Biblical Marriage Ceremonies
Part 1

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Authored By  :
Bill Kochman

Published On :
February 3, 2010

Last Updated :
January 3, 2020

Marriage According To The Scriptures, Few Details Are Found In The Scriptures, Jewish Traditions And Christians Beliefs, Marriage Of Adam And Eve, God's Short Wedding Pronouncement, Modern Commercialization Of Marriage Ceremony, Becoming One Flesh, Biblical Definition Of Marriage, God Creates Eve For Adam, The Fall And Eve's Changed Marital Status, We Are The Bride Of Christ, Jesus Is The Head Of Our Spiritual Church, Old Testament Marriages Were Viewed As A Solemn Contract, Marriage Feasts And Drink Offerings Poured Out To The Gods, Jacob's Libation (Drink Offering) At Bethel, Marriage Of Jacob And Leah, Jesus Changes Water Into Wine At Wedding Feast In Cana Of Galilee, Biblical Betrothals, Pre-Marital Sex, Seduction And Marriage Obligation Under Old Testament Law, Biblical Basis For Alimony, The "Mohar" or Bride Price, Rape And Sexual Promiscuity, Old Testament Laws Regarding Adultery, Jesus And The Adulterous Woman, True Repentance And Forgiveness Must Go Hand-In-Hand, "Go, And Sin No More"

Some time ago, a longtime Christian friend and member of the now-defunct "EDGE Mailing List" wrote to me with the following question:

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"How were marriage ceremonies carried out, according to God's Word?"

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In spite of how long I have been studying the Bible, I must confess that this is an issue which continues to mystify me as well. Because, to be honest, the Bible is rather vague about it; at least insofar as the actual marriage event is concerned. We are given a few hints in both the Old and the New Testament regarding what occurred at these events, but nothing very specific. Also, we must keep in mind that what we are told is based upon Jewish customs and traditions of those times. That being said, in addition to gleaning what we can from the pages of the Bible, probably the best way to find out how early Jewish weddings were performed would be by asking a Jewish rabbi, which I am not. Neither am I an expert when it comes to Jewish traditions. In other words, as a modern-day Christian, my beliefs are based upon the teachings of Jesus Christ, and not upon the Jewish rituals and customs of the Old Testament, which have little bearing on modern Christian living. As the Apostle Paul tells us:

"Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God."
Romans 7:4, KJV

In fact, as I have pointed out on a few previous occasions, Jesus Himself verbally chastised the Jewish religious leaders of His day due to their rigid adherence to some of the Old Testament traditions, as we see by the following examples:

"Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition."
Matthew 15:1-6, KJV

"He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye."
Mark 7:6-13, KJV

Concerning the very first marriage between Adam and Eve, it seems obvious that contrary to the way that modern marriages are performed, God didn't stand in the Garden of Eden with a Bible in His Hands and say to Adam and Eve "I now pronounce you man and wife". In fact, the Bible didn't even exist back then, because God was, and is, the Living Word. Furthermore, there were certainly no church buildings in Eden in which to perform the wedding; or organists playing Felix Mendelssohn's well-known "Wedding March" or Richard Wagner's equally-famous "Bridal Chorus" from his opera "Lohengrin", which is known to many people today as "Here Comes The Bride"; or blood tests; or fertility tests; or prenuptial agreements; or any of the many other things which have become associated with weddings in our modern day. Probably the closest thing to a marriage pronouncement might be when God gave His blessing to Adam and Eve after creating them, when He is recorded in Genesis as having stated the following:

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth."
Genesis 1:27-28, KJV

As far as we know, that was basically it. God blessed them, and said in so many words "Go and fill up the Earth with your children. Make lots of babies." Now just watch a few people write to me and complain because I dare to make such an obvious statement. But honestly folks, isn't that what the Lord was saying to them? Now, if you are wondering why that was, and is, so important to the Lord, you might want to consider reading my series "Is Jesus the Only Begotten Son of God?". In that particular series, I propose a few rather revolutionary ideas regarding what this marriage and sex thing is really all about, and why God told Adam and Eve to fill up the Earth with their children. Trust me; God has a plan.

