Ancient Marriage

Ancient Manners and Customs, Daily Life, Cultures, Bible Lands

Illustration of a Marriage Procession in Biblical Times

In the ancient Near East marriages were always arranged. In ancient Israel the marriage covenant (b'rith) was part of the civil law, and there were legal papers that were drawn up which defined the rights of the husband and wife. The wedding ceremony (Chuppah) was all about bringing the bride to the bridegroom's house. The ceremony itself would last 7 days, sometimes longer. There would be great rejoicing and celebration late in the evening on the streets, and also when they arrived for the feast at the bridegroom's house. Once they entered the doors were shut and the wedding ceremony began. The bridegroom would spread the tip of his upper garment over her, then they would proceed to the wedding chamber, then to the feast. There were many friends and relatives, some would travel long distances. The fall was an ideal time for a marriage because it was after the harvest.

Marriage in Biblical Times


In the ancient Near East betrothal took place before the actual marriage and it was considered as binding as marriage. In ancient Israel a woman who was betrothed was considered the "wife" of the man she was betrothed to, and she was bound to be faithful. The betrothal (kiddushin) period lasted usually 6 months and sometimes 1 year, and it was a binding promise between the bridegroom and bride to marry. Deuteronomy 20:7 mentions the betrothal, stating that a man is exempt from military duty if he is betrothed. Once a woman was betrothed she was considered already married, and if she had sexual intercourse during this period she was considered an adulterer and was to be stoned to death. If she was not caught in the actual act and was found not to be a virgin, the husband could dissolve the marriage quietly and sign a bill of divorce. According to the civil law the virgin was purchased for a certain sum of money, this was paid to the bride's father. Later in Israel's history she was given a gold ring, or some other valuable thing, and the bridegroom would declare, "See by this ring (or token) thou art set apart unto me, according to the law of Moses and of Israel." Many times the betrothed woman would not see her betrothed husband until the marriage ceremony began.

The Friend of the Bridegroom

The bridegroom chose a loyal friend to prepare the bride for the wedding. He would accompany her throughout the betrothal period, and help her get prepared. Once the ceremony commenced and the friend heard the bridegroom's voice, he would know that he did his job in preparing the bride to receive the bridegroom. John 3:29 describes John the Baptist as the "friend of the bridegroom" who rejoiced because of the bridegroom's voice, when he heard about Jesus preaching.

The Procession

When the wedding day finally arrived the bridegroom would dress himself in festive garments, wearing a crown of gold, or silver, or flowers. He would proceed with his friend and other attendants from an unknown place at an unknown time to the bride's father's house. The virgins of Israel would be outside waiting along the way in the evening with their oil lamps lit, until the loud warning cry, "Behold the Bridegroom Cometh, Go Ye Out to Meet Him," and they would meet him and proceed with him to the entrance of the bride's father's house.

Meanwhile the bride would have been bathed, purified, perfumed, richly clothed, and adorned with many jewels, and would receive the blessing from her family and friends. She was also completely covered with a veil as she waited for the bridegroom. When the bridegroom finally showed up at the entrance of the house there would again be a loud cry, "Behold the Bridegroom Cometh, Go Ye Out to Meet Him." The procession would begin from the bride's father's house to the house of the bridegroom. It began with great celebration, the bridegroom, the bride, the friend, the virgins, musicians, and many other friends and relatives would walk and dance, and cast flowers, and sing songs, with "every demonstration of joy and gladness." The bride was crowned and carried by the crowd on a piece of furniture through the streets to the bridegroom's house.

The Wedding Ceremony

The ceremony itself was called the Chuppa, which means "canopy", and the bride and bridegroom would go under the canopy for all to see. They would then proceed to a room where she would remove her veil and they would physically become one in their marriage covenant with God. Afterward they would place the bloodstained garment out the window of the room, for all to see that she had been a virgin.

The Wedding Feast

The doors were shut and the feast began with great dancing and celebration lasting seven days at the bridegroom's house. All guests were given special garments, clothing of festivity. The bridegroom and bride were treated as king and queen, they also wore garments of celebration and did no work, they would watch the festivities, drink wine, and even join in the dancing. The ruler of the feast was responsible for all preparations and benedictions.

Illustration of the Wedding Canopy

Modern Illustration of the Chuppah

A Type of Christ and the Church

The church is the bride, beautiful, clothed, and richly adorned. Christ will come at an unknown hour to claim His bride.

