Christian Weddings That Bring Joy
1, 2. How do most people react to the word “wedding,” and why? (Matthew 19:4-6)
THE apostle John, an eyewitness, reports: “There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited.” (Italics ours.)—John 2:1, 2, The Jerusalem Bible.
2 How do you react to those words at John 2:1, 2? It would be no surprise if you responded warmly, for the word “wedding” has a joyful connotation. People enjoy weddings. As we read at Genesis 2:18-24, the first wedding occurred in Paradise, when humans were without sin. That wedding of a perfect man and woman was arranged for and approved of by our Creator. It had an elevated tone and set a happy precedent for future weddings.
3. What spirit do the Scriptures associate with weddings, but what difficulty has arisen? (Jeremiah 7:34)
3 Your enjoying weddings agrees with what we read in God’s Word. Describing participants in a royal wedding, Psalm 45:15 says: “They will be brought with rejoicing and joyfulness; they will enter into the palace of the king.” Joyfulness is reflected also in the Bible’s illustrative references to marriages. (Matthew 22:2-4; 25:1-10; Revelation 19:6-9) Yes, although a serious step is being undertaken—a couple’s entering the sacred marital arrangement—weddings should be remembered as joyful, dignified events. However, reports from around the world indicate that many a wedding misses that mark, resulting in problems and sadness for the couple and distress for those who attend. This has been true even of some weddings involving servants of Jehovah. Why?
4. (a) Why are most weddings public affairs? (b) What did Jesus say about marrying in our time?
4 In most lands a couple may marry in a private ceremony that fulfills legal requirements. If a couple chose such a ceremony, others should not criticize them or think that they must be ashamed of something. It could simply be their preference and might even have very real advantages, for example, economically in getting equipped for a fuller share in Jehovah’s service. (Luke 12:29-31) Yet, most weddings are more public, with many friends and relatives present. Thus the couple’s changed status becomes widely recognized in the community. If there is a religious ceremony or Bible talk, a spiritual element is introduced. And others can share the joy of the couple. These are positive values. Still, larger weddings do pose dangers, especially today when the world is so involved in ‘marrying and being given in marriage’ that they ‘take no note’ that the wicked system of things is soon to end.—Matthew 24:37-39.
5. Who should be interested in God’s counsel about weddings?
5 If you envision a joyous Christian wedding in your own future, there are matters that deserve your consideration. But all of us who may be guests or participants at Christian weddings also can benefit from considering Bible counsel on this subject.
The Problem of Excess
6. Large weddings can present what sort of problems?
6 For many worldly people, a large wedding can be a status symbol, visible proof of financial or social superiority. Sadly, even Christians can get caught up in trying to impress others with lavish dress or elaborate arrangements. (Galatians 5:26) Some Christian elders in West Africa recently decried the “strong tendency to ‘ape’ the world in customs, showy display and unbridled entertainment” at weddings. This detracts from the dignity and joy that are appropriate in the lives of those who no longer ‘conduct themselves in harmony with the flesh, doing the things willed by the flesh.’ (Ephesians 2:3) Rather than joy and fine memories, such weddings often produce ‘loose conduct, enmities, jealousy, contentions, envies, revelries’—the works of the flesh.—Galatians 5:19-21.
7. What may move some people to want lavish weddings?
7 History tells us that when Ptolemy VI Philometor gave his daughter in marriage to Alexander Balas of Syria, they “celebrated her wedding at Ptolemais with great pomp, as kings do.” (1 Maccabees 10:58, The Oxford Annotated Bible) Today, many who have limited funds feel that they (or their children) must also marry “with great pomp, as kings do.” They may have been manipulated into this fantasy by advertising. Businessmen with a vested interest in large ornate weddings foster the vision of a bride who is “queen for a day,” as if certain types of printed invitations, photographs, flowers or rings assure you a perfect wedding. They want you to feel, ‘This once I deserve the very best’—whether you can afford it or not. This “showy display of one’s means of life” belongs to the world that is passing away. (1 John 2:15-17) Some Christian elders commented: “A spirit of competition has been observed. [For example,] influenced by worldly customs, the bride and her party may change into four or five expensive costumes.”
8. (a) What can we learn from Bible verses regarding wedding apparel? (b) Why have some Christians chosen the wedding garb that they have?
