I was studying the Puritans recently, and discovered something interesting about William Bradford. According to Wikipedia, he married his wife in a civil ceremony, because "the Separatists could find no example of a religious service in the Scriptures", which I immediately found interesting.

So my question is this: Is there any account of a religious marriage ceremony in scriptures? Did the Separatists miss something/exclude a book that is typically considered canonical?

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    Practically every aspect of life was considered "religious" at the time the Bible was written. The separation of church (or religion) and state hadn't been conceived yet, thus the concept of a civil marriage as distinct from a religious marriage didn't really exist.
    – Flimzy
    Jan 13, 2015 at 19:39

3 Answers 3


Some time back I dug into this subject of weddings in olden Biblical days, just out of curiosity . This is summary of sort of what I found.

Bible speaks of three "C" of weddings: Contract, Consummation, Celebration. These same things exist today in modern marriages but the order and timing of each stage is different. Ancient Jewish weddings never involved a wedding ceremony like we see today with the bride walking down the aisle to be married in the synagogue.

In fact the present day "wedding ceremony" is something that did not develop for hundreds of years after Jesus rose from the dead. Modern Jewish weddings are as removed and different from the ancient Jewish marriage culture of the first century as Christian weddings are.

There were three states of a marriage in the Bible:

Stage 1: Signing the "ketubbah" contract (Creating the marriage bond)

  • The bride would chose her husband and her father would sign a legal contract with him called a "ketubbah".
  • Once this is signed the couple is 100% married but do not have sex yet.
  • Young children were often married, (arranged marriage) but did not consummate until of age.

Stage 2: The "chuppah": sexual consummation.

  • Up to 7 years later, the groom is able to raise the money as set out in the ketubbah contract and notifies the father of the bride, who then sets a date to consummate the marriage at the bride's home.

  • The bride waits with her maidens, for the arrival of the groom and his companions.

  • The couple enters the chuppah room and consummates the marriage while the companions of the bride and groom wait and celebrate outside or in the next room.

  • The groom hands the bloodied "proof of virginity cloth" to the witnesses chosen by the bride's parents, who then give it to the bride for safekeeping.

Stage 3: The wedding feast

  • After consummation, the entire wedding party walks to the house of the groom in a procession for a wedding feast.

  • At the conclusion of the wedding feast, the couple has completed the ancient ritual of marriage.

There was no "wedding ceremony" in the synagogue in the first century, performed under a canopy where the bride and groom would hold hands and say, "I do" before an audience of friends and family. This didn’t develop for hundreds of years after Jesus died on the cross as the Passover lamb for the sins of mankind.

A few examples from OT:

The three stages of Isaac's marriage to Rebekah: Gen 24.

Contract (stage 1): Gen 24:33, Gen 24:51-53, Gen 24:57-58. An offer of marriage is proposed. The offer is accepted and Rebekah is married by contract. Gifts and money are given both to the bride and the parents of the bride. Notice that Rebekah was asked if she consented to the marriage.

Consummation (stage 2): Gen 24:64-67. Rebekah and Isaac go to the tent.

Celebration (stage 3): No mention of wedding feast, but one likely happened.

The three stages of Jacob's marriage to Leah: Gen 29.

Contract (stage 1): Gen 29:15-20. Jacob contracts to work for 7 in advance before he gets the girl.

Consummation (stage 2): Gen 29:21-26. Jacob pays the dowry price of 7 years and takes Leah into the tent.

Celebration (stage 3): Gen 29:27-28. He completed the 7 day wedding feast with Leah.

The three stages of Jacob's marriage to Rachel: Gen 29.

Contract (stage 1): Gen 29:27. Jacob contracts to work for 7 MORE years but gets to consummate the wedding at the before he pays the full dowry.

Consummation (stage 2): Gen 29:30. He took Leah into the tent at the beginning of the 7 day feast, then at the end of the 7 day feast he took Rachel into the tent.

Celebration (stage 3): Gen 29:27-28. The 7 day wedding feast was for both girls.

In Ten Commandment, God makes us aware that the adultery and fortification are something against God. This is the testimony by itself that all these three stages of wedding culminating into a marriage was according to God’s requirement. Otherwise there could be no meaning attached to the words adultery and fornication in the Law.

