Are promises the same as marriage covenant?


Dear minister,

I have been feeling torn, confused, really unsure of what to do at times, I have prayed, trying to trust God to help. In the context of understanding marriage, I have searched about promises compared to covenants, including some answers on your site, and from other sources.

Before I became a Christian (a baptized believer) I had a girlfriend, it was a sexually active relationship, at one point we discussed marriage. I thought of marriage as only a future option. We may have also said promises, like "I will always love you," "I will always be with you," or "We'll always be together." I can't even remember exactly. It was a long time ago now.

From answers on your site, marriage is a covenant (an agreement with terms), but one answer I think concedes that this can occur without marriage according to law of the land (although the answer suggested legal marriage should occur thereafter).

My concern is that by saying promises to that girlfriend that somehow I married her in God's eyes, but I did not even know it at the time. Can you be married without even realizing it (by saying a promise that is like a marriage vow)? Do you have to have the intention to be married (ie: understand that by what you are saying you are joining to become a new family with that person) for it to be a valid marriage covenant before God?

Since then, I have married my wife (another woman, she's a Christian too, thinking she is the only marriage I have ever had), and we now have children, but now I have felt concerned that God might consider this marriage adultery (if the previous relationship with possible promises was a marriage covenant in His eyes)?

Should I stay in the current marriage (I want to, and am committed to if it is considered marriage in God's eyes)? Ultimately I don't want to be out of favor with God, but also do not want to cause grief unnecessarily to my wife and kids.

Could you please provide scriptures to back up your points or answers?

I genuinely appreciate your time,


One of the classic signs of unreasonable worry is when a person states that they are unsure of what they did. The uncertainty creates a large realm of possibilities and the tendency is to assume the worse.

Before you became a Christian, you were involved in fornication. You excused your sins by telling her (and yourself) that you were "committed" to her. Thus, you were "better" than those other people who just jumped from bed-to-bed. You saw yourself as honorable because you were only having sex with one girl. Now that you are a Christian, you look back and realize that you were anything but honorable and that you were lying both to her and to yourself.

As described in Covenants, formal covenants have these parts:

  1. Preamble: identifies the parties involved and their status
  2. Background: gives a brief history of the parties’ relationship
  3. Stipulations: obligations of the weaker party. Usually, it is the promise of loyalty to the stronger party. When equal parties are making a covenant, then it is an exchange of promises to remain loyal to each other.
  4. Depository: A written copy of the agreement is retained and provisions are made for periodic reminders that the covenant exists.
  5. Witnesses: People who can testify that the covenant exists because they were present when it was formed. Often a physical item is used to indicate that a covenant was made, such as making a memorial or exchanging something between the parties.
  6. Curses and Blessings: The consequences of breaking or keeping the covenant.
  7. Oath:  A vow before God. In the past, it was often sealed with a blood sacrifice.

Going through this list, I hope you realize that a person cannot enter into a covenant accidentally. The parties know they are binding themselves for the rest of their lives by the covenant.

The lesson Marriage Covenants shows how the traditional wedding ceremony contains these elements of a covenant.

Your statements to your girlfriend were not really even promises. They were statements of your intentions and even those weren't really true. You just wanted to have sex and saying these things got her to trust you.

Your fornication was a part of your old life of sin. You are no longer that person. You have a loving wife and children who need you. Stop doubting yourself.


“Unreasonable worry” makes sense. Thanks heaps again.

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