It is good that many people have studied the scriptures and found that they are primarily about an individual’s faith in and obedience to the Eternal. In their Bible study, many find no examples of priests, ministers or the state “performing marriage ceremonies”. Indeed, history shows that such ceremonies have only been with us for about 600 years. Anciently, a marriage was handled as a contract between the couple or their parents. While a feast was usually associated with a marriage, the marriage itself was a written or verbal agreement, consummated by a sexual relationship. After Abraham negotiated a marriage agreement with Rebekah’s family, the marriage went like this:
Then Isaac brought her [Rebekah] 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 (Gen 24:67).
Bible students should couple this knowledge with the great examples of faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; who were faithful for decades while they waited for the Eternal to fulfill his promises to them. But some make the mistake of using their biblical marriage knowledge, which may include polygamy, to commit all manner of irresponsible, foolish or sinful acts, which have simply made lives miserable for themselves and others. These silly scenarios are listed below in the hope that if readers ever find themselves about to get involved in such a thing, they will flee from it, like Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife. The scriptural teaching against them follows.
1. Justifying fornication by calling it a marriage. When a single man and a woman have found themselves alone together (probably the first mistake) and desiring sex but no serious life-long commitment, some have said brief vows, had sex, and then agreed to a “divorce”—sometimes all within the same day. In some cases, only one party may feel the need to justify their sin with this biblical trickery, so they will say silent vows—lest their partner think they are ridiculous. Sometimes, the man will see no need for the “divorce”, because he considers this just one of the many wives he will have, but he usually doesn’t bother to tell the woman his “biblical view”—that she will be sinning if she ever marries anyone else during the rest of her life. Sure, sometimes the parties may stay together a few weeks or even months, but their only real intent was sex, they never declared it to be a lifelong marriage to anyone else. This is just one example of a secret marriage, which the Scriptures do not support.
2. Justifying adultery by calling it a polygamous marriage. This is much like the previous example, except the man is married. Rarely, some women will agree to be a “second wife” to obtain a brief adulterous affair. But then, those women might agree to almost anything to get what they want—lying and adultery go hand-in-hand. More often, the man does not tell the woman that he considers her as “another wife” and by biblical standards, she can never marry again unless he divorces her. This is another example of a secret marriage, that is no marriage at all, but a rationalization for adultery.
3. Unplanned marriages. A man and woman decide that they want to have sex right now, so they get married right now, really intending to live the rest of their lives together. Often, they previously had only an Internet relationship or had known each other only a few days. Teen-agers do it, 50-year olds do it. This is not a sin, but it almost certainly is a lack of wisdom and frequently spawns many sins and much heartache. When one considers the magnitude of committing the rest of one’s life, as well as the possibility of creating new life—a genealogy that could go on forever—a few weeks or months to plan a wedding is a reasonable time to wait for sex. A marriage that begins for immediate gratification is likely to be plagued by similar problems of irresponsibility. This author has seen these marriages fail after a few weeks, a few months or a few years. Only a fraction endured. In almost every case, if the couples had taken the time to seek the counsel of their friends and congregation, they would have been much better equipped to either make the necessary personal changes to produce a successful marriage, or to realize that they should not marry.
4. Polygamy for fun and profit. This is polygamy proclaimed not by a prosperous man who is able to provide for more than one wife, but by someone who wants more wives so he can have sex more often and so he can reap economic benefit from them. The man usually targets downtrodden women, who want to be married but who do not believe that anyone else would marry them. The man reminds them of that frequently. He usually acquires each new wife by telling her he really loves her more than the others—or he may simply get a mail-order bride from Asia. The new wife gets a Bible-based marriage agreement and often a state marriage license as well. Later, after she is pregnant and has learned to fit into the polygamous routine, she will get a quiet state divorce, but be told that her Biblical marriage agreement is still in force. Since all (or all but one) of the man’s “wives” are not legally married, the man may have them get state welfare for unwed mothers—but he probably takes most of the money. He may require some “wives” to take outside jobs, while others take care of all the children. Our society has no difficulty with one man and a group of women living together. In every case this writer has seen, these men were not good husbands for even one wife, and adding more wives did not help the situation at all.
5. Predatory marriages. These almost always involve one of the previous four schemes, but add the additional element of a predator who is older and far more aggressive, intelligent, experienced and/or knowledgeable than the other—and willing to take advantage of it. Usually the predator is a man, but this writer also knows of women who have done this. The predator often teaches the victim many good and exciting principles of scripture, but also weaves in the biblical teaching that the two of them can just decide to get married without the need of state or church. They often paint a glowing picture that convinces the other that the Eternal has brought the two together, right here and now, so that they can fulfill their dreams and become married. The victim often finds him/herself married and no longer a virgin, before even thinking it through or seeking counsel. The predator knows that if he/she did not rush the marriage, that it would probably never happen. This is evil.
