Who doesn’t enjoy the beauty of weddings? Small intimate ones. Large lavish ones. Outdoor weddings. Indoor weddings. Oceanfront ones. Mountaintop ones. Early in the morning. Late in the evening. And at any time in between. Weddings are strategically designed to caress the emotions and to leave a uniquely indelible imprint. Right? But at what cost?
Apparently, if you can keep total costs under $30,000, then you are still within the range of only an average wedding. At least that is my conclusion, judging from a scan of top articles that surfaced after I googled the average cost of weddings. Think about it. That is a ten percent down payment toward a $300,000 property, which would be a huge beginning for most families.
According to Nicole Briese’s People.com article, the royal wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles in 1981, cost close to a jaw-dropping $50 million. By today’s standards and adjusting for inflation, that would be around $156 million. It was hailed “wedding of the century.” It was later reported “the worst day of her life.”
Typically, wedding plans alone grip with unequaled devotion a couple’s quest to create their own personal wedding day of a lifetime. But how much effort is devoted to being assured that this is the one God has appointed? A home that is a heaven on earth, where angels love to dwell, must decidedly begin with a divinely appointed pair. Even then, it is certain to be the challenge of a lifetime with eternal consequences. Why? Because Satan is certain to do anything possible to derail the two from God’s divine plan for their lives. We have Eden’s testimony to that.
Too many couples can testify that looking back, they should have halted wedding plans and remained single a bit longer. But the atmospheric rush of wedding bliss pressures everyone to simply sing a joyful tune. Everything moves steadily forward, despite any hiccups. And all hiccups tend to be judged as “only normal.” In the end, too many are scrounging through scraps of memories for a love song to sing.
So I was thinking of how much better marriages and families might fare, if there could be a more private approach to the actual establishment of the family. A more sober, thoughtful, prayerful approach might be best. That would allow more freedom to safely and quietly halt any potential fatal and permanent errors of judgment.
Would the Bible support such an approach? In fact, since the Bible is our unerring guide, How are marriages shown to be contracted and validated? Where are our examples there?
The first place to begin would obviously be in Eden. But Adam and Eve were the only two humans alive. Still, if pomp and circumstance were crucial to validate a marital beginning, then God could have produced a royal wedding to top all weddings with the millions of angels and unnumbered, unfallen worlds even then in existence. He could have set a permanent and unequaled global standard, like He did with the seventh day of Creation Week, by sanctifying it or setting it apart from the previous six.
Instead, what we come away with is that God simply presents Eve to Adam. Adam receives from God this precious gift of a woman and testifies to his utter satisfaction and to their oneness. The passage closes, noting only that in their nakedness before each other they were not ashamed. We don’t even see any reference to God officially pronouncing them husband and wife.
When Abraham’s servant was sent to choose the wife for Isaac, he prayed for guidance. God revealed to him the one appointed. His prayer was directly answered. And he immediately worshipped God. Then he shared his testimony with the family. Rebekah agreed to be taken to Isaac. Her family pronounced a blessing upon her, and she left with the servant.
Upon their arrival, the servant testified to Isaac all that God had done. Then “Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” In the very act of taking her (literally receiving her) and dwelling (also enduring and cleaving) with her, Isaac married Rebekah. It was an act of obedience to God. And obedience to God, we will all agree, is the highest praise. Obedience: that is worship.
When Moses sojourned with the priest of Median, Jethro simply presented to Moses Zipporah, one of his seven daughters. Just like that, Jethro became the “father in law” of Moses (Exodus 2:11-3:1).
When Hadassah, that is, Esther was taken to the palace of King Ahasuerus of Persia, she was presented to him after the required year of purification. She had been treated to “six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odors, and with other things for the purifying of women” plus seven maidens from the king’s house. The king showed her favor and chose her to be the queen, his wife. He set the royal crown upon her head and made a great feast (Esther 2:7-9,12-18). Perhaps, such accounts at least somewhat influenced the use of wedding crowns and impressive public marriage feasts among Jews and Christians. And that is no wonder, given the high regard for tradition and formalism among the elders.
