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)


21 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.

  5. Kristina Hoad says:

    It’s always exciting to see someone struck with curiosity about the lord! So I’m glad you are making an attempt to look into things.

    I would like to offer some advice on spreading the gospel. Be cautious in speaking to things you do not understand, in doing so you place yourself in a very dangerous seat. If you have questions ask. You stated many Christians will “disown the Old Testament when the going gets rough” I want to clarify this for you; the church does not disown the Old Testament we honor the lessons given to us by Jesus Christ. In the book of Mathew Jesus teaches “I did not come to abolish gods law rather to fulfill its purpose” I’m intentionally not providing you with the complete reference not to decieve you, but in hope that your curiosity will inspire you to read more than one verse in a chapter, would you read one paragraph In a book and the profess to know the story?

    To help you understand when Jesus died and rose again God gave a gift beyond measure, the gift of salvation through faith by grace alone, this changed everything. In the Old Testament the people had not yet recieved this grace therefore they were Bound by their actions. Because we are now offered salvation in grace we are not bound by our actions. However any who denounce Christ will still be judged to the full extent of gods law and statutes found in the Old Testament so it is written in the revalations. So think of it like this, you can choose to run the marathon depending on your own strength, or you can take a car, you will have mercy and peace in the car and a guarantee you will finish, but pain and suffering if you run and you may not make it, so what would you choose?

    I would challenge you not to jump into concerning yourself with right and wrong, this mistake can be costly as it shows you placing yourself on the level of God, we are not the judge, what we think about what other people are doing is not important, we are not apart of gods plan for anyone but ourselves, we are directed to be the hands and feet of Jesus, not the iron rod .

    I pray this finds you well and helps to untangle your view of Christianity. God bless you.

    • Keith says:

      And I would challenge you, if you truly believe what Jesus says about not coming to change the law (yes, I know the passage; it’s in the sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5), to obey the law yourself, all six hundred and something parts of it, including the bits about shellfish and wearing more than one type of fabric at a time.

      • Kristina says:

        I think I may not have been specific enough. Jesus said he came to fufill the purpose of the law, the purpose of Gods law is to allow us to live eternally with him. You can choose to go it alone and be judged by your actions, or you can recieved mercy through Christ.

        • Keith says:

          With all due respect, that is your personal interpretation, which I would argue is not supported by the text. The passage actually reads “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished”.

          Jesus (or whoever originally authored this passage) is going to great lengths to be clear here. With language like “smallest letter” and “not the least stroke of a pen”, he’s clearly NOT talking about some general purpose of the law. He’s talking about the actual law itself, in all its detail.

          You also make an error in interpreting my own decision about life. You say that I could “choose to go it alone and be judged by [my] actions”. But of course that’s not how I see it! Believing, as I do, that gods do not exist, I don’t feel like I’m “going it alone” any more than any other human being is. Yes, we’re going through life without gods, but we have one another (and we don’t need gods anyway). Furthermore, I don’t expect to be judged by my actions by anyone other than the human beings around me whom my actions affect. There is no judgment after death.

          • Ken Baillargeon says:

            Hi Keith, After seeing a couple of your statements posted I thought I might respond with a simple question. You said, “Believing as I do not that god’s exist” and “There is no judgement after death”. Have you ever considered the consequences if by some chance you are wrong. I happen to believe that the God of the bible, both old and new testaments does exist and this belief has changed my life completely. It has given me some absolutes in my life that are not available in any other way. I believe as the bible teaches that we are eternal beings, not gods, and we will live for all eternity somewhere. The bible teaches that the somewhere is either heaven or hell with the latter being a place of eternal torment. If I’m wrong and as you state there is no God and no judgement, I believe I will have lived a very worthwhile life anyway and avoided a whole lot of the pitfalls of life because of what I believe.
            Now for my question. What if you are wrong with what you believe and there is a God and eternal consequences. What if there are eternal places in the hereafter where life not as we know it now but that life that Jesus spoke about in John 10:10, that more abundant life is available. I really don’t want to insult you but Psalm 14:1 does say “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God”. I was once that fool. I believe now very wise people can be very foolish people. We are told in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy is understanding”. Again, in Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding”. I will be praying that you honestly consider my question. John 3:16 is not just a mythological story. The God that I know and serve, that eternal God of creation honestly does love us, honestly does love you. Sincerely ask Him to reveal Himself to you and He will. Jeremiah 29:13, “And you shall seek me, and find me, when you search for me with all your heart”.

