The recent Langstaff Letter on “The Future of Christian Marriage” stirred some further thought about the questions: “What is marriage anyway?” and “What does the Bible say about marriage, etc.?”
MARRIAGE IN THE BIBLE
The union of a man and a woman in marriage goes back to Genesis 1&2, when God declared the need for a helpmate for man. Monogamy is implied in the creation account as God created only one wife for Adam. Likewise, it makes it clear that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
In early Bible days, marriage simply meant the woman would go to live with the man. When Abraham’s servant brought Rebekah back for Issac, it clearly states: “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her.”
In Bible days, the young man’s parents usually chose his wife and arranged the marriage, which typically involved a public acknowledgment of the union.
As time went on, weddings became more elaborate with processions, beautiful garments, blessings by the parents, and a marriage feast at the house of the groom. The celebrations could continue for a week.
MARRIAGE IN JESUS’ DAYS
By the time of Jesus, there were three steps to marriage. William Barclay explains them this way:
“(i) There was the engagement. The engagement was often made when the couple were only children. It was usually made through the parents or through a professional match-maker. And it was often made without the couple involved ever having seen each other. Marriage was held to be far too serious a step to be left to the dictates of the human heart.
(ii) There was the betrothal. The betrothal was what we might call the ratification of the engagement into which the couple had previously entered. At this point the engagement, entered into by the parents or the match-maker, could be broken if the girl was unwilling to go on with it. But once the betrothal was entered into, it was absolutely binding. It lasted for one year. During that year the couple were known as man and wife, although they had not the rights of man and wife. It could not be terminated in any other way than by divorce. In the Jewish law we frequently find what is to us a curious phrase. A girl whose fiance had died during the year of betrothal is called ‘a virgin who is a widow’…
(iii) The third stage was the marriage proper, which took place at the end of the year of betrothal” (studylight.org)
Paul made reference to marriage in his letters with some particular counsel when necessary.
MARRIAGE ACROSS THE CENTURIES
Dr. Ken Chant, a long-time friend from Australia, describes it this way: “In Paul’s time the state was not involved in marriages, nor in general was the church. Then, and for centuries afterward, marriage was mostly a private contract between families. Laws banning common-law marriages, or “handfasting”, and requiring a legally approved formal union marked by a certificate from a registrar were not passed in the UK until the mid-18th century. Those laws established the general practice of marriage that still applies today. Across the previous centuries, apart from canon law setting some standards, the church was not much involved in marriages. That all changed after the mid-18th century.”
So, marriage, especially marriage licenses, are a comparatively new concept going back only a couple of centuries or more.
MARTIN LUTHER’S COMMENTS
For the benefit of my Lutheran friends, I might add another comment from Ken Chant on Martin Luther. “Are you aware of what Martin Luther said on some of these issues? For example: ‘Secret intercourse of those who are engaged to each other can certainly not be considered fornication; for it takes place in the name and with the intention of marriage, a desire, intention, or name which fornication does not have. Thus there is a great difference indeed between fornication and secret intercourse after the promise of marriage.” (#2796) … “One spouse may rob and withdraw himself or herself from the other and refuse to grant the conjugal due or to associate with the other. … Then it is time for the man to say: If you are not willing, another woman is; if the wife is not willing, bring on the maid.” (#2811) (“What Luther Says.”)
“Marriage,” to Luther, of course, was not a union legally sanctioned by the state or conducted solemnly in church. Within the context of his time, it was more akin to ‘handfasting’, or something similar, as the church practiced for some 1700 years before the state got involved.”
(Handfasting is a traditional practice and may correspond to an unofficial wedding where the couple intends to undergo a second wedding. It involves the couple grasping each other’s wrists and a cord being draped over their wrists).
MARRIAGE IN THE FUTURE
Now, what does this all mean for the future of Christian marriage? It is possible, because of the state/government system approving more and more relationships that are not biblical, the church may have to establish its own criteria regarding marriage.
The law has to be involved to some degree or other as marriage affects property, possessions, money, and more than that, it often involves children. Maybe we will have what some European countries have – A civil service conducted by the state and a religious service conducted by the church.
THE MARRIAGE SUPPER OF THE LAMB
One final thought. There is one great picture of marriage that remains in scripture. It is to be found in Revelation 19:7-9 (NKJV):
“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, ‘Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ “And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”
That is something for believers to look forward to – The day when we shall be with Him in heaven and join together in the glorious celebration of the marriage supper of the Lamb. Come Lord Jesus come.
Here is an excellent summary of the culture today regarding sex, sent by a reader: “The accepted norm for “dating” today means that you are having sex with each other. You can’t find a single popular TV show or movie that purports otherwise. Actually, while casual sex is the norm, cohabitation is shown on film as a big step toward commitment. Even saying ‘I love you’ is considered a big step on film; the couple usually is having mad, passionate sex for a long time before either one of them dare become vulnerable enough to say the ‘L’ word. And marriage is viewed as a passion-killer.
I don’t know what youth pastors are doing to counter this message. I haven’t heard any sermons on it from the pulpit in many years. My fear is that pastors aren’t even trying to broach the subject anymore.”