But we have no similar descriptions until John 2, which describes the wedding where Jesus performed his first public miracle. Like the great parable in Matthew 22, it was only a feast. John mentions no exchange of vows. There was no mention of any priest officiating. Nor was there any public pronouncement of them being officially married before the supposed many guests as witnesses. No crown, nor any ring symbolized a valid and approved marriage. (Hear here the testimony of a couple’s decision to cancel their order of wedding rings.) Scripture provides no record of Jesus instituting any exchange of vows. Neither did He preside over any ceremony, although he and His disciples were specially called there. The involvement of Jesus was notably that of supplying fresh juice of the grapevine, which in itself “was a symbol” for His mission of salvation.
In fact, Scripture appears to never mention any wedding ceremonial details of any married couple, including Joseph and Mary, the parents of Jesus. Besides the visit to Joseph by the angel, who simply ordered him to get his wife Mary, we have no further mention of any ceremony—neither any feast. Although Matthew mentions a marriage, it quietly happens beyond a shut door. Only a select few went in. And although the story is a parable of the Second Coming of Christ, might it not have some relevance to how private an event is the wedding of a divinely appointed pair? Is it out of the question to celebrate a new beginning anytime within the first year or sometime thereafter?
So how did Christian marriages come to be validated in such a ceremony as we know today? I checked. What I learned was quite surprising, but not shocking. Like many other religious traditions, the marriage ceremony with the exchange of vows and rings before a priest, began in the Catholic Church.
Around 110 AD, it was decided that the Catholic Church would only officially recognize as valid those marriages that ceremonially happened in the presence of a priest. “As the Roman Catholic Church became a powerful institution in Europe, the blessings of a priest became a necessary step for a marriage to be legally recognized.” The practice was “written into canon law at the Council of Trent 1563.”
During this same era of ceremonial development, accommodating terms emerged. Hence, we logically find in the 1611 King James Version these terms: bride, bridegroom, betrothed, espoused, and wedding. The term wedding is further noted to be “of uncertain affinity,” according to Strong’s Concordance.
With the global reach and influence of the Roman Catholic Church, marriage laws requiring a similar adherence gradually replaced what became known as common-law marriages throughout nearly all of America. Only a few states continue to accept as valid those marriages that occur privately and outside the witness of priests or marriage officers of the state, subsequent to the general abolishment of common-law marriages.
In 2025, (according to a CNN.com article) Indonesia is set to criminalize cohabitating couples who are considered unmarried by their standards. Just how they will enforce it is not currently decided and is expected to be “very troublesome” to the tourism industry, which typically does not ask guests to present a certificate of their marriage. Interestingly, the decision came on the heels of the G20 summit of world leaders. Indonesia chaired the summit held in Bali, November 15-16, 2022. By December 12, it was reported that the governor wants it clarified that the new criminal code will not affect the tourism industry in Bali.
Still, Christians there must soon decide which is it going to be: the covenant of marriage as a divine appointment, witnessed by God Himself, or the state stamped certificate of marriage between any two individuals. Is there a difference in the sight of God? Wasn’t there a difference between the covenant that man made to God and the everlasting covenant that He made with man? Was there a problem with the man-made covenant? Absolutely. It was deemed invalid, because God was essentially left out of the equation. Could this be why Jesus said that man should not take an oath in Matthew 5:34-37? Rather, He said that one should simply agree or not agree. Say Yea or Nay. Anything “more than these cometh of evil.” The wedding, therefore, essentially happens in the actual cleaving of the pair–of the one to the other–in humble obedience to the will of God, as Scripture indicates.
