The Marriage Ceremony
As Solemnized by Jehovah’s Witnesses
THE term “marriage” is applied to the uniting together of man and woman in wedlock. Jehovah, the Creator of the universe and all that lives in it, is the author of marriage. Marriage was not instituted simply for the pleasure and convenience of human creatures. In Jehovah’s purposes, marriage has a noble and lofty place. It is only as creatures realize this and recognize that marriage is a “threefold cord” involving the husband, the wife and their Creator, that they can find their greatest joy and satisfaction in it.
Some pertinent scriptures illustrating this important fact deserve consideration. Genesis 1:27, 28 states: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.” Here, definitely associated with their creation and marriage, is a commission to serve the high and lofty purposes of Jehovah.
EXAMPLES OF PROPER CONSIDERATION OF ITS AUTHOR
Genesis, chapter 24, contains a very detailed description of the selection of a wife for Isaac, the heir to the Abrahamic promise. It illustrates how Jehovah should be properly considered by those who hope to inherit salvation, both those of the Christian remnant and their good-will companions, in the selection of a mate. Note the first point that your reading of Genesis 24 establishes: The woman must be godly and of God-fearing origin. A Canaanite or pagan woman would not qualify. Next, Abraham, the bridegroom’s father, properly observed God’s direction for himself and his family to leave his country and kindred and father’s house. (Gen. 12:1) Therefore, Isaac the seed must not be brought back there. The point is that no infraction of what was clearly the direction of Jehovah was to be tolerated. Abraham’s servant who was sent to get the bride likewise considered and looked for the Lord God to direct and bless each step of his mission. The woman must qualify according to Jehovah’s standards and must willingly accept the arrangement. When the Lord’s blessing upon the selection of the bride was observed, a proper giving of presents, rings and other jewelry to the young woman and her guardians was made by the servant representing Abraham and Isaac, establishing the contract between all concerned. Finally, the Lord’s direction was accepted by Isaac without question and the marriage was consummated when the servant delivered Rebecca to him.
It is true in this our day that the Lord God does not individually select mates for his people; but he does clearly reveal in his Word, the Bible, the proper procedure for his people to take in making this selection. If each one will display the same diligence displayed by Abraham and his servant in ascertaining the mind of the Lord in their selection of a mate, it is bound to have His blessing and to be much more successful than it otherwise would be. Wealth, social distinction and physical beauty, which the world considers all important, are not the really important factors in a successful marriage. Godly compatibility is the thing to be striven for.
Today the purpose of Jehovah relating to the vindication of his name and Word, the establishment of his kingdom and the blessing of all the families of the earth, centers around Jehovah’s family, including Christ Jesus and his bride and even the good-will companions who accompany the bride. The great care Abraham displayed in selecting a mate for Isaac should be emulated in each case of those who are members of the body of Christ or their companions. If that is done, then it can be truly said of them, “What God has yoked together.”—Matt. 19:6, NW.
Psalm 45:1-15 shows that in her preparation for the marriage the bride was to show proper consideration not only for the bridegroom but also for the bridegroom’s father. Revelation 21:1-5 pictures Christ the bridegroom and his spiritual bride coming down from heaven from God to confer the blessings of Jehovah on all creatures worthy of life.
It is true that all of the above cases are highly prophetic and symbolic. However, this in no wise alters the fact that all who have dedicated themselves to Jehovah’s service must consider his requirements in their selection of mates. A marriage that ignores Jehovah God and his purposes concerning his creatures is not complete, nor can it be a really happy marriage.
The foregoing points are made here for a twofold purpose. First, that those Christians entering into the state of wedlock may appreciate their proper obligations to their Creator and Benefactor as they start out in life as a family unit and direct their energies toward fulfilling them. Secondly, in this our day the will and purpose of Jehovah God are almost entirely ignored by the peoples in all lands. There are millions, blinded by the so-called heathen or unchristian religions, who do not know God or his purposes and cannot properly consider Him in their lives. There are other millions in totalitarian lands who deliberately and with malice reject and push God out of their lives and activity; while in the so-called Christian countries religious apostates have corrupted the minds and beclouded the reasoning of the people to a point where they live mainly for self-gratification and base passion and do not seriously consider their obligations to their God. Truly it can be said: “The world through its wisdom did not get to know God.” “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”—1 Cor. 1:21; 3:19, NW.
Today, “God’s wrath is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who are suppressing the truth in an unrighteous way. Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God nor did they thank him, but they became empty-headed in their reasonings and their unintelligent heart became darkened.” (Rom. 1:18, 21, NW) Thus, as far as Jehovah’s requirements are concerned, the Bible describes the darkness of the world relating to marriage as well as practically every other subject.
