The Bible clearly expresses God’s intentions for marriage. In marriage, a man and a woman are meant to find fulfillment that is both spiritual and physical. |
Today in our series “Manners and Customs of the Bible” we will look at the steps that led to a marriage in the biblical times. We will talk about the old tradition of choosing a bride.
In biblical time marriages were arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. Sometimes the parents allowed their children to have a say in the choice, but frequently they did not. Dating and courtship did not precede marriage. The negotiations by the parents resulted in a betrothal, a binding agreement pledging the bride and groom to marriage. Once the groom took the bride into his home, they were considered married. Typically, girls were betrothed shortly after puberty, and the marriage was consummated one year later.
Various ceremonies and feasts accompanied the wedding day at different times in history, but the wedding was not performed, sanctioned or blessed by religious officials. As far as known, there was no exchange of marriage vows, and our commonly used vows do not come from the Bible. The marriage was neither a civil nor a religious matter, but numerous religious obligations came as a result.
Before a marriage took place, it was common for a groom and his family to pay a “bride price.” They paid it to the father of the bride to seal the marriage agreement. The bride price was not always paid in cash. It might be given in the form of clothing or some other valuable item. A most gruesome one was demanded by Saul, who asked David for physical proof that he had killed 100 Philistines (1 Sam. 18:25).
The giving of a bride price did not mean that the wife had been sold to the husband and was his property. It was a realization of the economic worth of the daughter.
At times, the groom or his family gave gifts to the bride too.
The feast was an important part of the marriage ceremony. It was usually given by the bride’s family, but the groom’s family might give it too.
In Old Testament times a levirate marriage was practiced as well. If a man died leaving no male heir, his brother was required to marry his widow and produce children (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). This and other forms of polygamy were acceptable at that time, although only wealthy men could afford multiple wives. King Solomon was the most notable polygamist with his 700 wives and 300 concubines.
Throughout the centuries the main concept of marriage stayed the same but many of the traditions of the Old Testament ceased. Today the matter of choosing a bride or a groom is not decided by the parents. Women have found their place in the society and have the same say in the life choices they make as men do.