Does the Bible list specific marriage vows? No. But the Bible does speak a great deal on marriage and it does give us principles that can help us formulate marriage vows that are in keeping with God’s purposes for marriage.
As you read through the Scriptural teachings and principles regarding marriage in this article, there will probably be many things that will challenge your preconceptions about marriage. But as you do this I encourage you to remember what the Bible teaches us:
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Romans 12:2 (KJV)
My prayer is that after you finish reading this article that you will come away with a renewed passion to not be conformed to our culture’s view of marriage, but rather to conform yourselves as a Christian couple to God’s view of marriage as presented in his Word.
Is it “marriage vows” or a “marriage covenant”?
First let’s clear up some confusion. You may read Christian articles online or you may have even heard a pastor in your church say “Marriage is not based on vows, it is based on a covenant!” But what many Christian teachers fail to recognize is that while not all vows are covenants, all covenants are vows. The Scriptures prove this when God pictures his marriage to Israel:
“Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine.”
Ezekiel 16:8 (KJV)
We can see here that when God entered in his covenant marriage with Israel – he swore unto her. That he vowed unto her this covenant.
So then the answer to the question of “Is it “marriage vows” or a “marriage covenant”?” is that it is BOTH!
Some Christians try and teach that Christ outlawed the making vows but this is not the case. I encourage you to read my article entitled “Is it wrong for Christians to make vows or oaths?” for more on this subject.
The conclusion I came to in that article regarding vows was that Christ was taking on the corrupt system the Jewish leaders setup allowing people to get out of their oaths based on what they swore the oath upon. Christ was saying our word is our bond – if we make an oath then we must keep it. We should swear by nothing on this earth, but only by God as the Bible commands. We should always consider our vows carefully and not easily enter into them. And above all – we should never ever make a vow that we know up front we cannot or will not keep.
What type of love are Biblical marriage vows based on?
There are three types of Biblical love that may occur between a couple seeking marriage and then later these types of love should occur within marriage.
Phileo – Affectionate, feelings based loved – this is the love that is based on emotional attachment to another. It is usually very strong in the beginning phases of a relationship especially during the engagement period and the first year or two of marriage.
Eros – Sexual love. This is the love that has to do with physical attraction and desire toward one another. Again as with Phileo love, this love is usually very strong at the beginning of a relationship and through the first year to two years of marriage. And contrary to those Christian teachers who say this has no part in Christian marriage this type of love has an entire book of the Bible dedicated to it in the Song of Solomon. But this love is one that must be contained and controlled until a couple enter into the covenant of marriage. We see this warning in Song of Solomon 2:7:
“I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.”
Agape – Unconditional love of the will based in duty and commitment toward another. Phileo and Eros love are often reactionary types of love to the attributes or actions of another. When Phileo love and Eros love fade because of changing circumstances, Agape love remains because it based in a choice.
Biblically based wedding vows should never be made with reference to Phileo or Eros love. This is not because these two types of love are bad. Christian marriage can and should have both these types of love in it if it is to be everything God intended it to be. But the foundation of Christian marriage is Agape love because it will weather the storms of life and will remain in those times when Phileo love and Eros love may wane.
If you are a young Christian couple reading this – you may think your affection toward each other (Phileo love) and sexual attraction (Eros love) will never fade. You are convinced of it! But don’t just take my word for it – ask five other Christian married couples that have been together at least 10 years or more.
The reason I ask you to ask five couples is because most likely you will get one or two that simply lie to themselves and others to put on a show. But if you ask five married couples who have been married for a longer length of time most of them will admit to you that there have been many times in their marriage where their Phileo and Eros love toward each other has waned and the only thing that kept them going was their Agape love toward one another as Christians. It was the commitment they made to each other before God when they entered into the covenant of marriage that helped them weather the storms of life.
One last part I want to add on this subject of love in marriage vows. I am not saying a couple cannot say words of affection toward each other and express their Phileo love toward one another at their wedding ceremony. You certainly can do this. But these words of affection should come before or after the marriage vows and should never be mixed into your vows. Your vows should be based purely in Agape in love.
Do marriage vows have to include all the duties of marriage?
Nothing in the Scriptures say you have to reference all the various duties of husbands and wives toward one another when you enter into a covenant of marriage.
