1. Its origin and history.—The institution of marriage dates from the time of man’s original creation. Gen. 2:18-25. From Gen. 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. Matt. 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. 1 Cor. 11:8, 9; 1 Tim. 2:13. (6) The respective duties of man and wife. In the patriarchal age polygamy prevailed, Gen. 16:4; 25:1, 6; 28:9; 29:23, 28; 1 Chron. 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. Gen. 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. Matt. 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. Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Rom. 7:3; 1 Cor. 7:10, 11. (c) By the enforcement of moral purity generally, Heb. 13:4, etc., and especially by the formal condemnation of fornication. Acts 15:20.
2. The conditions of legal marriage.—In the Hebrew commonwealth marriage was prohibited (a) between an Israelite and a non-Israelite. There were three grades of prohibition: total in regard to the Canaanites on either side; total on the side of the males in regard to the Ammonites and Moabites; and temporary on the side of the males in regard to the Edomites and Egyptians, marriages with females in the two latter instances being regarded as legal. The progeny of illegal marriages between Israelites and non-Israelites was described as “bastard.” Deut. 23:2. (b) between an Israelite and one of his own community. The regulations relative to marriage between Israelites and Israelites were based on considerations of relationship. The most important passage relating to these is contained in Lev. 18:6-18, wherein we have in the first place a general prohibition against marriage between a man and the “flesh of his flesh,” and in the second place special prohibitions against marriage with a mother, stepmother, sister, or half-sister, whether “born at home or abroad,” granddaughter, aunt, whether by consanguinity on either side or by marriage on the father’s side, daughter-in-law, brother’s wife, stepdaughter, wife’s mother, stepgranddaughter, or wife’s sister during the lifetime of the wife. An exception is subsequently made, Deut. 25:5-9, in favor of marriage with a brother’s wife in the event of his having died childless. The law which regulates this has been named the “levirate,” from the Latin levir, “brother-in-law.”
3. The modes by which marriage was effected.—The choice of the bride devolved not on the bridegroom himself, but on his relations or on a friend deputed by the bridegroom for this purpose. The consent of the maiden was sometimes asked, Gen. 24:58; but this appears to have been subordinate to the previous consent of the father and the adult brothers. Gen. 24:51; 34:11. Occasionally, the whole business of selecting the wife was left in the hands of a friend. The selection of the bride was followed by the espousal, which was a formal proceeding undertaken by a friend or legal representative on the part of the bridegroom and by the parents on the part of the bride; it was confirmed by oaths, and accompanied with presents to the bride. The act of betrothal was celebrated by a feast, and among the more modern Jews it is the custom in some parts for the bridegroom to place a ring on the bride’s finger. The ring was regarded among the Hebrews as a token of fidelity, Gen. 41:42, and of adoption into a family. Luke 15:22. Between the betrothal and the marriage an interval elapsed, varying from a few days in the patriarchal age, Gen. 24:55, to a full year for virgins and a month for widows in later times. During this period the bride-elect lived with her friends, and all communication between herself and her future husband was carried on through the medium of a friend deputed for the purpose, termed the “friend of the bridegroom.” John 3:29. She was now virtually regarded as the wife of her future husband; hence faithlessness on her part was punishable with death, Deut. 22:23, 24, the husband having, however, the option of “putting her away.” Deut. 24:1; Matt. 1:19. The essence of the marriage ceremony consisted in the removal of the bride from her father’s house to that of the bridegroom or his father. The bridegroom prepared himself for the occasion by putting on a festive dress, and especially by placing on his head a handsome nuptial turban. Ps. 45:8; Song. 4:10, 11. The bride was veiled. Her robes were white, Rev. 19:8, and sometimes embroidered with gold thread, Ps. 45:13, 14, and covered with perfumes, Ps. 45:8; she was further decked out with jewels. Isa. 49:18; 61:10; Rev. 21:2. When the fixed hour arrived, which was generally late in the evening, the bridegroom set forth from his house, attended by his groomsmen (DAV “companions,” Judges 14:11; “children of the bride-chamber,” Matt. 9:15), preceded by a band of musicians or singers, Gen. 31:27; Jer. 7:34; 16:9, and accompanied by persons bearing flambeaux, Jer. 25:10; 2 Esdr. 10:2; Matt. 25:7; Rev. 18:23, and took the bride with the friends to his own house. At the house a feast was prepared, to which all the friends and neighbors were invited, Gen. 29:22; Matt. 22:1-10; Luke 14:8; John 2:2, and the festivities were protracted for seven or even fourteen days. Judges 14:12; Tob. 8:19. The guests were provided by the host with fitting robes, Matt. 22:11, and the feast was enlivened with riddles, Judges 14;12, and other amusements. The last act in the ceremonial was the conducting of the bride to the bridal chamber, Judges 15:1; Joel 2:16, where a canopy was prepared. Ps. 19:5; Joel 2:16. The bride was still completely veiled, so that the deception practiced on Jacob, Gen. 29:23, was not difficult. A newly-married man was exempt from military service, or from any public business which might draw him away from his home, for the space of a year, Deut. 24:5; a similar privilege was granted to him who was betrothed. Deut. 20:7.
4. The social and domestic conditions of married life.—The wife must have exercised an important influence in her own home. She appears to have taken her part in family affairs, and even to have enjoyed a considerable amount of independence. Judges 4:18; 1 Sam. 25:14; 2 Kings 4:8, etc. In the New Testament the mutual relations of husband and wife are a subject of frequent exhortation. Eph. 5:22, 23; Col. 3:18, 19; Titus 2:4, 5; 1 Pet. 3:1-7. The duties of the wife in the Hebrew household were multifarious: in addition to the general superintendence of the domestic arrangements, such as cooking, from which even women of rank were not exempt, Gen. 18:6; 2 Sam. 13:8, and the distribution of food at meal times, Prov. 31:15, the manufacture of the clothing and of the various fabrics required in her home devolved upon her, Prov. 31:13, 21, 22; and if she were a model of activity and skill, she produced a surplus of fine linen shirts and girdles, which she sold, and so, like a well-freighted merchant ship, brought in wealth to her husband from afar. Prov. 31:14, 24. The legal rights of the wife are noticed in Ex. 21:10 under the three heads of food, raiment, and duty of marriage or conjugal right.
5. The allegorical and typical allusions to marriage have exclusive reference to one object, viz., to exhibit the spiritual relationship between God and his people. In the Old Testament Isa. 54:5; Jer. 3:14; Hos. 2:19. In the New Testament the image of the bridegroom is transferred from Jehovah to Christ, Matt. 9:15; John 3:29, and that of the bride to the Church. 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9.