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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Marriage (I.)

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MARRIAGE (I.)

1. Oriental estimate of marriage.—Of the three great events in family life—birth, marriage and death—that of marriage was rendered important by the amount of consideration devoted to the choice of son-in-law or daughter-in-law, to the settlement of the customary financial conditions, and to the arrangements connected with the wedding festivities. It was recognized as a step leading to grave consequences, for, in the case of a daughter, if the marriage should prove unsatisfactory, she would likely return to her former home discredited and unhappy, and there would be a feeling of irritation and injustice between the families concerned. An almost equal anxiety attended the arrival of the young wife to live with her husband’s parents, and to perform her duties under the often exacting superintendence of her mother-in-law. In a decision thus affecting the whole circle of relatives, it was considered natural and inevitable that both the selection of the individual and the settlement of all financial matters should be decided by the parents and guardians of those about to be married. The impulsive self-will of Esau which showed itself in the contempt of his birthright, led him to set aside the above tradition by marrying two of the daughters of Heth (Genesis 26:34; Genesis 26:33; Genesis 27:46). Woman was not thought of as having a personal existence at her own disposal, but as a unit in the family, and under the protection and authority of her male relatives. In marriage she was practically the purchased possession of her husband, becoming bèûlah to him as her ba‘al, or owner and master.

2. Betrothal.—This was a binding transaction declaring the fact of prospective marriage, and specifying the terms agreed upon by the contracting parties, that is, by those acting on their behalf. Although in both families the intention of marriage might have been decided upon by the parents from the infancy of their children, yet the formality of betrothal was not proceeded with until marriage could be regarded as a possibility in the near future. On the one hand, it was undesirable to make gifts or pay an instalment in a compact that might never be implemented by marriage, and, on the other hand, it was equally undesirable to dedicate a daughter to one who might not live to undertake her support, and thus cause her to be regarded as a widow. During a prolonged interval the man might move to another part of the land or fail to carry out the betrothal stipulations, and then the intended bride would require to get a writing of divorce or separation before she could be betrothed or married to another. While the act of betrothal by the presence of witnesses and the assemblage of friends had the importance of a ceremonial function, yet the spirit of bargaining was generally so keenly aroused, and the process of compromise so protracted and complex, that the situation scarcely admitted of immediate marriage rejoicings. Besides, it frequently happened that an interval of time was needed in order that the bridegroom might render the stipulated service, or acquire the sum of money agreed upon as the present to be given to the father and brothers of the bride. Thus there was usually an interval of a year or two, or it might be of several years, between the betrothal and the celebration of marriage.

3. Ceremony of marriage.—As a welcome sequel following in due time upon the discussion and settlement of the marriage portion and similar matters, the wedding itself was always an occasion of joyful festivity and congratulation.

(a) Place.—While in ancient times the marriage doubtless took place occasionally in the home of the bride, yet the fact that the bridegroom came to claim one who had become his by the fulfilment of assigned conditions, and further, the widespread tradition of forcible opposition to her removal from her people, point to the greater frequency of marriage in the house of the bridegroom’s parents. Thither the bride was conducted by a company of friends, carrying also her personal outfit and household belongings. If her people were of the peasant class, and she was merely passing to a neighbouring village, she would be already in her bridal dress and seated upon a led horse or mule, while in front of the procession young men and maidens individually engaged in sword-play and dancing. In the larger villages, such as Bethlehem and Nazareth, the robing of the bride was more elaborate, and was carried out by the help of women after her arrival at the new home. On that day, the bridegroom, instead of following the primitive custom of going to claim his bride or to meet her procession on the way, remained absent from the house with his relatives or friends until all preparations had been fully made.

