This question comes up every now and then. Some want to know about the wedding ceremony itself and others want to know if a ceremony is even necessary. I’ll attempt to address both.
It should be understood from the start that the Bible gives no clear instructions on wedding ceremonies. Most of the customs we read about were merely cultural and not by commandment of God.
However, there are governing principles contained in scripture that would be helpful to us. At the same time, the emphasis is always on the marriage itself rather than the wedding ceremony.
Before the wedding
First, let’s consider some of the ancient customs that were practiced prior to the actual wedding. Marriages were very much a family affair, starting with the initial arrangement.
The first step in marriage was generally taken by the future groom’s parents. For instance, Isaac was forty years old and still his father sent a servant out to find him a wife (Genesis 24).
The servant was given strict instructions to find a woman who was not a Canaanite and was willing to leave her home and dwell in the land God had given them. Typically, the bride would come to live near the groom’s family rather than the other way around.
He then made the final arrangements with the would-be bride’s family who had to consent to the marriage. Finally, the agreement was sealed by a gift being given to the bride and her family.
For the most part, this is how marriages among God’s people were done. There are exceptions such as in the case of Jacob and Esau who both chose their own wives. It should be noted that Esau’s bride of choice caused his parents much grief (Gen. 26:34-35).
Today in Western culture, most people find their own spouses, of course. I see no harm in that practice so long as we understand a couple of very fundamental principles.
The first is that love is not a fleeting emotion as Hollywood depicts. According to the Bible, love is a choice we make to sacrifice for others, regardless of the present circumstances (John 15:13).
Therefore, choosing a spouse should be a rational decision which overlooks emotion to consider more important things like shared values, morals, faith, and a general understanding of marriage.
The second is that family approval does matter. While a man leaves his father and mother to marry (Gen. 2:24), he still has an obligation to honor his father and mother (Eph. 6:1-3).
Wedding ceremony customs
As for wedding ceremonies, you may wonder if a ceremony is even necessary. When exactly does God consider a couple married?
The answer to this question may be difficult for some. In my experience, some people won’t accept any practice that is not explicitly commanded by God. Others find biblical examples to be sufficient. For the most part, I fall into the latter group.
There is no commandment concerning wedding ceremonies. However, the biblical pattern is that marriages always begin with some kind of ceremony or wedding. The most notable would be that of Jesus Christ and his bride (Rev. 19:7-9).
Wedding traditions have evolved over the course of time. The biggest change is probably the emphasis we now place on the bride as opposed to the groom.
The groom learns early in the process of planning the wedding that the wedding day is the bride’s day. After all, she’ll be the one that causes everyone in the room to stand when she enters.
Following the example of the Lord’s marriage to the church, it was once the groom which received the greatest attention. That makes sense given he will become the head of the wife (Eph. 6:23).
Even so, it was always the bride who adorned herself with precious jewels and beautiful clothing much like today (Ps. 45:13-15).
Both the bride and groom would have attendants to serve them through proceedings (Judg. 14:11). Generally, the groomsmen and bridesmaids, as we call them today, were still unmarried.
Last but not least, the wedding feast is perhaps the most mentioned custom throughout the Bible. Most of the time, it was the bride’s family that hosted the feast. But there were some exceptions.
The wedding feast was essentially the reception and honeymoon rolled into one. I have read where the celebration would continue for days with both the bride and groom’s families present.
Keep it God-honoring
It would seem that the fundamental elements of wedding ceremonies have not changed all that much. But allow me to add one additional note. Marriage is a sacred, God-ordained covenant. I strongly believe a wedding ceremony should reflect that.
Frankly, it is disturbing to me how sacrilegious some weddings can be even among believers. I have seen far more weddings where the ceremony itself was kept in good taste, but all bets were off when it came time for the wedding reception.
The wedding should be a time of joyful celebration. But it should never dishonor God in its rituals or activities. If the wedding truly is the beginning of a marriage, should it not possess the same qualities and values as what you desire for the marriage itself?