05 December 2016

Biblical Marriage: Arrangers and Exchangers

Last Saturday's post on marriage noted that marriage is a social reality created by human beings. I asserted that it is not a divine institution.

In the recent unpleasantness about same sex marriage, opponents argued on behalf of what they called "traditional marriage." For some this means biological marriage. For others , it means something more: biblical marriage. The concept of biblical marriage as defined by its proponents has little to do with biblical marriage as presented in the Bible.

So what about biblical marriage?

First, biblical marriages are arranged marriages. The Mosaic Law does not state it explicitly or specify any legal parameters regarding arrangements. It is implicit in many related passages, such as Exodus 22:17. Readers can find examples of arranged marriages in the Bible before the giving of the Law. Some examples include the following:

God arranges a marriage for Adam: Gen.2:18-25.

Abraham negotiates a marriage for his son Isaac with Bethuel: Gen.  24:1-67.

Isaac and his son Jacob negotiates a marriage with Laban:  Gen. 29:1-35

Even single mom Hagar arranges a marriage for her son: Gen. 21:21.

Second, as arranged marriages, they usually involve some economic exchange--the bride price.

Some examples:

Abraham's servant offered a bride price after Bethuel and Label agreed to the marriage proposal"

"Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceedeth from the Lord: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good.  Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's wife, as the Lord hath spoken.  And it came to pass, that, when Abraham's servant heard their words, he worshipped the Lord, bowing himself to the earth.  And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things." Gen 24:50-53 (KJV)

Isaac's son Jacob arranging a marriage without any property to speak of, worked seven years for his first wife:

"And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.  And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me.  And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her." Gen 29:18-20 (KJV)

When Laban swindled him and pulled the old switcheroo, giving him the elder sister Leah instead of Rachel, he spent another seven years working off the bride price for Rachel:

 "And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also."
Gen 29:28 (KJV)

A couple of observations:

First, arranged marriages and bride prices seem to be a cultural feature of the ancient Middle East. They are not obviously some grand idea from divine revelation. necessary to overcome mankind's inability to craft just laws because of they sinfulness.

Second, arranged marriages and bride prices constitute part of marriage in the Bible but not "biblical marriages" as touted by pastors, theologians, and Christian counselors.

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