  • +1 Good answer. But, these are all Jewish. Can we find any reference from New Testament?
    – Mawia
    Jun 8, 2013 at 10:23
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    @Mawia The parable of the ten virgins (Mt 25:1) illustrates both stage 2 and stage 3 of the marriage. Matthew 22:1-14 has a king throwing a feast for his son. John 2:1-11 illustrates a wedding feast in Cana. Jun 9, 2013 at 7:29
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    @KyleWilley Stage 1 "ketubah", was signed in triplicate where the father, the groom each got a copy and a third one was "filed" with the court which is believed to mean as synagogue. Jun 9, 2013 at 7:31
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    @KyleWilley In Ten Commandment that God gave to Moses, God makes us aware that the adultery and fortification are something against God. This is the testimony by itself that all these three stages of wedding culminating into a marriage was according to God’s requirement. Otherwise there could be no meaning attached to the words adultery and fornication in the Law. Jun 10, 2013 at 4:37
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    where do you find it was the bride who chose the husband?
    – warren
    Jun 10, 2013 at 13:00

2Co 11:2 For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.

I find it quite funny that someone would deny that there is a marriage ceremony in the New Testament because the New Birth and our becoming disciples of Christ is a type of a wedding itself. Did Christ go to a justice of the peace when he married the Church :) No it was a man of God who espoused us to Christ.

Rev 19:7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.

Rev 19:8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

Rev 19:9 And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

We are already wed to Christ by way of having faith in the Gospel as delivered through the disciples especially Pauls version of the Gospel however we have not had our marriage supper yet. That is something which remains till heaven.

Eph 1:17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:

Gen 4:1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.

2Co 5:16 Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.

We already intimate with Christ sharing full knowledge of each other. epignōsis Strong's Greek G1922 is often translated intimately know like Adam knew Eve in Genesis 4:1. Our knowledge of Christ isn't about his physical attributes and our intimacy with him has absolutely nothing to do with our flesh.

Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

Eph 5:26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,

Eph 5:27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Eph 5:28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.

Again Christ is the example of how a husband treats His wife.

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    The issue is that while this is a definition of a godly marriage, these are not marriage ceremonies, but rather relationships. For instance, we don't see that any part of the marriage was officiated by a priest or a person chosen for righteousness. The question isn't "Is marriage godly?", but rather "Do we see a wedding in a church?" albeit with a little more fancy wording. Jun 9, 2013 at 4:35
  • @KyleWilley Take a look at 2Co 11:2. A minister performed the ceremony of wedding us to Christ. It is scriptural for a minister to wed two groups of people however they see fit (1 Corinthians 3:12) with 2Co 11:2 as the president.
    – user4060
    Jun 9, 2013 at 6:41
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    1 Corinthians 3:12 doesn't seem to relate to marriage at all. Disregarding that, I was perhaps too broad. For 2nd Corinthians 11:2, NASB uses the word "betrothed", which would have been what a father would have done with his daughter; indeed, checking five different translations the result is "betrothed" or "given your hand" four times, and "espoused" only once, which indicates that it's more of an arrangement than the wedding itself. I'm not sure what it would be in the original Greek, but it seems to be an issue when working from the (Clementine) Latin Vulgate translation. Jun 9, 2013 at 16:24
  • @KyleWilley 1cor 3:12 allows ministers to act in ways becoming of the Master in all things authorized by Christ. A minister bretroves gives in marriage just like a father would. A ministers sets the joint of a marriage. blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=G718 The issue is not with latin or greek but what you want to read out of the verses in this case the marriage ceremony.
    – user4060
    Jun 9, 2013 at 23:39
  • @caseyr547 - so outside of a minister-approved marriage, there is none? Your argument is invalid at least on that alone
    – warren
    Jun 11, 2013 at 16:13

From your comments on other answers, it is clear that what you are really asking is if biblical nuptials are a religious or civic/contractual affair. The answer really is that Biblically, it is both. This is because in Biblical times, the Israelight nation lived in a theocracy. The books of Exodus, Leviticus and Dueteronomy have large swaths dedicated to defining how the government was to work. We see this government in action throughout the book of Judges until Israel shifts to a monarchy in chronicles and kings. During the times of Jesus, the Sanhedron functioned as the court system as a vassal state under Caesar.

There is therefore no distinction between a religious and civil ceremony in Biblical times because the civic system itself was religiously based.

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