            • Keith says:


              I think what you ask is logically impossible, if you think it through.

              Through my own careful study of the evidence, I conclude that there are no gods. Are you asking me that I now somehow force myself to believe (or pretend that I believe?) in your particular god simply because, if this god indeed exists, he has a particularly nasty future waiting for me if I don’t?

              You’re asking me to believe something exists out of a sense of self-preservation, not because the evidence points that way.

              But this is not how anyone reaches belief in something. People believe in things because they feel there is clear evidence of their existence.

              So here’s my conclusion: If the Christian god really exists, and he is really good, he is not going to send me to hell for simply following a logical, honest process of investigation into his existence, no matter how that investigation happened to end. I haven’t rejected gods out of spite or selfishness. I’ve rejected gods because I can’t find any evidence for their existence.

              As for “The fool said in his heart, there is no God”, here’s how I would phrase it: “The fool said in his heart, I believe in God, no questions asked”!

            • Ian mills says:

              Have you ever considered the consequences if you end up facing a different less forging God?

              • Keith says:

                You mean “forgiving”, correct?

                Yes, I’ve considered the consequences, but I hope you’re not suggesting the impossible: 1) that I somehow force myself to believe in God on the off chance that he exists and 2) that if God exists, he won’t notice that my belief is motivated by the fear of hell rather than a genuine love of God. (Look up “Pascal’s Wager” for more.)

                We don’t decide to believe things because of their consequences. We believe things because we think they’re true. And we think things are true because we think we’ve seen evidence for them. So far, I haven’t seen any evidence for the existence of gods.

          • Kristina says:

            Again I feel I may not have been specific enough for you. It was my intention to explain the Christian faith to you. When I stated you could go it alone I was referring to the universal you (as in you the believer) my intentions were to help you observe Christianity from a different angle, not to tell you how to live your life. You have the ability to choose for yourself just like everybody does. My warning for you is to be cautious of spreading your beliefs with out a full understanding of what you’re talking about

            To explain what I mean your original post said Christians abondon the Old Testament when going gets rough. This is a false statement as I have explained in prior posts.

            I hope this clarifies things a bit more for you. If I’ve again offended you, as it seems I may have, I am happy to speak to you further. I understand sometimes things get lost in text.

            • Keith says:


              Thanks for clarifying. You should know that I was a Christian for the first 25 years of my life or so, so there’s not really anything in your comments that was new to me.

              As to the comment about the Old Testament, I said “many Christians abandon the OT…”. You objected by saying that the *church* does not disavow the OT. I completely agree. But you probably know that the world has a lot of Christians in it, and not all of them profess quite the same beliefs as the official Church doctrine (and of course there are multiple doctrines, too).

              What I have observed in my conversations with Christians over several decades, is that most are happy to throw away the stranger parts of the OT law, like the parts involving shellfish and what fabrics to wear.

              And rightly so. These are clearly the products of the people who wrote them, thousands of years ago in a culture very different from our own. But that doesn’t help us escape the fact that Jesus is reported to have said, in Matthew 5, that he, personally, had no intention of putting aside a single “jot” of the law, which presumably must include all the stuff about shellfish, stoning gays, and all the rest of it.

              So the question, therefore, is why DON’T Christians abide by OT law when Jesus says it has not been put aside? Why DON’T Christians avoid shellfish, or stone gay people, and so on? Jesus says they should follow the law to the last letter.

