Friday, February 20, 2009

Marriage: Yes! Marriage License: No?

See full size image I do not read Dear Abby to gain theological insight. Really I read it more for canon fodder and sermon illustrations of how people constantly do unbiblical things and wonder why their lives are filled with so much pain. But the last couple of days have addressed an interesting topic. One of which I am forced to make a decision about because of my profession. Here it is: what are the biblical instructions or principles related to whether or not and to what extent the state should regulate marriages.

The issue here is primarily not gay marriage. The columns have related to the issue of people choosing not to have state recognized (with a state marriage license) marriage ceremonies for various reasons. Most of these reasons relate to financial concerns. But some readers have commented on the validity of state recognization of marriage at any level. One reader asked whether or not in biblical times marriage licenses were issued? Should that question have an effect on how we view marriage?

So I am interested in your opinions that have a biblical basis. Until recently, I had never been asked to perform a wedding without state licensing. Can't reveal all the details about that decision because of the confidentiality thing; but it was interesting and difficult. In Peru it is fairly common to have married couples that are not legally married because of the difficulty of obtaining licenses and the amount of money required to gain them.

So should we require that couples get state marriage licenses? Are financial benefits or hardships legitimate reasons to avoid being married "in the eyes of the state?" What motivations might be? Does God recognize a marriage that is not through the state? If so, what constitutes that marriage? Is it like in that movie Cold Mountain where they just say, "I marry you" three times as they stare wistfully into each others eyes?

Again, I am thinking through the issue, so I am interested in your thoughts, resources that may be helpful, and experiences. I know it is a touchy issue (as with many of the readers in Dear Abby), but we must think biblically about these things too. For marriage is at its core designed to display the relationship between Christ and His Bride. So we are to glorify Him in how we practice and how we think about it. Looking forward to hearing from you!


  1. I personally do not believe a legal certificate is required for a biblical marriage. I feel that the legal aspect of our traditional, American marriages serves to satisfy the secular expectations and rules that our government has devised. The legal and financial privileges that accompany a legal marriage are, of course, convenient but not required in my opinion. I believe the basis for a biblical marriage is the commitments that are made between the man and woman and between the couple and God. If, on our cruise where I met Lew, we had been shipwrecked on a deserted island without the legal comforts of home...I still would have married him and we would have lived happily ever after in our coconut hut as a married couple in the eyes of God. Kinda like an Adam and Eve situation I would think. Also, as part of the collective Bride of Christ, I don't find anywhere in the Bible the mention of a license for that marriage and I'm not about to let that keep me from my Groom!!!

    One more thing :)Sorry this is so long Jason!
    If we mandate legality, then we open up the doors for same sex unions and divorce since those are both legal issues. When marriage is viewed as a lifelong commitment between a man, a woman, and God...those issues are not options. I've yet to see a biblical example where a legal license was required and I'd love to hear if you know of any.

  2. Hey Jason,

    I'm glad you started this blog. It's in my reader!

    I pretty much agree with Kati. I see no biblical requirement for a state sponsored marriage. One thing that is interesting about this, is that I also believe that a Christian couple who is married in the states eyes could get a state-sponsored divorce, but remain married in their own and in God's eyes. Say for tax reasons or health benefits. (not that I would necessarily encourage or recommend that). Basically what I'm saying is that a state license isn't what makes me married or not married.

    Also, I think it would be a great idea if vocational pastors stayed away from anything state sponsored; marriage licensing, tax exempt status, etc. If the state has a hand in these processes, then they have the power to compel you to do certain things or not do certain things. Everyday citizens have the right to think and believe what they want... tax-exempt institutions have to play by the rules. Of course, this isn't usually much of a problem right now but I think the future may be a little different.

    Anyways, I hope that answers your questions.

    God Speed,

  3. OK, I know this is an older post, but I just came across it and found it interesting.

    Upfront, let me confess that I am unaware of any biblical mandate for state authorization for marriage. I'm not sure if the Adam and Eve argument is complete, although I realize it is God a couple makes the commitment before (if they are godly.) If we use the Old Testament for reference shouldn't we take into consideration the presence of cerimonies to celebrate the union of husband and wife? It is something to celebrate.
    Also, if we as Christians are called to set an example, do we create doubt by manipulating governmental policies for lucrative purposes? Are we not called to be obeidient to the laws of the land, provided it doesn't cause us to violate the laws of God? And if by neglecting to register with the state as a married couple we create an opportunity for whipers of illegitamacy we perhaps become a stumbling block.

    But here is the other side of the coin that causes question in me. If two nonbelievers are legally married by the state, do we as believers consider them to be bonded in "holy" matrimony? I recognize their marriage and I'm sure God holds them accountable for the promises they've made to each other. Maybe this is headed in the wrong direction. I'm just curious.

  4. I agree with Kati. If a man and a woman declare themselves to be married and make a commitment, it's a marriage.

    As far as the state...they should only recognize marriages (not saying issue licenses, etc.) If John and Mary say they're married, the state should recognize it.

    Now if John and Jake say they're married, the state should say, "Nope, sorry."

    Hope I'm making sense.

  5. I was surprised to discover no Biblical evidence (See here.)
    that marriage ceremonies took place in the Temple, in synagogues, or were performed by Jesus or any New Testament leaders. This does not mean that God is not concerned about marriage. Based on the Bible, clearly, He is.

    I suppose that marriage, in Bible times, was neither a legal contract nor a religious one, but was one affirmed by social acceptance.

    Thanks for your comment.

  6. This has been an on going question for me that doesn't get answered. There are several ways to look at it and non is really that conclusive except that there doesn't seem to be a writ of paper for legalizing marriage in the Bible. The Bible does state that we should follow the rules of the governing authorities, except where they are going against God is concerned, but it also does not define the laws of man according to legal marriage as they did not seem to exist back then. If you are going by God's law it would seem that when a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife the two become one flesh and are married in God's eyes. Man will always be skeptical and gossip regardless if you present a state marriage license or say you are married because it is fruitful to gossip even if the fruit is bad.