The apostle Peter wrote to his fellow Christians: “On the other hand, you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the excellencies’ of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet. 2:9, NW) The Christian is therefore required to show forth the excellencies of Jehovah in all things, which includes conforming to the divine pattern for marriage in all of its details. This he does for the approval of God and his own peace of mind. Also, it is for the purpose of setting a proper example and guide for the blinded world, particularly persons of good will in the world who wish to know and serve God.—1 Tim. 4:16, NW.
THE REAL WITNESS
In the beginning Jehovah alone was the witness between Adam and Eve when they were united in matrimony. Whatever expressions of fidelity and devotion may have been exchanged between these two, they were made in the presence of their God. They would ever be conscious of this fact throughout their future life. Any infraction of their covenant or unfaithfulness to each other they knew would be known by their God. That would constitute the greatest possible retarding influence to wrongdoing. As long as they honored, loved and respected their God, they could not be unfaithful to their sacred obligations taken before Him.
Today, men, in the form of priests, rabbis, ministers, etc., claim that they are the important and responsible witness before whom those entering wedlock must take their vows; and some go so far as to claim that unless the union is blessed by them it is not properly solemnized. Frankly, this is an entirely unscriptural and hence false claim on their part. At best they are only the official witnesses who see to it that the necessary records required by the state are properly executed and filed. Any justice of the peace, city clerk, judge of the court or other official designated by the state as qualified could serve just as well. The only difference between a clergyman and those other public officials mentioned is that the clergyman is supposed to know the mind of the Lord on the matter and thus be qualified to instruct the candidates on their Scriptural obligations toward each other and toward their God.
The real witness before whom the Christian assumes his obligations is his God. Just as in the case of Adam and Eve, the Christian who has dedicated his life to the service of his God stands in the presence of his God and assumes his obligations before him. When he is properly instructed, he is conscious of his responsibility before the Lord; and, as long as he honors, loves and respects his God, he will respect and be faithful to his marital obligations assumed before his God. God-fearing men of all ages recognized this principle.—Gen. 31:49, 50.
THE PROPRIETY OF CIVIL MARRIAGES
In considering solemnizing marriage up to this point, we have dealt only with the ministerial service. This is not to imply that Jehovah’s witnesses do not accept the purely civil ceremony performed by a civil servant designated by the state as proper and complete. We do. Even in the case of Christians, it is assumed that in such cases the candidates have clear in mind from their study of the Bible their obligations to each other and to their God, and yet, for some reason of their own, prefer a purely civil marriage service. That is their right and they are entitled to exercise it. The requirements for marriage in the different states and provinces vary. Jehovah’s witnesses gladly conform to such regulations in the respective states and provinces, none of such regulations being contrary to the law of God on single marriage.
THE JOY AND OBLIGATIONS OF MARRIAGE
Marriage is filled with hope and expectation for those entering that state. The future looks very attractive and joyful to them; and this is properly so, if they have considered the Lord’s requirements and are determined to order their lives in accordance therewith. When the law of Jehovah is thus taken into account, the words of Jesus, recorded at Matthew 19:4-6 (NW), can be accepted as applying to them. “Did you not read that he who created them at the beginning made them male and female and said: ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh’? . . . Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.”
Marriage thus becomes a grave responsibility before the Lord God. With this in view Jehovah arranged and performed the marriage of our first parents. He gave them complete and adequate instructions for their proper guidance. He provided them with a perfect and beautiful Edenic home, capable of fulfilling the desires of the God-fearing heart. Jehovah blessed the union.
It is the happy lot of those who are now getting married to be getting married in the day of Jehovah, when He is present in the representative capacity of his Son and setting up His kingdom, which is referred to as the joy of the whole earth. (Ps. 48:1, 2) Those who now marry in the Lord and faithfully abide therein may enjoy the blessings and joys of this kingdom throughout their married life.
It is proper to admonish those entering wedlock, however, that this joyous state can be attained and maintained only by putting God first in their lives and by maintaining a pure, clean love for one another. Their responsibilities are clearly outlined for them in the Bible. It will be very necessary to study them diligently and apply them daily. In Ephesians 5:21-33 (NW) the apostle summarizes their relationship to one another in these words:
“Be in subjection to one another in fear of Christ. Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation, he being a savior of this body. In fact, as the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, so let wives also be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it, that he might sanctify it, cleansing it with the bath of water by means of the word, that he might present the congregation to himself in its splendor, not having a spot or a wrinkle or any of such things, but that it should be holy and without blemish. In this way husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself, for no man ever hated his own flesh, but he feeds and cherishes it, as the Christ also does the congregation, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.’ This sacred secret is great. Now I am speaking with respect to Christ and the congregation. Nevertheless, also, let each one of you individually so love his wife as he does himself; on the other hand, the wife should have deep respect for her husband.”
