There are two types of Covenants in the Bible: Bilateral and Unilateral
(“Bi” or “Uni” count the number of promises between the parties)
- Bilateral comes from the word “Bi” meaning two. Like a bicycle.
- Unilateral comes from the word “Uni” meaning one. Like a unicycle.
Unilateral contracts or covenants can start immediately but they can also have a delayed start if the offeree (the one who has not promised) was offered to perform an “act of acceptance” by the offeror (person who made the promise) or if offeree later completes a service/action that was required to start it. For a unilateral covenant/contract to start there has to be a provable (confirmed) and defining point of the contract to show that it “was” started and not simply a promise by the offeror that was not acted upon or revoked.
In the court of law there needs to be an “act” of acceptance or completed service by the offeree but for God, He himself can offer the sign to confirm His oath (Heb. 6:17).
The entrance into what was promised by the offeror was considered to be the “performance” or “consummation of sale”. This can be shown in the God’s covenant with Moses. While the covenant was promised to Moses, it wasn’t until Joshua that God’s promise was actually fulfilled (Promised Land).
(Unconditional) Unilateral Covenant: Rainbow Covenant where God provided the symbol (rainbow) and no action was required by the offeree.
(Conditional) Unilateral Covenant: God’s promise to Abram (Gen. 15) that first required circumcision as the “act of acceptance” to enter into God’s unconditional promise (Gen. 17).
So, the beginning of a unilateral covenant can be either conditional or unconditional but after it has started, it is always “unconditional”. Bilateral is always conditional immediately and throughout its life-span. A bilateral can “morph” into a unilateral contract/covenant if one party fulfills their promise but the other is ongoing.
Covenant comes from the Hebrew word “Berith”. This word means to “cut” as Abram cut the two animals in half when God passed between them. Cut can also refer to the blood that’s poured out such as a “blood covenant”. There is no word for contract in Hebrew.
Theses are the two Covenants.
The Jews have always practiced the biblically illustrated unilateral covenant that was designed for the marriage.
1) The groom is required to pay or perform the bride-price (item of value, or service of value in which he claims that she is betrothed to him).
2) The father and the groom (w/ two kosher witnesses) signed or agreed to the marriage contract (the ketubah) beginning the bilateral covenant.
3) The Bride (or bride and groom) would drink from the cup of wine that was offered to her as an act of acceptance which finalized their marriage commitment to one another.
The Jews say the ketubah is a unilateral covenant because the bride was offered the cup of acceptance (wine) to accept the unilateral covenat and the groom is the only spouse of the two that made the promise when he signed the ketubah (although in the ketubah it states her requirements in the marriage but this would not be legally binding).
In ancient Israel they practiced marriage a little differently. But, the first century Rabbis wanted to make entering marriages a little easier and divorces harder. They hoped that a change would make getting married at a younger age easier by not requiring an initial large bridal price sum. Also making divorces less prevalent by having a large payment required in the back end if he decided to put her away (under certain conditions).
First, the bride price was to be paid to the father. The bride price CANNOT be paid to the bride such as a wedding band (this is considered a gift). The reason being is that the authority over his daughter required his approval and a direct exchange (purchase) for her. The exchange could be money or services for the bilateral covenant to be legally complete and binding to both parties. A father had the right to give his daughter away without a bridal price (Rebecca’s father) but this would not be considered a sale (purchase price) but still within his rights as a father.
Numbers 30:2-16 states that the father had power to nullify any promises by the young girl under his roof. Deut. 22 and Ex. 22:16-17 clearly states that a virgin bride price was to be paid and permission by the father was essential for marriage. Only the widow and the divorced women were said to have the ability to make binding oaths of their own (Numbers 30:9).
There are Conditional Unilateral Contracts (Covenants). This is a condition placed upon beginning the contract. The Conditional Unilateral Contract can also be seen if the individual’s services/action require a certain completion before it is accepted. We can see this in Abraham’s covenant. Although it was unilateral the individual needed to be circumcised before being accepted under that covenant, but once the circumcision has taken place the covenant becomes unconditional from that point forward.
To start off with covenants and contracts are the same biblically. You don’t see two different meanings for these supported in scripture. But, they are different in meaning. A covenant “berith” had the meaning of the splitting in two and the shedding of blood. We can clearly see this example in Gen. 15 when God asked Abram to split (most) of the animals in two and went between them as a smoking oven and fire (similar to how God reveled Himself to Israel in the Wilderness).
An unconditional covenant was a covenant that could not be broken. This was a promise. But, more than a promise, it was a promise associated with a sign. And this sign was most likely the blood of an animal. This really shows how important a covenant was to them!
A conditional covenant was a covenant that had conditions and if those conditions were not meet, the covenant could be broken! Bilateral covenants are a good example of conditional covenants. This is very similar to our modern day contracts but confirmed with a sign and meaning of blood. A covenant was not something that one made lightly.
