Were Adam and Eve married? This may seem like an absurd question, but in the space of a larger point, it is important that we begin the discussion here with whom Christians refer to as the first couple ever to inhabit earth. In being the only two people that we know God literally placed together to live as one, isn’t it important that we model their blueprint for marriage as closely as possible? With an estimated 2.5 million weddings taking place every year totaling close to $40 billion dollars, not to mention the effects of divorce on society, is it safe to assume that we’ve come a long way from the first model of a man and a woman becoming united in matrimony?
Define Christian Marriage
Marriage, in its purest intention, is a condition or a state of two people existing as one in covenant with one another and with God. It is a lifestyle agreed upon between a man and a woman to support one another, build a family unit and, thus, build a community. This state of being is God’s intention for man and woman. It is, in fact, the very reason why woman was created (Genesis 2:20-25).
The process of two people becoming married involves a conscious choice for two to live as one. The act of “becoming one flesh”, by way of sexual intercourse, is the holy right given by God, which accompanies and solidifies such a decision. The process need not include a person pronouncing two people as husband and wife and does not depend on the permission of a governmental authority, nor is it necessary for such an authority to declare by way of certificate that this union exists. As a sovereign religious institution, it requires no additional validation. Once the commitment is made, it is valid because it exists. Simply, it is the coming together of two people to live publicly as one under the guidance, governance and authority of God alone.
Okay, many will argue that Adam and Eve didn’t have a wedding ceremony with all of the bells and whistles because there was no one else to preside over their nuptials besides God. So then, let’s fast forward and discuss all of the wedding ceremonies that took place when Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob married their respective spouses. Have you ever wondered why no canonical detail is given of the vows that were exchanged? Who presided over the ceremony or what government gave the authority for them to marry? In fact, until we reach the story of Jacob marrying Leah and, eventually, Rachel, there is no account of how any of our patriarchs came to be joined in matrimony. When we do finally arrive at the story of Jacob and Leah’s coming together, we learn simply that Laban gave Leah to Jacob in marriage, that a celebration ensued and the two of them were sexually intimate. Of course, when Jacob woke up and discovered he had been given the wrong sister, he negotiated for Rachel and, once again, Laban gave her to him in marriage, this time with no mention of a celebration at all (Genesis 29:15-28). That people traditionally came together to celebrate new unions is widely known, but what isn’t found in the bible is actual marriage ceremonies, nor accounts of who presided over them and what, if any, government permission was granted. None of these things are detailed, because they simply didn’t exist. Not one of these unions of old mirror what we emphasize today.
Again, a marriage was negotiated between families (which was primarily a financial negotiation), a woman was given to her husband by her father and the act of them “becoming one flesh” or consummating the marriage via sexual intercourse and them identifying themselves as married to the public, was the actual act of them becoming a married couple. A commemorative feast, usually lasting a week or more, was known as the wedding, but it was in celebration of the newly formed marriage, much like wedding receptions of today, and not what actually joined the couple together.
Some may argue that these examples are all of Old Testament customs. That, since Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana, it is clear that weddings were also a part of the New Testament’s social structure. However, when closely assessed, it is also clear that no wedding ceremony, officiator or government authority is ever discussed in the New Testament either. That there was a celebration in Cana, but no mention of an actual ceremony sounds like not much had changed from the Old Testament patriarchs, until Jesus’ ministry.
Further, let’s ask ourselves, did Jesus ever perform a wedding ceremony that we’re aware of? For that matter, can we name a priest, judge or king that ever performed a wedding ceremony in the bible? Where are the instructions on which vows are to be recited or on what sort of written decree is to be rendered to the government in order to seek permission to marry or to validate the existence of a marriage?
Do you ever wonder why the formation of one of the single most important social constructs around the world, and certainly within Christianity, lacks explicit detail in the bible? The reason is very simple. We are so busy looking for, or assuming the existence of, weddings similar to our contemporary customs, that we have missed what the bible taught us beginning with Adam and Eve. Marriage is, pure and simple, the cleaving of a man and a woman to one another and becoming one flesh (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, Ephesians 5:31).
How marriage shapes community
No society can exist without children. Without them, there are no future generations and societies disappear. While marriage is not the only way to populate the earth, in most societies, it is the most desirable model. It helps in assuring the paternity of children, encourages parents to remain active in, not just the creation of children, but the rearing of them as well and represents a stable environment for them to thrive. Of course, marriage is no guarantee of any of these things, but it is the strongest hope that most hold for all of them. Further, research has clearly indicated that children reared in two biological parent households, where both parents are at peace with one another fare better socially and economically. Consider the following from Good News Magazine (July/August 2002):
- About half of first marriages, and up to 60 percent of second marriages, end in divorce.
