Pastor David B. Curtis


What Makes a Marriage?

Genesis 2:22-24

Delivered 05/08/2011

In our society marriage is under attack. We live in a society that has little regard for the honor and sanctity of marriage as God designed it. We live in the age of the disposable. From the throw-away bottle, we've progressed to the throw-away camera and even to the throw-away marriage. "The pill, legalized abortion, and the age of "meaningful relationships" have invalidated the need for marriage," Sociologists claim. Is marriage becoming insignificant? The message this morning is polemic, that is I am addressing a wrong view of marriage that I have encountered.

Let's begin by saying that marriage is a divine institution. It is a divine institution, because God Himself originated it:

The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man 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." Genesis 2:22-23 NASB

It is quite wrong to imagine that somewhere in a cave around a flickering fire one night a group of previously promiscuous people decided that marriage might be a good idea. It is not a social contract that people worked out and found useful to society for a while. Society did not invent marriage. We received it from God. It was God who made Adam. It was God who said,"It is not good for the man to be alone." It was God who made Eve. It was God who brought her to Adam.

God officiated at the first ceremony in the Garden of Eden. He also directed its perpetuation. That the relationship of Adam and Eve was to be a pattern for man and woman henceforth is clearly expressed as the will of God by Moses in:

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24 NASB

So marriage is a divine institution. Let me state the obvious here, marriage is between a man and a woman. This is the divine design. I think we can all agree that marriage is a divine institution, but what is it that constitutes a marriage? Does there have to be a religious or civil ceremony? Does a clergy member have to perform the ceremony? "What constitutes marriage according to the Bible?" This is a difficult question to answer because the Bible nowhere explicitly states at what point God considers a couple to be married. Scripture does not give us a direct statement--"To be married you must"

Let me begin this morning by saying what does not make a marriage. There are those who teach that the sexual union of a man and a woman constitutes marriage. According to this view, if you have sex with someone, you are automatically married to them. Now before you dismiss this view as ridiculous understand that they do use the Scriptures to support it:

Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel. She said to the servant, "Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?" And the servant said, "He is my master." Then she took her veil and covered herself. The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother's death. Genesis 24:64-67 NASB

What did they do in the tent? There is no mention here of a wedding ceremony, no mention of a preacher or vows. He took her into the tent, and they had sex, and it says, "She became his wife." From these verses it seems that sex makes a marriage, but if you look at the context you will see that Rebekah agreed to leave her father and mother and be Isaac's wife:

"Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master's son, as the LORD has spoken." Genesis 24:51 NASB
Then they called Rebekah and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" And she said, "I will go." Genesis 24:58 NASB

So there are things understood that aren't specifically stated in the text. Rebekah is leaving her family and land to be Isaac's wife.

Another passage that is used is:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, "THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH." 1 Corinthians 6:15-16 NASB

This is a difficult text. The word "joins" here is the Greek word that is used in the New Testament when the Genesis 2:24 passage, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife" is quoted; but here the word is "joined." Here the person who "joins himself" to a prostitute becomes "one flesh" with her. In the Genesis 2:24 text these are speaking about marriage. This makes it sound like the sex act makes one married.

This text is not saying that if you have sex with a prostitute you are married to her.

It is not biblical to consider a couple as married just because they have had sexual intercourse. Scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 7:2 indicate that sex before marriage is immorality:

Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 NASB

Paul is answering a question that the Corinthians have asked him. The phrase "not to touch a woman" does not refer to the holding of hands or putting your arms around a woman. Touch is the Greek word "haptomai," which means: "to attach oneself to, to apply oneself to." This is a euphemism for marriage. The Scripture uses the word "touch" to refer to a union such as marriage. Look with me at:

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. "Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE," says the Lord. "AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 NASB

Paul is saying here: Do not bind yourself to an unbeliever. The basic meaning of "haptomai" is: "to attach oneself to or bind."

Contextually Paul is saying to the Corinthians, "Considering your present circumstances and considering the responsibilities within marriage, it is good not to marry. Then he says:

But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 1 Corinthians 7:2 NASB

So Paul is saying because of your present circumstances it is better to remain single, but if you can't handle being single then get married. To avoid fornication is not the only reason for marriage, but it is one reason. Paul is not giving us here his doctrine of marriage. He is speaking of the danger of sexual sin for those who are single.