A bilateral covenant is defined as promises that are made by two or more people to each other. A unilateral covenant is a promise that was only made by one person to the other or others. I will show you how these work.
The law of covenants can be seen to be very similar throughout all of time and in many different cultures. So, it does make sense that this was a “truth” of ethics and morality. I.e. murder is wrong in almost any culture and time, therefore, we can see there is an excepted truth to be explored and known here that is common to all.
In ancient Israel a bilateral covenant was made between the groom (and/or his father) and the bride’s father. Scripturally, we see that the bride was not always given opportunity to turn down her father’s wishes for marriage. We also see laws (Deut. 21:14) about women who were taken by war, allowed to morn their mother and father, then taken as wives. It does show that this was against their wishes many times by saying if she does not please the man then he can let her go, but he must set her “free”! We also see a similar law where a man owns a girl and gives her to his son as a slave wife as an addition to his free wife. It later also states that if she is neglected in food, clothing and marriage rights, he too was required to set her “free”.
It is common knowledge that many Jews over the centuries have betrothed their daughters at the age of 12 years old or younger believing that since these girls are before the age of accountability (maturity) the father has ultimate authority over her decisions (Numbers 30:2-16) and is able to give her away in marriage without her consent. Although it is illegal in the Talmud to marry girls off at this age, despite this prohibition many Jews have done so anyways throughout the middle ages. This again is common knowledge. This goes to show that the Jews do believe in bilateral marriages morphing into unilateral marriage covenants without an act of acceptance from the girl. At least for young girls. Now that this is known to be an accepted concept, it is just an argument over age and authority at this point. The Jewish tradition since the first century have required girls over the age of 12 + 1 day to give a sign or act of consent.
So, with the understanding that the bride’s father (while young and living under her father’s roof) dictates who his daughter can and can not marry. He has the power to either confirm or deny a marriage. He has complete “authority” over his daughter.
When the groom contracts with the bride’s father, the father hands over his authority (or ownership) to the groom. The father can not refuse the man taking his daughter upon arrival after all conditions were met. But, the marriage is not completed at the betrothal stage. It is true, when a man and a woman get betrothed that they are promised to one another and God hold’s them accountable which would require a Writ of Divorcement if ever they were to depart (Joseph and Mary). Meaning; that she was considered his betrothed wife and he her betrothed husband. But they have not entered into the marriage until consummation (performance) is complete.
With a virgin, the consummation is a sign of the splitting of two and blood. This happens naturally, and a girl purchased as a virgin but not having the marks of her virginity on the wedding blanket (blood) was considered a great tragedy and injustice. The man was swindled. Since the father was presumed innocent all blame fell on the young girl.
Later in Deut. 22:23-24 it states if a betrothed girl is ever raped that she is required to “yell” out for help if in a city (supposing someone to help her) but if in a country, knowing her cries will not go heard, she was not stoned to death if she was not heard vs. 25-26. If she was not betrothed, the man was directed to marry her and for his punishment, he was not allowed to divorce her all the days of his life Deut. 22:29. (It does state later that a man who slept (enticed, not raped) with a virgin not being betrothed that he was to marry her and pay the virgin price, but the father did have power to refuse the marriage and still require the man to pay the virgin bridal price. So, many believe the father also has authority to refuse a marriage to the man who raped her in Deut. 22:28-29.)
After a man has made the bilateral covenant with the bride’s father, scripture does not say that the bride and groom later “share” vows with one another. Matter of fact, Scripture clearly shows that the bilateral covenant was made with Laban and Rebecca’s father by Abraham’s servant (he was sent there to get a wife for Abraham’s son). This was now an agreement that neither party could not go back on. When she dismantled, put on her vale, and came to Issac in the field – they did not share vows, and he did not make a vow to her. But, regardless, Scripture said that upon consummation they were considered husband and wife (not the act of sex alone made them married, but an agreement of the authoritative parties acted in a contract of marriage).
It is absolutely the father’s prerogative if he wanted to ask his daughter “if” she would like to marry a man before they got betrothed. But the father asking the daughter if she would like to marry him does not show that it was a legally binding “agreement” or an “act of acceptance” but only that the loving father is respecting his daughter’s wishes before he makes a bilateral covenant with the young man. According to contract law, the act of acceptance has to be in accordance to the Offeror’s specific ‘said’ requirements.
But, as in the story of Rebecca and Isaac, the final agreement was already made between Abraham’s servant and Rebecca’s father (Gen. 24) “51 Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master’s son’s wife, as the Lord hath spoken” So, the servant honoring the father and showing legal sign of acceptance gave the payment to the mother and brother, “53 Then the servant brought out gold and silver jewelry and articles of clothing and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave costly gifts to her brother and to her mother. ” But later the father asking if she was ready to go was more of a matter of convenience and comfort for Abraham’s servant was anxious to get back to his Master, “54 Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night there. When they got up the next morning, he said, “Send me on my way to my master. 55 But her brother and her mother replied, “Let the young woman remain with us ten days or so; then you may go.” In order to handle the disagreement between the two parties the family requested the daughter, “58 And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go” for it was already the next day. Therefore, we can see that Rebecca’s question was not concerning her marriage to the Abraham’s son, but concerning when to leave.
