Marriage as a Blood Covenant?

In a recent discussion about marriage and the role of the church in performing marriages, a pastor mentioned that he didn’t see the need for the church to perform wedding ceremonies. The way he explained it marriage is a covenant that is ratified when the man and woman consummate their marriage. The important part, to him, is the initial sexual act. That is what makes it a marriage. He went on to say that marriage is a “blood covenant.” Like all biblical covenants, he said, it’s sealed by the spilling of blood.

I was honestly floored by this discussion. I have no problem at all speaking of marriage as a covenant. Vows are made, and there is a legal agreement. Marriage is binding, and there are only a few biblical reasons to divorce. Marriage isn’t to be entered into lightly. It should always be taken seriously.

However, the part about marriage as a blood covenant really took me aback. I did some research into the concept and found a couple of examples of this teaching. As a side note, it does not seem to be mainstream or widely accepted. Many of the pastors and theologians (all reformed) I spoke with had never heard of it. Here are a couple of quotes that explain the teaching. Forgive me for the explicit nature of the following descriptions.

Marriage: A Blood Covenant with a Three-fold Purpose” by Bob Vincent

So as we look at the inception of marriage under the Old Testament, we discover that it involves, as all blood covenants do, the shedding of blood. And we discover that virginity was a very special and treasured thing in the law of God. And it is special and treasured because it is part of the shedding of the blood in this blood covenant of marriage. So important it is, that the parents of the young woman preserve the evidence that she was a virgin on her wedding night, so that if her husband proves to be a scoundrel and accuses her of not being what she said she was — and this is not the case of someone who is honest and up front before marriage, but this is someone presenting herself for marriage, and she is not really that — then the parents produce the evidence of the blood covenant with the garment or the sheet that was … that absorbed the blood in the cutting of the covenant.

The Hebrew word, by the way, for making a covenant is literally, in Hebrew, “to cut a covenant.” We cut a covenant. And so in the marriage act there are two things. There is the couple committing themselves to live together after God’s ordinance, and there is the shedding of the blood, the private act, the cutting of the covenant. Both things are important.

Covenant Sexuality” by Dannah Gresh

The next test is that a biblical covenant is always sealed in blood. The covenant between Abraham and God was sealed with animal sacrifice. There was blood.

The greatest covenant that you and I know is the covenant of Jesus Christ and the cross. It is sealed in blood. Do you know that the gift of marriage is also a covenant sealed in blood? Let me be a little technical with you for a just a moment. There is a small tissue within every woman. It’s called the hymen. It’s within her body.

When she has sex for the very first time, this tissue is stretched or torn, and there is a release of blood. Now, if you grew up in the day and age when Jesus walked the earth, the Jewish wedding ceremony took this so seriously, this covenant of blood, that the first gift that they would have given you, as a young bride, would have been white wedding linens.

And they would want you to seal the covenant on that night, returning from your honeymoon chamber with blood evidence to share with your whole family, that this covenant had been sealed in blood. Somebody tell me you’re glad you’re a woman of the new millennium.

But you know what? They weren’t uncomfortable with that. They celebrated it; they understood the significance of the blood. It was a beautiful thing. Sex is a blood covenant.

To summarize, the idea is that all covenants require a shedding of blood to seal the covenant. Marriage is a covenant that is sealed by the shedding of a virgin’s blood during her first sexual experience with her husband.

I find this teaching to be grotesque and potentially very dangerous. I also think it’s unbiblical for a number of reasons.

First, do all biblical covenants require the shedding of blood to seal the covenant? According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, God entered into a covenant of life with Adam before the fall:

Q. 12. What special act of providence did God exercise towards man in the estate wherein he was created?
A. When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.

Was there shedding of blood to seal this covenant? There was, of course, considerable blood shed as a result of the breaking of this covenant. But nothing is said or alluded to about blood in the ratifying of the covenant of life.

Second, marriage is a creation ordinance instituted by God before the fall. Why would there be a need for the shedding of blood before sin and death had entered the world? Did Eve bleed on her wedding night? Only she and Adam know, but I doubt it. The curse brought pain to childbearing and all it entails. There is no reason for Eve to have experienced that pain before she sinned.

The third reason I think this teaching is unbiblical is that we now live under the covenant of grace after the last, best, and only true sacrifice has already taken place. Christ has paid the penalty for our sins, and there are no more sacrifices. Ever. Why would any Christian who has been bought by the precious blood of Christ teach that a woman must offer a sacrifice of blood to seal her marriage?

Lastly, I want to consider the very practical side of things. Not all women bleed on their wedding night. This can be true for any number of reasons. Does this invalidate their marriage? It doesn’t change the vows they made.

