Weddings That Are Honorable in the Sight of God and Man
“A marriage feast took place in Cana . . . Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the marriage feast.”—JOHN 2:1, 2.
JESUS, his mother, and some of his disciples knew the joy that an honorable wedding among God’s people can bring. Christ even made one wedding outstanding by performing his first recorded miracle there, adding to the pleasure of that event. (John 2:1-11) You may have attended and enjoyed weddings of Christians who want to serve Jehovah as happily married people. Or you may look forward to having such a wedding yourself or to helping a friend to make his or her wedding a success. What can contribute to that outcome?
2 Christians have found that the advice in God’s inspired Word is very helpful when a man and a woman plan to get married. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) Granted, the Bible does not outline exact procedures for a Christian wedding. That is understandable because customs and even legal requirements vary according to location and era. For example, in ancient Israel there was no formal wedding ceremony. On the wedding day, the bridegroom brought his bride to his own home or to his father’s. (Genesis 24:67; Isaiah 61:10; Matthew 1:24) This public step constituted the wedding, without the formal ceremony common in many weddings today.
3 The Israelites recognized that step as constituting the marriage or wedding. Thereafter, they might share in a celebratory feast, such as that mentioned at John 2:1. Many Bible versions render that verse something like this: “There was a wedding in Cana.” But the original-language word is well rendered “marriage feast” or “wedding banquet.”* (Matthew 22:2-10; 25:10; Luke 14:8) The account makes it clear that Jesus was present at and contributed to a feast linked to a Jewish wedding. A key point, however, is that what constituted such a wedding back then differs from what is common now.
4 In many countries today, Christians who want to marry must meet certain legal requirements. Once they do so, they may wed in any legally accepted manner. That could be in a small, simple ceremony that is conducted by a judge, mayor, or minister authorized by the State. Some choose to marry in such a way, possibly asking a few relatives or Christian friends to be present as legal witnesses or just to share in the joy of this important occasion. (Jeremiah 33:11; John 3:29) Similarly, other Christians may choose not to hold a sizable wedding feast or reception that would require considerable planning and cost. They may arrange, instead, for a quiet meal with some close friends. Whatever our personal preferences in this regard may be, we should recognize that other mature Christians may have viewpoints different from our own.—Romans 14:3, 4.
5 Most Christian couples choose to have a Bible-based talk at their wedding.* They recognize that Jehovah originated marriage and provides in his Word wise advice on how marriage can succeed and bring happiness. (Genesis 2:22-24; Mark 10:6-9; Ephesians 5:22-33) And most couples want Christian friends and relatives to share in the happy occasion. Yet, how are we to view the great variety of legal requirements, procedures, and even prevailing local practices? This article will consider situations in various regions. Some may differ considerably from what you know of or from what is done in your area. Nevertheless, you can note certain common principles or aspects that are important to God’s servants.
Honorable Marriage—Legal Marriage
6 While Jehovah originated marriage, human governments have some control over the actions of those getting married. This is appropriate. Jesus said: “Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (Mark 12:17) Similarly, the apostle Paul directed: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God; the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God.”—Romans 13:1; Titus 3:1.
7 In most lands Caesar, or the civil authority, determines who is eligible to marry. Thus, when two Christians who are Scripturally free choose to get married, they conscientiously comply with local law. This may involve obtaining a license, using a State-authorized marrying agent, and perhaps registering the completed marriage. When Caesar Augustus required a “registration,” Mary and Joseph complied, traveling to Bethlehem “to get registered.”—Luke 2:1-5.
8 When two Christians marry in a way that is legal and recognized, that union is binding in God’s eyes. Hence, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not repeat a marriage by having multiple legal ceremonies, nor do they renew marriage vows, such as on a couple’s 25th or 50th wedding anniversary. (Matthew 5:37) (Some churches ignore a legally approved civil marriage ceremony, claiming that it is not really a proper marriage unless a priest or a clergyman performs a ritual or declares the couple man and wife.) In many lands, the government authorizes a minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses to solemnize marriages. If that is possible, he would likely want to do so along with a wedding talk at the Kingdom Hall. That is the local place of true worship and an appropriate location for a talk about this arrangement, which Jehovah God instituted.
