Friday, July 07, 2017

Steps to marriage in the time of Jesus, with some reflections on our Valentine's Day culture

From William Barclay's commentary on Matthew: 

(i) There was the engagement. The engagement was often made when the couple were only children. It was usually made through the parents, or through a professional match-maker. And it was often made without the couple involved ever having seen each other. Marriage was held to be far too serious a step to be left to the dictates of the human heart.
(ii) There was the betrothal. The betrothal was what we might call the ratification of the engagement into which the couple had previously entered. At this point the engagement, entered into by the parents or the match-maker, could be broken if the girl was unwilling to go on with it. But once the betrothal was entered into, it was absolutely binding. It lasted for one year. During that year the couple were known as man and wife, although they had not the rights of man and wife. It could not be terminated in any other way than by divorce. In the Jewish law we frequently find what is to us a curious phrase. A girl whose fiance had died during the year of betrothal is called "a virgin who is a widow". It was at this stage that Joseph and Mary were. They were betrothed, and if Joseph wished to end the betrothal, he could do so in no other way than by divorce; and in that year of betrothal Mary was legally known as his wife.
(iii) The third stage was the marriage proper, which took place at the end of the year of betrothal.

This is how marriage was done back then. No dating, or even courtship. Throughout most of history this is how it has been done. That is why, in India, Valentine's day is such a controversial holiday. On Valentine's day we celebrate falling in love,  since that determines the course of our relationships. In India, it is a family decision, sometimes done with the primary participation of the actual couple, but in other cases not. 

The same-sex marriage issue can only arise in a Valentine's Day culture. Can you imagine Tzeitel (in Fiddler on the Roof) telling the matchmaker she's a lesbian, and wants to be matched with a woman? 


Jimmy S. M. said...

Are you saying you prefer this traditional model?

Gay or straight, I'd rather be with someone I'm attracted to and compatible with

Victor Reppert said...

I am not. But the circumstances of the past might have made such arrangements an economic necessity. We often forget, for example, that before there was social security, people depended upon their progeny to care for them in their old age. I am glad I don't live under such a system, but I don't know if I could argue against it without certain modern circumstances being there.

Starhopper said...

I often wonder whether any studies have been done to see which sorts of marriages are "happier" - arranged ones or "Love American Style". Is there any data on this?

Kevin said...

I imagine the difference in divorce rates is quite staggering, as well.