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Marriage

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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Marriage (I.)
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1. Christian conception of marriage.-During the Apostolic Age the Church was both Jewish and Gentile, and its ideas on marriage had a double background in those of the OT and the heathen. The gravest danger was that the laxity of heathenism with regard to marriage should remain among the Gentile converts. In the heathen world, though the marriage ceremony was in some sort a sacred act, the marriage itself was looked on as an easily-broken contract which either party might dissolve at will. It is not surprising, therefore, that one of the earliest questions which the Corinthians put to St. Paul should be on the subject of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1). The Apostle, writing as he does to Gentiles, dwells on the fact that marriage is a remedy against sin (1 Corinthians 7:2; cf. also 1 Thessalonians 4:3 f., whether with most modern commentators we interpret τὸ ἑαυτοῦ σκεῦος in that passage of a man’s wife, or, with G. Milligan, of the human body, for the context implies marriage), and gives many warnings against heathen impurities (Romans 1:24; Romans 1:28 [idolatry and impurity inseparable] Romans 6:12 f., Romans 13:14, 1 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 1 Corinthians 6:13-20, 2 Corinthians 12:21, Galatians 5:16-24, Ephesians 2:2 f., Ephesians 4:17-19 [‘as the Gentiles also walk’] Ephesians 5:3, Colossians 3:5-8, 2 Timothy 2:22). Other NT writers give like warnings (1 Peter 1:14; 1 Peter 2:11; 1 Peter 4:2 f., 2 Peter 2:18, Judges 1:16; Judges 1:18).

The Jews had a much higher conception of marriage than the heathen. Almost all of them were married, as is the case at the present day with practically the whole of the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim populations of the Near East-the exceptions are very few. They looked on the saying ‘Be ye fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28) as a universal command. Marriage was a sacred duty and was considered most holy. ‘The pious fasted before it, confessing their sins. It was regarded almost as a Sacrament. Entrance into the married state was thought to carry the forgiveness of sins’ (Edersheim, LT [Note: T Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Edersheim).] 9 i. 352f.). Yet the Jews had not escaped from heathen contamination; not only was divorce extremely common (below, 7), but, as frequent passages in the OT show, impurities of all kinds had to be strongly repressed. In Ephesians 2:2 f. St. Paul does not acquit his own nation in this respect, contrasting the pronouns ‘ye’ (Gentiles) and ‘we also’ (Jews).

Our Lord greatly raised the conception of marriage, even as compared with that of the Jews of the time. It was a Divine institution, which made man and one wife to become one flesh, for God had joined them together (Mark 10:6-9, Matthew 19:4-6, quoting Genesis 2:24). The primeval marriage, the idea of which was obscured by the hardness of man’s heart, was revived, and the teaching about divorce (below, 7) was revolutionized. Nevertheless, marriage was intended only for this life, for there are no marriages in heaven (Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25, Luke 20:35 -these passages, it is needless to say, do not teach that loved ones will be parted hereafter). Jesus chose a marriage feast for His first miracle (John 2:1 ff.). Following the Master’s teaching, St. Paul insists on the holiness of marriage in Ephesians 5:22-33 (cf. Hebrews 13:4); the quotation from Genesis is repeated (Ephesians 5:31), and marriage is said to symbolize the union between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:23-28)-a metaphor drawn out in the ancient homily known as 2 Clement (§ 14: ‘the male is Christ, and the female is the Church’). Hence St. Paul dwells on the love that ought to exist between husband and wife, even as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25; Ephesians 5:28; Ephesians 5:33; cf. Colossians 3:19). St. Peter in a corresponding passage (1 Peter 3:7) dwells rather on the honour due by the husband to his wife; and both apostles, speaking of the duty of wives to husbands in these passages, rather dwell on their subjection to their consorts [see Family, § 2 (a)], though in Titus 2:4 f. the love of the wife to the husband is mentioned as well as her subjection. In 1 Corinthians 7:3 ff. St. Paul reminds married persons that they no longer are mere individuals, but belong to one another, and must not refuse cohabitation with one another except by consent for a season.

2. Christian conception of celibacy.-We must remember that celibacy was extremely uncommon both among the Jews and among the heathen in the first ages of the Church. It was not part of the Nazirite’s vow (Numbers 6:3-5), though no doubt many Nazirites, like John Baptist (if indeed he was one of them), were celibates. And there were some, but not all, of the Essenes who preached the duty of abstinence from marriage, and admitted members to their body only after a probation of three years to test their continency (Josephus, Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) II. viii. 2, 7). In them we see the germ of Gnostic dualism, which taught the inherent evil of matter (Lightfoot, Colossians, ed. 1900, p. 85; see also his essay on this sect, p. 375 ff.). In this respect the Essenes were in direct antagonism with the Pharisees, who strongly supported marriage; but they had some influence in promoting Christian celibacy in the post-Apostolic Age. Among the heathen celibacy can hardly be said to have existed.

