Common themes in Bible readings

Written by    Last updated: June 6, 2006

Thinking about the message you want to convey can help you decide on the right reading for your church wedding ceremony

Choosing your theme

With the huge amount of material available, selecting the right verses for your wedding can seem to be quite a challenge.

The good news is that despite the wide selection three clear themes emerge:

  • Marriage blessed by God
  • Love is all you need
  • Hints for a happy life

Below are a few pointers and examples from each of these themes to help make your choice easier.

Marriage blessed by God

As you might expect, the most common readings chosen are the basic texts from both Old and New Testaments which talk about marriage as being willed and blessed by God. Take, for instance, the passage from the creation story in Genesis, where God creates man:

So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘be fruitful and increase…’

(Genesis: 1:27, New English Bible)

Jesus himself quotes another passage from Genesis to make clear his own belief in marriage as a lifelong commitment:

Some Pharisees approached him, and to test him they said, ‘Is it against the Law for a man to divorce his wife on any pretext whatsoever?’ He answered ‘Have you not read that the creator from the beginning made them male and female and that he said: that is why a man must leave his father and mother, and cling to his wife, and the two become one body? They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.’

(Mathew 19:3‐6, Jerusalem Bible)

Love is all you need

Other popular choices come from the wealth of texts offering insight into the nature of love itself. Top of the pops here has long been the famous ‘Hymn to Love’ from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, chapter thirteen. Many will remember Tony Blair reading it at Princess Diana’s funeral.

Less well‐known, though equally uplifting, are various passages about love from St John’s Gospel and his letters:

Jesus said: ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete. This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. A man can have no greater love, than to lay down his life for his friends.

(John 15:9‐13)

Some might object that the love in question is divine love and not the human, passionate love which is being celebrated in marriage. But if anyone says this to you, you can remind them that for believers, the whole point of the marriage ceremony is that human love is made holy and raised to the divine level.

And just to prove that God does not disapprove of human love, the Bible contains a whole book of passionate love poetry, the ‘Song of Songs’. It is little known and rarely chosen and, by today’s standards, seems rather quaint, yet for the fifth century BC, its verses have an unashamedly erotic ring:

Arise, my love, my fair one come away. O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is comely… My beloved is mine and I am his…Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it…

(‘Song of Songs’ 2:13‐14,16; 8:6‐7 Revised Standard Version).

Hints for a happy life

There’s plenty of advice in the Bible about making your marriage a successful one, and no lack of texts on the moral obligations of marriage either.

Of course, the ways in which the biblical writers thought centuries ago may now seem rather outdated. Saint Paul, for instance, is often accused of male chauvinism, and his advice to the early Christians of Ephesus seems to bear this out:

Give way to one another in obedience to Christ. Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord, since as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife; and as the Church submits to Christ, so should wives to their husbands, in everything.

(Ephesians 5:21‐24)

In fact, modern commentators claim that what St Paul really means is that husband and wife should give way to one another and, indeed, Paul goes on to say that the husband ‘must love his wife as he loves himself’ and sacrifice himself for her.

Although few feminists will be satisfied by this answer, a surprisingly large number of women still choose this text, so some, at least, are convinced. Indeed, Eastern Orthodox couples have no choice in the matter, as in their tradition it remains one of the two obligatory texts in the marriage service.

If you are looking for something less politically incorrect, however, try the following:

You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful.

(Colossians 3:12‐15)

So whatever you’re looking for, the Bible is a sufficiently vast resource to find something to suit you. Remember that your priest or minister will be happy to help you, and if you’re not very religious yourselves, don’t hesitate to ask family or friends who may be more familiar with the book.

Lastly, if you wish to go for a text outside of the ones suggested to you, stick with your choice: don’t forget that it is your ceremony and the most important thing is that the readings you choose are right for you.

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