The period of engagement preceding marriage; betrothal was a binding contract established between two families and sealed by the exchange of gifts. During this period the couple did not live together; sexual relations with each other at this stage was regarded as equivalent to adultery. Betrothal describes the relationship between God and his people and between Jesus Christ and the church.
Betrothal and the choice of a spouse
Wives were often chosen by parents for their sonsGe 21:21It was usual practice for the groom’s parents to choose his wife and arrange the wedding. See alsoGe 24:4; Ge 38:6
Suitable husbands were sought by parents for their daughtersRu 3:1-4Naomi, in the role of parent, assumes responsibility to find a husband for Ruth. See alsoJdg 1:12-13; 1Sa 18:17,21
Betrothal following the couple’s wishesJdg 14:1-4Sometimes the man chose a prospective bride and his parents negotiated the marriage. See alsoGe 34:1-4; Ge 24:57-58; Ge 26:34-35 Esau chose a bride against his parents’wishes.
Dt 22:23-24Though there were no sexual relations within the betrothal period, the commitment was regarded almost as seriously as marriage and infidelity of a betrothed partner was treated as adultery. See alsoGe 19:14 The men betrothed to Lot’s daughters are described as his “sons-in-law”; Mt 1:18-20 Mary’s pregnancy during betrothal left her open to the charge and consequences of unfaithfulness.
Betrothal portrays the relationship between God and his people
Dictionary of Bible Themes Scripture index copyright Martin H. Manser, 2009. As Editor, Martin Manser wishes to thank all those who compiled or edited the NIV Thematic Study Bible, on which this work is based.
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