6. One sided marriages. Some people actually consider themselves married with a life long commitment to an individual, while that individual has no such commitment to them. They may hope to reach a mutual marriage agreement someday, but they want sex immediately. The uncommitted individual simply believes they are in an unmarried sexual relationship. While this assessment is probably more honest, the relationship is still a sin. The uncommitted individual may not know about the other’s belief that they are already married. If they do know, they neither accept it or acknowledge it to others. This is another bizarre form of an unbiblical secret marriage.
Summary: Hopefully, anyone who believes in any of these “marriage madness” ideas will read the rest of this article and reconsider their views. There is no “free lunch” here. In virtually all cases with which this writer has been acquainted, the above practices do not produce the happiness that the people are seeking, but more strife, contention, alienation, divorce and loneliness.
Scriptural Teaching on Marriage Responsibility
All of the above marriage madness occurs when people use their extensive technical knowledge of the Scriptures to justify their own sin, rather than to seek the deep spiritual concepts of love, truth and faithfulness. Those seeking these things speak little of laying down one’s life for one’s spouse as Christ did for the Church (Eph 5:25; 1Jo 3:16). They are seeking the benefits of marriage without the responsibility. If they were spiritually advanced, shouldn’t their view of marriage be like Christ’s? How does He view His marriage with the Church? Does He keep it a secret?
And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints (Rev 19:6-8).
Jesus Christ wants His marriage and His relationship with us acknowledged by all. The Bible contains no examples of secret marriages. In the Old Testament, every engagement (betrothal) and marriage was a public event that determined which sections of the law would apply to a person. What happens if a man entices a woman when they were alone and nobody can hear them? (Deut 22:22-29; Ex 22:16-17.) If she was married, they are both put to death. If she was engaged, then he is put to death. If she was not engaged, then he must pay the bride price, and if the woman’s father accepts him, then he must marry her. If a man enticed a woman whom he thought was single, hoping to marry her, could he then be stoned if there was a secret betrothal or marriage? This is a life or death issue! Biblical law presumes that each person’s marital status is known by all.
Trying to keep his marriage secret was Abraham’s major recorded sin. That sin resulted in plagues on Egypt, Abraham being thrown out of Egypt and nearly the death of Abimelech (Gen 12:10-20; 20:1-14). Abraham’s sin was not lying—Sarah was his sister. God agreed that Abimelech was innocent (Gen 20:6). Later, Isaac made this same mistake (Gen 26:7-11). These three accounts are in the Bible for a reason: to teach us to trust God for protection, and that marriages should never be secret!
When Boaz found Ruth at his feet, he did not propose to marry her right then so he could have sex with her that night (Ruth 3). He had her lay at his feet, and then made plans to take care of the inheritance and declare the marriage publicly, in the presence of elders of the gate who were witnesses:
“Moreover, Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, I have acquired as my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brethren and from his position at the gate. You are witnesses this day” (Ruth 4:10).
The Eternal is a witness to all marriages and demands that people deal honestly and fairly with each other.
And this is the second thing you do: You cover the altar of the LORD with tears, With weeping and crying; So He does not regard the offering anymore, Nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth (Mal 2:13-15).
There are too many men who want to use their strength, charm, financial resources or even Bible knowledge to get sex, and who see the details of marriage and commitment one more step to obtain sex. There are too many women willing to use their appearance, sex, and a host of other schemes to manipulate men into a marriage, only to find themselves further and further away from that goal. It is best to look to marriage for godly fulfillment, and to realize that it is ultimately the Eternal who provides a good mate:
He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD (Prov 19:14).
It is worth the time for young people to take the years needed to prepare to be married and to find the right person. When marriage trouble arises, it is worth the time to pray, study, fast, counsel or do whatever else is necessary to keep a marriage together. Marriage should be exciting and fun:
Drink water from your own cistern, And running water from your own well. 16 Should your fountains be dispersed abroad, Streams of water in the streets? 17 Let them be only your own, And not for strangers with you. 18 Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice with the wife of your youth. 19 As a loving deer and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; And always be enraptured with her love. 20 For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman, And be embraced in the arms of a seductress? 21 For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, And He ponders all his paths (Prov 5:15-21).
Finally, we can learn a lot from the phrase “wife of your youth”. “Wife” is singular, it does not say “wives”. Solomon, the probable writer, had hundreds of wives and knew all about polygamy, but was still inspired to recommend only one. “Of your youth” means our first spouse, not one acquired after several attempts and failures. Finally, God is watching us and will judge our every work (2Cor 5:10).
“That’s fine, someone might say, I can justify my marriage practice from the scripture.” But the technical, legal arguments are not the weightier matters of the law. The important stuff is justice, mercy and faith (Matt 23:23). Does our treatment of our spouse represent the love of the Eternal and our respect for Him?
A paragraph of hope for the downtrodden: Some may feel so lonely and depressed that they would rather enter into a risky marriage than just continue down the same lonely single road. Remember this: the loneliness and depression of recovering from a failed marriage is even worse than what you are experiencing now. In addition, failed marriages frequently leave one poorer, by many thousands of dollars, adding to the difficulty. Love, joy, peace, etc. are not ultimately produced by marriage, but by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). Seek your Father in Heaven to raise you up from your loneliness and depression, and then you will be ready to help someone in a good and righteous marriage. &
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