- Single women as a whole are five times more likely to be poor than those who are married.
- Children living in single-parent homes are four times as likely to live in poverty than those in two-parent families.
- Compared to those raised in two-parent families, children of single-parent households are twice as likely to drop out of school, three times as likely to have an illegitimate child and far more likely to use drugs and engage in other antisocial activities.
- One third of American children are born out of wedlock.
That marriage exists across cultures, societies and time is not an accident, but the wisest of designs for civilization. With or without governing laws, it is one of the most fundamental constructs, or universal institutions, existing all over the world literally since the beginning of time.
History/timeline of matrimony
How then, did we get to a place where marriage requires a license, must be presided over by an official agent of the state, often a minister, before it is pronounced done? Let’s then take a look at the inception of, and the progression of, marriage ceremonies, licenses and certificates over the years.
Introduced during the reign of the Roman Empire, lower class Christian converts engaged in what was known as Common Law or Free Marriages. This agreement, between the two families and the couple, eventually became known as a Consensus to Wed and, still later, began being referred to as a Conscious Marriage. After the fall of the Roman Empire and, eventually, under the new reign of Emperor Justin, the Justinian Code became the law of the land. This codex gave instructions for daily life, including marriage, and explicitly stated that “Roman citizens are bound together in lawful matrimony when they are united according to law…“ (Medieval Sourcebook: The Institutes, 535 CE with emphasis added). This codex further stipulated that children begotten in legal matrimony were under the authority of their father, with a mother having no authority at all over her children. When children were born outside of legal matrimony, however, the children were regarded as those born of prostitution and regarded as being spurii, meaning "at hazard," or as being sine patre, meaning without a father. No legal demand for, or obligation of, support was available for children born of this status. Prior to this law’s introduction, however, a couple merely publicly stating they were married was enough to secure family rights and children need not have been born of legal matrimony to be considered legitimate children born to a father. Undoubtedly, the social and legal stigmas and prohibitions attached to a woman and her children, born out of wedlock, weighed heavily on making legal marriages the most desirable, more highly regarded, social marital union of choice during this period. It would still be several hundred years, however, before religion, the church and vows became common to marriage.
It wasn’t until the Council of Trent in 1563 that it became a requirement for Catholics to be married in a Catholic church before a priest and two witnesses. By the 18th century, marriage was a full-scale religious event throughout all of Europe. Early American settlers, in turn, brought these marital customs to North America. With new freedom, some chose not to have religious ceremonies, thus an opportunity for civil, non-religious ceremonies became an option in most of the colonies, alongside the option for religious church ceremonies.
While this is simply an abbreviated portrayal of events, it’s obvious that matrimony has evolved through the years from what God first instituted to what exists today.
The marriage license, being a more recent addition to legal matrimony, was initially created to permit individuals of different races to intermarry. During the period of African Slavery in the United States, there were rare occasions where a white and a free black were permitted to marry and a special license was supplied as proof of that permission. Eventually, the practice grew and lawmakers decided that, in order to lawfully track these unions as they moved amongst neighboring states, everyone, even those marrying within their race, would be required to obtain a license from the state before marrying. Prior to this, the practice of legal matrimony, for whites, only required a public posting of a written statement of marriage within 15 days following a religious or civil wedding ceremony.
All of this lead to the current laws stating that, in order for a marriage to be legal, one must obtain a license (or permission) to marry from their state government and their nuptials must be presided over by someone legally authorized to do so. Following the ceremony, this authorized person, along with a witness and the couple, must sign a marriage certificate to be filed within the state where the marriage occurred. It should be noted that none of these steps include or require God’s authority. However, for a clergy or lay person to preside over a couple’s nuptials, they must first be authorized by the state to do so, thereby making this person a double agent of sorts as they are serving on behalf of the church as well as on behalf of the state government. In Joseph W. Madden’s lauded Handbook Of The Law Of Persons And Domestic Relations (West Publishing Co., St. Paul, 1931), it is suggested that to simplify marriage “…as a ‘civil contract’ will be found upon examination, to have been used only for the purpose of expressing the idea that marriage, in the American states, is a civil and not a religious institution…”. In viewing the historical and current legal evidence, one can legitimately raise the question, “Has there been a deliberate effort to take marriage out of the realm of being a religious institution?”
