between a woman and a man. However, what’s unclear in all of the Bible is precisely what defines marriage. How do we know what God has joined together?

At what point does God consider a man and woman to be married? The Bible’s silence on the subject makes the question a bit challenging. There are many perspectives on the matter, and each one presents its challenges.

Different perspectives.

Maybe the most common thought on this is that God considers a man and a woman to be only married when they’ve completed some kind of formal wedding ceremony, taking vows before a pastor. This, they consider, is being married in the church and compare that to being married before God. Of course, no such requirement or guidance is outlined in the Bible. Some would say that God created woman and giving her to Adam is typical of a father giving away his daughter. Of course, John describes when Jesus and His disciples went to a wedding in Cana in chapter two of his gospel. Jesus wouldn’t have attended the ceremony had he not approved of the event, but this does indicate that a wedding ceremony is in God’s sight and required. While there’s a great deal of merit to this perspective, many questions are also raised.

If a ceremony is required, what would the ritual’s requirements be exactly? Does it have to be in a physical church building or in front of a pastor? What church is acceptable or unacceptable? Suppose the pastor is gay? Would this require adding more rules or exceptions to the rules? Another common perspective is that God considers that a man and a woman are married when legally married by the governing authority they live under. This viewpoint is supported by 1 Peter 2:17 and Romans 13:1-7.

In other words, if the government requires formal paperwork to be licensed to marry, the couple should follow those requirements and follow through with what the government entity requires. However, the challenge to this perspective is that marriage was recognized long before there were governments and requirements for a license to marry. Furthermore, many governments don’t have this requirement, which would also, by definition, legitimize and endorse government statutes on marriage. Some would say that the first time a couple has sexual intimacy is the time God recognizes them as married and highlights the one flesh idea outlined in several Bible verses. They also point to Isaac and Rebekah’s story in Genesis 24, where the family considered them married after consummating their marriage sexually.

However, in such stories, there’s much more to prearranged marriages than sex, including cultural procedures, verbal contracts, and a dowry. Further, this argument doesn’t take into account the Old Testament, which makes a clear distinction between wives and a collection of concubines, for example, or consider adulterous relationships, which wouldn’t be considered marriage. Many people in the United States seem to want to apply our rules to things that we assume everyone should follow. Of course, there are exceptions to those rules for people who cannot follow them. In other words, we give our accommodation. More or less, we apply our legalism to what isn’t found in the Bible.

So, what is marriage?

Perhaps first, we should consider what God expects of a married couple. Indeed, the Bible has a lot to say about that. Throughout the New Testament, we read lessons on the relationship between a husband and wife, but none perhaps do so more poignant than as Paul writes to the Ephesians, as detailed in Ephesians 5:21. Paul taught that wives should submit themselves to their husbands as the Lord does and tells husbands to love their wives as Jesus loves the church and sacrificed Himself for her. The author of Hebrews says that all should respect marriage and the marriage bed should be kept pure, as detailed in Hebrews 13:4.

Many other verses make clear the biblical view on the value of marriage and how a husband and wife are to treat each other, and yet, the lesson in Genesis 2 starts and leaves us with a lesson for all. The Bible unquestionably and clearly intended marriage to be a commitment between a man and a woman to live for each other, sacrifice, respect each other, and submit to each other as we submit to our Lord. Circumstantial, cultural, situational, or legal requirements should be recognized and followed. These are a public acknowledgment of a private commitment, a commitment to love each other as we love ourselves. The kind of love that’s beyond emotion but is in our actions and attitudes. It’s a commitment to stick by each other through thick and thin.

Through good times and bad and all things, a lasting bond between a married couple surpasses even that of the bond with our parents. When a man leaves his parents, the two shall become one flesh. These are the vows. The commitment, responsibility, pledge, obligation, and responsibility of marriage shouldn’t be taken lightly, which is what constitutes marriage in God’s eyes.

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