I realize I’ve spent a lot of time on what Christian marriage and sexual morality is not. In the interest of balance I will make a point of expressing the positive definition of marriage and Christian sexuality. This is a much more difficult task since essentially the position of the Bible is “anything not prohibited is implicitly encouraged and in some cases commanded.”

The best place to start is with the traditional Christian marriage vows. Bear in mind that marriage is validated by scripture in such a way that all marriages between a man and a woman regardless of the religion or lack there of involved in the ceremony, including common law marriages are given equal weight by the scripture. Even the lack of ceremony is no bar to marriage. Simply purporting to be married before witnesses and the community at large constitutes a valid marriage by Biblical standards as long as 1) the parties to the marriage genuinely intend to be married, and 2) the parties to the marriage are legitimately marriageable by Biblical standard. That said, marriage is hard enough to live up to without complicating things with unclear expectations and a lack of initiation.

In order to aid in commitment among other reasons the church has traditional religious ceremonies that provide a point of initiation. This clearly defined point of demarcation and public oath of marriage helps to reinforce the serious nature of marriage for the sincere believer. It provides a context for a crisis event that reinforces the objective reality of being married.

What I’ve done following is take traditional vows which are derived as an expression of Biblical standards for living married as a Christian couple and look at the legal and spiritual implications of the oaths we call vows. They are in fact Vows before god and man, but constitute a verbal contract in the form of oaths publicly sworn.

The particular formula I chose to analyze was as follows:

First the husband

I N.N. take you N.N. to be my holy wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till in death we do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and in this intent I pledge my oath to you.

Then the wife

I N. take you to be my holy wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish and to obey, forsaking all other lovers, till we do part in death, according to God’s holy ordinance; and in this intent I pledge my oath to you.

Breaking it down the husband’s vows read something like this.

The Husband’s Vow

I N.N. take you N.N. to be my holy wedded wife,

Holy wedded wife indicates both that the act of marriage is a religious rather than civil observance and that the office of wife is a religious office to which a woman is ordained.

to have and to hold,

In old English have is a term that is richer in meaning than the way it is used in modern parlance. To have is not to merely possess in the simple sense of custody, but to thoroughly control all aspects and features which can be possessed and to have the right of determination and consumption of all features and produce. To have a wife is to possess her sexually, to command her respect for your position if not your person, and to determine the course of her life.

Holding is also very different from when the vows were first composed. A holder is one who has taken a property which belongs to another and is empowered as steward. But more than than holding includes developing natural resources, grooming and developing. In the sense it was intended, to hold a wife is to take possession of her with the intention of grooming her into a finer person and to hold the title to her as a grant of authority from her true owners, namely she herself and God almighty.

Legally this entails the agreement to guide, instruct, and discipline the wife in every aspect of person and personality, taking personal responsibility for her wellbeing and provision. It also entails the grant of power of attorney and medical power of attorney simultaneously and anatomical gifting in toto of a mans person and living tissues, in the interest of meeting the needs of his wife.

from this day forward,

Obviously demonstrates that the title of husband is being conferred effective immediately.

for better or worse,

This is the most misunderstood part. In this context it surely means that the title remains effective even when the husband is ineffective and fails to succeed in his appointed task. This includes criminal conviction, incarceration or legal obligation of the wife, or any other failure. The vow is inviolate.

for richer or poorer,

Whether the marriage leads to, or through times of wealth or poverty, the marriage itself is inviolate. Poverty is no grounds for divorce and a man who leaves his wife because of poverty violates his oath of office and breaks a vow to God. Scripture clearly indicates that breaking a vow instigates a curse from God himself.

in sickness and in health,

Again sickness of your spouse is no nullification of obligation and no divorce on grounds of mental or physical illness is valid.

to love and to cherish,

This is fascinating in many ways. Love is ill defined in any language and for any culture. 1 Corinthians 4 defines it as patient, kind, generous, modest, proprietary, unselfish, even tempered, trusting, compassionate, committed to truth, accepting, accepting, hopeful, durable and permanently reliable. Even still this is just a pale inadequate definition.

To cherish is to place not only affection but inherent value in the object of that affection. To cherish a woman is to see her as an object of fine value and yet to hold tender affection for her as a person.

