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Christians typically regard marriage as instituted and ordained by God for the lifelong relationship between one man as husband and one woman as wife, and is to be "held in honor among all...."

Civil laws recognize marriage as having social and political status. Christian theology affirms the secular status of marriage, but additionally views it from a moral and religious perspective that transcends all social interests. A few denominations recently have extended the definition to include two people of the same sex.

While marriage is honored among Christians and throughout the Bible, it is not seen as necessary for everyone. Unmarrieds who either have chosen to remain single or who have lost their spouse for some reason are neither incomplete in Christ nor personal failures. There is no suggestion that Jesus was ever married.

Divorce or dissolution of marriage, is generally seen from a Christian perspective as less than the ideal, with specific opinions ranging from it being universally wrong to the notion that it sometimes is inevitable.

Except for a brief time during the Middle Ages, the traditional Christian view has held that sex is reserved for marriage and that sex outside of marriage is a sin. More liberal or progressive societal trends have moved some Christian denominations to reaffirm historical conservative views and others to reconsider traditional practice in this area.

Ideas about roles and responsibilities of husband and wives now vary considerably on a continuum between the long-held male-dominant/female-submission view and a growing shift toward equality (without sameness) of the woman and the man.

Biblical foundations

Christians believe that marriage is considered in its ideal according to the purpose of God. It is also considered in its actual occurrence, sometimes involving failure. Therefore, the Bible speaks on the subject of divorce. The New Testament recognizes a place for singleness. Salvation within Christianity is not dependent on the continuation of a biological lineage.

Old Testament

Christians regard the foundational principle of the lifelong union of a man and a woman to have been first articulated biblically in the Book of Genesis.

Jesus and the Gospels


In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus appealed to God's will in creation. He builds upon the narrative in and where male and female are created together and for one another, with no female subordination. Thus Jesus takes a firm stand on the permanence of marriage in the original will of God. Where there is failure in the marriage, he found husband and wife equally responsible. The two are joined together by God so that "they are no longer two, but one." He brought together two passages from Genesis, reinforcing the basic position on marriage found in Jewish scripture. Thus, he implicitly emphasized that it is God-made ("God has joined together"), "male and female," lifelong ("let no one separate"), and monogamous ("a man...his wife").

Jesus used the image of marriage and the family to teach the basics about the kingdom of God. He inaugurated his ministry by blessing the wedding feast at Cana. In the Beatitudes he set forth a new commandment concerning marriage, teaching that lustful looking constitutes adultery. He also superseded a Mosaic Law allowing divorce with his teaching that "…anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery."

There is no evidence that Jesus himself ever married, and considerable evidence that he remained single. In contrast to Judaism and many other traditions, He taught that there is a place for voluntary singleness in Christian service. He believed marriage could be a distraction from an urgent mission. He believed he was living in a time of crisis and urgency where the Kingdom of God would be established where there would be no marriage nor giving in marriage.

"I tell you the truth," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life."

New Testament beyond the Gospels

The Apostle Paul quoted passages from Genesis almost verbatim in two of his New Testament books. He used marriage not only to describe the kingdom of God, as Jesus had done, but to define also the nature of the first century Christian church. His theological view was a Christian development of the Old Testament parallel between marriage and the relationship between God and Israelmarker. He analogized the church as a bride and Christ as the bridegroom─drawing parallels between Christian marriage and the relationship between Christ and the Church.

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, 16th century.

Both Jesus and Paul seem to provide "exceptions" to marriage as being its ideal according to the purpose of God because of extraordinary circumstances ("because of the impending crisis"). Their concerns were that marriage might be a distraction from the work of discipleship.

It remains unclear if Paul was even himself married. Some scholars have speculated that he may have been a widower since he was a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, positions in which the social norm of the day required the men to be married. But it's just unlikely that he never married at all.

Yet, Paul acknowledges the mutuality of marital relations, and recognises that his own singleness is "a particular gift from God" that others may not necessarily have. "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."

Marriage and early Church Fathers

First-century Christians did not value the family and saw celibacy and freedom from family ties as a preferable state.