Our Lord, while teaching, as we have seen, the holiness of marriage, nevertheless commended celibacy for those ‘to whom it is given’ and who are ‘able to receive it’; for so we must interpret the phrase ‘which made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake’ (Matthew 19:11 f.). As St. Paul says (1 Corinthians 7:7), ‘each man hath his own gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that.’ Nowhere in the NT is marriage referred to as a state inferior to that of celibacy, however much the latter may be commended under certain circumstances to certain persons. And so, probably, we are to interpret our Lord’s words about leaving ‘house, or wife, or brethren, or parents, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake’ (Luke 18:29; in || Matthew 19:29, Mark 10:29 the best Manuscripts omit ‘or wife’). He could not have counselled a man to desert his wife or children if he had them. J. Wordsworth suggests (Ministry of Grace, London, 1901, p. 207) that the words may also include leaving an unbelieving and unfaithful wife, or a temporary separation by agreement, when the husband has to go to a part of the world where he cannot take a family (1 Corinthians 7:5 is somewhat analogous).

In the teaching of St. Paul we notice a certain change of view between the earlier and later Epistles. (a) In the earlier Epistles the Apostle plainly expected that the Parousia was imminent (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 : ‘we that are alive, that are left’; 1 Corinthians 16:22 and perhaps 1 Corinthians 15:51). If that were the case, the increase of the race would not be of primary importance; and therefore, while marriage was entirely lawful (1 Corinthians 7:28), and indeed imperative for those who had not the gift of continency (1 Corinthians 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:9), celibacy was encouraged. ‘It is good for a man not to touch a woman’; ‘I would that all men were even as I myself’; ‘it is good for them if they abide even as I’ (1 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 7:7 f.); ‘it is good for a man to be as he is’-whether married or single (1 Corinthians 7:26). Yet St. Paul does not say that celibacy is a higher state, but only that it is expedient by reason of the present distress (1 Corinthians 7:26), because the time is shortened (1 Corinthians 7:25), and he would have Christians free from cares (1 Corinthians 7:32). The lawfulness of marriage is further emphasized by the assertion of the right to marry by St. Paul himself, ‘even as the rest of the apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas’ (1 Corinthians 9:5). The meaning of these words is not quite plain; Cephas certainly was married (Matthew 8:14, Luke 4:38), but were all the other apostles and all our Lord’s four brethren in like case? If so, why is Cephas mentioned separately? To the last question there is no clear answer, but the whole verse seems to show, especially in view of Jewish customs (see above), that at least a majority of the apostles and of our Lord’s brethren were married, and that the married state was not inconsistent with the work of a travelling missionary. As a comment on this we have the fact that Aquila, a great Christian worker, travelled about with his wife Prisca (Acts 18:2; Acts 18:26, Romans 16:3, 1 Corinthians 16:19, 2 Timothy 4:19). (b) In the Epistles of the Captivity marriage is mentioned as the normal state, and nothing is said in favour of celibacy (Ephesians 5:31 ff., Colossians 3:18 f.; cf. 1 Peter 3:1-7), while we notice also that in these Epistles little is said of the nearness of Christ’s coming (Philippians 4:5 stands alone). (c) In the Pastoral Epistles marriage is recommended, or as some think required, for the local clergy (1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 3:4 f., Titus 1:5; see Home), and is also advised for young women (1 Timothy 5:14 Authorized Version , Revised Version margin) or for young widows (Revised Version ). Whatever may be the force of the phrase ‘husband of one wife’ (μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα) as excluding certain persons from the ministry (see below, § 5), the whole context would appear to show that St. Paul desired his local officials, the presbyters (‘bishops’) and deacons, to be, at least as a rule, married men, just as the Orthodox Eastern Church demands at the present day that her parish priests should be married, and that their wives should be alive. This does not depend on the untenable exegesis which makes μιᾶς the indefinite article (‘husband of a wife’), but on the word ‘husband’ and the context. There might perhaps be exceptions, of which the Apostle does not stop to speak. We must always bear in mind has it is a mistake to interpret a biblical passage with reference to the bearing that it has on later Christian practice; a disciplinary rule, by its nature, is not intended to be for all time, however suitable it may have been for the First Age. Another passage in these Epistles may also be noticed. St. Paul denounces as a heresy the prohibition of marriage (1 Timothy 4:3); though this does not involve any change of view as compared with the earlier Epistles. In what has been here said, the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles is assumed; if this be not allowed, the alteration of the Christian view as to the expediency of celibacy between the earlier and the later periods still holds good. But no argument against the Pauline authorship must be deduced from it, for a change of view is very natural in the course of a decade or more, during which a longer experience showed that the early expectation of Jesus’ immediate return was founded on a too hasty assumption; and, moreover, the Epistles of the Captivity serve as a bridge between the earlier and the later views.