Two forms of matrimony: One being “Real” Marriage and one “Legal” Marriage
Thus far, we have explored the God-given origins of marriage and briefly detailed how and why this modified institution came to claim the legal status it asserts today. That the two distinct forms maintain little resemblance to one another the distinction can further be made that there is one form of matrimony we will hereafter refer to as “Real” marriage/matrimony and a second hereafter referred to as “Legal” marriage/matrimony.
The Current Christian Opinion
In the book, If It’s Not Written In Inc, It Might As Well Be Written in Blood, the order in which God created man and man created government is discussed. A statement about government reads, “That which did not create it cannot be more powerful than it”. So since God made man and man made government, our next line of questioning should be, how did we arrive at the place where government now rules over him that created it (i.e. man and, on this subject, seemingly even God)?
Marriage is a God given right, yet a purely religious marriage without government permission and legalization, is not considered valid by most Christians. The very fact that most ministers apply for the authorization to marry two people is a clear indication that, even many bible believing Christians, do not believe that marriage is God-given. Instead, many have bought into the myth that marriage is ordained by the government! Many deny this, but it’s evident in that they are comfortable with taking God out of the marriage ceremony (as in civil ceremonies, atheist marriages, etc.), but vehemently oppose matrimony where the state is taken out of the process.
Obedience to the Law
Romans 13 verses 1 through 7 makes it clear that we are to obey the governing authorities of the land. Acts 5 verses 27 through 29 illustrates an example of when we must not allow those laws to supercede the laws of God. In this chapter, when the apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin council for their failure to obey laws prohibiting them from spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the apostles replied that they must obey God rather than to obey man. In chapter 22 of Matthew’s portrayal of the gospel, Jesus, referencing Caesar’s image on a coin, also said to, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s”. Clearly, marriage is God’s, not the government’s, but our government would have us believe otherwise and, sadly, many Christians appear to blindly agree.
For many Christians, two atheists can be respected as married though they were united with no mention, belief, acknowledgment or invitation of God into their nuptials, while two Christian who have married according to biblical instruction, but without the state’s permission or validation are not accepted as married, and instead, are regarded as fornicators living in sin. How is it possible to mimic what God gave man at the beginning of creation, yet be called a sinner for doing so?
Such misplaced authority might just explain why the divorce rates within the world and within the church are now running neck and neck. Sadly, many have reduced marriage to nothing more than a civil union. Many Christians will seek to disagree with this statement, but the proof is in our actions. That we invalidate religious-only marriages and seek permission and validity from government before we consider marriage valid says a lot about who we actually believe is in authority over our marriages.
We also must question whether our government is working on God’s behalf or with it’s own agenda? The bible instructs us to resist ungodly authority (Daniel 6 and Acts 5:27-29). How much more ungodly could an authority be that allows abortion, adultery, no-fault divorce and is, to a large degree, on the fence about same sex marriages (which, right now is legal in Massachusetts)?
Our government has already made it clear that it does not accept “real” marriage (God-authorized) as valid and that no marital rights for this kind of marriage are available to couples unless or until it is permitted and validated by the government. Even common law marriages involving no ceremony at all are validated by the state in which they are allowed and are not recognized unless and until certain legal requirements are met. So, if the government, who has already chosen not to recognize “real” marriage and who seeks to separate church from state, ceases to allow religious marriage to take place in tandem with state marriages, what will we do?
Think about this: Are atheists married? Are people who are married at the county clerk’s office married? Are people of other religious faiths married? Are homosexuals married (in places like Boston, Massachusetts where such is legal)?
Further, consider if we have the right to accept or reject a marriage as legitimate? If we say that two Christians are not married unless they do it lawfully, but then turn around and say two homosexuals are not married even if they have done so lawfully, how can we reckon the two? Either we believe in God’s model of marriage or the government’s model of marriage. We can’t do both because both, obviously, do not agree. Remember that two can’t walk together unless they agree (Amos 3:3) and a double-minded man is unstable in all of his ways (James 1:8). It should also be obvious by now that our society says that there are two forms of matrimony. One is secular and one is religious, but they are NOT the same thing. As Christians, we must choose whose we will serve (Matthew 6:24).
Suggestions For A Renewed Christian Perspective
Being careful not to be as the Pharisees that Jesus called hypocrites in Matthew chapter 15, we don’t want to also be accused of “letting our traditions violate the direct commandments of God” (vs. 3, LB). We cannot allow our “man-made rules nullify the direct commandment of God” (vs 6, LB). And we should “no longer teach our man-made laws instead of those from God” (vs 9, LB).
