How is Marriage Established

We have received many questions about the establishment of marriage.  The typical question can be summarized as, "Do we need to have a marriage license in order to be married in the eyes of God?"  This actually is a very good question.  However, many times I perceive that the question is asked so that people can justify sin.  We will discuss that aspect later.  This article will deal with the topic of establishing a marriage relationship.  How does one rightfully enter into a marriage relationship so that the marriage is upright before God? Do we need a marriage license in order to have a marriage acceptable to God? Let's get started.

What is Marriage?

It is very important that we define marriage to ensure that we are all on the same page so to speak.  The first place we should go to answer this question is the bible.   Therefore, let’s look at the first marriage to see how it was formed.

Genesis 1:27-28 (NKJV) {27} So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. {28} Then God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

God created the male and the female and together they had dominion over the earth, not each other.  This is the first thing to consider regarding a marriage.  Let’s look at a couple of scripture passages.

Genesis 2:18 (NKJV) {18} And the Lord God said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him."

Genesis 2:22-24 (NKJV) {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.

Here are some important points that we can take from the above scripture passages.

  1. It was not good for the man to be alone
  2. God made a helper for the male, who the man called woman.  The woman was comparable to the man.
  3. The man is joined to his wife and the two become one.

I think that there are some significant points in these passages.  We note that the woman was brought to the man because it was not good for him to be alone.  Therefore, the man and woman produce a union that we call marriage.  It wasn’t good for the man to be alone and the woman was brought to the man to eliminate that aloneness. 

Question

Does this mean that every man should have a wife since it is not good for the man to be alone?

No.  This passage does not suggest that every man should have a comparable helper, i.e., a wife.  The passage simply means that it wasn’t good for the first man to be alone (We call him Adam, but that is not accurate.  Geneses 5:2 states that they were both called Adam.  Also see Genesis 3:20).  Of course if the first man was alone then the human race would not perpetuate.  Consider what the apostle Paul stated.

1 Corinthians 7:7-9 (NKJV) {7} For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. {8} But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; {9} but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Paul was single and he stated that it was good.  That shouldn’t be taken as a principle for all Christians.  Some people are gifted to remain single for the purpose that God has for them.  However, interestingly enough, Paul said that if you can’t exercise self control then it is better to get married so that you won’t burn with passion.  Some may conclude that he is referring to sex, which may very well be the case.  However, in a broader sense men have a natural affinity to a woman and vice versa.  So burning with passion could also mean a strong affinity to the opposite sex for relationship not merely sexual relations.

Some men and women desire to remain single and are gifted to remain that way.  If a person does not desire to get married and does not desire the relationship with someone of the opposite sex then very well.  It is not necessary that all people be married.

The original union of the man and woman was established by God.  God brought the woman to the man because it wasn’t good for him to be alone.  This union created the "one flesh" between the man and woman.  Of course that "one flesh" is not literal, but it describes the spiritual union between the husband and wife.  Let’s look at another passage of scripture that highlights the union between the man and the woman.

Matthew 19:4-6 (NKJV) {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,’ {5} 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’ ? {6} So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."

Notice what Jesus said at the end.  He said, "What God has joined together, let no man separate."  I think another scripture will shed some light on this joining aspect to help us understand.

Malachi 2:13-15 (NKJV) {13} And this is the second thing you do: You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, With weeping and crying; So He does not regard the offering anymore, Nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. {14} 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. {15} 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.

This is a very interesting passage and difficult to translate according to some commentators and if you look at the actual Greek.  However, if we look at the context of this passage then we see that the topic is Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, which is being contrasted with individual Israelite’s unfaithfulness to their wives.  It appears that some Israelites were divorcing their Israelite wives to marry pagan women.  That in principle is what the people were doing to God headed by the leaders (priests).

We all have the "God-breathed" life Spirit in us (See Genesis 1:7).  When two people are really married to one another then their respective spirits combine to form one spirit (union).  I like to think of the flesh in contrast.  The husband and wife come together physically (sexually) where the two physical elements (sperm and egg and respective chromosomes) come together to form a single being (flesh).  Likewise, perhaps our spirits do the same thing.  Therefore, if our spirits come together like that then we see that marriage is more than saying vows or some type of agreement.  It causes a change in the spirit realm between the two people.  Form this we can see that legal divorce is not sufficient to break that union, which is why a married couple is not to be divorced.  We will discuss divorce in another article.  Here it appears that marriage is indeed a spiritual union, which is a lifelong relationship.

The point of all of this is to highlight the concept of the male and female becoming one in the spirit realm.  This union is established by the covenant and commitment that the two have and express towards each other.

True marriage is first and foremost a spiritual union between a man and a woman established by the covenant or promise between the two.

The Legal Aspect of Marriage

If a marriage is spiritually established then is it necessary to adhere to the legal procedures to be married?  This is a very common question.  From the above discussion one can easily come to the conclusion that it is not necessary to adhere to the legal procedures in order to be married.  That conclusion would be wrong though.  Consider the following scriptures.

Romans 7:1-3 (NKJV) {1} Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? {2} For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. {3} So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.