In the apostolic period we read of a few persons who led the celibate life. St. Paul himself was unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:7 f., 1 Corinthians 9:5); so were the four daughters of Philip the Evangelist who ‘prophesied’ (Acts 21:9); St. John Evangelist was frequently known in the early Church as ὁ παρθένος, as in the 3rd cent. Gnostic work Pistis Sophia; Tertullian had already called him a ‘celibate (spado) of Christ’ (de Monogam. 17). It is not quite easy to say who are meant by the ‘virgins’ (masc.) of Revelation 14:4. The word is interpreted by Tertullian (de Res. Carn. 27, referring to Matthew 19:12) of celibates; but Swete (Com. in loc.) gives good reasons for thinking that it must apply to married as well as unmarried chastity, and ‘be taken metaphorically, as the symbolical character of the Book suggests.… No exclusion of the married from the highest blessings of the Christian life finds a place in the NT.’

In interpreting the NT it is of some importance to note the comments of those writers who immediately followed the apostles. Ignatius’ idea of celibacy (Polyc. 5) does not go further than our Lord’s teaching. ‘My sisters’ (he says) are to love the Lord and be content with their spouses (συμβίοις) in flesh and spirit; ‘my brothers’ are to love their spouses as the Lord loved the Church (cf. Ephesians 5:29). If anyone can abide in purity (ἁγνείᾳ, i.e. ‘virginity’) to the honour of the flesh of the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:15), let him abide without boasting. If he boast, he is lost; and if it be known beyond the bishop (πλέον τοῦ ἐπισκόπου: not ‘if he be more famous than the bishop’), he is corrupted. All who marry should do so with the consent of the bishop, that the marriage may be after the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:39). Thus, in Ignatius’ opinion, the bishop is to be taken into the confidence both of those who marry and of those who wish to remain celibates; in the latter case the intention must not be noised abroad. Similarly Clement of Rome (ad Cor. i. 38) says: ‘He that is pure (ἁγνός) in the flesh, let him be so, and not boast, knowing that it is Another who bestows his continence (ἐγκράτειαν) upon him.’ We note that both Ignatius and Clement use ἁγνός or ἁγνεία of celibacy, though they do not say that celibacy is the higher state. Hermas, on the other hand, in his Shepherd (Mand. iv. 4), describes the chastity both of the married and of the unmarried as ἁγνεία. The phrase of Ignatius, ‘virgins who are called widows’ (Smyrn. 13), has been much discussed. It can hardly mean unmarried women included in the order of widows, for Ignatius in that case would have omitted in his salutation all those who were literally widows, and such a custom is treated as unheard of by Tertullian (Virg. Vel. 9); and ‘virgins’ is therefore probably to be interpreted symbolically as in Revelation 14:4 (above), of women who are pure in heart (see Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers2, pt. ii.: ‘S. Ignatius and S. Polycarp,’ London, 1889, ii. 323f.).

3. Marriage ceremonies.-The betrothal preceded the actual marriage by several months, but not by more than a year (Edersheim, op. cit. i. 354). It is referred to in 2 Corinthians 11:2, where St. Paul says that he betrothed (ἡρμοσάμην, here only in the NT) the Corinthians to Christ; cf. Deuteronomy 28:30, Proverbs 19:14. In arranging for the betrothal, the intended bridegroom took no part, and matters were settled, as they still are in the East, by the respective parents, or, if they were not alive, by the brother or nearest relative. In the parable the father is said to make a marriage, or a marriage feast (ποιεῖν γάμον), for his son (Matthew 22:2); so in the OT, Genesis 24:3 (Abraham and his steward for Isaac) Genesis 34:4; Genesis 34:8 (Hamor for Shechem) Genesis 38:6 (Judah for Er), Judges 14:2-10 (Manoah for Samson). When the father was not available, the mother sometimes acted, as when Hagar acted for Ishmael (Genesis 21:21) or the mother for her son (2 Esdras 9:47). It is instructive to see how marriage customs, as well as others, persistently survive in the East from biblical times, and we find that among the Oriental Christians of to-day the same practice obtains (Maclean-Browne, Catholicos of the East, p. 144); courtship in the Western sense of the term is little known, and the courting is done by the parents. The betrothal, having been accomplished by crowning with garlands and with some ceremony (Edersheim, loc. cit.), was, and is, absolutely binding, and a breach of it is treated as adultery in Deuteronomy 22:23 f. (ct. [Note: contrast.] Deuteronomy 22:28, Leviticus 19:20); this is illustrated by the position of Joseph as a betrothed husband in Matthew 1:19. It is suggested by Plummer (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) i. 326) that the woman taken in adultery (John 8:4) was betrothed, not married, as she was to be stoned, not strangled. This may be so, since stoning is mentioned in Deuteronomy 22:24, but not in Leviticus 20:10, which gives the death-penalty for the adultery of married persons. Yet in Ezekiel 16:38-40 married adulteresses seem to be meant, and there stoning is mentioned. Strangling was a later form of execution.

