When a man and a woman marry, they begin a new existence as a unit, and this concept finds its origin in the Bible with the first man and woman. The God who created mankind also created marriage, and it is to Him we must look for guiding principles in our wedding vows. While the traditional wedding/marriage vows are not specifically found in the Bible, they are based on solid biblical principles. A marriage is, by definition, a joining of two into one (Genesis 2:24). And that joining involves union, love, honor, and submission. Christian wedding/marriage vows should first reflect these biblical principles.
Genesis 2:24 gives the very first principle—union. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” This union was designed to be for life, and Jesus said no man is to separate what God has joined (Mark 10:9). Despite any cultural trends to the contrary, God’s plan is for one man and one woman to be joined in marriage until death separates them (Romans 7:2).
The second principle is love. While Western cultures usually see love as the foundation and purpose of marriage, the Bible takes a different approach. Ephesians 5:25 commands “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This is not the emotional, romantic love that we usually associate with marriage, but a self-sacrificing, giving love that seeks the protection and best interests of someone else. When a man loves his wife in this way, she will be delighted to stay with him for the rest of her life.
The third principle, honor, is also directed at husbands. “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7). This honor is closely related to the love we just spoke of. When the husband sees his wife as a precious treasure that should be carefully protected, he will give her the honor she needs.
The fourth principle is directed primarily at wives. Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” This is coupled with respect in Ephesians 5:33. This submission and respect are in conjunction with the love and honor that the husband shows his wife. As the wife submits to and respects her husband, she recognizes that God has set the man as the head of the home (Ephesians 5:23). Just as the wife is to submit to her husband, he is to submit to God (1 Corinthians 11:3).
The use of the word vow sometimes causes confusion when considering Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:33–37, where Jesus teaches that the practice of making certain oaths is “from the evil one.” However, in that context, Christ is speaking of spontaneous oaths—a somewhat different use of the word vow—and not carefully considered promises. Wedding vows are not in the same category as telling someone, “I swear on my life” or “cross my heart, hope to die.” Jesus condemned casual promises, not wedding vows.
There are other things that can be included in wedding vows, but these four foundations—union, love, honor, and submission—should form the nucleus of biblical wedding vows. Those who take these vows acknowledge God as sovereign in the lives of His people and submit to His plan as being the way for blessing and success. The traditional forms of wedding vows address each of these principles and can serve as good guides in writing personal vows. Marriage is a picture of Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:32), and when the vows address both the physical and spiritual dimensions, God can be glorified in the ceremony.