Christian Community


Strengthen Your Marriage!

Women, Listen to:

Seven Basic Needs of a Husband

   Seven Basic Needs of a Husband by Cliff Palmer

   pdf   Seven Basic Needs of a Husband Study Guide

Men, Listen to:

Seven Basic Needs of a Wife

  Seven Basic Needs of a Wife by Cliff Palmer

  pdf Seven Basic Needs of a Wife Study Guide


About the Speaker

Cliff Palmer is a great Bible teacher. Brother Cliff was pastor at First Baptist Church Springdale for many years. Under his teaching, the church grew from 180 to 2400 plus attendance in 16 years (1970-1986) in a town of 20,000. 

The materials above are Cliff Palmers' comments and insights, and are the culmination of (at that time) over 30 years of marriage, pastoring churches, and helping couples with their marriage problems using biblical principles. The audio sermons are recordings from the sessions Palmer held for the men and ladies (separately) at the First Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas. The audio sermons and study guides have been used since that time to help rescue countless marriages.

Marriage The Bible often refers to marriage—in stories, in the law of Moses, and in metaphors. The biblical usages reflect the practices of marriage in the ancient Near East and the Graeco-Roman world.

Marriage in the Bible

The Bible begins and ends with marriage (Gen 2:24; Rev 22:20). In between, it speaks of it often.

  There are stories of marriages and married couples (e.g., Gen 3:1–4:2; 12:1–18:15; 21:1–14; 24:1–25:28; 29:1–30:24; Ruth).

  There are rules concerning

  getting married (Deut 22:13–21; 22:28–29; 25:5–10),

  being married (Exod 21:10; Deut 21:15–17; Eph 5:21–33; Col 3:18–19; 1 Pet 3:1–7),

  violating marriage (Exod 20:14; Deut 22:1–27; Matt 5:27–28), and

  ending marriage (Deut 24:1–4; Matt 5:31–32; 19:3–8; 1 Cor 7:12–16).

  There are also passages where marriage is used as a metaphor.

  Christ is likened to a bridegroom and His followers are the wedding guests (Matt 9:14–15; 22:1–14; 25:1–13).

  Marriage of a man and a woman is an image of God and His people (Hos 1:2–3:5; Jer 2:1–4:4)

  or Christ and His church (John 3:28–30; 2 Cor 11:1–3; Rev 19:7–9; 21:2; 22:17–20).

While stories and metaphors that describe the mutual love of a married couple or the children born to them are easily understood, accounts of arranged marriages, endogamy (marrying relatives), or polygamy are not. This is because our social context differs from the social contexts in which the Bible was written. In order to understand marriage in the Bible, therefore, we need to be familiar with marriage in the ancient Near East as well as in the Graeco-Roman world.

Marriage in the Old Testament

Most Old Testament texts about marriage reflect Israelite agrarian society in the early Iron Age. Families lived off the produce of the earth. Men, women, and children needed to work the land and to process its yield in order to survive. The family property was owned and managed by the male head of the household, who would pass it down to his sons. Sons would remain in their parents’ household, marrying women from outside the immediate family and raising their children on their father’s land (Wright, God’s People, 53–58). In order to keep the property intact, the father would leave most of the inheritance to his oldest son (Deut 22:17). Families needed children to contribute to the household labor pool, to learn how to manage the family farm, and to inherit it upon the death of the family patriarch.

The Bible’s first marriage story demonstrates this. Adam is a farmer and Eve is the woman who bears his children (Gen 3:16–19; 4:1–2, 25). They share a life of hard work, and the woman is subject to the patriarch’s authority. Their marriage is summarized in Gen 2:24: a man seeks a wife from outside his parents’ household and the two start a new family unit.

Arranged marriages. The general Old Testament practice was for parents to arrange marriages for their children. The parents of a son had a significant stake in deciding who would enter their household and mother their grandchildren. Their role in securing wives for their sons can be seen in stories about the marriages of Ishmael (Gen 21:21), Isaac (Gen 24:1–9), and Er (Gen 38:6). When a man chose his own wife—as with Jacob, Shechem, and Samson—his parents still had an interest in his choice (Gen 28:1–5; 34:4; Judg 14:1–3).

Women’s family members were equally interested in finding good husbands for them. For example, Abraham’s servant deals not only with Isaac’s future wife Rebekah, but also her brother Laban and her father Bethuel (Gen 24:15–61). When Jacob falls in love with Rachel, he must arrange the marriage with her father Laban (Gen 29:15–20). It is worth noting that Jacob must compensate Laban before he can marry Rachel (Gen 17; see also Gen 34:12; Exod 22:16–17; Deut 22:29). Laban will lose Rachel’s contribution to his household economy, and Jacob will gain her labor and her child-bearing potential. Consequently, Jacob needs to pay his future father-in-law a bride-price (Perdue, “Israelite Family,” 184). For her part, Rachel will bring material assets to the marriage, including her maidservant Bilhah (Gen 29:29; see also Gen 24:59–61; Josh 15:18–19). A wife retained control over the property she brought to the marriage. If she lost her husband through death or divorce, it would serve as her economic safety net (Perdue, “Israelite Family,” 184).

Endogamy. The marriages of Isaac and Jacob illustrate another feature of ancient Israelite marriage: endogamy. A young man or woman was expected to marry a member of his or her extended family. Rebekah is Isaac’s first cousin once removed. Leah and Rachel are Jacob’s first cousins on his mother’s side and second cousins once removed on his father’s side. The advantage for husbands like Isaac and Jacob is that, unlike Esau (Gen 27:46), they are not bringing strange women into their fathers’ households. Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel will be familiar with their customs and their relationships, and other adults in the household will be inclined to treat them as family members (Meyers, “Family in Israel,” 36).

