How Were Marriages Conducted In The Bible? What Roles Did The Clergy Play In The Conduct Of Marriages In The Scripture?

Some Christian denominations (especially in Africa) recognise only those marriages contracted in the church and officiated by the clergy as ordained of God. All other forms of marriages contracted outside the church are viewed with suspicion and are considered incomplete, until church wedding is conducted. Thus, people who marry according to accepted traditional rites or via the marriage registry, and who have not conducted a church wedding, are considered by some Christians as living in fornication, if they are to have sexual relations. Because of this, some people who have been married traditionally still live apart, and cannot consummate their union, until they have been wedded in the church. And, should pregnancy occur while they’re waiting for the church wedding, the church will not wed them. Are church weddings necessary before couples who have been married traditionally can lawfully consummate their union? Are church weddings even valid on their own, without a traditional or court marriage? We shall examine the Scriptures to answer these questions.

Genesis 2:21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

Genesis 2:22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her to the man.

Genesis 2:23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

Genesis 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall join to his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

In the first marriage in human history, we see God making Eve and then handing her to Adam, as her Father, Maker and Owner. God handed over Eve in marriage to Adam, and that became the standard and pattern for all marriages: the father deciding the condition for giving his daughter in marriage, and once those conditions are met, he hands her over to the man, and from that very moment, they become husband and wife.

The important point here is that, a woman has to be handed over to a man for marriage. The person to hand her over is her father, or the father figure in her life. God was Eve’s Father, since she didn’t have an earthly father. Therefore, God handed her over to Adam himself. Sisters, don’t hand yourself over to a man in marriage without your parents’ consent. Your glory and respect in marriage come from your being handed over by your parents to your husband, who will then become your new caretaker. Honour and respect your parents by allowing them to hand you over with blessings, so that your marriage will be blessed!

Ephesians 6:2 Honor your father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise;

Ephesians 6:3 That it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth.

Let’s look at the next record of marriage in the Bible and see how it was conducted. We will turn to the marriage between Isaac and Rebekah.

Genesis 24:48 And I bowed down my head, and worshipped the LORD, and blessed the LORD God of my master Abraham, which had led me in the right way to take my master’s brother’s daughter to his son.

Genesis 24:49 And now if you will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me: and if not, tell me; that I may turn to the right hand, or to the left.

Genesis 24:50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceeds from the LORD: we cannot speak to you bad or good.

Genesis 24:51 Behold, Rebekah is before you, take her, and go, and let her be your master’s son’s wife, as the LORD has spoken.

Genesis 24:52 And it came to pass, that, when Abraham’s servant heard their words, he worshipped the LORD, bowing himself to the earth.

Genesis 24:53 And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things.

Genesis 24:54 And they did eat and drink, he and the men that were with him, and tarried all night; and they rose up in the morning, and he said, Send me away to my master.

Genesis 24:55 And her brother and her mother said, Let the damsel abide with us a few days, at the least ten; after that she shall go.

Genesis 24:56 And he said to them, Hinder me not, seeing the LORD has prospered my way; send me away that I may go to my master.

Genesis 24:57 And they said, We will call the damsel, and inquire at her mouth.

Genesis 24:58 And they called Rebekah, and said to her, Will you go with this man? And she said, I will go.

Genesis 24:59 And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant, and his men.

Genesis 24:60 And they blessed Rebekah, and said to her, You are our sister, be you the mother of thousands of millions, and let your seed possess the gate of those which hate them.

Genesis 24:61 And Rebekah arose, and her damsels, and they rode on the camels, and followed the man: and the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.

Genesis 24:62 And Isaac came from the way of the well Lahairoi; for he dwelled in the south country.

Genesis 24:63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming.

Genesis 24:64 And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel.

Genesis 24:65 For she had said to the servant, What man is this that walks in the field to meet us? And the servant had said, It is my master: therefore she took a veil, and covered herself.

Genesis 24:66 And the servant told Isaac all things that he had done.

