May 11, 2008 Q & A

Christian Marriage


I would like to know the origin of the Christian marriage. Is it required to be married by a pastor and what is the bible reference.


Christian marriage is marriage after the pattern of the first couple—Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:21-25). That makes marriage a creation ordinance, pure and holy before God and man. Adam's fall into sin didn't change marriage, but Christ came to repair the damage done by sin, so now marriage needs the cleansing and the blessing of Christ if it is to be pleasing in his sight. So Christian marriage is simply a return to the creation ordinance.

During the Middle Ages Christian marriage was declared to be a sacrament by the Church of Rome. That means that marriage as such is impure and must therefore be purified. On this premise the Church of Rome "took charge" of marriage saying "people who think they are married are living in sin unless they are married by the church!" That is their doctrine to this day, though since VATICAN II this aspect of its teaching is de-emphasized.

But the Protestant Reformation restored the biblical teaching on marriage as a holy institution. (I have often said that there are no marriage problems; what are called marriage problems are just "people problems" which sinful people bring into marriage!)

The last part of your question—"is it required to be married by a pastor?"—deserves some explanation. First, the Bible doesn't look upon marriage as an exclusively church ceremony. Even the marriages mentioned in the Bible did not specify certain ceremonial requirements. For example, the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca seems to have been a private affair—he took her into his mother's tent and that was that. (Gen. 24:61-67). In the case of Jacob's marriage to Leah and later to Rachel, there was a celebration, but no mention of a ceremony (Gen. 29:16ff.) So also the wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-12).

However, marriage was a legal contract. Matthew 1:18-25 tells us that Joseph was "betrothed" to Mary. He thought, when Mary became obviously pregnant before they came together, that he must put her away (legally dissolve the betrothal) till he was told by the angel to take unto himself "Mary your wife." The betrothal was a legal compact or public record. To break that compact must be done legally. Of course, since Jesus was conceived in Mary, being still a virgin, Joseph took her into his own home. Now was that betrothal a religious or a civil ceremony? That's hard to answer since we're not told that it was due to Roman or Jewish law.

The New England Puritans regarded marriage as a civil matter rather than something tied to the church. Of course, the colonies considered themselves as Christian commonwealths.

Now to answer your second question. As far as I know, all Protestant churches regard marriage as a religious and civil ceremony. In the Orthodox Presbyterian Church marriage ceremony, when the vows and pledges are complete, the minister declares the bride and groom to be husband and wife "by virtue of the authority committed unto me by the church of Christ and the law of the state." In other words, all 50 states in the US deputize representatives of all religions to perform marriages. It leaves it up to the individual religious bodies to define who among them can perform marriages.

In the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, only ordained ministers in good standing can perform a marriage. Why? Because all of life is under the Word of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Therefore prospective brides and grooms should be instructed in the respective duties and privileges of Christian marriage. Ephesians 5:22-33 is preeminent in this instruction. And ministers are the ordained teachers of the church.

But, having said all that, marriage by a minister, priest, or justice of the peace is valid marriage. But if it is to be done under the authority of the church, it must be done biblically. Sacred vows and mutual promises are at the very heart of solemn covenants. And there is no more solemn covenant than that of marriage, since Paul says in Ephesians that marriage is patterned on the relationship between Christ and the church. In the Old Testament God permitted men to have more than one wife. And a man could divorce his wife for sufficient reasons. As you know, marriage was greatly degraded during Old Testament times. But Christ restored it to its original purity in Matthew 19:1-12. Easy divorce and polygamy were permitted earlier because of "the hardness of your hearts" (vs. 8). But Jesus reinstated monogamous marriage in his reaffirmation of the creation ordinance (Gen. 2:24) in verses 4 and 5 (Matt. 19).

I hope this covers the questions asked. Please feel free to ask for clarification on any points mentioned.



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