Endogamy also benefits the fathers of daughters, like Bethuel and Laban. If a man died without sons, his daughters would inherit his property. If those daughters had married strangers, his property would go to the sons of strangers. However, if his daughters had married their cousins, the property would stay in the family (Perdue, “Israelite Family,” 183).

In the stories of the patriarchs, the practice of endogamy thus keeps the promised land for the members of Abraham’s family. This is why Abraham and Isaac are anxious to find wives for their sons among the descendants of Abraham’s father Terah (Gen 24:1–9; 28:1–5). Indeed, Abraham’s own wife Sarah is his half-sister, a daughter of Terah (Gen 20:12).

Not only is it important for the promised land to belong to Israel, it is also necessary for the portion allotted to a particular tribe to remain within that tribe. In Numbers 27:1–12, for example, the five daughters of Zelophehad inherit his property, but in Num 36:1–13 Moses commands them to make endogamous marriages so that Zelophehad’s property stays within the tribe of his clan.

The concern for endogamous marriage reached a peak after the Babylonian Exile (Neh 10:30; 13:3, 23–30; Ezra 9:1–10:44), when the Judaeans who resettled Jerusalem made it a priority to maintain their ethnic identity and religious practices. Priests were especially required not to “marry out,” so that they and their sons would not introduce foreign innovations into temple worship (Ezra 10:18–44).

Marriage and Extramarital Sex. Marriage gave a man exclusive reproductive rights with his wife. If these rights were honored, then his property would pass to his biological children. It was important, therefore, for a man to marry a virgin so that the paternity of his first child would be certain. This made it necessary for a father to guard the virginity of his daughters so that he could see them safely married. A family’s honor thus depended on the patriarch’s ability to control the sexual activity of his female dependents, including wives, daughters, and unmarried sisters (Yee, “Hosea,” 210).

Old Testament law reflects the significance of male reproductive rights and family honor. For example, Deuteronomy 22:13–21 imposed a severe penalty on a bride whose husband discovered that she was not a virgin. She was stoned to death because she had besmirched her father’s honor and violated the reproductive rights of her future husband. The adultery prohibition also functioned to guard a husband’s reproductive rights and family honor. If woman who was either married or betrothed to a husband were to have sex with any other man, both she and the man were put to death (Exod 20:14; Lev 18:20; 20:10; Deut 22:22–24). The story of David and Bathsheba demonstrates the importance of a husband’s reproductive rights (2 Sam 11:1–27). After David has sex with Bathsheba, her pregnancy threatens to expose him to Bathsheba’s husband Uriah, the man whose rights he has violated. He therefore tries to deceive Uriah, and finally has him killed.

The law also addresses the rape of a man’s wife—the woman was not liable and the rapist was executed (Deut 22:25–27). The law also considered the rape of a virgin (Deut 22:28–29). The rapist had violated the rights of the virgin’s father, who would probably not be able to arrange a suitable marriage for her. Therefore, he was required to pay the father an extravagant bride-price and marry the woman (Frymer-Kensky, “Virginity,” 92). Shechem, then, acted responsibly by offering to Jacob to marry his daughter Dinah (Gen 34:1–12). Amnon, however, by refusing to marry his half-sister Tamar, has made her ineligible for marriage to any other man in her social class. In addition, he has effectively made her brother Absalom responsible for her maintenance as well as for the defense of the family’s honor (2 Sam 13:1–20).

Polygamy. Once married, the couple was expected to produce children. This was especially important for men with property, who needed adult sons to inherit their land and goods. Due to the high mortality rate for infants as well as for women in childbirth, the birth of a son and his survival into adulthood was by no means guaranteed. Some men therefore practiced polygamy in order to ensure at least one male heir. Some Old Testament polygamists were Esau (Gen 26:34; 36:1–5), Jacob (Gen 29:21–30), Gideon (Judg 8:30–31), and Elkanah (1 Sam 1:1–2).

The Bible indicates that favoritism was a common problem in polygamous marriages. Jacob, for example, clearly favored Rachel (Gen 29:30), and Elkanah gave special attention to Hannah (1 Sam 1:4–8). A polygamist who was partial to one wife tended to disregard the rights of his other wives and their children. Therefore, the law included two statutes that restricted the consequences of favoritism.

  A first-born son had rights of inheritance even if his father disliked his mother (Deut 21:15–17).

  A man could not favor a second, beloved wife at the expense of a first wife (Exod 21:10). A man who took a second wife had to contribute equally to the support of both wives. This included giving both the opportunity to conceive children. Presumably, then, only very wealthy men could afford to support more than one wife and her children.

Royal Marriage. Ancient wealthy and important families often used marriages to form alliances with other prominent families. This was especially true of royal families. For example, David’s marriages to Saul’s daughter Michal and Abigail, the widow of a wealthy Judahite landowner, seem like clear bids for influence and property (1 Sam 18:17–29; 25:2–42; Levenson and Halpern, “David’s Marriages,” 507–511).

Later royal marriages are intended to cement political ties between nations:

  David to Maacah of Geshur (2 Sam 3:3)

  Solomon to Pharaoh’s daughter (1 Kgs 9:16)

  Ahab to Jezebel of Phoenicia (1 Kgs 16:31)

  Jehoram of Judah to Athaliah of Israel (2 Kgs 8:26)

Psalm 45 was probably commissioned for such a royal wedding—it describes a handsome king, his bride who must forget her people, and their expected offspring. Kings especially had the political incentive and necessary resources to marry several wives. The wealthy king Solomon is said to have had one thousand wives and concubines (1 Kgs 11:3).

