Dictionary of Bible Themes
The period of engagement preceding marriage; betrothal was a binding contract established between two families and sealed by the exchange of gifts. During this period the couple did not live together; sexual relations with each other at this stage was regarded as equivalent to adultery. Betrothal describes the relationship between God and his people and between Jesus Christ and the church.
Betrothal and the choice of a spouse
Wives were often chosen by parents for their sons
Suitable husbands were sought by parents for their daughters
Betrothal following the couple's wishes
Judges 14:1-4 Sometimes the man chose a prospective bride and his parents negotiated the marriage. See also Genesis 34:1-4; Genesis 24:57-58; Genesis 26:34-35 Esau chose a bride against his parents' wishes.
Betrothal preceded marriage
An exchange of gifts accompanyed betrothal
Genesis 34:11-12 This gift, which was given by the groom to the bride's family as compensation, sealed the marriage contract. See also Genesis 24:53; Genesis 29:18,27; Exodus 22:16-17; Deuteronomy 22:28-29; 2 Samuel 3:14
1 Kings 9:16 The dowry was a gift from the bride's father to the bride and/or groom.
Servants were given to the bride as a dowry:
Betrothal was treated as marriage
Deuteronomy 22:23-24 Though there were no sexual relations within the betrothal period, the commitment was regarded almost as seriously as marriage and infidelity of a betrothed partner was treated as adultery. See also Genesis 19:14 The men betrothed to Lot's daughters are described as his “sons-in-law”; Matthew 1:18-20 Mary's pregnancy during betrothal left her open to the charge and consequences of unfaithfulness.
Betrothal portrays the relationship between God and his people