Embedded in the Christian community, as well as the secular, is the notion and practice that marriage is non-existent unless each participant makes a vow to the other in front of a government official, and in most cases other witnesses. Once this is accomplished, the official declares, "By the power vested in me I now pronounce you husband and wife."
Believers in Jesus Christ defend Christian marriage based on these stated vows. They proclaim that we will be accountable to God for our vows to one another, and they are correct. We will be held accountable before God to uphold whatsoever we have sworn by oath, but when it comes to the vows that supposedly makes a Christian marriage, are the stated vows valid and are they acceptable to God?
What is a vow? When two people state their vows to one another to unite in marriage, they can concoct the vows to say or imply whatever they want. The most popular is "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part." Just to pick out one aspect of this vow, what is their meaning for "worse?" If this were true, there would never be a divorce. Just how bad do they consider the word "worse" to mean? Some have vowed to each other "as long as our love shall last." I take this to mean that one could abandon the other, because now their love for the other has diminished and, then, go take another to marry, doing it all over again. Would this vow be acceptable to God in that He would join two together based on this vow? Would this fit within His framework and commands of Biblical marriage?
Does the Creator of marriage base that union on the content of our vows? Does our responsibility end with our stated vows? If so, then marriage is defined based upon what our vows encompass (what we mean at the time) and not what God has prescribed. If we think that, we are sorely mistaken and in deep trouble. In fact, vows aren't even required to be married Biblically.
If one will examine the Scriptures, one will see that Biblical marriage was not fortified based on our present cultural system of vow making. The beginning process of Biblical marriage was cemented by the making of covenants. A covenant was a binding agreement of purchase, as is depicted and exemplified to all believers, through God's Word, who are under the covenant of Christ, (KJV) "...and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore... (I Corinthians 6:19,20). Joseph and Mary were husband and wife by covenant to begin with.
Covenants were binding and important, but Biblical marriage went beyond the covenant. As with Joseph and Mary and all Biblical marriages, the covenant was just the beginning process. There was the act of consummating (make complete) that covenant of marriage. This was accomplished within the bedchamber, which Joseph and Mary had not visited before her conception of Christ. It was here where the man and woman's sexual intimacy consummated that union, which then makes them one in body. Once this bedchamber consummation occurred, the covenant had no more relevance.
The celebrations of marriage, read about in the Scriptures, took place after the bedchamber encounter - once they were truly married. After this occurred, the covenant is replaced and becomes insignificant to the physical sexual intimacy of the bedchamber. It is here where God joined them together for life. As Jesus declared in Matt. 19:6, "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." It is exclusively the violation of this physical marital union (fornication) where Jesus addressed the approved "putting away" (divorce) and not the covenant or vow. One cannot commit fornication against a covenant or a vow. Between a man and a woman, fornication is a sexually intimate act in violation against their first legitimate sexual intimate encounter.
Some examples of Biblical marriage are seen in Genesis. One is seen when Abraham sent his servant to fetch a wife for Isaac. He sent his servant back to his kinsman with possessions to covenant a wife for Isaac. The servant returned with Rebekah. Once the servant told Isaac all that had transpired in finding Rebekah, the Bible declares, "Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved [served] her (Gen. 24:67)."
Another example was when Jacob covenanted with Laban to have Rachel as his wife. Notice how that after working seven years what the outcome was to be. Laban was supposed to have delivered Rachel to Jacob's bedchamber for him to marry her. Laban didn't honor the covenant, but deceived Jacob and delivered Rachel's sister Leah instead. Once Jacob had been sexually intimate (married) with Leah, he was now bound to her even though he was deceived - even though Leah was not part of the covenant. The bedchamber had power over the covenant. Also notice that he had to make a new covenant with Laban for Rachel and could not take Rachel to wife until Leah had her week of marriage celebration. Then Jacob took Rachel into the bedchamber and married her (Genesis Chapter 29).
You see, Biblical marriage involves much more than just a vow or covenant. This is what I explain in my book "It's Good For A Man Not To Touch A Woman." It's imperative that we understand God's way of marriage and not just accept what someone else tells us, whether it be the culture or even the church. As I stated in a previous article, God's definition of marriage can be found in His Word. It's a matter of whether we want to accept it or not. Not accepting it is to our own peril and to the detriment of the church.
Attention: Recommended initial article reading order for a Biblical marriage foundation:
The Honor of Biblical Marriage
Fornication: Sinning Against Your Body – Part 1&2
BIBLICAL MARRIAGE? Dear Lord I Messed Up!
Premarital Cohabitation: A Christian Mythology
Biblical Marriage and the Erroneous Marriage Covenant
Putting Biblical Marriage Asunder
BIBLICAL MARRIAGE: A Sacred Law
Divorce: It’s All About Being Married