One of the most critical mistake Christians make on the subject of the Jewish traditions, is that they compare the ancient espousal-ship with the America engagement.
In an espousal-ship you have vows, a contract, witnesses and a purchasing of the bride with some sort of token. In this espousal relationship the two are called husband and wife, with only the bridegroom fetching his bride away to complete the marriage ceremony, and this relationship can only be broken with a bill of divorce. The dictionary describes marriage as the legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife, which is clearly the case with the Jewish tradition during the espousal.
On the other hand, the American engagement, there are no vows, no contract, or no witnesses, and the couples are regarded as to be married. Thus, the American engagement isn’t recognized as a legal union of a man and woman and the engagement relationship can be broken for any reason without a bill of divorce. This is certainly not the case with an espousal – ship; the relationship is binding by the exchange of vows, the contract, and the witnesses. To be honest, there is simply no difference between an actual traditional American marriage ceremony, and the Jewish espousal-ship. When we marry here in America, we hold a ceremony, where vows are exchanged and a contract is signed and witnesses are present, afterwards the couple is off to what is called a “honeymoon”. The honeymoon is where we “supposedly” (as the Jews do) seal the marriage. But here is the point. Most people don’t believe that if an American spouse is unfaithful after the ceremony, but before the honeymoon, the marriage is void.
Of course not, most people believe once the couple has exchange vows, the contract has been singed, and the witnesses having witness the ceremony the couple is completely husband and wife and the relationship is binding. Why don’t we hold the same view for the Jews? Because we are led to interpret the ancient by the present, and not the present by the ancient.
The Jewish wedding is a two part ceremony with the first part being the espousal (wedding vows, or “I do’s contract and witnesses and token) and then about one or two years the second part took place which completes the ceremony. The second part deals with the husband finally taking his wife home. However, during the second part there is no need for contracts, vows, or a minister because the couple is already considered married. In fact, if the husband sought to take his wife immediately after completing the first half of the ceremony he could, and no sin would be committed. Now if there was some unknown incompletion in the marriage that kept them from being 100% husband and wife, he couldn’t take her right away. The first part of the ceremony isn’t weaker than the second. The marriage is bound by the first part not the second. The first part of the ceremony gives the couple the right to be joined in a physical relationship. The first part of the ceremony gives the couple the right to be called “Husband and Wife”.
However, if unfaithfulness is discovered during the course of the relationship, either during the espousal-ship or after the completion of the ceremony the same punishment is given to the husband or the wife that comments fornication.
The punishment given after the ceremony is completed:
(Lev 20:10) “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–the wife, say, of his neighbor–both the man and the woman, the adulterer and the adulteress, must be put to death”.
(Deu 22:22) “If a man be found lying with a woman married to a husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel”.
The punishment given before the ceremony is completed, but during the espousal:
(Day 22:23-24) “If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto a husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbor’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you”.
Therefore in the case of Joseph and Mary, the penalty for such a crime was death. However, Joseph being a good man not wanting to disgrace Mary publicly made plans to break the engagement privately. The law allowed him to put her to death, and the law also allowed him to give her a bill of divorcement. It seems Joseph being a good man not wanting to disgrace Mary publicly, a plan to end the marriage ceremony by giving Mary a bill of divorcement. The same thing happens with the woman brought to Jesus for being caught in the acted of adultery. The fullness of the law sentence her to death, but the LORD Jesus allows her to go free commanding her to sin no more.