What Paul is doing here is answering a specific problem that was given in a specific question in relation to a specific situation existing in Corinth at that time. The situation was this: fornication was rampant in the city. Temptation abounded on every turn. A man could not walk down the streets of Corinth without being propositioned. What Paul is saying in this passage is that the real solution to the situation in Corinth is, "Let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband." The solution to sexual temptation is not just have sex, and you'll be married. The solution is get married, and then you can have sex:

But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. 1 Corinthians 7:9 NASB

He doesn't say, If you don't have self-control don't worry about it, just have sex and you'll automatically be married. No, If you don't have self-control, get married! God has instituted marriage as the safeguard against the evil of sexual sin. Paul's purpose here is to stress the reality of the sexual temptations of singleness and to acknowledge that they have a legitimate outlet in marriage. Although celibacy is good, it is not superior to marriage, and it has its dangers and temptations that marriage does not have.

If sexual intercourse causes a couple to become married, it could not be considered immoral, as the couple would be considered married the moment they engaged in sexual intercourse. There is absolutely no biblical basis for an unmarried couple to have sex and then declare themselves to be married, thereby declaring all future sexual relations to be moral and God-honoring.

When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, He told here that the man she was living with, and therefore having sex with, was not her husband:

The woman answered and said, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You have correctly said, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly." John 4:17-18 NASB

The woman had been hiding the fact that the man she was living with was not her husband. Living with a person in sexual union did not constitute a "husband and wife" relationship. Jesus made that plain here.

So sex does not make a couple married, if it did, there could be no such thing as sexual sin:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 1 Thessalonians 4:3 NASB

The words "sexual immorality" are the Greek word porneia. The New Testament uses porneia, in at least four ways:

  1. Voluntary sexual intercourse of an unmarried person with someone of the opposite sex (1 Cor. 7:2; 1 Thess. 4:3).
  2. A synonym for adultery (Matt. 5:32; 19:9), which is sexual relations with someone other than one's spouse.
  3. Harlotry and prostitution (Rev. 2:14,20).
  4. Various forms of sexual sin such as homosexuality and bestiality.

Porneia is a broad term used to cover any form of sexual sin. It is from the root of porneia that we get our word "porno," and it covers about the same broad class of behaviors as "porno" does to us today. A man and woman who are physically intimate with one another and are having or simulating sexual relations would easily fit the definition and standard use of porneia in Jesus' time. To be physically intimate with someone not your mate, making physical contact with another person in a sexual way, is porneia.

God's will is that believers remain pure, and if they do not He will judge them:

and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 1 Thessalonians 4:6 NASB

The Lord is the avenger in all these things"--the word avenger is from the Greek ekdikos: one who carries out a legal sentence. This word is only used one other time in Romans 13:4, "avenger who brings wrath," referring to the magistrate as the bearer of the sword of justice, that is, as inflicting capital punishment.

Believers, God will judge those who violate His laws of sexual purity. Look with me at Proverbs 6: After warning his son not to lust after an immoral woman, Solomon asked two rhetorical questions:

Can a man take fire in his bosom And his clothes not be burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals And his feet not be scorched? Proverbs 6:27-28 NASB

The obvious answer is no, consequences are inescapable. Violating God's sexual standards is like violating the law of gravity, it has a way of catching up with you. The laws apply regardless of who believes in them and who doesn't. You don't need to believe in the law of gravity to be subject to it.

So having sex does not make you married, it makes you a fornicator. It is a sin and it brings you under God's temporal judgment.

So what is it that makes a marriage?:

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24 NASB

This seems to indicate that one requirement for marriage is the leaving of father and mother. What does this mean? When a man finds a particular woman as suitable to be his life long mate, he leaves father and mother. The word for leave is the Hebrew 'azab; it is a very strong word that means more than simple departure. It means: "to forsake, leave destitute, or refuse." The idea is not that a husband and wife no longer can have any relationship with their parents. Rather, they recognize that their relationship to one another must have priority over all other ties. It is in this sense that they forsake or leave their parents and form a new family.

