Sunday, November 30, 2008

Another View on the Marriage Process

"Americans, in particular, today regard love as the paramount element in the decision to marry, despite the persistent influence of class, ethnic, religious, and educational considerations. In fact, from a broad historical perspective, love has had a rather weak association with -- and has very rarely preceded -- marriage. At least until the age of the automobile, financial and social considerations were at the heart of the decision to marry." p. 1 Kaplan, Marion A. (ed.) 1985. The Marriage Bargain: Women and Dowries in European History. U.S.A.: The Institute for Research in History and the Haworth Press, Inc.

In those cultures where marriages are arranged, and the decision for choosing a life partner is not the sole responsibility of young people, there is a much more stable marriage relationship. Along with the Hollywood romantic ideal of marriage for "love", has come the acceleration of social evils such as increased rates of divorce, anti-marital cohabitation, adultery, and such like.

"then Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, ...(Genesis 38:6)

From the Beginning, God has been arranging marriages. In the words of the Warlpiri people, Eve was a "promise bride" for Adam. The Heavenly Father chose a bride for his son, Adam. Adam had a right of veto, but he trusted his Father such that he was able to say of the Father's choice, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'Ishshah', because she was taken out of 'Ish". (Genesis 2:23).

The historical norm, for nearly six thousand years since the first marriage, has been that fathers (and mothers) have had a very important part to play in the arrangement of a marriage that is a suitable match for their siblings. This certainly was the situation in the case of Hagar (Genesis 21:21), Abraham (Genesis 24:1-67), Issac (Genesis 28:1-2; 29:1-30), Judah (Genesis 38:6), Naomi (Ruth 3:1-5) and others.

In his book, The Puritan Family: Essays on Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England (1956 [2nd Edn]. Boston, Mass: Trustees of the Public Library), Edmund S. Morgan wrote:

"... puritan love differed radically in conception from that which is sometimes supposed to form the foundations of marriage today. Here is no passion which seeks eternal bliss in the arms of earthly beauty. The romantic love which the Renaissance courtiers, medieval troubadours, and Hollywood films have alike worshipped seemed wholly idolatrous and blasphemous to the orthodox citizens of seventeenth-century New England. The love which they endorsed was a rational love, a love in which the affections were commanded by the will under the guidance of the reason. To be sure human depravity violated the order of creation: frequently the affections took the bit in their teeth and rebelled and could hardly be brought under control by the will. But in their proper place the affections were only 'under servants to the soul.'" (p. 18)

"the advice was not that couples should not marry unless they love each other but, that they should not marry unless they can love each other (my emphasis)." (p. 19)

Along with the issue of love and duty in marriage, there was also the economics of marriage that formed part of the family decision and negotiation between prospective families.

Goody, Jack and Tambiah, in their book, Bridewealth and Dowry (1973. New York: Cambridge at the University Press) indicated that dowry was a pre-mortem gift of inheritance to the bride from the bride's family, whereas, bridewealth (both a brideprice or a bridegift) was a transaction between the groom's family and the bride's family (either going directly to the bride through bridegift, or indirectly to the bride through dowry distributed from the brideprice) (preface and p. 1). "... the ultimate recipient of these gifts (bridewealth/brideprice) is the bride and not her kin. It is true that the gifts from the groom sometimes go first to the girl's father, who may indeed take a cut ... but the bulk goes to the bride herself and thus forms part of a joint (or sometimes separate) conjugal fund ..." (p. 2)

"Only when women began to re-enter the economy as paid workers on a large scale in advanced capitalist societies did the pursuit of dowries decline. Still, the dowry system is in evidence today in less industrialized areas of Europe" (p. 7 The Marriage Bargain)

The web link below provides some wonderful counter arguments to feminisms railings against a Biblical Christian view of marriage. The comments regarding dowry are very pertinent to this discussion on the economics of marriage:

"Women have owned property and run businesses throughout all of human history. This has not been the case through all times and all cultures, but it is most definitely a biblical concept. Under biblical (specifically Old Testament) law, a woman may own land (Numbers 27:7,8), purchase additional land or goods with her own money (Prov. 31:14, 16) and assure an inheritance for her children (Deut. 21:15-17). The dowry of biblical law was not the same as our modern concept of a dowry (in which a woman's parents provide money directly to the groom upon the marriage). Instead, the man who wished to marry a woman had to endow her with the equivalent of at least a year's wages (the "bride price") or stuffs of equal value (Gen. 34:12; Ex. 22:17). The bride's parents could also endow their daughter with money, lands or other goods (Gen. 31:14,16 - in this case, the father withheld the dowry and angered his daughters). This property belonged solely to the wife and could not be taken by the husband. This money was for the wife to use at her discretion - for the building up of her household (Ruth 4:11; Prov. 14:1), to finance a home business (Prov. 31:18,19, 24), to purchase additional land (Prov. 31:16), plant a crop or vineyard for harvest (Prov. 31:16), import goods from far-off places (Prov. 31:14), distribute to the poor (Prov. 31:20) and use for other means according to her wise discretion. In addition, inheritance laws did not automatically confer lands or goods upon sons. If there were no sons to inherit, the daughters could inherit their father's estate (Num. 27:7,8; 36:8). If the eldest son in the family was a reprobate, the father could disinherit him and give his share to another relative -- including a daughter (Gen. 48:5,6; Num. 27:7,8). The Bible is filled with examples of women whose wisdom made them excellent helpmates for their husbands The biblical picture of the wife is that of co-regent who shares one vision with her husband and works within her sphere to make the household successful and the family strong. It was during the Enlightenment that non-Christian philosophers began to conceive of women as pretty ornaments unable to think deeply or help men in any truly worthy capacity. It was during this time that western laws shifted to take God-given land ownership from women and deny them their role as builders of the household (Prov. 14:1). Laws have been passed in the last century and a half to restore these rights, but they are not newly minted rights. They have existed since the beginning of time within God's created order and in His Holy Word. Biblical law protects women and ensures they will be cared for and supported, and that they will have plenty to work with as they build their own small empires and societies within their homes and families.

