Marrying in Honor
1. What question has recently been raised as to the arranging of marriage, and in view of what marital facts?
THE question has recently been raised, Are better results gained in marriage when the parents of the couple arrange for the marriage of their children, as in India today and as in Israel anciently, than when sons and daughters pick their own mates? For instance, in India divorce is almost unknown. In the United States of America in which the boyish little “Cupid,” the son of Venus, is said to arrange marriages, one fourth of all marriages end in legal divorce, not to mention separations legal or otherwise.
2. As to imposing marriage arrangements of one land upon Christians in other lands, what must be said in the light of Scriptural examples?
2 What may we say regarding dedicated Christians? We cannot say that the standards for marriage arrangements that obtain in the United States and European lands must be imposed on dedicated Christians in other lands where different marriage customs prevail. Nothing in the Christian Greek Scriptures breaks up or forbids the customs of the Jews, from whom Jesus Christ and the first Christians came, for parents to arrange for marrying off their minor children. Why, Isaac was actually forty years old when his father Abraham, with whom Isaac kept living, procured a God-fearing bride for Isaac. Jacob, the son of Isaac, was seventy-seven years old when his blind father told him where to go and get his wife; whereas Jacob’s twin brother, Esau, at forty years of age, made his own marriage arrangements and undertook bigamy with heathen wives. Obedient Jacob, however, got the Abrahamic blessing through Isaac.
3. As regards parents, what did Paul not advise children, and what right did he not deny to Christian parents regarding marriage?
3 In giving marriage advice, the apostle Paul did not tell children to disregard parents. He did say: “Now I say to the single persons and the widows, it is well for them that they remain even as I am. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry.” (1 Cor. 7:8, 9) Remember, widows were independent persons as regards marriage arrangements. For their sake Paul added: “It is better to marry than to be inflamed with passion” and plunge into fornication. Hence, concerning the “younger widows” in the Christian congregation he said: “When their sexual impulses have come between them and the Christ, they want to marry, having a judgment because they have disregarded their first expression of faith [by letting sexual impulses control and get between them and Christ]. At the same time they also learn to be unoccupied, gadding about to the houses, yes, not only unoccupied, but also gossipers and meddlers in other people’s affairs, talking of things they ought not. Therefore I desire the younger widows to marry, to bear children, to manage a household, to give no inducement to the opposer to revile. Already, in fact, some have been turned aside to follow Satan.” (1 Tim. 5:11-15) Apart from that case of widows who were not under parental law, Paul did not say that as Christians the parents, Jewish or Greek, no longer had the right to make the marriage choice and arrangements for their minor children.
4. However, while exercising their right, yet by what principles should Christian parents be controlled, in order to safeguard what?
4 Nevertheless, in exercising their right according to local custom and law to select marriage mates for sons and daughters, parents who are dedicated to God through Christ should be controlled by Christian principles. Bow to God’s rule, like Abraham. He safeguarded the spiritual welfare of his son as heir of the Abrahamic promise by picking a worshiper of Jehovah God as a wife for Isaac. Thus he did not burden Isaac with an unequal yoke.
5. (a) In insisting upon his father’s arranging a Philistine marriage for him, why did Samson not violate God’s marriage rules? (b) How through improper exercise of his right may a Christian father prove himself unqualified for the congregation oversight?
5 In turn, Isaac warned his God-fearing son Jacob against marrying an unbelieving heatheness and sent him to grandfather Bethuel’s home for a bride. Strong man Samson insisted that his objecting father Manoah marry him to a heathenish Philistine woman because Samson wanted to get right on the inside of the Philistine organization in order to execute divine vengeance upon these oppressors; so that “that was from Jehovah.” (Judg. 14:1-4) Hence it was not sex that controlled Samson, but God’s stated purpose that “he it is who will take the lead in saving Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” (Judg. 13:5) Christian parents, who adhere to their local, native right to arrange marriages, are therefore obligated to marry their children only to dedicated Christians within Jehovah’s theocratic organization, thus putting these under an equal yoke, a theocratic marital yoke. In what other way could fathers keep from irritating their children and keep “bringing them up in the discipline and authoritative advice of Jehovah”? (Eph. 6:4) Certainly a Christian father who unequally yokes his believing son or daughter to an undedicated unbeliever would be showing himself very immature in Christian principles, a man seeking some selfish, materialistic gain, a poor presider over his own household and a man unsuitable to be entrusted with oversight over a Christian congregation.—1 Tim. 3:2-5; 2 Cor. 6:14-16; 7:1.
6. How may this parental right impose a serious problem for a dedicated child, and how in this connection could a dedicated child suffer persecution from a divided household?
