God’s Marriage Law

Wedding rings

There is much confusion and controversy today about marriage. Many believe they can marry whoever they want, define marriage however they want, and end it whenever they want. But God instituted marriage; therefore, His laws define and regulate it. Let us consider what the Bible teaches about God’s marriage law.

To begin, notice what Jesus taught on the subject:

Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. And He answered and said to them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.’

In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again. And He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery’” (Mark 10:2-12).

Origin of Marriage

Jesus made it clear that marriage is from God. He is the one who joins a couple in marriage (Mark 10:9). Man and woman were created and the institution of marriage was established “from the beginning of creation” (Mark 10:6), which debunks the “gap theory” and the theory of evolution. Jesus quoted from Genesis 2:24 (Mark 10:7), showing that God’s marriage law is for all people for all time. In the beginning, the woman was made specially for the man (Genesis 2:18, 21-22).

Since marriage was established by God in the beginning, it predates other institutions and laws. This is important to remember.

  • Marriage predates civil government – Marriage was established in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:24), before the first city (Genesis 4:17) or first kingdom (Genesis 10:8-10) were established. Therefore, marriage is not dependent upon civil government and is not defined by civil government.
  • Marriage predates society – Marriage began with just two people (Genesis 2:24-25). No one else was in the world at that time. Marriage did not develop over time as a cultural practice. Therefore, marriage is not defined by culture/society.
  • Marriage predates the Law of Moses – The Pharisees tried to cite an “exception” in the Law of Moses to justify divorce for any cause (Mark 10:4; Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Jesus went back to the beginning (Genesis 2:24) – before the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses was given to the Jews (Romans 9:4), but God’s marriage law is for all men.
  • Marriage predates the church – The Lord’s church was established on the day of Pentecost following His ascension (Acts 2:41, 47), long after marriage was established in the beginning. Therefore, marriage is not a “church ordinance” or a work of the church. As the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), the church is to teach the truth about marriage; but the Lord has given the church no role in marriage beyond that.

God established marriage in the beginning and, even today, He is the one to join couples together in marriage.

Eligibility to Enter into Marriage

Since God created marriage, He is the one who determines the eligibility of people to enter into marriage. Notice what Jesus said: “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’” (Matthew 19:4-5). Marriage is for one man and one woman. This prohibits same-sex “marriage” and polygamy.

It is also important to note that God “made them male and female” (Mark 10:6). It seems that in our culture we need to start emphasizing this. There is an increased attention and acceptance of “transgender” individuals. But this is contrary to what God has made (Genesis 1:27).

However, not every male/female couple is eligible to marry under God’s law. Who may marry?

  • Those who have never been bound in marriage – When Jesus said, “A man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:7; cf. Genesis 2:24), He implied that marriage is generally for those who have never been married before.
  • Those whose spouse has died – Paul wrote, “For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man” (Romans 7:2-3). The Lord permits those who are widowed to remarry.
  • Those who have put away their spouse for fornication – Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality [fornication, KJV], and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). Jesus made it clear that divorce “for any reason at all” was wrong (Matthew 19:3-6). One who would put away a spouse “for any reason at all” and remarry would be guilty of adultery. However, He did give one exception. If one puts away a spouse for fornication, remarriage is permitted.

Those who marry, but are not eligible to marry, commit adultery (Matthew 19:9; Romans 7:3). Why is it called adultery? It is because the “marriage bond” with the previous spouse is still intact, despite the physical separation.

Process for Entering into Marriage

Just as God established marriage and indicated who would be eligible to marry, His word also indicates how a couple enters into marriage. First, there must be an intent to start a new household. This is implied in the text Jesus quoted: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife” (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:7). Marriage is more than just a relationship – even a sexual relationship (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:16). It is the beginning of a new household with the husband as the head (Ephesians 5:23) and the wife as his “help meet” (Genesis 2:18, KJV).

Second, vows are to be exchanged as the couple enters into a covenant with one another (Malachi 2:14). These are promises and commitments that are made to each another about love, support, faithfulness, etc.

Third, the couple must consummate the marriage. “The two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:7). Becoming “one flesh” is the sexual relationship (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:16). This should be the first sexual encounter for either individual, unless the marriage includes one whose previous spouse has died or who put away a mate for fornication (Romans 7:2-3; Matthew 19:9). Otherwise, sexual relations before marriage are fornication. The Hebrew writer said, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). This does not mean that pre-marital sexual relations disqualify one from marrying. But the sin of fornication must be forgiven (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Fourth, God joins the couple together (Mark 10:9). This is sometimes called the “marriage bond.” If a couple is not eligible to marry – by God’s law – then He does not join them. We see this in John’s rebuke of Herod: “For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’” (Mark 6:17-18). Though Herod and Herodias were legally married, she was still bound in marriage to Philip. God joined Philip and Herodias, but not Herod and Herodias because her marriage bond with Philip was still intact.

When discussing how a couple enters into marriage, some brethren will talk about “ratification.” They will argue that marriage must be “ratified” in some way, usually by civil government. However, there is no Bible passage that teaches the concept of “ratification.” In fact, we have already noticed that marriage predates government (Genesis 2:24); therefore, couples can enter into marriage even if there is no government or civil laws regulating marriage. We should be careful not to add to the word of God (Proverbs 30:5-6; Revelation 22:18). However, it is standard practice in our society for the authorities to require a marriage license to be filed when a couple marries. Since this is required by law, and no Scripture is violated by allowing the civil authorities to keep a record of marriages, we should file a marriage license. But we do this to fulfill our obligation to “be in subjection to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1), not because God has required this for a couple to be bound in marriage.

Ending Marriage

God intends for marriage to last a lifetime. Jesus said, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mark 10:9). Therefore, the natural way that marriages should end is in death. “For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband” (Romans 7:2).

Aside from death, there is one authorized exception in which a marriage can end – putting away one’s mate for fornication (Matthew 19:9). Jesus said one may do this and remarry without committing adultery. However, it is important to note that this is authorized, not required. There is much to be said for reconciliation, depending on the circumstances.

Divorce for any other cause is sinful (Mark 10:9) and any subsequent marriage is labeled by Jesus as adultery (Mark 10:11-12). If one is in an adulterous marriage, repentance would require ending the adulterous marriage, not remaining in it. John told Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18); he did not say it was unlawful for him to marry her, but could remain with her. If one divorces a mate for a cause other than fornication, repentance would require reconciliation or, if the mate refused to reconcile, remaining unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).


Marriage is a blessing from God. The wise man said, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). But we must respect God’s laws for marriage (Hebrews 13:4). As our society continues to attack the institution of marriage, we must be ready to defend the truth about it.

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  1. Bobby McPherson says

    Very well done. No opinions just the word of God. This is a very good lesson on a subject much needed at the present time. Law, not what man wants to exclude or change.

  2. Wayne D. Teel says

    You presented the truth very well. Hopefully, folks will listen to the truth. God’s marriage law is being ridiculed today to the shame of our society. God will not hold the guilty innocent.

  3. Larry DeVore says

    Excellent article and one our culture needs. Civil Govt. should never have got involved in issuing marriage licenses, etc. Such human laws were started to prevent interracial marriage in the antebellum period. So, today, civil govt. is redefining what marriage is, and what parties may do, so we have what is unlawful before God approved by man. Isa.5:20. Thanks, Andy.

  4. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I appreciate the feedback.