Only the Christian can display this degree of love and trust in this day when people disregard all proper principles of justice, love and truth. The Christian wife recognizes that her husband accepts his marital obligations as a sacred trust before Jehovah and the husband recognizes that his wife does likewise. Consequently they have faith, confidence and peace of mind.
Our first parents forfeited their joy, their beautiful home and their lives because they lost faith in God. They rebelled against the Word of God and spurned the counsel of the Most High. (Ps. 107:11) The married Christian’s happiness, his home in or under Jehovah’s kingdom and his life will last only if he puts God first. Jesus says: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3, NW) When they help each other to do this, they will be performing the most sacred duty of a husband or a wife. Their mutual cooperation can and should aid each of them in living a godly Christian life.
This covenant they enter into is second only to their dedication to serve their God. In the sight of God a covenant is a very sacred thing. Therefore, they should be true to their dedication to their God and their covenant with each other.
PLACE OF CEREMONY
The Kingdom Hall of a company of Jehovah’s witnesses is one of the proper places to conduct a Christian marriage ceremony. Why? Because this service constitutes a witness to Jehovah’s name and his purposes, in addition to outlining the proper obligations that married people bear before their God.
The company service committee must be consulted and the Kingdom Hall used only with its consent. Beyond possibly the use of a few flowers to decorate the platform, the Kingdom Hall should not be altered as to lighting, equipment, etc. Generally anyone using the Kingdom Hall for a wedding ceremony should accept it as it is. It is properly equipped for godly service. If other elaborate arrangements are required, the ceremony should be at some place other than the Kingdom Hall, the meeting place of Jehovah’s people.
MUSIC PRIOR TO THE CEREMONY
This can be left generally to the discretion and good taste of those making the arrangements for the wedding, provided they are in the truth. At the Kingdom Hall appropriate Kingdom hymns can be sung or instrumentally presented. All of this is, of course, entirely unnecessary; but it is an event in the lives of those getting married which is “once in a lifetime”, and, if the participants feel that such a setting is desirable, there is no serious objection to it as long as care is taken to see that this incidental part of the arrangement is not magnified to a point where it overshadows the real service, that which will be said by the minister.
If these are required, they should be at some place other than the Kingdom Hall and it is optional with the officiating minister as to whether he wishes to attend them or not. Beyond checking the marriage certificate to see that all legal requirements are properly complied with, ascertaining whether or not the woman will be “given” in marriage and finding out whether one ring, two rings or none will be used in the service, he does not have much to do with the preliminary arrangements. His presentation of Jehovah’s requirements and the marital obligations each bears toward the other in the ceremony should not in any way be beclouded by any unnecessary ritual.
This is usually an important item with most brides and in many cases with the bridesmaids and other participants. They feel that more or less elaborate wedding apparel is indispensable, depending upon their so-called social position. To justify this they, as a rule, point to the emphasis which the Lord places on the adornment of the bride in the 45th Psalm 45 and other places in the Bible. Without desiring to unduly restrict or otherwise interfere in this controversial issue, it seems well to here suggest that such adornment described in the Bible is practically always spiritually typical and points to the real adornment with which the bride of Christ and her companions are to clothe themselves, and they are in no wise intended to foreshadow the literal adornment of a Christian bride. The adornment which the bride of Christ is to put on is those qualities cultivated and brought forth as the fruitage of the spirit of Jehovah operating upon and through the real Christian.—1 Pet. 3:1-6, NW.
Worldly people, not having this fruitage of Jehovah’s spirit, feel that they must adorn themselves with the best that they have or can buy if they have none. This is the “showy display of one’s means of life [which] does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world”. (1 John 2:16, NW) A gaudy outward display is not necessary and is ineffective indeed when compared with the beauty that the Christian bride cultivates. Such worldly display of apparel and practices tends toward stirring up competition with its envy, jealousy, strife and hatred, and is not becoming to a Christian. Therefore, we exhort Christian brides to consider the more godly adornment. This does not mean that Christians should not be dressed neatly and attractively on such occasions. They should be in accordance with the Lord’s directions.—1 Tim. 2:9, 10, NW.