6 The exercise of the parental right of arranging marriages may impose a serious problem for some children. This is in the case of where the father or legal guardian is not a dedicated witness of Jehovah, whereas the son or daughter is dedicated to Jehovah. If the father or guardian did not respect the child’s dedication to Jehovah and purposed to marry the child off to one who is not a dedicated member of the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses, then the dedicated son or daughter could offer objections. Explanation could be offered that it is contrary to the law and will of Jehovah God for a dedicated witness of Jehovah to marry an undedicated unbeliever. At least, the respectful child could earnestly request for the parent to find the marriage mate among the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses. If the child conscientiously refused to be married to an undedicated unbeliever, persecution might arise from the family. But the faithful Christian would be suffering such persecution from a divided household for the sake of conscience.—Matt. 10:34-37; 1 Pet. 2:19.
7. Where freedom to pick a mate is granted a Christian child, how much of a freedom is it, and how does it become a safe freedom?
7 Where the selection of a mate is allowed to a son or daughter by the parents, then the dedicated Christian son or daughter is under apostolic instructions to marry the mate wanted, but “only in the Lord,” that is, only someone in union with the Lord, like oneself. (1 Cor. 7:39; marginal reading) Thus the freedom to pick a mate for a dedicated witness of Jehovah is a relative freedom. This is a safe freedom; it makes for peace and happiness, as it makes for equality religiously between the couple in the marriage yoke.
8. By marrying “only in the Lord,” what does a child show for Christian parents, and thus what does he avoid causing?
8 If the parents themselves are dedicated Christians, then a child would be following the apostle’s instruction to honor one’s father and mother who are in union with the Lord, by respecting their theocratic desire for their children to marry only in the Lord, inside of what is approved by the Lord. (Eph. 6:1-3) In this way the child marrying in the Lord causes no “bitterness of spirit” or “disgust” with family connections, such as Esau caused to his parents Isaac and Rebekah, because he profanely did not ‘appreciate sacred things.’—Gen. 26:34, 35; 27:46; 28:1; Heb. 12:16, 17.
9. If marriage is honorable among Christians, what inward reaction should a married one not have, and where should notation of marriage properly be filed?
9 Writing to Hebrew Christians, the apostle Paul said: “Let marriage be honorable among all.” (Heb. 13:4) If one’s marriage is honorable among Hebrew Christians and among all other dedicated witnesses of Jehovah, how can there be anything to be ashamed of for being married? There cannot be; there should not be. One’s marriage state should therefore be noted down and the notation of it should be kept in the official files of the congregation with which the married person is associated as a member.
10. (a) What is consensual marriage, and in lands where it is widely practiced can it be registered in the congregation files as a legal living together? (b) What does the Bible name it?
10 Can all couples who are living together as a legal husband and wife do, have their living together in this way recorded as marriage in the files of the congregation? No; they cannot, if they are living together in what is not legal Christian wedlock. In some lands a man and a woman will consent to live together in the closest intimacy like a man and wife, but without legal authorization or registration. This is what is locally called “consensual marriage.” While this is tolerated locally and may gain neighborhood recognition, yet God’s Word frankly names it fornication, or adultery if either one of this type of union is already married and not divorced on proper grounds.
11. Why is so-called common-law marriage not the correct status for a Christian to be in?
11 In other lands there is carried on what is called “common-law marriage.” It is a marriage that is entered into by agreement by a couple without official marriage ceremony by an authorized servant of the State, but which marriage is provable by the writings, statements or known conduct of the couple. In some states or provinces of a land such common-law marriage is legal; in other states of the same land it may not be legal. If a couple moved from one state in which it is legal to another state in which it is not legal, some there might view them as guilty of fornication or of adultery, even if visiting temporarily at a convention. Thus in all places of the same land the couple might not have the same respectability and recognition. Legal troubles may arise over willing property to children by common-law marriage, and so forth. Surely that is not the irreproachable status for a Christian to be in.
THE NEED FOR LEGALIZING MARRIAGE
12. Why cannot the Christian congregation admit those living in consensual and common-law marriage, and before those living in such a marriage can be admitted to water baptism, what is required?
12 Since God’s Word condemns fornication and adultery, his congregation of dedicated people on earth cannot recognize couples living in consensual marriage. It cannot admit them as members in good standing and as representatives of the congregation. As for common-law marriage, this has such an uncertain position because it is not universally recognized and approved, so that the New World society cannot consider common-law marriage couples as persons acceptable for baptism in symbol of a true, valid dedication to God through Christ. Before they could be considered as acceptably dedicated to God and worthy of being baptized in water, it is required that those living together in common-law marriage legalize it by an official marriage ceremony performed by some licensed or authorized representative of the State, before the necessary witnesses. For those living in consensual marriage the same requirement of legality becomes necessary, if they are to come out of their state of fornication or of adultery from the standpoint of God’s Word. The provisions set out on page 573, paragraph 20, of the September 15, 1956, Watchtower are a merciful concession, and we still allow that arrangement.
13. By legal marriage what do those formerly living in consensual and in common-law marriage accomplish for the general good, and where may their marriage be put on record?
13 By legal marriage, before witnesses, the couple solemnly express their vows to each other and take upon themselves all binding obligations of marriage. They also provide their children with a proper standing and with legal privileges and rights according to God’s law and the law of the State. Having thus given an honorable position to their union as man and wife and cleaned up morally, they can dedicate to God and procure a standing in his New World society in which marriage must be held in honor and the marriage bed be without defilement, inasmuch as “God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” Under such honorable circumstances their marriage can be put on record with the State and also be put on record in the files of the congregation with which they meet and preach.