Being as there was no one else in the Garden of Eden at the time, it obviously makes sense that there was no expensive marriage celebration, filled with family members and other invited guests. Neither was there anyone throwing rice at the newly-weds, or someone tossing a bouquet of flowers into the air in order to determine who might possibly be the next bride-to-be. There was no loud band playing, or superficial people impressing each other with their fancy clothes and fine jewelry, and no one was drinking alcohol to the point of becoming inebriated. All of these things -- and the steep expenses associated with them -- came much later, once this blessed and holy event was commercialized, and became an annual multi-million dollar business venture.

In fact, it might interest you to know that the actual word "marriage" is only used twice in the KJV Old Testament. That is, in Exodus 21:10 and Psalm 78:63, which state the following:

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

"The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage."
Psalm 78:63, KJV

In the first verse, the word "marriage" is derived from the Hebrew word "ownah". Pronounced o-naw', the Hebrew lexicon states that it is derived from an unused root word meaning to dwell together. This is in agreement with several verses which I have shared in a number of my other articles which deal with this same topic, namely these:

"And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."
Genesis 2:23-24, KJV

"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? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
Matthew 19:5-6, KJV

"But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
Mark 10:6-9, KJV

"So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh."
Ephesians 5:28-31, KJV

Thus, we clearly see that according to God's Word, marriage is defined as two persons of the opposite sex -- or male and female -- who dwell together and share their lives together, and have children, with the blessing of God. As Adam stated, and as Jesus would later confirm in the Gospels, these two people would cleave together as one. In the Book of Genesis, the word "cleave" is derived from the Hebrew word "dabaq". Pronounced daw-bak', it means to cling, stick, stay close, stay with, follow closely, and to be joined together. Now, it seems to me that after taking some time to observe the behavior of the animals in the Garden of Eden, Adam knew exactly what he was supposed to do, and what God expected of him, once Eve was presented to him. It probably didn't take him very long to figure out what "Be fruitful, and multiply" meant.

As I point out in a few other articles, Adam must have felt rather lonely at first, being the only human, because all of the creatures in the Garden had mates, whereas he had none. Being the loving Father that He is, the Lord was of course concerned about this, as we see by the following verses:

"And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man."
Genesis 2:18-22, KJV

While Adam and Eve may have been on equal footing when the Lord first created them, it is my personal belief that this relationship changed to some degree after The Fall. In my opinion, this change in Eve's status seems to be suggested rather strongly in the following verse:

"Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."
Genesis 3:16, KJV

While some women libbers may bristle upon reading that verse, its meaning seems rather clear to me, particularly when we look at the Hebrew origin of the word "rule". It is the word "mashal". Pronounced maw-shal', it means to rule, or to have dominion over. In other words, following Eve's sin of being the first one to eat of the forbidden fruit, God placed her on a shorter chain, and made Adam responsible for her future actions, and keeping her under control. Adam of course loved his wife, Eve, but after The Fall, God also placed Adam in a position where Eve owed Adam her obedience and respect, just as we Christians owe Christ our obedience and respect, being as we are His spiritual bride, and Jesus is the Head of our Spiritual Church, as we see by these verses:

"But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God."
1 Corinthians 11:3, KJV

"Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,"
Ephesians 1:20-22, KJV

"But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:"
Ephesians 4:15, KJV

"For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body."
Ephesians 5:23, KJV

"And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence."
Colossians 1:18, KJV

"And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:"
Colossians 2:10, KJV

"Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,"
1 Peter 2:7, KJV

Being as I fully address marriage relationships and spousal responsibilities in other articles, such as "The Fruit of the Womb", "Churchianity Or Christianity: Which Do You Practice?" and "Women Shepherds, Pastors and Teachers: A Biblical Perspective", I will not be going into great detail in this current article. Instead, I simply wish to address the question that was posed to me by my friend.

