The Christian views of marriage historically have regarded marriage as ordained by God for the lifelong union of a man and a woman.
This foundational principle was first articulated biblically in the Book of Genesis (2:24). Later, Jesus set forth his basic position on marriage by bringing together two important passages from Genesis (1:27; 2:7–25). He pointed to the completion of the creation — “male and female he created them.”
he described marriage as a relationship, a union, so intimate and real
that “the two become one flesh.” As persons, husband and wife are of
equal value. In truth, they are one. Finally, Jesus added his emphasis
on marriage being God-made and lifelong:
Have you not read, he replied, that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate (Matthew 19:4–6, Mark 10:6–9).
The Apostle Paul quoted these passages from both Genesis and Jesus almost verbatim in two of his New Testament books (1 Corinthians 6:15–17 and in Ephesians 5:30–32).
For Christians, Jesus dignified the institution of marriage by performing the first of the recorded miracles of Jesus at a wedding. See Marriage at Cana (John 2:1–11).
Christian marriage is seen by Paul (Ephesians chapter 5) as paralleling the relationship between Christ and the Church, a theological view which is a development of the Old Testament view that saw a parallel between marriage and the relationship between God and Israel (Ephesians 5:21–33; also Revelations 19:7).
Marriage, especially marriage between believers, is often analogized to a picture of the Trinity. Though a woman and a man are separate individuals, in Christian marriage they become joined by God as one flesh in a manner analogous to Adam and Eve, who were distinct persons though literally created from the same flesh (Genesis 2:23-25, Matthew 19:4-6, Mark 10:7-9, 1 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 5:30-32).
relationships — (a) in the Trinity, (b) between husband and wife, and
(c) between Christ and individual believers — are analogous to each
other. Each of these relationships points to the unity of individual
believers and the Church with Christ and with the Father. Christian
marriage is portrayed as the epitome of mutuality. Neither spouse owns
her or his own body; that body belongs to the other spouse, and to them
both jointly (1 Corinthians 7:4).
All major Christian groups take marriage to be normal and proper, to be “held in honor among all” (Hebrews 13:4). Biblically, weddings are described as times of joy. In 1 Timothy, chapter 4, St. Paul talks of heretics who, among other things, “forbid marriage” and he describes their views as “doctrines of demons.”
and Orthodoxy traditionally see an even greater value in celibacy when
that celibacy is undertaken for the sake of a more single-minded
devotion to God, but believe that not everyone has this calling from God
and acknowledge marriage is preferred by most people. This belief comes
from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth in chapter 7, which
he sums up in verses 8 and 9 as:
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Corinthians 7:8–9).
Most Christian wedding ceremonies take place in churches. Some couples are choosing quaint or nostalgic secular locations in which to be married by clergy.
Christian groups generally see divorce as less than ideal. Some see divorce as an unavoidable, but regrettable, part of life; others believe that a divorce is never truly recognized by God, and view it as universally wrong. There are many views in between these extremes.
The Christian church at large has not escaped liberal influences of the sexual revolution. An indication of such influences is greater tolerance within the church of couples living together without marriage (cohabitation, and if sexual, fornication), extramarital affairs (adultery) and no-fault divorce. This is happening in spite of the fact that these practices conflict with doctrinal beliefs present in Christianity since its founding.
View of Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholicism, the Church teaches that marriage is God’s doing:
“God himself is the author of marriage,” which is his way of showing
love for those he created. Because a marriage is a divine institution it
can never be broken, even if the partners are legally divorced: as long
as they are both alive, the Church considers them bound together by
Marriage is intended to be a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman joined in an intimate community of life and love. They commit themselves completely to each other and to the responsibility of bringing children into the world and caring for them.
call to marriage is considered to be woven deeply into the human
spirit. Man and woman are equal. However, as created, they are different
from, but made for, each other. This complementarity, including sexual
difference, draws them together in a mutually loving union that should
be always open to the procreation of children.
In God’s plan for marriage, holy matrimony is considered an intimate union in which the spouses give themselves, as equal persons, completely and lovingly to one another. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that marriage is both a natural institution and a sacred union because it is rooted in the divine plan for creation. The valid marriage of baptized Christians is one of the seven Roman Catholic sacraments — a saving reality.
Marriage is seen as a public sign in at least two ways:
It is a public sign that a husband and a wife each gives oneself totally to each other.
It is also a public statement about God: the loving union of husband and wife speaks of family values and also God’s values.
According to the Church’s Catechism, “the spouses as ministers of Christ’s grace mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church.”
In opposing making same-sex unions equal to marriage, the Catholic Church views marriage as originating from God, though it is regulated by civil laws and church laws. Therefore, its stance is that neither church nor state can alter the basic meaning and structure of marriage. Husband and wife give themselves totally to each other in their masculinity and femininity.
