Can I Marry A Man Who’s Been Engaged Before?

Q. My boyfriend and are are both virgins and are talking about getting married one day. He was engaged back in college but didn’t get married.

My question is whether their commitment to each other would in any way constitute him having been married before in the eyes of God. I know in Biblical times a “betrothal” was quite binding and could only be ended by a divorce. If I choose to marry this man, I want to be fully convinced it is right in the Lord’s eyes to do so. What do you think about the issue?

A. I think you may be confusing cultural practices with Biblical mandates. The Bible tells us a betrothal was a very important event in Israel and could only be broken by divorce, even though there had been no sexual union or even unchaperoned visits between the bride and groom.

This is why Joseph decided to divorce Mary when he learned she was pregnant, even though they were not officially married yet (Matt. 1:18-21). He changed his mind when the Lord sent an angel to him in a dream assuring him it was proper to marry her. But even in those days, it was the consummation of the marriage that made it official, allowing the cohabitation of the couple to be acceptable in their culture.

In our culture engagements are less formal, more of a statement of intent. In many places a marriage can be annulled without formal divorce proceedings and treated as if it never existed even after wedding vows have been exchanged, as long as it has not been consummated.

I don’t know of anyone who views the Biblical instructions about divorce so narrowly as to preclude marriage to someone who’s previously been engaged, especially if that person is still a virgin. If you want to be absolutely sure, ask the Lord to close the door on this relationship if He is not pleased by it. Unless He does, I think you can marry the man with confidence that it’s the right thing to do.

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