The early church fathers such as Augustine believed that marriage was a sacrament because it was a symbol used by Paul to express Christ's love of the Church. However, there was also an apocalyptic dimension in his teaching, and he was clear that if everybody stopped marrying and having children that would be an admirable thing; it would mean that the Kingdom of God would return all the sooner and the world would come to an end..

Both Tertullian and Gregory of Nysaa were church fathers who were married. They each stressed that the happiness of marriage was ultimately rooted in misery. They saw marriage as a state of bondage that could only be cured by celibacy. They wrote that at the very least, the virgin woman could expect release from the "governance of a husband and the chains of children." Tertullian argued that marriage "consists essentially in fornication."

For the Fathers of the Church with their hatred of sex, marriage could not be a true and valuable Christian vocation. Jerome wrote: "It is not disparaging wedlock to prefer virginity. No one can make a comparison between two things if one is good and the other evil." St. John Chrysostom wrote: "...virginity is better than marriage, however good.... Celibacy imitation of the angels. Therefore, virginity is as much more honorable than marriage, as the angel is higher than man. But why do I say angel? Christ, Himself, is the glory of virginity."

Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, said that the first commandment given to men was to increase and multiply, but now that the earth was full there was no need to continue this process of multiplication.

This negative view of marriage was reflected in the lack of interest shown by the Church authorities. No special ceremonial was devised to celebrate Christian marriage—despite the fact that the Church quickly produced liturgies to celebrate the Eucharist, Baptism and Confirmation. It was not important for a couple to have their nuptials blessed by a priest. People could marry by mutual agreement in the presence of witnesses.

At first, the old Roman pagan rite was used by Christians, although modified superficially. The first detailed account of a Christian wedding in the West dates from the 9th century and was identical to the old nuptial service of Ancient Rome. This system, known as Spousals, persisted after the Reformation.

View of Catholic Church

 This section will list several Catholic distinctives on marriage. The main "Catholic marriage" article includes more detail.

The Catholic Church teaches that God Himself is the author of the sacred institution of marriage, which is his way of showing love for those he created. Marriage is a divine institution that can never be broken, even if the husband or wife legally divorce in the civil courts; as long as they are both alive, the Church considers them bound together by God.

Marriage is intended to be a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman. Committing themselves completely to each other, a Catholic husband and wife strive to sanctify each other, bring children into the world, and educate them in the Catholic way of life. Man and woman, although created differently from each other, complement each other. This complementarity draws them together in a mutually loving union.

The valid marriage of baptized Christians is one of the seven Catholic sacraments. The sacrament of marriage is the only sacrament that a priest does not administer directly; a priest, however, is the chief witnesses of the husband's and wife's administration of the sacrament to each other at the wedding ceremony in a Catholic church.

The Catholic Church views that Christ Himself established the sacrament of marriage at the wedding feast of Cana; therefore, since it is a divine institution, neither the Church nor state can alter the basic meaning and structure of marriage. Husband and wife give themselves totally to each other in a union that lasts until death.

Priests are to remember that marriage is part of God's natural law and to support the couple if they do choose to marry. Today it is common for Catholics to enter into a "mixed 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 their decision is of their own accord and they intend to remain together for life, to be faithful to each other, and to have children which are brought up in the Catholic faith.

In Catholicism, the "primary end of marriage is the procreation and the education of children" and the secondary ends are "mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act [i.e., natural sexual intercourse open to the possibility of pregnancy] is preserved." Hence "entering marriage with the intention of never having children is a grave wrong and more than likely grounds for an annulment."McLachlan, P. "Sacrament of Holy Matrimony." /> It is normal procedure for a priest to ask the prospective bride and groom about their plans to have children before officiating at their wedding. The Catholic Church may refuse to marry anyone unwilling to have children, since procreation by "the marriage act" is a fundamental part of marriage.Pope Paul VI."Humanæ Vitæ." 1968-7-25. Accessed: 2009-7-22 /> Thus usage of any form of contraception, in vitro fertilization, or birth control besides Natural Family Planning is a grave offense against the sanctity of marriage and ultimately against God.