Genesis 24:67 And 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 account of the marriage between Isaac and Rebekah, we see some startling truths. The marriage was contracted in Rebekah’s house. Rebekah’s father and brother had to give their consent, as well as Rebekah herself. Gifts were given to the family of the bride from the family of the groom. Once the family of the bride and the bride had given consent and the dowry had been paid, the marriage was concluded. Feasting followed, to celebrate the concluded marriage. Thereafter, the bride was taken to her husband’s house and the marriage consummated without delay. We did not see any priest joining the couple on behalf of God. Does this mean that because no priest joined them before an altar, the marriage was not approved or blessed of God? Of course not! We know God approved and blessed the marriage because it was legitimately contracted! When parents hand over their daughter in marriage, following extant traditions, the marriage is approved of God. The people who represent God in joining a couple in marriage are the parents, not priests or pastors! Children belong to the parents who are their God-given care takers. The parents represent God and once their approval has been given, God’s approval is implied. Like God handed over Eve to Adam, it is the father or father figure that hands over a bride to her husband.

The next recorded marriage in Scripture was between Jacob and his two wives. Let’s see how those marriages were solemnised.

Genesis 29:15 And Laban said to Jacob, Because you are my brother, should you therefore serve me for nothing? tell me, what shall your wages be?

Genesis 29:16 And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.

Genesis 29:17 Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favored.

Genesis 29:18 And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.

Genesis 29:19 And Laban said, It is better that I give her to you, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me.

Genesis 29:20 And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had to her.

Genesis 29:21 And Jacob said to Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her.

Genesis 29:22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.

Genesis 29:23 And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in to her.

Genesis 29:24 And Laban gave to his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid.

Genesis 29:25 And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this you have done to me? did not I serve with you for Rachel? why then have you beguiled me?

Genesis 29:26 And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.

Genesis 29:27 Fulfill her week, and we will give you this also for the service which you shall serve with me yet seven other years.

Genesis 29:28 And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.

Genesis 29:29 And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her maid.

Genesis 29:30 And he went in also to Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.

Here again, we see how marriages were contracted among God’s people in the Bible. The father of the bride was in charge of the proceedings from beginning to end. Jacob declared his interest in Rachel, Laban’s daughter. Laban set a bride price which Jacob met. As soon as Jacob had met the bride price (seven years of unpaid labour in Laban’s enterprise), Laban, the bride’s father, made a wedding feast inviting all his people to come and celebrate the marriage of his daughter in his house. Again, we see no priest taking charge to solemnise the marriage. We only see the father and care-taker, God’s representative, taking charge and handing over his daughter in marriage. After the feast, Jacob took his wife and consummated the marriage. God was in it because it was done according to locally approved traditions, with the parents handing over their daughter properly. The marriage was blessed by God and produced the twelve tribes of Israel, from whom Christ came!

Another point of interest in this passage cited above is that, marriage was conducted according to local traditions. Laban told Jacob it was against their tradition to give out the younger daughter in marriage before the elder one, hence Jacob was given Leah instead of Rachel. Though he was deceived and the act itself was despicable, it is important to note that tradition was held in high esteem among the patriarchs in issues of marriage. That’s how God intended it to be. Any marriage conducted lawfully according to tradition is considered honourable, even if it’s among heathens who do not know God. That’s why such marriages conducted before people became born again Christians are honoured by all. It is for this reason that heathens who become converted to Christianity are not to abandon the partners they married as heathens, as the Apostle Paul admonished:

1 Corinthians 7:12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother has a wife that believes not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.

1 Corinthians 7:13 And the woman which has an husband that believes not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

Whether or not people knew God before marriage, as long as the laws of marriage in a culture were met, God joined those people together! This is the same way every child comes from God, even if illegitimately conceived. God will give children to people once they fulfil his laws of reproduction, even if they don’t know him. That is why Christians honour all marriages, whether it’s among pagans or idol worshippers.

Hebrews 13:4 Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

A record of a failed attempt at marriage in scripture reveals some interesting features among the ancients with regards to marriage. Let us look at that portion of scripture carefully to extract some important lessons.

Genesis 34:1 And Dinah the daughter of Leah, which she bore to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land.

Genesis 34:2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her.

Genesis 34:3 And his soul joined to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel, and spoke kindly to the damsel.

