What the Bible Says about
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

John Coblentz

What Is Marriage?
Pages 1 - 6

1. Marriage is the joining of an unmarried man with an unmarried woman to form a home of their own.

"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

"Thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac . . . . And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go. . . . And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her" (Genesis 24:4, 58, 67).

Whatever else we may conclude from these Scriptures, we can safely say that marriage is the joining of a man and woman in a lifelong bond. The man and woman leave the home of their father and mother and establish a home of their own.

2. Marriage is a covenant relationship for life.

"Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave" (Song of Solomon 8:6).

"Yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant" (Malachi 2:14).

"For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband" (Romans 7:2).

Marriage is not only the joining of a man and woman, but it is also a covenant to be faithful in that union for life. There is a proper jealousy in marital love, an exclusiveness which says in effect, "The love which I give to you I will give to no other, and the love which you give to me, you must give to no other."

We might note here that while this exclusiveness is prescribed in the Bible, it is also to a certain extent inherent in marital love. There is an unwritten but very evident expectation of faithfulness in the love between a man and a woman. It is ironic that this generation which so sings the praises of love with no strings attached is also saturated with songs of heartache, betrayal, and disappointment and regularly hears the news of violence and murder due to the unfaithfulness of these "lovers."

In light of the covenantal requirement in marriage, such variations as trial marriages or contract marriages, which place limitations on time or responsibilities, violate what the Bible teaches about marriage. These contracts form a cooperative relationship, but fall short of the lifetime oneness and commitment required in marriage. From a Biblical standpoint, therefore, a contract marriage would not be a true marriage, but rather, an illicit relationship.

3. Marriage begins with an event (a wedding) which marks for the couple and for observers a change from singlehood to marriage.

"And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage" (John 2:1, 2).

We have seen that marriage is the joining of a man and woman and that it includes a lifelong commitment. Now we are noting what at first thought may seem obvious: marriage has a particular ceremony, announcement, feast, or suchlike event which marks its beginning. This event may vary in its details from culture to culture, but for both the couple and the public, it marks the beginning of the marriage. Before it, the two are recognized as single and unmarried, but afterward, they are known to be joined in marriage.

In the Bible, any relationship which assumes privileges of marriage before the wedding is considered a morally wrong relationship. It is not considered valid marriage. Thus, a "common-law marriage" is not true marriage. Even when recognized by the state as official (after a given time of cohabitation), it fails to meet Biblical criteria. The line between fornication and marriage is virtually impossible to draw if the beginning of marriage is not marked by a particular event, by some form of a wedding.

4. Marriage should include those social or civil steps which make it a legitimate marriage in one's society.

In the Book of Ruth we find Boaz taking careful socio-civil steps in his marriage to Ruth (see Ruth 3:12, 13; 4:1-11). Jewish social practices by the time of Christ included a covenant with witnesses at the time of espousal and a feast with family and friends at the time of marriage. Although the Bible does not prescribe any socio-civil steps for marriage, we can assume God's people have followed and should follow social propriety and civil guidelines in getting married. (See also Romans 13:1.)

As we noted in the preceding point, civil law may recognize as valid that which does not meet Biblical requirements (as in a common-law marriage), but a valid marriage should include those social and civil steps which make the marriage legitimate in society.

In North America, this would include public announcements (usually following an espousal), a marriage license, a ceremony performed by a recognized minister or magistrate, and an official record of the ceremony.

5. Marriage gives the right to experience the bond of physical union.

"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

"Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other" (I Corinthians 7:3-5).

On the basis of the above Scriptures, some people consider physical union integral to marriage, so that if no sexual relations follow the wedding ceremony, it is not a valid marriage.

The point is debatable. Rather than absolutely requiring physical union for marriage, the Bible would rather seem to expect it. The sexual relationship is a very fundamental and tangible expression of the oneness and commitment of marriage, and to deprive one another sexually in marriage is wrong.

Others have carried the point of physical union even further, saying that it IS the marriage bond, that those who have a sexual relationship have formed a marriage bond. According to I Corinthians 6:16, sexual relations certainly do form a bond (for which cause harlotry is not merely a sinful act, but a sinful bond), but the Bible does not equate marriage with sexual union. This is clear in Exodus 22:16, 17, where it says if a man has sexual relations with a virgin, he has the obligation to take her to be his wife unless her father refuses. Then he must pay the price of her dowry. The point is clear: by doing to her what only a husband ought to do, he owes her all the obligations of a husband, but his sin does not automatically make him her husband.

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