Marriage in Smith's Bible Dictionary
1. Its origin and history. --The institution of marriage dates from the time of man's original creation. Ge 2:18-25 From Ge 2:24 we may evolve the following principles: (1) The unity of man and wife, as implied in her being formed out of man. (2) The indissolubleness of the marriage bond, except on; the strongest grounds, Comp. Mt 19:9 (3) Monogamy, as the original law of marriage (4) The social equality of man and wife. (5) The subordination of the wife to the husband. 1Co 11:8,9; 1Ti 2:13 (6) The respective duties of man and wife. In the patriarchal age polygamy prevailed, Ge 16:4; 25:1,8; 28:9; 29:23,26; 1Ch 7:14 but to a great extent divested of the degradation which in modern times attaches to that practice. Divorce also prevailed in the patriarchal age, though but one instance of it is recorded. Ge 21:14 The Mosaic law discouraged polygamy, restricted divorce, and aimed to enforce purity of life. It was the best civil law possible at the time, and sought to bring the people up to the pure standard of the moral law. In the Post-Babylonian period monogamy appears to have become more prevalent than at any previous time. The practice of polygamy nevertheless still existed; Herod the Great had no less than nine wives at one time. The abuse of divorce continued unabated. Our Lord and his apostles re-established the integrity and sanctity of the marriage bond by the following measures: (a) By the confirmation of the original charter of marriage as the basis on which all regulations were to be framed. Mt 19:4,5 (b) By the restriction of divorce to the case of fornication, and the prohibition of remarriage in all persons divorced on improper grounds. Mt 5:32; 19:9; Ro 7:3; 1Co 7:10,11 (c) By the enforcement of moral purity generally Heb 13:4 etc., and especial formal condemnation of fornication. Ac 15:20 Read Full Article

Marriage in the ISBE Bible Encyclopedia
With the Hebrews married life was the normal life. Any exception called for apology and explanation. "Any Jew who has not a wife is no man" (Talmud). It was regarded as awaiting everyone on reaching maturity; and sexual maturity comes much earlier indeed in the East than with us in the West--in what we call childhood. The ancient Hebrews, in common with all Orientals, regarded the family as the social unit. In this their view of it coincides with that, of modern sociologists. Of the three great events in the family life, birth, marriage and death, marriage was regarded as the most important. It was a step that led to the gravest tribal and family consequences. In case of a daughter, if she should prove unsatisfactory to her husband, she would likely be returned to the ancestral home, discarded and discredited, and there would be almost inevitably a feeling of injustice engendered on one side, and a sense of mutual irritation between the families (Jdg 14:20; 1 Sam 18:19). If she failed to pass muster with her mother-in-law she would just as certainly have to go, and the results would be much the same (compare customs in China). It was a matter affecting the whole circle of relatives, and possibly tribal amity as well. It was natural and deemed necessary, therefore, that the selection of the wife and the arrangement of all contractual and financial matters connected with it should be decided upon by the parents or guardians of the couple involved. Though the consent of the parties was sometimes sought (Gen 24:8) and romantic attachments were not unknown (Gen 29:20; 34:3; Jdg 14:1; 1 Sam 18:20), the gift or woman in the case was not currently thought of as having a personal existence at her own disposal. She was simply a passive unit in the family under the protection and supreme control of father or brothers. In marriage, she was practically the chattel, the purchased possession and personal property of her husband, who was her ba`al or master (Hos 2:16), she herself being be`ulah (Isa 62:4). The control, however, was not always absolute (Gen 26:34; Ex 2:21).
Read Full Article

Marriage in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Marriage was instituted in Paradise when man was in innocence (Gen. 2:18-24). Here we have its original charter, which was confirmed by our Lord, as the basis on which all regulations are to be framed (Matt. 19:4, 5). It is evident that monogamy was the original law of marriage (Matt. 19:5; 1 Cor. 6:16). This law was violated in after times, when corrupt usages began to be introduced (Gen. 4:19; 6:2). We meet with the prevalence of polygamy and concubinage in the patriarchal age (Gen. 16:1-4; 22:21-24; 28:8, 9; 29:23-30, etc.). Polygamy was acknowledged in the Mosaic law and made the basis of legislation, and continued to be practised all down through the period of Jewish histroy to the Captivity, after which there is no instance of it on record. It seems to have been the practice from the beginning for fathers to select wives for their sons (Gen. 24:3; 38:6). Sometimes also proposals were initiated by the father of the maiden (Ex. 2:21). The brothers of the maiden were also sometimes consulted (Gen. 24:51; 34:11), but her own consent was not required. The young man was bound to give a price to the father of the maiden (31:15; 34:12; Ex. 22:16, 17; 1 Sam. 18:23, 25; Ruth 4:10; Hos. 3:2) On these patriarchal customs the Mosaic law made no change. Read Full Article

