Marriage - Definition & Practice



Part Three - The Definition and Practice of Marriage


We started our study of God’s view on divorce and remarriage the same place our Lord did in Matthew 19:4-6 by going to Genesis 1 and 2 and looking at God’s original design for marriage.

Matt 19:4-6, “"Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."

God’s original design for marriage included the following aspects. (for further detail see Bible Study Tools/Divorce & Remarriage/ Part One and Part Two)

1) Marriage involves the union of two equals (Gen. 1:26-27). 

2) Marriage involves the union of only one male and one female. (Genesis 1:27-28)

3) Marriage involves an order of authority (Genesis 2:7; 1 Tim. 2:11-14)

4) Marriage involves the completion of each partners. (Genesis 2:18-20)

5) Marriage involves a permanent decision (Genesis 2:21-24)

6) Marriage involves the most intimate relationship (Gen. 2:25)

Having reviewed God’s original design for marriage, the next logical step is to determine what constitutes marriage in God’s eyes. In other words, what unites a single man and a single woman in soul, spirit, and body? In Matt. 19:6, Jesus gives us the answer by appealing once again to the origin of marriage as recorded in Genesis 1 & 2. According to our Lord it is God that joins a couple together in marriage.” He and He alone has the authority and the power to do so. In Genesis 2, God did more than just bring a man and a woman into existence, but He also brought them together in marriage. In Genesis 2:22, having created woman out of the rib of Adam, God brought Eve to Adam. By doing so He in essences was joining the two individuals into one union. God has reserved this right of marrying couples ever since. This can be seen in the response of Adam when meeting Eve.

Gen 2:22-24, “He brought her to the man. 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." Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Since marriage, the union of a man and woman, is the work of God, what then are God’s requirements for creating such an union? What requirements must the couple fulfill in order to enter into this union with God? God’s requirements are simple and yet very demanding. For Him to create a union out of two individuals, the couple must agree to make a life time covenant to each other before God. Therefore, when the couple take their vows, they establish a covenant one with the other and God makes them one. It is the covenant, promises, or vows that a couple makes that God considers the binding force in marriage. Simple vows to say but very hard to live up too! The failure in so many marriages today is that couples do not take serious their obligation to fulfill what they promise to each other. If they would take them as seriously as God it would be possible to virtually eliminate divorce, remarriage, and dysfunctional homes.

Before we show the clear biblical support for this point, lets stray for a moment and address a common but wrong view on this matter. Many mistakenly believe that it is the physical union between a man and woman that constitutes marriage. However the Scriptures clearly indicate that the physical or sexual union by itself does not constitute marriage. Many biblical examples can be given to substantiate this fact.

1) Relations with a prostitute is not considered marriage (Judah with Tamar Gen. 38; Rahab the Harlot of Joshua 2)

2) Premarital sex is not considered marriage

a. Gen. 34:1-10 – a Hivite prince has physical relations with Jacob’s daughter Dinah. He desired to marry her and sent his father to see if a marriage could be arranged.
b. Ex. 22:16-17; Deut. 22:28-29 – if a couple have premarital sex (“they are not betrothed”) the young man could either marry the woman or if the woman’s father is against the marriage, the man will pay the woman’s father the dowry of a virgin.

3) Adultery is not considered marriage as clearly demonstrated in the case of Bathsheba and David (2 Sam. 11-12). It was only after Uriah’s death that David take Bathsheba as his wife.

4) Marriage is recognized even when the physical union has not taken place – Matt. 1:24-25 Joseph at the prompting of the angel took Mary as his wife but does not have physical relations with her until after Jesus is born. God viewed them as married.

5) Living with some one does not constitute marriage – John 14:17-18 Jesus talking with the woman at the well indicates she has been married to five husbands and was presently living with a sixth man whom she was not married too.

We established a moment ago that it is the covenant that the couple makes with each other that constitutes marriage in God’s eyes. The covenant is their declaration that they will join each other in life’s journey and will remain true to each other until death separates them. They promise to live up to all the responsibilities that God gives to each mate to care for one another through love, honor, respect, and sacrifice. This covenant being the basis of marriage is support clearly in the Scriptures. 

