Espoused, Engaged or Married?

(Espoused, engaged or married?) Bible Question.


“In Matthew 1:18, 19 the Bible says that Mary was espoused to Joseph, and that he was called her husband. Does this mean that, today, an engaged couple are actually married?”


The term “espoused” (or “betrothed” as some other translations have it) in Scripture does not exactly mean “engaged” nor “married”. It is kind of “in between” in our use of the terms. The espousal or betrothal was actually a contract to be married. This was usually arranged by the parents of the groom and the bride

The young couple did not choose each other, but the choice was made for them. Sometimes children of eight years or ten years or fourteen years would be “espoused” or “betrothed” to each other by their families. Then, when the time came (at about eighteen or twenty for young men, from fourteen to seventeen for young women), the actual “wedding” took place.

An example of this is found in Deuteronomy 20:7, when God gave directions about a young man who might be chosen to go to war:

Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her. (New International Version)

The wedding had not yet taken place, and thus the marriage had not yet be consummated. The same principle is found with regard to the relationship of Joseph and Mary.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:18, 19

Notice that Joseph was her husband, even though they had not “came together”.

The betrothed couple was considered to be (by contract) married, so if Joseph wanted to end the relationship, he had to divorce her. Even though there had not yet been a wedding and they had not yet consummated their relationship, they were still considered “bound” to each other. And the only way to release that bond was divorce.

Our engagements of today are not like that. The marriages customs (and laws) of modern, Western cultures are different. With us, it is the wedding, with its vows and official pronouncements, that the contract is made and sealed. And then the sexual union usually follows immediately, not years later.

Related articles concerning dating and marriage found on this blog:

Can I Ever Get Married?

Sex Without Getting Married

Did God Allow Polygamy?

Will We Know Each Other in Heaven?

Maintaining Sexual Self-Control

How Long Should a Couple Date Before Getting Married?

Dating and the Single Christian (Part 1)

Dating and the Single Christian (Part 2)



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