Thinking about the word “marriage”

With Friday’s ruling from the US Supreme Court that made same-sex marriage the law of the land there has been a lot of blowback, with a lot of it saying they were either changing the definition of the word “marriage,” something that’s been with us since time began, and/or saying the Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman. Except as I heard the ongoing coverage this morning it got  me to wondering about the etymology of the word “marriage.” And the more I look into it the more I realize that some of the claims about that word simply don’t hold water.

(Updated at 1350 ET to include the sources I used to write this, as I meant to do before I published it.)

Please note: I’m not looking at whether same-sex marriage is right or wrong. That’s a rabbit hole that I’m staying away from because of the passion on either side of the debate. I’m looking at the word itself and I hope we can have an adult, rational discussion on that level.When I got online today I fired up my browser and did a search on DuckDuckGo (DDG) for “etymology of the word marriage.” For those who aren’t familiar with that search engine I use it because unlike Google and many of the other big search engines DDG makes a point of not tracking you or filtering your results based on what you’ve looked for or at in the past.  The results for a search on DDG will be the same as the ones you get for the same search, and it will be the same regardless of who runs a given search.

Getting back to the etymology, it comes from a Middle English word mariage, which first shows up in the late 13th century. Going backward we find the 12 century Old French word marier, meaning to marry, and going back even further we find an 11th century Latin word maritatus, the past participle of maritatre “to wed, marry, give in marriage.” (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary.)

Looking a little farther refers to marriage as the union of a man and a woman going back to the 12th century, and Wikipedia concurs on that, but I have to wonder if this is because people either hadn’t considered love between members of the same sex or if they were so looked down upon that anyone who had feelings for someone of the same sex simply kept it to themselves. Of course, language is a living thing and just because something meant one thing in the 12th century doesn’t mean it’s going to mean something different in the 21st century. After all, the word “awful” used to mean wonderful and delightful, something that inspired awe in a person, and now if you’re referred to as being “awful” you’d have every right to be insulted.

Let’s look at the other side of the word marriage, the religious use. People love to go to Genesis 2:24 to insist that marriage is only for men and women, but if you look up that passage you won’t find the word in there. Let’s go to the Bible Gateway and see how the verse reads in several different translations of the Bible.

  • King James Version (KJV):24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
  • New International Version (NIV):

    24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

    25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

  • Contemporary English Version (CEV):

    24 That’s why a man will leave his own father and mother. He marries a woman, and the two of them become like one person.

    25 Although the man and his wife were both naked, they were not ashamed.

  • The Living Bible (TLB):24 This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife in such a way that the two become one person.[a] 25 Now although the man and his wife were both naked, neither of them was embarrassed or ashamed.


    1. Genesis 2:24 become one person, literally, “become one flesh.”


  • The Message (MSG):

    23-25     The Man said,
    “Finally! Bone of my bone,
        flesh of my flesh!
    Name her Woman
        for she was made from Man.”
        Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife. They become one flesh.
        The two of them, the Man and his Wife, were naked, but they felt no shame.

  • Revised Standard version Catholic Edition (RSVCE):

    24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

I could keep going but I think I’ve made my point. The word “marriage” doesn’t show up although man and woman/husband and wife does. Some will say that “marriage” is implied, but if you’re going to hang your argument on the presence of a word you may want to make sure the word is where you think it is.

Please also keep in mind that the various versions of the Bible that are used in churches around the world are translations, meaning they were translated by learned men (and women?) from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. They’re translating the original text into a language that people understand when the translations are made, and that means words used in one version will be replaced with different words in another version.

Do I think “man and wife” will ever be replaced by something to refer to two men or two women? No, I don’t, but I’d like to suggest that one thing be kept in mind: God calls His people to love one another. When he came across the woman caught in adultery he didn’t judge her, he told the religious people to throw their stones only if they were without sin and he told the woman “go and sin no more.” It’s God’s job to judge them, not yours. Your job is to show them God’s love and make them want to get to know the God you serve. If you do your job He’ll get the chance to make them more like Him, but if you don’t they’ll stand before Him one day and wonder why nobody ever told them why they should get to know Him.

What do you think? The comment section is open and I’m looking forward to hearing what you think.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.