God, Government, Society, and the Marriage Covenant

By Ron Jones ©Titus Institute 2009

Scripture quotations are from The ESV© Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version©), copyright ©2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

God's Plan for Marriage for All Human Beings

The marriage covenant was created by God at the very beginning to be public and formal and practiced by all societies so all people will recognize that the two individuals are married under God. In Genesis 1:28 God gave to Adam and Eve a command to build civilization through families. It says,

And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

In Genesis 2, God creates for Adam and Eve their first home, which was a farm where they could cultivate the land (Genesis 2:15) and herd and shepherd animals to survive on the earth. We see this farm in Genesis 4 where Moses tells us that Abel was a "keeper of sheep" and Cain was a 'worker of the ground." As anthropologists tell us, farming is the key to growing a large population and that is exactly what God set up for Adam and Eve. But God does not have Adam and Eve live together and birth children without being married. In Genesis 2, God creates woman and in Genesis 2:24 immediately after creating Eve, marries Adam and Eve. Genesis 2:24 says,

"Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."

Notice that the statement about marriage is in the third person (a man shall...) rather than in the second person (you shall...). This is a formal declaration of the institution of marriage that God is creating here with Adam and Eve. After God created Eve from Adam in Gen.2:21-23, he married them together with a formal declaration. This is the origin of marriage. It was given at the very beginning of the creation of Adam and Eve. After this declaration by God, Eve is from then on called Adam's wife starting in the very next verse. Genesis 2:25 says,

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

When God gave that command in Genesis 2, it was for all people at all times. When he gave it, there was no culture, no society, no Israel, no church, only Adam and Eve. This is an institution for all of Adam and Eve's descendants no matter where they live and no matter whether they believed in God or not. This institution of marriage is the foundation of fulfilling the commands to build civilization in Genesis 1:28 by having children (within marriage), subduing the earth, and ruling over fish, birds, and animals. They were to hand these commands down to their children who would hand it down to their children and so on throughout human history. It is not a cultural issue; it is God's revealed will at the very beginning before any culture existed. And, in fact, it was handed down by Adam through his descendants through the centuries and is still practiced today in the cultures and societies around the world.

This reveals God's will for all the descendants of Adam and Eve that a man and woman would live together as husband and wife. God gives no indication that an adult man and an adult woman (who are not related) should live together under any other circumstances. Implied in that command is the idea that marriage is the only reason a man and woman should live together. This is how the godly line of the descendants of Adam and then Jews throughout history and in the time of Christ understood it. The Jews followed God's command in Genesis 2. They only allowed a man and woman to live together as husband and wife. Jesus never changed this. The early church followed this as well.

Jesus reinforces God's institution of marriage by stating that God himself made the formal declaration of marriage in Genesis 2:24. In Matthew 19:3-6 Jesus indicates that Adam and Eve had not joined themselves together, but God had joined them together in marriage and this is what marriage is. It says,

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."

In the context, Jesus applies this joining by God of Adam and Eve to the marriages of all peoples descended from Adam and Eve which is everyone. Jesus himself, while he was ministering on earth, made a distinction between being married and living together. When Jesus confronted the woman at the well, he rebuked her for having five husbands and made a distinction between her five previous husbands and the man she was "living with" whom Jesus did not call her "husband." In Jn.4:15-19, it says,

The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water." Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true." The woman said to him, "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet."

Jesus was saying that the man she was living with was not her husband because she was not legally married to him. Jesus did not recognize living together as marriage. But he did recognize that she had been married four times and each one of the spouses was her husband. It is not likely that she was Biblically divorced according to the Mosaic Law. It is most likely she was legally divorced and legally remarried according to the practice of the Samaritans, yet Jesus recognized those marriages and called those men her "husbands." This shows that God recognizes the marriage covenants made in the societies of their day if they follow the God ordained marriage covenant between a man and woman. This is consistent with Genesis 2:24.

This means that couples who are living together are not married because God has not joined them together in a formal marriage covenant as husband and wife. It is never God's will that a man and woman live together and have sexual relations outside the bond of marriage. No matter how convincing they may sound when they are living together, it is not God's will. Also, either of them can leave at any time without consequence. That is not marriage in the eyes of God. This couple has not pledged themselves to each other for life before God. They have not exchanged the marriage covenant vows, promising to be faithful, to live together, etc. before God. They have agreed to enjoy the benefits of marriage without the commitment. God never allowed that kind of relationship. Living together is statement by the couple to each other, "I love you enough to live with you, but not enough to commit myself to you for life and marry you." That is never God's will and it is not marriage.

