Question:

Recently I was participating in a discussion with several Christians regarding biblical divorce. One of the group members brought up marriage of young girls in Third World cultures, such as Afghanistan or Pakistan. From what we have read these girls are sold into marriage by their fathers or extended families. One instance made the news recently in which one of these child brides, aged 10 or so, successfully sued for divorce from her much older husband. I don't remember the grounds that she used. Since these child brides would be below the age of consent, was the marriage even considered biblical? Was the divorce biblical? I realize the people in that part of the world are not primarily Christian and so I really can't come up with a framework for the answer. My group is confused and we'd appreciate your input. Thanks.

Answer:

You are referring to Muslim practices which can be vastly different than those found in the Bible.

In the Bible the fathers had a great deal to say about who their daughters married. This was considered a form of protection to keep a daughter from getting caught up emotionally in a situation. For example, "If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days" (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). To give you an idea of the price, a half-shekel was a typical day's wage for an unskilled laborer. A skilled laborer could get a shekel. Therefore the young man owed the father between a half-year and a year's worth of work. However, this marriage could be overruled by the father. "If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins" (Exodus 22:16-17). The father had the right to decide that the man his daughter was fooling around with wasn't a worthy husband for his daughter.

Minor children could not make a contract without their father's consent, and an engagement for marriage was considered a contract. "Or if a woman makes a vow to the LORD, and binds herself by some agreement while in her father's house in her youth, and her father hears her vow and the agreement by which she has bound herself, and her father holds his peace, then all her vows shall stand, and every agreement with which she has bound herself shall stand. But if her father overrules her on the day that he hears, then none of her vows nor her agreements by which she has bound herself shall stand; and the LORD will release her, because her father overruled her" (Numbers 30:3-5).

Negotiations for marriage were primarily handled by the father, but it didn't mean the woman had no say in the matter. When Abraham sent a servant to find a wife for his son Isaac, Rebekah had a say in whether she would accept the proposal. "So they said, "We will call the young woman and ask her personally." Then they called Rebekah and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" And she said, "I will go." So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham's servant and his men" (Genesis 24:57-59).

The bride price or dowry wasn't considered payment for a wife. It's primary purpose was to prove to the woman's family that the man had the means by which to provide for the woman. That money would help pay for her wedding, get her started in her new home, and help her family out since she would no longer be there.

You don't read about child brides in the Bible. There isn't a specified minimum age, but people did not marry until they were old enough to have children (Ezekiel 16:4-8). Marriage, at its roots is a covenant (Malachi 2:14), thus those entering the covenant (the husband and wife) must be old enough to enter into a binding agreement.

If a marriage is illegitimate, then it doesn't exist. One might divorce to handle legal issues, but the fact remains that an illegal marriage is not binding. If a man marries a woman when he is already married, we call that bigamy. The second marriage is not a valid marriage. A "divorce" or annulment ends the false marriage, but it doesn't impact a person's right to enter into a proper marriage.