Catholics are encouraged to marry other Catholics in order to attain a “perfect union of mind and full communion of life, but it is also the priest’s duty to remember that marriage is part of God’s natural law and to support the couple if they do choose to marry.
spite of ideal of Catholics marrying Catholics, the reality is that
today it is common for Catholics to enter into a mixed marriage (a
marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic). Couples
entering into a mixed marriage are usually allowed to marry in a
Catholic church provided they have embraced the following principles:
1. They have chosen to marry of their own accord with no external pressure
2. They intend to remain together for life
3. They intend to be faithful to each other
4. They intend to have children if the bride is of childbearing age
one member of the couple is not a Catholic, a dispensation is required
for a mixed marriage to take place. This is normally granted by the
priest who is conducting the marriage.
If one of the partners is not baptized (they belong to a non-Christian religion, or to none) a dispensation for disparity of the cult is required. This must be granted by the bishop. It is usually a straightforward matter as long as the dispensation is applied for in time. The priest will usually take care of the paperwork.
Before a marriage takes place, a couple must spend time with the priest to talk about the sanctity of marriage and their role within the church in preparation for their life together. Questions concerning family and children, money issues, lifestyle choices and religion will be asked.
These marriage preparations are known as pre-Cana. It is an educational and maturing process for married life. Pre-Cana can take place over six months or an intensive weekend course and is mandatory for Catholics wishing to get married.
While a couple is engaged but not yet married, they are expected to refrain from sexual activity: “They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection that belong to married love.” This is because the Church teaches that sex is part of the procreation process and should only happen within the right framework, which is marriage.
View of the Eastern Orthodox Church
In Eastern Orthodoxy, marriage is treated as a Sacred Mystery (sacrament), and as an ordination. And, like all ordinations, it is considered to be a martyrdom, as each spouse learns to die to him- or herself for the sake of the other.
Like all Mysteries, Orthodox marriage is more than just a celebration of something which already exists: it is the creation of something new, the imparting to the couple of the grace which transforms them from a ‘couple’ into husband and wife within the Body of Christ.
In addition, marriage is an icon (image) of the relationship between Jesus and the Church. This is somewhat akin to the Old Testament prophets’ use of marriage as an analogy to describe the relationship between God and Israel.
Marriage is simplest, most basic unity of the church: a congregation where “two or three are gathered together in [Jesus’] name” (Matthew 18:20). The home is considered a consecrated space (the ritual for the Blessing of a House is based upon that of the Consecration of a Church), and the husband and wife are considered the ministers of that congregation.
the do not “perform” the Sacraments in the house church, they “live”
the Sacrament of Marriage. Because marriage is considered to be a
pilgrimage wherein the couple walk side by side toward the Kingdom of
Heaven, marriage to a non-Orthodox partner is discouraged, though it may
Unlike Western Christianity, Eastern Orthodox Churches do not consider the sacramental aspect of the marriage to be conferred by the couple themselves. Rather, the marriage is conferred by the action of the Holy Spirit acting through the priest. Furthermore (and again, unlike in the West), no one besides a bishop or priest—not even a deacon—may perform the Sacred Mystery.
The external sign of the marriage is not the exchange of rings (which takes place at the betrothal, not at the marriage); rather, it is the placing of wedding crowns upon the heads of the couple, and their sharing in a “Common Cup” of wine. For this reason, the Orthodox name for the Rite of Marriage is “Crowning”.
Among the Greeks, the crowns will often be garlands; among the Russians the crowns will usually be of gold, with an icon of Christ on the groom’s crown and the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) on the bride’s crown. These crowns may be joined together by a ribbon. The sharing of the Common Cup is reminiscent of Christ’s first miracle at the Wedding at Cana of Galilee (John 2:1–11), and symbolizes the transformation of their union from a common marriage, as the world knows it, into a sacred union.
wedding is usually performed after the Divine Liturgy, at which the
couple will have received Holy Communion. Like all Sacred Mysteries, the
bride and the groom must go to Confession before receiving it.
Divorce is discouraged, but sometimes out of economia (mercy) a marriage may be dissolved if there is no hope whatever for a marriage to fulfill even a semblance of its intended sacramental character. A lay member may remarry, if they obtain the blessing of their bishop to do so. However, in such a case, a different ceremony, the Rite of Second Marriage, which is less joyful and more penitential, sober and somber is used.
This rite is also much shorter than the full Crowning—and in fact, no crowns are used. A third marriage is very much discouraged. This form is used only when both members of the wedding couple have been previously married, so as not to punish the innocent one.
Orthodox priests who serve in parishes are usually married. They must
marry prior to their ordination, and if their wife dies, they are
forbidden to remarry (if they do, they may no longer serve as a priest).
Early church texts forbid marriage between an Orthodox Christian and a heretic or schismatic (which would include all non-Orthodox Christians). Traditional Orthodox Christians forbid mixed marriages with other denominations.
In Eastern Orthodox theology, all people are called to celibacy—human beings are all born into virginity, and Orthodox Christians are expected by Sacred Tradition to remain in that state unless they are called into marriage and that call is sanctified. The church blesses two paths on the journey to salvation: monasticism and marriage. Mere celibacy, without the sanctification of monasticism can fall into selfishness, and tends to be regarded with disfavour by the Church.
