Vol. 4, No. 2
Since You Asked
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Does God recognize common law marriages as binding? ~ Douglas W. Teague, Gaylesville, AL
The USA (and most nations) requires legal officiation of marriages, by which legally sanctioned marriages are distinguished from fornication and adultery. Hence, the following definition of "common law marriage" pertains to such sexual cohabitation without that legal officiation: "the cohabitation of a couple even when it does not constitute a legal marriage" [Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, (Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated) 1993.] However, were there nations wherein there was no government requirement for legal officiation of marriage (e.g., the Garden of Eden), "common law marriage" would be, by the following dictionary definition, both the distinction from fornication and adultery as well as honored by God. "a marriage recognized in some jurisdictions and based on the parties' agreement to consider themselves married …" [Ibid.] The following definition of marriage likewise addresses the general distinction between marriage and fornication.
Marriage is the state in which men and women can live together in sexual relationship with the approval of their social group. Adultery and fornication are sexual relationships that society does not recognize as constituting marriage. [The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.]
First, there is a biblical distinction between marriage and fornication. "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4). Second, God has decreed that mankind is subject to civil law (Romans 13:1-7) except where human and divine laws conflict, in which cases man must appeal to the higher law of God (Acts 5:29). Third, therefore, wherever civil law requires legal officiation of marriages, men and women must conform to that legal requirement or else they are fornicators (since the civil requirement to legally officiate marriages (1) does not contradict the law of God and (2) distinguishes between married couples and fornicators). Wherever civil law requires officiation of marriages, so-called common law marriages are viewed generally by society and by God as fornication, even if the cohabitation is monogamous.
Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's (1 Corinthians 6:15-20).
The question posed pertaining to the passage above is: (1) Does the physical union between a prostitute and a man described in the context constitute a marriage? (2) Does the union between a prostitute and a man in the context represent a physical or a spiritual union? (3) Would one who becomes "one body" with a prostitute as in the context, following repentance, be a biblically permissible candidate for marriage?
Overall, the passage emphasizes the incompatibility of practicing sin while purporting to be practicing Christianity. A similar sentiment is expressed in 1 Corinthians 10:21, "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils." The example employed to illustrate the incompatibility between unrighteousness and righteousness in 2 Corinthians 6:15-20 is the sin of fornication. It is a particularly strong illustration owing to the nature of the sin whereby one's soul and body are especially invested in the practice of this variety of sin. The words "joined to" could be translated "cemented to" or "glued to"; it is not conceivable that one can be "cemented to" a prostitute while simultaneously "glued to" the Lord, thereby essentially linking Holy God to the vile filth of sin (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).
Illusions appear in the passage to the concept of Christians being members of the body of Christ (the church, Colossians 1:18; Romans 12:4-5) and the oneness of the sexual relationship between two people ("one body" or "one flesh," Genesis 2:24; Ephesians 5:31). Outside of marriage, this physical union between fornicators greatly opposes the spiritual union that is supposed to prevail among Christians as members of the body of Christ. This conflict does not exist despite a sexual union within marriage (Matthew 19:5-6). The Holy Spirit can hardly be expected to dwell within one who obviously and perversely repudiates his Christianity by committing fornication, for example.
In answer to the first query, physical union between a prostitute and a man is not anywhere styled in the Bible as marriage, but fornication. Secondly, the physical union between a prostitute and a man disrupts the spiritual union between such a one and the Godhead (including Christ and the Holy Spirit). Additionally, when the illicit sexual union is discontinued, followed by repentance, as long as one is otherwise a biblically qualified candidate for marriage, such a one may marry another biblically qualified candidate for marriage.
Bro. Rushmore: I have a question concerning marriage and divorce. I have taken the confession of a lady just divorced from her second husband without scriptural cause. She now wants to go back and marry her first husband, who, according to reports I have heard ran around with all sorts of women while they were married and hauled her home and left her with her parents. Since the time of the first divorce he has been married twice with children with at least one of the women. They both now are divorced. I offered prayer for her sins at her request, but I could not in good conscience give her any positive statement about her remarriage, but I did tell her to be sure of being right before God to remain celibate. Have I done this right in the sight of God. [name withheld upon request]
Lacking omniscience, you and I cannot know all the details of the wretched disasters some people make of their married lives. Under those circumstances, we, at best, may only be able to acquaint them with precisely what the Scriptures teach respecting marriage-divorce and remarriage (e.g., Matthew 19:9). They will have to evaluate their lives carefully in view of God's Word and accept personal responsibility for their subsequent actions, including remarriage. Under doubtful circumstances, such as you describe, neither you nor anyone else could confidently encourage the woman to contract another marriage. It is always wise to suggest the way that cannot be wrong to make one's calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10).
If the woman to whom you refer divorced her first husband for adultery (as a truly innocent party) and married a biblically eligible second husband, from whom she is now divorced without biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage, then she cannot with God's approval marry anyone, including her first husband. If she, though, was not a completely innocent party for which cause she divorced an adulterous first husband, then she did not have God's approval to marry her second husband in the first place, from whom she now is divorced also. Perhaps if neither this woman nor her first husband divorced for the cause of adultery or that there were no innocent parties before the divorce, God may still consider this woman and her first husband married and everything subsequently as adultery. If that were the case, a civil ceremony to signify to the world that they are married (and to make their cohabitation legal) would be in order. However, the variables are so obscure and unknowable by third parties as to make the latter advice impossible to render. In any case, the likelihood of a successful remarriage with her first husband even from purely pragmatic considerations appears highly doubtful.
If we are to come together as one body and participate in the Lord's Supper, why do we have another service later that same day, and allow those who didn't attend earlier to partake of the Lord's Supper? If we are not all eating the bread and drinking the fruit of the vine, are we not in violation?
The frequency with which Christians are to partake of the Lord's Supper is weekly (Acts 20:7). The number of worship assemblies on the Lord's Day (or even the number of times a congregation might meet for Bible study, etc. throughout the week) is not specified in Scripture; these additional meeting times (Acts 2:46; 5:12, 42) are left to the discretion of the congregational leadership (e.g., elders, Hebrews 13:7; Acts 20:28). Offering the Lord's Supper or Communion on the Lord's Day at either a morning or an evening service, or for those in both services that have not yet partaken of the Lord's Supper, is not specified in Scripture but is a matter of human discretion. The matter that is specified in the New Testament is that Christians observe the Communion once weekly (Acts 20:7). Therefore, it would neither be biblically incorrect to invite brethren who have yet to partake of the Supper to do so at either assembly (as usually is done) nor would it be biblically incorrect to limit the Communion to one of those two services (such as the evening service), as long as it was observed once on the Lord's Day. The typical provision of the Communion at either of two services, though, more nearly accommodates the, sometimes necessary, Sunday work schedules of brethren (e.g., police, fire personnel, doctors, nurses, factory workers, etc.).
The Book of Job