Your vows could be very concise and they need not be verbose. In fact your vows could be as concise as the groom saying “I take you as my wife” and the bride saying “I take you as my husband”.
Nothing needs to be said about a covenant, the duration of marriage or the duties of husbands and wives to each other in marriage. There does not need to be a priest or pastor present, nor does it have to be done in a church. It does not even require a state marriage license.
On caveat I would add is that while the man needs no permission to enter into marriage from his parents if the woman is not a divorced or widowed woman and “being in her father’s house in her youth” then she and the man she wishes to marry must have her father’s blessing to marry. In fact if they marry in secret and he finds out and disapproves a father has the spiritual authority to annul any of his daughter’s vows in including a vow of marriage – see Numbers chapter 30 for more on this.
However, just because marriage can be entered into so easily does not mean that it SHOULD be entered into easily.
The Scriptures tell us this regarding vows made to God (and vows of marriage would be included in this):
“2 Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. 3 For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by multitude of words.
4 When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. 5 Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.”
Ecclesiastes 5:2-5 (KJV)
It is foolish and wrong to hastily enter into any vow and to hastily enter into a vow of marriage is the perhaps the most foolish of all.
Let me mention something else on the “easiness” of entering into the marriage covenant. In Biblical times not only was the father’s permission required for marriage, but a bride price was required. For some men this was a half a year’s wages. Men were required to prepare a home for their bride to be able to demonstrate to her father he was ready to take her as his wife.
The idea today of two young people who just randomly decided to get married without the man being able to provide for his wife in one way or another was rare and not the normal practice.
Some might say “Well we are not compelled to live by examples in Biblical times of marriage customs”. That is true if the statement regarding marriage is descriptive, rather than prescriptive. If a command is given that would impact marriage then this still stands. A father’s ability to override his daughter’s vows while she is in his house still stands.
Also Exodus 21:10-11 and Ephesians 5:29 show that a man is required to provide for the physical needs of his wife. If a man seeks marriage to a woman but cannot yet provide for her then he must wait to enter into the covenant of marriage with her until he can provide for her.
One last thing on the subject of “concise vows”. Make no mistake, even if the groom simply says “I take you as my wife” and the bride simply says “I take you as my husband” you are still entering into a covenant of marriage together whether you say the word “covenant” or not. It is God who defines the parameters of marriage not man. Even though you are not mentioning any of the duties or purposes of marriage they still apply as much to you as if you had mentioned them in your vows.
Ignorance of God’s laws regarding marriage it is not an excuse for breaking God’s law regarding marriage.
That is yet another reason why couples should not hastily enter into marriage and should consider their vows carefully before making them.
We need to take great care with more verbose wedding vows
If you choose to have more verbose wedding vows that “I take you as my husband” or “I take you as my wife” then great care needs to be taken as you utter these words before God.
Verbose marriage vows should be an affirmation of what the Bible says are the distinct purposes, responsibilities and rights of the husband and wife in the marriage covenant. Nothing should be added or taken away from marriage as the Bible defines it. In fact not only is it sinful to add to or take away from what God has established regarding marriage, but any vow which adds or takes away what he allows or commands regarding marriage is null and void in God’s view. For example, to say “until death do us part” without quantifying that with God’s allowance for divorce in the case of certain sins is by definition taking away from marriage as God has defined it.
Now let just put a word in here on divorce. I know there many good Bible believing Christians who disagree on God’s allowances for divorce. If you are truly convinced before God that there is absolutely no allowance under any circumstances for divorce and with this conviction in mind you add “until death do us part” with no caveats then in my view this is not an intentional sin, but a sin of ignorance as I believe the Bible clearly does give allowances for divorce.
But if you see certain allowances for divorce in the Scripture as I demonstrate in my articles on that subject and then you add “until death do us part” without the Biblical allowances for divorce that is a greater sin in my view. And this brings us to our next principle regarding the construction of Biblical marriage vows.
And now I want to share another crucially important principle in when it comes to making verbose marriage vows.
If you are going to write verbose marriage vows and you want them to be Biblically based you must account for sin in marriage just as God accounts for sin in marriage in the Bible.
