I decided to go straight to the archives and review this topic of how to get married according to scripture again. I’ve had much fun debating some of you all throughout this week, but with today being Friday, I thought I’d keep things light for everybody. This post isn’t intended to assert a definitive conclusion that all Christians should believe and practice, rather, it’s just my own subjective analysis I offer for your pondering. Just to warn you, this is going to be a very long post, so make sure you have the time to read it all. Enjoy!
So if we’re all familiar with the story in Genesis, after creating the world, God created man, and then he decided to create a helper for him in woman. (Gen 2:22-24) “22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” 24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” It’s interesting that there’s no detailed instruction here as to exactly how a man leaves his father and mother, and be joined with some woman out there as his wife. It just describes what should happen. So as always, when we’re unsure about something, we have to look through more Scripture to help explain things more.
Observing the next occasion a man has a wife, we’re still left with not enough information. It was when Cain went out from the presence of the Lord after being punished for his sin, and the Scripture simply states he settled in a land, and somewhat out of nowhere had relations with a wife (Gen 4:15-16). No explanation of how, we only know somehow it just happens. The pattern continues along through Genesis with Noah and his sons being described as having wives, but it does not explain again how it occurred for them. Now (Gen 11:29) is interesting, because it states that Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves. Now I looked at the original Hebrew translation from that word took, and it basically means what it says, to take or to get essentially. They took wives for themselves, but no detail as to how, it just simply puts that they did it.
You’ll find the phrase take or took a wife a lot in the Old Testament, but there are interesting things to note when Isaac gets Rebekah as a wife in (Gen 24), and what happens when it was Jacob’s turn to get a wife in (Gen 29).
Issac and Rebekah
So the servant of Abraham went out upon Abraham’s wishes to go find Isaac a wife. Long story short, he finds Rebekah drawing water, he looks at her, she’s beautiful, takes bracelets off of her and asks her whose family she’s from, she says who, and he knows that she’s the one that he prayed to God for success in finding. Now the interesting thing up to this point we hadn’t discussed is whether a woman has a say in all of this becoming a husband and wife business.
It appears we see our first choice made by a woman, when Rebekah makes the choice to go be the master’s son’s wife. It also seems to indicate that she had the choice to say no when the men said to Abraham’s servant asking to go on his way with her, that they would consult her wishes first. Genesis 24:57-58 states, “57 And they said, “We will call the girl and consult her wishes.” 58 Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.” A footnote of that phrase “consult her wishes” notes that it literally means, “ask her mouth”. Jokes aside, that’s what I found interesting to note there, but however again, it was almost immediate as soon as Rebekah met Isaac that they became husband and wife after he took her into his mother’s tent. No weddings interestingly enough.
Jacob and Rachel
Now let’s review when Jacob gets a wife. So to describe this briefly, Jacob saw Rachel coming with Laban’s sheep, he rolled the stone, watered the sheep, kissed Rachel, and then lifted his voice and wept. Then he offered to Laban service for seven years in order to get Rachel as his wife. Though things got a little complicated with the little switcharoo Laban pulled on Jacob with him waking up and finding out that he was given Leah and not Rachel. I don’t know why, but I find the whole incident pretty hilarious. After another week passed he did eventually have Rachel as his wife. So it’s interesting that we encounter another detailed account as to how a man and a woman became husband and wife in scripture, but it’s very odd comparing that to our modern-day system. Other than the rolling of the stone and the watering that he apparently did for Rachel, and then kissing her, there really didn’t appear to be a time period of courting or dating between the two. However, we can acknowledge that they did have an encounter with each other before they became husband and wife.
Speaking of becoming husband and wife, if there were no weddings or court documents, you might be wondering when and how it was made official. I would suggest to you from the following verses that perhaps two people are not officially married until they’ve consummated, or to put it plainly, until they’ve had sex. Genesis 29:23-26 states, “23 Now in the evening he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her. 24 Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. 25 So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?” 26 But Laban said, “It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn.”
