A mutual promise or contract for a future marriage <Deut. 20:7; Jer. 2:2; Luke 1:27>.
The selection of the bride was followed by the betrothal, not to be entirely equated with the modern concept of engagement. A betrothal was undertaken by a friend or agent representing the bridegroom and by the parents representing the bride. It was confirmed by oaths and was accompanied with presents to the bride and often to the bride's parents.
The betrothal was celebrated by a feast. In some instances, it was customary for the bridegroom to place a ring, a token of love and fidelity, on the bride's finger. In Hebrew custom, betrothal was actually part of the marriage process. A change of intention by one of the partners after he or she was betrothed was a serious matter, subject in some instances to penalty by fine.
The most important instance of betrothal in the Bible is the one between Joseph and Mary <Matt. 1:18-19>. A Jewish betrothal could be dissolved only by the man's giving the woman a certificate of divorce. A betrothal usually lasted for one year. During that year the couple were known as husband and wife, although they did not have the right to be united sexually.
Betrothal was much more closely linked with marriage than our modern engagement. But the actual marriage took place only when the bridegroom took the bride to his home and the marriage was consummated in the sexual union.
Also see MARRIAGE; WEDDINGS.
(from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary)
(Copyright (C) 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
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