At some point in time, after Adam and Eve had begun to have children, the union of a man and a woman became a celebrated event. Marriage wasn't only considered a very solemn contract that bound two people together, but it was a joyous event as well. For example, when Laban gave his daughter Leah to Jacob in marriage -- after Jacob had worked seven years for Rachel, who was Leah's sister -- we are told that Laban held a feast to which he invited all of the men, as we see here:

"And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her."
Genesis 29:22-23, KJV

In the previous verse, the word "feast" is derived from the Hebrew word "mishteh". Pronounced mish-teh', it refers to a feast or banquet at which drink is present. In his famous commentary, British Methodist theologian and Bible scholar, Adam Clarke, suggests that given the very solemn nature of a marriage contract, it is probable that sacrifices were made during such events as well. Clarke states:

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"Mishteh signifies a feast of drinking. As marriage was a very solemn contract, there is much reason to believe that sacrifices were offered on the occasion, and libations poured out; and we know that on festival occasions a cup of wine was offered to every guest; and as this was drunk with particular ceremonies, the feast might derive its name from this circumstance, which was the most prominent and observable on such occasions."

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For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the practice, a libation is a drink which is poured out as an offering to a particular deity. In fact, in researching the Books of the Old Testament, I discovered that the phrase "drink offering" is used a total of thirty times. Drink offerings were a very integral part of the Israelite sacrificial system, and were mandated by the Lord, through Moses, in the Books of the Law. While the word "Mishteh" is used in the previous set of verses, in all of the other verses that I looked at, "necek" is used instead. Concerning this word, the Hebrew lexicon states that it refers to a drink offering, libation, molten image, or something that is poured out. The first time that we see a clear mention of a drink offering is shortly after God speaks to Jacob at Bethel, as we read here:

"And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him. And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land. And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him. And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon. And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel."
Genesis 35:9-15, KJV

What we can learn from these verses is that even before the time of Moses, whenever an important contract was agreed to, it was customary to pour out a drink offering. It would seem then that Clarke may be correct in his assumption regarding drink offerings being made at early Israelite weddings. But other than the fact that drink offerings may have been made at the wedding feast of Jacob and Leah, we really know very little else regarding what occurred at such weddings. We're simply told that Laban had a feast, and that later that same evening, he took Leah to Jacob and Jacob "went in unto her". The Hebrew words that are used here are "laqach", "bath" and "bow", which mean that Jacob possessed Leah in marriage.

In the New Testament, we find a similar example with Jesus' first famous miracle where He converted water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. It is obvious from the story that some of the wine was drunk by the wedding guests. But perhaps some of it was also used for drink offerings as well. Following is the full story:

"And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him."
John 2:1-11, KJV

As with the previous example concerning Jacob and Leah, you will notice again that scant details are provided regarding exactly what occurred at these ancient wedding ceremonies, or what specific steps had to be taken before the couple could "officially" be declared man and wife. In the New Testament, four different words are used when referring to marriage and getting married. These words are "gamos", "gameo", "ekgamizo" and "ekgamisko". But other than referring to the process of getting married, they offer little information in regards to what actually occurred at such wedding feasts.

As in our modern day, there are also a few verses in the Old Testament books of Exodus and Deuteronomy which discuss the custom of being betrothed. Similar to the marriage contract itself, the Hebrew words "ya'ad" and "'aras" convey the idea that betrothals were serious contracts. They were fixed or set agreements to be married at an appointed future date. In other words, they were engagements. One particular law which many modern folks in our liberal society would probably find distasteful, states that if a man had sex with a virgin who was not yet betrothed to anyone, he was obligated to marry her. It says:

"And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife."
Exodus 22:16, KJV

While the King James Bible uses the word "maid" in the verse, according to the Hebrew lexicon, the word "bethuwlah" refers to a virgin more often than not. The word "entice" is derived from the Hebrew word "pathah", and in this case is referring to the act of seduction.

