Is a marriage only bound after sex?


I had a question I was hoping you could help me with.

Often the debate is focused on the major problem area when it comes to the marriage, divorce, and remarriage debate, which is the divorce and remarriage. But there doesn't seem to be a large pool of information on the marriage side. What I'm talking about is what is it that makes a marriage union. When does God bind a marriage together?

I have understood that this happens when two people swear an oath to each other and do whatever it is that is required civilly of them of course as long as that doesn't contradict God's law.

A brother I have been discussing with believes that marriage is 'a process' of a commitment, a contract, and consummation. So he believes that marriage is bound when it is consummated or when the two become 'one flesh'. If the marriage is not consummated (the two never become one flesh) then the two were never bound and could be free to annul it and marry another.

Wondering what your take is on it?


Your question is covered in Does a marriage begin when it is consummated?


Thanks.  I had read that previously, but the one thing your article seems to be addressing is whether sex in and of itself constitutes marriage, which isn't really the question.  He believes that first, you leave your parents, then you contract the marriage, and then you must consummate it for God to bind it.  It's a process he argues, so if there is no contract, then the sex is just fornication.  But if there is no sex after the contract, then there is no binding by God.

He argues that marriage is a 'physical' relationship only. It has spiritual benefits, consequences, etc, but only because two people are in fellowship with God. He gave the example of an alien sinner/Christian marriage to illustrate that it cannot be a spiritual relationship. Matthew 22 and Romans 7 as noted below were used to show that upon death the relationship was terminated, thus showing that it is physical and not spiritual as otherwise, the results would continue. The major point seems to be in identifying 'two becoming one flesh' and his interpretation is strictly that it is sex. As noted he stated that 'shall' is not permissive, but commanded and therefore in order to become one flesh it is commanded to consummate the marriage for it to be bound. The marriage is not bound prior to the consummation, and thus if after the wedding someone took off for whatever reason he stated it would be okay for them to do so. He uses the process of becoming a Christian as a parallel. You must believe, then repent, confess, be baptized, but you're not going to do the latter before the former. An unbeliever will not be baptized, etc. So if one believes, but then decides they don't want to be baptized, then as he rightly stated we would not call them a brother for they are not 'in Christ'. In like manner, if a person makes a commitment, then goes through the contractual (civil marriage), but for whatever reason decides before consummating it that they want out, then they can get it annulled or whatever the process would be, and God would not have 'bound' them because they had not become one flesh.

He also looks at it this way. He believes it takes a commitment, a contract, and then consummation to establish a marriage. And to him, it makes sense that the very opposite breaks the marriage. You have fornication which results in a breaking of the contract, and then you get a divorce which breaks the commitment.

The second major point presented was from Matthew 19:10-12. After Jesus presents the truth the disciples say to him that if only fornication breaks the marriage, then it is not good (expedient) to marry. Jesus then tells them that all cannot accept the saying, and the emphasis is on the latter of v11 "but only those to whom it has been given". The emphasis is on this because Jesus starts to talk about eunuchs, and the thing about eunuchs is there is either no ability or there is no desire to have sex. Further emphasis is placed on the latter of v12 "He who is able to accept it, let him accept it". So from this passage, he is stating that marriage is not been given to eunuchs because they have no way to fulfill the marriage covenant, and further they are not able to accept it, and therefore not able to be married. His argument is that the eunuch can make a commitment, and they can make a covenant, but it is impossible for them to consummate it and therefore Jesus is saying they are ineligible to be married which he is saying points to the need to consummate in order for the marriage to be binding.

And then further on Matthew 19:9 with the statement minus the exception "whoever divorces his wife...and marries another, commits adultery" The reason the 'marriage' is adultery is that consummation must take place.

So I bring up Joseph and Mary which the scriptures clearly show were married prior to sex, but because he believes it's conditioned based on the fact they will have sex which the story and our hindsight clearly shows they did.

Ultimately it seems to come down to if there is no 'one flesh' joining, then there is no marriage.

Any further thoughts are appreciated.


"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

"Joined" is from the Hebrew dabaq, which means to be joined together. So the steps are: leave parents, join in marriage (Matthew 19:6), and then become one. As Malachi 2:14 points out the joining is by the covenant.

Everything your friend argues is by the definitions he supplies. It isn't from points made in the Scriptures. Your point with Joseph and Mary proves the flaw in his argument. "Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son" (Matthew 1:24-25). Joseph and Mary were married and sex did not come until after Jesus was born. That is absolute proof that marriage does take place before sex and does not require sex to seal it.

"His disciples said to Him, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry." But He said to them, "All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it"" (Matthew 19:10-12).

In "He who is able to accept it, let him accept it" what is the "it?" Your friend is saying "marriage," but it isn't marriage that was under discussion. The disciples had said, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry." It is the "such" that had the disciples so bothered that they thought it would be better not to bother with getting married. The "it" Jesus mentioned refers back to the "such" that the disciples said. Therefore, "such" isn't marriage itself, but something the disciples saw that made marriage less appealing. The answer was the restriction Jesus said was on the ability to end a marriage. "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9). Basically, the disciples were saying that if it is that restrictive to get out of a marriage, then it is better off not getting married at all.