Genesis 34:4 And Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, Get me this damsel to wife.

Genesis 34:5 And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter: now his sons were with his cattle in the field: and Jacob held his peace until they were come.

Genesis 34:6 And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to commune with him.

Genesis 34:7 And the sons of Jacob came out of the field when they heard it: and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had worked folly in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter: which thing ought not to be done.

Genesis 34:8 And Hamor communed with them, saying, The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter: I pray you give her him to wife.

Genesis 34:9 And make you marriages with us, and give your daughters to us, and take our daughters to you.

Genesis 34:10 And you shall dwell with us: and the land shall be before you; dwell and trade you therein, and get you possessions therein.

Genesis 34:11 And Shechem said to her father and to her brothers, Let me find grace in your eyes, and what you shall say to me I will give.

Genesis 34:12 Ask me never so much dowry and gift, and I will give according as you shall say to me: but give me the damsel to wife.

Here, we read of a sad and tragic encounter. Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, was raped by Shechem, a prince of the Hivites, who later came officially for her hand in marriage. Shechem approached his father to get Dinah for him as wife. His father approached Jacob and his family and asked for Dinah’s hand in marriage. They promised to pay whatever dowry that would be required of them. If the sons of Jacob had not acted treacherously and murdered the people for defiling their sister, the marriage would have been concluded by Jacob’s acceptance and Shechem paying the dowry. A feast would have been organised to celebrate it and the couple would have consummated the marriage immediately after the feast. Again, we see marriage as a business entirely between families, with no place for priests as mediators needed to join people on behalf of God. Parents were God’s representatives in joining their children in marriage, not priests. Parental consent and agreement were needed to legalise the contract.

Marriage among the ancients in the bible was a process that was not cumbersome, expensive, time consuming or frustrating, as it is today in certain parts of Africa. What was required was just parental or family consent, with payment of a dowry (which could be in kind as in the case of Jacob and Moses), with an accompanying feast to celebrate the union.

Exodus 2:15 Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelled in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.

Exodus 2:16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock.

Exodus 2:17 And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.

Exodus 2:18 And when they came to Reuel their father, he said, How is it that you are come so soon to day?

Exodus 2:19 And they said, An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and also drew water enough for us, and watered the flock.

Exodus 2:20 And he said to his daughters, And where is he? why is it that you have left the man? call him, that he may eat bread.

Exodus 2:21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter.

Exodus 2:22 And she bore him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.

There was no record of Moses paying dowry in cash. However, like Jacob, he worked for his father-in-law and paid his dowry in kind. The most important thing here was that, as soon as parental consent was given and the bride handed over to Moses, the marriage was completed and it was immediately consummated. No priests were involved, and no ceremony was conducted in the temple. Reuel, the father of the bride and her God-ordained caretaker, handed Zipporah his daughter to Moses, like God handed over Eve to Adam.

The next phase in the evolution of marriage in Scripture was under the Law. Here, we see marriage brought under the Mosaic Law and regulated by it. The Israelites were enjoined to marry only within themselves, to avoid being led into idolatory by their heathen spouses. But, even under the Law with an established and revered priesthood that acted as mediator between God and the people in spiritual matters, fathers still retained the power and authority to hand over their daughters in marriage. The priests had absolutely no say in marriage ceremonies, which were conducted in the brides’ fathers’ houses, and never in the Tabernacle or the Temple. Under the Law, the people who joined couples in marriage, on God’s behalf, were parents, not priests!

Deuteronomy 22:28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;

Deuteronomy 22:29 Then the man that lay with her shall give to the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he has humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

Exodus 22:16 And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.

Exodus 22:17 If her father utterly refuse to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.

A father had a right to approve or reject a suitor for his daughter, and the law respected and honoured that. A father was the final authority in deciding on marriage matters involving his children, not the priests. The Law about the rape of an unbetrothed virgin was clear as to parental authority: the rapist must pay the dowry for a raped virgin and marry her, subject to her father’s approval.

Also, if a virgin made any kind of vow, including the vow to marry someone, the father had a right to nullify it, and God upheld his parental rights over her to disallow any rash vow she may have made.

