While there have been many things that the “church” itself has changed the definitions of, now, as a result of the different church denominations squabbles during the reformation the government has stepped into the fray with the US Supreme Court trying to define “marriage”. As a believer I look to the words of Yeshua (Jesus) when He said “Therefore what God has joined together let man not tear asunder”. In that quote I see that, within it, there is the true definition of what marriage is (and isn’t). According to Yeshua marriage is simply “what God has joined together” and infers that it is not what man or governments think they have joined together. Marriage is similar to baptism or salvation in that it is entirely within God’s domain. Could a government launch a campaign to baptize? Or declare its citizens “saved”? No, not authoritatively anyway. Since marriage is what God has joined together it is totally a matter for God to decide how, when where etc persons are married. Since marriage is, at its core, a license from God that enables something that was otherwise sin to become sanctified by Him, how and when did pastors and/or governments get so entwined in it? I see not a single biblical reference that gives them even a hint of the least authority in the matter.
We will look both to the Bible and to the history books to see how we arrived at our current situation. First, let’s look at Old Testament marriage from the perspective that, perhaps, the model was as is often the case with the Old Testament, given as a shadow of what was to come in the New Testament. After all, Jesus did use marriage as the model for the church and did teach about divorce and did reference an early pure form of marriage that was not corrupted by the hardness of man’s hearts. In that early model, father’s of the bride and groom negotiated and had the authority to bind their children in marriage. There is not a single reference in the Old Testament (which covers thousands of years of practices) where anyone had to go to the priest, rabbi or Levite to get their marriage solemnized. After the parents’ agreement there was a period of time called “bethrothal” which is very different from engagement which it is often confused withtoday. It (engagement) is an abomination, actually, and is a promise, err , to make a promise, err, in which the first promise is breakable but is, err, a token that the second will be unbreakable. What a bunch of rubbish it is that is sadly endorsed by modern churches. If the first “promise” is breakable you have already set a standard in the relationship that breakable promises are acceptable have you not? And all that is done as a form of “holiness”. It is no wonder that decadent “no fault divorce” is the law of the land.
Let’s also consider the Bible’s narration of Joseph taking Mary as his wife. It says they were betrothed when Joseph “being a just man decide to put her away quietly”. The original Greek word translated “put her away” was an error used by the translators that should have actually been translated “divorce” (as it is in the rest of the New Testament). The passage is impossible to make any sense of today because no “engaged” person ever needs to “divorce” their sweetheart. They just break the engagement, call off the wedding etc. So why does it say Joseph was going to “divorce” her? They definitely weren’t married and even when they traveled to Bethlehem (where Jesus was born) they were still “only” betrothed. Well it was because, in the Jewish culture, betrothal WAS the point in time when marriage came into effect. When the promise was made (by their parents) the marriage was a marriage indeed. It therefore would require a divorce to break a betrothal.
So, a very serious question develops from all this. Since Jesus taught that the church was His bride, did He mean we (the church and He) were engaged or did He mean we are betrothed? There is an obvious incentive for the deceiver and liar to come into the church and distort the understanding of what true marriage is because it cuts right to the trust the church will have that her groom will come. The liar in previous times has replaced betrothal with a great uncertainty in the practice of engagement and later, even further distorted the matter by making people believe governments had any say in the matter.
To see how the role of fathers was changed takes a little imaginary time travel back to the time of Messiah. Since we started by looking at the Old Testament as a model consider what would often happen after a Jewish person accepted Yeshua as the Messiah. First they would try to convince their family. It very often created extreme division and often ended up with them being expelled and perhaps shunned from their family and from the Jewish community. Try to imagine a young man or woman getting “saved” while they were betrothed. Suddenly, they found they were the ones being “put away” for heresy. Or, consider that if they became believers before their betrothal how would a Jewish father “betroth” them to a non-Jew? Would the children allow a Jewish non-believing father to choose their spouse? So it looks obvious that faith in Yeshua had a profound effect on bethrothal and marriage yet Yeshua thought highly enough of it that it is used as the model of His relation with the church. Many believers fail to realize the scope of the Good News (i.e. the Gospel) that Jesus preached but its central theme is that it provides for a restored relationship with Abba Father.
Doesn’t it seem then that Abba Father would, after all this, take enough interest in His children’s lives to then find spouses for them and “betroth” them? As previous stated, the Old Testament fathers were a shadow of things to come and I believe, showed how Abba Father would betrothed His children – Himself. Thus it fits precisely with the verse “what God has joined together”. A couple is joined by God when He joins them.
That is a wonderful vision but how did we end up where we are today? One only needs to look at the history books to find out how we ended up here. As near as I can discern, the Reformation that led to many of our modern doctrines and traditions was a time of great struggles between the different factions. The centralized structure of the Roman Catholic Church was getting more and more destabilized by the various Protestant groups. While the Protestants came up with their doctrines on Communion, and Baptism they failed to come up with one for marriage. Instead, the history books show the Catholic Church was able to have the inheritance of the Protestant children legally confiscated by declaring the Reformer’s children “illegitimate” because their parents (protestants) had not been married by a Catholic priest. And since the government officials were also under the authority of the Catholic church they prevented the children from inheriting property (forbidden since they were “illegitimate”). The reprieve for the Protestants came from a French king who broke from Papal authority and acknowledged the Protestant’s marriages. But that came with a doctrinal cost to the Reformers. They were now dependent on a secular government to authorize their marriages. It also meant the king was now sovereign over marriage (and not God). Across the channel (in England) the Anglican church made a similar claim of authority over marriage and,so, secular government control of marriage spread along with colonization into the New World.
Wrongfully lending support to the idea that God gave authority over marriage to secular governments causes a number of sticky doctrinal issues for the church. The U.S. Supreme court has heard two cases regarding homosexual marriage. Since marriage was always a part of the Mosaic and Church law that determined when sex was sinful or not, their actions beg the question of whether or not God has given authority to the US Supreme Court to say that homosexual sex is no longer sinful because it is now sanctified my marriage? And if that what other matters of sin and church will the justices believe they can decree? While the justices are placed in the position of interpreting difficult questions the founding fathers and the ratifiers of the Constitution could not anticipate the question of the separation of Church and state is clearly stated. Therefore, the US Supreme court has no standing to determine matters of religion which this so clearly is.
There is no Biblical authority for a pastor to marry people either. Any authority they have is only because they are licensed by the state or be part of a blanket license issued to denominations by the state. And while some may say that we must follow the laws of the land I say those laws don’t mandate that you slander as sinners those who do not partake of the sacrilegious act of agents of the state. Marriage makes something sanctified that would otherwise be sin. Governments don’t have authority to say what is sin and what isn’t. They are to serve God’s law and not attempt to create or change it. They wouldn’t have authority to say who is a believer, what is the proper way to baptize someone or who can offer communion. Yeshua is the groom and His church is the bride and what that means is that the realm of marriage is God’s and His alone.