Note: this article is submitted in connection with our recent Policy Statement on Marriage and Sexual Morality.
(The following is an attempt to help a missionary struggling with cultural questions about marriage.)
These things are certainly complex because of man’s sinful heart and the sinful culture that he has produced. The Bible teaches that one man is to be married to one woman. To have sexual relations with someone other than your wife is adultery. God condemns adultery. Marriage in the Bible is presented as a leaving other authorities and loyalties (mother and father) and transferring those to your wife/husband. The husband /wife relationship is designed by God and the concept of “one flesh” seems to imply acting as a unit spiritually and physically and allowing nothing to separate them (other loyalties, physical unions, etc.).
There is no ceremony described in Scripture to mark this occasion although some are referred to. God presented Eve to Adam for a wife. In Genesis 29:21ff. taking a wife assumed physical relations and there was no right to have that relationship until one “took” his wife. There was also a feast (v. 22) with people invited. One could reasonably assume that something was said at this feast about these two now recognized as man and wife, and then afterwards the man and woman had sexual relations. Jesus attended a wedding. There was some kind of a feast there also, and one would not unreasonably assume that there was some kind of a ceremony/pronouncement before physical consummation of the marriage. From that point on they would be considered man and wife. Matt 25:10 also indicates some kind of a ceremony,
And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.
Also, the marriage supper of the Lamb indicates that some kind of an occasion should mark a wedding (Revelation 19:9):
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.”
Deuteronomy 22:23, “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,” mentions a definite act of betrothal (the word implies a truthful promise). Proverbs 31:2, “What, my son? And what, son of my womb? And what, son of my vows?” indicates some sort of vows. Malachi also speaks of a covenant, “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” (2:14).
It would seem then that a biblical wedding would include a promise (vow), an official agreement (covenant), witnesses (guests), and a feast or ceremony. After these things the man and woman would be considered “one” (loyal and bound to each other) and would not be considered adulterers for having sexual relations.
Regardless of what the cultural, social, or legal requirements are in a society, the Christian should desire to follow biblical patterns.
John Mincy holds an MA and PhD from Bob Jones University. He served as a missionary pastor in Singapore and is now pastor emeritus of Heritage Baptist Church in Antioch, California.