Marriage in the Bible

How was marriage portrayed in the bible? Particularly the Old Testament

In the evangelical circles I was a part of I would often hear that g-d has a “clear plan” for marriage. This was portrayed as being biblically set out as between one man and one woman. The version I was taught that this was laid out from genesis onward.

However, the church has not always had such strict views on marriage or even have such a strong role in marriages. I think this particular article by the Washington Post does a good job of explaining the history of marriage in the church.

The church did not always hold the view that a priest or minister had to perform the ceremony.

“Until the 12th century the church held that a marriage was valid if entered into by mutual consent, with or without a witness or the blessing of a priest, and was then sealed by sexual intercourse.”

Washington Post

And it wasn’t until the Council of Trent in 1563 that marriage was made to be a holy decree by the catholic church.

“In the decrees on marriage (twenty-fourth session) the excellence of the celibate state was reaffirmed, concubinage condemned and the validity of marriage made dependent upon the wedding taking place before a priest and two witnesses.”

Council of Trent – Wikipedia

This is what we would now consider to be a traditional marriage ceremony. Bride and groom saying their vows before a priest, and at least two witnesses.

I point out this history to make the point that the church has not always been consistent in their view on marriage. And at one time in history the church very little to do with marriage. Marriage was merely two people deciding to live together. This may have included a religious ceremony or not at all.

Most evangelical teachers and preachers will also add in the requirement that marriage is between one man and one woman. That the partners abstain from sex until marriage, and remain sexual exclusive to each other.. Also that divorce or separation is only permissible on the the grounds of abuse or sexual immorality.

However the bible itself doesn’t follow these guidelines.

Many people within the bible had relationships that would not fit within a traditional “biblical” marriage. With many people in the bible having multiple wives and often having sexual relations with their wives’ servants. Read about Abraham or Jacob they are both perfect examples of this. Jacob had two wives and on top of that he had four sons with two of his wives’ servants.

I will also quote two verses that speak of how a Hebrew man was required to have sex with his brother’s widow if his brother were to die. With the intent to have a child to carry on his brother’s name. This concept is known as levirate marriage. This passage does not excuse a married man from this duty.

If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.

Deuteronomy 25:5-6

It has been also proposed that Ruth when mentioned in the old testament did much more than just uncover Boaz’s feet. Feet in the original Hebrew could also be interpreted as a euphemism for genitals. Implying that Ruth undressed Boaz and that the two of them had sex together before they were married.

Another book of the bible that mentions sex and marriage is the book of Esther. If one is honest about the whole book, Esther is trained as a concubine for the King. And her performance for him was more than likely a sexual one to “gain his favor.” Although it is mentioned she is made queen, marriage is never once mentioned in the book; and it is more than likely that the king had more than one “marriage.”

My point is that the bible isn’t as consistent in it’s delivery or message as many people would have you to believe. There are many different opinions and ideas expressed in the bible from many different authors. This inconsistency also applies to marriage as well.

Moving to a bit of a darker tone – I would like to point out the times that the bible clearly advocates for marriages against the will of the woman involved.

Multiple times women within the old testament were raped and forced into a marriage (per g-d’s orders.) See the verse quoted below.

If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.

Deuteronomy 22: 28-29

So if you are reading this in a literal light, the direct command is that a woman must marry her rapist. Oh and of course pay her father her dowry first. The women has literally no say in this arrangement.

There were also multiple instances in the bible where men from Israel raided a surrounding nation, killed the men, and took the virgin women as wives.

 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

Numbers 31: 17-18

As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies.

Deuteronomy 20:14

Capture and forced marriage of women was also done within the nation of Israel with at least one instance recorded. When the tribe of Benjamin looks to be without any marriable women after a devastating civil war, permission is given for them to kidnap brides for two hundred of their men.

 So they instructed the Benjamites, saying, “Go and hide in the vineyards and watch. When the young women of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, rush from the vineyards and each of you seize one of them to be your wife. Then return to the land of Benjamin. When their fathers or brothers complain to us, we will say to them, ‘Do us the favor of helping them, because we did not get wives for them during the war. You will not be guilty of breaking your oath because you did not give your daughters to them.’” So that is what the Benjamites did. While the young women were dancing, each man caught one and carried her off to be his wife. Then they returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the towns and settled in them.

Judge 21: 20-23

I just want to demonstrate how the bible is not completely consistent on the idea of marriage. If it were written as evangelicals claim it was then these inconsistencies would have been condemned by g-d. And even if you can smooth away these problems you still have to confront the fact that the people of Israel felt that g-d gave the okay to kidnap, rape, and then marry women in surrounding tribes and people groups.

Let me be blunt; the concept of marriage is a societal thing. To elevate it to some high level, or a trophy to be won for keeping yourself pure is horribly misguided. G-d did not “create marriage.” (change this?)

I’m not trying to tear down the idea of marriage. My only intention here is to try to combat the belief that it was g-d himself that set up marriage, and that we are to follow g-d’s rules regarding marriage. The bible does not lay out a consistent mentality or a list of rules for anyone to follow regarding marriage.

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