Are Marriage Licenses Required in the Bible?

Does the local, state or federal government have the right to regulate marriage through marriage licenses or other laws regarding marriage? The larger question is who did God give authority over marriage to?

A lot of Christians mistakenly think that God has given civil government nearly unlimited authority.  Most Christians think unless the government literally tells us to sin that they can pass any laws they want.  They site passages like this to bolster their belief:

“13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.”

1 Peter 2:13-14 (KJV)

But they neglect the fact that Christ recognizes the concept of limited authority for civil government:

“They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

Matthew 22:21 (KJV)


Christ said “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”.  That means “Obey the civil government in the areas that God has given to civil government”.

Romans 13:1-5 and 1 Peter 2:13-14 teach us that the role of government is to protect the people and punish evil doers according to God’s law.

Who has God given authority over marriage to?

If you look at the pattern of the Scriptures men “take” women in marriage or their fathers “take” wives for their sons.  On the other women are always spoken of as being “given” in marriage.  And who is that gives his daughter in marriage or takes a wife for his son? It is the father.  See these many passages below which prove this point.

“16 And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. 17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.”

Exodus 22:16-17 (KJV)

And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them: Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.”

Deuteronomy 7:2-3 (KJV)

12 Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever.”

Ezra 9:12 (KJV)

“And that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, not take their daughters for our sons

Nehemiah 10:30 (KJV)

Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.”

Jeremiah 29:6 (KJV)

30 For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.

Matthew 22:30 (KJV)

Even Jesus Christ acknowledged that one marries(speaking of men) and the other is given in marriage(speaking of women).  This means that our tradition of fathers giving away their brides is not just some American or European tradition.  It is based upon the truth of the Word of God that fathers have authority over their daughters in marriage.

Sons on the other hand could accept their father’s recommendation of marriage to another person’s daughter or reject it(see Judges 14:3 where Samson refuses his father’s recommendations for marriage).

Search the Scriptures and you will find that the only authority God gives in marriage is to the family and specifically to the father.  Of course we know that the father is still under God’s authority in regard to marriage and he must regard his ownership of his daughter as a temporary stewardship in preparing her for her future husband.

Part of a father recognizing that he exercises his authority under God’s authority is that he recognizes that God establishes the minimum age of marriage for women.  These means men cannot be giving their prepubescent daughters in marriage.

The State Has No Authority Over Marriage

What this means in practical terms is state marriage licenses are not required by God.  A marriage is valid in God’s eyes if a man has the permission of a woman’s father or if her father is gone and she is living on her own she consents to marriage.  He can enter into a covenant of marriage with her in private and that marriage is just as binding in God’s eyes as if they had a public ceremony with a pastor or priest and state marriage license.

This also means whether states outlaw all marriage under the age of 18 or even 21 Christians may disregard such laws as the usurping of authority over the family by the civil government.  Christians can and may practice civil disobedience against such laws.