WCF 24.5 Proof Texts (The Contract)

Discussion in 'The Confession of Faith' started by Afterthought, May 3, 2017.

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  1. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    V. Adultery or fornication, committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract.a In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce,b and after the divorce to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.c

    a. Mat 1:18-20. • b. Mat 5:31-32. • c. Mat 19:9; Rom 7:2-3.

    The proof texts refer to betrothal. However, I thought that Jewish betrothal made a couple man and wife before God (they even were called husband and wife) with the only thing left being cohabitation and consummation; whereas, it seems by the First Book of Discipline of Scotland (and William Ames whom I quote below) that the betrothal at the time of the Confession was more like an engagement (the First Book of Discipline says the betrothed couple lose the right of marriage for committing "fornication;" why (a) called "fornication" if they are already married and (b) why lose the right of marriage if already married?; so it seems this betrothal is more like an engagement).

    William Ames in the Cases of Conscience states.

    "Chap, XXXVI.
    Of the Solemnities of Matrimony

    Question 1. What right is there in Contracts?
    1. A. 1. Contracts (as they are distinguished from perfect Matrimony,) are lawful and mutual promise of future matrimony expressed by some sensible sign. They are often distinguished from matrimony (in respect of the external Court) by that difference of time which the words pronounced do ordinarily signify to those that rightly understand them. For if the words import a consent of present contract, they constitute matrimony, but if only of future matrimony, they make a bare betrothing.

    2. A. 2. Although such kinds of contracts, are not absolutely necessary, (because all contracts, which may be lawfully promised for the future, may be at the same present time, wholly perfitted,) yet ordinarily, they make for the fairness of the marriage. First, Because so there is a fair proceeding by just degrees from the beginning to the ends, (as in so weighty a business is fit,) Secondly, Because so the whole act is rendered more free from suspicion of rashness and appeareth the more grave and deliberate. Thirdly, Because by this means the minds of the betrothed, are prepared and disposed to those affections, which in matrimony are requisite.

    3. A. 3. Although lawfull contracts thus far agree with matrimony, that any unjust violation of them, is all one as a violation of matrimony, Deut. 22. 23.24. Nevertheless, for many causes contracts may be broken, for which matrimony may not.

    As first, if there be some honest condition joined to the contract, which is not performed,

    Secondly, If there be any certain time appointed for marriage, and then one party is wanting, the other seemes to be absolved of the promise, in respect, the condition was not performed.

    Thirdly, If any thing fall out after the contract which Would have hindred the contract, if it had fallen out before, and doth reasonably alter the mind of one party.

    Fourthly, If either party free the other of the promise made."

    We see here again a proof text in reference to betrothal being used to support something that does not appear to be the Jewish betrothal: the "Contract" is a promise of marriage in the future and does not constitute the state of matrimony.

    It may be a leap trying to connect these things together, but they certainly seem to hang together well.

    Anyway, my question is: How are these proof texts being used to support the proposition that unfaithfulness can break the Contract, when it seems the proof texts refer to a system of betrothal that makes the betrothed in a state of being man and wife (without cohabitation or consummation; so an "incomplete" or "imperfect" state of marriage/matrimony)?

    And if the Contract was viewed in the same way as the Jewish betrothal (which seems to only have been breakable upon the same conditions that marriage is breakable; the WCF just says "dissolve that contract" while using "divorce" for after marriage)--or maybe I misunderstood the Jewish betrothal and it is the same as the Contract--how can William Ames possibly support his view that the Contract can be broken for other reasons (or how can the First Book of Discipline say what it says about fornication between the betrothed allowing for the breaking of the Contract)?

    First Book of Discipline.
    "And first publick inhibition must be made, that no person under the power or obedience of others; such as sonns and daughters, and those that be under curators, neither men nor women contract marriage privately, and without knowledge of their parents, tutors or curators, under whose power they are for the time: Which if they doe, the censure and discipline of the Kirk to proceed against them. If the son or daughter, or other, have their heart touched with the desire of mariage, they are bound to give honour to their parents, that they open unto them their affection, asking their counsell and assistance, how that motion, which they judge to be of God, may be performed. If the father, friend or maister, gainestand their request, and haue no other cause then the common sort of men have; to wit, lacke of goods, and because they are not so high borne, as they require, yet must not the parties whose hearts are touched, make any covenant till further declaration {63} be made unto the Kirk of God, and therfore after that they have opened their mindes to their parents, or such others as have charge over them, they must declare it to the Minister also, or to the Civill Magistrate, requiring them to travell with their parents for their consent, which to doe they are bound. And if they, to wit, the Minister or Magistrate, find no cause, that is just, why the mariage required, may not be fulfilled, then after sufficient admonicion, to the father, friend, master, or superiour, that none of them resist the work of God, the Minister or Magistrate may enter in the place of parents, and be consenting to their just requests, may admit them to mariage; For the worke of God ought not to be hindred, by the corrupt affections of worldly men. The work of God we call, when two hearts, without filthinesse before committed, are so joyned, and both require and are content to live together in that holy band of Matrimony.

