- The Beholder’s Definition of Marriage
- Is Marriage a Covenant or Contract? Society’s dilemma
- A Snapshot in Defining a Covenant Marriage
- Relational Characteristics of a Covenant
- Searching Below the Surface – Looking into unexpected Islamic ideas.
- En Route to Defining a Covenant Marriage – Countering Contract
- Essence of the Covenant Matrix
For marriage, distinguishing the meaning between the two can make a difference in commitment and promises.
A covenant and contract differ based on what they join together. First, a contract is a transactional bond or agreement to accomplish a specific service, responsibility, or purpose. A bond defines as an agreement to a commitment with another. Contract marriage is a marital union publicly witnessed in which each partner affirms the relationship based on the terms of purposeful service. This type of marriage prioritizes obligations and pre-determined conditions. The initial union hinges on mutual personal consent and equality in the commitment. Breaking the contract allows for the dissolution of the marriage and equal distribution of assets.
A covenant’s scope differs a bit from a contract. Since this bond promises to join persons together, a covenant marriage defines two persons’ unity before God. Covenant marriage portrays a sacred unity of oneness between one man and one woman in God’s presence, with a mutual public declaration to establish a new sacrificial, relational unity based on unconditional promises. The bond is unalterable and permanent in commitment until death. Breaking the covenant violates the sanctity of the oath since the promised vows take place in the presence of God.
Both contract and covenant include the idea of joining together and aiming for a purpose, but the contract’s central bond is the service rendered. In contrast, a covenant prioritizes the relational bond. A contract marriage focuses on the service because, without this behavior, the bond does not exist. In a covenant, the interpersonal bond establishes the commitment; first, God affirms this bond as the third-party presence linking the relationship. Next, the couple realizes something greater than themselves requires them to keep the promises vowed. For the covenant, the third party represents this divine presence, while a contract would be the civil authority of the bond generally in a document.
A contract marriage often assumes a specific period in fulfilling the services. Society guarantees obligation to the agreed-on purpose or the couple’s commitment to the expected, agreed promises or conditions. However, a covenant marriage empowered by the presence of God affirms dependence on something more significant than each spouse’s ability to fulfill the promises, creating permanence. The consecration in God’s presence dedicates them to depend on God’s proximity and power to fulfill the promises till death do them part.
Furthermore, permanence upholds the covenant marriage’s exclusive nature, while a contract marriage upholds the fulfillment of each partner’s needs and rights. In light of this, a contract often perceives a limitation in how long the relationship will last, while a covenant always assumes a lifelong and eternal perspective. To break an agreement is often possible with some financial compensation, yet God does not mean to break a covenant. If broken, the personal bond breaks any sense of oneness.
In O. Palmer Robertson’s classic book, The Christ of the Covenants, he states, “A covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered….. a covenant is that which binds people together.” (Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. 1980, 6.)) God reigns over a covenant while the local or regional government oversees the contract. The contract is a paper agreement, but the covenant is a blood bond to stress the life/death importance of the couple’s unity. The covenant bond affects all aspects of a person’s life. The covenant before God does not mean that the marriage document becomes meaningless, as every marriage requires a public declaration since the bond also represents a social change in status.
The covenant marriage depicted in Genesis 2 presents a standard to follow in which Adam’s declaration of oneness occurs in God’spresence. Later, the Lord administers deliverance sacrificially to cover Adam and Eve’s shame (Gen. 3:21), and in marriage, their oneness binds them in unashamed nakedness. These concepts display the covenant tendency to dwell together in oneness without shame. A covenant may include service to one another, but the commitment in God’s presence binds the husband and wife together as persons, not just to serve some external purpose. The original marriage represents a covenantal understanding more than just a contractual one.
This binding of persons becomes a characteristic of the covenant as Malachi 2:14 states; the wife is the husband’s relational spouse – your companion and your wife by covenant. In this context, Yahweh joined them with his Spirit, so they relate spiritually and relationally on a companion level more than acts of contractual service. These ideas empower marriage to represent a relational covenant bond.
As seen in the differences between contract and covenant, the spirit of the Islamic contract marriage leans toward the contractual definition, with some variation. In Islam, the marriage contract called aqde nikah (عقد نکاح) and aqd al-kitab (عقد الکتاب) centered on the format of an offer of marriage by the groom to receive the bride’s consent. This contract requires a male Vali (usually a male guardian) to validate the process. The bride’s consent gives the husband the right to her sexually as the service element, primarily since the exchange promise of some monetary value exists (dowry).
The Islamic contract focuses on service, while a covenant focuses on oneness in the relationship. Both include elements of service and connection, but the difference comes in the binding form. A contract binds one in service while a covenant to a relationship. As Dennis J. McCarthy affirms, “covenant is not contract, as we have had occasion to repeat more than once. It is a personal union pledge by symbol and/or oath. The relationship comes first.” Dennis J. McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant: A Study in Form in the Ancient Oriental Documents and in the Old Testament, AnBib 21a (Rome: Biblical Institute, 1981), 297. This truth is played out also in marriage, the most intimate earthly relationship.
The book, Voices of Islam affirms this view, “Unlike Christianity, which treats marriage as a sacrament, marriage in Islam is a contract, a legal commitment written up as such, sanctioned by God and acknowledged by society.” Cornell, Vincent J., and Virginia Gray Henry-Blakemore. Eds. Voices of Islam. “Marriage in Isla” Nargis Virani. London: Praeger, Vol 3, 2007, 81. They affirm that Allah accepts the contract marriage and their society acknowledges the union, yet state an unlikeness to Christianity. Despite these authors repeating a Catholic view of marriage (sacrament), they still desire to recognize a difference. Islamic marriage represents an Islamic contract, while biblical marriage is a covenant.
Covenant marriage is more than two consenting adults making a relational, social agreement but inviting God himself into the new unity. He is welcome as the third party to the sanctified vows of the marriage – the key difference between a covenant and a contract.
For further reading, see Searching Below the Surface.
|↑1||Dennis J. McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant: A Study in Form in the Ancient Oriental Documents and in the Old Testament, AnBib 21a (Rome: Biblical Institute, 1981), 297.|
|↑2||Cornell, Vincent J., and Virginia Gray Henry-Blakemore. Eds. Voices of Islam. “Marriage in Isla” Nargis Virani. London: Praeger, Vol 3, 2007, 81.|