Conjugal relations. Coitus. Sexual intercourse. You know what I mean. But why do we call it the "marital act" or "marital relations"? For two reasons, I believe. The first is that it is an act which is designed to take place within the bonds of marriage. But second, and more important, is that it is the very act which makes a man and a woman "married".
You may be thinking, "Why do you say such a thing?" and "What Scripture supports that position?" I'm glad you asked. (If you did ask)
As noted in my first blog entry, there is no reason, other than various cultural traditions, to use the making of vows or pronouncements by clergy as the starting point for marriage. Neither is mentioned in the Bible. The Bible doesn't mention the exchange of rings or the lighting of the unity candle. What then, if anything, DOES the Bible say about becoming man and wife? Let's look at the first couple. God brought the woman to the man. So we see that it is first demonstrated that the father brings or gets a woman for his son. The first mention of the word "wife" is in Genesis 2:24 where it says "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh." And the next verse, "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed."
Does anyone think that "leaving father and mother" is what makes them "one flesh"? I doubt it. Adam and Eve didn't even have parents. So, how Adam and Eve became husband and wife is unclear at best. But, since they were the only people on Earth at the time, we can be relatively certain that no clergyman or judge declared that they were married.
Next we shall look at Isaac and Rebekah. Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac, which the servant did, bringing Rebekah to Isaac. Isaac did not choose her. She was brought to him and it was more or less stated "Here she is. Your wife. Take her" There is no record in Scripture of vows. Rebekah was given some sort of jewelry, a ring for her face or ear or nose - it's not specific in the Hebrew - as a token of the engagement. It says nothing about a ceremony for the wedding or about a wedding ring. So... how does Isaac make Rebekah his wife?
"Afterward Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rebekah, and she was his wife, and he loved her..." Genesis 24:67a
Wow! Did you see that? He just "took" her. They went into the tent - and that was enough of a public announcement. I don't think we need to spell out what they did in the tent.
This brings me to ask (and perhaps you are asking as well), "Does 'taking' a woman automatically make her the wife of the taker?" I believe the answer is "yes" if certain conditions are met. The woman must be a maid (virgin). She must not be the wife of another man and she should not be an immoral woman, or harlot. This means either a woman who sells her services for money or just a loose woman who gives her services without expecting anything in return, including marriage.
The Bible says that if man takes a maid, whether she is willing or whether he forces her, "she shall be his wife" Deuteronomy 22:29 and Exodus 22:16. Regardless of whether he already has a wife, regardless of his intentions, regardless of his commitment or vows, she SHALL be his wife. Why? Because he "took" her. Because the two became one. The act made them married.
Which brings me to my next point. Becoming "one flesh" is not some mystical thing that occurs between a man and a woman because they had a wedding. It is a description of the act which, under proper circumstances, takes place with a husband and wife. But it can also happen with unmarried people, so it can't mean the condition of being husband and wife. For example, in I Corinthians 6:16 it says, "Do ye not know, that he which coupleth himself with an harlot, is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh." It appears that the physical act of "coupling" is "two becoming one." It is a description of the physical act.
So, to sum up I assert that it is the "coming together" in the "marital act" which makes a man and woman into husband and wife. There is no other universally applicable act, gift, ceremony or pronouncement which could mark the starting point of a marriage. Even our civil laws recognize this fact, as they allow for annulment when a marriage is never consummated. That is, the marriage never existed, legally.
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