Beyond that suggestion, Jacob just did his work, and evidently he already knew he loved her because he said the work just felt like a few days to him, which would again seem odd to our modern ways, given that he really didn’t seem to spend that much time with her. Although if you consider what love is according to the descriptions you find of love in the Scripture and the meaning of the Greek translation of the word love which is agape, this would actually make a lot of sense. Love is less grounded as a sentimental affectionate connection, and more so as a choice and desire of exhibiting goodwill towards someone. So you could say what it really means when Jacob says he already loved her, was that he already wanted to exhibit goodwill to her.
Continuing through the scripture
So, where do we go from here? Well, let’s continue through the scripture. The Old Testament interestingly expressed a lot of commands about men getting with wives during that time. It mentioned specifically regulations for what kind of women men could take as wives. A man couldn’t take his father’s wife (Deut 22:30), and it also alludes to fathers giving away their daughter to men as a wife similar to how it occurred for Jacob (Deut 22:16).
But throughout the Old Testament the pattern essentially continues where you will either find A. no specific information as to how a particular male Biblical character got together with their wife, or B. which is the only information we have of how any male Biblical character ever got a wife was by choosing to decide to take one or having a servant go get one for him, but also evident by Rebekah, it seems that the woman could have the choice not to marry a suitor. This is putting all of the facts we discover from Scripture together, and not just picking and choosing whatever specific verses we want to believe. Now we’ll see with the story of Ruth and Boaz, there possibly is another apparent theme we’re finding. A possible prevailing theme is a man and a woman encountering each other for a time period before they become husband and wife.
Ruth and Boaz
So Ruth was told by Naomi to wash herself, dress really nice, go to Boaz when he’s done eating and drinking and lies down, then uncover and lie by his feet, because Naomi wanted security and things to be well for Ruth. Perhaps this could indicate a woman actively making herself visible and available to be taken by a man, just as Rachel was found by a well drawing water. So Ruth did it, he asked who she was, she said she was his maid; he was pleased and said may she be blessed for not going after a younger man. Long story short, Boaz decided to be the one to buy the field of Naomi’s hand, acquiring Ruth as his wife, rising up the name of the deceased on his inheritance.
Commitment over compatibility?
It’s all in (Ruth 3 and Ruth 4). So we’ve seen a pattern through the last couple of stories of at least some kind of encounter between a man and his eventual wife, but however, it would seem to be a stretch to call these encounters dating or a long courtship, because these encounters all appeared to be very brief before these men and women became husband and wife. I think a thought one should consider in light of this evidence, is whether this is primarily emphasizing commitment over compatibility. If it were the case that compatibility was a primary aspect in a man and a woman becoming husband and wife, wouldn’t Scripture have shown these people spending more time together? Just a thought to ponder as we continue along.
Other details in the Old Testament
In (1 Sam 25), David sends his servants to make a proposal to Abigail to be his wife, and again we see a choice made by a woman, with Abigail getting up and choosing to go (1 Sam 25:39-42). Scouring through the Old Testament more in Judges and Kings, it presented more occurrences of wives being given away to men by fathers or other men as we already discussed being mentioned before. These were all the facts and information regarding a man and a woman becoming married that I found using a word search of marriage related terms in the Old Testament, and now I’m going to take you through what appears to be all of the available information in the New Testament. I’m thoroughly detailing all of this for contextual purposes of understanding the whole picture of what God perhaps offers to us in how men and women relations leading to marriage can best occur.
Now as far as the New Testament, in the Gospels Mary and Joseph get together as husband and wife, but it doesn’t quite mention how they necessarily got together. However, it does mention that they were betrothed (Mat 1:18). Being betrothed was essentially a promise of marriage. A footnote detailed that it was the first stage of marriage in Jewish culture which usually lasted a year before the wedding night, and was more legal than an engagement. So we’ve just now gone through a majority, if not all the occurrences of men and women relations occurring in scripture that led to marriage. So what can possibly be concluded on the basis of all of these facts, and all of the things we’ve seen about whether men and women should be dating, courting, or just going ahead and getting married immediately when they meet.