View of the Eastern Orthodox Church

In Eastern Orthodoxy, marriage is treated as a Sacred Mystery (sacrament), and as an ordination. It serves to unite a woman and a man in eternal union before God. It refers to the first centuries of the church, where spiritual union of spouses in the first sacramental marriage was eternal. Therefore, it is considered a martyrdom as each spouse learns to die to self 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.

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 the simplest, most basic unity of the church: a congregation where "two or three are gathered together in Jesus' name." 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. However, they 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 be permitted.

Unlike Western Christianity, Eastern Christians 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, no one besides a bishop or priest—not even a deacon—may perform the Sacred Mystery.

The external sign of the marriage is the placing of wedding crowns upon the heads of the couple, and their sharing in a "Common Cup" of wine. Once crowned, the couple walk a circle three times in a ceremonial "dance" in the middle of the church, while the choir intones a joyous three-part antiphonal hymn, "Dance, Isaiah"

The sharing of the Common Cup symbolizes the transformation of their union from a common marriage into a sacred union. The wedding is usually performed after the Divine Liturgy at which the couple receives Holy Communion. Traditionally, the wedding couple would wear their wedding crowns for eight days, and there is a special prayer said by the priest at the removal of the crowns.

Divorce is discouraged. 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. The standard formula for remarriage is that the Orthodox Church joyfully blesses the first marriage, merely performs the second, barely tolerates the third, and invariably forbids the fourth.

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. More liberal ones perform them, provided that the couple formally commit themselves to rearing their children in the Orthodox faith.

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.

Orthodox priests who serve in parishes are usually married. They must marry prior to their ordination. If their wife dies, they are forbidden to remarry; if they do, they may no longer serve as a priest. 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. Bishops must always be monks and are thus celibate. However, if a married priest is widowed, he may receive monastic tonsure and thus become eligible for the episcopate.

The Eastern Orthodox Church believes that marriage is an eternal union of spouses, but in Heaven there will not be a procreative bond of marriage.

Views of Protestant Christians


Essentially 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. While condoning divorce only under limited circumstances, most Protestant churches allow for divorce and remarriage.

Conservative Protestants take a stricter 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 (for example, sexual immorality or abandonment by the non-believer).

Roles and responsibilities in marriage

Roles and responsibilities of husband and wives now vary considerably on a continuum between the long-held male dominant/female submission view and a growing shift toward equality (without sameness) of the woman and the man. There is considerable debate among many Christians today—not just Protestants—whether equality of husband and wife or male headship is the biblically-ordained view, and even if it is biblically-permissible. The divergent opinions fall into two main groups: Complementarians (who call for husband-headship and wife-submission) and Christian Egalitarians (who believe in full partnership equality in which couples can discover and negotiate roles and responsibilities in marriage).

The Complementarian view

The Complementarian (also known as Traditionalist or Hierarchical) view of marriage maintains that male leadership is biblically required in marriage. Complementarians generally believe that the husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image, but that husbands and wives have different functions and responsibilities in marriage. According to this view, the husband has the God-given responsibility to provide for, protect, and lead his family. Wives are expected to respect their husbands' authority and submit to it. However, some Complementarian authors caution that a wife's submission should never cause her to "follow her husband into sin."

The Complementarian view of Christian marriage has been articulated and defended by several evangelical leaders in what is called the Danvers Statement. Their understanding of the necessity for gender-based roles and authority structure in marriage is based on their interpretation of various scriptures: , , ,

A more detailed statement of the Complementarian view of marriage appears in Southern Baptist Convention's Baptist Faith and Message (2000):

Many complementarians also interpret Scripture as forbidding women from holding positions of authority in the religious and/or political worlds.

The Egalitarian View

Christian Egalitarians believe that full partnership in an equal marriage is the most biblical view. As persons, husband and wife are of equal value. There is no priority of one spouse over the other. In truth, they are one. Bible scholar Frank Stagg and Classicist Evelyn Stagg write that husband-wife equality produces the most intimate, wholesome and mutually fulfilling marriages. They conclude that the Apostle Paul's statement sometimes called the "Magna Carta of Humanity" and recorded in 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."