If you are a woman – you must come to the realization that the man you so passionately love now is the same man you will sin against in the future. There are going to be days when you do not submit to him as the Church submits to Christ. There are going to be days that you do not reverence him as you should and there will be days when you are contentious and angry with him.
If you are a man, you may not always have the passionate feelings of love that you do now toward your wife to be. There are going to be days when you do not love her as Christ loves his Church. There may come a day when in a moment of cowardice you do not protect her from others or even protect her from herself. There may come a day when you dishonor her and do not dwell with her according to knowledge as the Bible commands.
Please don’t fall for the lie that your heart tries to tell you that you will never fall short of your God given duties in marriage toward your spouse. Because in one way or another you will. The Bible tells us “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Your vows need to take into account the very real possibility of sin on your part as well that of your future spouse.
This is why in the example vows I will give I mention the sin nature and the inability for us to perfectly love our spouse as God would have us to. This why we need to avoid terms like “always” and “never” in our wedding vows but instead we can use words like “try” or “endeavor” as we submit ourselves to the Lord on the daily basis.
Another important point to make is if you are going to have verbose marriage vows you need to reference the Biblical teaching that marriage is to be a model of the relationship of Christ to his Church. This is a foundational principle for Christian marriage.
Critical components of this model include the duties of men to be a head and the leader of their wives as Christ leads his Church. Not only should references be made to Christ loving his Church and giving himself for her, but also the reason he gave himself for her to wash her spots and wrinkles and present her to himself a glorious church.
It is a husband’s sacred duty to wash his wife with the Word of God as Christ washes his Church with it and that involved him teaching her the Word and correcting her with the Word.
But we must not forget that husbands are to show grace and mercy to their wives as Christ shows grace and mercy to his church.
The duties of a husband to love his wife as his own body and thus protect and provide for his wife as Christ does his Church should be referenced as well.
In regard to the wife – even though it is extremely politically incorrect to do so – a great emphasis needs to be placed on her submission to him as her head and her reverence for her husband. The Scriptures teach this time and time again toward women and any Christian marriage vows that omit the requirements of submission, obedience and reverence of wives toward their husbands while speaking to the duties of a husband to love his wife as Christ loves the Church are telling half truths about Biblical marriage.
If you will not speak to the duty of the wife to submit to her husband in marriage your vows, then you cannot speak to the husbands love for his wife as Christ loves the Church either. These are two sides of the same coin.
And again as I said before regarding concise marriage vows even if you don’t mention it in your marriage vows – these things are all required by God in marriage. And with that being said below are is summary of everything we have discussed up to this point in regard to making Biblically based marriage vows.
7 Principles for Making Biblical Marriage Vows
- While all vows are not covenants, all covenants are vows. Marriage is based upon a vow or set of vows which together forms the covenant of marriage.
- The marriage covenant, like all other vows, should not be easily entered into it. It should only be done with contemplation and consideration before God.
- The Bible does not command that verbose marriage vows be made, nor does it require clergy to officiate, church authority or state authority in the form of marriage licenses. The only authority that may be required for a man and woman to enter the covenant of marriage together is that of the father of the bride if she is still young and living in her father’s house. However, even if only concise vows are made this does not free the couple from all the responsibilities, rights and purposes of marriage.
- If a couple chooses to make verbose vows, then these vows should only affirm the teachings of the Bible regarding the purposes and distinct duties of husbands and wives toward one another in marriage. Christian marriage vows cease to Biblical and binding when they add or take away from the rights, responsibilities and purposes of marriage as defined in the Bible.
- When making verbose marriage vows, the sin nature of both the groom and bride should be taken into account in the vows. That means words like “always” and “never” should be avoided. Instead words like “endeavor” or “try” should use when referencing the couple’s commitment to perform the duties of marriage toward one another.
- When making verbose vows, if you are going to add a phrase like “until death do us part” then great care needs to go into this. Unless you truly deny the Biblical allowances for divorce both in the Old and New Testament you need to add this to any statement about remaining together until death.
- When making verbose vows you should reference marriage being a model of the relationship of Christ and his Church. It is critical to mention not only Christ loving his Church and giving himself for her but also the submission of wives to the headship of their husbands as the Church is subject to Christ.
