Theocratic Marriage in an Alien World
“You must form no marriage alliance with them. Your daughter you must not give to his son, and his daughter you must not take for your son. For he will turn your son from following me and they will certainly serve other gods.”—Deut. 7:3, 4, NW.
1. Why is marriage highly dignified, and what makes it safe and ensures its happiness?
HUMAN marriage came from the lofty thoughts of the Most High God. It was started by him in an earthly paradise with a perfectly mated couple. Since it came from a pure, divine source, it is something highly dignified. Worthily of its Source, it ought to be entered into and fulfilled according to the will of the God who blessed this marriage union. That is what makes it theocratic or subject to the rule of God. That, therefore, is what calls forth his blessing and makes marriage safe and ensures it happiness.
2. (a) For marital happiness and wisdom to handle marital problems what should we do, and why? (b) What has made the matter so complex, and how can we give both God and Caesar their due?
2 The will and rule of God are lovingly written out for all married persons or for all who think of marrying, in his inspired Word, the Holy Bible. If we seek true happiness in marriage or want wisdom to handle marriage problems aright we will go to God’s Word and learn and be guided by the principles that it sets forth governing marriage. During the thousands of years since marriage was disadvantaged by the invasion of sin and death the matter has become a very complex one because of all the different ceremonies, customs, arrangements and laws that have grown up among the many nations, peoples and tribes. We should be confused or uncertain unless we had God’s Word to guide us and hold us to the divine principles of marriage. Those principles apply to his people all over the earth, without exception. By sticking to them and putting them above all the arrangements of men, we shall be giving to God what belongs to God while at the same time we can give to Caesar (or to human governments of this alien world) what belongs to Caesar. This is the Christian rule of action.—Matt. 22:21.
3, 4. (a) What kind of fatherhood did God set before Jesus, and when did Isaiah 9:6, 7 begin to have fulfillment? (b) In what way and because of pursuing what course does Jesus become a better father to us than Adam?
3 When Jesus Christ was on earth nineteen hundred years ago he did not get married. He was the perfect Son of God from heaven and he had not come to this earth to get married and settle down and become a human father, tied down to this earth. Jehovah God had set before his Son Jesus Christ a far grander fatherhood that would be of benefit to untold numbers of the human family, living and dead. When Jesus was born of a godly Jewish virgin in the little city of Bethlehem, then what God had foretold about him began to come true, and God’s people on earth could take up His prophetic words and say: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, . . . The zeal of Jehovah of hosts will perform this.” (Isa. 9:6, 7, AS) Take note that he was to live up to the names of Counsellor and Everlasting Father besides those other titles. By marrying a human bride and raising his own human family he could not become an Everlasting Father to us who are children of our first father Adam who sinned and plunged us into death.
4 No, but Jesus Christ now stands ready in heaven to become the Everlasting Father of all humans who want a life-giving father, a father able to provide everlasting life for them and to be a father to them everlastingly. Jesus Christ came into that wonderful position because he did not get married on earth but, instead, put aside the opportunity of becoming the father of his own human family by laying down his human life for us. Almighty God raised him from the dead and exalted him to heaven and accepted his human sacrifice for our sakes. Thus Jesus Christ in heavenly glory could pass on everlasting life to us if we would accept it. Thus he becomes a better father to us than Adam.
5. With what kind of wife does God reward his Son?
5 In addition to giving Jesus Christ greater glory in heaven Jehovah God also rewards his loving, self-sacrificing Son with a bride, a “wife.” She is not an angel nor any other individual creature. Just as Jehovah’s “woman” or “wife” is an organization of creatures, his universal organization, so the “bride” that he gives to his Son is an organization of faithful, holy creatures, his 144,000 footstep followers called from among mankind, who accept his sacrifice for them. They are likened to a glorious heavenly city full of inhabitants. (Rev. 21:2, 9-23) After these prove their virgin faithfulness to Jesus Christ till their death God resurrects them to heavenly life and marries them as a company to his Son.—Rev. 2:10; 19:7; 20:4, 6.