Death and Divorce. A man’s reproductive rights over his wife were terminated either by his death or by his choosing to end the marriage in divorce. In either case, the woman was free to marry another man. An interesting exception, however, applied to childless widows. If a married man died before producing an heir, he left the succession in limbo. Who would inherit his portion of the family property?

Levirate Marriage. It was the duty of the nearest male relative of a deceased man to marry his childless widow and to father her children. Her firstborn son would then be acknowledged as the son of her deceased husband and would inherit his property. This practice is known as levirate marriage (from “levir,” Latin for “husband’s brother”). It is codified in Deut 25:5–10 and enforced with strong sanctions. Boaz enters into a levirate marriage with his kinsman’s widow, Ruth. Their son Obed then stands to inherit the property of Ruth’s deceased father-in-law Elimelech (Ruth 4:10). Judah’s son Onan similarly enters into a levirate marriage with his brother Er’s widow Tamar (Gen 38:8–10). Onan’s duty to father his brother’s children is so important that God punishes his negligence with death.

Divorce. If a man was not pleased with his wife, the law allowed him to divorce her. In the certificate of divorce, he publically relinquished his reproductive rights, thus enabling her to remarry (Deut 24:1–2). A divorced wife retained her marital property in addition to any divorce settlement as agreed between her husband and her father. If a divorced woman remarried and her second husband also divorced her, the first husband was not permitted to remarry her (Deut 24:3–4). Since he had already renounced his rights, he could not reclaim them and so profit from any divorce settlement from her second marriage (Frymer-Kensky, “Deuteronomy,” 65).

Divorce was always the prerogative of the husband, never of the wife. A husband had little incentive to divorce his wife indiscriminately, however, since he stood to lose the value of his wife’s labor and reproductive capacity along with the resources she had brought into the marriage—not to mention the bride-price he had given to her father.

There were only two cases in which a man was forbidden to divorce his wife: if upon their marriage he had falsely accused her of not being a virgin (Deut 22:19) and if he had raped her before their marriage (Deut 22:29). These laws protected the interests of the woman’s father (and, incidentally, those of the woman as well).

The Song of Songs. Although the Bible sometimes refers to love between husbands and wives (e.g., Gen 24:67; 29:18–20; 1 Sam 18:28), it does not give details of their sexual relationships. Husbands “know” (Gen 4:1 NRSV) or “go in to” (Gen 29:23, 30 NRSV) their wives, thereby producing children. The one exception is the Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon), a lengthy erotic dialogue between young lovers. The Song is interpreted in different ways. Since the publication of Budde’s article “Das Hohelied” in 1898, many Christians have regarded the Song as a wedding song. More recently, however, it has been argued that it resembles Egyptian love songs composed for entertainment on festive occasions (Fox, Song of Songs, 247–9). Although the Song refers to marriage (e.g., Song 3:6–11; 4:8–12), its subject is not marriage per se (Fox, Song of Songs, 314). It is more concerned with the lovers’ delight in each other’s bodies (4:1–7; 5:10–16; 6:4–10; 7:1–9) and their idyllic trysts (1:16–17; 2:8–17; 6:11–12; 7:10–8:5). It is not even clear that the couple is, in fact, married (Fox, Song of Songs, 232).

Marriage as a Metaphor. Israel’s prophets used marriage between man and woman as a metaphor for the relationship between God and His people. This was especially true of Hosea and Jeremiah, who prophesied against Israel’s idolatry. Both prophets compared the love of a husband for his wife with the love of God for His people. They also likened a wife’s adulterous relationship with another man to Israel’s idolatrous worship of other gods (Hos 1:2–2:23; Jer 2:1–4:4). Hosea not only made the comparisons; he also lived them out by marrying a “wife of whoredom” (Hos 1:2–3 NRSV). He was optimistic that God, like a loving husband, would restore His relationship with His unfaithful people (Hos 2:14–23). Jeremiah, on the other hand, remarked that God would be within His rights to “divorce” them (Jer 3:1).

Hosea 3:1–5 compares the royal and cultic institutions that mediate between Israel and God to the intercourse between a husband and wife. Israel will temporarily live without these institutions, just as the prophet’s adulterous wife must temporarily refrain from intercourse with her husband.

Marriage in the New Testament

Marriage in the Graeco-Roman world was not much different from marriage in the ancient Near East. It still served the social function of maintaining family property and passing it down from father to son. Men held authority over their families, including wives, children, and slaves (Verner, Household, 30). However, Roman law allowed both for a husband to divorce his wife and a wife to divorce her husband. Jewish law upheld only the husband’s right to divorce his wife (Deut 24:1–2). Levirate marriage and polygamy, while still legal among Jews, were not commonly practiced (Verner, Household, 46).

Jesus and Marriage. Jesus is reported to have reinterpreted three Old Testament teachings concerning marriage.

Adultery. In the Sermon on the Mount, He addresses the law forbidding adultery (Exod 20:14 in Matt 5:27–30). Jesus extends the principle of the law so that a man who simply desires another man’s wife has already committed adultery with her.

Divorce. Jesus also reinterprets the law allowing divorce (Deut 24:1–2). Paul is the earliest New Testament writer to record this teaching (1 Cor 7:11): “the husband should not divorce his wife” (NRSV). According to Mark 10:2–9 and Matt 19:3–8, Jesus issued this ruling in a legal dispute with some Pharisees, who themselves disagreed over the interpretation of Deut 24:1–2. For Jesus, however, the precedent is not Deut 24:1–2 but God’s earlier pronouncement in Gen 2:24: “they become one flesh” (NRSV). Divorce and remarriage, therefore, lead to adultery (Mark 10:11; Matt 5:31–32; 19:9; Luke 16:18).