Numbers 30:3 If a woman also vow a vow to the LORD, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father’s house in her youth;

Numbers 30:4 And her father hear her vow, and her bond with which she has bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her; then all her vows shall stand, and every bond with which she has bound her soul shall stand.

Numbers 30:5 But if her father disallow her in the day that he hears; not any of her vows, or of her bonds with which she has bound her soul, shall stand: and the LORD shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her.

As we can see above, parental authority over an unmarried woman was powerful and honoured by God. Your parents are your care takers acting on behalf of God! When they hand you in marriage after lawful traditions have been observed, your marriage has God’s blessings, since God’s legitimate authority in domestic matters had acted on God’s behalf. For domestic matters, the final authority is the father, not the priest or pastor!

Under the Law of Moses, marriage was decided and concluded by the family elders, not the priests! Once the elders approved and gave their blessings, the marriage was ratified. The couple so joined by the elders were considered joined by God.

Ruth 4:1 Then went Boaz up to the gate, and sat him down there: and, behold, the kinsman of whom Boaz spoke came by; to whom he said, Ho, such a one! turn aside, sit down here. And he turned aside, and sat down.

Ruth 4:2 And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, Sit you down here. And they sat down.

Ruth 4:3 And he said to the kinsman, Naomi, that is come again out of the country of Moab, sells a parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech’s:

Ruth 4:4 And I thought to advertise you, saying, Buy it before the inhabitants, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it: but if you will not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know: for there is none to redeem it beside you; and I am after you. And he said, I will redeem it.

Ruth 4:5 Then said Boaz, What day you buy the field of the hand of Naomi, you must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead on his inheritance.

Ruth 4:6 And the kinsman said, I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar my own inheritance: redeem you my right to yourself; for I cannot redeem it.

Ruth 4:7 Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor: and this was a testimony in Israel.

Ruth 4:8 Therefore the kinsman said to Boaz, Buy it for you. So he drew off his shoe.

Ruth 4:9 And Boaz said to the elders, and to all the people, You are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, of the hand of Naomi.

Ruth 4:10 Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead on his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brothers, and from the gate of his place: you are witnesses this day.

Ruth 4:11 And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman that is come into your house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do you worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem:

Ruth 4:12 And let your house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, of the seed which the LORD shall give you of this young woman.

Ruth 4:13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in to her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son.

The marriage between Boaz and Ruth was concluded in the presence of the city elders, after Boaz had fulfilled the necessary rights to possess Ruth. The elders witnessed and gave their blessings to the marriage. No priest was involved and the ceremony took place, not in the temple, but at the city gate. The priests, God’s representatives in spiritual matters, had no business with marriages under the Law. Yet, all such marriages were recognised as being joined by God, because God’s representatives in domestic matters, the parents and elders, handled them! The final arbiters in the joining of people in marriage under the Law were parents and family elders, not priests!

Let us carefully examine the marriage of Samson, to further buttress the point that in the Old Testament, marriages were conducted according to local traditions, and were superintended by parents and family elders.

Judges 14:1 And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines.

Judges 14:2 And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife.

Judges 14:3 Then his father and his mother said to him, Is there never a woman among the daughters of your brothers, or among all my people, that you go to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines? And Samson said to his father, Get her for me; for she pleases me well.

Judges 14:4 But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.

Judges 14:5 Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him.

Judges 14:6 And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily on him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done.

Judges 14:7 And he went down, and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well.

Samson saw a woman he liked and wanted her as wife. What did he do? He went to his parents and told them about his desire. It is instructive that he told his parents, not the priests, about his desire to get married. He told his parents to get the woman for him as wife. It was the biblical tradition for parents to get wives for their sons, and for parents to give their daughters away in marriage, as we’ve consistently shown. Parents, as heads over their children and responsible for them, were the final arbiters on the issue of marriages of their children, not the priests. So, having accompanied Samson to his prospective in-laws’ house and concluded the initial negotiations, it was now time for Samson to go and get his wife. Let’s see how it was done then.

Judges 14:8 And after a time he returned to take her, and he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass of the lion.