The night procession is perhaps the principal feature of the marriage. The bridegroom goes to fetch the bride at night, as in the parable of the Ten Virgins, and brings her to his house at midnight (Matthew 25:6), with lamps-not, according to Edersheim (ii. 455) and Trench (Parables, 248), with torches, as the Roman custom was. These lamps were placed in a hollow cup, affixed to a long pole. A relic of this custom is seen in the present day among the East Syrians (Nestorians), who have the procession in the daytime, but carry two unlighted candles before the bride (Catholicos of the East, p. 153); in their case the bridegroom does not fetch his bride himself, but sends his father or friends, whence the usual expression for ‘to marry a son’ is ‘to bring a bride for him’ (ib.). A reference to these lamps has been seen in 2 Ezra 10:2, but this seems to refer to the lights in the guest-room. Before the bridegroom comes, the bride makes herself ready (Revelation 19:7) with the bath; this was the custom, and seems to be referred to in Ephesians 5:25-27. The herald going before the bridegroom and crying, ‘Behold the bridegroom, come ye forth to meet him’ (Matthew 25:6), is a common feature of Eastern life, in which an expected magnate is usually preceded by such an announcement. But in the parable was the bridegroom returning with his bride to his own house, or going to fetch her? The latter view is taken by Edersheim (ii. 454 ff.), who thinks that the bridegroom was coming from a distance to the wedding in the bride’s house; but the other view, held by most commentators, is much more probable. Normally the wedding is in the bridegroom’s house, and in the absence of any requirement of the parable to the contrary the usual custom must be assumed. And there is an early interpretation of the meaning; the words ‘and the bride’ are added to Matthew 25:1 by DXΣ, Syr-sin, Syr-psh, Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] , Arm., some Fathers, and some cursives. There is no doubt that these words are an interpolation, but their addition shows that the authorities named understood the bridegroom to be returning with his bride. It is true that in the best text she is not mentioned; but that is because she is not needed for the purpose of the parable. In a village it would be natural for some of the virgin friends of either party to await the couple outside the place of marriage; and, indeed, our own custom, by which the bridesmaids go to the door of the church to await the bride, is exactly parallel.

No benediction of the marriage is mentioned in the NT, though it will be remembered that the feast itself was a religious act, as was the Agape (Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics i. 166, 173f.). According to Edersheim (i. 355) it was customary among the Jews for the benediction to take place immediately before the supper; a blessing was said over a cup, and presumably the bride and bridegroom drank of it. A benediction seems to be implied in Ignatius, Polyc. 5, where the ‘consent’ of the bishop is required (above, § 2); and it, with a nuptial Eucharist, is expressly mentioned in Tertullian, ad Uxor. ii. 8. For the present custom among Eastern Christians see Catholicos of the East, p. 151. The benediction, which is much overshadowed by the marriage feast, should take place among the E. Syrians in church, but in practice is usually in the house; a little consecrated earth from the martyrs’ tombs and the ring are put into a cup of wine and water, and both parties drink of it. They are crowned with threads of red, blue, and white, and many prayers are said.

The marriage supper follows the benediction, when the bridegroom has returned with his bride; γάμος and γάμοι properly mean this (Matthew 22:8 f.), and then come to mean marriage in general, as in Hebrews 13:4. The feast is given by the bridegroom’s father (Matthew 22:2) or by himself; Samson provided it, though he came from a distance, and this is said to have been the custom of the time (Judges 14:10). The supper was prolonged till late in the night (Luke 12:36; Luke 12:38). The parable of the marriage of the king’s son (Matthew 22:2-14, apparently quite a different incident from that of Luke 14:16-24) gives an account of it. To refuse an invitation to it without good cause was counted a great insult (Matthew 22:7), for to be bidden at all was an honour: the bidding to the marriage of the Lamb conveys a blessing (Revelation 19:9; cf. Luke 14:15). Before the supper a servant goes to summon the invited guests (Matthew 22:3 f.; cf. Esther 6:14); and this continues to this day in the East, where the absence of clocks makes the custom necessary. At the feast the guests are arranged in order according to their rank (Luke 14:7 ff.). Not only is the bride arrayed in ‘fine linen, bright and pure’ (Revelation 19:8), but each guest wears a wedding garment (ἔνδυμα γάμου, Matthew 22:11); the lack of it is an insult, whether or not we are to suppose a reference to the custom of giving garments as presents by kings and great men in the East (so Edersheim, Trench)-and refusing a gift is ever a sign of contempt (cf. the story of Esau and Jacob’s presents, Genesis 33); in the parable no excuse is offered. The feast lasts for seven or fourteen days (Genesis 29:27, Judges 14:12, Tobit 8:19), and during this time all fasting is superseded (Mark 2:19; cf. Edersheim, i. 663). The bride and bridegroom are treated as king and queen, and are crowned (cf. above), and the bride veiled (Genesis 29:23; Genesis 29:25 : this is why Jacob did not discover Laban’s fraud).