I’ll give you my scriptural assessment based on all of these facts, but you can only make your own conclusions as to how you go about these things. So we saw a majority of all of these men and women had some kind of encounter before they got married. Now whether that goes as far as our modern understanding of “dating” or “courting”, perhaps it’s debatable, but myself personally I would conclude that it does not reflect what our modern culture has adopted as the best formula for getting married. Still, we do know scripture seems to show that most of the men and women have at least some kind of time of having known of each other before they got married, with of course the longest examples being Joseph betrothed to Mary for potentially at least a year, and Jacob working for Rachel 7 years. I’d say it’s also arguable that men and women can form friendships first based on the primary female disciples of Jesus that were with the primary male disciples of Jesus all closely following Him together.
Secondly, perhaps that encounter can go to somewhat of an intimate extent. Emphasis on the word “somewhat”. We saw that Rebekah got kissed by Isaac (though we don’t know where he kissed her), and Ruth slept in the same room at Boaz’s feet for a night. So there appears to be some level of intimate closeness that men and women can have before marriage in scripture, but it would seem wise to be cautious about this. There was still very little physical intimacy before husband and wife agreements happened, and all the agreements generally immediately resulted in consummation (sex). We also know that the scriptures implies that sexual morality is sexual activity within the context of a husband wife union. (1 Corinthians 7).
Thirdly, based on the facts we just observed, men were always the ones that took wives, and the women were making themselves visible/available, and making the choice of being that man’s wife or not. Sometimes in culture we see some women desperately chasing after men, or some men not stepping up and going after a woman. I understand it can be difficult for some women out there who have strong desires for a man to take her as a wife, and I don’t mean to sound blunt when I say this, but either it happens or it doesn’t. Above all else we should all put our primary focus in worshiping God and following His Word. The same goes for men too. A man might ask a woman to be “taken” as his wife and she can choose not to accept the proposal, and if so, then so be it. Sure, it would be nice if we all could get married to someone for the rest of our lives, but scripture never guarantees that happens for everyone, and that’s okay. As instructed numerous times in multiple ways, our dedication is to God first anyway.
Finally, though fathers only symbolically give their daughters away to a man in a traditional sense these days, perhaps there’s a certain value in a respectable man, whether that be the father of a woman, the brother of a woman, or a good male friend of a woman, giving allowance for the man to take the woman he loves as his wife. It was done so much throughout the Old Testament, and while it’s not something we have to adhere to now, at least in my view, it seems like there’s some nobility in that. We saw Laban made Jacob work for Rachel for 7 years, and then decided he was worthy for him to give her away. I’m not necessarily suggesting going that far, but in my own personal opinion, maybe more women could consider having respectable men decide whether the man who wants the woman’s hand for marriage is worthy of having it. And of course in the end the woman is able to make her own choice.
So to conclude, again there’s no direct instruction in scripture of an exact formula to entering marriage. All of the things I suggest in this post are just based off of my own subjective analysis of what could possibly be taken from the examples we have. I know some will make the point that the way these marriages occurred were just a part of a particular cultural time period, but at least as far as what’s recorded, they seemed to have a higher success rate than we see today with high divorce rates in countries like the US. For myself in my journey to live an authentic religious experience through the Word of God, in following the examples given in His Word, I see best to just maintain friendships with females and perhaps one day I can ask one to be taken as my wife and hopefully she may agree.
But I can very much respect if other followers of Christ may conclude following the dating/courting approach is the way to go, this is just my current personal opinion, which of course can always change. I don’t find myself seeing a need for rings from what I don’t see in scripture. I find that it would seem more responsible to save money for the maintaining of financial stability for the marriage and for the future of the possible children. Though with that said, jokingly most women would probably say good luck finding a woman that doesn’t want to have a diamond ring in this day and age, in which case, one might perhaps have to be willing to hedge on this minor issue. Although I did have a female friend once who said she would rather just go to a courthouse and just leave things at that.
But an agreement and consummation is all that appears to be necessary in affirming a marriage in the eyes of God, and of course a marriage license as well in these modern times. This may all perhaps seem unorthodox or even extreme in the face of today’s culture of dating and relationships, but I like to recall what Romans 12:2 states. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Peace to all those who are in Christ.