Because He was a Palestinian Jew, Jesus did not need to address cases that involved wives divorcing husbands or Christians married to non-Christians. Paul and Mark, writing in a Graeco-Roman context, did need to address such cases. Both carefully applied Jesus’ precept, extending the prohibition of divorce to wives (1 Cor 7:10; Mark 10:12). In addition, Paul gave his opinion that a believer should not initiate divorce proceedings against an unbelieving spouse. In Paul’s view, such a marriage should end only at the initiative of the unbelieving spouse (1 Cor 7:12–16). Paul does not articulate an explicit rule for remarriage in this case.

Although Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include Jesus’ teachings on divorce, each Gospel offers a slightly different account. In Mark’s version, Jesus’ dispute with the Pharisees ends with the conclusion that human beings should not separate what God has joined (Mark 10:2–9). Jesus then teaches his disciples that divorce and remarriage lead to adultery (Mark 10:10–12). The fact that Mark’s Jesus applies this rule to both men and women is significant. It not only accounts for a woman’s ability to divorce her husband, it also reinterprets the Old Testament definition of adultery. The laws in Exod 20:14; Lev 18:20; 20:10; and Deut 22:22–24 regard adultery as an offense by the adulterous couple against the woman’s husband. Mark 10:11–12, however, makes it equally possible for a husband to commit adultery against his wife.

Luke does not report Jesus’ dispute with the Pharisees. He does, however, include a version of the teaching about remarriage and adultery. In this teaching—also directed at the Pharisees—a man commits adultery either if he divorces his wife and marries another woman or if he marries a divorced woman (Luke 16:18).

Matthew’s describes Jesus as offering two teachings on divorce. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:31–32), he delivers the teaching that also appears in Luke 16:18. Later, Matthew includes the dispute with the Pharisees found in Mark (Matt 19:3–9). The ruling that a man who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, given to the disciples in Mark 10:11–12, is announced to the Pharisees in Matt 19:9. Unlike Mark, Matthew does not specify that the man commits adultery against his wife, nor does he extend the rule to women who divorce their husbands. Furthermore, Matthew adds an interesting exception to Jesus’ rule: remarriage leads to adultery unless the woman was divorced because of “unchastity (porneia)” (Matt 5:32; 19:9 NRSV). The interpretation hangs on the meaning of porneia—this noun can describe various kinds of sexual deviance. If it refers to adultery, then the saying seems to allow men to divorce unfaithful wives, an exception with which one school of Pharisees would have agreed (Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage, 175). On the other hand, porneia might refer to a marriage that violates one of the laws against incest (Lev 18:1–18). Such marriages were not uncommon in the Graeco-Roman world. In that case, the teaching in Matthew permits divorce only for persons married to their close relations. Matthew’s logic is subject to another interpretation, however: in such a case the former husband is not responsible for causing his divorced wife to commit adultery. She already committed adultery before he divorced her.

Levirate Marriage. Finally, Jesus comments on the law concerning levirate marriage (Deut 25:5–10). It does not pertain to the dead after their resurrection, says Jesus. There is no marriage in the afterlife (Mark 12:18–25; Matt 22:23–30; Luke 20:27–35). Jesus, of course, never married. In Matthew 19:10–12, He seems to advocate the single life for any of His followers who are able to remain celibate.

Paul and Marriage. Paul seems not to have married, either—like Jesus, he advocated celibacy (1 Cor 7:8). He reasoned that if Jesus is coming again soon, it makes no sense for believers to trouble themselves with the distractions of marriage. Their first priority is to please God (1 Cor 7:25–35). Having said this, however, Paul conceded that it is not wrong to marry. In fact, those who cannot control their sexual desires should go ahead and get married (1 Cor 7:6–9, 36–38). And, once they are married, a couple should have sex. They are not so spiritual that they do not need to satisfy their physical needs (1 Cor 7:1–5).

Household Codes. Codes of behavior for husbands, wives, children, and slaves are articulated in Eph 5:21–6:9; Col 3:18–4:1; and 1 Pet 2:18–3:7. These codes reflect contemporary practice in Graeco-Roman society, in which all family members were subordinate to the male head of the household. In order for Christian households to conform to the social standard, then, a wife should be subject to her husband’s authority (Eph 5:22; Col 3:18; 1 Pet 3:1). Husbands, however, are warned not to abuse this authority (Eph 5:25; Col 3:19; 1 Pet 3:7). They are to treat their wives with love and consideration. The code in Ephesians underscores these injunctions with an illustration: Christ loves and cares for the church (Eph 5:25–27, 29). He is the head of the church, and the church submits to his authority (Eph 5:23–24).

Marriage as a Metaphor. The New Testament compares the arrival of the prophesied Messiah to a wedding—each ends a long period of waiting. Jesus compared Himself to the bridegroom and His followers to the wedding guests in different ways:

  Jesus explains why His disciples do not fast by saying that wedding guests celebrate by feasting (Mark 2:18–20; Matt 9:14–15; and Luke 5:33–35).

  The parable of the Wedding Feast addresses both those who refuse God’s invitation and those who accept it but do not adhere to His standards (Matt 22:1–14).

  The parable of the 10 Virgins suggests that Jesus’ second coming might be delayed—His followers should be prepared (Matt 25:1–13).

In John’s gospel, the Baptist also uses the metaphor (John 3:28–30). John the Baptist likens Jesus to a bridegroom and himself to the bridegroom’s friend—Jesus is the Messiah, John is the forerunner who rejoices in the Messiah’s presence. John’s following will decrease, but Jesus will gain followers, just as a bridegroom starts a family.

