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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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a civil and religious contract, by which a man is joined and united to a woman, for the ends of procreation. The essence of marriage consists in the mutual consent of the parties. Marriage is a part of the law of nations, and is in use among all people. The public use of marriage institutions consists, according to Archdeacon Paley, in their promoting the following beneficial effects:

1. The private comfort of individuals.

2. The production of the greatest number of healthy children, their better education, and the making of due provision for their settlement in life.

3. The peace of human society, in cutting off a principal source of contention, by assigning one or more women to one man, and protecting his exclusive right by sanctions of morality and law.

4. The better government of society, by distributing the community into separate families, and appointing over each the authority of a master of a family, which has more actual influence than all civil authority put together.

5. The additional security which the state receives for the good behaviour of its citizens, from the solicitude they feel for the welfare of their children, and from their being confined to permanent habitations.

6. The encouragement, of industry.

Whether marriage be a civil or a religious contract, has been a subject of dispute. The truth seems to be that it is both. It has its engagements to men, and its vows to God. A Christian state recognizes marriage as a branch of public morality, and a source of civil peace and strength. It is connected with the peace of society by assigning one woman to one man, and the state protects him, therefore, in her exclusive possession. Christianity, by allowing divorce in the event of adultery, supposes, also, that the crime must be proved by proper evidence before the civil magistrate; and lest divorce should be the result of unfounded suspicion, or be made a cover for license, the decision of the case could safely be lodged no where else. Marriage, too, as placing one human being more completely under the power of another than any other relation, requires laws for the protection of those who are thus so exposed to injury. The distribution of society into families, also, can only be an instrument for promoting the order of the community, by the cognizance which the law takes of the head of a family, and by making him responsible, to a certain extent, for the conduct of those under his influence. Questions of property are also involved in marriage and its issue. The law must, therefore, for these and many other weighty reasons, be cognizant of marriage; must prescribe various regulations respecting it; require publicity of the contract; and guard some of the great injunctions of religion in the matter by penalties. In every well ordered society marriage must be placed under the cognizance and control of the state. But then those who would have the whole matter to lie between the parties themselves, and the civil magistrate, appear wholly to forget that marriage is also a solemn religious act, in which vows are made to God by both persons, who, when the rite is properly understood, engage to abide by all those laws with which he has guarded the institution; to love and cherish each other; and to remain faithful to each other until death. For if, at least, they profess belief in Christianity, whatever duties are laid upon husbands and wives in Holy Scripture, they engage to obey by the very act of their contracting marriage. The question, then, is whether such vows to God as are necessarily involved in marriage, are to be left between the parties and God privately, or whether they ought to be publicly made before his ministers and the church. On this the Scriptures are silent; but though Michaelis has shown that the priests under the law were not appointed to celebrate marriage; yet in the practice of the modern Jews it is a religious ceremony, the chief rabbi of the synagogue being present, and prayers being appointed for the occasion. This renders it probable that the character of the ceremony under the law, from the most ancient times, was a religious one. The more direct connection of marriage with religion in Christian states, by assigning its celebration to the ministers of religion, appears to be a very beneficial custom, and one which the state has a right to enjoin. For since the welfare and morals of society are so much interested in the performance of the mutual duties of the married state; and since those duties have a religious as well as a civil character, it is most proper that some provision should be made for explaining those duties; and for this a standing form of marriage is best adapted. By acts of religion, also, they are more solemnly impressed upon the parties. When this is prescribed in any state, it becomes a Christian cheerfully, and even thankfully, to comply with a custom of so important a tendency, as matter of conscientious subjection to lawful authority, although no Scriptural precept can be pleaded for it. That the ceremony should be confined to the clergy of an established church, is a different consideration. We think that the religious effect would be greater, were the ministers of each religious body to be authorized by the state to celebrate marriages among their own people, due provision being previously made by the civil magistrate for the regular and secure registry of them, and to prevent the laws respecting marriage from being evaded; which is indeed his business. The offices of religion would then come in by way of sanction and moral enforcement.

When this important contract is once made, then certain rights are acquired by the parties mutually, who are also bound by reciprocal duties, in the fulfilment of which the practical virtue of each consists. And here the superior character of the morals of the New Testament, as well as their higher authority, is illustrated. It may, indeed, be within the scope of mere moralists to show that fidelity, and affection, and all the courtesies necessary to maintain affection, are rationally obligatory upon those who are connected by the nuptial bond; but in Christianity nuptial fidelity is guarded by the express law, "Thou shalt not commit adultery;" and by our Lord's exposition of the spirit of that law which forbids the indulgence of loose thoughts and desires, and places the purity of the heart under the guardianship of that hallowed fear which his authority tends to inspire. Affection, too, is made a matter of diligent cultivation upon considerations, and by a standard, peculiar to our religion. Husbands are placed in a relation to their wives, similar to that which Christ bears to his church, and his example is thus made their rule. As Christ loved the church, so husbands are to love their wives; as Christ "gave himself," his life, "for the church," Ephesians 5:25 , so are they to hazard life for their wives; as Christ saves his church, so is it the bounden duty of husbands to endeavour, by ever possible means, to promote the religious edification and salvation of their wives. The connection is thus exalted into a religious one; and when love which knows no abatement, protection at the hazard of life, and a tender and constant solicitude for the salvation of a wife, are thus enjoined, the greatest possible security is established for the exercise of kindness and fidelity. The oneness of this union is also more forcibly stated in Scripture than any where beside. "They twain shall be one flesh." "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies; he that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church." Precept and illustration can go no higher than this; and nothing evidently is wanting either of direction or authority to raise the state of marriage into the highest, most endearing, and sanctified relation in which two human beings can stand to each other.