So now that we have become more aware of what secular matrimony is, let’s focus on what God’s order is in becoming married? His marriage does not require government permission or a contract. It does not require a ceremony or vows. In fact, Christ Jesus told us not to make a vow, that our word is our bond. He said that if a vow has to be made, something is wrong (paraphrased from Matthew 5:34-37). I wonder if it was by chance that Christ made this statement, immediately following His statements on God’s intention for marriage and divorce?
As has been done here, one can show scriptural evidence for “real” marriage, but where is the scriptural evidence stipulating that a Christian marriage must be given permission by the state government, be blessed by a person of the cloth or some other non-religious third party and filed with a government office in order for it to be considered a valid marriage? There is none. Most will say that obedience to this tradition falls under our command to submit to the laws of the land. Yet, it’s also been discussed here how our current family law is an ungodly authority and that we’re to resist such. Also, that “real” marriage breaks no laws only serves to refute the thinking that we must be married under civil authority in order to have a valid marriage.
It’s also important to note that this is not an argument for two people to be able to live together in sin or to fornicate. To do so would be to disobey God’s order and to completely disregard His will in these matters. Sexual intimacy was made for pleasure within marriage and for creating children within the confines of a marriage. To use sexual intimacy for anything outside of this is to use it for an unholy purpose and it is an absolute sin to do so. What we are discussing here is marriage…not sin!
Two Christians who choose not to participate in a “valid” marriage, must still partake of a “real” marriage in order to have a marriage which is honored by God. This means that the two people have to be committed to one another, in a monogamous relationship, for the rest of their lives, represent themselves as husband and wife to their community, have sexual relations as an act of becoming one and live out the rest of their lives according to the precepts of a biblical marriage. This model does not embrace divorce although it is permissible if one spouse is unfaithful and the offended spouse finds that they are unable to carry on in the marriage because of this. However, it should be noted that forgiveness is the more desired approach to this situation and that divorce be the absolute last resort possible. Every effort should be made to repair such a marriage, instead. It is better to forgive a spouse for infidelity than to divorce.
It should also be understood that a “real” marriage does not automatically afford the legal rights and privileges of a “legal” marriage. For instance, since you are not legally married, separate annual tax returns must be filed with the IRS and you are unable to participate in Social Security, Medicare, veterans, military or disability benefits with your spouse. Most employers will not allow a spouse to partake of company-sponsored insurance plans, nor are there any spousal benefits extended to you in the unfortunate demise of your spouse. Other benefits denied or withheld include, but are not limited to, inheritance rights, claiming the marital communications benefit in a court of law (where the court can’t force you to testify against a spouse), suing a third party in the event of the wrongful death or injury of your spouse, making medical decisions on behalf of an incapacitated spouse, making funeral arrangements for a deceased spouse or obtaining visiting rights in a hospital or a jail when restricted access is extended only to members of the immediate family. All of these benefits and protections are normally automatically extended to legally married persons. Some may be garnered through a Power of Attorney, a strategic estate plan or even through a civil union or domestic partnership (depending upon your state) which is popular amongst homosexuals who desire to legally marry, but are prohibited by law in doing so. Check with your state for a full listing of rights and protections offered and it’s best to sit with a good family planning or estate attorney to plan ways in which you can still access protections that are most important to you.
In conclusion, our faith as Christians has been under attack for some time. With all of the controversy surrounding the separation of church and state, it’s safe to assume that the attack will not end any time soon. That same sex marriages are likely to become federal law within our lifetime, is yet a further urging that we not allow the world’s perception of what is true and right to take precedence over what God has already specified. Therefore, in our quest to preserve the truth of marriage, it’s time that we be honest with ourselves. Marriage is not a civil union, but is an absolute right. It is not bound by civil law, but was already given to us according to natural law at the very foundation of the world.
The legal marriage that most people think of today was born out of centuries of failure, repression and a growing disregard for the basic, inalienable rights of man through God. Originally, marriage, a naturally occurring event between a man and a woman, ordained by God, suffered from man’s own selfish deviance. Polygamy, divorce, fornication, adultery and a general hardening of hearts forced marriage to be regulated by government authority and has now taken on, almost exclusively, a legal definition by church and certainly by the state. What we are left with today, amounts to little more than civil law as God’s laws have been almost completely disregarded on the matter, sadly, even in the church.
Before we can “take back” marriage, we must first “take back” our right to marriage as given by God. Remember, that it is “…what God has placed together (not a preacher, a judge and certainly not government) that no man can put asunder” (Matthew 19:6 and Mark 10:9).
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Someday, I'll rewrite and expand this, but for now it stands as the foundational thought process which started it all.
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Someday, I'll rewrite and expand this, but for now it stands as the foundational thought process which started it all.