Combined these to elements of the vow rob the draconian teeth from what has come before. They provide the checks and balances to the great power which a woman confirms in her husband by taking this vow. This juxtaposition of guiding authority and doting lover provides a synthesis that truly meets the needs of a woman and leads her to health and stability that she craves.

till in death we do part,

The vow is both the confirmation of an ordinance and holy order of the church, but also a contract or covenant between the spouses. As such each spouse is party to that contract. The grants of authority and personal power given to the Husband are stringent and the degree of submission and surrender of self determination give the wife the right to expect some guarantee that the value of her service and labor will not be rendered for its numismatic value and then discarded to the exclusive benefit of the husband. In this interest the duration of the agreement is until one or both parties to he agreement are deceased. If any term is violated, except sexual activity with any person other than the husband’s own wife, the power to discipline the husband is sufficient to cover the breach and retain the contract intact. In the case of infidelity by the husband, it is recommended that discipline be the only measure taken to adjust the quid pro quo nature of the contract, however dissolution is a much discouraged option.

according to God’s holy ordinance; and in this intent I pledge my oath to you.

This term establishes the bible both old and new testament as the legal and religious context for interpretation of the vow and resolution of disputes.

The Wife’s Vow

I N. take you to be my holy wedded husband,

The word husband is the English term that really means executive gardener or breeder, steward and landscape architect. The formula again indicates this is a holy order and office confirmed in the wedding ceremony.

to have and to hold,

Again we have the old usage of the word have indicating possession, control and consumption. However having just expressed the intention of setting that possession as a husband overseeing herself the effect of having is somewhat modified. The best analogy is the horse groom and rider. Horses are powerful and deadly beasts, yet with proper treatment and respect they offer loyal and reliable service. A justifiable respect for the danger combined with gentle guidance leads to a mutually satisfying relationship. The horse carries the rider and bears burdens for the rider in exchange for care, and respect. To have a husband is to embrace him sexually, to command her respect for your position if not your person, and to gently guide him in the direction that will meet you own needs while allowing him to have his way and expend his energies in meeting those needs as well as his own with varied cadence and ever changing intensity.

Again title is held at the sufferance of the true owners meaning God and the husband himself.

Legally this entails the agreement to be guided, instructed, and disciplined by the husband in every aspect of person and personality. It also entails the grant of power of attorney and medical power of attorney simultaneously and anatomical gifting in toto of a woman’s person and living tissues, in the interest of meeting her husband’s needs and desires.

from this day forward,

This is a reciprocal announcement that the agreement carries forward immediately from the moment it is made.

for better or worse,

Again no change in fortunes, legal status or degree of success or failure is sufficient to terminate the agreement.

for richer or poorer,

Financial status cannot affect the agreement.

in sickness and in health,

Mental, or physical health and wholeness in no way affect the durability of the agreement.

to love, cherish and to obey,

Love is a balance to the intent to guide. By making himself responsible and emotionally vulnerable a man is in real danger of damage from his wife. Genuine love will temper her response limiting her from emotional abuse and mental cruelty, or infidelity which can crush the psyche and soul of a man.

forsaking all other lovers,

Obviously this set exclusive monogamy as a term of the agreement. The penalty of failure to meet this condition is flexible and at the discretion of the husband. Valid penalties being disciplinary action or in extreme conditions termination of the agreement.

till we do part in death,

The demands of vowing to take such a high degree of responsibility for another person, combined with the emotional vulnerability and drain of vowing to cherish and love, makes the marriage a great commitment for a man. No man can lightly provide these things and having invested so great an amount of himself he is entitled to a guarantee that this investment will not be torn away, rendered for its numismatic value and then discarded. In this interest the Vow is for the duration that both parties to the agreement live. This vow is a verbal contract and the term of duration is until one or both parties is diseased. If any term except exclusivity (forsaking all other lovers) is violated the power to discipline the wife is sufficient to cover the breach and retain the contract intact. In the case of breach it is recommended that discipline be the only measure taken to adjust the quid pro quo nature of the contract, however dissolution is a much discouraged option.

according to God’s holy ordinance; and in this intent I pledge my oath to you.

This term establishes the bible both old and new testament as the legal and religious context for interpretation of the vow and resolution of disputes.

The vows themselves are both contract and covenant, and like the covenant between God and man they express a contractual obligation. But they also define a healthy and rewarding relationship that brings joy and reward to both parties. It is my prayerful hope that this discussion helps you to grow in your faith and in right relationship with your own spouse or prospective spouse.

in his service

Fred

Written on July 1st, 2007 , Musings Tags: , ,

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Dear Timothy,