Domingo, 03 de Março de 2024
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Three Factors that Make up a Marriage

The trivialization of marriage is one of the hallmarks of contemporary society - a present mark both in Christian and in secular context.

Indeed, not only media, governments and anti-God institutions claim the loosening of marriage bonds. Pastors, Christian writers, churches, seminars and entire denominations also propagate speeches that are actual apologies to the fragility of the marital bond, giving rise and encouragement to separation and making their incidence rates reach amazing levels.

Communities are rare and evangelical leaders are solitary in opposing divorce. Rarer still are those believers who rise up against remarriage. In addition, in most cases all this "tolerance" has no bases on serious biblical analysis or on mature reflection about a theme so crucial to people's happiness and the good of the church.

Instead, the defense of soluble marriage is built on poor jargons ("You have the right to be happy with another person"), on weak theological bases exposed in cheap rhetoric ("Our God is the God of second chance" or "God does not want us to stay with someone for a mere obligation") and on hermeneutics that juggles with Bible passages (one of the most striking examples is the defense of remarriage based on Haggai 2.9: "the latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former…").

All this produces wrong practice from which the church of God must flee. Therefore, believers need to correct their ideas about holy matrimony and build a biblical and solid conceptual framework about such topic. This construction departs from the analysis of what produces the marriage bond indeed, grounded on the following question: when and in what circumstances is the marriage bond between a man and a woman born?

The answer to this question is crucial because when there is no marriage bond uniting a couple, there obviously will be no marriage, therefore being impossible to talk about divorce, remarriage or any other subject related to marital ethics.

Therefore, before dealing with the general biblical teaching about marriage, one needs to determine what consolidates marriage, i.e., when it becomes real in the experience of men and women who nurture a relationship of affection.

From the analysis of Scripture, we conclude that the marriage bond happens when three facts occur: the free decision to marry, the solemn act of union and intercourse.

1. The free decision to marry - For marriage to exist, spouses need to join voluntarily, i.e., without the strength or influence of vices of will (duress, mistake and deception).

The old clause "man leave father and mother" (Gen. 2:24) implies a spontaneous act where the individual decides to leave the parental home and start a new family. Obviously, for someone to exercise his will freely there can be no coercion, threat or embarrassment (the famous marriage with "a gun in the back"). Neither will the free exercise of will exist in the case of people induced into error by the circumstances, as when spouses later discover that they are brother and sister.

Free exercise of will is also missing in case one of them is maliciously deceived and then taken to marry – which he or she would never have done if knew before the withheld facts. That is the case of women who get married finding later that the husband was already married, owning wife and children somewhere else. This also happens when the wife soon learns that her husband has no sexual interest in her once he married just to cover up his homosexuality. In such cases, it is clear that malice (intent to deceive) vitiated will, that has not been exercised freely.

Once verified the fact that there was no free decision to marry, one concludes that the marital bond never arose and the intended marriage never happened, being non-existent indeed.

Importantly, in the case of error or fraud, marriage is non-existent when the hidden fact would cause the person not to be willing to marry if he or she knew it before. Therefore, nobody can claim that their marriage is invalid because he did not know facts of secondary importance by the wedding day.

2. The solemn act - A solemn act is a ceremony that formalizes and gives publicity to marriage, differentiating it from mere cohabitation or intimate coexistence. Depending on the culture in which it happens, the solemn act can take different forms. It can be the celebration of a nuptial pact embodied in a written contract (as occurred in Palestine from interbiblical period on); it can be a festive event (such as wedding banquets mentioned in the Gospels); it can be done through ​the formal presentation of a dowry or bridal gifts (as in Gen. 24.52-54 and 34.12); it can be a religious ceremony (such as marriages made ​​in the church); or a legal rite (as bonds made ​​in registries).

Among the elements that make up the marriage, the solemn act is the most despised nowadays. Even pastors refer to this formality as unnecessary and irrelevant, stating it only produces a "piece of paper" (marriage certificate).

However, Bible surprisingly shows that the solemn act is fundamental so that marriage exists.It is the only element that distinguishes marriage from concubinage and the spouse from a simple cohabitant.

Starting with the Old Testament, it is noticeable that the sacred writer distinguishes the figure of the wife from the concubine (2 Sam 5:13; 19.5, 11.3 1 Kings, 2 Chronicles 11:21; Dn 5.2). What was the main distinction between these two positions? It is simple. The wife was formally married by means of a specific ceremony. Whereas a concubine had entered the convivial relationship by other means, sometimes even as a slave (Gen. 30.3-4 cp. 35.22). Hence the OT evidence that a solemn act is essential so that there is a marriage.

Bearing this idea, Psalm 45.8-15 is also worthy of note. The passage shows the degree of pomp and formality a wedding ceremony could reach in order that a real marriage took place. Now this was never required in concubinage.

In the New Testament, Jesus’ teaching highlights the need for a solemn act so that there is a marital bond. When talking to the Samaritan woman (John 4.16-18), the Lord said that she had had five husbands (men to whom she had been married) and the man she had now was not her husband, despite being with her.

In this passage, the Master gives the impression that mere coexistence does not make up a marriage, then saying the sixth man was not a husband to the Samaritan. The marriage had not occurred in a formal way. Soon, it was non-existent in the Master’s perspective.

I ancient times, it was widely understood that a solemn act is the only factor that distinguishes marriage from concubinage and that it is essential for someone to becomes a spouse rather than a companion. Rabbi Meir, who lived around the year 150, answered that: "The wife has a marriage contract, the concubine has not." when asked about the difference between a wife and a concubine.

This understanding has ample biblical protection, making it clear that the lack of solemnity in the cohabitation of a man and a woman is a irregular way of life, rejected by God and without the power to generate the marital bond.

Thus, those involved in this type of situation are just singles who live together. In addition, if their separation occurs, it does not even require a divorce. Moreover, as separated singles they may get married to someone else as they wish, this time fulfilling any formalities.

3. Intercourse - The biblical basis for sexual intercourse as a factor that makes marriage is in Genesis 2:24, once the sentence "two shall become one flesh" has clear sexual connotation (1 Cor 6:16).

Sexual intercourse is the sexual act in its full sense; so that intimate caresses and other sexual practices that do not involve intercourse itself do not fit this concept. Without that full sexual act, ie, without actual intercourse, the marriage will not exist.

This is one of the reasons why marriage between same sex people is not possible. "Partners" in these conditions are capable of exchanging caresses or practicing sexual extravagances, but it is impossible for them to engage in sexual intercourse for physical reasons and organic inadequacies imposed by nature itself.

Here, it is worth noting that the sexual intercourse is only considered a holy practice within the context of marriage (Heb 13.4) and that it aims at consummating the union of a couple (Matthew 19.5-6) and promoting the happiness and satisfaction of the spouses (Pv 5.15- 19; Ec 9.9, 1 Corinthians 7.9), protecting them from immorality (1 Corinthians 7.1-5).

Behold the three elements that make up a marriage. If one of them is missing, the conjugal bond does not exist. Indeed, if there is no free will, you will see a questionable or controversial relationship at least. In the case of the solemn act absence, a irregular relationship of concubinage will come to light. Finally, if there is no sexual intercourse, marriage also does not exist, but only a relationship of mere coexistence.

Pr. Marcos Granconato
Soli Deo gloria

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