9 In other countries, the law requires that a couple marry at a government office, such as city hall, or before a designated civil agent. Christians often choose to follow up that legal step with a wedding talk at the Kingdom Hall on the same day or the next. (They would not want many days to pass between the civil ceremony and the Bible talk, for they are married before God and man, including the Christian congregation.) If a couple who will have a civil marriage desire to have a talk at a certain Kingdom Hall, they should beforehand seek the permission of the elders forming the Congregation Service Committee. In addition to confirming that the couple have a good reputation, these overseers will make sure that the timing of the wedding will not interfere with the regular meetings and scheduled programs at the hall. (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40) They will also review any preparations of the hall that the couple may request and decide whether there will be an announcement made about its use.
10 The elder giving the wedding talk will strive to make the discussion warm, spiritually upbuilding, and dignified. If the couple were first joined in a civil marriage, he will make it clear that they were married according to Caesar’s law. If marriage vows were not exchanged in the civil ceremony, the couple may want to do so during the talk.* If that civil ceremony included vows but the newly married couple want to say vows before Jehovah and the congregation, they would do so in the past tense, showing that they were already “yoked together.”—Matthew 19:6; 22:21.
11 In certain places, the law may not require a couple to get married in any ceremony, even before a government agent. The marriage occurs when they present a signed marriage registration form to an official. Thereupon, a marriage certificate is registered. In this way the couple are looked upon as husband and wife, this being the date of their marriage. As noted above, the couple who are thus married may want to follow that registration right away with a Bible-based talk at the Kingdom Hall. The spiritually mature brother selected to give the talk will inform all attending that the couple are married by reason of the registration that just took place. Any vows would be handled in accord with what is outlined in paragraph 10 and its footnote. Those in attendance at the Kingdom Hall will rejoice with the couple and benefit from the counsel given from God’s Word.—Song of Solomon 3:11.
Customary and Civil Marriages
12 In some countries, couples enter into what may be called a customary (or, tribal) marriage. This does not refer to two individuals just living together, nor does it refer to a common-law situation that may have a degree of status in some locales but is not a full legal marriage.* We are speaking of a marriage entered into according to the publicly recognized custom of the tribe or area. This may involve the full payment and acceptance of a bride-price, by which the couple are legally and Scripturally married. The government views such customary marriage as valid, legal, and binding. Thereafter, it is usually possible to record or register the customary marriage that occurred, and upon doing so, the couple may receive an official certificate. Registration can offer protection for the couple or for the wife if she becomes a widow and for any future children. The congregation would urge any who enter such a customary marriage to register it as soon as possible. Interestingly, it seems that under the Mosaic Law, marriages and births were officially recorded.—Matthew 1:1-16.
13 The couple legally united in such a customary process become husband and wife when that marriage occurs. As noted above, Christians entering such a legal marriage may desire to have a marriage talk, with wedding vows, at the Kingdom Hall. If that is done, the speaker would acknowledge that the couple were already married in harmony with the laws of Caesar. There would be only one such talk. There is one marriage, in this case the legally valid customary (tribal) marriage, and one Scriptural talk. Keeping the two aspects as close together timewise as possible, preferably on the same day, contributes to honoring Christian marriage in the community.
14 In some lands where customary marriage is recognized as legal, there are also provisions for civil (or, statutory) marriage. A civil marriage is usually carried out before a government agent, and it may include both taking marriage vows and signing a registry. Some Christian couples prefer this civil marriage to a customary one. There is no legal need for both; each procedure is legally valid. What is said in paragraphs 9 and 10 about a wedding talk and vows applies here too. The main thing is that the couple are married in a way that is honorable before God and man.—Luke 20:25; 1 Peter 2:13, 14.
Maintain Honor in Marriage
15 When a problem arose in the marriage of a Persian king, a chief adviser named Memucan gave advice that could have a positive effect—‘that all the wives give honor to their husbands.’ (Esther 1:20) In Christian marriages, that does not need to be decreed by any human king; wives want to honor their husbands. Comparably, Christian husbands assign their mates honor and praise them. (Proverbs 31:11, 30; 1 Peter 3:7) Linking honor to our marriage should not come only after many years. It should be manifest right from the outset, yes, from the wedding day on.
