The question that was raised the other night has to do with the relative silence of the Bible on the “how” of marriage. How do people go from single to married? Thanks to centuries of social and religious tradition we think we know the answer. You go to an ordained cleric (with a document showing that you have the permission of the state to get married) or you go to the justice of the peace and get legally married. Because you have the permission/blessing of the state to get married you get legal and financial benefits. Ergo, ceremony=married.
That isn’t how it was done in the Bible or at least we aren’t told that it was. We see precious little of the specifics of marriage "ceremonies" in the New Testament with the exception of the wedding feast at Cana and the parables using weddings as a setting and even those don't give us a clear "how" when it comes to marriage. I would guess that in spite of that most Christians would say that someone who has not gone through a state approved ceremony is not truly married. Thanks to our perverse system of religious-state symbiosis where we expect and indeed demand preferential tax treatment for our private religious functions, a marriage without the approval of the state and the accompanying financial/legal benefits is not viewed as legitimate.
Even though the Bible is relatively silent, we do see a fairly early sign that the church was moving toward a clergy controlled marriage system. In the Epistle of Ignatius to Polycarp he writes, almost in passing:
But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to the Lord, and not after their own lust. Let all things be done to the honour of God.
The topic being addressed is more generally the duties of husbands and wives but it also seems to me that he was writing to address an issue that was cropping up, although I am not certain what it is. What is interesting to note is that the overarching principle here is all things being done to honor God. Does that necessitate a "church wedding" or a civil proceeding? Does it require the oversight and approval of clergy? I am not talking about a man and a woman seeking counsel from the elders of the church, something that seems a reasonable and prudent measure. I am talking about marriages only being seen as legitimate when officiated by a religious professional that has the approval of
I just don't see the Biblical warrant for declaring some marriages legitimate by virtue of a legal construct of the state. Maybe I am missing something. Perhaps this is a Romans 13 issue where we follow the state's rules. Or maybe this is an issue of rendering unto Caesar something (i.e. marriage) that rightfully belongs to God. If two people declare their covenant, exclusive relationship to one another in marriage is that not sufficient for the church? Or must the church bow to the demands of the culture and tradition.
What do you think or is this just one of those weird questions that I think are fascinating and everyone else thinks is dumb?