In Biblical times, marriages were arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. The parents sometimes allowed their children to have a say in the choice, but frequently they did not (Genesis 21:21, 24:1-4, 38:6, Judges 14:1-2). Dating and courtship did not precede marriage. The negotiations by the parents resulted in a betrothal, a binding agreement pledging the bride and groom to marriage. Once the groom took the bride into his home, they were considered married. Typically, girls were betrothed shortly after puberty, and the marriage was consummated one year later.
Various ceremonies and feasts accompanied the wedding day at different times in history, but the wedding was not performed, sanctioned or blessed by religious officials. As far as is known, there was no exchange of marriage vows, and our commonly used marriage vows do not come from the Bible. The marriage was neither a civil nor a religious matter, but numerous religious obligations came as a result.
Levirate marriage was practiced in Old Testament times. If a man died leaving no male heir, his brother was required to marry his widow and produce children (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). This, and other forms of polygamy, were acceptable in Old Testament times, although only wealthy men could afford multiple wives. King Solomon was the most notable polygamist with his 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3).
Institution of Marriage
Marriage was instituted by God as a lifelong commitment (Genesis 2:18-24, Matthew 19:3-61, 1 Timothy 4:1-5). In Old Testament times, everyone was expected to be married and have children (Proverbs 18:22, Jeremiah 29:6). However, Jesus was unmarried and said remaining unmarried (celibacy) was a good choice for those who could accept that life and devote themselves to God (Matthew 19:10-12). The apostle Paul was also unmarried. He said remaining unmarried was a good and holy alternative, but it is better to marry than to be tempted into immorality by passion (1 Corinthians 7:8-9). Peter and many of the other apostles were married (Matthew 8:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5), so marriage is compatible with committed service to God.