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What Does the Bible Say about Arranged Marriages?

The concept of an arranged marriage seems foreign to many of us, especially in Western culture. We couldn't imagine someone else choosing our spouse. However, as you glance back in history, arranged marriages were common. Leaders arranged marriages for political unity, opportunities to bring peace to quarreling countries, and economic benefits.

Since we look to the Bible as our ultimate authority, what does it say on this topic? Let's explore this interesting topic.

What Are Arranged Marriages, and Where Did they Come From?

Webster's Dictionary defines an arranged marriage as "a marriage in which the spouses are chosen for each other by their parents." In addition to the parents, the match could be selected by a family member such as a grandparent or close family friend.

While arranged marriages are rare in Western culture, they still occur in countries such as India, Pakistan, China, Israel, and Iran. Most people are under the impression these marriages are forced. However, the reality is options are provided, and the future bride and groom get an opportunity to reject or accept the proposed match. This wasn't the case before the mid-20th century in China. They were known as 'blind marriages' because the elders made the decision, and the children were expected to marry whomever they chose.

In the Middle Ages, the couples were usually total strangers, and the parents made all the arrangements. The marriages were often political agreements. The bride's family would include a dowry to the groom. As time went on, a period of courting was added to the process so the young folks would have multiple chances to socialize with each other.

Even the United States had its fair share of arranged marriages until the first half of the 20th century. As time went on and generations passed away, traditions dried up, and things shifted to the way of the culture.

An article in Psychology Today stated that a few decades ago, people found "in love" marriages (marriages chosen by the bride and groom) were "more in love for the first five years, while those in arranged marriages were more in love for the next thirty years." How could this be? Let's continue this subject and find out.

Arranged Marriage in the Bible

One of the most well-known stories in the Bible featuring an arranged marriage is of Isaac and Rebekah. Abraham is of advanced age and sends his most trusted and reliable servant on an important mission, to find Isaac a wife. His first instruction is that it must not be a Canaanite woman. He did not want his son to marry an unbeliever. In addition, he requested his servant go to his country and find his kinfolk.

The servant traveled to Mesopotamia and displayed his faith through prayer to God, "Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a young woman, 'Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,' and she says, 'Drink, and I'll water your camels too'—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master." (Genesis 24:12-14)

Rebekah comes and speaks those exact words. The servant is convinced by her actions and kindness that she is a Godly woman. They go to Rebekah's house, and the servant informs her family of all that has transpired. After gifts are given, Rebekah's family asks her if she would be willing to go back with the servant, and she says, "I will go." (Genesis 24:58)

This marriage was not only arranged but God-ordained. As the servant sought God's assistance during the journey, God brought Rebekah to the servant. God had a woman selected for Isaac, and two faithful families brought them together.

What Does the Bible Say about Arranged Marriages?

The Bible doesn't support nor condone arranged marriages. Instead, it offers guidance and direction about marriage. The message is the same whether you chose your spouse or they were chosen for you. We are to take the covenant of marriage seriously.

The Bible gives us some advice when referring to marriage in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?"

In Deuteronomy, we learn about the demand for exclusive allegiance to God and the temptations the Israelites will face when entering the promised land. "Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you." (Deuteronomy 7:3-4)

God tells them to smash all the other nations alters and burn their idols. While this might seem harsh, God knows the risk of marrying unbelievers. "For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession." (Deuteronomy 7:6) He cares so much about His people; He wants the best for them.

While the Bible doesn't provide direct guidance on arranged marriages, we are given plenty of marital advice. Let's look at that next.

What Does the Bible Say about Marriage?

Whether marriages are arranged or not, we must take our commitment seriously. The Bible gives us a clear picture of what Christian households and marriages should strive to be like. Colossians 3:18-19 says, "Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them."

Biblical love is not a feeling; it's a commitment. In arranged marriages, the couples might not be in love when they first meet, but they are committed to the sanctity of marriage. I think many marriages dissolve today when the "feeling" of being in love departs.

We are called to agape love our spouse. Agape is a Greek word for love. Agape love is not an emotion; it's a motivation for action. "Agape is a sacrificial love that voluntarily suffers inconvenience, discomfort, and even death for the benefit of another without expecting anything in return." 

Loving someone this way usually means choosing the opposite of what the flesh wants. It's helping your husband when you don't want to do. It's a husband serving his wife when he's tired and worn out. It's digging deep and making an intentional decision to put the needs and desires of your spouse first. It's striving to be Christ-like. Jesus is the ultimate example of someone who showed this kind of love repeatedly, including dying on the cross for us. As we seek Him, he will help us love this way.

Arranged Marriages Challenge Our View of Commitment

Arranged marriage or not, marriage is a pillar of civilization. As Christians, we must choose to love our spouse instead of expecting feelings to carry our relationship. With God's help, we can learn how to love our spouse and be others-focused. As we seek the Lord, He will fill in the gaps where we fall short.

I'm not suggesting we should bring back arranged marriages. I do think there is a thing or two we could learn from their process. If we could embrace the commitment and perseverance these couples brought to the marriage, it could do our society well. If we focus on the long view of marriage instead of short-term feelings, it could do wonders for our marriages. What if we could learn to love our spouses with agape love?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Nadtochiy

Katie Kennedy headshotKatie T. Kennedy lives in Richmond, VA. She is married to a wonderful husband Jonathan and they have three girls. She is a writer, blogger, and employee of the family business. After a mid-life spiritual transformation, she discovered her love of writing. She loves to travel, read, be in nature, cook, and dream.  She would love to connect with you online at www.katietkennedy.com, Instagram or Facebook.

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