What constitutes marriage?While these questions are essentially rhetorical, it raises the issue of whether one needs to get married in a civil ceremony. Does God recognise a marriage that the state does not? In addressing this I wish to ask a related question, is being sexually active equivalent to marriage in God's eyes?
Does the Bible state what constitutes marriage?
Does it say to stand before a priest and say some words?
If they are living together in a committed, monogamous situation is it not marriage?
Boaz just claimed Ruth publicly and it was done. At least the story says nothing more about ceremony or priests.
The Old Testament talks about couples who have sex getting married if the father of the girl consents. Given the intimacy involved and the spiritual connection that Paul alludes to I previously seriously considered whether being sexually active puts one into a covenantial relationship with the person. If that is the case one could argue that they should marry formally as they are married effectively. After reading what Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4 I no longer think that sex equals marriage in God's eyes. At the well in Samaria Jesus said to the woman,
"Go, call your husband, and come here." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true."This comment shows that one can be living with a person and be sexually intimate yet not be married. There must be a difference between the first 5 men and the current one. She lived with and had sex with all 6 so that cannot be it. I guess one could argue that the man had not committed himself to her, which he likely hadn't, but that raises the question of how you commit.
I tend to think that one should marry in the method of the culture. This is because the institution of marriage (not necessarily the ceremony) is public. It is not gossip to share that people are married. It is societal not private knowledge. So Boaz married Ruth in the method of the day, as did Isaac who took Rebekah into his mother's tent and married her.
If the society you live in has a way of getting married and it does not involve sinning against God there is no reason not to marry using that method. That is how your spouse and society recognise that marriage has occurred. This does not mean that government has to be involved, but there are at least cultural norms.
If you find yourself on a desert island then feel free to choose how you make a marriage covenant. And if marriage ceases to exist within the society in which you live then take your vows how you wish, or let the church marry those who wish to in ways they find useful.
The important thing for Christians is that they have a biblical view of what marriage entails, and attempt to behave rightly towards their spouse; but if society views being married differently to Christians, this is not an excuse to not get married in the usual way.