My fiance and I are planning our wedding and are having some trouble because we are from different countries. We are both Christians and would like to have a wedding that is honorable to God biblically.

We plan to be wed in Japan and it is sometimes custom that they will sign marriage documents and turn them into city hall even months before the actual ceremony. These marriage documents legally state that the two are married. It is beneficial for myself since it is required for a visa and job. However, this seems to be a problem as we do not think we are "actually married" since a ceremony wouldn't take place until months later.

So I am wondering if it is even acceptable before God biblically to allow for this legalization of marriage even before a ceremony. I am also wondering what Bible passages speak about marriage so that we would be able to put in as much consideration to this as possible.

EDIT: I think I should clarify more about what I'd like information about. I took note about how God was present to ordain the first marriage between Adam and Eve. I'm assuming that the covenant of marriage must be made before God. If "submitting legal forms" before an actual ceremony constitutes as marriage, is that "a covenant made before God"?

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    It would be helpful if you could tell us what denomination you belong to. Many churches place no restrictions on marriages, but others do. For instance, in my church (and many other evangelical churches) the church recognizes any marriage that is legal, regardless of where is is performed. However other churches (the Catholic church for one) only recognize marriages that are performed by a priest. – wax eagle Jun 25 '12 at 16:45
  • @wax eagle: I do not belong to any denomination. However, I'm just looking for only Biblical context that talks about this (if any exist). – Ci3 Jun 25 '12 at 17:00
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    I see. I'm afraid you're in for a disappointment on this one, there just isn't much there. Particularly because marriage is a largely cultural thing and our culture varies quite dramatically from the one in ancient Israel/Rome. – wax eagle Jun 25 '12 at 17:04
  • @wax eagle: Yeah I suppose so! I was having trouble with this, so I decided to ask on Stack Exchange :) – Ci3 Jun 25 '12 at 17:07
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    Can you say a little more about what you are concerned about? Are you concerned because you might be considered legally married before you consider yourselves to be? Or are you concerned that God would think you are 'lying' by 'claiming' to be married before you have gone through the religious ceremony? Or are you worried that God thinks this isn't the 'right' way to do marriage? – DJClayworth Jun 25 '12 at 20:14

I read in the comments that you're not looking for an answer from a particular denomination, but a purely biblical answer.

Well, if you're a Christian, then you'd know that the OT laws (besides the 10 commandments) are not what we follow any more, as they have their completion in Jesus. Further, you are aware that you must render unto Caesar what is Caesars. It would see as though the formalities in civil marriage are little more than a tax on marriage and don't constitute a legitimate marriage in the eyes of God.

Just as heresy can shed a lot of light on what the true Church teaches. Divorce can shed a lot of light on what marriage is. Owing to what Jesus said (Matt 19:8), in the beginning it was not so, in the beginning you had Adam and Eve, the first married couple and the example for all marriage. The coupling which took "it is not good for man to be alone" to "woah, this is indeed flesh of my flesh!". If anyone says Adam and Eve weren't married in the eyes of God and didn't have a perfect marriage in the beginning, they'd have a long and complicated argument.

So, if they had the best possible marriage, if you find it is impossible to be wed in a Church in the way you'd best see fit, getting married in the most prudent possible way is always better than being consumed with fire, as St. Paul might say. If you want, you can have your marriage blessed later.

Then, to go back to divorce, Jesus says that divorce is only OK if the marriage is unlawful, which means there must be something that makes the marriage lawful.

To a Catholic, a lawful marriage requires consent of the man and the woman, full knowledge of what they're getting in to, nothing previous encumbering the marriage. There is a biblical pretext for all this, as I think there is for all Catholic tradition, but that's a bit beyond the scope of the question (or at least my capacity to answer)

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    Thanks Peter, I think you are on to something regarding divorce. There must be something that makes marriage lawful. – Ci3 Jun 25 '12 at 21:08

I don't think you'll find anything other than Christian tradition that makes a lot of prescriptions for "legitimate" marriage. Marriage is essentially defined in Genesis 2:

Genesis 2:24 (NASB) For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

I don't recall any laws in the OT that make prescriptions for marriage ceremonies or legitimate marriages.

Marriage: Covenant Between Two Individuals

I would posit that marriage is essentially a covenant between two individuals, and whenever the two individuals make the commitment, they are as married as they need to be before God.

In the USA (in most states anyway—marriage is currently defined by each state), it might be a legal requirement to have a sanctioned individual (priest/ordained minister, justice of the peace, etc.) legally certify that two individuals are married, but that would only matter if you cared about being married in the eyes of the law. (I would care, if for no other reason than to avoid the appearance of evil—but I don't know that it would be an absolute necessity.)


I wouldn't be troubled about turning in a marriage document ahead of time, since that event need not have any bearing on when you decide to make your commitment (to God and each other) and subsequently (presumably) consummate the marriage. It certainly wouldn't be problematic to be "married" for a while before living as a married couple.

  • This is great, but I would change "between two individuals" to "between a man and woman" based on Matthew 19:4-5 – Ci3 Jun 25 '12 at 17:02
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    @Chris to put it gently, that debate rarely goes anywhere constructive on the internet. Can we agree that ^^^^^ is one opinion of many inside Christianity (and indeed, outside). It isn't worth "going there" unless that was your original question (which it wasn't) – Marc Gravell Jun 25 '12 at 18:08
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    @ChrisHarris, I did not intend to say one way or the other regarding same-sex marriage. My intent was to move the scope of marriage from government to individual. – mojo Jun 25 '12 at 18:13
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    I think the statements of the NT authors are clearly against any form of physical union except between a man and a woman who are married (to each other), understanding that such a debate is outside the question here and has probably already been started elsewhere. – mojo Jun 25 '12 at 18:14
  • @mojo: Thanks for the clarification. Your original intention makes sense. – Ci3 Jun 25 '12 at 18:34

As Peter Turner pointed out, the Catholics consider marriage to be a covenant between the participants, and this is followed more or less by other churches. I know of no church that would consider you 'not married' just because you hadn't had a ceremony in a church with a minister. (If you doubt this, imagine asking that same church if it was OK to leave your spouse because you 'hadn't been married in church'. None of them are going to approve that.) As a side consideration, you will be married in the eyes of the church when you sign the civil papers. That should only affect you if you change your mind between signing the papers and the church ceremony, so hopefully not an issue.

To answer the question you put in comments, you are not therefore lying to the civil authorities - you really are married when you've filled the forms in. They aren't concerned about the church ceremony, just the legal status. And since the civil marriage makes you married in the eyes of the church you aren't lying to anyone. You might well want to think of yourselves as 'not married' until the church ceremony, and that's up to you, and I doubt God or anyone else will be upset.

  • I can understand how your answer applies to Catholics (it seems like a lot of the basis comes from the church). However, I'm concerned about what God sees as marriage which is not dependent on the church. – Ci3 Jun 25 '12 at 20:47
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    The Bible never discusses the form of marriage ceremony, or answers the question "what constitutes a valid marriage?". So you are really left with the views of the various churches, or seeking your own answer direct from God. The view of the churches is pretty much what I described. Private revelation I can't help with. – DJClayworth Jun 26 '12 at 3:15

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