Marriage in Fausset's Bible Dictionary
(ADAM) The charter of marriage is Genesis 2:24, reproduced by our Lord with greater distinctness in Matthew 19:4-5; "He which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain, shall be one flesh." The Septuagint, and Samaritan Pentateuch reads "twain" or "two" in Genesis 2:24; compare as to this joining in one flesh of husband and wife, the archetype of which is the eternally designed union of Christ and the church, Ephesians 5:31; Mark 10:5-9; 1 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Corinthians 7:2. In marriage husband and wife combine to form one perfect human being; the one is the complement of the other. So Christ makes the church a necessary adjunct to Himself. He is the Archetype from whom, as the pattern, the church is formed (Romans 6:5). He is her Head, as the husband is of the wife (1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Corinthians 15:45). Death severs bridegroom and bride, but cannot separate Christ and His bride (Matthew 19:6; John 10:28-29; John 13:1; Romans 8:35-39). Read Full Article

Heart Message


Man and Woman

If you look below the surface of anything God created, it will begin to shine out the message of His glory. Marriage is one of those ideas that we can easily take for granted because we have such familiarity with it. We all had two parents, we had grandparents. We may have enjoyed a happy home with stability or perhaps we heard arguing and fighting around the house which led at some point to divorce.

But marriage is an amazing institution with the fingerprint of God upon it. There are men and there are women. Through an amazing ecstatic union they together produce a child in the womb of the woman. How can anyone believe that this is some chance design of time space and matter as evolutionists do? Could one actually consider the wonder of a man and woman with the baby they made, that has perfectly combined the billions of information pieces recorded in the DNA of each partner, producing a living being that shares the traits of each, and think such a miracle happened as the result of an explosion at the beginning of time? Pray for their eyes to fling wide-open and see and enjoy the glorious hand of the Creator!

Unpacking marriage further we see that the image of God was shared by both man and woman equally.

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. Gen 1:27

Though we're both created in God's image, the differences between man and woman are easily discernable physically, emotionally and the way we process information and interpret the world. This provides comedians with material the world over! Somehow we are each made in his image, but the combination as one, shows the image more completely. Could this be because God is an "Us"? Gen. 1:26

The institution of marriage, though troubled by our hardened hearts, was originally designed by God to manifest his image and to provide stability for society and safe handling for each generation to arrive and thrive on earth. It was held in the highest esteem by Jesus Christ, who sanctified it with His first miracle, turning water into wine, and is the ultimate symbol of His relationship to the church who is called "The Bride of Christ". Any tampering with this institution is ill-advised.

Marriage in Naves Topical Bible

-Consanguinous, Abraham and Sarah
Ge 11:29; 12:13; 20:3,9-16

-Isaac and Rebekah
Ge 24:3,4,67; 28:2

-Jacob and his wives
Ge 29:15-30

-See below, in the elaborated text

-Levirate (the brother required to marry a brother's widow)
Ge 38:8,11; De 25:5-10; Ru 4:5; Mt 22:24; Mr 12:19-23; Lu

-Parents contract for their children
Hagar selects a wife for Ishmael
Ge 21:21
Abraham for Isaac
Ge 24
Laban arranges for his daughters' marriage
Ge 29
Samson asks his parents to procure him a wife
Jud 14:2

-Parents' consent requires in the Mosaic law
Ex 22:17

-Presents given to parents to secure their favor
Ge 24:53; 34:12; De 22:29; 1Sa 18:25; Ho 3:2

-Nuptial feasts
Ge 29:22; Jud 14:12; Es 2:18; Mt 22:11,12

-Jesus present at
Joh 2:1-5

-Ceremony attested by witnesses
Ru 4:1-11; Isa 8:1-3

-The groom exempt one year from military duty
De 24:5

-Bridal ornaments
Isa 49:18; Jer 2:32

-Bridal presents
Ge 24:53; Ps 45:12

-A herald preceded the bridegroom
Mt 25:6

-Wedding robes adorned with jewels
Isa 61:10

-Wives obtained
By purchase
Ge 29:20; Ru 4:10; Ho 3:2; 12:12
By kidnapping
Jud 21:21-23