TERMS OF ESPOUSAL (ENGAGEMENT)
6. Who have had a share in bringing members of Christ’s bride into association with their Head, corresponding to what human custom?
6 John the Baptist introduced the first of Jesus’ followers to him. He had much joy at taking these initial steps toward the marriage of God’s Son. John said: “He that has the bride is the bridegroom. However, the friend of the bridegroom, when he stands and hears him [talking to the bride class], has a great deal of joy on account of the voice of the bridegroom. This, indeed, has been fulfilled as my joy.” (John 3:29, NW) So John turned over the bride class to Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul also had the joy of bringing members of the bride class into association with Christ and of preparing them for their heavenly union with him. Having espoused, betrothed or engaged them to Christ, he properly felt a deep concern that they must stay undefiled, faithful and fit to be joined to Christ after their engagement period. He said: “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I personally promised you in marriage to one husband [not two or more] that I might present you as a chaste virgin to the Christ. But I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent seduced Eve by its craftiness, your minds might be corrupted away from the sincerity and the chastity that are due the Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:2, 3, NW) This corresponds well with the procedure of mankind in general toward forming a marriage. There is no wife-stealing, but an engaging, espousing, betrothing or promising of the girl to the man. A period of time follows before the girl is actually given to the man and the two are united in the privacy of their own place of abode.
7, 8. (a) What Scriptural examples illustrate care in picking a mate? (b) What sensible and Scriptural reasons are there for doing this?
7 According to God’s Word a marriage of any of his people was arranged for by the parents of both the boy and the girl or by a go-between, one whom John the Baptist calls the “friend of the bridegroom.” For Christ’s bride John the Baptist was careful to pick persons dedicated to Jehovah God and baptized—repentant Jews looking for the promised Messiah or Christ. Paul the apostle was also careful to pick dedicated, baptized persons. He picked non-Jews as well as Jews now that the wedding invitation was authorized to go to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. That was theocratic procedure. In pagan Canaanland there were many girls, but Abraham refused to take any of them for his son and heir Isaac. He instructed the oldest servant of his household as a “friend of the bridegroom” to go outside of Canaanland northward to the home of his relatives, his own brother’s family, and pick a girl for Isaac, as they were believers in Jehovah God.—Gen. 24:1-9, 34-41.
8 There was a sensible, faithful reason for this. It was in order to safeguard the faith of the son in the true God by marrying him to a fellow believer. “Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Cor. 15:33, NW) The intimate married life of a believer with an unbeliever could lead to the spoiling of the believer’s faith in God and thus bring about his spiritual death and his everlasting destruction at the hands of the God to whom he was unfaithful. He could be influenced to this by his marriage partner just as Adam was by Eve. The ones starting this sad result and laying the foundation for it were the contractors for the marriage. God foresaw this possibility, no, rather, this likelihood. So before settling his chosen people, the ancient nation of Israel, in Canaanland, he gave them this as one of his laws, not as a piece of advice: “You must form no marriage alliance with [the pagan inhabitants]. Your daughter you must not give to his son, and his daughter you must not take for your son. For he will turn your son from following me and they will certainly serve other gods.”—Deut. 7:3, 4, NW.
9. What does loyalty to Jehovah indicate as to picking a marriage mate and performing a marriage ceremony?
9 The disastrous future history of the Israelites shows the accuracy of that warning and the justice of that law. “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers.” (2 Cor. 6:14, NW) So be theocratic, loyal to Jehovah God, in picking a marriage partner either for yourself or for your child or friend. Keep clear of responsibility for spiritual shipwreck. Do not lay hands hastily, untheocratically, on a marriage mate for anyone: “neither be a sharer in the sins of others; preserve yourself pure.” (1 Tim. 5:22, NW) Whether a marrying agent of the New World society will solemnize the marriage of such an unequally yoked pair is left to his own conscience. If he does decide to perform the ceremony at the Kingdom Hall or elsewhere, he is merely acting as an agent of the state government and he does at least have an opportunity to point out to the worldly or undedicated person the responsibilities of marriage to a Christian and to encourage that person to become one of Jehovah’s witnesses like his partner.