In a copy of the The Separatist Papers, Rev. James W. Stivers writes:

"The family must ... be restored to its exclusive jurisdiction over inheritance. Corporations are perpetual and their assets are not subject to state confiscation when new officers take charge. However, because of inheritance laws, family property is limited to one generation. Only with great difficulty and loss are a family's assets passed on to future generations. The godly family cannot accumulate capital over the generations, and thereby, increase its power in the market place. The corporation, on the other hand, is permitted by law to accumulate capital perpetually, which gives it massive clout in the marketplace.

"The Bible's teaching on inheritance supports the family's control of natural and developed resources. It requires the accumulation of family capital for the purpose of inheritance (Proverbs 13:22). An inheritance assures continuity to the family's faith and identity. And with the power to disinherit, it promotes a godly offspring.

"A useful guard against licentiousness is the Biblical doctrine of the dowry. Biblical law did not permit irresponsible sex. A young man guilty of seduction was required to produce a dowry for the young woman (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). If she and her father consented, they were to marry, with the loss of the man's right to a divorce. Being a Romeo was a very expensive proposition in Biblical society. Restoring the dowry in our society would go far in restraining sexual lawlessness.

"In Biblical law, marriage was normally by dowry, not coition. Coition entitled a woman to a dowry. The minimum dowry was 50 shekels of silver; but according to Rushdoony, it usually was three years of the man's wages (Institutes of Biblical Law, The Craig Press, 1978 p. 177). The dowry demonstrated the foresight, responsibility, and love of the husband. It provided a solid economic security for the woman in the event she lost her husband through death or divorce (if he was at fault). This security also provided her with an authority and independence, protecting her from a slave's vulnerability to her husband's tyranny or irresponsibility. She could even start an independent business with her dowry or invest it (Proverbs 31:10-31). She could also pass it on as an inheritance to her children.

"In a statist society, the dowry is replaced by alimony, a poor substitute. A recent study reveals that the collection of alimony is very low and erratic in the United States. At best, there is a collection of 21% in one state, with most states far below that. A Biblical society would require the dowry first as a security against the possible disruption of the marriage in the future. Promises are cheap, especially from the lips of an ungodly man. And the state has no affinity for personal involvement, which means that the divorced woman is neglected as a rule."

A Biblical example of the Brideprice being supplied by the Father is that of Abraham (Genesis 24:10, 22, 53). There were items presented to the bride, the bride's mother and the brothers of the bride.

A Biblical example of the Brideprice being supplied by the groom is that of Jacob (Genesis 29:18). Jacob worked for 7 years, his wages for that labour was the promise of marriage to Rachel. He then worked another 7 years because he was tricked into consummating his marriage with Leah and needed another brideprice for the woman that he really wanted. Part of this brideprice was returned to the women (their dowry) through the agreement in relation to the spotted sheep and goats (Genesis 29:18), and also the household idols that were taken by Rachel (Genesis 31:34).

A further Biblical example of the groom providing the brideprice is that of Othniel, the son of Kenaz, the bother of Caleb (Joshua 15:16-19; Judges 1:12-15). In this transaction:

1. Othniel proved himself worthy of marriage.
2. Othniel did service to his prospective father-in-law in the place of offering bridewealth (a brideprice)
3. Caleb gave land and access to water as his daughter's dowry.

Other issues that the Bible addresses in the issue of marriage economics:

Genesis 24:2 Appointment of an unbiased negotiator.
Genesis 24:4 Bride to be of the "family" in the faith (II Corinthians 6:14; I Corinthians 7:39).
Genesis 24:16-18 A Bride was to be beautiful, a virgin and hospitable (much preparation and training from mother and grandmothers and other godly women needs to be given to young women to help them be suitable for marriage).
Genesis 24:22 A bridegift was silver and gold, and was given to the prospective bride
Genesis 24:53 A bridegift was given to the prospective bride, mother-in-law and brothers-in-law (including clothing, gold, silver and precious stones)
Genesis 24:60 The family of the bride-to-be was be blessed by her family (this blessing included: prayers, gifts, servants - white goods being the modern equivalent)

A prayer to be prayed over a bride-to-be by her family:

"Our sister, may you become the mother of thousands of ten thousands; and may your descendants posses the gates of those who hate them."

A father's charge to his son:

"You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan (those outside the Faith)." Genesis 28:1ff

As we witness the rapid decline of our culture, and the roots of the decline being in the many manifestations of family disintegration, we need to take a long hard look at how we do marriage.

These thoughts are hopefully the beginnings of a dialogue about a Biblical perspective of how to do marriage.

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