Marriage also involves a joining to one's mate. The word for joined is dabaq; it means: "to cling to, remain close, adhere, be glued firmly." The idea is to have a bond that cannot be broken. This bond is a covenant. This is what binds them together:

And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. Ruth 1:14 NASB

Here the word clung is dabaq. Notice how Ruth clung to Naomi?:

But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. "Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me." Ruth 1:16-17 NASB

Ruth "clung" (dabaq) to Naomi by making a covenant with her, a bond in blood. The thing that makes a marriage is covenant. Marriage amounts to each partner committing his/her life to the other. It is a pledge to emphasize one's mate as paramount beyond all other relations (forsaking) and to remain faithful to (cling to) him/her for life.

"Yet you say, For what reason?' Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Malachi 2:14 NASB

Here God speaks of the marriage relationship as a covenant. A covenant is a solemn agreement between two parties. When a man takes a wife and a woman takes a husband, they voluntarily commit themselves to each other and enter this covenant relationship before God with all its rights, privileges, and responsibilities.

This suggests that one of the things that constituted marriage was a covenant made between a man and a woman, most likely in public, of their intention to be joined in marriage as a life-long commitment.

We can learn about marriage by looking at the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony. The Hebrew wedding service consisted of two stages. The first stage is betrothal. You enter this first stage of marriage as soon as a betrothal covenant is made between the two parties. The written covenant is called a Ketubah.

The husband accepts certain marital responsibilities, such as the provision of food, shelter, and clothing for his wife, and promises to care for her emotional needs as well. This contract is so important that the marriage ceremony is not complete until it is signed by the groom and presented to the bride. This demonstrates that both husband and wife see marriage as more than just a physical and emotional union, but also as a moral and legal commitment. The Ketubah is also signed by two witnesses, and considered a legally binding agreement. During betrothal, you are legally married, but do not physically dwell with your mate. Betrothal is so legally binding that you cannot get out of it without a divorce.

The second stage of marriage is the fullness, or consummation, of the marriage. Following the presentation of the bride to the groom, they were to go immediately into their house and consummate the marriage through sexual intercourse. These two things constituted the marriage in the culture of the First Testament

It is forbidden for Jewish couples to live together without this document. For Jews, the marriage covenant symbolically represents the covenant between God and His people, Israel.

The marriage ceremony, therefore, is meant to be a public demonstration of a couple's commitment to a covenant relationship. It's not the "ceremony" that's important in a marriage, it's the couple's covenant commitment before God and men.

Mary was already Joseph's wife in the eyes of God before they had sexual relations:

And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:19-20 NASB

Notice that Joseph is called her husband. In Jewish thinking a betrothed woman is already the wife of the man to whom she was betrothed.

"If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor's wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. Deuteronomy 22:23-24 NASB

She is called a virgin and a wife, so they had entered into a covenant but not had sex. She was not yet married to her husband. They have not lived together yet in one house like Joseph and Mary, and yet she is considered as his wife and he her husband.

Notice in verse 22 there is a different case:

"If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. Deuteronomy 22:22 NASB

There it was a case of a woman married to a husband. Not just betrothed, but married. So in Jewish thinking a betrothed woman is already considered as the wife of the man.

So from what we have seen, it seems that biblically a marriage is a covenant between a man and woman consummated by the sexual act.

Once a marriage is consummated, any sex outside of that marriage is a violation of the marriage covenant:

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Hebrews 13:4 NASB

I believe the construction here should be treated as hortatory, which means exhorting, advising, rather than declaratory. The KJV understands an indicative, and thus renders it as a statement or affirmation. "Marriage is honorable among all." But an imperative fits better with the context, which is a sequence of exhortations. The sense then is: "Let marriage be held in honor among all and let the marriage bed be held as undefiled." The hortatory sense provides the better antecedent to the ensuing warning: "but fornicators and adulterers God will judge."

"Marriage is to be held in honor among all"--the word honor is timios, which means: "held as of great price, esteemed, especially dear."