10-12. (a) What customs have arisen regarding dowries? (b) What Scriptural examples show such are not wrong? (c) But what would be wrong, and why?
10 Abraham’s marriage agent presented many valuable gifts to the girl Rebekah and to her brother and her mother before taking Rebekah away from her home to bring her to Isaac. (Gen. 24:22, 30, 50-53) In some countries or among some peoples the custom has grown up, and even the local law takes recognition of the custom, of paying bride money for the woman or of giving dowry. Among some peoples the dowry is given to the man by the parents of his bride. But more generally the dowry is the gift or the reward that the man or his parents give to the bride or for the bride as a consideration for the marriage. In Africa among some tribes the bride price is called “lobóla” and it is demanded by and given to the bride’s father or his oldest brother, her uncle. It may consist of either money or cattle or both. This lobola may even be required in order to satisfy the local customary law so as to gain a registration of the marriage at the village place of record.
11 Basically is there anything wrong with this? No. Isaac’s son Jacob paid for his wives Leah and Rachel with fourteen years of work for their father Laban. (Gen. 29:18-28) David the giant killer paid two hundred foreskins of the enemy Philistines for his wife Michal, King Saul’s daughter. (1 Sam. 18:20-27) Even Jesus Christ delivered up himself for his “bride,” the Christian congregation of 144,000. (Eph. 5:25) Jehovah gave nothing for his “woman,” because he is the Maker of her, his holy universal organization. (Isa. 54:5) So there is nothing improper in giving a bride price to the father for the loss of his daughter whom he reared and educated. What is wrong about a bride price or lobola is the abuse that is made of it. It is wrong, unchristian, untheocratic, to treat it, not as a compensation, but as a means of making money off one’s own child or children, and then charge excessively or extort more than what is right or require what works a hardship.
12 God hates all extortioners, including bride-price extortioners, who commercialize their own daughters. Any such greedy person that claims to be a Christian puts himself in the way of excommunication or disfellowshiping from the Christian congregation any and every time that he commits extortion in the case of lobola or bride price. Paul said: “Now I am writing you to quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man. . . . ‘Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.’” (1 Cor. 5:11, 13, NW) The extortioner’s price is unreasonably high, inconsiderate of the circumstances and calls for more than a fair compensation for the loss of a daughter. The man’s greed for money will especially be shown up when his high price makes it impossible for a Christian to procure his daughter and he will hold out for his excessive price and marry her off to a pagan who can afford it. It displays a lack of love of the brothers, but an injurious love of money.—1 Tim. 6:10.
13. (a) Why should a father not accept money from a worldling for a Christian daughter? (b) Where parents violate Scriptural rule what course may sons and daughters pursue, and why?
13 The accepting of bride money from a worldling in any amount in order to marry a dedicated Christian daughter to him is untheocratic. It does not imitate Jehovah’s strict law to Israel. It endangers the daughter’s eternal welfare, thus to put her in subjection to an undedicated worldling. It disqualifies a brother at least for certain special service privileges in the Christian congregation. He may not be excommunicated for this action, just as a parent elsewhere who allows a son or a daughter to marry outside the New World society may not be disfellowshiped nor even the son or daughter that thus marries ‘outside the Lord,’ outside the truth. But such persons are not good material for congregational overseer or ministerial servants. They are poor examples of the believers. Where sons or daughters have refused to be married off to pagan worldlings they have not failed to obey the commandment to honor their father and their mother, inasmuch as these have not shown themselves to be “in union with the Lord” in making a marriage alliance with the world. The resisting sons and daughters are trying to remain “in union with the Lord,” which is right.—Eph. 6:1-4, NW.
14. (a) When would it be proper for a Christian to pay for a bride? (b) Yet why is it advisable for parents to forego the requiring of bride money?