1) The testimony of Mal 2:14-15

“Yet you say, "For what reason?" Because the Lord has been witness Between you and the wife of your youth, With whom you have dealt treacherously; Yet she is your companion And your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.”

Malachi clearly indicates here that the man’s wife is a wife by covenant or promise, and with that promise God has made them one. Clearly it is the covenant or promise made by the couple to each other that establishes the marriage. It is also clear that the Lord has been witness to this covenant. This being the case, it means that the omniscient God who watches and hears all that we do, say, or think will hold us accountable to the covenant that we have made.

2) This concept is clearly presented in the Mosaic Law. 

a. Under the Mosaic Law, God demanded that all married partners who commit adultery were to be sentenced to death. There were no exceptions to this law. To know that your mate had committed adultery and not turn them in to the elders to be executed was to commit sin against God.

Lev 20:10, “The man who commits adultery with another man's wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.”

Deut 22:22, “If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die — the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall put away the evil from Israel.”

b. Under the Mosaic Law, God demanded that all betrothed individuals who have sex with some one other then their betrothed mate were to be put to death. The same consequences as adultery in marriage. This indicates that in God’s eyes the marriage began with the vows not with the cohabitation and sexual union.

One must note here that in Jewish custom, the betrothal period begins when the couple say their vows or promises to each other. In the eyes of God they were now married even though the physical union and cohabitation would not take place for a year or more. The groom would leave his bride with her parents to prepare a home for them and to make preparations for the wedding feast. When he had finished he would come and take her to live with him. It was at this point that the physical union took place. Therefore, because of the covenant, God now held both partners married and the consequences for cheating during that betrothal period was the same as if their marriage had already been physically consummated. Look carefully at the Law as given by God through Moses.

Deut 22:23-27, “If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor's wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you. "But if a man finds a betrothed young woman in the countryside, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; there is in the young woman no sin deserving of death, for just as when a man rises against his neighbor and kills him, even so is this matter. For he found her in the countryside, and the betrothed young woman cried out, but there was no one to save her.”

Likewise, the binding nature of the covenant was also seen if the groom died before the couple were able to consummate their marriage. She was to receive all of the inheritance rights that any wife would received at the death of her husband.

c. Finally, under the Mosaic Law, if a couple were involved in sex but neither were betrothed, the death penalty was not demanded. The reason the death penalty is not required here is because they have not made vow to anyone and thus there was no covenant broken.

Deut 22:28-29, “If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.” See also Exodus 22:16-17)

d. Therefore it is must be concluded that when the couple said their vows establishing a covenant between each other, God joins them together in marriage. If sexual immorality takes place before the betrothal or vows the penalty was to marry or a fine, however if it took place after the covenant, the penalty was death.

To summarize, we must conclude that the vows a couple make whether at the betrothal or on the day of the wedding are binding in God’s eyes and God places the couple into the union of marriage. Since God required the death penalty for breaking this covenant in the OT times, it is clear that God takes covenants and promises very seriously. He believes that if we promise we are going to do something that we are bound to follow through with it. This is true whether the person knows God or not. God holds him responsible for his promises.

Num 30:2, “If a man makes a vow to the Lord , or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”

Deut 23:23, “That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth.”

The reason God considers this so important is because He is faithful to fulfill all the promises and covenants He has made to man. When a Christian couple break their covenant whether through unfaithfulness or divorce, they are discrediting the faithfulness of God to keep His covenants. This can be seen in God’s comparison between his relationship with the church to that of the relationship of marriage in Eph. 5:22-.32.

God therefore takes all covenants made by man as very serious even if man does not. And of all human covenants, God holds none more sacred than that which we make toward our mates. There has never been a marriage of two that could not make the distance if they were both committed to each other and the covenants they have made

Because God takes serious the wedding vows and through them brings a couple into wedded union, He therefore reserves the right to Himself of uniting and separating every married couple. Jesus mentions this in Matt. 19:6. “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” Only God has the right or authority to void the covenant that we make to our spouse. A sober reality that all married individuals should take into consideration as they consider how well they are fulfilling those vows or if they are thinking of breaking them.