How was marriage being dishonored? In what ways were they not honoring marriage? Two ways: The church was being troubled in the apostolic period by advocates of extreme asceticism who regarded marriage as defiling and insisted on celibacy for the attainment of godliness. This is evident from Paul's words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1-3 where he says they were, "forbidding to marry."

Another way that they were dishonoring marriage was by lightly esteeming the marriage bond by condoning every kind of sexual license. "The marriage bed is to be undefiled"--bed is the Greek koite, which is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Marriage, since it is an ordinance of God, is neither defiling, nor is it to be defiled by sexual promiscuity. I don''t think that we have a problem today with those who say that marriage is defiling, but we are certainly defiling marriage! Infidelity is at an all time high today. The marriage bed is being defiled even by God's children.

Our verse tells us, "fornicators and adulterers God will judge"--the word fornicators is pornos, it designates those persons who indulge in sexual relationships outside the marriage bond, both heterosexual, and homosexual. Adulterers is from the word moichos, which indicates those who are unfaithful to their marriage vows.

Once a couple is married, the only thing that breaks the marriage covenant is porneia:

"And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." Matthew 19:9 NASB

The word "except" has far reaching importance attached to it. The question of remarriage hangs on it. Does it allow divorce but not remarriage? "Except" means: "to take out, outside of, to exclude, to leave out, apart from." When a person hears the word "except," he immediately thinks of "not including." He assumes that whatever is excepted is left out. For example: Every human being ever born will die and spend eternity separated from Christ "except" those who trust Jesus Christ. So, there is an exception to the no divorce rule, and that is sexual immorality. When a divorce is because of immorality, the innocent party is free to remarry.

There are always those who try to raise the biblical standard because what the Bible says is not good enough for them. Bill Gothard, who does the "Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts," tries to raise the biblical standard by saying that "fornication" means: "an incestuous or homosexual marriage." So, he says that only someone in one of those marriages can be divorced. He limits the meaning of the Greek word porneia to fit his view of no divorce.

The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way:

24:5 Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract (Matt 1:18-20). In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce (Matt 5:31, 32): and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead (Matt 19:9; Rom 7:2, 3).

So sexual immorality won't make a marriage, but it will destroy one. Sexual immorality would break the marital bond and release the partner. But realize that Jesus never commanded divorce for sexual immorality, but only permitted it. What Jesus is saying is that if a man divorces his wife for anything less than sexual immorality, he then causes her to commit adultery and commits adultery himself.

It is very important to understand this. If a man puts his wife away for any other cause, he causes her to commit adultery. In other words, that marriage bond has never been broken in the eyes of the Lord, because there has not been uncleanness. Therefore, that woman is still married in the eyes of the Lord, the bond has never been broken.

Let me attempt to answer some questions that may arise. Is civil license and/or secular/religious ceremony necessary for two people to consider themselves man and wife in covenant relationship with God?

The Bible never requires a wedding ceremony for two people to be married. It wasn't until the Catholic church attempted to institute the rite of marriage under their authority that the question of legality and recognition before God and the State came into play. Even after this, many of the reformers and Protestant Churches considered marriage to be a secular decision apart from church doctrine or sanction while others felt the clergy were the only ones who could establish a covenant of marriage before God and the Church.

God never gave the government the power and the authority to make two people one in His sight in marriage. A man and a woman trapped on an island can still be married in God's eyes. The thing that makes them husband and wife in the eyes of God is the covenant. Even without the wedding, as long as the covenant was made, they are married in God's eyes.

If the government requires certain "paperwork" to be completed before a marriage is recognized, I think that a couple should submit themselves to whatever process the government requires:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Romans 13:1 NASB

I strongly suggest that a Christian man and a Christian woman who made a marriage covenant before God would also submit to the government and make their marriage be recognized by the government, so that their testimony and witness to the world would remain credible. And also, so that they would not cause other believers to stumble, they should have a wedding ceremony with people as witnesses.

We can view it this way: They were married by God when they made the covenant together, the government merely recognized them as husband and wife when they made it official in front of the person authorized by the government.

Media #551

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322