THE POSITION TO BE TAKEN
Persons getting married should normally face the officiating minister, with their backs to the audience. They may either sit or stand up during the talk, which opens the service. If they choose to sit, then they should stand during the concluding portion of the service. It is suggested that the bride stand at the left side of the bridegroom, which will be to the right of the minister. The “best man”, the friend of the bridegroom, should stand at the bridegroom’s free right side while the bridesmaid stands at the bride’s free left side.
Some may contend that these details are unnecessary ritual. Without arguing on that point, we simply answer that they have to arrange themselves in some manner and it might as well be orderly. The bride and the groom are required to be present and go on record before witnesses that they accept the obligations of wedlock; and practically all states and provinces require two witnesses in addition to the officiating minister to sign the marriage certificate. The “best man” and the bridesmaid are the ones usually chosen for that purpose. These witnesses must be where they can see and hear what takes place in order to intelligently sign the certificate. We are not dogmatic on this point, however. Any other arrangement that may be preferred by those getting married is entirely satisfactory as long as the proper record is made and recorded, and order is maintained.
This is where much of the good effect of the witness given to the good name and lofty purpose of Jehovah up to this point may be marred. The reception that follows the wedding ceremony should be on the same dignified plane, befitting the pure Christian life of those participating, and on a par with the Scriptural principles presented in the wedding service. It naturally would be a joyful occasion, but not hilarious, nor leading to overindulgence.
Another item that requires careful forethought in preparation of such a reception is the use of beverages, particularly wine or any intoxicating beverage. The Bible mentions the proper use of wine on such occasions with approval, but nowhere does it encourage or approve the excessive use of either wine or food. (Ps. 104:15; John 2:1-10, NW; Prov. 23:19-21) Keep in mind also that the ability of the human family to resist the effects of intoxicating drinks is diminishing with each generation. Therefore they should be used sparingly. Persons who are weak along this line should not be placed where these beverages are accessible in unlimited amounts. Otherwise, what was intended as an expression of love and a means for enjoyment could turn out to be a cause for stumbling. Another unfortunate situation that develops is that sometimes those who know such beverages are harmful to them physically or spiritually partake because of the occasion and not wanting to offend the host or to feel out of place. This is obviously improper and such a situation should not be permitted to develop. Let those who wish to partake of such refreshment do so; but, likewise, respect the right of those who do not wish to partake.
Therefore we suggest, without any desire to prohibit that which the Lord permits, or even infringe on anyone’s liberties, that the host on such occasions take judicious oversight and arrange for the use of such beverages in a manner that will accrue to the praise of Jehovah and the well-being of all present.
Some may advance the fact that Jesus, his mother and some of his disciples attended the wedding in Cana of Galilee as a reason for having such a reception in connection with a wedding. There can be no Scriptural objection to a wedding reception. It is the manner in which the reception is conducted that can make it either beneficial or objectionable. The Lord wants his people to be a happy people and to get proper enjoyment out of such occasions. It is hardly conceivable, however, that the worldly sensual practices and music and dances of the Greeks and Romans, popular in that day, were any part of the wedding reception at Cana of Galilee, or that Jesus would attend such a God-dishonoring assembly. Today, practices similar to those carried on by the Greeks and Romans in Jesus’ day are rampant in the earth, and this warning is offered here to Christians that they may not be drawn into them to any degree.
There is so much fine, elevating fellowship which the Lord’s people can have within the confines of the new world society, including music, singing and dancing and even food and wine in moderation, that there is no excuse for aping the delinquent world or following its practices. The same godly atmosphere should be in evidence throughout in all things we do in order that it may be apparent to all that we are of a different “system of things”.
The reception should never be held in the Kingdom Hall. Let its use be confined exclusively to the witness to Jehovah’s praise.
In marriage services performed by and for Jehovah’s witnesses, the exchange of rings between the bride and the bridegroom is left entirely optional with those being married. In the selection of the bride for Isaac it is recognized that Rebecca accepted a hand adornment. (Gen. 24:22, 30, 53, Mo; AT) Similarly in Luke 15:22, a ring was given to the prodigal by his father on his home-coming.
We, of course, recognize that rings are used extensively in many pagan rituals. This fact, however, in no wise prohibits their use in any Christian service, particularly when the Bible mentions their use with approval. It is certainly more reasonable to expect that Satan, the mimic god, copied their use from Jehovah, rather than to accept the untenable position that Jehovah copied their use from demonic heathen practices. However, if some prefer to dispense with them in their marriage service, it is their right to do so. On this point let each one feel quite free to do that which is proper and right in his own mind. A bridegroom does not wed his bride by putting a ring on her finger.
