Sunday, February 22, 2009

Marriage -- an ancient covenant

Marriage is an ancient institution. References to marriage and marriage contracts go back into Egyptian and Babylonian times and are found extensively in Roman writings. Chinese wedding traditions date back more than 2,400 years. See Chinese Wedding Traditions.

In the Pentateuch and the Old Testament is referred to as a "covenant." See Prov. 2:17, Jer. 31:32, Ezek. 16:8, 59, 60, 61, 62; Mal. 2:14. See also Instone-Brewer, David. Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002. Quoting from Instone-Brewer, at page 4:
The legal basis of marriage was called a "covenant" because, like all other types of covenant, it was an agreement between two parties that contained stipulations and sanctions. A marriage covenant, like any other covenant, included details of payment, the agreement to stipulations by two parties, as set of penalties for the party who did not keep these stipulation, and a legally binding witnessed ceremony or document that recorded all these matters.
See also Hugenberger, Gordon Paul. Marriage As a Covenant: A Study of Biblical Law and Ethics Governing Marriage, Developed from the Perspective of Malachi. Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, v. 52. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994.

In England, references to marriage agreements are found as early as the laws of Ethelbert approximately 660 A.D. See Reilly, S. A. Our Legal Heritage The First Thousand Years: 600-1600 King Aethelbert - Queen Elizabeth. Champaign, IL: Project Gutenberg, 1990s.

In the United States today, there are those who believe that we can simply disregard thousands of years of social, legal and religious history and remake marriage into an insignificant form of social contract of convenience merely by having courts order the changes into existence. The reality of human existence mandates otherwise, especially when some members of that same society believe that marriage is more than a social contract, but is a divine institution established by God.

As a social, religious or legal contract, marriage itself cannot be considered a "right" either inalienable or civil. You have no more right to buy property or own a car than you have to enter into a marriage contract. As a contract, religious institutions and civil institutions both can define the relationship. A constitutional provision defining marriage is no more a deprivation of a person's rights than any other law concerning contract. You cannot obtain an inalienable or civil right by voluntarily entering into a contract, neither do you obtain some kind of civil or inalienable right to enter into a marriage contract. Just as I have the freedom not to enter into a contract, I also have the freedom not to marry. Therefore, as previously said, there can be no "right" to marry.

1 comment:

  1. What a great overview of the historical significance of marriage. It's a shame that there are those who want to change the institution just because they think they have a "right" to it.