The friend of the bridegroom (ὁ φίλος τοῦ νυμφίου, John 3:29) is the same as the παρανύμφιος or πάροχος γάμων (Aristophanes, Av. 1740) of ancient Greece; he accompanied the bridegroom to fetch the bride-in Palestine, no doubt, then as now, on horseback, but formerly among the Greeks in a chariot, for πάροχος means ‘one who sits beside another in a chariot’ (ὄχος). The corresponding feminine is παράνυμφος, the ‘bridesmaid’ (in Latin paranymphus is a ‘bridesman,’ while paranympha is a ‘bridesmaid’). The ‘friend of the bridegroom,’ then, was the best man; according to Edersheim (i. 148, 354 f.) his office was well known in Judaea , but did not exist in Galilee, and therefore he is not mentioned in John 2. But who, then, was the ‘ruler of the feast’ (ἀρχιτρίκλινος) in John 2:9 f.? Souter (Dict. of Christ and the Gospels ii. 540) supposes that he was a steward or head waiter; but his language to the bridegroom is too familiar for this. More probably he was one of the guests (so apparently also in Sirach 32:1), who was entrusted with the management of the feast, but did not in any way provide it himself; he compliments the bridegroom on doing this so successfully.

The sons of the bridechamber (Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19, Luke 5:34) are the bridegroom’s companions (cf. Judges 14:11 -Samson had thirty of them), or probably (Edersheim) all the guests. They may even include the bridesmaids (cf. Psalms 45:14 and the Ten Virgins of Matthew 25).

After the marriage the bridegroom was excused military service for a year (Deuteronomy 24:5; cf. Luke 14:20), and also between the betrothal and the marriage (Deuteronomy 20:7). For bride and bridegroom see also Family.

4. Monogamy, polygamy, and bigamy.-The two last are not directly forbidden in the NT, but their unlawfulness for Christians is assumed. Among the Jews polygamy had greatly decreased since the time of the patriarchs, and at the commencement of the Christian era was little practised. This was perhaps largely in consequence of Roman influence. Josephus says, indeed, that it was sometimes found among the later Jews (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) I. xxiv. 2, Ant. XVII. i. 2f.). He is speaking of Herod and his sons, who were not pure Jews; yet their polygamy was not condemned by public opinion. In both passages it is implied that, though an old Jewish custom, it was uncommon. In Josephus’ account of the laws of Moses (Ant. IV. viii. 23) two wives (at a time) are mentioned; but this throws no light on the custom of the later Jews. Polygamy among Jews in the 2nd cent. a.d. is, however, mentioned by Justin Martyr (Dial. 134). For Christians it was inconsistent with Jesus’ elevated teaching about marriage, which assumes monogamy. W. P. Paterson points out (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iii. 265a) that in the OT itself the polygamy of the patriarchs is spoken of apologetically. Noah was monogamous (Genesis 7:7); and monogamy was held to be symbolical of God’s union with Israel (Hosea 2:19 ff.), while polygamy was symbolical of idolatry. We may also notice that spiritual monogamy is emphasized by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:2, where ‘to one husband’ is emphatic; he is speaking of God’s union with His Church. It should be remembered that in most or all countries where polygamy is allowed, it is not in practice very common, because only the rich can afford more than one wife. Thus at the present day the great majority of Muslims are monogamous, though their law allows them four wives and an unlimited number of concubines.* [Note: In the 3rd and 4th cents. the Church had some difficulty with regard to the reception of heathens who had concubines. The Church Orders do not allow Christians to keep concubines; if a man has one and desires to become a Christian he must marry her or leave her (Egyptian Church Order, § 41, Ap. Const. viii. 32 [ed. Funk], Testament of our Lord, ii. 2); and this is evidently the meaning of Can. of Hippolytus, xvi. [ed. Achelis, § 80], which says that a Christian who has lived with a single (speciali) concubine, who has borne him a son, must not cast her off, i.e. he must marry her. The clause common to these books apparently comes from their lost original, which may not improbably be assigned to Hippolytus, and be dated soon after a.d. 200. But some of these Orders say that under some circumstances a concubine of a heathen may herself be received.]