-Given by Kings
1Sa 17:25; 18:17,21

-Daughters given in, as rewards of valor
Jud 1:12; 1Sa 17:25; 18:27

-Wives taken by edict
Es 2:2-4,8-14

-David gave one hundred Philistine foreskins for a wife
2Sa 3:14

-Wives among the Israelites must be Israelites
Ex 34:16; De 7:3,4; 1Ch 23:22; Ezr 9:1,2,12; Ne 10:30;
13:26,27; Mal 2:11; 1Co 7:39; 2Co 6:14

-Betrothal a quasi-marriage
Mt 1:18; Lu 1:27

-Betrothal made with the spirit
Eze 16:8

-Celibacy deplored
Jud 11:38; Isa 4:1; Jer 16:9

1Co 7:7,8,24-40

-Obligations under, inferior to duty to God
De 13:6-10; Mt 19:29; Lu 14:26

-Not binding after death
Mt 22:29,30; Mr 12:24,25



Ge 2:23,24; Ex 22:16,17; Le 18:6-18; 20:14,17,19-21;
21:1,7,13-15; Nu 36:8; De 21:10-14; 24:1-5; Pr 18:22;
21:9,19; Jer 29:6; Ho 2:19,20; Mal 2:13-16; Mt 5:31,32; Mr
6:17,18; 10:2-12; Mt 19:2-9; Lu 16:18; Ro 7:1-3; 1Co 6:16;
7:1-40; 9:5; 11:11,12; 1Ti 3:2,12; 4:1,3; 5:14; Heb 13:4

Isa 54:5; 62:4,5; Jer 3:14; 31:32; Ho 1:2; 2:19,20; Eph
5:30-32; Re 19:7-9
Parables from
Mt 22:2; 25:1-10



Bible Study Topics Related to Marriage




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The Bible Mentions the Marriage Often

Revelation 19:9 - And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed [are] they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

Matthew 22:4 - Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and [my] fatlings [are] killed, and all things [are] ready: come unto the marriage.

Revelation 19:7 - Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.

Matthew 24:38 - For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,

Luke 20:35 - But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage:

Luke 17:27 - They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.

Exodus 21:10 - If he take him another [wife]; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.

Mark 12:25 - For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.

Luke 20:34 - And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage:

Hebrews 13:4 - Marriage [is] honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

Psalms 78:63 - The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage.

Matthew 22:2 - The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son,

Matthew 22:30 - For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.

Matthew 25:10 - And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.

John 2:1 - And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:

John 2:2 - And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.

Matthew 22:9 - Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.

1 Corinthians 7:38 - So then he that giveth [her] in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth [her] not in marriage doeth better.

Virginity and the Law

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 - If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth [the tokens of] the damsel's virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate: And the damsel's father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her; And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech [against her], saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these [are the tokens of] my daughter's virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him; And they shall amerce him in an hundred [shekels] of silver, and give [them] unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days. But if this thing be true, [and the tokens of] virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.


Bible Study and Faith

"The Bible is the most priceless possession of the human race." - Henry H. Halley

"This handbook is dedicated to the proposition that every Christian should be a constant and devoted reader of the Bible, and that the primary business of the church and ministry is to lead, foster, and encourage their people in the habit."

"The vigor of our spiritual life will be in exact proportion to the place held by the Bible in our life and thoughts."

"Great has been the blessing from consecutive, diligent, daily study. I look upon it as a lost day when I have not had a good time over the word of God." - George Muller

"I prayed for faith, and thought that some day faith would come down and strike me like lightning. But faith did not seem to come. One day I read in the 10th chapter of Romans, 'Now faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.' I had closed my Bible, and prayed for faith. I now opened my Bible, and began to study, and faith has been growing ever since." - D. L. Moody

-H. H. Halley "Halley's Bible Handbook" (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960) p. 4, 6
Archaeological Study of the Bible

"A substantial proof for the accuracy of the Old Testament text has come from archaeology. Numerous discoveries have confirmed the historical accuracy of the biblical documents, even down to the obsolete names of foreign kings... Rather than a manifestation of complete ignorance of the facts of its day, the biblical record thus reflects a great knowledge by the writer of his day, as well as precision in textual transmission."

-Norman L. Geisler, William Nix "A General Introduction to the Bible" 5th Edition (Chicago: Moody Press 1983) p. 253

Bibliography on Ancient Images

The Art of Ancient Egypt, Revised by Robins, 272 Pages, Pub. 2008

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