The orthodox Christian theology of Hadley Robinson

The Four Essentials of Marriage

by Hadley Robinson

This has been adapted with some comments of my own from Wenham’s and Heth’s "Jesus and Divorce" (Waynesboro, Georgia: Paternoster Press,  1984).  It should be unnecessary but it must be noted that there are rare exceptions where these four essentials could not be met e.g. if the parents or relatives are dead or unreachable, the couple is entirely alone, or the couple finds out that consummation is physically impossible after they consider themselves married.  Such a couple can still be considered married in the eyes of God and, less importantly, in the eyes of men.  However, a rape is always a rape no matter how it is dressed.

1.  Intent and consent of the man and the woman
– See Gen. 24:57-58; Song of Songs 1:15-16; Ruth 3-4; and Rom. 3:3-4.  It is a binding covenant that is no more capable of being broken than the covenant between Christ and the Israel of God, the Church.  Adulterous behavior of one spouse no more annuls the marriage covenant than Israel’s spiritual adultery annulled her covenant with God.  The result of the union between the man and woman is that a new kinship or family unit is formed.  John the Baptist understood this which is why he referred to Herodias as the wife of Herod’s brother, Philip, not Philip’s “ex-wife” – a modern invention created for the benefit of adulterers.  E. Neufeld recounts the ancient Hebrew laws regarding intention: 
[Marriage requires the]… intention of the parties to enter into a binding marital union and actual consummation.  Neither the mere intention nor the sexual act was in itself sufficient.  Intention would be indicated by conduct such as courtship or by promises or other expressions aiming at an immediate union.1
2.  Ratified by the parents – See Gen. 21:21, 34:4-6, 38:6 and Eph. 6:1.  This aspect is largely ignored by those cultures which are firmly in the hands of the Progressive Left, such as our own.  The result is apparent: We are awash in adultery and divorce.  The destruction of the family unit places unsustainable burdens on the culture at large, especially the explosive growth in the population of undisciplined and violent young males.  As De Tocqueville and others have observed, such cultures begin an inexorable and irreversible descent into anarchy with resultant political tyranny.  Without the permission of the parents, the new couple cannot expect God to bless the union.  Nonetheless, the union is a marriage. 
3.  Ratified before witnesses – See Gen. 29:22 and John 2:1-11.
4.  Physically consummated – See Gen. 4:1, 29:21; Deut. 22:13; 1Sam. 1:19. The  absence, however, of the fourth element does not make the betrothed woman anything less than a man’s wife (Deut. 22:23-24; Matt. 1:24-25).  Consummation should eventually occur as it is the duty and obligation of each.  In fact, the husband and wife own each other’s bodies in a way that is entirely unique in the creation (1 Cor. 7:4).  Such is the extraordinary bond between a man and his woman.  If consummation cannot or does not occur, it is a lawful reason to annul the marriage – as if it had never been.  The Church has always allowed this – that there was never a marriage in the first place.

The doctrine of the Church of Rome and the Eastern Churches which teaches that Mary remained a virgin  broadly contradicts Old and New Testament teachings on marriage.  As with many Christian sects, there is an inability of some to parse the sexual relationship of godly married people and what goes on in an whorehouse.  More importantly, to imply that all human sexual activity is inherently evil is an attack on the character of God, who created it in the first place.

Joseph took Mary home to be his woman, i.e., his wife, although he did not lie with her until Jesus had been born (Mt. 1:24-25).  That she would remain a virgin, though married to Joseph, would have been unthinkable to any godly Jew of the time.  Her body did not belong to her but to her husband.  As a pious and godly woman, Mary would have lovingly and faithfully been a godly wife to her husband.  Like Abraham and Sarah, Joseph and Mary are our supreme examples of godly people.

If God had intended Mary to remain always a virgin, He would have rather placed her with relatives, for example, instead of with a man.  What scandal it would have been for Mary to claim she was a virgin yet living with a man?  What kind of nonsense is it to suggest, as Athanasius did, that Mary was too pure to be an ordinary wife?  This impugns the character of all godly wives, such as Sarah, Ruth, and Elizabeth.

Joseph and Mary did not come together “…for a time” in obedience to 1 Cor. 7:5 and recorded in Matt. 1:24-25.  Nonetheless, there is mystery here as to why God placed Jesus in a home consisting of a stepfather and mother.  Why was she engaged to Joseph instead of a single woman living with her parents?  Was it because a single woman with a child would arouse great suspicion in the community concerning her morality?

It is neither slanderous of Mary nor blasphemous towards God to maintain that she was an ordinary married woman.  It would only be so if, somehow, the consummation of a marriage is something impure or unclean as too many in the 4th century Church taught.  The Word of God states unequivocally that the Creator was seeking godly offspring when He instituted marriage (Mal. 2:15).  Jesus Christ is the arch-godly offspring -- a man born of a woman whose father is God.

Premarital sexual relations between a man and an unmarried (and unbetrothed) woman by itself does not make a marriage.  This is discussed in Exod. 22:16-17 and Deut. 22:28-29.  Various things must happen:  They must marry, the man must pay a fine if the father of the girl disapproves, and he cannot ever divorce the woman.  Some of the teaching of the Reformation in this matter is in error and was more designed to accommodate contemporary mores.  As with parts of the Westminster Confession, legal fictions abound to indulge the evil purposes of some in the Church who needed excuses to dissolve a marriage.
The point of the Scriptures above is that sexual relations alone do not make a marriage.  This is also clear from the Old Testament distinction between a man’s concubines and his wives.  By implication, neither sexual relations outside a marriage dissolve the marriage covenant/bond.  Therefore, such passages as 1 Cor. 6:15-18 must have some other meaning than the one popular with most Protestants e.g. extramarital sexual relations dissolves the original marriage.  It does not dissolve it but defiles it – the correct understanding of Deut. 24:4 and in line with the nature of God’s covenant with Israel.
1E. Neufeld, Ancient Hebrew Marriage Laws (London: Longman’s, Green and Co., 1944) P. 89.