But there is a problem with the disciple's conclusion. Most people have a sex drive. "Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband" (I Corinthians 7:2). If you want to have sex, you have to get married. If you want to get married, you have to accept that God placed restrictions on the exit from marriage. For most people, the acceptance of God's command is a must. If a eunuch wants to avoid marriage because he doesn't want to be tied to one woman for life, he certainly may do so. There are some so dedicated to the kingdom, such as Paul, that marriage was never a consideration. The command restricting marriage for life wasn't for people not interested in marriage and if they don't want to marry, they don't have to. "For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am" (I Corinthians 7:7-8). But for those who want to have sex (able to accept it), they must accept the terms God gave. "But if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (I Corinthians 7:9).


I agree with your statements, and I hope you don't mind, but I have a couple more questions as I have brought up for the most part the same points.

You mentioned that a man and woman are joined together, and they become one flesh. He would go to I Corinthians 6:16 and ask how is it that a man is joined to a prostitute?  The answer is the sex, of course, and therefore it is reasoned that the way in which we are joined to the one we have already committed to is through the very same means.

I agree too that Malachi 2:14 says that marriage is through a covenant, but again he looks to how we enter into Christ through baptism and points out that sometimes God requires physical actions in order to enter into the covenant, and in this case, he points to consummation as that act.  I guess I could just as well say that a marriage ceremony is that physical activity so it seems this point wouldn't necessarily prove anything.

So if asked the question based on Matthew 19:9 where a person unlawfully divorces and remarries, but never has sex would that still be adultery?  It seems that Jesus is plainly stating the obvious to me that when a person marries they are going to have sex in that marriage is it is going to be adultery. Unlawful marriage is certainly wrong, but without sex would it be adultery?

Would you say that sex is a 'requirement' within marriage or is it a benefit that is based on our needs?  Thus if neither of us has a need for sex, but we desire to have a devoted companion as is the case in a marriage could we get married?  Could an old couple get married and never have sex and this be acceptable to God?  It seems to me, yes, but his argument is that if there is no one flesh joining, then there is no binding by God.  He argues that one can have all the same things one can have in a sexless marriage in a close friend relationship.  This just seems to me to be missing the boat.

Once again I appreciate any comments.


"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For "the two," He says, "shall become one flesh"" (I Corinthians 6:15-16).

The answer to your friend's contention is to ask who did the joining. In I Corinthians 6:16, it is a man who is coupling with a prostitute. They become one body for a moment in time, but there is no marriage because God doesn't join the two. If sex made the marriage, then the first person you had sex with would be your spouse. But that has never been the case.

"If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins" (Exodus 22:16-17).

Notice the order: a man and woman have sex, he pays the dowry, and if her father agrees, they get married. The act of sex did not create a marriage. The penalty was to force marriage, but the woman's father could say "no" to the marriage.

Therefore, a man having sex with a prostitute doesn't make him married to the prostitute, but it does make him "one body" with her. The conclusion is that "one body" and marriage are not the same thing.

Your friend's argument against Malachi 2:14 is not from the Scriptures but a series of "could be." "Could be" doesn't define what is.

Let's make an important point: in the Bible "law" and "covenant" are equivalent terms.

  • "They did not keep the covenant of God; they refused to walk in His law" (Psalms 78:10).
  • "The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant" (Isaiah 24:5).
  • "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Jeremiah 31:33).
  • "Set the trumpet to your mouth! He shall come like an eagle against the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed My covenant and rebelled against My law" (Hosea 8:1).
  • "But you have departed from the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi," says the LORD of hosts" (Malachi 2:8).

Understanding this, Paul's statement is clearer: "For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband" (Romans 7:2). The "law" mentioned here is not the Old Testament but the covenant she made with her husband. Paul's point is that you could not be under two sets of laws, or two covenants, at the same time. For a woman to marry again, she had to be freed from the law, or covenant, that bound her to her husband. Notice that the binding and releasing had nothing to do with the act of sex, but by the law (the covenant). That is why this situation becomes a parallel for the Jewish people. They were freed from their first covenant by the death of Christ, allowing them to be bound by the second covenant.

The same concept is repeated: "A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord" (I Corinthians 7:39). To say she is bound by law is exactly the same idea expressed in Malachi 2:14 when it says "Yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant."

There is no statement that says sex binds a person in marriage, but there are statements that married couples are joined by God, bound by law and by covenant. So is joining in another covenant adultery? The answer is "yes." "So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man" (Romans 7:3).

Since sex is only to take place in marriage, and the desire for sex is a major motivator for getting married, yes, sex is an obligation in marriage. "Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband" (I Corinthians 7:3). But this doesn't mean the marriage ends if the husband gets, say diabetes, and can no longer have sex. And since in a marriage sex can be forgone with the consent of both, "Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (I Corinthians 7:5), one can conclude that a couple can enter a marriage with the knowledge that sex would not be available because of physical ailments. But often overlooked is that intercourse is not the only form of sex mentioned in the Bible. Even when vaginal intercourse is not available, a couple can enjoy oral sex. "Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love" (Proverbs 5:18-19).


I had come across your website before, where of course you are willing to tackle a lot of the questions, and many that most wouldn't touch. I appreciate the work you have put into that as it is a valuable resource online.

I had thought about Romans 7 stating that a man and woman are bound by law, but your points help to further that thought. I think your points have helped me to see clearly the position I thought to be true. There were initially just some questions I couldn't see full answers to that were stalling me, but I think it's clear to me now that sex simply is not a part of how one becomes married, but it certainly is a part of being married.

Thanks again!

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