What exactly is marriage?

Last updated on December 18, 2020



I am 16 years old and in a committed relationship with a 17-year-old. We have been dating for almost a year and a half. We have gone as far as passionately kissing on a bed but not removing any clothing. We both agree that sex out of marriage is sinful, and we will not do it. However, lately, we have been thinking more about the subject. We both agree that we are going to marry each other as soon as we can. And we have both told each other that we are married in our hearts. We also believe that we are married in God’s eyes, but of course, we don’t 100% know that. We have also both realized that modern marriage is a sort of hoax. Today, to the public, marriage means signing papers; however, at the beginning of the world, marriage simply meant going into a tent and having sex. So this is why we both don’t know how far to take our relationship before we actually get “married” (as in signing the papers). We are married in our hearts 100%, and we know we will spend the rest of our lives together, no matter what. We are both very committed people; both committed to each other and committed to God and His word. Is it OK to go further in our relationship since we believe we are both technically married? We are scared to do anything more, for if people know if we have sex before “marriage,” would they shun us? We are as committed now as we will be in, say, 30 years.

I have prayed about this topic, and I think I’ve received answers, but I don’t know if it’s the devil trying to get to me or God. What do you think?


It is difficult to look objectively at a subject that you are emotionally involved in, especially when you really want one particular answer. I will layout an answer based on what the Scriptures teach. It may or may not be what you would like, but I want you and your girlfriend to reach heaven and that is more important than your present desires.

In the simplest terms, a marriage is a covenant. “She is your companion and your wife by covenant” (Malachi 2:14). A covenant a special form of a vow whether people bind themselves to an agreement for the rest of their lives.  The modern-day idea of a treaty comes close to the idea of what a covenant is. The parties take on obligations that give benefits to everyone under the covenant. A covenant improves the relationship between the people under the covenant. A covenant also acknowledges a tie or fellowship between the parties in a covenant. Since a covenant is mutually beneficial, when one party can’t fulfill its obligations, the other party is expected to bridge the gap.

Wedding ceremonies contain the elements of a formal covenant, though you might not be aware of them. During the ceremony, both the man and the woman are named (“Do you … take …”). A brief history of the relationship is given. Sometimes in the form of a story of how the couple met and fell in love. Sometimes it is as simple as “Who gives this woman in marriage?” There are vows exchanged which layout the obligations being agreed to. “I, (name), take you (name), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish …” The vows are made before a higher authority (God). Blessings are wished upon the couple and provisions are made for remembering that the covenant exists. For many people that is an exchange of wedding rings. A formal record of the wedding is also made to be kept accessible by the public. This marriage license is that record. It doesn’t make a person married, it is only a public record that a marriage took place. For a marriage to be legitimate, there have to be witnesses to the vows exchanged and traditionally that is the job of the best man and the bride’s maid. Their names are also added to the public record. In the past, the records were kept by the church where the wedding took place, but now the government typically keeps the records. Just because you don’t understand what happens during a wedding, it doesn’t mean it was a hoax. The outline Marriage Covenants gives the scriptures behind wedding ceremonies.

I would like you to notice that when you are a part of a covenant, there is no uncertainty about whether you are married or not. You know you agreed, there are multiple witnesses to that agreement, and there is a record that anyone can look up if they need to. Compare this to the uncertainty you told me:

  • “We both agree that we are going to marry each other …” That means you know you are currently not married.
  • “We are married in our hearts …” Hearts can’t be examined. In fact, the Scriptures teach that hearts (emotions) are unstable. “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26).
  • “We also believe that we are married in God’s eyes, but of course, we don’t 100% know that.” God doesn’t put people into marriages. People choose to marry before God and God hold them to their vows.

When God established marriage, He stated, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). There are three steps in what God laid out.

  1. There is a separation from the family unit you grew up in.
  2. There is a joining as husband and wife, which is marriage.
  3. They become one flesh. This is an on-going process that includes sexual intercourse.

This was just a quick outline of the process. It doesn’t have all the details, such as how the joining is to take place, but it does make it clear that marriage was never about going into a tent and having sex. Sex is a mechanism that helps create a bond between individuals, but the act of sexual intercourse is not the marriage. Married couples have sex, which facilitates the two becoming one, but sex does not create the marriage. This is one reason why God restricted sex to married couples. “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). You don’t want people forming intimate bonds without a prior commitment to remain with each other.

We can see this throughout the Bible. In the story of Shechem and Dinah, we find that Shechem went about finding a wife the wrong way. “Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her. His soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to the young woman. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this young woman as a wife.” And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter. Now his sons were with his livestock in the field; so Jacob held his peace until they came. Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. And the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved and very angry, because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, a thing which ought not to be done” (Genesis 34:1-7). Shechem had sex with Dinah and by doing so violated her. In Hebrew, the word is ‘anah which means to lower or to humble. In other words, his action reduced Dinah’s position in society, yet it did not create a marriage. In fact, notice that Shechem didn’t even feel love toward Dinah until afterward (here is an example of sex creating a bond). He wanted his father to negotiate a marriage but did not realize why Dinah’s father and brothers were so upset with what he had done. It was a thing that ought not to be done. Sex was to come after marriage, not before. But for our point, it demonstrates that sex did not create a marriage.

