At what point is a couple married? After looking through the bible, and having talked with many people, I'm not sure I know. Everyone says that it's when you get your license, but certainly marriage existed before there was government! Adam and Eve? Isaac and Rebekah [Genesis 24:67 couldn't be more vague]? Even Mary and Joseph -- they were betrothed, and yet Joseph was considering a divorce before marriage? I hear that Jews considered betrothal the same as marriage? What is the Bible answer? (By the way, I am getting married! In two weeks we have the ceremony!) -- Peter Markowski

Dear newly married brother: What does it matter now, since you are married?! Anyway, congratulations. Here is what I teach: We are married when the law says we are married. Not that the law can contradict God's word, as by saying a man can marry another man, or a cow. (Yes, I remember shortly after I first moved to England reading about a vicar who performed a ceremony "marrying" a farmer to his favorite cow. Ugh!) I realize that laws and customs change, yet you are right: the Bible does not specify the actual point of crossing over from being single to being married.

You were married once it was legal -- probably once you or somebody else signed a certain document. Sometimes I meet people who claim to be married "in their hearts" or perhaps according to some traditional custom. But they are unable to secure any documents attesting to that fact. They cannot get passports in their new (married) names. That means they aren't really married.

In Jewish law in the first century, a betrothal was such a binding agreement that this engagement could only be dissolved in divorce. How different to the loose mores of our day! It was not marriage, or the same as marriage; it was a binding engagement. If it had been marriage, then the scandal of Mary's pregnancy would never have occurred.