5. Digamy.-The re-marriage of widows and widowers stands on an entirely different basis from polygamy, and, though it was disliked by many Christians in the early ages of the Church, it was regarded by all, or almost all, as permissible. St. Paul allows it to widows (Romans 7:2 f., 1 Corinthians 7:39), and no reproach attaches to those who practise it, though the Apostle thinks that widowhood will give greater happiness than re-marriage (1 Corinthians 7:40; see above, 2). If with Revised Version we render νεωτέρας in 1 Timothy 5:14 ‘younger widows’ (Authorized Version and Revised Version margin ‘younger women’), he encourages or commands digamy in some cases. ‘I desire that’ they ‘marry, bear children, rule the household.’ But it seems probable that he did not approve of ‘digamy’ for his local clergy, or the ‘widows’ who are on the Church roll, supported by the Church (1 Timothy 5:9; 1 Timothy 5:16). These widows must be over threescore years old, ‘having been the wife of one man’ (v. 9). This phrase, at least, is unambiguous (the participle γεγονυῖα applies both to this and to the preceding clause); it excludes bigamy, digamy, and marriage after divorce alike. The meaning of the qualification of the ‘bishop’ or ‘presbyter,’ that he ‘must be … the husband of one wife’ (1 Timothy 3:2, so Titus 1:6), a qualification repeated in the case of deacons in 1 Timothy 3:12, is on the negative side less clear; for the qualification on the positive side, see above, 2. It has been variously interpreted as forbidding, in the case of the Christian minister, polygamy, digamy, or marriage entered upon after a divorce-which for simplicity, and so as not to complicate the issue, we may suppose to have taken place in the clergyman’s heathen days-or after a separation such as that contemplated in 1 Corinthians 7:15 (see below, 6 (b)). In favour of the phrase referring to polygamy, it has been said that as the Jews sometimes practised it in the apostolic period (above, 4), probably some Christians followed their example. But there is no evidence of Christian polygamy; and the very fact that the apostles did not find it necessary to forbid it explicitly prevents us from thinking that St. Paul merely meant that a ‘bishop’ or deacon must not be a polygamist. If this were the meaning, the prohibition of polygamy to the clergy would imply that it was not uncommon among the laity. We may therefore safely dismiss this view. No Christian would be allowed to be a polygamist. The other two interpretations may well be joined together, and that they give the true meaning of the phrase* [Note: The Church Orders, if they deal with the matter at all, interpret the injunction of digamy, and some of them extend the prohibition to the minor orders (Maclean, Ancient Church Orders, Cambridge, 1910, p. 92). The Orthodox Eastern Church (see above, 2) does not allow her parish priests to marry again after the death of their wives. In that case they must leave their parishes, and they usually enter a monastery. Marriage after ordination is not treated of in the NT.] is confirmed by the injunction about widows (1 Timothy 5:10). This clearly forbids the reception on the roll of a widow who at any time of her life has had, by divorce, or death, or otherwise, more than one husband. It is true that a widow, and a fortiori a widower, may lawfully marry again (above) after the death of their spouses; but a higher standard is required in the case of the clergy. It is necessary here again to remark that a disciplinary regulation, even of St. Paul, is not intended to be a cast-iron law for all time. But that it was a desirable regulation in the Apostolic Age we can well understand, for there was a considerable prejudice against digamy; and, however unreasonable the prejudice might be, it was well not to give unnecessary offence to public opinion. This prejudice may be seen, for example, in Josephus, Ant. XVII. xiii. 4, where Glaphyra is reprimanded for re-marriage, in a vision, by her first husband; this was also a case of forbidden degrees, for her first and third husbands were brothers. Perseverance in widowhood was commended not only in the NT (Luke 2:37, 1 Corinthians 7:40), but by the heathen Romans (Josephus, Ant. XVIII. vi. 6: Antonia, widow of Drusus). In the 2nd cent. Hermas says (Mand. iv. 4) that digamy is not a sin, but, that a widow [or widower] who remains single is commended. So Clement of Alexandria (Strom. iii. 12), commenting on St. Paul, says that one who re-marries does not sin, but that he does not follow the most perfect course.

Digamy in a man was much less disliked than in a woman. The ‘Epiphanian’ view of the Brethren of our Lord, that they were Joseph’s children by a former marriage, would hardly have been possible in the 4th cent. if there had been a very strong prejudice against a widower marrying again. Third and fourth marriages were strongly reprobated in the early Church (see Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics iii. 493).

6. Prohibited marriages.-We may in this section discuss certain prohibitions against marriage, leaving aside for the moment the question of marriage after divorce (see 7).

