The concept of a spiritual marriage, where two people are joined together in a sacred union without legal marriage, is not explicitly discussed in the Bible. However, there are some biblical principles that can provide insight into whether such an arrangement would be considered biblical.
Marriage is instituted by God
The Bible makes it clear that marriage was created and instituted by God. In Genesis 2:24, it states “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This first marriage was between Adam and Eve, before any laws or cultural traditions around marriage developed. God intended marriage to be a lifetime commitment between a man and woman becoming “one flesh” in intimacy.
Other New Testament passages also point to God’s design for marriage. Jesus quoted Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19:5-6, affirming this definition of marriage between a husband and wife. Hebrews 13:4 states “Let marriage be held in honor among all.” Marriage is not just a cultural construct – it was God’s plan from the beginning.
Marriage and sexual morality
The Bible promotes sexual purity and reserves sexual intimacy for marriage. Passages like 1 Corinthians 6:18 instruct believers to “flee from sexual immorality” and 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 states “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor.” Marriage is the only context for permissible sexual activity, according to biblical principles.
A spiritual marriage without legal marriage could enable sexual immorality if it facilitates sexual intimacy outside of an official marital commitment. The Bible consistently affirms waiting until marriage for sexual activity. A spiritual marriage alone may not provide the same framework for sexual purity that a biblical marriage does.
Marriage involves a covenant
In the Bible, marriage is described as a covenant. Malachi 2:14 speaks about “the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” This echoes the “covenant of marriage” mentioned in Proverbs 2:17. God views marriage as a solemn, binding covenant.
A spiritual marriage lacks the definitive covenant status that comes with a legal marriage. While the commitment may be deeply felt emotionally, it does not carry the same weight and permanence of a marriage covenant before God and man. A spiritual marriage covenant may thus fall short of the biblical model.
Marriage requires faithfulness
Faithfulness is essential in biblical marriages. Proverbs 3:3 says “let love and faithfulness never leave you,” which applies to marriage relationships. Hebrews 13:4 adds “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.” Faithfulness to one’s spouse through marital commitment honors God.
A spiritual marriage often lacks the parameters to mandate faithfulness. Without a legal marriage, the understanding of faithfulness can become ambiguous. Each partner may interpret it subjectively. But the Bible promotes complete faithfulness in marriage, which is less likely in an unofficial union.
The church is called the Bride of Christ
The New Testament uses marriage imagery to describe the church’s relationship with Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5 calls this a “profound mystery” where “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy.” Jesus is the bridegroom and the church is his bride.
Some suggest a spiritual marriage can model this divine mystery. However, an unofficial human union lacks Christ’s sinless, sacrificial love. Marriage is meant to emulate the purity within Christ’s relationship to the church, which is jeopardized without marital commitment.
God oversees marriage covenants
In Bible times, marriage covenants were overseen by God, not the government. However, the families and community were highly involved. The marriages were public, celebrated events that solidified new family bonds and provided social accountability.
Today’s spiritual marriages typically lack family/community involvement and public witness. There is no binding covenant overseen by godly witnesses holding the couple accountable. So a private spiritual union departs from the biblical precedent of covenant marriage.
Submission to governing authorities
The Bible instructs believers to submit to earthly governing authorities that God has established. 1 Peter 2:13-14 says “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority” and Romans 13:1 adds “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”
A spiritual marriage often circumvents legal marriage requirements in one’s country. But the Bible promotes submitting to legal marital statutes, which means official, lawful marriages over unofficial spiritual unions unless the law would require disobeying God.
Church history and teaching
Throughout church history, marriage has virtually always involved legal proceedings and public witness. Some exceptions were common law marriages. Yet even these were often considered inferior to official marriages. Both the Catholic and Protestant church traditions have historically required legal marriage.
Most Christian denominations continue to affirm legal marriage as the proper form of marriage today. Those rejecting legal marriage in favor of alternative union arrangements depart from mainstream church history and teaching.
Potential benefits of spiritual marriage
While an unofficial spiritual marriage appears to depart from biblical precedents of legal, covenantal marriage, some argue it can still foster spiritual intimacy and growth. When grounded in sincere faith and Christian love, a spiritual marriage could potentially:
- Provide companionship and support
- Promote spiritual accountability and discipleship
- Build practice living for God as a couple
- Develop skills for communication and conflict resolution
- Strengthen commitment before considering legal marriage
Some spiritual marriages may arise from a genuine desire to devote a relationship to God. If so, the couple may benefit from time focused on faith development with accountability. However, this arrangement is unlikely to align fully with scriptural principles of legal marriage.
In summary, the Bible does not directly address spiritual marriage, but its principles strongly suggest that God desires marriages to be legal covenants with public witness rather than private unofficial unions. God instituted marriage to provide accountable, faithful relationships that honor Him. Spiritual marriages often lack elements of legal accountability, faithfulness, family/church involvement, and covenant commitment emphasized in biblical marriages.
While spiritual marriage may facilitate some spiritual growth as a couple, it departs from biblical precedent and church history. Faithful Christians seeking to honor God through their relationships would be wise to pursue legal marriage rather than spiritual marriage alone.