But that's not all. If for some reason, the woman's father refused to allow the man to marry his daughter, the man was still financially obligated to support her. While I may be wrong concerning this, I suspect that the reason for this law was that once a woman lost her virginity, she became a less attractive candidate for marriage; and thus, the man who was responsible for putting her in that state, needed to support her as if they were married. The law states:

"If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins."
Exodus 22:17, KJV

It is possible that the previous verse means something else. The word "dowry" is derived from the Hebrew word "mohar". It is defined in the Hebrew lexicon as a purchase price for a wife, or wedding money. In other words, if the verse is not referring to alimony, as I suggested a moment ago, then maybe what it is really saying is that if a father refused to give his daughter to a man after they have had intercourse, then perhaps the man should try to convince the father to give his daughter's hand in marriage by paying the "mohar", also known as the "bride price". This second interpretation concerning Exodus 22:17 seems to be in agreement with other verses in the Old Testament which likewise discuss the "Mohar", or "bride price", such as the following:

"And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things."
Genesis 24:53, KJV

"And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter."
Genesis 29:18, KJV

"If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days."
Deuteronomy 22:28-29, KJV

"And Saul said, Thus shall ye say to David, The king desireth not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king's enemies. But Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines. And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king's son in law: and the days were not expired. Wherefore David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full tale to the king, that he might be the king's son in law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife."
1 Samuel 18:25-27, KJV

"And David sent messengers to Ishbosheth Saul's son, saying, Deliver me my wife Michal, which I espoused to me for an hundred foreskins of the Philistines."
2 Samuel 3:14, KJV

"Then said the LORD unto me, Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress, according to the love of the LORD toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods, and love flagons of wine. So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley:"
Hosea 3:1-2, KJV

In Deuteronomy 22:28-29, please notice the last phrase which states "he may not put her away all his days". Just imagine if such rigid laws were still in effect in our modern day. Undoubtedly, there would be considerably fewer cases of date rape, promiscuous sex and single motherhood, because people would have a stronger motivation for being more responsible with their actions, particularly with their private sex life.

Concerning the issue of adultery, as I explain in my series concerning abortion -- that is, "Abortion: The Slaughter of the Innocent" -- the Mosaic Laws of the Old Testament were very unforgiving. When a married woman freely engaged in sex with another man other than her husband, both were to be put to death. The very same law also applied to a virgin who was engaged to be married. If she voluntarily engaged in sex with another man other than her fiancé, she was to be put to death, as we see by these verses:

"If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel. If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour's wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you."
Deuteronomy 22:22-24, KJV

On the other hand, when it came to instances where a woman who was betrothed didn't give her consent to engage in sex, but was forced against her will by a stranger, the penalty was less severe. While the offending man was to be put to death, the woman was allowed to live, as we see by these verses:

"But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die: But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter: For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her."
Deuteronomy 22:25-27, KJV

While some of these laws were very strict and unforgiving, as we learn from the New Testament, and as I also discuss in the article "Love, Mercy, Forgiveness and Chastisement", the Lord taught us that forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation are the much better -- and more godly -- option. For example, you may recall the story of the woman who was caught in the act of adultery. The self-righteous Jewish leaders demanded that she be stoned to death according to the Mosaic Law. But how did Jesus react to their demands? Consider this:

"And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more."
John 8:3-11, KJV

Please take care to notice the condition that Jesus set for the woman's forgiveness. He said "Go, and sin no more". In other words, as I have pointed out before, Jesus wanted her to know that He too considered what she had done to be wrong and a sin. However, unlike the Scribes and the Pharisees, He was willing to extend God's Love, Mercy and Compassion to her; but she must do her part by refraining to fall into the same kind of sinful actions again. In other words, it would seem that true, sincere repentance and forgiveness must go hand-in-hand. There cannot be one without the other.

Please go to part two for the conclusion of this article.

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