(b) Time.—The marriage generally took place in the evening, so that those coming from a distance might not fail to arrive, and those who were occupied during the day might have liberty to attend. During the evening, as he sat among his friends, the bridegroom, in the exercise of his prerogative as the chief person concerned, signified his desire to move homewards. Upon this the wedding procession was formed. Lanterns and torches were lit to guide him and his companions through the dark, silent streets. Those who were waiting to see the procession pass raised the peculiar Oriental cry of marriage festivity, and thus, as the cry was taken up, the fact of his approach was known along the path in front of him up to the house in which the bride and her attendants were waiting. Owing to the stillness of the air and the slow pace of the illuminated procession, the cry might be heard half an hour before the arrival of the bridegroom. Then those who had merely come to do honour by joining in the procession returned to their houses, and the relatives and invited guests passed in to the wedding ceremony and festivity. These rejoicings were maintained for several days or even a week, according to the worldly circumstances of the family.

Many of these marriage customs are alluded to by Christ in His teaching, as the subject was familiar to His hearers, and any parabolic lessons deduced from it would be easily understood. Thus the bridegroom could excuse himself for not attending the wedding of another, seeing that his own invited guests were returning to pay visits of congratulation and good-will, and would feel offended if they found him absent (Luke 14:20). It was a privilege and honour to the guest to be invited to the wedding feast, and an affront to those who invited him if he failed to attend (Matthew 22:3; Matthew 22:9). It was late when the wedding guest returned to his own house (Luke 12:36). It was for the bridegroom to tarry until he was pleased to appoint the hour of his coming (Matthew 24:42; Matthew 25:6; Matthew 25:13). The reference to marrying and giving in marriage, with the Flood at the door, exemplified that pre-occupation of the mind with worldly interests and ambitions by which men forget the transitoriness of life and the precariousness of its possessions. One of the marks of the new Kingdom was to be its power of carrying disruption into the closest and strongest family relationships at the call of loyalty to its larger and higher citizenship (Matthew 10:35-37; Matthew 12:46-49). With such a background of tradition and custom Christ gave to marriage the support of His own presence, and spoke of its Divine origin and temporary nature (John 2:2, Matthew 19:4-6; Matthew 22:30). In the Epistles it is evident that the higher conception of marriage prevalent among the Jews was gravely endangered by the inherited views still familiar to the mind, though condemned by the conscience, in the Gentile membership of the Church (1 Corinthians 7). The marriage relationship was used to typify the intimate vital affinity between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). In Revelation 21:2 the comparison of the New Jerusalem to an Oriental bride adorned for her husband, appropriately sets forth the protracted development and perfected beauty of the Kingdom of God.

The bridegroom’s friend (John 3:29) must be distinguished from ‘the children of the bride-chamber’ (Matthew 9:15), who were simply the invited guests. In Judaea there were two such ‘friends,’ one acting for the bridegroom, the other for the bride. They conducted all the preliminary inquiries, made the bargains as to dowry, etc., arranged the betrothal, and finally led the betrothed couple to the bride-chamber. They were responsible for the legality of the whole proceedings, and were guarantors of the bride’s virgin chastity. The bridegroom’s voice, in converse with the bride, assured them pleasantly that their work had been successful. The discharge of the ‘friend’s’ functions was liable to gross abuses (see Mishnic tractate Middoth). There was no corresponding functionary in Galilee, and so there is no allusion to him in the account of the marriage at Cana. Similar offices are discharged by the friends of would-be bridegrooms in Palestine to-day. An ardent suitor once sent to the present writer a sum of £40, with the request that it be given to a friend, on condition that he should secure the goodwill of a certain maiden, and the consent of her parents to his suit.

The bride-chamber is probably = Heb. heder, ‘the nuptial chamber’ (Judges 15:1), in which stood the huppah, the bridal ‘bed with a canopy’ (Joel 2:16; Gesenius, s.v.). In all the lands of their dispersion the Jews still apply this name, huppah, to the richly embroidered canopy under which the contracting parties stand during the marriage ceremony.

G. M. Mackie and W. Ewing.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Marriage (I.)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/m/marriage-i.html. 1906-1918.

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