    If any commit fornication with that woman he requires in Mariage, they doe both loose this foresaid benefit as well of the Kirk, as of the Magistrate; For neither of both ought to be intercessors or advocats for filthy fornicators. But the father, or neerest friend, whose daughter being a virgine is defloured, hath power by the law of God to compell the man that did that injurie, to marry his daughter: and if the father wil not accept him by reason of his offence, then may he require the dowrie of his daughter, which if the offender be not able to pay, then ought the civill magistrate to punish his body by some other punishment. And because whoredome, fornication, adulterie, are sinnes most common in this realme; we require of your Honors in the name of the eternall God, that severe punishment, according as God hath commanded, bee executed against such wicked contemners. For we doubt not, but such enormities and crimes openly committed, provoke the wrath of God, as the Apostle speaketh, not onely upon the offenders, but upon such places, where without punishment they are committed. [Rom. 1.32; 1 Cor. 5.]"
    Last edited: May 3, 2017
  2. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    I have a few ideas as to what the proof texts might be doing.

    1) I am wrong about Jewish betrothals. They were acutally a contract de futuro, and therefore the couple is not actually married. Hence, they can also be broken just like any other human contract (I note that Ames' conclusions basically amount to an explication of what is implicit in the term "consent."), and the proof texts exactly map to proving the propositions. One difficulty though is that the Scriptures only mention divorce as severing the betrothal, so Ames could be overstating himself here. Another is that the contract in the WCF only speaks of "dissolution," where the dissolving of marriage in the next sentence is called "divorce."

    2) The WCF and others were wrong about Jewish betrothals, and they therefore misapplied the proof texts from a Jewish betrothal to their own betrothals.

    3) Appeal to the proof texts is being made as an argument from the greater to the less: If Jewish betrothals, which were an incomplete marriage and so most relevant to the contracts de futuro at the time of Ames and the WCF, could be broken only by adultery, how much more would they break the contract de futuro, seeing how the Jewish betrothals were more binding (binding the couple as man and wife); and seeing how the contract is de futuro, fornication could also break it? This almost works and seems like the sort of reasoning one might see in the WCF, etc. The difficulty here is that Ames seems to refer to the Jewish betrothals as being the same as their betrothals when he references Deut. 22.
  3. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    4) After reading a lawyer's 60 page analysis of the development of Genevan marriage and betrothal laws during Calvin's time, I re-read Calvin's comments on Matthew 1:18, and I have come up with yet another possibility. It could be that the betrothal really was just an engagement but required conjugal fidelity: hence, unfaithfulness could break the engagement contract and the couple were called "husband" and "wife" because of this requirement and looking to the future to when they would actually be made "man and wife before God."

    I don't agree that this is what betrothal was, but it would explain the WCF and Ames (who seems to follow Calvin), etc. And one could still understand the proof texts in the manner of 3).

    I don't know though; I speculate, and I'm not sure where to look to definitively resolve the question.
  4. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    I would look at it in terms of pledged fidelity, which is the meaning of "troth." It is not a matter of what the persons are but of what they have promised to be. They bear a moral responsibility to carry themselves according to their solemn engagement.
  5. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    This would basically be 4 above. However, it seems that many view the betrothal as making them man and wife before God (Matthew Poole's words in his comments on Matthew 1) with the betrothal being basically the equivalent of saying "I do" in our modern day marriages. And if I was just looking at the Scriptures without extra-biblical history, I would also come to this conclusion (extra-biblical history seems to confirm this matter though; the only anomaly I have found are the views of Ames, Calvin, etc. on betrothal).

    Also, if 4 is true, how does Ames come to the conclusion that betrothals can be broken for reasons besides adultery or fornication? The Scriptures only give those as a reason for the betrothal to be broken. Some will further take that to mean that modern day engagements can also only be broken for those reasons (because on the view of 4, modern day engagements are essentially the same as Jewish betrothals we see in the Scriptures)...else the couple are in fact really still engaged in God's eyes.
  6. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    The distinction is, "It is not a matter of what the persons are but of what they have promised to be." When these authors have stated that they are man and wife it needs to be considered in what sense they thought them to be so. If they make such a distinction (which seems to be required by the proper understanding of the word "troth") this would explain why causes for breaking an engagement are broader than causes for divorce.
  7. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    Ames never said they were man and wife, but clearly distinguishes between a contract made for a marriage in the future and a contract made for marriage in the present. If such a distinction is valid and if there were no other Scriptures written on the matter, I could see how he could explain that causes for breaking an engagement are broader than causes for divorce. However, the Scriptures only give causes for divorce as breaking an engagement, suggesting that even if such a distinction is valid, the causes for breaking the engagement are the same as causes for divorce (it's even called "divorce" in the Bible). This is the point on which I am stuck in trying to understand Ames, etc. (and Calvin too, I suppose).