Let’s consider a few different scenarios. First, not all virgins will bleed the first time they have sex. That’s simply medical fact.

Second, not everyone who marries is a virgin. Many people have sexual sins that they have repented of. Some people have been sinned against. (Although in those cases I would still consider them to be virgins.) Are their marriages less valid? Under a covenant of works, maybe. But we live under a covenant of grace with forgiveness and mercy.

Also, the teaching seems to demean second marriages. There are valid, biblical reasons for widowed or divorced men and women remarry. In these marriages, no one is a virgin. Their marriages are biblical and God-honoring. Does it matter that they weren’t sealed with blood? Are they less married as a result?

I understand the desire to strengthen the biblical arguments for marriage. Marriage is under attack in our culture today. But in our attempts to bolster biblical marriage we need to be careful about the unintended consequences of going beyond what Scripture teaches. I see four basic repercussions from teaching that marriage is a blood covenant.

  • It teaches a repulsive view of the sexual relationship between a husband and wife. What was created to be a beautiful expression of the one flesh relationship should not be twisted into a bloody sacrifice.
  • It idolizes virginity. It is a good and God-honoring thing for women (and men) to wait for marriage. It is a blessing, and it protects against many heartaches. But it’s should not be made into an idol. There is a serious danger of that happening. Consider “purity balls.”
  • It overshadows the grace and forgiveness that we live under as believers in Christ. We are all sinners saved by grace. There are no more sacrifices required.
  • It could be used to promote or excuse abuse. There is so much that could be said here, but I’ll leave it at this. There are despicable men in this world who would use this teaching to hurt women.

Marriage is a beautiful thing. God gave us marriage for our benefit and mutual support and as a picture of the relationship between Christ as His Church. We should work hard to support and protect marriage. But we don’t need to go back to the Old Testament sacrificial system to do so.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 ESV)

15 thoughts on “Marriage as a Blood Covenant?

  1. Tim says:

    By that pastor’s reasoning, lots of folks have been married lots of times. Or perhaps he means that only if blood is shed is there a marriage? His reasoning breaks down so many ways so quickly.

    And speaking of shedding, Rachel, thanks for shedding light on all this.

  2. jilldomschot says:

    That True Woman talk sounds like every talk I ever had as a single female. I never could figure out why there weren’t any other messages for us but the “be chaste” one. I always had these serious philosophical questions about the meaning of life and the nature of God, but instead of discussing these things, I was constantly reminded that my value was attached to my virginity.

    But I have to agree. Marriage as blood covenant is pushing the symbolism too far.

  3. Timothy says:

    Given his line of reasoning, the rapist and virgin then would be married… if you wanted to push it that far. And I seem to recall that happening to one of the patriarch’s sister, and they locked her away. The two were not married. Just some thoughts…

    • Rachel Miller says:

      Yeah, the line of reasoning is hard to follow. The number of marriages in the Bible that could not have taken place between a virgin woman and a man include: Rahab and Salmon; Ruth and Boaz; David and Bathsheba. All from the line of Christ. Also, given that Joseph did not consummate his marriage to Mary until after Jesus was born, I doubt “blood covenant” was a possibility there either.

  4. Kassandra says:

    I’d like to be a grown-up enough person to engage in serious discussion about this, but I just can’t get past the ick factor. Ew. This is even more bizarre than the Bayly hat fixation.

  5. Bob Vincent says:

    Dear Mrs. Miller,

    Inasmuch as marriage is a creation ordinance, it transcends the sacrificial system.

    There is NO connotation of the forgiveness of sins with regard to the consummation of marriage in Scripture nor was there in my sermon. Whereas, there is a connection between the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ and the shedding of blood in the sealing ordinances recorded in the Torah, circumcision and the Passover.

    There are analogies between marriage and redemption, to be sure, as Ephesians 5 teaches, but the sacrifice of Ephesians 5 is that of the groom, not the bride: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

    We could make a point that the cloth that was preserved by the bride’s parents from the wedding night served to rescue her from death due to the slander of an evil husband, but her blood was NOT a sacrifice for sin in any sense whatsoever, rather it was a testimony to her innocence:
    “‘And yet this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city.” (Deuteronomy 22:15-17)

    What is in my sermon and in Scripture is that the marriage covenant involves a public element as well as a private element. In the marriage covenant, before family and friends, the bride and groom affirm their intention to live together after God’s ordinance. Following that public event, there is the private consummation of that public agreement. If either element is missing, there is no marriage. Sexual intercourse without the verbal commitment before others, especially family, is simply fornication. Whereas, a verbal commitment without sexual intercourse following is a marriage in name only.