God's Plan for Governing Authorities and Marriage

Has God ordained a role for government in creating the marriage covenant? Let's look at the role of government as ordained by God. Paul defines this role in Romans 13:1-7. It says,

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

God never gives all authority over peoples' lives to anyone. He alone has this authority. He gives limited authority to human governing authorities to accomplish his purposes. So, when talking about these human governing authorities, we must always ask what authority has God given to them and for what purpose? As long as they are exercising the authority God has given them according to God's standard and according to the purposes of their creation by God, we must submit to them. If they go beyond their God-given authority, we do not need to submit to them in those issues because they have no authority to do what they are doing. How this works out concerning the marriage covenant we will see in a moment.

Paul states several things in this passage. First, God has created governing authorities. This is seen in Genesis 1-4 where Adam was the governing authority in the early years of human civilization. He was the spiritual and societal leader of his family which was the only family that existed. Abel was to be his successor, but Cain killed him. It was not until Seth was born that another successor was available. The purpose of Adam as the first governor was to lead people to follow God's moral standards toward each other in society so that people can follow God's commands in Genesis 1 of having families and subduing the earth and ruling over animals for the common good of all.

This concept of a governing authority to lead people to follow God's moral standards was followed by the godly line of Adam through Seth and beyond which are described by name in Genesis 5 and 6. It was handed down from Adam to Seth to Enosh to Kenan to Mahalalel to Jared to Enoch to Methusaleh to Lamech to Noah and then to his three sons. Noah's sons eventually split up to populate the whole earth and form their own societies and their own governing authorities to lead their people in following God's standards which includes God's standards for marriage and family.

In Romans, Paul states this purpose of governing authorities to lead people to follow God's standards by giving the method they are to use in doing this. The governing authorities are to punish the wicked (those who go against God's standards) in society and reward the righteous (those who follow God's standards) in society. This is primarily to protect people from harm. Violating God's moral laws, sin, harms people. Following God's moral standards benefits people. Paul talks about "good conduct," "doing what is good" gets the governing authorities' approval and "doing what is wrong" gets the sword (punishment). Who determines what is good and bad? Only God does. So, when the governing authorities pass laws that follow God's moral standards, we are to submit to them. Many laws that are passed by governing authorities forbidding certain crimes such slander, libel, theft, murder, etc. follow God's moral standards and protect people from the evil of others. This is God's will for the governing authorities and Paul says we should follow them. Many laws that are passed are to create order in society.

In 1 Corinthians 14:40, Paul says "But all things should be done decently and in order." This principle from God which Paul applies to the church, also applies to society. Without some kind of order there cannot be peace. There will be conflict between people. So, when governing authorities pass traffic laws so people won't turn at the same time as other people and to keep people in different lanes so they don't run into others, they are doing God's will and we are to submit to them. However, because governing authorities are often unbelievers, they want to ignore God's standards and redefine morality and then pass laws that violate God's standards. This we cannot submit to. For example, God states in the Scriptures that an unborn baby is a person. God knew Jeremiah in his mother's womb. In Jeremiah 1:5 God says,

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

Jeremiah existed as a person whom God could know about and choose to be a prophet in his mother's womb. When the governing authorities redefine God's standards when human life begins, calling that little person, an embryo and a fetus rather than a human being and then pass laws in agreement with that, we do not submit to those laws, but we still submit to other laws that follow God's standards. So, governing authorities are created by God to create order and protect citizens in society in agreement with God's standards. When the laws are within God's standards, we are to submit. When they redefine God's standards, we don't submit.

Now, let's apply this to marriage. Because families are the foundation of all societies and governing authorities are appointed by God to lead people to follow God's standards, the governing authorities need to lead the people into following God's plan for civilization which is based upon God's definition of the family. People cannot do whatever they want in terms of marriage and family. This would destroy the society God wanted.

Marriage under God is a covenant involving people and society not just the married couple. It involves their children and their grandchildren. Marriage under God is a public covenant where people need to know who is married and who is not. If someone does not know that a person is married, a man might become attracted to a married woman and seek a relationship with her which he would never do if he knew she was married. A great example of this comes from Genesis 12. Abram and his wife Sarai traveled to Egypt because of famine. Abram was afraid because of Sarai's beauty that if he told the Egyptians that Sarai was his wife, they would kill him and take her to be a wife of an Egyptian. Instead he told her to say she was his sister, then they would both be treated well. The Egyptian Pharaoh heard about her beauty and because she was not married took her into his house while showering gifts onto Sarai and Abram. In 12:17-20, it tells us what happened,

But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife. So Pharaoh called Abram and said, "What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go." And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had."

God protected the sanctity of the marriage covenant by afflicting Pharaoh with plagues which would have been immediately understood by Pharaoh as coming from a god or the gods whom he had offended. God revealed to Pharaoh that Sarai was Abram's wife and he was to stay away from her. Pharaoh goes to Abram and rebukes him for not telling everyone that Sarai was his wife. He was angry because he could have unknowingly committed adultery and slept with his wife. This demonstrates the need for public weddings. People must know that a couple is married in order to act honorably toward them in regard to forming a relationship with them.