8 The Bible does not suggest that weddings need be Spartan, austere affairs. For instance, we read of “the bridegroom who, in a priestly way, puts on a headdress, and . . . the bride who decks herself with her ornamental things.” (Isaiah 61:10; Psalm 45:13, 14; Isaiah 49:18; Jeremiah 2:32; Ezekiel 16:9-13; Revelation 21:2) The figurative bride of Christ is described as “arrayed in bright, clean, fine linen.” Thus, it is fitting for bride and groom (and those in their party) to wear clean, attractive clothing, but they do not need garb that creates a financial hardship. Some couples have deliberately chosen apparel much less costly than they could afford. Why? To avoid clothing that might be awe inspiring, but that could make guests uneasy or that could detract from the simple dignity, joy and spirituality of the wedding.—Revelation 19:8; Proverbs 11:2; 1 Timothy 2:9.
9. How should we feel about wedding customs or traditions?
9 Another cause of excess at weddings is undue emphasis on protocol—the numerous rituals that “experts” in etiquette say must be followed. This does not mean that God’s servants deliberately reject everything that is local custom regarding weddings.a The Bible relates that in connection with getting married, ‘Samson proceeded to hold a banquet; for that was the way the young fellows used to do.’ (Judges 14:10) However, slavish conformity to social formalities can clutter a wedding, eclipsing the real meaning of the celebration and robbing everyone of the joyfulness that should be felt.
Legally Married—Bible Times and Today
10. What were weddings like in Bible times?
10 We can benefit from what the Bible says about weddings, even if practices differ in our time and locality. In the Biblical period no special legal or religious ceremony was needed. The groom would go to the home of his betrothed and publicly escort her to his home. This was done with rejoicing on the part of the couple, their close relatives and onlookers who showed excited interest in the happy event. Usually the bride and groom were attired in fine garments, and at his home they would have a wedding feast with invited guests.—Genesis 24:65-67; Matthew 1:24; 25:1-10; compare 1 Maccabees 9:37, 39.
11. What was the situation as to marriage documents needed in ancient times?
11 Nations around the Hebrews had laws demanding written marriage contracts. While the Bible does not mention such documents, it does speak of marriage in terms of a “covenant.” (Malachi 2:14) The Bible’s detailed genealogies suggest that marriages were recorded in some way, and, interestingly, Joseph and Mary complied with a type of legal registration. (Luke 2:1-5; 3:23-38) Papyruses of the fifth century B.C.E. from a Jewish colony at Elephantine (Egypt) contain marriage contracts, one reading:
‘ . . . I have come to your house that you might give me your daughter Miphtahiah in marriage. She is my wife and I am her husband from this day for ever. I have given you as the bride-price of your daughter Miphtahiah (a sum of) 5 shekels. . . .’
12. (a) How do Jehovah’s Witnesses feel about civil marriages? (b) What is advisable if there is a civil and a religious ceremony?
12 Jehovah’s Witnesses appreciate that a wedding should conform to local law, thus ‘rendering to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.’ (Mark 12:17; Romans 13:1, 7) The law may require that a couple have a blood test, obtain a license and take vows before an authorized marrying agent. In some lands, only civil officials, such as a mayor or a judge, may perform marriages. Yet, members of Christendom’s churches often feel that they really are not married until they have a church wedding. True Christians recognize that a civil marriage is valid, but some still prefer (or local sentiment may recommend) that the civil service be followed by a Scriptural talk. When that is to be done, it is best that this feature come soon after the civil marriage.b
13. If a Christian elder is to officiate, what likely will occur before the wedding?
13 Some lands authorize ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses to solemnize marriages. Usually these are performed by congregation elders, men with experience, insight, maturity and knowledge of God’s Word. An elder who is asked to officiate will probably meet beforehand with the prospective bride and groom. They will, naturally, want to assure him that there are no moral or legal impediments to their marrying. He may offer sound Scriptural counsel and fatherly advice. He also will likely discuss with them arrangements for the ceremony and any social gathering to follow, since he will want to have a clear conscience about this event in which he is being asked to play a major role.—Proverbs 1:1-4; 2:1; 3:1; 5:15-21; Hebrews 13:17, 18.
14. What sort of wedding talks are appropriate?
14 Whether preceded by a civil ceremony or not, a wedding talk by a minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses can help to emphasize that from its start a marriage should have a spiritual aspect. Such talks are not of great length, as if containing all that the Bible says on marriage, nor should they be heavily weighted with humor or excessive praise of the couple. The balanced, happy and Scriptural content of these talks can benefit those getting married, as well as all others present.c—2 Timothy 3:16.