14. In this relation, why did Jesus not have to be ashamed of his earthly parents and of his ancestors, and why could the angels not be ashamed to testify of his birth?
14 The marriage of Jesus’ earthly parents and of his ancestors was recorded in the village office of records. That is why we know that, according to the flesh, Jesus was really the Messiah, the son of Abraham and the son of King David; and that he was thus legally entitled to be their heir of the promise that Jehovah God made with Abraham and also the heir of the covenant of everlasting kingship that God made with King David. This was true both indirectly through his foster father Joseph and directly through his earthly mother Mary. That is how the apostle Matthew could get the genealogical record of Joseph’s family tree, and Luke could get the record of Mary’s family tree. The marriages of Jesus’ earthly ancestors were honorable and were made a matter of public record and legal confirmation. Jesus had nothing to be ashamed of in this regard. Angels of heaven were not ashamed to testify of his birth in Bethlehem. We, as followers and imitators of Jesus Christ, and as associates of the congregation of which he is the Head, should be just as honorable in marriage as were his ancestors.
15. What must be said as to Joseph’s sexual relations with Mary? and what for a time did he think her guilty of, deserving putting her away?
15 Mary was promised in marriage to the carpenter Joseph, who was to become the foster father of her son. But during the time of their being affianced or engaged to marry, Joseph had no sexual relations with his betrothed Mary. He did not even have them after he obeyed the angel’s orders and took the pregnant Mary. He waited till she gave birth to Jesus. (Matt. 1:18-25) Because Mary’s pregnancy was miraculous, Joseph at first thought she had violated the honor of their marriage engagement. So he “intended to divorce her secretly,” because he “did not want to make her a public spectacle” through a stoning to death for moral unfaithfulness.
16. How did Jacob and Rachel make an honorable approach to marriage?
16 Joseph’s ancestor, the patriarch Jacob, had been betrothed to lovely Rachel for seven years. Yet during all this time in which he was working off his bride price, he had no sexual relations with her. Only at the end of the betrothal time did he ask her father Laban for her, that they might be formally married and he might honorably have relations with her. Thus Jacob and Rachel made an honorable approach to their marriage.—Gen. 29:20-30.
17. What does a couple’s having sexual relations during the engagement to marry constitute Scripturally, and how may a congregation penalize them for this?
17 Today when Jehovah’s dedicated witnesses get engaged to marry, they may have no sexual intercourse with each other before they are formally married before witnesses and properly registered as married. If they do not exercise self-control but excite themselves when alone, unobserved, and yield to passion and have sexual union, they commit fornication. Their being engaged to marry does not excuse the act or lift it out of the realm of immorality, fornication. For such uncleanness they can be expelled from the Christian congregation. A Christian minister is within his conscientious right in refusing to marry them, leaving them to be married by a civil servant of the State if they choose to go ahead and get married after they have been disfellowshiped and before they are reinstated in the congregation.
18. Before marriage and to make it a happy one, what should couples straightforwardly inform themselves about with respect to each other?
18 To insure a happy marriage, couples should learn to know each other well. Each one should learn whether the other is Scripturally free to marry, or to remarry. Each should know, too, whether the other is physically fit to marry and to pay the marriage dues without danger but with pleasure and with certain desired results. If the parents of the couple do not make the marriage arrangements or do the proper investigating, then the engaged couple will have to do it themselves, frankly, without shame, seriously. It is only proper to submit to blood tests and other medical examination required before marriage and the obtaining of the marriage license.
19. Why should couples learn the facts the one about the other before determining to marry, and what true life example shows the urgency of this course?
19 Take nothing for granted. Learn the facts. Then there will be no horror, instead of ecstasy, on the marriage night or afterward, as when a Latin-American girl, dedicated to God, married under the encouragement of a knowing friend of the bridegroom. Too late she was shocked to find she had married an unreported leper. The leprous man did not show Christian love in concealing his loathsome disease. The friend of the bridegroom did not show brotherly love in conniving at the marriage and leaving the innocent girl ignorant. When the matter was referred to the Watch Tower Society in behalf of the unhappily married girl, there was nothing the Society could do to relieve her of the terrible consequences of her failing to investigate first before marriage and then to make an intelligent decision. Quite unfortunate this, since sickness and disease are not Scriptural grounds for a divorce that frees one to remarry without incurring adultery! Such a blind, ignorant approach to marriage makes for no peace in marriage.
20. Under what circumstances does entering into marriage have its rewarding blessings, and what is the best guidebook for married couples?
20 When a Christian approaches marriage properly informed and with honorable conduct and then enters into it honorably, the marriage has its rewarding joys, privileges and blessings. It honors God, the heavenly Founder of marriage. But more discussion on this and on the weighty, dignified responsibilities of honorable marriage, we leave for succeeding articles to offer according to the Bible, the best guidebook for married persons.