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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Covenant and Consummation: How the Marriage Covenant is Confirmed

Of the many debatable aspects of marriage, one of the most hotly debated is when a person is fully married: 1. Covenant only? 2. Sexual union only? 3. Covenant and sexual union? I will contend for the third view. The marriage is not confirmed until the couple has been united.[1]

There are two reasons why I do not believe that covenant alone constitutes marriage: 1. If covenant alone constitutes marriage, the bible would not have made a distinction between espousal and marriage. 2. There would have been no need for the “evidence of virginity,”[2] or for the man and the women to “come together”[3] as “one flesh.”[4] This dual view of what constitutes a marriage is consistent in both the Old and New Testaments.


The view that marriage is covenant only has no biblical support. It was at betrothal/espousal that the two parties entered covenant;[5] however, the bible makes a clear distinction between espousal and marriage.[6] The bible does use the term wife in reference to the betrothed or espoused; however, there is a difference between the espoused wife[7] and the married wife.[8] The terms married and betrothed/espoused are not synonymous. Married never refers to betrothal/espousal. Covenant only, is espousal, not marriage.


Consummation or sexual union only is fornication, because it is outside of covenant. While marriage is not covenant only, covenant is an essential part of marriage.[9] The New Testament term for sexual union is “one flesh,” and is fornication outside of marriage.[10]


As we have seen: covenant only is espousal only, and not marriage; but consummation only is fornication, not marriage. So, we are going to show in this section that both covenant and consummation is what constitutes a marriage.

In the taking of Rebekah to be Isaac’s wife, she was covenanted to be his wife in Genesis 24:50-51;[11] she received her dowry in Genesis 24:53;[12] yet she did not become his wife until he took her into the tent (Genesis 24:67).[13] John Gill says it was in the tent that Isaac, “consummated the marriage, first contracted by his servant, then confirmed by himself, and now finished:”[14] So, sexual union was necessary to consummate and confirm the covenant.

In the case of Joseph and marry we find this distinction between the covenanted espoused wife, and the consummated married wife. Joseph was her “husband,”[15] and she was his “wife,”[16] because they had entered the legally binding covenant of espousal/betrothal.[17] Yet, they were not married, because they had not “came together”[18] as one flesh, and Joseph “knew here not.”[19]

It should be abundantly clear that it takes both covenant and consummation to fully confirm a marriage. All it takes is a cursory reading of Deuteronomy 22 to see that until the marriage has been sexually consummated that the covenant has not been confirmed.[20]

[1] Sexual union

[2] Deuteronomy 22:13-21 ESV: “If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her 14 and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, 'I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,' 15 then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate. 16 And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, 'I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; 17 and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, "I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity." And yet this is the evidence of my daughter's virginity.' And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city. 18 Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him, 19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days. 20 But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father's house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”

[3] Matthew 1:18 ESV:Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”

[4] Matthew 19:5-6 ESV: “and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

[5] “Espouse” Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Retrieved from E-Sword 08.04.11: “The espousal was a ceremony of betrothing, a formal agreement between the parties then coming under obligation for the purpose of marriage.”

Betroth” Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Retrieved from E-Sword 08.04.11: “From the time of betrothal the woman was regarded as the lawful wife of the man to whom she was betrothed (Deu_28:30; Jdg_14:2, Jdg_14:8; Mat_1:18-21).

[6] Deuteronomy 24:1 KJV: When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.” Here in this verse the KJV say, “taken a wife AND married her.”

Deuteronomy 22:22-23 KJV: “If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel. 23 If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her;”

[7] Matthew 1:18-20 KJV: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. 20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.”

[8] Isaiah 54:1 KJV: “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD.”

[9] Malachi 2:14 ESV: “But you say, "Why does he not?" Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.”

I want to point out here that marriage is never defined is scripture as a vow. So, it is a false premise when the regulations that the bible places on vows are placed on marriage. Marriage is a covenant, and not a vow. Covenants are conditional.

[10] 1 Corinthians 6:16-18 KJV: “What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. 17 But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. 18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.”

[11] Genesis 24:50-51 ESV: “Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, "The thing has come from the LORD; we cannot speak to you bad or good. 51 Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master's son, as the LORD has spoken."”

[12] Genesis 24:53 ESV: And the servant brought out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave to her brother and to her mother costly ornaments.”

[13] Genesis 24:67 ESV: “Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.”

[14] John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, Retrieved from E-Sword 08.04.11

[15] Matthew 1:19 ESV: “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”

[16] Matthew 1:20 ESV: “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

[17] Matthew 1:18 ESV: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”

[18] Ibid

[19] Matthew 1:24-25 ESV: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”

[20] See footnote 2

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