15. How do the vows used by Jehovah’s Witnesses differ from other vows used today?
15 Vows are part of most weddings. Those used at some “modern” worldly weddings are concocted from odd poetry, or they voice idiosyncratic views of life. A Time magazine essay on “The Hazards of Homemade Vows” told of a clergyman who asked: “Gina, do you agree to love Peter more than you love chocolate?” Then to Peter: “Do you agree to love Gina more than the morning newspaper?” The article stressed, though, that “a wedding is public business” and should dignify the important social step being taken. At weddings of Jehovah’s Witnesses the vows will conform to the requirements of local law. Where permitted, these vows that honor God, the Source of marriage, are used:
“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 together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement.”
“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 together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement.”
These vows should not be altered or replaced to suit some whim of the couple.d
Weddings at the Kingdom Hall
16, 17. (a) How is the body of elders involved in weddings at the Kingdom Hall? (James 3:17) (b) Why is such involvement advisable?
16 Christians are told to marry “only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39) When two Christians in good standing in the congregation desire to have their wedding (or, wedding talk) at the Kingdom Hall, they should seek permission from the body of elders.e These men will not impose their personal tastes as to wedding arrangements, but they will inquire about the couple’s plans so that nothing will be done at the Hall that is likely to disturb the congregation.—Compare 1 Corinthians 14:26-33.
17 For example, disturbing things have been reported about weddings that were not at the Kingdom Hall. Prior to one, loud music was played, and the bride, groom and their party came dancing into the hired hall. The guests joined in the dancing until a chairman interrupted so that, after prayer, the wedding talk could commence. Clearly, that was not the proper atmosphere for a Christian wedding. It does illustrate, however, why the elders exercise care as to Kingdom Hall weddings. At the Hall, only uplifting music, such as found in the songbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, is used. Any flowers or similar decorations should be modest and reasonable, as should be the way the wedding party enters the Hall and the way photographs are taken.—Philippians 4:5.
18. Who may be with the bride and groom at the wedding? (1 Corinthians 5:13; James 2:1-4)
18 In Bible times, there usually was a “friend of the bridegroom” and female companions of the bride. (John 3:29; Psalm 45:14) This is also often the case at Kingdom Hall weddings. Reasonableness, though, is needed as to how many such participants there are, as well as how they dress and act. It would be unfitting to have in the wedding party people who are disfellowshipped or whose scandalous life-style grossly conflicts with Bible principles. (2 Corinthians 6:14-16) Rather than selecting people who are prominent or who might give a costly present, many Christian couples (and speakers) prefer to have in the wedding party ones who are close to them in serving Jehovah.
19. Attention to what other aspects will help a Kingdom Hall wedding to be joyful?
19 If the Kingdom Hall is to be used, a brief announcement may be made concerning the time of the wedding. In that way the congregation will know that the Hall will be in use and they can attend if they choose. Since the Kingdom Hall is principally for Christian meetings, the wedding will be at an hour that will not conflict with these. Whatever time is scheduled, it reflects love and consideration for all to be punctual. In a parable Jesus gave involving a wedding, “the bridegroom was delaying,” which resulted in major problems for some.—Matthew 25:1-12.
20. What additional feature of weddings deserves our attention?
20 The prophet Isaiah wrote of “the exultation of a bridegroom over a bride.” (Isaiah 62:5) The bride also rejoices on her wedding day. Many well-wishers, too, ‘have a great deal of joy’ over Christian weddings. (John 3:29) Often that joy is expressed and added to by a social gathering following the wedding, a reception, or wedding feast. What advice does Jehovah provide in his Word that will contribute to happiness rather than problems at such gatherings? Let us see.
a For a discussion of wedding customs, see The Watchtower of January 15, 1969, pages 58 and 59.
b If a lengthy period intervened, people in the community might be stumbled by the couple’s course, whether they lived as husband and wife or refrained from doing so.—2 Corinthians 6:3.
c Scriptural discussions upon which such talks may be based can be found in The Watchtower of March 15, 1969, pages 174-9; May 1, 1974, pages 274-7; March 15, 1977, pages 172-85.
d If the marriage had been solemnized earlier by a civil official and is being followed by a Christian wedding talk, the minister may mention that the legal step has already been taken. Some couples still choose to repeat these vows before God and the congregation.
e On occasion two persons who are serving God and awaiting an assembly to get baptized have been wedded at a Kingdom Hall.
Remember This Point?
□ Christians need to be alert to what dangers regarding lavish weddings?
□ What position do Jehovah’s Witnesses take as to civil or religious wedding ceremonies?
□ How can a couple’s decisions as to their wedding ceremony increase the Christian joy of the event?
□ What sort of weddings may be held at the Kingdom Hall?
[Picture on page 13]
With joy and dignity the Hebrew groom would bring his bride home