A married man may be ordained as a priest or deacon. However, a priest or deacon is not permitted to enter into matrimony after ordination, whether he has become divorced or widowed, or even if he had been single at the time of ordination. Bishops must always be monks, and are thus celibate.
Overall, there is a far less legislative approach regarding married life than in Roman Catholicism.
Views of Protestant Christians
all Protestant denominations hold marriage to be ordained by God for
the union between a man and a woman. They see the primary purpose of
this union to be to glorify God by demonstrating his love to the world.
Other purposes of marriage include intimate companionship, rearing
children and mutual support for both husband and wife to fulfill their
life callings. Protestants generally approve of birth control and
consider marital sexual pleasure to be a gift of God.
Conservative Protestants take a strict view of the nature of marriage. They consider marriage a solemn covenant between wife, husband and God. Most view sexual relations as appropriate only within a marriage. Divorce is permissible, if at all, only in very specific circumstances (i.e., sexual immorality, abandonment by the non-believer).
Since the 1970s, many in Protestant denominations and some other Christians have been debating whether equality of husband and wife or male headship is the biblically-ordained view. They have divided into basically two groups: complementarians (who call for male headship and other distinct gender roles) and the Christian Egalitarians (who call for full partnership equality and for couples to discover and negotiate roles and responsibilities in marriage).
The Complementarian view
See also: Complementarianism and Christian views about women
The Complementarian (also known as Traditionalist or Hierarchical) view of marriage maintains that gender-based roles and a husband-headship/wife-submission structure is biblically required in marriage. The term, complementarian, emphasizes equality at Creation, yet different compulsory roles in marriage.
The husband and wife are of equal “worth” before God, since both are created in God’s image, but not equal in “function” or responsibility. The husband has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. Wives are expected to respect their husbands’ authority and submit to it.
some Complementarian authors caution that a wife’s submission should
never cause her to “follow her husband into sin.”
The Complementarian view, as stated by several prominent evangelical leaders in what is called The Danvers Statement,
A more detailed statement of the Complementarian view of marriage appears in Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith and Message (2000):
“The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to his people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation,” (Article XVIII. The Family. Baptist Faith and Message 2000)
Some Complementarians say their view of scripture leads them to take a stance against women working for pay and holding positions of authority in the secular, religious, and political world.
The Egalitarian View
See also: Christian egalitarianism and Christian views about women
Those who believe that full partnership in marriage is the most biblical view, producing the most intimate, wholesome and mutually fulfilling marriages, hold that the Apostle Paul’s statement recorded in Galatians 3:28 applies to all Christian relationships, including Christian marriage:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Jesus, the Son of God, proclaimed, “So, they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Matthew 19:6)
Both Complementarians and Christian Egalitarians agree that the Apostle Paul wrote that the “husband is head” and “wives, submit,” and that he was divinely inspired to write what he wrote. The difference is where they each end up by way of interpretation of pertinent Scriptures.
Complementarians understand “head” to mean “leader” and “authority figure,” as the head of an organization like its president or chief executive officer. Christian Egalitarians consider this understanding to be contrary to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ.
they believe more attention needs to be given to discerning (1) what
Paul actually meant when he penned those instructions, (2) to what
extent his gender-based guidance was intended for an abusive first
century culture in which women were considered disposable entities,
chattel (property of husband) and permanently minors legally and to what
extent he was prescribing a hierarchical relationship in which wives
must be under husband authority for all people in all times.
Much has been written concerning the meaning of “head” in the New Testament. The word used for “head,” transliterated from Greek, is kephalē — which means the anatomical head of a body. Today’s English word “cephalic” (sə-făl’ĭk) means “Of or relating to the head; or located on, in, or near the head.”
the New Testament, a thorough concordance search shows that the second
most frequent use of “head” (kephalē), after “the structure that
connects to our neck and sits atop our bodies,” is the metaphorical
sense of “source.”
In Hebrew thought, perhaps greatly because of the law of primogeniture, which gave the first-born considerable rights and privileges over later born siblings, it was very important to determine who came first in birth order.
Therefore, Paul and other rabbis pointed to the Genesis 2:22 record, “the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man,” making it clear that the male was the first-created (first “born”) and therefore perpetually entitled to special rights and privileges under primogeniture.
it is benevolent to consider the husband’s headship as meaning he is
the source who works to ensure his wife’s growth and development as a
person, it still requires gender bias, implying that somehow he is
uniquely (and better) qualified to provide growth and development to
her, more than she would be to mutually provide those benefits to him.
The wife’s submission is seen in the context of Paul’s injunction (in
Ephesians 5:21) for all Christians to submit to one another.
A straightforward reading of Matthew 20:25–26a, Mark 10:42, and Luke 22:25 may lead one to conclude that Jesus even forbids any hierarchy of relationships in Christian relationships: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you!” While “lord it over” implies abusive leadership, his words “exercise authority” have no connotation of abuse of authority.