We note here that Paul deals with the concept of the authority of the law as it pertains to the particular case of marriage.  This was not merely a Jewish concept since even the Gentiles would have been familiar with the authority of the law until one’s death.  The point that I want to make here is that there is a legal aspect to marriage.  Otherwise, Paul would have had to appeal to the spiritual aspect as we discussed previously.  So though marriage has a spiritual component to it, it also has a legal component.  God will work through any legal system since different nations have different laws for the citizens.  Consider the following scripture.

Romans 13:1-7 (NKJV) {1} Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. {2} Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. {3} For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. {4} For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. {5} Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. {6} For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. {7} Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

This basically instructs the Christian to abide by the governing laws (laws of the state).  In the United States we would abide by the local state laws dealing with marriage.  Therefore, in order to be rightfully married we must do whatever the governing law pertaining to marriage says.  We then become bound by that law in the marriage relationship.  As we discussed earlier, commitment and covenant between the married couple causes a spiritual change to take place where the two become one flesh.  The married couple is also bound legally.

The law does not effect that spiritual change.  The law does not care if you have really committed to the man or woman you wish to marry.  The law is only concerned with you completing the legal procedure to be married in that particular state.  The law does not require a spiritual union, which I believe is the problem with many marriages today.  We will discuss that in a future article.

Marriages in the Old Testament

Marriages in the Old Testament were mostly arranged.  The parents would establish a contract between their son and a maiden’s father.  By right the bridegroom could come and immediately take his bride to his home once an established pride price was paid.  However, there was usually a ceremony and before that there was typically a betrothal period.  The word "betroth" means, "to promise to marry or to give in marriage."  This was a Jewish (Israelite) practice before the law came by Moses (See Genesis 24:3, 38:6).  The father of the bride would be presented with a proposal for marriage and a bride price would be established.

I think it is very interesting that marriages where typically arranged.  We in the United States may find that very strange because we think marriage is about love and infatuation.  The couple was expected to develop love and togetherness in their marriage relationship as time progressed.  Think about that for a moment.  What if you never met your spouse before the marriage relationship was established?  I believe that we may find this strange because we are not used to thinking of marriage as a lifelong commitment.  We fall in love with someone and grow more in that love and conclude that she or he is the soul mate we were looking for, which may not be the case at all especially since the divorce rate is about 50% now.

People in these modern times get married because of love or infatuation.  Love is no reason whatsoever to marry someone.  Love can easily fade as time goes on and the relationship will have no foundation to stand on.  However, commitment will keep things going even if love dies.  Commitment can cause the couple to do what is necessary to re-ignite the love or establish the love if it had not previously existed.

I believe that commitment is the primary establishing agent in a marriage.  The commitment is what spawns the spiritual bond between the two.

Complete Marriage

Therefore a complete marriage is spiritual and legal.  It is spiritual because the two who are truly joined become one flesh or union.  It is legal because we must abide by the laws of the land pertaining to marriage.  Since we are to abide by the laws of the land then we must complete the legal procedures in our particular locale in order to be completely married in addition to establishing the commitment and covenant between you and your spouse.

Exceptions

Are there exceptions to the complete marriage described above?  Yes—kind of.  What remains consistent is the spiritual aspect of marriage.  Regardless of the legal environment where you live there still must be a union at the spiritual level, i.e., the two become one.  However, suppose there are tribal people outside of modern civilization?  These people may live in the wilderness and form relationships based on their own tribal laws (note that there are still laws).  In this case two people in the tribe may marry each other according to their own tribal laws and truly have a commitment for each other.  They of course will not abide by the laws of the state because they are apart from the state with regards to government.

So it is an exception if we consider the legal system outside of the wilderness.  However, it is not a real exception because there is still a legal system in place even though it is not part of the legal system of that location.  For example, suppose there were a tribe of people living in the wilderness somewhere in Alaska.  They have their own society and they are self sufficient and do not participate in the government system (this example is fiction by the way and is used just for illustration purposes.  I don’t want anyone from Alaska to misunderstand and be offended).  They would have their own procedure for getting married and a couple would abide by those procedures, which would have nothing whatsoever to do with the Alaskan government.  In that tribe that couple would be considered married, but to the Alaskan government they are not.

There is always some type of legal procedure that a culture would abide by with regards to marriage.  Every country has its own set of laws pertaining to marriage.  However, this marriage only establishes the legal union not the spiritual union that we discussed previously.  So though their may appear to be exceptions those exceptions are really only relative as true marriage is indeed a spiritual bond and involves some time of legal procedure.

Establishing the Marriage

A marriage is therefore established when the legal and spiritual aspects are satisfied. That means that the marriage covenant (commitment) is established and the legal procedures are satisfied.

Question
Is it possible for the spiritual aspect of marriage not to occur even if the legal aspect has occurred?

That is a tough question.  Given what we have discussed thus far I believe that a person can be married legally, but not spiritually.  I have to be careful here because some will immediately use this as a pathway to justify divorce at the beginning of the marriage relationship or to suggest that I am creating such a path.  I simply mean that a couple may not be committed to each other in a marriage relationship, but go through the legal procedures to get married because of infatuation, sex, opportunity, citizenship, etc.  That would be a legal marriage only.