The analogy may be continued in the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4:1–42). The story reminds us of Old Testament scenes in which the meeting of a man and a woman at a well leads to a marriage (Gen 24:1–67; 29:1–20; Exod 2:15–22). Jesus and the woman do not get married, of course, but the Samaritans who now believe in Jesus increase His following, as in the Baptist’s saying (John 4:39–41; 3:30).

Paul uses the metaphor in 2 Cor 11:1–3. He too portrays the Messiah (Christ) as a bridegroom and His followers (Paul’s Corinthian converts) as a bride. Paul’s converts have been persuaded by teachings that contradict his own (2 Cor 11:4). He therefore compares the wait for Christ’s coming to a period of betrothal. Just as a father desires to keep his daughter a virgin until she is married to her husband, so Paul desires to keep his converts faithful to the Christ he taught them. Their following a different Christ is like a betrothed daughter’s accepting the advances of another man.

In the visions of Revelation, the relationship between Christ and His followers is finally consummated with a wedding. The bride is clothed in fine linen, the invited guests have assembled, the bride is joined to her husband, and the marriage feast begins (Rev 19:7–9; 21:2). The community of righteous believers will finally, joyfully unite with Christ. In the meantime, the bride—the church—joins the Spirit, the author, and the audience of Revelation in saying, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:17–20 NRSV).

Marriage. Marriage is the state in which men and women can live together in sexual relationship with the approval of their social group. Adultery and fornication are sexual relationships that society does not recognize as constituting marriage. This definition is necessary to show that in the OT polygamy is not sexually immoral, since it constitutes a recognized married state; though it is generally shown to be inexpedient.

I. The status of marriage

Marriage is regarded as normal, and there is no word for ‘bachelor’ in the OT. The record of the creation of Eve (Gn. 2:18–24) indicates the unique relationship of husband and wife, and serves as a picture of the relationship between God and his people (Je. 3; Ezk. 16; Ho. 1–3) and between Christ and his church (Eph. 5:22–33). Jeremiah’s call to remain unmarried (Je. 16:2) is a unique prophetic sign, but in the NT it is recognized that for specific purposes celibacy can be God’s call to Christians (Mt. 19:10–12; 1 Cor. 7:7–9), although marriage and family life are the normal calling (Jn. 2:1–11; Eph. 5:22–6:4; 1 Tim. 3:2; 4:3; 5:14).

Monogamy is implicit in the story of Adam and Eve, since God created only one wife for Adam. Yet polygamy is adopted from the time of Lamech (Gn. 4:19), and is not forbidden in Scripture. It would seem that God left it to man to discover by experience that his original institution of monogamy was the proper relationship. It is shown that polygamy brings trouble, and often results in sin, e.g. Abraham (Gn. 21); Gideon (Jdg. 8:29–9:57); David (2 Sa. 11; 13); Solomon (1 Ki. 11:1–8). In view of oriental customs Heb. kings are warned against it (Dt. 17:17). Family jealousies arise from it, as with Elkanah’s two wives, one of whom is an adversary to the other (1 Sa. 1:6; cf. Lv. 18:18). It is difficult to know how far polygamy was practised, but on economic grounds it is probable that it was found more among the well-to-do than among the ordinary people. Herod the Great had nine wives at one time (Jos., Ant. 17.19). Polygamy continues to the present day among Jews in Muslim countries.

When polygamy was practised the status and relationship of the wives can be gathered both from the narratives and the law. It was natural that the husband would be drawn to one rather than another. Thus Jacob, who was tricked into polygamy, loved Rachel more than Leah (Gn. 29). Elkanah preferred Hannah in spite of her childlessness (1 Sa. 1:1–8). In Dt. 21:15–17 it is admitted that the husband may love one wife and hate the other.

Since children were important to carry on the family name, a childless wife might allow her husband to have children by her slave. This was legal in civilized Mesopotamia (e.g. the Code of Hammurapi, §§ 144–147), and was practised by Sarah and Abraham (Gn. 16) and Rachel and Jacob (Gn. 30:1–8), though Jacob went farther and accepted Leah’s maid also, even though Leah had already borne him children (Gn. 30:9). In these cases the rights of the wife are safe-guarded; it is she who gives her maid to her husband for a specific occasion. It is difficult to give a name to the status of the maid in such a relationship; she is a secondary, rather than a second, wife, though, if the husband continued to have relations with her, she would have the position of concubine. This is perhaps why Bilhah is called Jacob’s concubine in Gn. 35:22, while Hagar is not classed with Abraham’s concubines in Gn. 25:6.

Wives would normally be chosen from among the Hebrews (e.g. Ne. 13:23–28). Betrothal and marriage would then follow a normal pattern (see below). Sometimes they were bought as Heb. slaves (Ex. 21:7-11; Ne. 5:5). It is commonly asserted that the master of a household had sexual rights over all his female slaves. No doubt there were flagrant examples of such promiscuity, but the Bible says nothing about them. It is noteworthy that Ex. 21:7–11 and Dt. 15:12 distinguish between an ordinary female slave, who is to be released after 7 years, and one who has been deliberately taken as a wife, or concubine, and who cannot claim her release automatically. Since her rights are here established by law, the head of the house or his son must have gone through some ceremony, however simple, of which the law can take cognizance. In speaking of her rights this passage does not make them depend upon her word against the word of the head of the house, nor even upon her having borne him or his son a child. It is difficult to say what her status was. No doubt it varied according to whether she was the first, second, or only ‘wife’ of the householder. Where she was given to the son of the house, she might well have full status as his wife. The fact is that this law, as the context shows, deals with her rights as a slave and not primarily as a wife.

