How Engagement and Marriage Worked in the New Testament
In Bible times, when a couple became engaged, the groom-to-be with go home and prepare a place for them to live by adding a room to his parents’ house. As soon as he finished the construction, he would go to his fiancée, the marriage ceremony would take place, and they’d go live in the room he built for the two of them.
Though the Bible doesn’t detail this practice, history does. I’d heard this before, so it was nothing new to me to hear it again in the minister’s sermon.
Joseph and Mary
The message was about Joseph and Mary in the book of Matthew (Matthew 1:18-25). At this point in the narrative, Joseph and Mary are engaged. This means Joseph is building a room for them, adding on to his parents’ house. Once the room is complete, they’ll marry and begin their life has husband and wife.
This is the point at which the Virgin Mary becomes pregnant under Holy Spirit power. Joseph doesn’t break their engagement, and he continues building their home. Once it’s done, they get married. But they don’t consummate their marriage until after Jesus is born.
This explanation helps us better understand the story of Joseph and Mary. But then my mind took off and found other situations where the practice applies as well:
Peter and His Wife
It’s always bothered me that Peter, a married man, would leave his wife alone while he traveled with Jesus. How could she provide for herself while he was gone?
But realizing this ancient practice—where a young married couple would live in a room attached to the house of the man’s family—gave me a better understanding. Yes, Peter’s wife would stay home as he travelled with Jesus, but she wasn’t by herself. She was with her in laws, since the room she lived in was attached to their house.
She wasn’t alone when her husband traveled. She was with family. Knowing this lessens my concerns over Peter’s wife.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
In Jesus’s parable of the ten virgins, these young ladies wait for a wedding ceremony to take place, but they don’t know when it will be. Though this seems strange to us now, it makes sense when we understand the custom of the day.
Their friend is engaged. Her wedding will take place once her fiancé completes the room for them to live in. Since no one knows for sure when this will happen, the wedding ceremony guests wait in expectation.
We can imagine the groom working late into the evening putting the last touches on the room. He finishes at last and in eager expectation he goes to get his bride-to-be, even though it’s the middle of the night.
The virgins hear he’s on his way. Five of them are ready to join the happy couple in their wedding feast and marriage celebration. The other five aren’t ready, and they’re left out (Matthew 25:1-13).
The lesson here is to be ready for Jesus to return. This leads us to the next observation.
Jesus and His Church
Jesus tells his followers that his father lives in a big house. He’s going there to prepare a place for them, to build a room for them to live. Once he completes the construction, he’ll come back to get them. Then he’ll take them to live with him so they can be where he is (John 14:2-3).
Though this may perplex modern day readers, two thousand years ago, the inference made sense to Jesus’s audience. They saw it as an allusion to marriage, to a spiritual wedding.
Jesus will build a bridal suite for his church. When it’s complete, we—collectively as his church—will marry him (Revelation 21:1-4). We will be the bride of Christ.
One day Jesus will come back to earth to get us. Then our wedding ceremony with him will take place, and we’ll live with him forever.
But right now, he has gone to prepare a place for us. And we wait for him to come back. We must be ready, for he could return at any moment—even in the middle of the night.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.
Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.