    I cited Deuteronomy 22, not to advocate that we follow this practice today, but in order to shed light from the Torah on Malachi 2:

    “If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,’ then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate. And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, “I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity.” And yet this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city. Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days. But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)

    ‘But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselvesi in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”‘ (Malachi 2:14-16)

    The focus of my sermon was the grace of God in Jesus Christ, his sacrifice, not ours, his shed blood, not ours. As can be seen by reading the whole thing on the Aquila Report.

    Cordially,
    Bob Vincent

    • Rachel Miller says:

      Thank you for your comment. I have actually read the full series of articles at the Aquila Report. I don’t disagree that we can view marriage as a covenant. I also don’t disagree that the consummation of marriage is a private part of vows that are made publicly.

      That doesn’t mean, however, that marriage is or was ever meant to be a “blood covenant.” Not all women bleed. Are those marriages somehow less valid or less covenantal?

  6. Bob Vincent says:

    Dear Mrs. Miller,

    In response to your question, I understand that not everyone bleeds; what I was attempting to do in that sermon from almost four years ago was to cast light on Malachi 2 regarding divorce by exploring the passage in light of the Scripture that Malachi had at hand, Deuteronomy 22. It seems to me that much of the offense people take is with what Deuteronomy 22:13-21 itself says.

    Let me assure you that this is not the burden of my ministry — in preaching to the same congregation for almost 40 years, I think that I have examined that passage three times.

    Virginity is the IDEAL of marriage, not the legal requirement. Other marriages are fully legal and just as valid. The woman at the well had had five legal husbands, but she was not married to the man that she was living with when she encountered Jesus: “You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18). Our Lord Jesus does not wring his hands over us and say “if only”; he takes us where we are and offers us grace.

    Here is something I wrote over a decade ago in response to people’s questions about marriage and divorce:
    ‘In bringing out the necessity of bloodshed in the marriage covenant of a virgin, I do not mean to imply that without the bloodshed of the breaking of the maidenhead a marriage is not valid. After all, widows and the lawfully divorced were permitted to remarry, and there would, of course, never be bloodshed on their wedding nights (Deuteronomy 24:1-4; 25:5-10; Ezekiel 44:22). My point is simply to underscore that the public covenanting must be followed by the physical act of sexual intercourse in order for a marriage to take place.

    ‘However, the marriage of someone who is no longer a virgin was not the ideal, even when that person has been lawfully divorced or widowed. Our Lord Jesus Christ takes us back to the very beginning, when God himself instituted marriage in Genesis 2:24, and states: “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:4-6). The ideal of Genesis 2:24, rooted as it is in the time of human innocence before sin and death, not only rules out divorce, it rules out widower and widowhood as well.

    ‘This ideal of virginity at the time of marriage is underscored in the higher standard set for the high priest as over against that set for regular priests. If one were to contrast the limitations regarding whom ordinary priests could marry with those for the high priest, he would note that the high priest could not even marry the widow of a priest, only a virgin: “The high priest . . . the woman he marries must be a virgin. He must not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a woman defiled by prostitution, but only a virgin from his own people, so he will not defile his offspring among his people. I am the LORD, who makes him holy” (Leviticus 21: 10, 13-15). And so the cutting of the marriage covenant of the high priest would always be preserved in the bloody sheet entrusted to the care of the virgin bride’s father.

    ‘Whereas, the lower order of priests enjoyed a broader spectrum of potential partners: “Priests . . . must not marry women defiled by prostitution or divorced from their husbands, because priests are holy to their God” “They must not marry widows or divorced women; they may marry only virgins of Israelite descent or widows of priests” (Leviticus 21:5, 7; Ezekiel 44:22). Thus, this bloody evidence may or may not be there for a regular priest, and ordinary Israelites could marry anyone, including any widow or divorcee.’ ()

    I hope that helps to clarify what I believe the Bible teaches.

    Cordially,
    Bob

    • confess says:

      The Bible says study to show yourself approved do not be deceived by this man study and find out what makes a marriage authentic in the eyes of God

  7. Christopher says:

    I am being affected by this thing seriously. I married my wife not a virgin. The thing affecting me is that it means that my wife is covenanted to someone for life even though I am living with her as husband. This thing has eaten me so much such that now I don’t see any reason why I should not sleep with any other woman because I am not in any covenant with my wife. What is your view Bob I need some bit of clarity on this issue.

    • Rachel Miller says:

      I’ll repeat what I said in my post. There is not a “blood covenant” in marriage. Adam and Eve were married before the Fall, before sin, and before sacrifices. If you need excuses for sleeping with other women, you won’t find it in the Bible. Your wife is not “covenanted” to another man. She’s married to you. You took vows to her. That’s your reality. My advice, seek counselling from a pastor who does not believe in blood covenants.

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