(a) Forbidden degrees.-Whatever were the forbidden degrees in the OT, they appear to have remained unaltered in NT times. There are a few passages which deal with the subject. In 1 Corinthians 5:1-5; 1 Corinthians 5:13 St. Paul deals with the case of a Corinthian who took his father’s wife, evidently his stepmother, not his own mother. It is not quite clear if the father was alive; if 2 Corinthians 7:12 refers to the same incident, as appears to the present writer the more probable supposition, he was alive; but if so, it is not clear whether he had divorced his wife and the son had married her. In any case, the inference is that even if it were only a case of marriage between a son and a stepmother it would be repugnant to the Apostle, as it would be even to the better heathen. Otherwise a heathen would have got over the difficulty by the father divorcing his wife and the son then marrying her; but the marriage or adultery of persons so closely related by affinity had shocked both Christians and heathens alike. Another case is that of Herod Antipas and Herodias his brother Philip’s wife (Mark 6:17 f.). Here again it is immaterial whether Philip was alive or dead, or whether Herodias had been divorced; the connexion would be prohibited in any event (Leviticus 18:16): ‘it is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife’ (she was also niece of both her husbands). Ramsay thinks (St. Paul the Traveller, 1895, p. 43) that the prohibited degrees are probably referred to in the Apostolic Letter (Acts 15:20; Acts 15:29; Acts 21:25), and he understands ‘fornication’ there to mean marriage within these degrees. Others deny this, and say that Gentile Christians had to be reminded that fidelity to the marriage bond was not a matter of indifference, and that fornication and idolatry went hand in hand. But it is not quite easy to see why this sin alone of all others is mentioned in the Letter, coupled as it is with such ceremonial injunctions as not eating things strangled or with the blood; and Ramsay’s view appears to deserve greater support than it has generally received. The Letter, which is somewhat of the nature of a compromise, indicates what part of the Mosaic Law the Gentile Christians, to avoid scandal, ought to keep. The existence of prohibited degrees may be partly due in their origin to the general feeling that those of the same household, where several families (in the Western sense) lived in one house (see Family), should not intermarry; and it is a striking fact that the East Syrian Christians, who have preserved the custom of several families living under one roof, have considerably extended the Table of Forbidden Degrees (Catholicos of the East, p. 146f.).

The custom of the levirate does not affect this question. It was a special provision of the OT to prevent the dying out of a family (see Adoption). It was perhaps still practised in NT times, as it is referred to by the Sadducees, almost as if still existing, in Matthew 22:25 ff., Mark 12:20 ff., Luke 20:29 ff. (note παρʼ ἡμῖν, Mt.). But at least it was obsolescent.

(b) Mixed marriages.-The Israelites in the OT had frequently been urged not to intermarry with the heathen nations, especially with the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 7:3; cf. Numbers 25:6 f., etc.); and mixed marriages were one of the great troubles of Ezra and Nehemiah in restoring the captivity of the people (Ezra 9:1 ff., Nehemiah 13:23 ff., etc.). The strict Jew would, like St. Peter, think it unlawful ‘to join himself or come unto one of another nation’ (Acts 10:28). Yet there were, both in OT and in NT times, many cases of mixed marriages, of which that of Timothy’s parents is a later example (Acts 16:1; there seems to be a reference to it in Galatians 2:3, where St. Paul says that Titus, being a Greek, was not compelled to be circumcised-he was doubtless thinking of Timothy’s circumcision, Acts 16:3). For OT mixed marriages in practice see Ruth 1:4, 1 Kings 7:14, 2 Chronicles 24:26, etc., besides the alliances of the kings. In dealing with Christian marriage, St. Paul tolerates the union of Christians with heathen (or Jews?) only when it has been entered into before conversion; in such a case the parties should continue to live together if the unbelieving partner is willing (1 Corinthians 7:12-16; see below, 7); the reason given is not only the well-being of the non-Christian spouse, but also that of the children (1 Corinthians 7:14)-‘now are they holy,’ words which perhaps refer to the probability that the children of one Christian parent, if not separated from the other spouse, will be brought up in the faith. Marriage between one already a Christian and an unbeliever is forbidden: ‘Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers’ (2 Corinthians 6:14 -though these words have a wider application than marriage). If a widow re-marries, it must be ‘in the Lord,’ i.e. the second husband must be a Christian (1 Corinthians 7:39). St. Peter’s reference to mixed marriages (1 Peter 3:1) probably deals with a marriage before conversion and is parallel with 1 Corinthians 7:12 ff. The prohibition of mixed marriages among the Jews extended to those of free men and women with slaves (Josephus, Ant. IV. viii. 23). There is nothing on this head in the NT.

7. Divorce.-Whatever view we take of some controverted texts, there can be no doubt that our Lord completely revolutionized men’s ideas on this subject. With the heathen divorce was the easiest possible thing; it was open to a husband or to a wife to terminate the marriage at will. The Roman satirist scoffs at the woman who had eight husbands in five autumns (Juvenal, Sat. vi. 224 ff.). Things were not much better with the Jews, though there was a difference of opinion among the Rabbis. Some held that a man could ‘put away his wife for every cause,’ interpreting the ‘unseemly thing’ of Deuteronomy 24:1 as anything for which he may dislike her. The great Hillel is said to have held this view, and Josephus so understood the matter (Ant. IV. viii. 23); this is probably what our Lord refers to in speaking of the bill of divorcement (Matthew 5:31 f.). Others held that the husband could give his wife a bill of divorcement only if she were guilty of adultery, interpreting the ‘unseemly thing’ in this stricter sense (Edersheim, ii. 332 ff.).