Wives might also be taken from among captives after a war, provided that they were not Palestinians (Dt. 20:14–18). Some writers regard these captives as concubines, but the regulations of Dt. 21:10-14 regard them as normal wives.

There is no law dealing with concubines, and we do not know what rights they had. Obviously they had an inferior position to the wives, but their children could inherit at their father’s discretion (Gn. 25:6). Judges records the rise to power of Abimelech, the son of Gideon’s concubine (Jdg. 8:31–9:57), and also tells the tragic story of the Levite and his concubine (Jdg. 19). The impression given by 19:2-4 is that this concubine was free to leave her ‘husband’, and that the man relied on persuasion to bring her home. David and Solomon copied oriental monarchs in taking many wives and concubines (2 Sa. 5:13; 1 Ki. 11:3; Ct. 6:8–9). In the last two passages it seems that the concubines were drawn from a lower class of the population.

In normal marriages the wife came to the husband’s home. There is, however, another form of marriage in Jdg. 14–15. This is practised among the Philistines, and there is no record of it among the Israelites. Here Samson’s wife remains at her father’s home, and Samson visits her. It might be argued that Samson had intended to take her home after the wedding, but went off alone in a rage after the trick that she had played on him. Yet she is still at her father’s house in 15:1, even though in the meantime she has been married to a Philistine.

II. Marriage customs

The marriage customs of the Bible centre in the two events of betrothal and wedding.

a. Betrothal

In the Near East betrothal (Talmudic ērûsîn and qiddûšîn) is almost as binding as marriage itself. In the Bible the betrothed woman was sometimes called ‘wife’ and was under the same obligation of faithfulness (Gn. 29:21; Dt. 22:23–24; Mt. 1:18, 20), and the betrothed man was called ‘husband’ (Joel 1:8; Mt. 1:19). The Bible does not legislate for broken betrothals, but the Code of Hammurapi (§§ 159-160) stipulated that if the future husband broke the engagement the bride’s father retained the bride-gift; while if the father changed his mind he repaid double the amount of the gift (see also the Law codes of Lipit-Ishtar, 29, and Eshnunna, 25). Presumably there was some formal declaration, but the amount of publicity would depend on the bridegroom. Thus Joseph wished to dissolve the betrothal to Mary as quietly as possible (Mt. 1:19).

God’s love and faithfulness towards his people are pictured in terms of a betrothal in Ho. 2:19–20. The betrothal included the following steps:

(i) Choice of a spouse. Usually the parents of a young man chose his wife and arranged for the marriage, as Hagar did for Ishmael (Gn. 21:21) and Judah for Er (Gn. 38:6). Sometimes the young man did the choosing, and his parents the negotiating, as in the case of Shechem (Gn. 34:4, 8) and Samson (Jdg. 14:2). Rarely did a man marry against the wish of his parents, as did Esau (Gn. 26:34–35). The girl was sometimes asked whether she consented, as in the case of Rebekah (Gn. 24:58). Occasionally the girl’s parents chose a likely man to be her husband, as did Naomi (Ru. 3:1-2) and Saul (1 Sa 18:21).

(ii) Exchange of gifts. Three types of gifts are associated with betrothal in the Bible: 1. The mōhar, translated ‘marriage present’ in rsv and ‘dowry’ in av (Gn. 34:12, for Dinah; Ex. 22:17, for a seduced maiden; 1 Sa. 18:25, for Michal). The mōhar is implied but not so named in such passages as Gn. 24:53, for Rebekah; 29:18, the 7 years’ service performed by Jacob for Rachel. Moses’ keeping of the sheep for his father-in-law may be interpreted in the same way (Ex. 3:1). This was a compensation gift from the bridegroom to the family of the bride, and it sealed the covenant and bound the two families together. Some scholars have considered the mōhar to be the price of the bride, but a wife was not bought like a slave. 2. The dowry. This was a gift to the bride or the groom from her father, sometimes consisting of servants (Gn. 24:59, 61, to Rebekah; 29:24, to Leah) or land (Jdg. 1:15, to Achsah; 1 Ki. 9:16, to Pharaoh’s daughter, the wife of Solomon), or other property (Tobit 8:21, to Tobias). 3. The bridegroom’s gift to the bride was sometimes jewellery and clothes, as those brought to Rebekah (Gn. 24:53). Biblical examples of oral contracts are Jacob’s offer of 7 years’ service to Laban (Gn. 29:18) and Shechem’s promise of gifts to the family of Dinah (Gn. 34:12). In TB a contract of betrothal is called šeṭar qiddûšîn (Moed Katan 18b) or šeṭarērûsîn (Kiddushin 9a). In the Near East today the contributions of each family are fixed in a written engagement contract.

b. Wedding ceremonies

An important feature of many of these ceremonies was the public acknowledgment of the marital relationship. It is to be understood that not all of the following steps were taken at all weddings.

(i) Garments of bride and groom. The bride sometimes wore embroidered garments (Ps. 45:13–14), jewels (Is. 61:10), a special girdle or ‘attire’ (Je. 2:32) and a veil (Gn. 24:65). Among the adornments of the groom might be a garland (Is. 61:10). Eph. 5:27; Rev. 19:8; 21:2 refer figuratively to the white garments of the church as the Bride of Christ.

(ii) Bridesmaids and friends. Ps. 45:14 speaks of bridesmaids for a royal bride, and we assume that lesser brides had their bridesmaids also. Certainly the bridegroom had his group of companions (Jdg. 14:11). One of these corresponded to the best man at our weddings, and is called ‘companion’ in Jdg. 14:20; 15:2, and ‘the friend of the bridegroom’ in Jn. 3:29. He may be the same as ‘the steward (av ‘governor’) of the feast’ in Jn. 2:8–9.