14 Should a Christian pay bride money? Yes, if that is the prevailing custom and he or his parents cannot get the girl wanted in any other way. If the making of some gifts according to the ability of the bride seeker will be accepted as a token or sign of appreciation and of devotion to the bride, that would be well to do. There is to be no bride-stealing. Hence pay for what you want if you cannot explain your Christian position and gain some allowance or get it free. A person generally pays the world’s price for goods bought. The fact that bride price or lobola is abused does not make it wrong in itself. Paul as a full-time minister was entitled to support by the congregation that he served, but he did not accept it or demand it, in order not to abuse his privilege and miss God’s approval. He did accept a gift from the congregation at Philippi. (1 Cor. 9:6-18; Phil. 4:15-18) Paul refused to make a money gift to the Roman governor Felix because he did not want to stoop to bribery but wanted to be set free for plain justice alone. (Acts 24:26, 27) So it is advisable for Christian parents to forego the requiring of bride price or dowry in order to guard against imitating this world and abusing the privilege and causing spiritual troubles. But we must let each one’s conscience guide.
15. (a) What view should an African Christian wife take of bride money? (b) If village registration is denied because of nonpayment of bride money what should be done?
15 A Christian wife married to an unbeliever that demands bride price for a daughter cannot control the matter but she can make suggestions to him. Where Christian brides have been gained by payment of bride money, they should not pride themselves or feel humiliated because of the largeness or the smallness of the bride money paid. No Christian wife should humiliate another by reminding her that she is a cheap-price bride, nor should a Christian husband do this to shame his wife. He is under divine command to love his wife and she to love him. (Eph. 5:25, 28-33; Titus 2:4) If there is love of our brothers this unwise comparing of ourselves with one another or this taunting another will not be done. The number of wives who have been taken without payment of bride price outdoes more and more the number who are gained for a price, and this larger number of wives are not to be reproached for that fact. Where an African marriage has been undertaken with no payment of lobola or bride price and the village registration will not record the marriage for that reason, the married couple should not worry. They can and should register the marriage with their local congregation. There especially it is most vital, for the married pair to be in good standing with the New World society.
NO TRIAL MARRIAGE, BUT CLEAN ENGAGEMENT
16. (a) How enduring is a marriage based on bride money? (b) Therefore what may the bride’s father not do save for what conditions?
16 When a parent accepts bride money and gives his daughter in marriage, the resulting marriage is permanent. Unless the bride now turns out adulterous in violation of her wifely obligations, the marriage may not be canceled merely because her husband becomes dissatisfied and decides to get rid of the girl and sends her back to her father and demands the return of his bride money. According to the law of God’s Word marriage cannot be canceled by the mere accepting back of the girl and the returning of the bride price. Hence a Christian father cannot see himself free to remarry his daughter to another man either for lobola or for no bride price at all. To do this would be to cause his daughter to commit adultery, unless in the meantime her husband who dismissed her has married again, or has sexual connections with another woman, or has died.
17, 18. (a) When the bride money is not paid all at once, when only may the man have intercourse with the woman? (b) How did God’s law distinguish between virgins engaged and virgins not engaged? (c) What does seducing a virgin merit, and why?
17 A man may not agree to a certain bride price or dowry and now make a part payment and feel authorized to take his future bride and have sex relations with her and make a trial marriage with her. If not satisfied, he is not authorized by God’s law to return the girl and get the part payment of the bride price back. Till he has finished paying his dowry he has no right to have sexual connection with her. He is merely engaged to her, and to unite with her sexually during this engagement period is to defile her and to commit immorality, fornication. In ancient Israel when a girl was engaged to be married to an Israelite, she was considered as sanctified to him and was treated the same as if married to him. She was treated differently from a virgin not engaged who had relations with a man. “In case a man should seduce a virgin who is not engaged and he has cohabited with her, he is to obtain her without fail as his wife for the purchase price. If her father flatly refuses to give her to him, he is to pay over the money at the rate of purchase money for virgins.”—Ex. 22:16, 17, NW; Deut. 22:28, 29.