For example, I believe that it is possible for a man to lust after a woman and to want her as his own.  He may admire her wonderful figure, her breasts, behind, eyes, legs, or some other physical attribute.  He may just as well love her company as she may make him feel good emotionally.  However, marriage is much more than those and entering marriage for those reasons does not in my mind constitute true marriage.  In this case the man married the woman’s body to legally posses it and have it for his pleasure.  He was not interested in a lifelong relationship just a legal justification. 

This is why I believe that marriages should be entered cautiously.  What I mean by that is that we should take marriage seriously and consider it to be a lifelong relationship.  We should pray to God for wisdom and help in selecting a marriage partner.  I think that people expend more effort in seeking God’s help in buying a home or car than they do a spouse.  That is unfortunate and another reason why the divorce rate is so high.

My opinion is that the divorce rate is so high because people not only do not know what true marriage is, but they entered a marriage relationship that they should not have.  When the sandy foundation fails during the storms of life then the marriage relationship fails since there was no real commitment in the first place.

Does this then justify divorce?  No.  Not really.  Of course if adultery or infidelity takes place then divorce is justified (the covenant was broken).  We will talk more about divorce in another article.  In any case, even though a couple may not have married for the right reasons they can decide to be committed to each others and change their lives accordingly.  They can build a solid foundation under their relationship to sustain future storms.  They can establish that spiritual union even after the wedding day so to speak.

Question

Is it possible to have a spiritual marriage and not a legal marriage?

In the same way that a couple may be legally bound but not spiritually bound, I believe that a couple can be spiritually bound but not legally bound.  Remember that true marriage starts with the commitment towards each other.  It is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman.

That does not mean that I can be bound spiritually and not worry about the legal aspect of marriage.  I cannot say that I am not under the law, but grace because that refers to something completely different.  God requires us to abide by the laws of the land.  Therefore, if there are laws pertaining to marriage where you live then you are required to abide by them.  Then and only then will your marriage be righteous.

I find that people attempt to justify living together to have sexual relationships by saying that they are married spiritually or something to that affect and are not willing to satisfy the legal requirements of marriage.  Some people don’t want to get married because they may lose some type of government benefit and therefore decide to live together and call themselves "married."  In both cases the couple is not married because they have not satisfied the legal procedures for marriage.  That means that even the spiritual union is insufficient for marriage if we do not follow the laws regarding marriage where we live.

So a couple could be bound spiritually, but not completely married.  If the two commit to each other and are joined spiritually as if there were no government, but do not satisfy the local governmental requirements for marriage, then they are not married.

It amazes me how many people try to justify a sinful relationship in order to avoid responsibilities.  I personally do not believe a man and woman living together is sin.  What is sin is fornication.  So if a man and woman can live together without fornicating (having sex with each other) then well (of course that is virtually impossible for two people who have a relationship with each other).  Anyway, two people (man and woman) who live together and have a sexual relationship who call themselves married, but avoids the governmental procedure is only trying to justify their sin and demonstrating that they are not truly committed to each other.  If they were truly committed to each other then they shouldn’t have a problem satisfying the law concerning marriage.  By living together and not satisfying the legal requirements they are both in a position to walk away from the relationship if things become undesirable.
Other times people claim that they are married in the eyes of God because of their commitment to each other and therefore do not need to get a marriage license for example.  I have discovered that people who live together that way because one or both will lose a benefit from the government if they get married legally.  Though they may truly be committed to each other they surely demonstrate a lack of faith in God to sustain them at the very least.

So once again God recognizes a marriage that is one in spirit and legal.

Summary

The following are the main points that were presented in this article.

  1. Marriage is a spiritual union between a man and a woman
  2. Marriage involves the legal system of the local government as well as the spiritual union
  3. True marriage is a commitment between the man and a woman
  4. A Christian marriage is established by the spiritual and legal unions.
  5. Since we are required to abide by the laws of the land then we are required to abide by the marriage laws in our governmental systems in addition to the spiritual union and commitment in order to be truly married
  6. Marriage should be taken seriously before entered into.
  7. A married couple can learn to love each other and love each other more even if the love dies during the relationship
  8. A man and a woman cannot live together and claim to be married.  The fact that they do so without going through the legal process demonstrates that they are not committed to each other.  An exception would be a couple living together who have established a wedding day and are planning it.  This does not preclude the fact that they could still be in sin if they have sexual relations while living together.

Conclusion

If you want your marriage to be right before God then you must have a true commitment towards your spouse-to-be and get a marriage license or whatever your government requires.  Anything less is not a complete marriage before God according to the scriptures.

Future Articles

We will move onto the following topics regarding marriage.

  1. The phases of the marriage relationship
  2. Responsibilities in marriage
  3. The concept of togetherness
  4. Sex in marriage
  5. Children
  6. Divorce
  7. Infidelity

If you have questions then feel free to write us at questions@pursuingthetruth.org.

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