(iii) The procession. In the evening of the day fixed for the marriage the bridegroom and his friends went in procession to the bride’s house. The wedding supper could be held there: sometimes circumstances compelled this (Gn. 29:22; Jdg. 14), but it may have been fairly common, since the parable of the Ten Virgins in Mt. 25:1–13 is most easily interpreted of the bridegroom going to the bride’s house for the supper. One would, however, expect that more usually the bridegroom escorted the bride back to his own or his parents’ home for the supper, though the only references to this in Scripture are in Ps. 45:14f.; Mt. 22:1–14 (royal weddings), and probably in Jn. 2:9f.

The procession might be accompanied by singing, music and dancing (Je. 7:34; 1 Macc. 9:39), and by lamps if at night (Mt. 25:7).

(iv) The marriage feast. This was usually held at the house of the groom (Mt. 22:1–10; Jn. 2:9) and often at night (Mt. 22:13; 25:6). Many relatives and friends attended; so the wine might well run out (Jn. 2:3). A steward or friend supervised the feast (Jn. 2:9–10). To refuse an invitation to the wedding feast was an insult (Mt. 22:7). The guests were expected to wear festive clothes (Mt. 22:11–12). In special circumstances the feast could be held in the bride’s home (Gn. 29:22; Tobit 8:19) The glorious gathering of Christ and his saints in heaven is figuratively called ‘the marriage supper of the Lamb’ (Rev. 19:9).

(v) Covering the bride. In two cases in the OT (Ru. 3:9; Ezk. 16:8) the man covers the woman with his skirt, perhaps a sign that he takes her under his protection. D. R. Mace follows J. L. Burckhardt (Notes on the Bedouin, 1830, p. 264) in saying that in Arab weddings this is done by one of the bridegroom’s relations. J. Eisler, in Weltenmantel und Himmelszelt, 1910, says that among the bedouin the bridegroom covers the bride with a special cloak, using the words, ‘From now on, nobody but myself shall cover thee.’ The Bible references suggest that the second custom was followed.

(vi) Blessing. Parents and friends blessed the couple and wished them well (Gn. 24:60; Ru. 4:11; Tobit 7:13).

(vii) Covenant. Another religious element was the covenant of faithfulness which is implied in Pr. 2:17; Ezk. 16:8; Mal. 2:14. According to Tobit 7:14, the father of the bride drew up a written marriage contract, which in the Mishnah is called keṯûḇâ.

(viii) Bridechamber. A nuptial chamber was specially prepared (Tobit 7:16). The Heb. name for this room is ḥuppâ (Ps. 19:5; Joel 2:16), originally a canopy or tent, and the Gk. word is nymphōn (Mk. 2:19). The word ḥuppâ is still used among Jews today of the canopy under which the bride and bridegroom sit or stand during the wedding ceremony.

(ix) Consummation. The bride and groom were escorted to this room, often by the parents (Gn. 29:23; Tobit 7:16–17; 8:1). Before coming together, for which the Heb. uses the idiom ‘to know’, prayer was offered by husband and wife (Tobit 8:4).

(x) Proof of virginity. A blood-stained cloth or chemise was exhibited as a proof of the bride’s virginity (Dt. 22:13–21). This custom continues in some places in the Near East.

(xi) Festivities. The wedding festivities continued for a week (Gn. 29:27, Jacob and Leah) or sometimes 2 weeks (Tobit 8:20, Tobias and Sarah). These celebrations were marked by music (Pss. 45; 78:63) and by joking like Samson’s riddles (Jdg. 14:12–18). Some interpret Canticles in the light of a custom among Syrian peasants of calling the groom and bride ‘king’ and ‘queen’ during the festivities after the wedding and of praising them with songs.

III. Forbidden degrees of marriage

These are listed in Lv. 18 in detail, and less fully in Lv. 20:17–21; Dt. 27:20-23. They are analysed in detail by David Mace, Hebrew Marriage, pp. 152f. We presume that the ban held good both for a second wife during the first wife’s lifetime and for any subsequent marriage after the wife’s death, except for marriage with the wife’s sister: for Lv. 18:18, in saying that the wife’s sister may not be married during the wife’s lifetime, implies that she may be married after the wife is dead.

Abraham (Gn. 20:12) and Jacob (Gn. 29:21–30) married within degrees of relationship that were later forbidden. The scandal in the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 5:1) may have been marriage of a stepmother after the father’s death, but, since the woman is called ‘his father’s wife’ (not widow), and the act is called fornication, it is more likely to be a case of immoral relationship with the man’s young second wife.

IV. The levirate law

The name is derived from Lat. levir, meaning ‘husband’s brother’. When a married man died without a child his brother was expected to take his wife. Children of the marriage counted as children of the first husband. This custom is found among other peoples besides the Hebrews.

The custom is assumed in the story of Onan in Gn. 38:8–10. Onan took his brother’s wife, but refused to have a child by her, because ‘the seed should not be his’ (v. 9), and his own children would not have the primary inheritance. This verse does not pass any judgment on birth control as such.

Dt. 25:5–10 states the law as applying to brethren who dwell together, but allows the brother the option of refusing.

The book of Ruth shows that the custom extended farther than the husband’s brother. Here an unnamed kinsman has the primary duty, and only when he refuses does Boaz marry Ruth. A further extension of the custom here is that it is Ruth, and not Naomi, who marries Boaz, presumably because Naomi was too old to bear a child. The child is called ‘a son to Naomi’ (4:17).