              • Ken Baillargeon says:

                I have found after calling myself a Christian as so many others do, I for 27 years, that calling yourself a Christian doesn’t make you one anymore than calling yourself an atheist or a bird will make you one. Being a Christian involves having a personal life changing relationship with Jesus believing the things He said and everything else in the bible even when we don’t understand them. Though parents can instruct their children in the things of God they cannot have this relationship for them because it was meant to be a personal one. We can discuss the bible and the law all day long but it will change nothing until a person believes that Jesus was who both the law and the prophets and He Himself said He was. You argue Matthew 5 using the words of Jesus to stress that the law will not pass away which I also believe but ignore the rest of what He said. Jesus spoke about the law in Matthew 5 between verses 33 and 46 only to say it was not effective. Paul in Romans said it couldn’t be kept and it’s purpose was to illustrate that fact and that we needed a savior. Jesus said in verse 38, “You have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” a quote of the law from Exodus 21:23-25, “but I say unto you” and with that changed the purpose of the law without doing away with it in teaching mercy rather than vengeance. He went further and said, “love your enemies” which is exactly what God did in sending Jesus to die for our sins that the law couldn’t do on a permanent basis. His death and resurrection was the fulfillment of the law that lacked the ability to permanently restore the relationship with Him that was lost in the garden, He even surpassed that with John 13:34 when He said, “A new commandment (law-emphasis mine) I give you” which was a fulfillment in Him of all that the old law lacked. It is unfortunate that you have been turned off by His gospel which truly is good news for those that will believe but only He through His Spirit can open your eyes, ears and heart to this truth. Judas was with Him right up to the last supper and still walked away. There was a time in His ministry that His brothers and sisters walked away. You are not the first and you will not be the last. We are told in the word of God, “that no one can come to Jesus lest the Father draw them”. I suspect you are involved in this correspondence because He is doing just that although for the moment you will not accept that.

              • Kristina says:

                I would encourage you to read acts. You forget when Christ taught the prophecy had not yet been fufilled. Christ had to die, and then be resurrected in order for us to be saved by him, John 3:16 Ephesians 2:89

                Also I will clarify again. When I stated “the church” I was not referring to church doctrines I was speaking of any person who would consider themselves a Christian.

                This sounds like you didn’t have very good experiences with the church. To give you some background on my self: I am a 26 year old lesbian and I believe in gods grace and mercy. I feel his presence and experience his peace. Even as my fellow Christians reject me, I embrace the father because I understand his love. It feels like you are egar to strip believers of their faith because of your experiences and sabotage new or curious believers of their opportunity to discover for themselves what they believe. I’ll say once more you would not read one chapter in a book and then claim to know the story. I respect anyone sharing their option, but you have taken this post and continued to debate your beliefs repeating the same information over and over again. I have herd your position and we can continue in circles, or agree that our beliefs and neither of us is going to sway our beliefs because of the other. Anyone reading posts like this one should journey into the bible themselves and make their own choices. We all will die alone, and we should take accountability for our own beliefs

  6. Alex Parer says:

    I like your observations but I disagree with your last paragraph:

    “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.”

    Jesus was quoting from the Torah yes but not a law per se. The Old Testament text, though sometimes referred to as “the law and the prophets”, consists of laws but it is not limited to ‘laws’. It is wrong to conclude that Jesus was encouraging His followers to fulfil the laws regarding marriage or anything else. He declared that He Himself came to fulfil the law (Mt.5:17), not to impose it on us (Rom.8:1-4). Jesus quoted God’s Word from the garden of Eden, to which we are spiritually restored; the place of reconciliation and relationship with God. That is the essence of Christian marriage.

    • Keith says:


      I think this depends on one’s interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. The very next verse after the one you quoted reads “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Mt. 5:18)

      Its seems pretty clear that Jesus expects the law to remain in effect.

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