Marriage, like it’s twin institution, the Sabbath, was established by God Himself during Creation Week in which God simply spoke into existence the world and everything in it, except Adam and Eve. Still, all things consist by God’s power. The Catholic Church acknowledges that the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, but that because of “its divine mission,” (Sept. 23, 1863) God’s prescribed and lawful day of worship was changed to the first day of the week: “a change for which there is no Scriptural authority” (p. 174). Many contend it is in honor of Christ’s resurrection, an event inherently and biblically recognized by the rite of baptism. Similarly, the Catholic Church admits that marriages are validated by the mere consent of the spouses, but the required formally stated vows and priestly conducted ceremony ensure the church approves the union.
Is there a problem with that? Is church dogma more valid than Scripture? You decide.
The Catholic Church further states, “In the Old Testament, marriage had no specifically religious character and was considered rather as a private matter. Over the course of centuries however, under the influence of pagan customs and the tolerance of the Mosaic Law, the pristine institution of marriage became to a certain degree perverted. Hence our Lord, who came ‘to restore the law’ (Mt. 5:17), among other things, had to restore also marriage to its pristine honor and dignity, as it was originally intended by God. . .”
The fact that God created woman with a man’s rib, which is specially designed to help protect the lungs and heart of man shows the intimate nature and critical importance God places on the marital relation. No any two persons (even though both are baptized) can, by simply contracting a document of marriage, ensure that the one is particularly suited for the other in his or her life work and in preparation for eternal life. Such an act has eternal consequences, either for eternal good or eternal damnation.
In fact, the prophet Ellen White insists, “It is a dangerous thing to make a worldly alliance. Satan well knows that the hour that witnesses the marriage of many young men and women closes the history of their religious experience and usefulness. They are lost to Christ.” T29 168.1
Indeed there is a holy mystery to matrimony, as stated in the Byzantine Catholic World. It further states, “A Christian marriage is a vocation, that is a special invitation of God to two baptized persons to marital union, in order to devote themselves to the service of a new life in Christ.”
In fact, there is no higher calling than to participate in the preparation of varied personalities for eternal life and to reflect the perfect image of Christ, the Righteous. Indeed, marriage exists for “one sacred purpose.” It is particularly designed for the salvation of the married couple and their collective work of influencing the world as they reflect God’s relationship to His world church.
“To every man is given ‘his work’ (Mark 13:34), the work for which his capabilities adapt him, the work which will result in greatest good to himself and to his fellow men, and in greatest honor to God. Ed 138.1
“Thus our business or calling is a part of God’s great plan, and, so long as it is conducted in accordance with His will, He Himself is responsible for the results. ‘Laborers together with God’ (1 Corinthians 3:9), our part is faithful compliance with His directions.” Ed 138.2
It is in this sense of faithfully complying with the directions of God (in which one has been appointed for the other) that the consent of spouses can validate their own marriage. Such an occurrence is indeed a private affair, as the work of the Holy Spirit moves upon individual hearts. To be celebrated in due time as a public event appears to be biblically optional.
“You may say: ‘But I have given my promise, and shall I now retract it?’ I answer: If you have made a promise [any promise] contrary to the Scriptures, by all means retract it without delay, and in humility before God repent of the infatuation that led you to make so rash a pledge. Far better take back such a promise, in the fear of God, than keep it and thereby dishonor your Maker.5T 365.1
“Remember, you have a heaven to gain, an open path to perdition to shun. God means what He says. When He prohibited our first parents from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, their disobedience opened the floodgates of woe to the whole world. If we walk contrary to God, He will walk contrary to us. Our only safe course is to render obedience to all His requirements, at whatever cost. All are founded in infinite love and wisdom.”5T 365.2
“Let those who are contemplating marriage weigh every sentiment and watch every development of character in the one with whom they think to unite their life destiny. Let every step toward a marriage alliance be characterized by modesty, simplicity, sincerity, and an earnest purpose to please and honor God. Marriage affects the afterlife both in this world and in the world to come. A sincere Christian will make no plans that God cannot approve.” MH 359.1