Christian egalitarian theologians also find it significant that the "two becoming one" concept, first cited in , was quoted by Jesus in his teachings on marriage. In those passages he reemphasized the concept by adding to the Genesis passage these words: "So, they are no longer two, but one" (NIV). The Apostle Paul cited the Genesis 2:24 passage.

A New Testament passage that has long been interpreted to require a male priority in marriage are these verses: "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord," and "the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church…." Both Christian Egalitarians and Complementarians 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, but the two groups diverge in their interpretation of this passage.
  • Complementarians understand "head" to mean "leader" and "authority figure" like the head of an organization being its president or chief executive officer.
  • Christian Egalitarians consider this understanding to be contrary to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. Therefore, 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." In 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 throughout the Old Testament, primarily because of the law of primogeniture—the right of the firstborn to preside over the affairs of the family it was very important to determine who came first in birth order. Therefore, Paul and other rabbis pointed to the Genesis record, "the 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 the primogeniture doctrine. The wife's submission is seen in the context of Paul's injunction for all Christians to submit to one another.

A straightforward reading of , , and suggests 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.

Views of Non-Trinitarian denominations

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("LDS Church"; see also Mormon), "Celestial Marriage" is a sacred covenant between a man, a woman and God performed by a priesthood authority in the temples of the Church. Eternal Marriage is legally recognized, but unlike other civil marriages, Eternal Marriage is intended to continue into the afterlife after the resurrection if the man and woman do not break their covenants. Eternally married couples are often referred to as being "sealed" to each other. Sealed couples who keep their covenants are also promised to have their posterity sealed to them in the after life. Thus, the slogan of the LDS Church: "families are forever." The LDS Church encourages its members to be in good standing with it so that they may marry in the temple. "Cancellation of a sealing," sometimes incorrectly called a "temple divorce," is uncommon and is granted only by the highest authority in the Church. Civil divorce and marriage outside the temple is somewhat of a stigma in the Latter-day Saint culture although currently the Church itself directs its local leaders not to advise members about divorce one way or another."Mormon view of divorce." />

In the New Church (or Swedenborgianism), marriage is considered a sacred covenant between one man, one woman and the Lord. The doctrine of the New Church teaches that married love (sometime translated conjugal love) is "the precious jewel of human life and the repository of the Christian religion" because the love shared between a husband and a wife is the source of all peace and joy."Married Love." /> see Married Love 457 Marriage is also meant to be eternal and divorce is only allowable when the spiritual union is broken by adultery. When a husband and wife work together to become angels in heaven, their marriage continues uninterrupted even after the death of their bodies, living together in heaven to eternity. Emanuel Swedenborg claimed to have spoken to angels who had been married for thousands of years. Those who are never married on earth will find a spouse in heaven.

Jehovah's Witnesses view marriage to be a permanent arrangement with the only exception being adultery. This is directly taken from Jesus' words at . Marriage is strictly between a man and woman, and must comply with local laws. Marriage must be heterosexual. The Witnesses hold fast to the belief that one must follow "Caesar's Laws" provided they do not conflict with god's commands. Therefore local law determines marital age. Divorce is strongly discouraged even when adultery is committed. There are provisions for a domestic separation in the event of "failure to provide for one's household" and domestic violence, or spiritual resistance on the part of a partner. Even in such situations though divorce would be considered grounds for loss of privileges in the congregation. Re-marrying after death or a proper divorce is permitted. Marriage is the only situation where any type of sexual interaction is acceptable, and even then certain restrictions apply to acts such as oral and anal sex. Married persons who are known to commit such acts may in fact lose privileges in the congregation as they are supposed to be setting a good example to the congregation.

Same sex marriage

A small but growing number of Protestant denominations, such as the United Church of Canada, perform weddings between same sex couples. Other churches perform ceremonies blessing same sex unions, but do not refer to them as marriages. The Roman Catholic church does not perform or recognise same-sex marriage. Whether to bless same-sex marriages and unions is a matter of debate within some denominations.

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