2. We find but few laws in the books of Moses concerning the institution of marriage. Though the Mosaic law no where obliges men to marry, the Jews have always looked upon it as an indispensable duty implied in the words, "Increase and multiply," Genesis 1:28 ; so that a man who did not marry his daughter before she was twenty years of age, was looked upon as accessary to any irregularities the young woman might be guilty of for want of being timely married. Moses restrained the Israelites from marrying within certain degrees of consanguinity; which had till then been permitted, to prevent their taking wives from among the idolatrous nations among whom they lived. Abraham gave this as a reason for choosing a wife for Isaac from among his own kindred, Genesis 34:3 , &c. But when his descendants became so exceedingly multiplied, this reason ceased; and the great lawgiver prohibited, under pain of death, certain degrees of kindred as incestuous. Polygamy, though not expressly allowed, is however tacitly implied in the laws of Moses, Genesis 31; Exodus 21:10 . This practice likewise was authorized by the example of the patriarchs. Thus Jacob married both the daughters of Laban. In respect to which custom, Moses enjoins that, upon the marriage of a second wife, a man shall be bound to continue to the first her food, raiment, and the duty of marriage. The Jews did not always content themselves with the allowance of two wives, as may be seen in the examples of David, Solomon, and many others. However, they made a distinction between the wives of the first rank, and those of the second. The first they called nashim, and the other pilgashim; which last, though most versions render it by the words "concubines," "harlots," and "prostitutes," yet it has no where in Scripture any such bad sense. There is a particular law called the Levirate, which obliged a man, whose brother died without issue, to marry his widow, and raise up seed to his brother, Deuteronomy 25:5 , &c. But Moses in some measure left it to a man's choice, whether he would comply with this law or not; for in case of a refusal the widow could only summon him before the judges of the place, when, if he persisted, she untied his shoe, and spit in his face, and said, "Thus shall it be done unto the man who refuses to build up his brother's house." A man was at liberty to marry not only in the twelve tribes, but even out of them, provided it was among such nations as used circumcision; such were the Midianites, Ishmaelites, Edomites, Moabites, and Egyptians. Accordingly, we find Moses himself married to a Midianite, and Boaz to a Moabite. Amasa was the son of Jether, an Ishmaelite, by Abigail, David's sister; and Solomon, in the beginning of his reign, married Pharaoh's daughter. Whenever we find him and other kings blamed for marrying strange women, we must understand it of those nations which were idolatrous and uncircumcised.

It appears almost impossible to Europeans, says Mr. Hartley, that a deception like that of Laban's could be practised. But the following extract, from a journal which I kept at Smyrna, presents a parallel case: "The Armenian brides are veiled during the marriage ceremony; and hence deceptions have occurred, in regard to the person chosen for wife. I am informed that, on one occasion, a young Armenian at Smyrna solicited in marriage a younger daughter, whom he admired. The parents of the girl consented to the request, and every previous arrangement was made. When the time for solemnizing the marriage arrived, the elder daughter, who was not so beautiful, was conducted by the parents to the altar, and the young man was unconsciously married to her. And ‘it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was the elder daughter.' The deceit was not discovered, till it could not be rectified; and the manner in which the parents justified themselves was precisely that of Laban: ‘It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the first-born.' It is really the rule among the Armenians, that neither a younger son nor daughter be married, till their elder brother or sister have preceded them." I was once present at the solemnization of matrimony among the Armenians; and some recollections of it may tend to throw light on this and other passages of Scripture. The various festivities attendant on these occasions continue for three days and during the last night the marriage is celebrated. I was conducted to the house of the bride, where I found a very large assemblage of persons. The company was dispersed through various rooms; reminding me of the directions of our Saviour, in regard to the choice of the lowermost rooms at feasts. On the ground floor I actually observed that the persons convened were of an inferior order of the community, while in the upper rooms were assembled those of higher rank. The large number of young females who were present, naturally reminded me of the wise and foolish virgins in our Saviour's parable. These being friends of the bride, the virgins, her companions, had come to meet the bridegroom, Psalms 45:14 . It is usual for the bridegroom to come at midnight; so that, literally, at midnight the cry is made, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh! go ye out to meet him," Matthew 25:6 . But, on this occasion the bridegroom tarried: it was two o'clock before he arrived. The whole party then proceeded to the Armenian church, where the bishop was waiting to receive them; and there the ceremony was completed. See DIVORCE and See BRIDE .

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Marriage'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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