What Constitutes A Marriage?
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It is written:
Matthew 19:6-So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
The question of “what constitutes a marriage” is one that has been around for centuries. In our world today, the question often is raised in regard to the subject of social convention. There are some who teach that marriage is simply a result of societal influence and cultural considerations. These folks would remove “God” from the equation of marriage.
However, the Bible is clear that marriage owes its origin to God. Indeed, God is the One Who joins together those who enter into marriage. As such, we need to let God’s Word provide the definition of marriage. When we do,, we see that marriage has at least three basic characteristics.
First, marriage is for males and females. This is made clear in the Book of Genesis when God made Eve for Adam:
Genesis 2:18-25-And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” 19 Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. 21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. 23 And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
God prepared Eve to be a “helper comparable” to Adam. The phrase used here carries with it the idea of a mate that will be precisely what the man needs. She would be his ideal counterpart, one to rule the Creation with (cf. Genesis 1:26-27).
“God did not create man an unsocial being. He, knowing better than man the social nature of man, voices it in a word spoken for man’s guidance. In every way the normal thing for man is to go through life in fellowship with a wife. Man needs her. Her position in reference to man is defined as first “a helper,” literally, “a help,” ‘ézer, abstract for concrete (K. S. 243 b). If a man is to achieve his objectives in life, he needs the help of his mate in every way, from the propagating of his kind down through the scale of his varied activities. Her position is further defined by the expression “like him,” keneghdô, literally, “as agreeing to him,” or “his counterpart.” She is the kind of help man needs, agreeing with him mentally, physically, spiritually. She is not an inferior being.” (H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, Volume 1 & 2, 152 (Kindle Edition); Ephesians Four Group)
The New Testament reiterates this same fact numerous times:
Matthew 19:4-And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE,’
Mark 10:6-But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE.’
1 Corinthians 11:11-12-Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.
Marriage in God’s order is always between male and female.
Second, marriage involves those who are mentally and physically able to enter into the covenant (agreement) of matrimony. This means that they are able to understand and give consent to being able to enter into this state. Not only do we see this with Adam and Eve, but with marriage throughout the Bible. Men and women were able to give consent as they entered into the covenant.
Genesis 24:58-Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.”
We see the same thing reflected in Jewish custom of the accepting of the wine:
“If the bride price was agreeable to the young woman’s father, the young man would pour a glass of wine for the young woman. If the young woman drank the wine, it would indicate her acceptance of the proposal. At this point, the young man and young woman would be betrothed. Betrothal was legally binding, just like a marriage. The only difference was that the marriage was not yet consummated. A typical betrothal period was 1-2 years. During this time the bride and bridegroom each would be preparing for the marriage and wouldn’t see each other.” (Tov Rose, Jesus in the Jewish Wedding: Messianic Fulfillment in the Bible and Tradition, 63 (Kindle Edition))
The notion that wives in Israel were considered property without any say so is an invention of those who have not studied the Bible and Hebrew custom.
“The idea of bride-price is presented by the New Atheists as though it’s a matter of buying a wife like you would a horse or a mule. In actual fact, the bride-price was the way a man showed his serious intentions toward his bride-to-be, and it was a way of bringing two families together to discuss a serious, holy, and lifelong matter. Having sex with a young woman without the necessary preparations and formal ceremony cheapened the woman and sexuality. The process surrounding the bride-price reflected the honorable state of marriage. Think of the dowry system used in places like India. In this case, the family of the bride-to-be gives money to the future husband’s family. Such a transaction hardly means that the groom-to-be is mere property! Why automatically conclude that a woman is property because this marriage gift is given in the Old Testament but that a man isn’t property under the dowry system? The bride-price was more like a deposit from the groom’s father to the bride’s father. The Hebrew word for this deposit (mohar) is better translated “marriage gift.” It not only helped create closer family ties between the two families but also provided economic stability for a marriage. This gift given to the bride’s father (often several years’ worth of wages) compensated him for the work his daughter would otherwise have contributed to the family. The marriage gift—preserved by the husband throughout the marriage—also served as security for the wife in case of divorce or her husband’s death. 9 In fact, the bride’s father would often give an even larger gift of property when the couple married. Hitchens’s complaint about the Old Testament’s bride-price is misguided.” (Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, 117 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
Third, there is the consummation. This was a typical part of the marriage in the Bible.
Genesis 24:67-Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
When the Apostle Paul was dealing with the Christians at Corinth who were committing sexual sin by having relations with temple prostitutes, he describes for us how the “one flesh” analogy of marriage in the Bible includes the sexual act:
1 Corinthians 6:16-Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “THE TWO,” He says, “SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.”
Nevertheless, the Bible also indicates that couples could be considered married apart from the sexual consummation:
Matthew 1:20-But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:24-25-Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.
These three factors seem to be the bare minimum for what the Bible teaches constitutes marriage.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.