Divorce was forbidden by our Lord, with at most one exception (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:6; Matthew 19:9, Mark 10:9; Mark 10:11 f., Luke 16:18): ‘what God hath joined together let not man put asunder.’ St. Paul gives charge (‘yet not I, but the Lord’-it is a Divine ordinance, not his private opinion) that a wife is not to depart from her husband; but that if she depart, she is to remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband; and ‘let not the husband put away his wife’ (1 Corinthians 7:10 f.). And, later, he repeats that ‘a wife is bound for so long time as her husband liveth’ (1 Corinthians 7:39).

Postponing for the moment the exceptive clauses of Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9, and therefore the signification of πορνεία, let us consider in detail our Lord’s teaching about divorce. One who puts away his wife makes her an adulteress (Matthew 5:32) and becomes an adulterer if he marries again (Matthew 19:9, Mark 10:11, Luke 16:18); and a woman who puts away her husband and marries again commits adultery (Mk.); the second husband of a divorced wife commits adultery (Mt. twice, Lk.). All this is clear except the first saying. How does a wife, presumably innocent, become an adulteress because her husband divorces her? One reply (W. C. Allen, International Critical Commentary , ‘St. Matthew,’ Edinburgh, 1907, p. 52; so Bengel, Alford) is that she is placed in a position in which she is likely to marry again, and a second marriage would be adultery. Lyttelton, however, suggests (Sermon on the Mount, p. 178) that ‘adulteress’ here means that the woman is placed in a different position in the eye of the law from that which she holds in the sight of God. ‘According to the one she is a freed woman, not a wife; according to the other she is still a wife, still bound to her husband.’

We may now take the exceptive clauses found in both the Matthaean passages, but not in Mk., Lk., or 1 Cor., or indeed anywhere else in the NT. In Matthew 5:32 the Evangelist adds, ‘saving for the cause of fornication’ (παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας), and in Matthew 19:9 ‘except for fornication’ (εἰ μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ), though in some Manuscripts the text of Matthew 19:9 is brought nearer to Matthew 5:32. In the first place, are these words an authentic utterance of our Lord? Are they really part of the First Gospel? (these are two quite distinct questions). The view that they are not authentic is upheld by Votaw in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) v. p. 27b; for the view that they are an integral part of Mt. see Plummer, St. Matthew, London, 1909, pp. 81, 259, and J. R. Willis in Dict. of Christ and the Gospels i. 31. Votaw upholds his view by the arguments that ‘the account in Mt. is secondary,’ that there is a divergence between Mt. and the other Synoptists and St. Paul, that the exceptive clauses are of a statutory nature while Jesus enunciates principles rather than legislative enactments, and that in our Lord’s general teaching adultery is not enough in itself for divorce-the Gospel urges mercy rather than justice, and leaves time for repentance (cf. the story of the woman taken in adultery, John 8:3 ff.). Of these arguments the divergence between the Evangelists seems to the present writer to be the only important one; there is no real reason for saying that the exceptive clauses do not enunciate a principle just as much as the general teaching about divorce; and with regard to the last statement, it is to be noticed that the exceptive clauses do not state that adultery in itself dissolves marriage, but that it is a legitimate cause for dissolving it. On the other hand, every known authority for the Matthaean text attests these clauses-the assimilating of the two passages in some Manuscripts is a very natural thing for a scribe to do and does not show that the archetype of any of our Manuscripts lacked the clauses; and the tendency found in some writers to reject words on purely a priori grounds, against all Manuscripts and VSS [Note: SS Versions.] , is one which is justly deprecated by scholars in this country. The evidence, then, is enough to bring us to the conclusion that the words were written by the First Evangelist. But were they uttered by our Lord? It seems to be a tenable view that they are a gloss by the Evangelist, or by his authority-that Jesus gave the general principle of non-divorce without explicitly naming any exceptions; and that the first disciples understood adultery to be such an exception, and therefore the exceptive words were added as a true interpretation. If so, it does not follow that the Church in later times could add other exceptions for which the Evangelist gives no warrant. On the other hand, it is a tenable, and perhaps more probable view, that our Lord gave the exception Himself, on some other occasion than that described in Matthew 19:3 and || Mk. St. Luke (Luke 16:18) gives the injunction as to divorce as an isolated fragment, without the context of the Pharisees’ question. The fact that the First Evangelist gives the injunction twice leads us to suppose that in an authority other than Mk. he found the record of a second occasion on which our Lord taught about divorce, for otherwise why should he repeat the words? It may well be that he found there an exceptive clause. Thus the silence of the other authorities (always a doubtful argument) does not prohibit the supposition that Jesus spoke the exceptive words Himself (so Edersheim).

What then does πορνεία mean in the two Matthaean passages? It is distinguished from μοιχεία in Matthew 15:19, Mark 7:21 f., and in inferior Manuscripts of Galatians 5:19; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Hebrews 13:4 (Copyright Statement
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Marriage'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​m/marriage.html. 1906-1918.
 
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