Judges 14:10 So his father went down to the woman: and Samson made there a feast; for so used the young men to do.

Judges 14:11 And it came to pass, when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him.

Having concluded the initial negotiations and settled on the issue of bride price, Samson now went back to take his wife, accompanied by his parents. According to the marriage tradition then, a wedding feast, lasting for seven days, was organised at the house of the parents of Samson’s wife, to send her off to her husband’s house. It was the final wedding act, at the end of which the new wife officially left her father’s house to the husband’s house. It is instructive to note that this wedding feast was conducted at the bride’s house, not in a temple. There was no record of any priest there who joined them in holy matrimony! The priests had no jurisdiction in joining people in marriage! It was purely a family issue!

Next, let us examine the marriage of David to his first wife, Michal, the daughter of King Saul. We will quickly look at the relevant portions of Scripture to draw some pertinent conclusions.

1 Samuel 18:20 And Michal Saul’s daughter loved David: and they told Saul, and the thing pleased him.

1 Samuel 18:21 And Saul said, I will give him her, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him. Why Saul said to David, You shall this day be my son in law in the one of the two.

1 Samuel 18:22 And Saul commanded his servants, saying, Commune with David secretly, and say, Behold, the king has delight in you, and all his servants love you: now therefore be the king’s son in law.

1 Samuel 18:23 And Saul’s servants spoke those words in the ears of David. And David said, Seems it to you a light thing to be a king’s son in law, seeing that I am a poor man, and lightly esteemed?

1 Samuel 18:24 And the servants of Saul told him, saying, On this manner spoke David.

1 Samuel 18:25 And Saul said, Thus shall you say to David, The king desires not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king’s enemies. But Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.

1 Samuel 18:26 And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son in law: and the days were not expired.

1 Samuel 18:27 Why David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full tale to the king, that he might be the king’s son in law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife.

Saul’s daughter indicated interest in David, and David too loved her, but he felt he was unqualified to be the king’s son-in-law. However, because King Saul was trying to get David killed, he demanded for 100 foreskins of his perennial enemies, the Philistines, as dowry. David, motivated by his love for Saul’s daughter, slew double the number of Philistines required, and brought 200 foreskins to King Saul. Having reneged on his promise to make David his son-in-law once, Saul was obliged to hand over his daughter Michal to David as wife. King Saul used his parental authority to join David and Michal as husband and wife. No priests officiated and no temple ceremony was done. It all started and ended in the Palace, with King Saul as the joiner-in-chief, being the father of the bride.

Having examined the conduct of marriages in the Old Testament, let us now turn our attention to the New Testament, where we’re most concerned. Let us consider the role New Testament ministers are expected to play in the solemnisation of holy matrimony.

John 2:1 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:

John 2:2 And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.

John 2:3 And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus said to him, They have no wine.

John 2:4 Jesus said to her, Woman, what have I to do with you? my hour is not yet come.

John 2:5 His mother said to the servants, Whatever he said to you, do it.

John 2:6 And there were set there six water pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.

John 2:7 Jesus said to them, Fill the water pots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.

John 2:8 And he said to them, Draw out now, and bear to the governor of the feast. And they bore it.

John 2:9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not from where it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,

John 2:10 And said to him, Every man at the beginning does set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but you have kept the good wine until now.

John 2:11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

In the passage above, we see Jesus and his disciples attending a marriage feast that they were invited to, not as officiating ministers, but as guests. The wedding feast was not in the Temple but in a home. Jesus went there to celebrate and rejoice with the celebrants who were probably friends or acquaintances. Not only did he rejoice with them at the feast, he even ensured there was enough wine for all to drink, by performing the first miracle of his ministry, turning water into wine! Jesus obviously didn’t have a problem with people drinking wine at a wedding. He was a socializer, not a hermit! You can’t evangelise the world by separating yourself from the people!

The wedding feast we saw Jesus attend was the final act in the marriage process for the Jews, the celebration of a concluded marriage which was contracted between families, with priests having nothing to do with it. The prominent person in charge was the governor of the feast or the master of ceremony. Jesus and his disciples attended as guests, not as officiating ministers! Jesus did not go to join the people in holy matrimony or read out some vows for them to recite. He and his disciples went to rejoice and celebrate with the couple that just wedded traditionally, and to eat and drink with them!