Examples of Biblical Marriage vows
Below are three examples I put together based on the principles we have discussed. The first example of concise vows we already mentioned but I will put it here again for reference.
Example Vows #1 – Concise Biblical Marriage Vows
I take you as my wife.
I take you as my husband.
Example Vows #2 – Moderately Verbose Biblical Marriage Vows
Below is what I would call a “moderately” verbose set of marriage vows that build on the principles we have discussed. Each set of vows below (one for the groom and one for the bride) are just under 200 words. Not too long, but definitely more expressive than the concise vows I showed in the first example.
I, [insert groom’s name], swear before God to enter into a covenant of marriage with you, [insert bride’s name] and by this covenant I take you as my wife.
I will endeavor to love you as Christ also loves his Church by leading you, giving myself up to wash you with the Word of God as well as showing grace and mercy towards you.
I will endeavor to love you as I love my own body by providing for you and protecting you and I will give my body to you in the marriage bed.
I will endeavor to dwell with you according to knowledge and honor you as my wife.
If you do not break our covenant of marriage I will remain by your side until death takes me.
On this day, I leave my father and my mother and cleave to you as my wife and we will no longer be two, but one flesh.
I, [insert bride’s name], swear before God to enter into a covenant of marriage with you, [insert groom’s name] and by this covenant give myself to you as your wife.
I will endeavor to reverence you as my head as Christ is the head of his Church.
I will endeavor to submit to you and obey you and as the Church is subject to Christ so too I will endeavor to make myself subject to you in everything.
I will endeavor to look well to the needs of our house and be the help meet and homemaker you need and that God has called me to be.
I will endeavor to love you and ravish you with my body in the marriage bed.
If you do not break our covenant of marriage I will remain by your side until death takes me.
Today I leave behind my own people and my father’s house and will become one flesh with you as my husband.
Example Vows #3 – Very Verbose Biblical Marriage vows
Below is a very verbose example of vows I have written. Again this is just an example and you could add or take away as you see fit as long as you are following the 7 principles we discussed. Also in this example set of vows I have included Scripture references next to most of the statements so you can further study those passages to see the principles of marriage that I am referencing.
Each of these sets of vows (one for the groom and one for the bride) are about a one page if you print them out. I have seen couples use one page vows they have written so I don’t think these are two long if you want to have more verbose vows.
I, [insert groom’s name], swear before God to enter into a covenant of marriage with you, [insert bride’s name] and by this covenant I take you as my wife. (Ezekiel 16:8)
Even though at this moment it is my heart’s desire to perfectly love you as your husband I know that because I am a sinner, like my forefathers before me, I cannot make such a pledge because God forbids me from making vows that I cannot keep. (Ecclesiastes 5:2-5)
I can only pledge to endeavor, to try as I surrender myself daily to God’s will for my life and as I lean on him for his grace and power to love you in my own imperfect way. (Romans 7:18-25)
I will endeavor to love you as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. (Ephesians 5:25)
I will endeavor to present you to Christ and myself as a glorious wife, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but to help you to be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:26)
I will endeavor to be gracious, compassionate and merciful toward you as God is gracious, compassionate and merciful toward his people. (Psalm 86:15)
I will endeavor to teach you the Word of God in our home and to be the spiritual interpreter of the Word to you that God calls me to be. (1 Corinthians 14:35)
In my endeavors to wash your spiritual spots, blemishes and wrinkles I will endeavor to rebuke and chasten you from a place of love for you. (Revelation 3:19)
I will endeavor to love you as I love my own body by providing for your physical needs and protecting you as I would my own body. (Ephesians 5:29)
I will endeavor to provide my body to you as a kindness that is due toward you. (I Corinthians 7:3)
I will endeavor to dwell with you according to knowledge, giving honor unto you as my wife and remembering that you and I are joint heirs of the grace of life. (I Peter 3:7)
As I end my vows of marriage to you I must acknowledge the possibility that in the same way I may sin against you in the future, you too may sin against me as well.
And while it is true that love covers a multitude of sins there are some sins a wife can commit which can break her marriage covenant with her husband. (1 Peter 4:8, Isaiah 50:1, Ezekiel 16:59, Jeremiah 3:8, Revelation 2 & 3)
It is for this reason that I must give to you a solemn warning like God gave to both Israel and his Churches regarding his covenant of marriage to them.