16 The man and the woman—the husband and the wife—are not the only ones who ought to show honor on the wedding day. If a Christian elder will deliver a wedding talk, that too should be marked by honor. The talk should be addressed to the couple. As part of honoring them, the speaker will not feature humor or folk sayings. He should not include overly personal observations that might embarrass the couple and the listeners. Rather, he will strive to be warm and upbuilding, highlighting the Originator of marriage and His outstanding advice. Yes, the elder’s dignified wedding discourse will contribute to a marriage that brings honor to Jehovah God.
17 You likely noted in this article many points about the legal details of marriage. Certain aspects may not directly apply in your locality. Yet, all of us ought to be aware of how important it is that wedding arrangements among Jehovah’s Witnesses manifest respect for local laws, for the requirements of Caesar. (Luke 20:25) Paul urged us: “Render to all their dues, to him who calls for the tax, the tax; to him who calls for the tribute, the tribute; . . . to him who calls for honor, such honor.” (Romans 13:7) Yes, it is fitting that Christians, right from the wedding day, honor the arrangement that God has in place for the present.
18 Many a Christian wedding is followed by a social gathering—a wedding feast, a meal, or a reception. Recall that Jesus chose to be present at one such feast. If there is such a gathering, how can counsel from the Bible help us to ensure that it too will bring honor to God and reflect well on the newlyweds and on the Christian congregation? The following article will consider that very matter.*
The same word might be used for a feast that was not connected to a marriage.—Esther 9:22, Septuagint.
An outline for a 30-minute marriage discourse entitled “Honorable Marriage in God’s Sight” is used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. This draws on fine Scriptural advice found in the book The Secret of Family Happiness and other publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The discussion is helpful for the couple getting married and for all attending the wedding.
Unless local law requires something else, these vows that honor God are used. For the groom: “I [name of groom] take you [name of bride] to be my wedded wife, to love and to cherish in accordance with the divine law as set forth in the Holy Scriptures for Christian husbands, for as long as we both shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement.” For the bride: “I [name of bride] take you [name of groom] to be my wedded husband, to love and to cherish and deeply respect, in accordance with the divine law as set forth in the Holy Scriptures for Christian wives, for as long as we both shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement.”
The Watchtower of May 1, 1962, page 287, offers comments about common-law marriage.
See also the article “Increase the Joy and Dignity of Your Wedding Day,” on page 28.
Do You Recall?
• Why should we be interested in both the legal and the spiritual aspects of weddings?
• If two Christians marry in a civil ceremony, what might they decide to have soon afterward?
• Why are wedding talks given at the Kingdom Hall?
1. The account about Jesus in Cana draws attention to what?
2. What information does the Bible contain about weddings?
3. To what event in Cana did Jesus contribute?
4. What type of wedding do some Christians choose, and why?
5. Why do many Christians want to have a wedding talk when they marry, and what does it feature?
6, 7. Why should we be interested in the legal aspects of getting married, and how might we manifest this?
8. How binding is marriage, and what policy of Jehovah’s Witnesses reflects that understanding?
9. (a) In the case of a civil marriage, what might a Christian couple choose to do? (b) How might the elders be involved in the wedding plans?
10. If there must be a civil marriage, how would this affect the wedding talk?
11. In certain places, how does a couple get married, and with what impact on the wedding talk?
12. What is a customary marriage, and what is advisable after such a marriage?
13. After a customary marriage, what is appropriate as to a wedding talk?
14. What might a Christian do if both a customary and a civil marriage are possible?
15, 16. How should honor be involved in a marriage?
17. Why is there a legal aspect to Christian weddings?
18. What optional feature of a wedding merits attention, and where can we find information on this matter?
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In an ancient Israelite wedding, the groom brought the bride to his own home or to his father’s
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After a customary marriage, Christians may wish to have a talk at the Kingdom Hall