Bride and marriage

Marriage and betrothal in the Bible

There are many stories of betrothal and marriage in the Bible, as well as a beautiful love poem, the Song of Songs. There are also stories of rape, seduction and unfaithfulness. In the Old Testament, the intimate bond of monogamous marriage is described, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh' (Genesis 2:24). However, polygamy was also common. Notable couples in the Bible include the love-story of Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 24:1-67) and the disastrous relationship between Samson and Delilah (Judges 16:4-22).

An angel appears to Joseph in a dreamIn the New Testament, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was engaged to Joseph (the carpenter) when she became pregnant. For this, she could have been stoned under Jewish law, but Joseph did not want to expose her to public disgrace. He was preparing to end their contract privately when an angel from God appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins' (Matthew 1:18-21).

Marriage as an image for relationship with God

In both the Old and the New Testaments, the marriage relationship is used as a metaphor for the covenant (mutual promise of faithfulness) between God and his people. The relationship between God and the nation of Israel is described in the following terms in Isaiah 54:4-8.

‘Your Maker is your husband - the Lord Almighty is his name - the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.

The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit - a wife who married young, only to be rejected,' says your God.

For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,' says the Lord your Redeemer.'

The prophet Hosea was given a similar message from God and was even required to love and marry an unfaithful woman. This was to demonstrate God's unfailing love to an unfaithful people, the nation of Israel (Hosea 3:1). The story of Hosea goes on to tell how he had to pay money to redeem, or buy back, his wife (see Big ideas: Redemption, salvation). This metaphor is developed in the New Testament, where Jesus is understood to redeem humankind by his death.

The ‘Bride of Christ'

The relationship between Jesus and the church is also described in terms of a bridegroom and a bride. This image is used in the New Testament as an example of sacrificial love within marriage. ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless' (Ephesians 5:25-27).

The Book of Revelation depicts a wedding celebration in heaven, with the church as the bride of Christ and Christ as the bridegroom. Here, Christ is described as ‘the Lamb', a name given to him because he gave his life as a sacrifice (see Big ideas: Sheep, shepherd, lamb) and (see Big ideas: Atonement and sacrifice). The fine linen describes the righteous acts of God's people. Revelation 19:6-9

Related topics

Big ideas: Redemption, salvation; Sheep, shepherd, lamb; Atonement and sacrifice

Other cultural references

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