The Obligation of a Rightful Betrothal

Paul E. Kretzmann

The modern idea of marriage

In view of the fact that the modern conception of the marriage-tie is rapidly sinking to the level of the heathen idea in its most immoral manifestations, and that playing with the sanctity of the marriage-bond has become the order of the day, it is necessary to emphasize the Scriptural view of the obligation of a valid betrothal, as indicated in the text above, Matthew 1:18-20. To maintain that passages of this kind have historical value only, that they therefore concern the Jews alone, and that their commands are not binding upon the Christians of to-day, is inconsistent with the demand which properly makes the Bible the rule of life as well as the norm of doctrine.

Betrothal is tantamount to marriage

A rightful betrothal is entered upon when one man and one woman, being of marriageable age and not hindered by Scriptural or legal impediments, with the express or implied consent of their parents or guardians, and by their own free mutual consent, promise to be and remain to each other husband and wife in a lifelong union. That is the Scriptural view of a valid betrothal. And such a betrothal, without considering the Jewish police and church regulations, is, according to the Bible, tantamount to a marriage, so far as the insolubility of the marriage tie is concerned. When Lot was urged to make haste out of the doomed city of Sodom, he was sent by the angels to speak to his “sons-in-law that would marry his daughters,” who were betrothed to them and intended to consummate the marriage later, Genesis 19:14. When Jacob, with the will and consent of the parents on either side, Genesis 28:2; Genesis 29:18-19, was betrothed to Rachel, the daughter of Laban, he spoke of her as his “wife” before the nuptials had been celebrated, Genesis 29:21. Both of these events took place before the Jewish church law was in existence. A similar case is that recorded in our passage. When Mary was “espoused to Joseph, before they came together,” Joseph is called her “husband,” and she is called his “wife.” And in Luke 2:5 Mary is called Joseph’s “espoused wife.” Cp. Luke 1:27; Deuteronomy 22:22-29; Deuteronomy 28:30; Hosea 4:13.

Christ and His Church

In addition to these clear and unmistakable passages we have another reason for considering a rightful betrothal tantamount to marriage, and that is by analogy from the parts of Holy Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testaments, in which the union of Christ and His Church is spoken of. We find throughout these passages that the terms “espoused” or “bride” (the equivalent, in the original text, of the German “Braut,” a betrothed woman) and “wife” are used as synonyms and altogether indiscriminately. The great “mystery” concerning Christ and His Church, Ephesians 5:32, would lose its meaning if betrothal and marriage, as spoken of in the Word of God, were not identical. “For thy Maker is thy husband; the Lord of Hosts is His name,” Isaiah 54:5. “Thou shalt no more be termed forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed desolate; but thou shalt be called Hephzibah and thy land Beulah; for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee; and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee,” Isaiah 62:4-5. “I will betroth thee unto Me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies,” Hosea 2:19. “Come with Me from Lebanon, My spouse,” Song of Solomon 4:8-12. “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom,” John 3:29. “And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. … Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife,” Revelation 21:2,9. Compare with these passages also the following: “The marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready,” Revelation 19:7. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church,” Ephesians 5:25, and the many statements in which lack of loyalty and faithfulness in the people of Israel is compared to adultery. A passage which is especially clear is 2 Corinthians 11:2.


In view of these facts there is but one conclusion: “A valid betrothal, the lawful and unconditional mutual consent of a marriageable man and a marriageable woman to be husband and wife, makes the parties to such compact essentially husband and wife before God. … The rescission of lawful espousals or valid betrothal is unlawful desertion from the marriage-bond as truly as after the consummation of marriage.” [Theol. Quart., 2, 350; 3, 408]. “Apart from the doctrine of Scriptures regarding the obligation of the betrothal, if we only look at the engagement as we have it to-day and judge according to reason, that is, according to the natural moral understanding, we must consider the engagement as we have it to-day, with respect to its obligation, as tantamount to the consummated marriage.” [Lehre und Wehre, 1915, 242. Cp. Jahn, Von der Verlobung, 43; Luther 10, 655; Kretzmann, Keuschheit und Zucht, 76. 77; Theol. Quart., 20, 136-143].