Matthew 22:1 And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables, and said,

Matthew 22:2 The kingdom of heaven is like to a certain king, which made a marriage for his son,

Matthew 22:3 And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.

Matthew 22:4 Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatted calves are killed, and all things are ready: come to the marriage.

Matthew 22:5 But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise:

Matthew 22:6 And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.

Matthew 22:7 But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.

Matthew 22:8 Then said he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy.

Matthew 22:9 Go you therefore into the highways, and as many as you shall find, bid to the marriage.

Matthew 22:10 So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.

Matthew 22:11 And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment:

Matthew 22:12 And he said to him, Friend, how came you in here not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.

Matthew 22:13 Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In the passage above, we get a glimpse into how weddings were conducted in Jesus’ day. A king organised a wedding for his son. The key things to note here are the facts that the wedding was organised by the father, not the priest, and that the wedding took place in the King’s house, not the Temple. The feast was a wedding reception for a marriage that had been concluded traditionally. It was to receive the new wife into the husband’s house.

Matthew 25:1 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened to ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

Matthew 25:2 And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

Matthew 25:3 They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:

Matthew 25:4 But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

Matthew 25:5 While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

Matthew 25:6 And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom comes; go you out to meet him.

Matthew 25:7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.

Matthew 25:8 And the foolish said to the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.

Matthew 25:9 But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go you rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.

Matthew 25:10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.

The passage above illustrates how the final wedding feast was conducted in most Oriental countries, at the time of Jesus. The feast was conducted at the bride’s house, and usually at night. The maids of the bride (usually virgins like herself) would go out to meet the bridegroom and his entourage, once their coming was announced. The bride’s maids of honour would then escort the groom and his people to the wedding hall, where the final feast was organised. After this feast, the bride (now the wife) would follow her husband home. All the marriage ceremonies were done and concluded at the bride’s house, never in the Temple. The people in charge were the bride’s family, not the priests. Marriage was essentially traditional in Jesus’ time, not religious!

Now, let’s look at the Apostolic perception on whose right it was to give a girl away in marriage. We should consult the Apostolic writings for their view on this issue.

1 Corinthians 7:36 But if any man think that he behaves himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sins not: let them marry.

1 Corinthians 7:37 Nevertheless he that stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well.

1 Corinthians 7:38 So then he that gives her in marriage does well; but he that gives her not in marriage does better.

The passage above described the authority and power a father had over his virgin daughter in the Apostolic period. Because of the intense persecution the Church was undergoing at the time, making it difficult for people to settle in one place and fend for a family, Paul advised people to avoid marrying during the distress. He told fathers who had earlier made up their minds not to hand over their virgin daughters in marriage but changed their minds later, that they were not sinning by their change of mind. However, the Apostle reassured those who resolved to keep their virgin daughters unmarried, because of the distress at the time, of their better judgement. In either case, the authority rested with the fathers to either give their daughters in marriage, or refrain from doing so. The Apostle saw fathers as the final authority over their daughters in matters of marriage, not the Church and not the Apostles! The Apostles did not intrude into the domestic rights of parents in the matter of marriage. They followed the understanding that marriage was a traditional institution that was regulated by the customs of each people, with parents in charge of deciding the matter for their children.

So, if both the priests in the Old Testament and our Lord Jesus and his Apostles did not participate in joining people in marriages, where did the Church get the idea that only marriages conducted by the clergy are blessed of God? Certainly, there is no biblical support for this teaching. As we showed conclusively from Scripture, marriage is a traditional thing, and marriages all over the world, as long as they involve the union of a man and a woman for the purpose of companionship and procreation, are approved and blessed of God, and should be considered honourable by all. The involvement of the clergy does not make the marriage any holier than the one done without the clergy. Infact, from the conclusive evidence of Scripture alone, there is no authority for the clergy acting on behalf of God in the solemnisation of marriage. The clergy have usurped the position and authority of parents and the traditions of each people concerning marriage, and they have absolutely no scriptural backing for this! Not one scripture can they quote to justify their dabbling into the role they have taken upon themselves in conducting marriages, and in disdaining every other form of marriage conducted outside their supervision as not being blessed of God! Infact, Jesus recognised all the marriages contracted traditionally by the Jews (without the involvement of the priests) as being joined by God:

Mark 10:6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.

