Does the Bible command anyone to have a wedding or tell us what to do at such an event?
It is true that the Bible contains no specific command requiring persons to participate in a public ceremony like a wedding in order to become husband and wife. It is also true that the Bible contains narratives and instructions that point up the need of crossing the God-ordained boundary between not married and married in ways that champion the lasting value of that boundary.
Starting in Genesis 2:18-25, Scripture affirms basic parameters that are vital to a God-blessed marriage: it is monogamous, heterosexual, and permanent. In the same vein, a fully biblical marriage is marked by a beginning point when the man and the woman declare themselves to be husband and wife in the sight of God, and thus are seen by others as exactly that. Scripture does not prescribe elements for a public event by which marital unions may be recognized in heaven, it does record such a wedding event in John 2. Our Messiah and Master blessed this event with His presence and power.
Much like the Jewish wedding that Jesus attended in Cana of Galilee, most other cultures and religions have their own laws about how marriages should be solemnized for legal purposes. They also have their own traditions about how weddings are celebrated by families and in socio-religious groups. In both Testaments, the Bible refers to this as arranging, or making, a marriage (Genesis 34:9; Matthew 22:2).
Given the fundamental importance of marriage in Scripture and the roles that marriage and family play as essential building blocks in stable and just societies, it follows that the boundary between married and not married is a primary social and religious distinction. We refer to that boundary as a wedding, in whatever form and tradition it is practiced. To ignore the line drawn by a wedding is to invite legal and moral confusion, much of which now abounds in our culture and our world.
Having sex with someone is not a wedding. Cohabiting for a time does not a marriage make! Conceiving and birthing children together does not equate to holy matrimony. To be married by legal and biblical standards, two people must get married. In a clearly recognizable way, they must agree together and express their choice and commitment that satisfies the legal and spiritual requirements of marriage. When a man and woman get married in this way, they have every right to consider themselves married and thus qualify for the blessing, dignity, and protection that a godly marriage affords.
As for wedding elements and traditions, these are numerous and flexible enough to permit each couple aspiring to be married a wide selection. They can have it their way, to a large degree, but they should “have it.” To forsake the Bible’s instruction and sacred tradition is to add to the moral and marital chaos that characterizes so much of the domestic landscape today.
Core elements of a wedding in the Christian tradition are vows, witnesses, prayer, and the declaration that a true marriage covenant now exists — that the man and woman are now husband and wife. They are fully authorized and blessed by heaven and earth to live together as such!
True weddings reflect a kinship with, and our hope for, that ultimate marriage supper of the Lamb: Jesus Christ to His bride, the church. Such is promised to those who love the Lord’s appearing and have donned their wedding garments that are “washed in the blood” (Matthew 22:8-14; Revelation 19:7-9).
— Elder Calvin Burrell
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