Vol. 7, No. 2
Since You Asked
~ Page 17 ~
Names may be included at the discretion of the Editor unless querists request their names be withheld. Please check our Archive for the answer to your question before submitting it; there are over 1,000 articles in the Archive addressing numerous biblical topics. Submit a Question to GGO.
Dear bro. Rushmore, Appreciate if you could answer my questions. 1. When is a marriage a marriage? a) Is it at the time when a man and a woman take their vow at the Registry of Marriages and sign on a legal docement? This is the practice in my country. b) Or is it when the couple hold a wedding ceremony? 2. When a couple, having signed on a legal document, but later call off the wedding, are they considered as having married in the eyes of God? 3. In the legal sense, the couple must obtain divoce paper in order to register for subsequent marriage with some other man/woman. Yet according to scriptures, can either of them remarry? Some would give the excuse that they have not gone through the customary marriage ceremony and are not livivng as husband and wife, hence should be considered as having never been married. Thank you for your attention. God bless you. Brotherly, Jimmy Lau, Church of Christ, Lim Ah Pin Road Singapore
A marriage is a marriage when (1) God permits the marriage, and when (2) societal custom (i.e. the law of the land under which we live) recognizes it as a marriage. Apparently, there was no ceremony as we think of ceremonies in the Garden of Eden between Adam and Eve and God. In that instance, there were neither other candidates for marriage nor any societal or civil law to consider. Obviously, mankind is amenable to God in all things (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). Mankind also is amenable to the law system under which he lives because civil law is ordained of God [though no particular kind of government] (Romans 13:1-7). In any instances where the law of God and the law of mankind conflict, men are obligated to opt for obedience to the law of God (Acts 5:29).
Under Judaism, a legal divorce was required of those who were engaged though they had not yet lived together as man and wife (Matthew 1:18-19). The matter contemplating one's evaluation of the matter, of course, is that under the Gospel, God only recognizes one reason for which a person may be divorced and remarry someone else--adultery (Matthew 19:9).
What is the position of the church regarding relationships and or marriages between first cousins?
The Lord's church (i.e., the church of the Bible) has no position independent of what the Bible teaches. True religious authority resides with God and is revealed to humanity exclusively through the Bible. True religious authority does not reside with denominational churches or even the Lord's church. Anything respecting religious authority other than God directing humanity through his inspired Word is comparable to "the tail wagging the dog."
Before the institution of Judaism, there were no prohibitions respecting intermarrying among one's family members; technically, "incest" did not exist because it had not been defined by God before the Law of Moses became effective. "The most important passage relating to these [Mosaic marriage laws] is contained in Levit 18:6-18 wherein we have in the first place a general prohibition against marriage between a man and the "flesh of his flesh"... (Smith) [emphasis added]. Essentially, after the implementation of the law of Moses, marriage was prohibited between a person in whom his blood flowed and himself as well as between himself and one whose blood flowed in him.
There were no prescribed degrees within which a man was forbidden to marry in the pre-Mosaic period. On the contrary, the fact that Adam married "bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh," and that his sons married their own sisters, rather engendered an aversion to marry out of one's own kindred. Hence we find that Abraham married his half-sister (Gen 20:12); Nahor, Abraham's brother, married the daughter of his brother Haran, or his niece (Gen 11:29); Jacob married two sisters at the same time, who were the daughters of his mother's brother (Gen 28:2; 29:26); Esau married his cousin Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael (Gen 28:8,9); Amram married his aunt Jochebed, his father's sister (Ex 6:20)... (McClintock and Strong)
"Abraham (Gn. 20:12) and Jacob (Gn. 29:21-30) married within degrees of relationship that were later forbidden" (Douglas) [emphasis added]. "While in the pre-Mosaic period no prohibition whatever existed against marrying one's nearest and dearest relatives, the Mosaic law (Lev 18:7-17; 20:11, etc.) proscribes no less than fifteen marriages within" a family tree that were forbidden by God (McClintock and Strong).
The law began (Lev 18:6-8) with the general prohibition against marriage between a man and "any blood relative." This was followed by special prohibitions against marriage with a (1) mother, (2) stepmother, (3) sister or half-sister, (4) granddaughter, (5) daughter of a stepmother, (6) aunt, (7) wife or uncle on the father's side, (8) daughter-in-law, (9) brother's wife (unless he died childless; see Marriage, Levirate), (10) a woman and her daughter, whether both together or in succession, or a woman and her granddaughter, (11) two sisters at the same time, (12) mother-in-law. (Unger's)
Marriages between Israelites were directed by law, and all incestuous relationships were outlawed (Lev 18:6-8; 20:19-21). In addition, priests were forbidden to marry prostitutes and divorced women (Lev 21:7,13-14). Daughters who inherited their father's possessions had to marry within their tribe or lose their inheritance (Num 27:8; 36:2-4). (Nelson's)
Consequently, God through the Law of Moses first enacted laws respecting what we term as incest. McClintock and Strong, therefore, defines incest as "the crime of sexual commerce with a person within the degrees forbidden by the (Levitical) law."Unger's concurs, saying of incest: "The crime of cohabitation with a person within the degrees forbidden by the Levitical law (Lev 18:1-18)." Hence, respecting incest: "Intercourse was forbidden with one's mother, stepmother, sister, granddaughter, stepsister [half sister], aunt, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, or stepdaughter/ granddaughter" (Nelson's).
"Intermarriages between cousins, uncle and niece, entire step-brother and step-sister, are quite legitimate [under Judaism]. Indeed, for an uncle to marry a niece, which the English law forbids, has been considered by the Jews from time immemorial as something specially meritorious" (McClintock and Strong). However, the contemporary definition of incest has appended to it, "sexual intercourse between persons so closely related that they are forbidden by [civil] law to marry" (Merriam-Webster).
Humanity is obligated to first obey God's laws. Secondarily, God requires humanity to obey civil law (Romans 13:1-7), except where man's laws contradict the laws of God (Acts 5:28-29). Therefore, anyone living under civil law that prohibits the marriage of first cousins must abide by that law to conform both to civil law and to the law of God that requires conformity to civil law. Otherwise, there is no biblical prohibition against first cousins marrying each other.
Douglas, J. New Bible Dictionary. 2nd ed. Wheaton: Tyndale, 1982; CD-ROM. Seattle: Logos, 1996.
McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2000.
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. 10th ed. Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 1993; CD-ROM. Seattle: Logos, 1996.
Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Nashville: Nelson, 1986.
The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Chicago: Moody, 1988.
Smith, William. Smith's Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2003.