Biblical Concept of Marriage
The Old Testament type of marriage is one that is either parentally arranged or self-initiated. Hebrews share the parentally arranged practice with other ancient near east people. There is no OT law that mandated this, even the OT wisdom Literatures that talk about healthy marital relationship, never mandated any father to a choose wife for his son, rather it says in Prov. 19:14 that a good wife is from the Lord not from the husband’s father.
The first instance of parentally arranged marriage in the Old Testament was Hagar selecting a wife for her son Ishmael from Egypt (Gen. 21:21). Others who practiced this method include, Isaac who had Rebekah chosen for him (Gen. 25:20). The choice of Rebekah is the classic case of parentally arranged marriage, through Abraham’s faithful servant, (Gen. 24), Isaac played no role in the choice of his wife. We also discovered that Isaac did not pick a wife for Jacob, who chose a wife for himself. Esau’s marriage to Judith and Basemath made Isaac and Rebekah to be grieved, “When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah” (Gen. 26:34,35).
Again, the Old Testament never mandated an ideal age range for marriage, however, physical maturity is required before going into marriage.
Furthermore, one could discover from biblical account that the pattern of parentally arranged marriages, seems not to continue beyond the time of Saul. Jesse the father of David, played no role in David’s marriage to Abigail (II Sam. 2:2), and Ahinoam (II Sam. 2:2), neither did David select Pharaoh’s daughter for his son, Solomon (I King 3:1), nor any Solomon’s 700 wives (I King 11:13).
The Old Testament practiced both endogamy and exogamy system of marriage. Endogamy is the custom of marring only within one’s own clan or tribe. Exogamy is the custom of marrying outside one’s own clan or tribe. Endogamous marriage was the norm in the patriarchal age, we read the biblical accounts that Abraham married his half-sister, Sarah (Gen. 20:12). Nahor married his niece Milcah (Gen. 11:29), Isaac married his cousin Rebekah (Gen. 24:15), Esau married his cousin Mahalath (Gen. 28:9). Jacob also married his cousins Leah and Rachael (Gen. 29:12), Endogamy reflects the practical need to preserve a certain norm of religious and cultural behaviour and to maintain the ethnic purity of the tribe or family.
For exogamy, we see some in the Bible who practiced it such as Esau marrying two Hittites (Gen. 26:34) and a Canaanite (Gen. 28:6-9). Joseph married an Egyptian (Gen. 41:45), Judah a Canaanite (Gen. 38:2), Moses a Midianite/Cushite (Ex. 2:21, Num. 12:1), Samson a Philistine (Judg. 14, 16:4-22), Boaz a Moabites, (Ruth 4:13), even Solomon pursued exogamy to the extreme (I Kings 3:1, 11:1, 14:21). Also, there are instances where Israelite woman marrying foreigners e.g. Bathsheba married Uriah the Hittite (II Sam. 11:3) and Esther married the Persian King Ahasu-erus.
However, Deut. 7:3 forbids intermarriage with some nations so as not to be disposed of the land. If all intermarriages are forbidden, then the law of Deut. 21:10-14 would be odd, because it permits the Hebrew warrior to take a wife from female war prisoners. Furthermore, from the beginning of monarchy, the number of intermarriages increased, David, Solomon and Ahab were typical examples of people who intermarried.
Moreover, Deut. 25:5-10 provides legal sanction for a marriage between a Widow whose husband died without offspring, it is the responsibility of the deceased brother to perform the duty of a husband’s brother. But when the brother in-law chooses not to marry the said widow the ceremony by which the widow remove the brother in-law’s sandal takes place. In removing the brother-in-law’ shoe with the town’s elders as witnesses give the woman the right to her freedom and full control of her destiny, by this she can marry any one she likes. This type of marriage is known as levirate marriage. The levirate law states that when a married man dies without a child, his brother is expected to take the woman as wife. The custom was assumed in the story of Onan in Gen. 38:8-10, and in the case of Ruth. It shows that the custom extended further, an unnamed kinsman has the primary duty and only when he refuses was when Boaz had the opportunity of marrying Ruth.
Coming to the New Testament the levirate law is used by the Sadducees and this poses a problem about the resurrection, for which Jesus Christ answered the question of the Sadducees accordingly, (Matt. 22:23).
Marriage is an exclusive relationship, the total unity of persons physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Promiscuity is ruled out in biblical marriage, as God instituted marriage so that men and women might complement one another and share in His creative work, through the procreation of children. It is this that the New Testament writers affirmed in their teachings about marriage as an institution established by God.
Jesus accepted marriage as a normal institution in his days. In his teachings, he regarded marriage as an integral and essential element in Jewish life. In the synoptic accounts (ie Matthew, Mark and Luke), Jesus spoke about marriage when the Pharisees approached Him with questions on it.
Paul’s views on marriage were treated in I Cor. 7, a letter for one of the Corinthian churches provided Paul opportunity to offer his opinion. He teaches that marriage is a special gift from God, (I Thess. 4:7. Also, In I Cor. 7:5-6) Paul added a brief thought on sexual abstinence in his response to the Corinthians’ question. Paul allows for the possibility of sexual abstinence given three conditions such as; abstinence for the purpose of prayer, when there is a mutual agreement between the spouse and the period of abstinence must be limited to a short time. In his teachings also, he made reference to celibacy, which is not a higher or holier condition, but a viewpoint which finds it root in Greek dualism. (I Cor. 7:8, 25-35, 36-39) and he offered his state of marital status as a model for example, by saying it might be preferable for the believer to remain unmarried. He desires that both the married and unmarried remain in the state in which they are called, and that they live accordingly. Jesus also made reference to this view when He was answering questions on Marriage, “For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it” Matt. 19:12. Jesus’ position here is that some people have physical limitations that prevent them in getting married, while others choose not to marry because they felt in such situation they can serve God better as single individuals. Jesus was not teaching us to avoid marriage, but the absolute reason to remain single is to use the time and freedom to serve God and for the advancement of His kingdom.
Physical union in marriage has a spiritual significance, in that it points beyond itself to the total unity of husband and wife, which is essentially a spiritual union manifested in the physical, Paul underscored this when he used the conjugal union to symbolize the unity of Christ with His church. (Eph. 5:22-23). The question to be raised from New Testament point of view is, when is a couple married? Some scholars argued from I Cor. 6:16 in which they maintained that marriage is effected through sexual intercourse. These scholars opined that a person is considered in the eyes of God to be married to that member of the opposite sex with whom he first had sexual relation. They argued that sex serve as the agent through which God effects marriage; others consider marriage to be brought about as a result of declaration of one’s desire to be married, which is accompanied by the expression of mutual love, which this is done in the presence of accredited witnesses such as parents, clergy, e.t.c. The chief contribution of the New Testament to the biblical view of marriage is to underscore the original principles of the indissolubility of marriage.
There is what is referred to as household codes, at the post-Pauline tradition in the early church, such as marital records in Col. 3:18-4:1, Eph. 4:21-5:9-32, I Pet. 3:1-7. The epistles give some kinds of principle which husband and wife could follow. Wives are urged to be subject to their husbands, and husbands are urged to love their wives.
In Pastoral Epistles, it speaks concerning marriage of overseers and deacons who are expected to be men of one wife, (I Tim. 3:2, 12). It was the qualification expected to be realized in the life of the church leaders, which is in practice in most churches today.