I am officiating my first “engagement” today. In order to brush up on the process and think through the Biblical steps, I would like to write a post on what the Bible says about the act of “engagement”. The word is found in the Old Testament in the book of Deuteronomy.
If a girl who is a virgin is engaged to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them with stones that they die; the girl because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall put away evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)
The Hebrew word translated as “engaged” is “awras” and it means “to be betrothed, to be promised in matrimony, to become a spouse“. When a person is engaged to be married, in the eyes of God, he or she is already married (except they do not yet have the right to sexual activity until after the wedding is officiated). The engagement was an official ceremony in the Jewish culture of the Bible. The families would meet and agree on the union. The couple was pronounced as being engaged and then this was made public. A short time later the official wedding ceremony would take place. This is the same process that we follow in Moldova. The young man has spoken with the family. He has proposed to the girl. She has accepted. Now, we will meet with both families in the presence of the young couple and officiate the engagement ceremony. I will explain what the engagement is, then the families will give their blessings, the young couple will make their desire to marry official. We will pray for them and then I will announce them as being officially engaged. Then I will give them Biblical advice on their behavior as they wait for and prepare for the wedding. I would like to share this advice here.
I. Once the engagement takes place, the only reason that it can be broken is in the case of sexual immorality.
There is a case in the Bible, a well known one, with the mother of Jesus Christ and His step-father Joseph.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was this way (for His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph) before they came together, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. But Joseph, her husband to be, being just, and not willing to make her a public example, he purposed to put her away secretly. And as he thought upon these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take to you Mary as your wife. For that in her is fathered of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bear a son, and you shall call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins.
Joseph was engaged to Mary yet they were not married and had not had sexual relations. He did not know of the angel coming to Mary and revealing God’s plan to her. When he found out that she was pregnant, he assumed that she had made a mistake and had sexual relations with another before their marriage. He as ready to end the engagement.
Why does God not allow the engagement to be broken?
For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy. For I have espoused you to one Man, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I fear lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, so your thoughts should be corrupted from the simplicity due to Christ. (II Corinthians 11:2-3)
Breaking an engagement gives a contradictory image of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Jesus Christ is engaged to the Church and the wedding will take place in the future. He cannot break His covenant with the Church and the Church cannot get out of its covenant with Jesus Christ. The 2 are joined for eternity. Engagement on this earth is a physical example of the spiritual truth of Christ and the Church. When you, as a Christian, break off an engagement for any other reason than sexual immorality, then you give a distorted view of the love and devotion between Christ and the Church. As a representative of Jesus Christ, you need to give a correct opinion of who He is and how He acts.
II. The period between the engagement and the wedding ceremony needs to be very short.
An extended engagement is not a good idea. In fact, an extended engagement is considered a curse in the Old Testament.
You shall become engaged to a wife, and another man shall lie with her. You shall build a house, and you shall not live in it. You shall plant a vineyard, and you shall not gather the grapes of it. (Deuteronomy 28:30)
For some reason, many people do not want to set a date for the wedding. They just get engaged and then say that they will figure out the rest later, or after a couple of years they say that they will be ready. Here is why it should not be an extended period of time.
- It is hard to remain pure as you wait for a long time. The hormones are already going crazy when you are young and an extended period of time from the engagement to the wedding just encourages those hormones and emotions to boil.
- God wanted a short “engagement” period with Israel when He brought them out of the land of Egypt and took them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. It ended up being 40 years because of the people’s disobedience.
III. Behave properly between the time of the engagement until the wedding day.
- Avoid being alone together.
- Avoid touching (including holding hands and kissing). It just starts a fire that cannot be put out honorably because you have not yet celebrated the covenant of marriage and do not have the right to sexual activity.
Why should these things be avoided?
Now concerning what you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. (I Corinthians 7:1)
In this passage, the word “touch” literally means “to start a fire”. When you kiss and hold hands you start a fire that cannot be put out. This does not refer to men and women shaking hands or simple touches but means things like holding hands, kissing etc. These things lead to sexual activity outside of marriage and the Bible speaks clearly on this sin . . .
Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled, but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. (Hebrews 13:4)
Sexual activity outside of marriage is fornication. God will judge those who practice this. Why would you want to kiss and touch if it could lead you to fornication and judgment?
I pray that you find this advice helpful and I want to thank my mentor, Vasile Filat, for teaching me these things from the Word of God. I wish I would have known them when I was younger but I am glad that I have the chance to teach others so that they can make wise decisions and be faithful to God in every aspect of life.
Is it biblical to break off the engagement because one of the persons is an unbeliever?
Obviously the relationship should not have taken place, but in the case it had, and in the case the two had gotten engaged, is it more pleasing to God that the engagement be broken or is it already basically considered marriage to God?
Were you a believer when you got engaged to a nonbeliever or were you born again after you were engaged?
St. Paul addresses this problem (it happened often in the pagan world). He is speaking to people who came to Christ after they were married (as nonbelievers). Here is what he wrote:
If the person, who is a nonbeliever, wants to remain then you as a believer should stay because you will be a living example of the Gospel for your spouse, leading him to Christ. It will not be easy but it is possible. If the nonbeliever wants to leave then you are free.
Another verse from Paul is
That is for those who are already believers. If you were a believer before you got engaged then you need to repent of your disobedience. I would still recommend that you stay with the person as Paul said earlier. It will not be easy but God can work in an amazing way through this situation. St. Peter has a word to say to a wife/fiancee in this situation.
If a couple is engaged but one partner is an unbeliever, are they to end the engagement?
Oh, whoops. I didn’t see that my comment had gone through.
I had thought I was a believer for about ten years and I didn’t realize I didn’t know God until a Christian brother told me I needed to leave my boyfriend because to love God is to obey His commandments. And it was to not be unequally yoked. I had already been a professing Christian but I didn’t understand sin until this point in my life. (this was all about a year ago) I’m pretty sure I wasn’t born again until that time.
I just havent seen anything about people looking at an engagement the way that I would think it should look. But regardless I want to make sure my choices are biblical given the circumstances. Most people at my church just think it’s best to leave the relationship.
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