The marriage of Isaac and Rebekah is another example, “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Genesis 34:67). We are not told the full marriage ceremony — there is no reason to assume that all of it was recorded for us — but it appears that a part of their marriage customs was the bringing of the bride into the chambers of a man’s mother. (In fact, it is from this that we get the custom of a man carrying his bride across the threshold.) But notice the order: Rebekah became Isaac’s wife and then he loved her. This particular Hebrew word has a similar broad meaning for love that our English word “love” has. It is both a general love between two individuals, but when used between married couples it can include the idea of lovemaking, or sex.

Judah gives us another example, “And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua, and he married her and went in to her” (Genesis 38:2). There is a distinct timeline being given: 1) Judah met Shua, 2) Judah married Shua, 3) Judah had sex with Shua. The function of the word “and” is to show the sequence of action and not to indicate simultaneous action.

The reason most countries have minimal marriage ages is that people know that teenagers are still developing. What they believe they are certain about in their short life may change as they become adults. Thus, in most countries someone over a minimum age (say 16) can marry only if their parents give their consent. This gives some balance that the decision is not solely an emotional or animalistic desire. Once majority is reached (usually age 18), there is no requirement for parental approval. Society assumes you are mature enough to make your own decisions and accept responsibility for your choices.

I’m glad you found love and that you are certain you want to spend the rest of your life with her, but don’t let your emotions lead you down the path of sin. Love God first and your love for your future wife will be so much better. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (I John 5:2-3). This would include the command not to have sex before marriage.


Thank you for your reply. I deeply appreciate it. My wife’s parents’ situation is really what sprung this question to my mind. They had been dating for I believe a couple of years and they decided they were married, but couldn’t afford to show it publicly through a ceremony. They decided to have sex since they decided they were married. To this day, they don’t see the problem in it, even though they have deeply grown in their faith.

I’ve realized it’s a very interesting topic because, to me, the decision of marriage should be something that exists only between the couple and God. Marriage is a difficult thing to understand, in my opinion. My wife (or girlfriend legally) and I literally call each other husband and wife, and we know one day when we have enough money, we will have a marriage ceremony. I don’t particularly want to have sex before our marriage ceremony because I still want that day to mean something. We both see our “marriage day” as the day we will tell the world we are married, rather than the day we actually get married.

But back to my wife’s parents. What does the Bible say about their actions? Part of me understands them, and the other part of me thinks about how much better it might have been for them if they waited for the marriage ceremony. 

Again, thank you for your reply. As you can probably tell, the latter paragraph has been phrased differently from the original message. I did this to write as honestly as possible. My wife is my wife to me, and the “marriage ceremony” is a ceremony. I want to make this as clear as possible.

Thank you!


Just because you wish something to be so, it doesn’t make it real. A person could decide he can play a guitar, but until he picks one up and learns how a guitar is played, he is just dreaming. It is the actual accomplishments that make a difference. I deal with this frequently. People decide they are a Christian. They haven’t done anything that God requires to be a Christian beyond deciding they have faith in God; yet, they assume that is enough.

I laid out passages that showed you that it is the formal covenant that creates a marriage, but notice that you ignored this and continue to pretend that you are married without obedience to God’s laws. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:9-10). God looks at what you do and the reality of the situation, not at what you pretend.

The problem with pretense is that you can always later change your mind and claim, “Well, we weren’t really married anyway.” I know it isn’t your intention, but there would not be anything stopping you. With a marriage covenant, there is no changing your mind later. The witnesses and records show that the marriage exists and that your responsibilities remain. God wants stable family to raise children and marriage provides that stability. This is what makes marriage special and I know that you realize it. You know that marriage is different. You rightly want to wait until you are married to have sex because then it will be special.

Your girlfriend’s parents didn’t want to wait until marriage to have sex. They told themselves that they couldn’t afford a big wedding at the time, so they climbed into bed instead, claiming that was good enough. The problem is that God never required a big fancy wedding. That was their own desire. They could have just gone down to the county courthouse, paid a small fee, and had gotten married right then. It is all the other requirements that they imposed on themselves that caused them to delay marriage and then they decided that this justified them to ignore God’s Laws.

What they did was commit fornication. “Fornication” is the old word for having sex when you aren’t married to the person you are having sex with. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9-10). That they don’t see anything wrong with what they did means they never repented of their sin. I would prefer that you and your girlfriend make it to heaven, which means not following the bad example of your girlfriend’s parents.


Ok. Thank you.