History is ripe with pictures and stories of marriage and weddings. And, while history can be a wonderful teacher, it is too broad a picture for a discussion on what makes for a good, strong marriage. Plus, history is purely the human story, and since it is the human story, it is also full of error and misunderstanding. Human tradition sometimes contradicts common sense and often times becomes irrelevant as cultures evolve over time.
But there is one thing has not changed in thousands of years, and that is religious texts. For the sake of our discussion, since most of my readers are Christians, I am going to limit my discussion of marriage within scriptures to the Christian Bible. At the end of this post, though, I will link to some articles about marriage within some other religious contexts for the sake of my non-Christian readers and for some further reflection by those readers who are Christians.
Marriage in the Old Testament
Marriage in the Old Testament is an interesting topic. It is interesting because there is precious little pertaining to marriage within that context.
Marriage in the OT was based in a mentality toward women that was less than generous. Women were viewed as property, much like cattle, to be bought and sold on the market. When a man wanted to marry a woman, he was required to make an arrangement with the girl’s father to pay a certain price by a certain time. In the time leading up to his payment, the man would go and build an addition on to his own parents’ house for his new family to move in to. And when he was finished, he would show up at his betrothed’s home and take her away. There would be a celebration, but only after he had had sex with her. After the first time, he would check the sheets for blood, thought at the time to be a sign of her virginity. If there were blood, he would emerge and the party would begin. The story was much different if there were no blood.
If there were no blood, she was thought to have been damaged goods. She was not a virgin and was taken immediately to the temple. At the temple, she would be given a concoction that would, if she were not a virgin, cause her to become deathly ill and render her barren, as well as aborting any child that may be growing in her. If it were proven that she were a virgin, her taking of the concoction would have no effect whatsoever and the husband would pay a price for having defamed his bride’s family.
Any other discussion of marriage within the OT is limited to using it as imagery for God and His relationship with Israel. This does say something about marriage in this context, though. There was obviously something beautiful about it. The tradition and rituals and the culture, while lacking in generosity toward women, were apparently not the general way that things were done. Could it be that the early Israelites did things a little differently from the methods prescribed in the Law?
Marriage in the New Testament
Marriage within the New Testament is a little more spelled out. Thousands of years of human history taught Jews and early Christians some guiding principles for how to live in relationship with their spouses. While not as generous toward women as our culture is, there seems to be a general change in attitude toward women and men, at least within a marital context.
Within the NT, there seems to be an attitude that men should have deep respect for women. Men were called upon to treat their wives with respect and as fellow heirs of salvation (1 Peter 3:7), they are commanded to love their wives in the same way Jesus did the church (Ephesians 5:25), and they are told not to deny them sexual satisfaction (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). Prostitution is condemned and fidelity to one’s spouse is praised.
But even in this, the NT is sadly incomplete in relation to what makes a marriage strong. There is no set-in-stone idea pertaining to this. Principles can be deduced and attitudes can be influenced, but there is not chapter and verse stating what makes a marriage strong. This is because the Biblical authors, in both the Old and New Testaments, knew that each relationship is as different from the next as two people are different from each other. And that is part of what makes, or should make, marriage so beautiful.
Articles about marriage from other Religious contexts