The Practice of Arranged Marriages Among Christians in India

Whether through arranged or self-arranged marriages, the primary question for Christians is whether their union in marriage will reveal Christ to the world.

More than 90% of Indians have arranged marriages, according to a BBC report. In India, it has been a cultural practice for centuries. This tradition has shaped many generations, especially Baby Boomers. Among them, families, more than individuals, took the lead in selecting a spouse.

While self-arranged alliances existed, family involvement was often essential to formalise and culturally accept the match. Sometimes, it was even suggested that only an arranged marriage was “biblical.” However, apart from the story of Abraham arranging a spouse for Isaac, the Bible is silent on the process of finding a spouse.

Understanding Arranged Marriages

Though varying across cultures, arranged marriages generally aim to strengthen family ties, ensure compatibility based on social status or economic stability, and uphold cultural traditions. However, this practice can be restrictive if individuals feel pressured or forced into marriages they do not desire.

Today, expressive individualism emphasises personal freedom, self-expression, and individual fulfilment. Therefore, though still in practice, arranged marriages are less common in urban India.

The Bible is silent on the process of finding a spouse.

Increasingly, people value individual choice and personal compatibility in relationships. However, in some rural areas and cultural settings, arranged marriages continue to thrive, often with adjustments that invite greater input from the individuals involved.

Support and Criticism for Arranged Marriages

There is much to say about the pros and cons of arranged marriages. It is a subject of great debate in families and between generations.

Supporters of arranged marriages highlight several benefits.

  1. Social and Family Support: Families play a significant role in matchmaking, providing security and stability.
  2. Compatibility Assessment: Families consider factors such as values, beliefs, and backgrounds when arranging marriages.
  3. Cultural Preservation: Encouraging marriages within the same cultural or religious background preserves traditions and values.
  4. Potential Financial Stability: Shared resources and support from extended family networks can offer financial stability.

Critics of arranged marriages point out significant concerns.

  1. Lack of Personal Choice: Individuals may feel pressured to marry someone their families have chosen, limiting autonomy and happiness.
  2. Limited Personal Compatibility Assessment: If you prioritise broader compatibility over personal compatibility, it will lead to mismatched expectations.
  3. Potential Conflicts: Differences in expectations, values, or personalities can become pronounced, causing dissatisfaction and conflicts.

The Bible and Arranged Marriage

The Bible provides limited direct guidance on arranged marriages. The story of Abraham sending his servant to find a wife for Isaac reflects a cultural practice rather than a biblical mandate (Gen. 24). This account highlights the servant’s wisdom, understanding of Abraham and Isaac’s values, reliance on God, and divine providential guidance in finding the right person.

Whether through arranged or self-arranged marriages, the primary question for Christians is whether the union will reveal Christ to the world.

The Bible does not prescribe or endorse arranged marriages as a practice. Historical and cultural factors have influenced how some Christian communities view marriage and family arrangements.

Some Indian Christian communities may see arranged marriages as a way to preserve religious values, ensure compatibility based on shared beliefs, and strengthen family ties. Others may view arranged marriages as outdated and problematic if they infringe upon individual autonomy and freedom of choice.

The Gospel and Marriage

For Christians, God established marriage as a divine institution. Genesis 2:24 states, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Jesus affirmed this covenant relationship and emphasised its seriousness and divine foundation (Matt. 19:4-6).

Marriage is a covenant commitment before God. A husband and wife come together with a commitment to journey together “till death do us part”. It is a union in Christ, not based solely on compatibility.

In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul describes marriage as a profound mystery that points to the relationship between Christ and the Church. He says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31-32)

John Piper elaborates on this, stating that marriage mirrors the eternal covenant relationship between Christ and the Church, giving marriage a meaning far greater than companionship or personal fulfilment.

What Does This Mean For Us?

Whether through arranged or self-arranged marriages, the primary question for Christians is whether the union will reveal Christ to the world. Couples should commit themselves to journeying together with God, each other, and their faith community.

Ultimately, the deepest union anyone can find is in Christ.

Arranged marriages can be successful if couples understand the overarching purpose of marriage. They must consciously embrace the commitment to Christ and to journey together in Christ. Families would be wise to permit couples space and time to explore their relationship before committing to one another. Likewise, self-arranged marriages can thrive if couples embrace the same things.

The decision-making process, whether for arranged or self-arranged marriages, should involve personal preparation, understanding motives, prayer, waiting, and allowing the wise counsel of believers to provide input.

Ultimately, the deepest union anyone can find is in Christ. For married individuals, the union between spouses finds fulfilment in their shared bond with Christ. For those who choose to remain unmarried, fulfilment, and deep union are found in Christ, surpassing what any human relationship or any kind of marriage can propose to provide (1 Cor. 7:29-31).