When Does God Join Two People In Marriage?

by Douglas Hoff


Perhaps you have never considered the question above.  Most people probably have no need to analyze the question since they have been happily married for some time.  It is not a question that usually comes up.  So, why bother dealing with it?  After all, the answer may seem obvious.  However, there are two answers that are given.  The first answer, which I believe is the correct position, is that God joins a man to his wife at the completion of the wedding ceremony.  That is, after the couple has said their vows and the license has been signed the marriage is official not only in the eyes of man but also God.  Of course, this assumes that both parties have the right to get married according to the laws of man and God (Romans 13:1-5).  At this point the two people are truly joined together by God as one flesh.  The second answer that is sometimes given is that God joins the man to his bride when they first have sexual intercourse.  According to this view the man is legally married to his wife but they are not yet one flesh and if they never have marital relations they will never be joined by God.  Obviously, both answers cannot be correct.  To this author the second position seems to be a contrived one that splits hairs based on a misunderstanding and/or misapplication of various scriptures.  The second answer is the basis for the Catholic doctrine of annulling a marriage that was never “consummated.”  However, the Bible nowhere speaks of annulment.  There is only one reason given where a person may divorce his or her spouse and remarry without being guilty of living in adultery and that is fornication on the part of one spouse (Mark 10:11-12; cf., Matthew. 19:9).  Additionally, the scriptures do not speak of “consummating” a marriage through the first sexual act.  Of course, those who espouse the second position would argue otherwise. Therefore, it is the purpose of this article to see what the scriptures teach on this subject.  Again, why is it important?  Well, not only do we need to show that marriages cannot be annulled we would do well to better understand the significance of what it means to be joined to one’s spouse.  The consequences of being ignorant of the correct answer can be far reaching.

Where do we begin?  First, let me admit that the Bible does not explicitly state when or how God joins a man to his wife.  However, there are pertinent passages that shed light on the subject.  Let’s begin with the answer Jesus gave in response to a question the Pharisees posed to the Lord regarding divorce:


And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ {5} “and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? {6} “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6; NKJV)


Jesus thus went back to the origin of marriage to answer his querists.  The account in Genesis shows that God married Adam to Eve (Genesis 2:18-25). The word in Genesis 2:24 which is translated as “cleave unto” (KJV) or “joined to” (NKJV) literally means to be glued to.  When Moses wrote those words it was indicating that the union between a man and his wife was to be permanent.  Have you ever tried to break the bond formed by super glue? Generally, the joint will remain intact but other pieces of the item will be torn apart leaving jagged tears.  It’s not a clean break.  That’s also true when it comes to divorce.  Damage is always done when a marriage that was supposed to endure for life is broken contrary to God’s will (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

So, in what sense are a man and his wife glued or joined together?  If this has reference only to the sexual union then they are “one flesh” for a very small percentage of the time.  Clearly, the idea extends beyond the physical and encompasses the blending of two lives into one, Ideally, this should include the spiritual component of life since God desires godly offspring (Malachi 2:15).  It is also significant to note the differences between who does the joining.  In speaking of marriage God is the one who is said to do the joining (i.e., Matthew 19:6).  This says nothing about the performance of a sex act for God to bring about the joining.  On the other hand, the apostle Paul did write that “he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her, For ‘the two,’ He says, ‘shall become one flesh” (1 Corinthians 6:16; NKJV.  Just having sex with a woman does not make them married otherwise there would be no such sin as adultery or fornication!  So, there is the joining that God does and then there is also the joining that humans do.  Sexual relations are a privilege and responsibility of married people (1 Corinthians 7:1-5).  Sex outside of marriage is sin and will be judged by God (Hebrews 13:4). Sex within marriage is holy, beautiful, normal, healthy and proper.

The information presented so far will probably be convincing to many readers.  However, in case there are still some objections let us consider the matter further.  Is it possible for a man and a woman to be married in the eyes of God without having had sexual intercourse?  The Bible shows us this is the case. Recall what Matthew recorded about the relationship of Joseph and Mary:


Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. (19} Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. {20} But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18-20; NKJV


Notice that even before they had sex Mary was called Joseph’s wife and he her husband.  Clearly, in God’s eyes they were already joined together as man and wife.  Joseph even intended to divorce Mary for her supposed infidelity. Why would he do this unless they were married?

If it takes sex to “consummate” a marriage, then the man and woman aren’t married when they first go to bed.  This would mean that the first sexual union would be the sin of fornication! Who can believe it?  That is the problem with a view that is not consistent with the word of God.  Truth is always consistent; error never can be 100% consistent. Think about these things.


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