ELIGIBILITY FOR MARRIAGE
Who are free to enter the state of matrimony according to the standards set forth by Jesus and his apostles in the Christian Greek Scriptures and the proper laws of the land? This matter has been exhaustively dealt with in previous issues of The Watchtower and is mentioned here only in brief. To be eligible for marriage, the man and woman must have attained the age of discretion and maturity established by law and not be legally or Scripturally bound to any other mate. They must also have complied with the laws of the land, such as obtaining the proper license, waiting the required time designated by law after receiving the certificate and, where required, obtaining the necessary blood tests, health check-up, etc. These points are all established by the laws of the land and the officiating minister must see to it that they are properly complied with before he performs the marriage ceremony.
If either the man or the woman has been married before, they must have the full and complete legal separation required by law; and they must also have proper Scriptural grounds for such a divorce. Jesus makes it very clear that there are only two grounds upon which a married person is free to marry again. These are death or adultery on the part of the other mate. (Matt. 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:39, NW) The minister is obligated to ascertain if such Scriptural freedom exists and properly counsel them that anyone marrying again without being Scripturally free is sinning before God. Legal freedom alone does not free a Christian to remarry. If they persist in getting married regardless, the faithful, theocratic minister, in order to avoid being a party to their sin, refrains from marrying them. In certain lands religious clergy issue banns in order to learn of objections to a marriage, but we issue no such banns.
CHECKING THE MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE
The marriage certificate is issued by the state or province and among other things outlines the conditions under which one may be married in that state or province. The officiating minister should check carefully to see that they were all complied with according to law, and that all attachments, such as blood test forms, etc., are attached where so required by law. At the conclusion of the ceremony, he is to properly fill it out, have the witnesses sign it and mail it to the designated official.
ESTABLISHED PROCEDURE TO BE FOLLOWED AT WEDDING
At the time appointed, the persons to be married, having been qualified according to the law of the state and the standards of the Lord, should assemble together, facing the minister; the man at the minister’s left hand and the woman at his right hand. A friendly and intimate appropriate speech is given, directed primarily to the two to be married, outlining the proper Scriptural obligations each one assumes toward the other and toward their God in accepting the responsibility of wedlock. Material such as that contained in the first 19 paragraphs of this article is appropriate. After this, the bride, the bridegroom and the two witnesses should stand together before the minister.
The minister will then say to the man, using his Christian or given name:
“Do you, ________, in the presence of Jehovah God and these witnesses, take ________ to be your wedded wife, to love and to cherish, in accordance with the divine law as outlined in the Holy Scriptures for Christian husbands, for as long as you both may live?”
The man should then answer: “I do.”
The minister will then say to the woman, using her Christian name:
“Do you, ________, in the presence of Jehovah God and these witnesses, take ________ to be your wedded husband, to love and to cherish and deeply respect, in accordance with the divine law as outlined in the Holy Scriptures for Christian wives for as long as you both may live?”
The woman should answer: “I do.”
[If arrangements are to give the woman in marriage by her father or someone else, the minister will say: “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” The father or whoever gives her in marriage will say: “I do.” Then he will withdraw and take his seat in the audience. If no arrangements are made to give the woman in marriage, this can be dispensed with.]
The minister will then ask the man to repeat after him:
“I, ________, take you, ________, 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 or until the divine termination of the marital arrangement.”
Then the minister will ask the woman to repeat after him:
“I, ________, take you, ________, 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 or until the divine termination of the marital arrangement.”
If a ring ceremony is desired, at this point the man may place the ring on the third finger of the woman’s left hand. In case of a double ring ceremony, the woman shall place the ring on the third finger of the man’s left hand. If he desires, the minister may remark in connection with this ceremony: “This ring [or rings] is an outward and visible sign signifying unto all the uniting of this man and this woman in the bonds of matrimony.”
The minister will then say: “Forasmuch as [man’s name] and [woman’s name] have covenanted before Jehovah God and these witnesses to accept each other in wedlock, I, as an ordained minister and by the authority conferred upon me by the Holy Scriptures and the State (Province) of ________, pronounce that they are husband and wife together. What God has yoked together, let no man put apart.”
The minister will then conclude with an appropriate prayer, asking Jehovah’s blessing and direction upon the union to his glory and praise and to the eternal good of those who were married.
You wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, . . . You husbands, continue dwelling in like manner with them according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one, since you are also heirs with them of the undeserved favor of life, in order for your prayers not to be hindered.—1 Pet. 3:1, 7, NW.