Marriage in the New Testament

UPDATE: A commenter pointed out that I had missed an important scripture in my list below. The post has been updated accordingly.


Conservative Christians are well known for their insistence on the stereotypical family composed of one man, one woman, and n children (where \in \!\, \mathbb{N}^+).

I thought that if this traditional picture is to be challenged, I ought to see what the Bible has to say about marriage. Specifically, I ought to see what the New Testament has to say, because Christians will usually disown the Old Testament as soon as the going gets rough (and in the Old Testament, the going gets rough quite a lot).

So, I tracked down every reference to marriage in the New Testament that I could find. All unique references are reproduced as footnotes below (there are additional scriptures that repeat the same messages –  I didn’t think it important to include these).

Here, in bullet form, is the sum total of what the New Testament has to say about marriage:

The nature of marriage

• Marriage is the joining of a man and a woman in a physical union that no one should break apart. [1]

• Marriage is a concession to lust: it allows people to escape going to hell for having sex. If lust weren’t such an issue, it would be better not to marry at all. [2, 3]

• There is no marriage in heaven. [4]

• Devotion to God is more important than your marriage. [5]


• Husbands must love their wives as they love themselves. [6]

• Husbands must be considerate toward their wives. [7]

• Husbands must give their wives the respect due to a weaker partner. [8]


• Wives must submit to their husbands. [8, 9]

• Wives should not adorn themselves, but dress plainly. [9]

Divorce and death

• Do not divorce for any reason other than sexual immorality. [10]

• Do not marry a divorced woman. [10]

• Young widows are invariably a nuisance (!) [11]

Here is a list of things the New Testament is silent on:

• The value of having children.

• The ideal number of children.

• The fate of children following the divorce of their parents.

Interestingly, the only real definition of marriage in the New Testament is Jesus’ quote from the Old Testament [1], implying that Jesus recognizes the status of the old law when it comes to such matters.

[1] “‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’” (Matthew 19:4-6; Jesus refers here to Genesis 1:27 and 2:24.)

[2] “Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” (1 Corinthians 7:1-7)

[3] “If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.” (1 Corinthians 7:36-38)

[4] “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Matthew 22:30)

[5] “‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’” Luke (18:29-30)

[6] “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:22-23)

[7] “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Peter 3:1-7)

[8] “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22-24)

[9] “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

[10] “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)

[11] “No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.” (1 Timothy 5:9-15)

7 Responses to Marriage in the New Testament

  1. You’ve left out Jesus’ words here, which clarify all we need to know about marriage between one man and one woman:

    ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:3-6, ESV)

    Jesus doesn’t discuss polygamy, gay marriage, or any of the other alternative unions clamoring for their civil rights as optional. Sorry. Try again.

    • jeff says:

      two man or two females can not become one flesh. God was also hinting at having kids. In humans, each cell normally contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46. Twenty-two of these pairs, called autosomes, look the same in both males and females. The 23rd pair, the sex chromosomes, differ between males and females.

  2. Keith says:

    Thanks Warrioress, not sure how I missed that.

    I’ll add it to the list.

  3. Phyllis High says:

    Long-term gay couples model as husbands & wives & call each other as such, so this caveat & Jesus’ focus on unconditional Love & respect would surely consider their ceremonies sacred. Procreation is not as risky now as when large families ensured inheritance.

    Other than that Jesus has nothing to say on the topic, which seems to indicate he has no priority on this. Most think he was not married, tho’ traditions carried out by he & his mother at the marriage of Cana indicate it was his wedding, since those were ONLY duties of a groom & groom’s mother. But if he was NOT married, he was seriously radical in this since ALL rabbis were required to be married. So either way it shows Jesus was open to behavior change of if one’s heart was righteous.

    • Keith says:


      While it’s true that gay couples call each other husbands and wives, all mention of marriage in the NT includes exactly one husband and one wife, so it seems rather clear that only heterosexual marriage is being discussed. Also, I think the most likely explanation for Jesus not mentioning gay marriage is that it simply wasn’t a concept on the moral radar in those days. It’s just not something that would have occurred to him. It would have been about as foreign a concept as the telephone.

    • What you say about The wedding in Cana is not only speculation but entirely unfounded. I don’t know where on Wikipedia you’re getting this stuff but the bible never even comes close to indicating such a relation, and Jesus had no status in the synagogue as rabbi, other than a teacher. The Pharisees had him killed, for crying out loud!! I don’t know if you believe the entire Bible to be the inspired word of God, and if you don’t, honestly, I can’t say anything to your arguments, but the Bible not only speaks of husbands and wives but of MEN and WOMEN.

      26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
      Romans 1:26-27
      Here’s another one:

      9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

      1 Corinthians 6:9-11

      And in the old testament according to the old Law, to men in a sexual relationship were condemned to death.
      -Leviticus 20:13
      If those verses don’t speak clearly to you, than you are not trying to live as the Bible commands, you just want to bend it to fit your desires, while still feeling some sense of “spirituality”.
      This may not be politically correct to say, but God doesn’t just slap you on the wrist for sexual immorality he sends you to Hell if you don’t repent.

  4. Marc Gauthier says:

    Although everything in the Hebrew Bible is true, it isn’t necessarily all applicable. Jesus quoting from the Hebrew Bible doesn’t necessarily imply that He is stating that the Laws concerning that subject are all applicable to Christians. They aren’t applicable unless He explicitly states that they are, or there is an indication somewhere else in the NT that they are applicable.

    He speaks of the Sabbath quite a few times and He along with his disciples followed it, but it isn’t listed as a requirement for the Gentiles to follow in Acts 15 nor in the rest of the NT. In some cases He even expands upon previous laws:)

    Matthew 5, Acts 15 and Galatians 3(especially verses 10-15), among others, deal with the applicability of the Law. The Law is fulfilled in Him alone. No one could be saved through the Law. So, I can only look to the NT for information about these types of moral or practicle questions. I can only look to the New Testament for guidance about how marriage should look.

    The Hebrew Bible also contains a lot more information about marriage than can be included here. This is because, it includes the lives of married people, although the story may not be about that subject explicitly. As they were following their culture and they were before Moses oftentimes, the stories can’t be used as technical guides anyways. You even have love poetry in the Hebrew Bible:)

    The question of gay marriage is both interesting and difficult. But distinguishing civil marriage and religious marriage is critical. In short, if your country’s constitution allows for the non-harming free will of persons, then to not allow gay marriage would be a violation of such principles. Anyone can be married in the civil sense, as long as they fulfill the legal requirements. There isn’t a religious component to it. If you aren’t married in a church, but don’t submit your marriage papers, you aren’t legally married. At least that is the case in Canada where I am.

    Religious marriage shouldn’t be and mostly isn’t regulated by the state, as they only regulate legal marriages. Getting a ceremony performed isn’t required for marriage in a civil sense. So, just as we can choose not to provide a marriage ceremony for a muslim couple, or atheists, we can choose not to perform said ceremony for a gay couple.

    So, concerning gay marriage, i.e. in a church, you would have to ask the question of whether or not homosexuality is condemned first, prior to asking about gay marriage. If homosexuality is condemned biblically, the question of gay marriage is completely moot. I’m gay and Christian and don’t want to go into that…, perhaps could be looked at. I’m inbetween and, unfortunately, don’t have time to write a treatise on this. Good day.

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