Believe it or not, the Bible mentions prenuptial agreements. Prenuptial agreements were a staple in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. It just wasn't called that—it was called a dowry, a misnomer since the Bible actually refers to a dower or a bride price; in Hebrew, a mohar (Genesis 34:12; Exodus 22:16; 1 Samuel 18:25).
Whatever the term, the money was paid by the groom to the bride's father or closest male relative. Women didn't have the authority to own property or money except in extraordinary circumstances (Numbers 27:1-11). They were supported by their husbands or, when their husbands died, by their sons—the reason Lot's daughters (Genesis 19:30-38) and Judah's daughter-in-law Tamar (Genesis 38) were so desperate to have sons. Ideally, the bride price was a deposit of alimony, to be invested by the bride's father and used to care for the bride if her husband divorced her or died without giving her sons.
Exodus 22:16-17 also talks about the bride price. "If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins." The seduction part implies that the girl was not an unwilling participant to the activities. But the man had not gone to her father to ask for her hand in marriage. If her father agreed to the marriage, the man was obliged to pay the mohar. If the father was against the arrangement, the man was to still pay because the girl was practically un-marriable and would need financial support for the rest of her life.
Often, young men were not able to afford the entire mohar at the time of the wedding. Rabbis then included the promise of a future mohar into the ketubah—the prenuptial agreement explaining the husband's responsibility to the wife both during the marriage and, if need be, upon their divorce. The prenuptial agreement we know today derived from the same idea. A woman who married devoted her life to supporting and promoting her husband's professional success. Like the women in Bible times, she probably didn't have a significant source of income for herself, nor had she taken the steps to be competitive in the job market. A prenuptial agreement would ensure she was supported should her husband divorce her, as well as acknowledge the part she played in her husband's success.
There's a great deal of ambiguity about modern prenuptial agreements, and many arguments for and against:
Arguments for prenuptial agreements
- A prenuptial agreement may protect a spouse's assets if his or her mate has a business or practice that is likely to be sued or go bankrupt.
- A prenuptial agreement could protect and provide for the innocent spouse whose marriage breaks up because of biblical reasons, such as adultery or abandonment.
- A prenuptial agreement awarding the poorer spouse a significant settlement might make the richer partner more willing to work on the marriage for fear of losing money (although this is rarely played out in real life).
- A poorer spouse who signs away his or her rights to the richer spouse's assets proves that the motivation for the marriage is love and not money.
- If children are brought into the marriage, the prenuptial agreement can protect their inheritance given by extended family.
Arguments against prenuptial agreements
- The existence of a prenuptial agreement means the couple contemplated and prepared for divorce before they were even married; this does not reflect a solid, Bible-based commitment.
- Most prenuptial agreements aren't designed to provide for the poorer spouse but to protect the assets of the richer spouse, which is selfish and not in keeping with the unity of the marriage.
- Financial situations can change during a marriage, and the prenuptial agreement may not allow for the change.
- Prenuptial agreements cannot, by law, decide the fate of existing or potential children and, therefore, cannot adequately determine their needs should a divorce occur.
Despite the arguments for and against, God entered the cultural mohar into the Mosaic Law. The difference is simple: it is to ensure the well-being of the partner who has dedicated his or her life to the personal support and professional advancement of the more financially-successful spouse. It is not for those who can work but refuse to (2 Thessalonians 3:10). It is not to protect the assets of the richer party. If legal protection is required, such as a spouse who is in a career field that is often sued, that person can look into a trust or limited liability company.
As idealistic as it is to say that the Bible rejects prenuptial agreements, it simply isn't true. God is a realist and intensely concerned with the rights and protection of the vulnerable. As long as a prenuptial agreement is used to protect and support the innocent, it cannot be said to be unbiblical.
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