I swear before God to remain in this covenant of marriage with you for the remainder my life as long as you remain faithful to me. If you break this covenant by committing any type of fornication including defrauding me of your body or giving yourself to another or if you abandon me or seek to bring physical harm or death to me I reserve my right before God to end this covenant. (Matthew 19:9, I Corinthians 7:15, Exodus 21:26-27)
But I am hopeful of better things for us and I believe that in you I have found a good thing and also favor with God. I look forward to rejoicing with you and living joyfully with you for the remainder of our days together as the Lord wills. (Proverbs 5:18, Proverbs 18:22)
On this day, I leave my father and my mother and cleave to you as my wife and we will no longer be two, but one flesh. (Mark 10:7-8)
I, [insert bride’s name], swear before God to enter into a covenant of marriage with you, [insert groom’s name] and by this covenant give myself to you as your wife. (Ezekiel 16:8)
Even though at this moment it is my heart’s desire to perfectly submit to you and love you as your wife I know that because I am a sinner, like the women who came before me, I cannot make such a pledge because God forbids me from making vows that I cannot keep. (Ecclesiastes 5:2-5)
I can only pledge to endeavor, to try as I surrender myself daily to God’s will for my life and as I lean on him for his grace and power to submit to you and love you in my own imperfect way. (Romans 7:18-25)
I will endeavor to remember in my thoughts, words and actions that God made me for you and not you for me. (I Corinthians 11:9)
I will endeavor to remember that I am not my own, but that I belong to you as the Church belongs to Christ. (Acts 20:28)
I will endeavor to remember that I am not your equal any more than the Church is Christ’s equal but rather I will reverence you as my head in the same way the Church is to reverence Christ as its head. (Ephesians 5:23 & 33)
I will endeavor to submit to you as I do unto the Lord and make myself subject to you in everything as the Church is subject to Christ. (Ephesians 5:22-24)
I will endeavor to obey you as Sara obeyed Abraham calling him Lord. (I Peter 3:6)
I will endeavor to meet your desire for me to make myself beautiful as God desires the beauty of his people not only through my outward appearance but also by having a gentle and quiet spirit. (Psalm 45:11, I Peter 3:3-4)
I will endeavor to satisfy you with my body and ravish you with my love. (Proverbs 5:19, Titus 2:4)
I will endeavor to be the homemaker God has called me to be and look well to the ways of our household. (Proverbs 31:27, Titus 2:5, 1 Timothy 5:14)
I will endeavor to submit to and seek out your guidance as my spiritual head in all matters of life and living including marriage and family issues. (1 Corinthians 14:35)
I will endeavor to share my advice with you not in a contentious or angry way, but rather with discretion, kindness and reverence. (Proverbs 9:13, Proverbs 11:22, Proverbs 21:19, Proverbs 31:26, I Peter 3:1-2)
I will endeavor to not shame you either with my words or actions but rather I will endeavor to be your crown and glory. (Proverbs 12:4)
As I end my vows of marriage to you I must acknowledge the possibility that in the same way I may sin against you in the future, you too may sin against me as well.
And while it is true that love covers a multitude of sins there are some sins a husband can commit which can break his marriage covenant with his wife.
It is with these sins in mind that I swear before God to remain in this covenant of marriage with you for the remainder of my life as long as you do not break the covenant of marriage you make with me today. As a wife I reserve the right given me by God to consider myself freed from our marriage covenant if you defraud me by willfully refusing to provide me with food, clothing and your body in the marriage bed or if you seek to bring physical harm or death to me. Also, if you abandon me either by divorcing me or by some other means I will no longer consider myself bound to this marriage covenant I make today with you. (Exodus 21:10-11 & 26-27, Deuteronomy 24:1-2, Romans 7:2-3, I Corinthians 7:15)
But I am hopeful of better things for us and I look forward to rejoicing with you and living joyfully with you for the remainder of our days together as the Lord wills. (Proverbs 5:18, Proverbs 18:22)
Today I leave behind my own people and my father’s house and will become one flesh with you as my husband. (Psalm 45:10, Mark 10:7-8)