This is an excellent question which may be somewhat difficult to answer, for the Bible doesn’t state DIRECTLY when a marriage begins. There are several views as to when marriage begins and each one has Scripture to back it up. We will explore those views briefly.

1) Marriage begins with a marriage ceremony. Those who hold this view cite Genesis 2:21-22, “And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made a woman, and He brought her to the man” (NKJV). In this view God is looked upon as GIVING AWAY THE BRIDE, just as a father gives away his daughter in many marriage ceremonies today. We know that a formal wedding ceremony is sanctioned by God for the Lord Jesus and His disciples were invited to a wedding ceremony in Cana of Galilee and they not only attended, but Jesus provided wine for the wedding (John 2:1-10).

2) Marriage begins with a legal contract. We know that in many countries the government does demand a legal contract (i.e. marriage license) to be filled out by the man and the woman in order for them to be “legally married.” Scripture tells us in Romans 13:1, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” This would seem to indicate that God will not sanction a marriage unless the legal contract is drawn up and agreed to. Yet we know that when Adam and Eve were married, there was no official government in place, so it would seem that back then no legal contract was required. There are also countries today that do not demand a legal contract and yet they would recognize a man and a woman as married if they have an official MARRIAGE CEREMONY (as we saw in #1).

3) Marriage begins when the man and the woman consummate the marriage by having sexual intercourse. After God presented the woman to Adam as her bride we read, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be JOINED TO HIS WIFE, and THEY SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH” (Genesis 2:25). In this view sexual intercourse is the “ultimate fulfillment of the ‘one flesh’ principle.” Those who espouse this view believe it “is the final SEAL on a marriage covenant.” Here too there may be circumstances which would call into question this view, for what if the man and the woman were unable to engage in sexual intercourse (due to a physical limitation) yet they had gone through one (or both) of the processes mentioned in views #1 and #2? It would seem that they would still be considered “husband and wife” in God’s eyes.

These are the three main views, though there are others. In some countries (the United States included) a couple who have lived together for so many years are considered to be married even though they never entered into a legal contract or had a formal wedding ceremony. This is called a “common-law marriage.” But it is doubtful that God would sanction this, for in His eyes they are living in fornication (having sex BEFORE marriage). God’s advice to those is given in 1st Corinthians 7:9, “If they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (331.3) (DO)