Bible Question:

There was no such thing in past Biblical history where people were married by a contract of the law. In reality that started in the United States. Yes, a man should have a wife but the Bible never says how a man and woman were joined together outside. Isn't that correct?

Bible Answer:

Many people have asked, “Was a marriage license or contract required in the Bible?”  Both the Old Testament and secular ancient documents teach us about marriage in ancient times.

Was A Marriage Contract Required In Ancient Times?

Development Of Marriage Agreements

Adam and Eve were the first couple to be married. While it is true that they did not have a formal “church” wedding and sign a marriage contract, it is clear that it was God’s will they be married since He created Eve for Adam. They were the first couple on the planet (Genesis 2:18-25).

Cain and His Wife Marry

In Genesis 4:17 we are told that Cain had a wife, but we are not told why or how they married. By then many couples had married, but we are not told why or how they married until Isaac and Rebekah.

Isaac and Rebekah Marry

In Genesis 24 Abraham commanded his servant to return to the country of Abraham’s relatives and find a wife for his son Isaac. Then the servant left and with God’s guidance found a woman named Rebekah at a spring (v. 15). Once he discovered that Rebekah was a relative of Abraham, he visited her family, including her father, Bethuel, and her brother,Laban. Then Abraham’s servant told Bethuel and Laban how God miraculously guided him to Rachel. In response, they volunteered  for Rebekah to be Isaac’s wife (v. 48-50). Later she was asked if she would marry Isaac and she agreed (v. 58). In exchange for this arranged marriage to Isaac, the servant gave garments and gold to Rebekah and to her brother and mother. (Genesis 24:52-53).  The payment was a dowry paid in exchange for Rebekah and to the family (Genesis 24:52-61). This was the legal marriage agreement or marriage contract of the times.

Jacob and Leah Marry

In Genesis 29:18 we are told that Jacob offered to work seven years in exchange for his wife, Rachel. Then Jacob served Laban another seven years in exchange for his second wife because Laban had tricked him and given him Leah instead of Rachel. Both marriages are examples of marriage by agreement and may have included a formal document, but Scripture does not say that occurred. Consequently, we cannot be positive.

Marriage By Formal Contract

The oldest ancient marriage contract archaeologists have found so far is 4,000 years old and is on display in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Here is a brief description of the contract.


The 4,000-year-old Assyrian baked clay tablet was originally unearthed at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Kültepe-Kanesh in Turkey’s central Kayseri province.
. . .
According to new research detailed in the medical journal Gynecological Endocrinology, this text describes the marriage of a man and woman known as Laqipum and Hatala. As part of their agreement, it says the husband could employ the help of a surrogate mother if the couple failed to conceive a baby two years after the date of marriage.[1]


Archaeologists also found the secular Law of Hammurabi (1795 – 1750 B.C.) in 1901. It is an important archaeological discovery for a variety of reasons and among the findings is a legal marriage contract.[2] This reveals once again that legal marriage contracts existed before Moses was eighty years of age (1445 B.C.).

Both findings are important because Moses refers to a certificate of divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1. This verse also reveals that formal marriage contracts must have existed prior to the writing of Deuteronomy 24:1.

When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house . . . Deuteronomy 24:1 (NASB)

In this verse we are told “when a man takes a wife” probably refers to a legal contract. The legal certificate of divorce strongly implies that a formal marriage contract already existed.

Wife By Covenant

Marriage contracts are referred to in Malachi 2:14.

. . . though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Malachi 2:14 (NASB)

The Hebrew word for “covenant” is berit and it means “covenant, contract, agreement or treaty.” It refers to a formal legal statement. The word covenant has the sense of commitment in addition to the formalized legal statement of a marital union. Earlier in Ezekiel 16:8, God used the same word to refer to God’s commitment to Israel.

. . . I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,” declares the Lord GOD. Ezekiel 16:8b (NASB)

Jewish Marriage Contracts

Among the Aramaic papyri from Elephantine, Egypt archaeologists found a marriage contract between an Egyptian man and a Jewish woman from 459 B.C. What follows is a translation of the papyri. The translator was L. Ginsberg.


Mibtahiah’s First Marriage

On the 21st of Chisleu, that is the 1st of Mesore, year 6 of King Artaxerxes, Mahseiah son of Yedoniah, a Jew of Elephantine, of the detachment of Haumadata, said to Jezaniah son of Uriah of the said detachment as follows: There is the site of a house belonging to me, west of the house belonging to you, which I have given to your wife, my daughter Mibtahiah, and in respect of which I have written her a deed. The measurements of the house in question are 8 cubits and a handbreadth 5 by 11, by the measuring-rod . . .

Now do I, Mahseiah, say to you: Build and equip that site . . . and dwell thereon with your wife. But you may not sell that house or give it as a present to others; only your children by my daughter Mibtahiah shall have power over it after you two. If tomorrow or some other day you build upon this land, and then my daughter divorces you and leaves you, she shall have no power to take it or give it to others; only your children by Mibtahiah shall have power over it, in return for the work which you shall have done. If, on the other hand, she recovers from you, she [may] take half of the house, and [the] othe[r] half shall be at your; disposal in return for the building which you will have done on that house. And again as to that half, your children by Mibtahiah shall have power over it after you. If tomorrow or another day I should institute suit or process against you and say I did not give you this land to build on and did not draw up this deed for you, I shall give you a sum of 10 karshin by royal weight, at the rate of 2 R to the ten, and no suit or process shall lie.

This deed was written by ‘Atharshuri son of Nabuzeribni in the fortress of Syene at the dictation of Mahseiah.
Witnesses hereto (signatures).[3]


The document demonstrates that marriage contracts are ancient and not just inventions of modern times.

Historical documents prove that marriage contracts existed before the time of Christ and during the time of Christ. For example, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament states,

In the ancient Near East marriage contracts occurred at an early age. According to the Talmud a young man was cursed if he was not married by the age of twenty. [4]

Formal Jewish contracts were referred to as a ketubot and in the Mishnah or Mishna one finds a section titled ketubot. The Ketubot contains numerous rules and regulations about marriage  contracts. Section 1:2 states that the marriage contract for marrying a virgin cost two-hundred zuz and the marriage for a widow was a maneh or one hundred zuz. Numerous laws regulate variations of the marriage contracts depending upon the situation. [5]

In summary, formal or legal marriage contracts existed in both the Gentile and Jewish worlds before the time of Christ and during the time of Christ. It appears from Deuteronomy 24:1 that formal or legal Jewish marriage contracts existed as far back as the time of Moses.


Malachi 2:14 is a wonderful reminder that marriage should be two friends who agree to live together. The agreement is more than a legal document. It should be one of commitment that includes a love that weathers the storms of life. God says that He will never leave nor forsake us (Matthew 28:20). He will remain with us and continue to love us when we sin and when we act righteously. That should be true of marriage as well.



1. IFLScince (
2. James B. Pritchard. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press. 1969. pp. 222-223.
3. Ibid. p. 222.
4. Pieter A Verhoef. The Books of Haggai and Malachi. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Eerdmans Publishing. 1987. p. 274.
5. Jacob Neusner. The Mishnah. Yale University Press. 1988. pp. 378-06.

Suggested Links:

Will God bless an arranged marriage?
Should Christians date non-Christians?
Am I bound to my wife the rest of my life?
What makes a marriage?
If my partner and I become Christians should I divorce her?
Biblical Divorce and Remarriage
Am I married in the eyes of God if I am married by a Justice of the Peace?
What does the Bible mean by a “one-flesh” relationship?