Society also needs to know who are the children of the married couple. If the parents of minor children die and there is no legal way of knowing who the relatives are, what would happen to the children? Owning property and other material possessions have always been vital to the physical survival of the family throughout history. Today, those material possessions and monetary funds are handed down to the next generation by inheritance. Inheritance is fundamental to the survival of the family.

The governing authorities have been appointed by God to make sure that families' rights (given by God) are protected in all these occurrences. They even protect the husband and wife during marriage and if the marriage ends. The marriage covenant is a covenant where two people promise to do certain things and they own property together and have children together. It is also a covenant that can be abused where spouses are hurt and harmed and defrauded and need to be protected. If the governing authorities are to follow their Romans 13 defined role, they must get involved in protecting the marriage covenant as God has defined it.

God's Plan for the Creation of the Marriage Covenant

According to Genesis 2:24, God defines marriage as a covenant between a man and woman where certain actions take place that define the marriage covenant. It says,

"Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."

1) The bride and groom will live together and help each other provide food, clothing, housing and other basic needs for their family.

This "leaving" involves severing the ties of physical, financial, and emotional dependency of their childhood relationships with their parents to "hold fasting" to each other and thus living together as husband and wife and building a future dependent on each other for support.

2) The bride and groom will become physically united to each other through sexual intimacy and will not engage in any sexual intimacy with others.

"And they shall become one flesh" obviously involves the husband and wife's sexual union together. It is implied that there is no sexual union with anyone else. This is clearly stated in the Bible when God speaks of the sin of adultery.

3) The bride and groom will show genuine love, care, and concern for each other as husband and wife and show genuine love and concern for their children especially by protection from harm.

This is implied in Genesis 2:24, but clearly stated in other places in Scripture. Paul tells husbands to love their wives in Ephesians 5:33 and tells wives to love their husbands in Titus 2:4.

The governing authorities do follow the above as the basis of the marriage covenant and protect the marriage covenant by requiring the following:

1) a license which is a legal document detailing who is marrying whom.

2) an officiant who legally takes responsibility to make sure the legal requirements are followed and that the bride and groom are genuine in entering into the covenant and that the marriage vows are exchanged so the covenant is entered into.

3) Two witnesses to legally verify that the exchanging of vows indeed took place and the marriage covenant was entered into.

The governing authorities also must follow God's plan in requiring a legal dissolution of the marriage covenant in divorce. They govern the custody of the children to protect them. They pass laws to protect the rights of spouses and the property they purchased together when married. They also protect inheritance for the children and all of society so everyone knows who owns the property passed down to others.

So, the role of the governing authorities is vital to the stability of marriage and society and has been appointed by God to pass laws so people will follow God's plan for the marriage covenant. However, if the governing authorities redefine the marriage covenant away from God's definition of marriage and allow same sex marriage as is happening today, those covenants will not be defined as marriage covenants by God. However, all other legally binding marriage covenants between a man and woman who make genuine vows according to the Scriptures are recognized by God as valid marriages even when they are entered into outside the church or people are not Biblically divorced.

So that's the marriage covenant. So how is the marriage covenant entered into before God? Must there be a formal ceremony and a formal exchanging of vows?

For a marriage to be valid before God and man it must have the following elements:

1. There must be a legal recognition by governing authorities of the marriage which usually entails a license which is a legal document detailing who is marrying whom.

2. There must be an officiant who legally takes responsibility to make sure the legal requirements are followed and that the bride and groom are genuine in entering into the covenant and that the marriage vows are exchanged so the covenant is entered into.

For Christians we prefer a Christian minister who knows God and will represent him at the creation of the marriage covenant (wedding) and make sure the marriage covenant is entered into according to the Scriptures. However, this is not necessary as long as the officiant is legally recognized.

3. Two witnesses (could be the minister or family member) to legally verify that the exchanging of vows indeed took place and the marriage covenant was entered into.

The exchange must take place in front of witnesses. When such a sacred covenant is entered into there must be reliable witnesses who can verify that a marriage covenant was created and when.

4. There must be a formal or serious exchange of marriage vows because that is what a covenant is, a set of conditions that must be met that two people are entering into. In most cases it is verbal, but it could be written down, but it must be formalized so that they and others know they have entered into it at a definite time and place.

5. There should be a formal recognition by the families that a marriage has taken place between their members. This is not necessary to make a marriage valid but is a good thing for the families involved to formally recognize the marriage before society. This is why there is usually a formal marriage ceremony before family and friends or if a couple elopes or gets married in a location far from their families, they usually have a wedding reception when they return.

So, God created and defined the marriage covenant and revealed it in the Scriptures. The governing authorities have the responsibility before God to lead people to follow God's plan for marriage. Where they do, then we are to submit to their authority and God's plan; where they don't follow God's plan they have moved beyond their God-given authority and we do not have to submit to the particular laws that do not follow God's plan.