    For example, suppose someone said that marriage is a contract between humans and therefore can be broken for more reasons. But we would rightly note they are adding reasons beyond what the Scriptures give. Likewise with betrothal: the Scriptures only give reasons that would be cause for divorce as causes of breaking the betrothal. (This all boils down to: How does merely making that distinction allow for broader causes for breaking the engagement?)

    I would also note that the WCF does not call breaking the betrothal "divorce" but "dissolution," whereas the Scriptures treat breaking the betrothal as "divorce."

    Matthew Poole says the following. I don't want to make him differ from Ames, but I also don't see how to determine what he means by "man and wife" without making him differ; in fact, he may be assuming that betrothal in his day is different from those of the Scriptures' day. He does speak of betrothal as a promise of marriage in the future, but one could understand this as referring to the completion of the marriage with the two already being man and wife before-hand, so it is not clear whether he means "man and wife" in terms of what they promised to be.

    "Betrothing, or espousing, was nothing else but a solemn promise of marriage made by two persons each to other, at such a distance of time as they agreed upon. It was a decent usage, approved of (if not ordained) by God, as appears by De 20:7. That we are obliged still to use it I dare not say; it might be a prudential order and constitution of that state. There was nothing in it typical, nothing to bring it under the notion of a carnal ordinance, as the apostle calls some of their ordinances relating to the worship of God. It seemeth equitable, that the parties to be married might have some convenient time to think seriously of the great change they are soon to make in their lives, and more solemnly seek unto God for his blessing upon them; as also that they might more freely discourse together about their household affairs, and the settlement of their families, than the modesty of the virgins of that age would otherwise have allowed them. It made them man and wife before God, though they came not together for some time after. The distance of time seemeth to have been left to the agreement of parties and parents. In this case we cannot certainly assert the distance, but it appeareth to have been such as that she was found with child before they came together."
    Last edited: May 9, 2017
  8. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    I cannot see any difference in Poole. He is simply commenting on something in Scripture and showing how it may or may not be used today. He calls them man and wife "before God." Not that they are really man and wife, but have only promised to be so and God takes their word for their bond.
  9. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    If they are man and wife "before God" though and God takes their word for their bond, how can there be other causes for breaking the betrothal besides causes for divorce (along with the question as to how there can be other causes when the Scriptures only give causes for divorce)?
  10. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    In this case you have the extra consideration of the bond or pledge. As you quoted from Ames, "Nevertheless, for many causes contracts may be broken, for which matrimony may not."
  11. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    But doesn't marriage also have a bond or pledge? It is a different bond or pledge from betrothal, but it is still a bond or pledge. So the betrothal being a bond or pledge does not in itself suffice to allow it to be broken for other reasons.

    Here is where I am confused. Marriage is a contract. Betrothal is a contract related to marriage (according to the views of Amers, etc., whom I have quoted; it still seems to me that the Scriptures show betrothal to be matrimony). The promises are different, but the promise of faithfulness is the same. The Scriptures only give a select number of reasons for divorce; likewise, the Scriptures only give causes for divorce as permitting betrothal to be broken. Other causes for divorce are rejected; shouldn't other causes for breaking the betrothal also be rejected?
  12. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    The marriage makes the two to be one. The betrothal only pledges it.
  13. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    Okay, I think I see what you are going for here. These would ordinarily be my thoughts if I equated betrothal to our modern engagements with regards to the state it places the two in.

    The last bit of wiggle room though is: Although the betrothal only pledges the two to be one, the Scriptures only give causes for divorce to break it. Some people use this to say that modern engagements can only be broken by things that break marriages and might say that Ames et. al. were making up un-Scriptural reasons for breaking a betrothal. Perhaps an argument my even be advanced that if there was another way to break the betrothal, Joseph would not have considered a bill of divorce. I suppose if one heard the reply that the betrothal only pledges matrimony and so may be broken for other reasons, the response would also be: we cannot make up reasons for breaking betrothals.

    Perhaps an issue here is people viewing the Scriptures as regulating betrothals? They see the Scriptures regulating marriage so they assume the Scriptures regulate betrothal too? Thoughts on what might be said to such people?
  14. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    To be charged with "making up un-Scriptural reasons for breaking a betrothal" the concept of betrothal itself must be deemed to be Scripturally mandated and regulated. But it is not regarded in this way, as Poole's comment demonstrates. It is not a creation ordinance. The moral law does not speak to it. Our Lord did not speak to it. So far as it is an human ordinance it falls under the general principles of the moral law, and Ames has fairly deduced how the law applies to it as a pledge.
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