Mark 10:7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and join to his wife;

Mark 10:8 And they two shall be one flesh: so then they are no more two, but one flesh.

Mark 10:9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.

The issue of the clergy hijacking the traditional institution of marriage has only made marrying more expensive, more tedious, more time consuming and more frustrating for a lot of people. To meet the demands of Church or Christian marriage (which cannot be found in Scripture), Christians are expected to marry traditionally and still marry in the Church. The most annoying part is that, after a traditional marriage in which all the traditional rites have been met and the couple have been joined and blessed by the parents and elders, the Church still does not recognise them as husband and wife, until after the Church marriage has been done! Any sexual relations between such couples is viewed by the Church as fornication! Can you imagine this?! How can people who have been married the only way the Bible recognises (traditionally) be considered fornicators, just because they have not done a wedding that does not have a basis in Scripture? How can the Church delight in putting stumbling blocks in the way of people, making the commandment of God void by their traditions that have no basis in Scripture?

Matthew 15:4 For God commanded, saying, Honor your father and mother: and, He that curses father or mother, let him die the death.

Matthew 15:5 But you say, Whoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatever you might be profited by me;

Matthew 15:6 And honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

Matthew 15:7 You hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,

Matthew 15:8 This people draws near to me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

Matthew 15:9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

The Church is making marriage more difficult and rather discouraging, by the exorbitant costs of conducting two marriages (traditional and Church). It is also infusing unnecessary guilt and confusion into people, by not regarding people who have been married traditionally as husband and wife who can legitimately have sexual intercourse. They are also encouraging abortion among married people, by insisting people who have been married traditionally must not have sex and must not be pregnant before a Church wedding, otherwise the Church wedding would be called off! Some of these people have sexual relations (which is legitimate, because they are now husband and wife, having been married traditionally), get pregnant, and are forced to abort the pregnancy because they want a Church wedding and want to avoid the disgrace of being denied a Church wedding. The Church is aiding and abetting sin in this regard!

Finally, let us look at the legitimacy of Church wedding on its own. A Church wedding cannot be conducted without a prior traditional wedding in most places in Africa, meaning a Church wedding without a prior traditional wedding is useless! Also, the marriage certificate Churches issue is useless! Only a marriage certificate from a marriage registry can be used for official purposes. So, the Church requires one to do a traditional wedding first, followed by a Court wedding (to obtain a valid marriage certificate), before undergoing a Church wedding. This shows just how useless the Church wedding is on its own. It is not recognised traditionally and it doesn’t offer a valid certificate in law. So, what then is the purpose of the Church wedding? It is simply a tradition of men imported into the Church to make marriages more difficult and more expensive. It has no basis in Scripture!

In conclusion, we have shown exhaustively from Scripture that marriage is a traditional institution which depends on local customs and has nothing to do with spiritual leaders. Both in the Old and the New Testaments, we proved conclusively that marriage proceedings started and ended in the home of the bride, with her parents and other elders in charge. Once all traditional rites have been met and the couple joined and blessed by their parents, they become husband and wife from that moment, and sexual relations between them become lawful and blessed of God. There is therefore no place for a Church wedding, and no place for pastors to join people in marriage. They have no such authority from Scripture and should therefore desist from putting stumbling blocks in people’s way when it comes to marriage. Pastors can counsel, advise and pray for people who are planning to marry. They can also pray for such people and bless their union after the traditional or registry marriage. To insist that only marriages conducted in the church and officiated by the clergy are recognised and blessed of God is not supported by Scripture.

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Published by Dr. Ndubuisi E. Ojo

Dr Ojo is a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, and a student of the Word of God, who believes firmly in the original apostolic faith as the only authentic version of Christianity, and the only legitimate basis for Christian conduct, order and doctrine.

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