Does Scripture Support Getting Married by the Laws of the Land?

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My daughter and her boyfriend say they are married because they made a covenant with God. If I can show her in the Bible that a person has to get a license to be married, then she will get one. Does Scripture support getting married by the laws of the land?

Beginning a marriage requires formality. In both Old and New Testaments a woman was “given in marriage” by her father or relatives. This was a public matter, not a private arrangement to live with one’s intended mate. The concepts of marriage covenant, dowry, and certificate of divorce show that both marriage and divorce were formally done (see Mal. 2:14; Gen. 30:20; Deut. 24:1-3).

Marriage, being married, or to marry are mentioned over 100 times in the Bible. At least 30 texts speak of being “given,” or to “give,” in marriage. In the New Testament, we find the law of marriage (Rom. 7:1-3) and that it should be regarded with honor (Heb. 13:4). God obviously considers the formality of marriage to be important (see Rev. 19:9).

If your daughter is living with the guy, can she face the fact that their logic may be mostly an excuse to live together without stigma or guilt? Most such “relationships” end quick­ly. Will she call that a “divorce” if and when it happens?

The Bible commands us to respect the laws of our land (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-16), and our government requires a license and an “official” ceremony for a legal marriage.

If your daughter is a Christian, what about her boyfriend? Is either of them growing in relationship with Christ, or are they slipping in faith and zeal for Him? This is your best clue to the sincerity of her “excuse.” It is possible that she and he want to be fully honest with God about this and intend to spend life together as a genuinely married couple, until death parts them.

The last paragraph is to suggest that you use wisdom and grace in counseling your daughter. It sounds as if they are determined to be together, regardless of what you might say. There comes a time when parents must release their youth to learn the lessons beyond their lectures. If this is that time for you, please don’t burn the bridges over which you and your daughter will certainly want to cross again sooner or later.

— Elders Calvin Burrell and Roy Marrs

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    Calvin Burrell
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    Calvin Burrell is former editor of the Bible Advocate and former director of G. C. Missions. He retired in 2015 and lives with his wife, Barb, in Stayton, OR. They attend church in Marion, OR.