It can be difficult to teach children (and even adults) what the Bible says about marriage, but it’s necessary that they know right from wrong. There’s no guarantee that they’ll choose the right path and not the wrong one, but at least they should know the difference.
There are three passages of Scripture that deal with how marriage is begun. The first is Genesis 2:24, the foundational law regarding marriage. The second is Exodus 22:16-17, which deals with how to handle a case of marriage by seduction. The third is Deuteronomy 22:28-29, which deals with how to handle a case of marriage by rape. We’ll start with the general law:
So, there you have it. The actions of the man are to leave (not necessarily a physical act), because in the act of marriage he is starting a new family and he will be the head of his house; no longer under the authority of his parents. The man cleaves to his wife. Some translations say “joined to his wife” but the point is this is where most people get it wrong. The cleaving is the sex- the consummation of the marriage. We know this because this is what the man is doing.
Most people will tell you that the “cleave” part is the marriage ceremony, and they’re right, but it doesn’t mean what they think it means. You can call the act of penetration a ceremony if you want to, but it tends to be one in which there are no witnesses. The reason most people say the “cleave” part is the whole wedding ceremony with the dress, the stressed out bride, the controlling mother-in-law and all that… is because they assume the next part (becoming one flesh) is the consummation of the marriage. This is incorrect.
We know the “become one flesh” isn’t the consummation of the marriage because in Matthew 19, Jesus was asked about the grounds for divorce and He quoted Genesis 2:24 and then said: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let no man separate.” Got that? The “shall become one flesh” part is what God does and it happens when the marriage is consummated. The Apostle Paul quoted Genesis 2:24 and compared being one flesh in marriage with being one body in Christ, saying they were both a great mystery (Ephesians 5:28-32). Becoming “one flesh” is a spiritual joining that God performs, not the man.
But, does having sex really make you married? Doesn’t there have to be somebody else involved? Let’s look at the next passage, dealing with a seduction:
What we see there is the guy seduces the girl and she gives him her virginity. They are now married. Problem is, he didn’t get her father’s permission and maybe her father isn’t so enthusiastic about this marriage. As it turns out, Numbers 30:5 gives the father the authority to annul any vow or agreement with binding obligations that his daughter makes. She chose to get married and now she’s not a virgin any longer and she is thoroughly married under Genesis 2:24, but according to Numbers 30:5 her father can forbid that agreement and the man is not eligible so there is no marriage. And he still has to pay. In fact, he has to pay either way.
But, if sex makes you married, what about consent? What happens if the girl is raped? Surely that can’t mean that the girl has to marry her rapist, right? Nobody likes this, but as a matter of fact, sex makes her married even if she didn’t consent. If they are discovered (the evidence proving there was no agreement on her part) then her father doesn’t have an agreement of hers that he can annul and he can’t annul the marriage. In addition, the guy can’t divorce her all the days of his life. Seems that they didn’t believe in slut-walks back then…
So, what you can see is Genesis 2:24 says the act of taking her virginity makes her married (does anyone claim Eve was not a virgin?). Exodus 22:16-17 makes the point that if the guy didn’t get permission from the father, her father has the right to forbid her agreement and annul the marriage. And not to put too fine a point on it, the consent of the virgin is not necessary at all because if she is raped then she’s married to the guy who took her virginity. If her father sells her into slavery to be married then she is married. If she is captured in battle and forced to marry then she is married. In every case without her consent. Period.
Objections and Arguments
In their desperation, many try to claim that the “he must pay a dowry” of Exodus 22:16 and “she shall become his wife” of Deuteronomy 22:29 indicates the marriage occurs at some future time with an official marriage ceremony with an exchange of vows and stuff like that. No, that’s what they want to see but it isn’t there. Ultimately this devolves to the question of whether the man actually committed to marry the woman. The claim that he didn’t is somewhat akin to him signing a contract and then claiming that he had no intent to enter the agreement. He engaged in a singular activity (sex) that permanently and irrevocably changed the woman (she lost her virginity) and the claim of “no intent” or “no commitment” is preposterous.
And yet you will see a plethora of finely tuned arguments trying to convince you that what the text plainly says just isn’t so. There are long, detailed linguistic arguments that claim, for example, the woman in Deut. 22:28-29 wasn’t raped because the word used for “seized” doesn’t communicate enough force to indicate rape. They ignore the fact that verse 29 states she was violated, the same word used in verse 24 to explain why the man was being put to death (adulterous rape). The word is also used to describe what Shechem did to Dinah (marital rape), what Amnon did to Tamar, along with one other occurrence of the same thing (incestuous rape), as well as the woman captured on the battlefield who was forced to become a man’s wife (marital rape). The text says all of them were violated and in every case there is a distinct lack of consent, which is the fundamental element defining rape. The evidence thus clearly demonstrates that a virgins consent and/or commitment is not necessary for the act of marriage to be accomplished.
Then it devolves to the man’s intent to commit. How many times have we heard something like: “Oh- so you didn’t intend to enter this agreement? Then you shouldn’t have signed the contract.” Everyone understands this because there are acts, such as signing a contract, that with the signature on the contract executes the agreement. A good argument is fraud, that they were tricked into signing the contract and not aware they were doing so because they thought they were signing something else. It’s actually a claim of negligent fraud and the response is “didn’t you read what you were signing?” It is a maxim of law that “fraud vitiates the most solemn of contracts” but the burden is always on the individual to prove they were defrauded into entering the agreement. However, this is modern law. Other than the father’s authority and responsibility to review his daughters agreements and approve of them or nullify them as he sees fit, the Bible has no provision for annulling a marriage after it has begun.
This is EXACTLY the claim Jacob could have made with his marriage to Leah, but he didn’t because he knew he was now married to her. The text clearly says her father (Laban) tricked him into the marriage and by the time he discovered she was not Rachel (the next morning) he had already consummated the marriage to her and they were married. Had Jacob discovered this trickery before he actually married her by engaging in the act of marriage he could have returned the virgin Leah to her father and demanded his proper bride. But that didn’t happen and he married Leah with the physical act of consummation.
“You say you didn’t intend to marry her… that you didn’t actually commit to the marriage? It doesn’t work that way. If you had no intention of marrying her you never should have taken her virginity. You are now married because you willingly performed the act of marriage with her and that act cannot be reversed.”
Understand the context of Exodus 22:16-17. Everybody knew the law regarding marriage, that sex made you married because it was literally the consummation of the marriage. Likewise, everybody understood that the groom had to pay her father a bride-price. So, what happens if the guy avoids Dad, sneaks in, seduces the daughter and chango-presto they’re married. He didn’t have an agreement with the father, so should he have to pay for her? Moses said yes. And not only that, but if the father says “NO” and forbids the marriage (“absolutely refuses to give her“) then he still has to pay. So there.
The “she shall become his wife” of Deuteronomy 22:29 is even easier to deal with. Go back to Genesis 2:24, where we have the man consummating the marriage and God making them one flesh. When, pray tell, did God make them to become one flesh? In the act of consummation or at some future point? The phrase “they shall become one flesh” is an imperative statement. It’s happened, right now, and there is no way to change it. We see the same thing with “she shall become his wife” in Deuteronomy 22:29. The father cannot annul the marriage because there was no agreement and they are married, right now, it’s happened and nothing will change that.
VIRGIN = Marriage Material. You break it, you bought it.