The levirate law did not apply if daughters had been born, and regulations for the inheritance of daughters are given to the daughters of Zelophehad in Nu. 27:1–11. It might seem strange that vv. 9–11 seem to ignore, or even contradict, the levirate law. It could be argued that Dt. 25:5–10 had not yet been promulgated. On the other hand, when a law arises out of a specific occasion one must know the exact circumstances in order to judge what the law professes to cover. There would be no contradiction of the levirate law if Zelophehad’s wife had died before he did, and the law here confines itself to similar cases. Nu. 27:8–11 would operate when there were daughters only, or when a childless wife had predeceased her husband, or when the late husband’s brother refused to take the childless widow, or when the wife remained childless after the brother had married her.

In Lv. 18:16; 20:21 a man is forbidden to marry his brother’s wife. In the light of the levirate law this clearly means that he may not take her as his own wife, whether she has been divorced during her husband’s lifetime or has been left with or without children at her husband’s death. John the Baptist rebuked Herod Antipas for marrying the wife of his brother Herod Philip (Mt. 14:3–4); Herod Philip was still alive.

In the NT the levirate law is used by the Sadducees to pose a problem about the resurrection (Mt. 22:23ff.).

V. Divorce

a. In the Old Testament

In Mt. 19:8 Jesus says that Moses ‘allowed’ divorce because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. This means that Moses did not command divorce, but regulated an existing practice, and the form of the law in Dt. 24:1–4 is best understood in this sense. av and rv imply a command in the second half of v. 1, but the rsv follows Keil, Delitzsch, S. R. Driver and lxx, in making the ‘if of the protasis extend to the end of v. 3, so that v. 4 contains the actual regulation. On any translation we gather from this section that divorce was practised, that a form of contract was given to the wife, and that she was then free to remarry.

The grounds of divorce here are referred to in such general terms that no precise interpretation can be given. The husband finds ‘some uncleanness’ in his wife. The Heb. words, erwaṯ dāḇār (literally, ‘nakedness of a thing’), occur elsewhere only as a phrase in Dt. 23:14. Shortly before the time of Christ the school of Shammai interpreted it of unfaithfulness only, while the school of Hillel extended it to anything unpleasing to the husband. We must remember that Moses is not here professing to state the grounds of divorce, but accepting it as an existing fact.

There are two situations in which divorce is forbidden: when a man has falsely accused his wife of pre-marital unfaithfulness (Dt. 22:13–19); and when a man has had relations with a girl, and her father has compelled him to marry her (Dt. 22:28-29; Ex. 22:16–17).

On two exceptional occasions divorce was insisted on. These were when the returned exiles had married pagan wives (Ezr. 9–10 and probably Ne. 13:23ff., although divorce is implied here, rather than stated). In Mal. 2:10–16 some had put away their Jewish wives so as to marry pagans.

b. In the New Testament

In comparing the words of Jesus in Mt. 5:32; 19:3–12; Mk. 10:2–12; Lk. 16:18, we find that he brands divorce and remarriage as adultery, but does not say that man cannot put asunder what God has joined together. In both passages in Matthew fornication (rsvunchastity’) is given as the sole ground on which a man may put away his wife, whereas there is no such qualification in Mark and Luke. Fornication is commonly taken as here being equivalent to adultery; similarly, the conduct of the nation as Yahweh’s wife is branded both as adultery (Je. 3:8; Ezk. 23:45) and as fornication (Je. 3:2–3; Ezk. 23:43); in Ecclus. 23:23 an unfaithful wife is said to have committed adultery in fornication (cf. also 1 Cor. 7:2 where ‘immorality’ is Gk. ‘fornication’).

The reason for the omission of the exceptive clause in Mark and Luke could be that no Jew, Roman or Greek ever doubted that adultery constituted grounds for divorce, and the Evangelists took it for granted. Similarly, Paul in Rom. 7:1–3, referring to Jewish and Rom. law, ignores the possibility of divorce for adultery which both these laws provided.

Other theories have been held about the meaning of Christ’s words. Some refer fornication to pre-marital unfaithfulness, which the husband discovers after marriage. Others have suggested that the parties discover that they have married within the prohibited degrees of relationship, a thing which must have happened too rarely for it to be the subject of a special exception in Christ’s words. Roman Catholics hold that the words sanction separation, but not remarriage. It is difficult to exclude permission to remarry from Mt. 19:9; and among the Jews there was no such custom as separation without permission to remarry.

Some have doubted the authenticity of Mk. 10:12, since a Jewish wife could not normally divorce her husband. But a wife could appeal to the court against her husband’s treatment of her, and the court could compel the husband to divorce her. Moreover, Christ may have had Gk. and Rom. law in mind, and here the wife could divorce her husband, as Herodias had divorced her first husband.

There is a strong body of opinion both among Protestants and Roman Catholics that 1 Cor. 7:10–16 gives another ground for divorce. Here Paul repeats the teaching that the Lord had given when on earth, and then, under the guidance of the Spirit, gives teaching beyond what the Lord had given, since a new situation had arisen. When one party in a pagan marriage is converted to Christ he or she must not desert the other. But if the other insists on leaving the Christian ‘a brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases’. This latter clause cannot simply mean that they are free to be deserted, but must mean that they are free to be remarried. This further ground, which on the face of it is of limited application, is known as the ‘Pauline Privilege’.

In the present modern tangle of marriage, divorce and remarriage the Christian church, in dealing with converts and repentant members, is often compelled to accept the situation as it is. A convert who previously has been divorced, on sufficient or insufficient grounds, and who has remarried, cannot return to the original partner, and the present marriage cannot be branded as adulterous (1 Cor. 6:9, 11).  

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