What Constitutes Marriage? Can A Couple Be Married Without A Marriage License?
At its heart, marriage is a sacred institution established by God. Genesis 2 describes the creation of the first man and woman, culminating in the first marriage (Gen. 2:24-25). It is significant that, when creating the woman, God chose not to form her from the dust of the ground, as he had when creating Adam (v. 7). Instead, he created her by removing a part of Adam, and then returning that part to him as the woman, his wife. Adam recognized the organic connection between himself and Eve when he declared, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23a).
This is important because, just as God is a union of three persons in a single being, husband and wife are two distinct persons joined together by God in a single organic union. From that union, children also proceed, which, in turn, share the same substance with their father and mother. So, the human family is a reflection, in flesh and blood, of the mystery of the trinity!
This is more than a cool picture. Rather, the life of the family provides an environment where human beings can grow to be more like God, learning how to love each other as God loves, and experiencing the joy and goodness that grow out of complete trust and intimacy (v. 25).
From the description of the first marriage, we can draw important conclusions: First, God has designed marriage to be a permanent bond. Husbands and wives are to “hold fast” to each other (v. 24). Indeed, the permanence marriage requires is the only thing that can provide a foundation for the trust that is necessary for intimacy to grow.
Second, God has designed marriage as a union of a man and a woman. What God removed from the man, he returned to him in the woman. Another man would not be able to return to Adam what was taken away. Only in the union of their unique differences is marriage a reflection of the image of God, a truth underscored by the simple fact that children, who complete the triune pattern, cannot proceed in any other way except by that union.
The institution of marriage and the family is one way God has stamped his image on all of humanity, so it is not limited only to those who believe. Rather, by it he intends to bear witness of himself to believers and unbelievers alike. It is right and good, then, that civil authorities should recognize marriage as important. It is also to be expected that, not operating from a biblical worldview, the secular institution of marriage will be distorted into something other than God designed it to be. Insofar as we are able, Christians should abide by the requirements of the civil authorities (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17), including obtaining a marriage license, but we should never confuse the honor owed to secular authorities with the ultimate authority of God to define for us what marriage truly is.
Pastor JonJanuary 1, 2019