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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Was marriage religious in New Testament times?

Most churches treat the marriage ceremony as a sacrament. That is, the marriage ceremony should be religious, as well as secular, and can be specially blessed by God.* Many persons desire to be married in a church ceremony. I have read, somewhere, that even in Japan, where most people never attend a Christian church of any type, many of them are choosing to be married in a church. I suppose that there is a fair proportion of homosexual couples who wish to be married in a church.

*disclaimer - my wife and I eloped, and were married in a civil ceremony. That's not why I'm writing this. Both of our daughters were married in a church setting, and we were happy that that was true.

The marriage ceremony, in the Bible, was not an especially religious event. I'm not good enough at church history, or at the history of the Israelite people, to know answers to some questions that I'd like to have answers for. So I'll stick with what I think Bible says.

Well, not really. I'll start with what it doesn't say. There are detailed instructions to the priests, in Leviticus and elsewhere, as to how to prepare and offer sacrifices, how to deal with mold in houses, how to decide if a woman has committed adultery or not, what to do if someone claims to be healed from leprosy, and other matters. But there's not a single instruction about how to perform a marriage ceremony. Jesus attended a marriage ceremony, but there is no suggestion that he attended in any other capacity than as a guest, presumably a friend of the family. Nor is there any suggestion that a priest or rabbi performed that, or any other marriage ceremony, in the New Testament. Paul has some instructions as to how to act toward a spouse, and suggestions as to whether or not to get married, but no instructions as to how to perform a marriage ceremony.

In New Testament times, there is no biblical evidence that marriage ceremonies were specially integrated with the worship of the congregation, and there is no such evidence in the Old Testament, either. Marriage ceremonies were a secular, social, civil event. So how did the marriage ceremony become a sacrament? I'm not sure. But my point remains. If God wanted it to be part of worshiping Him, the Israelites, and the early Christians, didn't know it, and apparently didn't expect it. It's a later development.

Does this mean that God is not interested in marriage? By no means. The Bible, from one end to the other, has a great deal about the marriage relationship. God spoke to Adam and Eve about this, early in Genesis, and Christ is presented as the groom of the church in Revelation. Christ reiterated what Adam and Eve were told. As mentioned above, Paul wrote about the marriage relationship, and how it ought to work. There is a whole book of the Bible which seems to be about matrimonial love.

In a later post, I'll try to consider some possible implications of the idea that maybe the marriage ceremony shouldn't, or at least shouldn't always, be connected with a congregational act of worship.

Thanks for reading.

See here for a related post, at a later date.


FancyHorse said...

Hmmm, I never thought about that. I always assumed that it was a religious ceremony from all time. It would be interesting to know when it started to become a church sacrament.

Martin LaBar said...

My thoughts, exactly.


atlibertytosay said...


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