Such as shown in the case of Judges 19 where the father tried to hinder the guests departure by drinking and comforts of home before he left for his own house, “4 And his father in law, the damsel’s father, retained him; and he abode with him three days: so they did eat and drink, and lodged there. 5 And it came to pass on the fourth day, when they arose early in the morning, that he rose up to depart: and the damsel’s father said unto his son in law, Comfort thine heart with a morsel of bread, and afterward go your way. 6 And they sat down, and did eat and drink both of them together: for the damsel’s father had said unto the man, Be content, I pray thee, and tarry all night, and let thine heart be merry. 7 And when the man rose up to depart, his father in law urged him: therefore he lodged there again. 8 And he arose early in the morning on the fifth day to depart; and the damsel’s father said, Comfort thine heart, I pray thee. And they tarried until afternoon, and they did eat both of them.”
Either after a wine ceremony or a “consummation of sale” (performance) the betrothal covenant between the father and the groom ends and a new covenant between the man and his wife begins. This is called “morphing” in legal terms. A sign or act of acceptance is not required for morphing, but only a fulfillment of the father’s bilateral agreement. It is commonly excepted that a bilateral contract becomes a unilateral contract when one of the parties fulfilled their promise while the other one still has ongoing obligations.
The wine ceremony is important because it is the “covenant”. Therefore; a Writ of Divorcement would be required to end this (as Joseph considered putting away his betrothed wife, Mary). Without the wine ceremony the agreement between the father of the bride and the groom is simply considered a “contract”. Therefore, if no unilateral marriage covenant started between the bride and groom if there was a “breach of contract” then the only thing considered would be the exchange of money and any financial debt that occurred. There would be no need for a divorce between the two parties.
The Bride price protected the groom. For, if there was no legal “contract” then the groom would worry if the father might revoke his agreement. And the wine ceremony protected the bride, for if the groom came back to consummate the marriage and found her “displeasing” in his sight the father may be concerned that he might revoke his agreement. The bride price and the wine ceremony protected all parties and officially began the marriage (Deut. 22:23-27 any sexual immorality by betrothed wife was considered “adultery”).
If a man finds a single woman, and does not make a bilateral covenant with the bride’s father he can make a unilateral covenant or a bilateral covenant with the woman individually. This is not a direct scriptural practice and later can prove to be problematic. Deut. 25:5-10 states that a widow (although independent of her own) does not make a bilateral covenant but the younger brother takes his brother’s widow to raise up a seed for his name (Gen. 38:9).
Example: If a groom makes a unilateral covenant with a bride alone (and not a covenant with her father) according to contract law an “acceptance” is required from her to show she entered the covenant on her own free will. The reason being, is if the bride has all authority over herself there needs to be a defining point of the entry of the unilateral covenant for it to be legally binding and provable in the court of law. (You can see this performed in the Jewish “wedding band” practice although the father signs the ketubah and “gives” his daughter away).
If the bride makes a bilateral covenant directly with the groom, then this would be a “conditional” covenant (as we do here in America). Meaning, if he broke a covenant promise then she should have the legal right to end the marriage for “breach of contract”. It would be impossible to assume that a bilateral covenant between two individuals (bride and groom) would make one person’s covenant “unconditional” while the other person’s covenant is still considered “conditional”. Or, that they both enter into a dual unilateral contract (as only one marriage contract was signed by each of the parties, not two separate contracts).
It would not be fair or right to expect the groom to make a bilateral covenant with the bride’s father then worry about enter into a bilateral covenant with his daughter when he returned to a wedding ceremony: i.e. “Do you take … to be your lawfully wedded husband?” It was already a legally completed marriage at the betrothal. No further vows or actions were required by the two other than at the wedding feast following the consummation.
To ask the bride for an acceptance, or a shared cup of wine, after the covenant allows the woman a chance to say “no.” And if she says “no” or does not accept the cup of wine that is handed to her, then this act shows that there was never truly a prior binding covenant. To make a bilateral covenant with the father at betrothal and later offer the bride a shared drink of wine at a wedding ceremony would fundamentally be incorrect and problematic also.
If at the chuppah or huppah the bride was offered a shared drink of wine (breaking of the glass) then the first cup of wine offered at a betrothal would really only be acting as a request for marriage while the real marriage was not until a wedding ceremony. Therefore; the cup of wine shared between the bride and groom was most likely at the Betrothal stage (as Jesus offered His blood as a covenant to His Disciples to drink from) to symbolize their covenant together and not simply an “act of acceptance”. For ancient marriages always drank wine together to fulfill their covenant together. Matter of fact, any covenant made was by a “shared” cup of wine.
Although the wine was drank with the bride and groom at the wedding fest, this was to symbolize the completion of the marriage and not actually the start.
love you guys, Michael