What does the Bible say about being engaged or betrothed before marriage? What did this mean in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day?
The Originator of Marriage
God created and ordained marriage for the purpose of glorifying Himself. Mankind was created in the image of God (Gen 1:27) and given dominion over the earth and all of God’s creatures. This divine institution, where one man and one woman are joined together, was an intentional act of grace by God for both the man and the woman. At the creation of mankind, God still had relationship with them until they had decided for themselves to do what they thought was right and wrong (Gen 3). After sin entered the world, the relationship between God and man was severed (Isaiah 59:2). God’s only alternative was to temporarily cover their sins by having to use the skins of animals (Gen 3:21) which prefigured Jesus’ shed blood that would not cover our sins but taken them away forever (Psalm 103). The point is that the price of sin is costly. If God had not provided the sacrifice for Adam and Eve’s covering, would there have been any possible access to God through repentance and forgiveness? Was it not God Who initiated the covering, which represented God’s covering their sin? By God’s acting on their behalf, we see our calling and election as purely a divine work (Eph 2:8-9) where God brings us to Himself (John 6:44).
When God said “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24), the same verses Jesus quoted (Mark 10:7-8), He was saying that they are to leave and cleave and become one, new flesh or family. They are now separated from their old family in the sense that the man and the woman now have their own, new or original family.
In the Jewish culture of that day, when a couple was betrothed or engaged to be married, they were already as good as married as far as everyone was concerned and it was legally binding. The only exception would be fornication before marriage, even if it were between the engaged couple. That’s why Joseph sought to secretly divorce Mary when he discovered that she was with child. He wanted to save her from the public humiliation, shame, and scandal that would result and likely prevent her from ever being able to marry again. It took the intervention of an angel’s message to Joseph to explain to him what had happened and that Mary had conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit and still remained a virgin.
This is one of the most joyful announcements any parent could ever hear. Their child is engaged to be married. This means that a new family is being created and quite possibly, grandchildren are on the horizon. However, most Christian marital counselors discourage long engagements because of the difficulty in remaining free from any sexual immorality over a long period of time. Engagement periods of a year or more can increase the likelihood of premarital sex. Even though Paul wrote this to single Christians, what he wrote is important for engaged couples; “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1st Cor 7:8-9). That’s why Paul told Timothy “I counsel younger widows to marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander” (1st Tim 5:14).
Paul was very concerned about the sexual immorality, even in the church, and wrote “that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable” (1st Thess 4:4). Want to know what God’s will is for your life? Here it is: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1st Thess 4:3-5) because all sexually immoral people have only one place to go (Rev 21:8) unless they repent and forsake their sexual immorality because Paul tells us that “the sexually immoral” (1st Cor 6:9) will “not inherit the kingdom of God” (1st Cor 6:10). Gladly, Paul ends this by saying “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1st Cor 6:11).
God expects us to live lives that are holy and blameless before Him. That doesn’t require perfection because we’ll all sin, but that does mean not making it a practice of sinning. Christians can and do fall into sin but we don’t dive into it and swim around in it. We get right out it! Someone who lives like the world but claims to be Christ’s will hear some tragic words from Jesus’ own mouth someday (Matt 7:21-23) because that’s not what Christians do (1st John 3) and be assured of this,“I warn you, as I did before, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.