18 Not so with an engaged girl: “In case there happened to be a virgin girl engaged to a man and a man has found her in the city and cohabited with her, then you must bring them both out to the gate of that city and pelt them with stones and they must die, the girl for the reason that she did not scream in the city and the man for the reason that he humiliated [whom?] the wife of his fellow man.” (Deut. 22:23, 24, NW) So when the virgin Mary was found pregnant during the time of her engagement to Joseph, he wanted to put her away or divorce her secretly to prevent her being stoned as an unfaithful engaged virgin. (Matt. 1:18, 19) In Mexico and Singapore a marriage can be annulled because immorality was found to have been committed by the woman during her engagement. A man’s seducing a virgin and violating her virginity and then making her feel obligated to marry him is no pure, Christian step toward marriage. It is a ground for disfellowshiping the violator from the Christian congregation, and also the virgin if she passionately consented to the violation.
19, 20. (a) Why may engaged persons not have sex relations with each other, and what responsibility falls on parents in this regard? (b) What congregational action does fornication merit, and then when only may such ones marry religiously?
19 During the espousal or betrothal period, if the engaged boy and girl had sexual relations with each other, this would be illegal relationship, because the marriage has not yet been legalized and the couple pronounced man and wife with full marriage privileges. It does not matter if they do confine the sex act to just themselves; it is still moral uncleanness, fornication. It is a taking of license to do something without getting a legal license. It is incontinence or lack of self-control over the sexual appetite. It is a loosening of conduct by the engaged pair, hence a work of the flesh that wars against the spirit. If parents permit this or even countenance it and arrange for it, they are delinquent, failing of their theocratic duty. There is good reason here for disfellowshiping the engaged couple for committing fornication with or without pregnancy resulting, and also the parents because of looking on fornication with sanction and approval.—2 Pet. 1:6; Gal. 5:19-21.
20 A marriage agent of the congregation cannot perform the marriage of such an unclean engaged couple while they are disfellowshiped. It is a spiritually curative step for the immoral engaged couple to confess their sin to God and then to the congregation committee and express repentance and prove their repentance by refraining from further unclean relations between themselves and submit to the probation period and requirements that the congregation committee imposes upon them before it can allow them a religious marriage.
21. To keep young persons from being exposed to fornication what may their parents not allow?
21 It is against good judgment, therefore, for parents to allow or even encourage a daughter of fifteen or sixteen years to go a long distance from home and get a job and rent a room just to be near her boy friend to whom she is engaged. Likewise it means exposing young persons to fornication where parents allow a single couple, a boy and a girl, to take a vacation trip or a cycling and camping tour together for a week or two. For the two vacationers to camp out together puts them in the way of temptation that can and often does lead to fornication. Says the apostle Paul: “Keep yourselves free from every form of wickedness.”—1 Thess. 5:22, NW.
22. When is there particular temptation to marry outside of union with the Lord but with what responsibility and guilt?
22 It falls to each one’s duty to watch jealously this divine counsel to marry only within the ranks of the dedicated people of Jehovah God, who are faithful followers of his Son Jesus Christ. In places where the girls outnumber the marriageable brothers a temptation exists to marry them off to worldly persons just to see that they get a husband or that the parents are relieved of a burden. On the other hand, where there are fewer marriageable girls than there are brothers there is a passionate pressure to ignore God’s law and warning and to marry ‘outside of union with the Lord,’ outside the New World society. Anyone doing so or arranging for another to do so must take the responsibility before the God of pure, theocratic marriage and must see his guilt for any evil consequences that follow from this unequal yoking.
23. (a) To ensure happy, theocratic marriage what steps should be taken? (b) How should marriage be kept after it is once entered into?
23 Because of so many serious things that are tied in with the solemn arrangement of marriage, each one should investigate his intended mate’s background thoroughly and then determine whether it would be theocratic or lead to happy bonds to propose marriage or to accept a marriage proposal. If one enters a marriage engagement, then one should keep it clean by pure moral conduct that one may have presented to himself an undefiled mate as in the case of Jesus and his bride: “that he might present the congregation to himself in its splendor, not having a spot or a wrinkle or any of such things, but that it should be holy and without blemish.”—Eph. 5:27, NW.