Watchtower 1972 January 15 p.63 Questions from Readers
Questions from Readers
• Is it proper for a Christian to wear a wedding ring?-Greece.
Many sincere Christians have asked this question out of a desire to avoid any custom of which God might disapprove. Some of the questioners know that Catholic prelate John H. Newman wrote: "The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, . . . sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure, the ring in marriage, turning to the East, images at a later date, perhaps the ecclesiastical chant, and the Kyrie Eleison, are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church." (An Essay on the Development of the Christian Doctrine, 1878)* While the facts prove that many of the current religious practices Newman lists definitely were adopted from pagan worship, is that true of the wedding ring?
Actually there are conflicting ideas as to the origin of the wedding ring. Let us give a few examples: "Originally . . . the ring was a fetter, used to bind the captive bride." (For Richer, for Poorer) "The ring is a relatively modern substitute for the gold coin or other article of value with which a man literally purchased his wife from her father." (The Jewish Wedding Book) "The wedding ring is supposed to be of Roman origin, and to have sprung from the ancient custom of using rings in making agreements." (American Cyclopaedia) "Various explanations have been given of the connection of the ring with marriage. It would appear that wedding-rings were worn by the Jews prior to Christian times."-The International Cyclopaedia.
It is thus seen that the precise origin of the wedding ring is uncertain. Even if it were a fact that pagans first used wedding rings, would that rule such out for Christians? Not necessarily. Many of today's articles of clothing and aspects of life originated in pagan lands. The present time divisions of hours, minutes and seconds are based on an early Babylonian system. Yet, there is no objection to a Christian's using these time divisions, for one's doing so does not involve carrying on false religious practices.
Of course, our concern is greater as regards the use of wedding rings, since this relates, not to minor secular matters, but to the marriage relationship, which the Christian rightly views as sacred before God. Really, the question is not so much whether wedding rings were first used by pagans but whether they were originally used as part of false religious practices and still retain such religious significance. As has been shown, the historical evidence does not allow for any definite conclusion on this. What does the Bible say about the use of rings?
The Bible shows that some of God's servants in the past wore rings, even ones that had special meaning attached to them. Wearing a signet ring could indicate that one had received authority to act in behalf of the ruler who owned it. (Gen. 41:42; Num. 31:50; Esther 8:2, 8; Job 42:11, 12; Luke 15:22) So, while wedding rings are not mentioned, these true worshipers clearly did not scruple against using rings for more than mere adornment.
Some persons say that a wedding ring represents one's unending love and devotion in marriage. The increasing divorce rate in many lands where married persons usually wear a wedding ring proves that this meaning is more imagined than real. Nonetheless, for the majority of persons, including Christians, in lands where wedding rings are common, the ring is an outward indication that the wearer is a married person. In other localities the same point is shown in a different way, such as by a woman's wearing a certain style of clothing.
Of course, a wedding ring is by no means a Christian requirement. One Christian might decide not to wear a wedding ring, because of conscience, personal taste, cost, local custom, or some other reason. Yet another Christian might decide to indicate his married status by means of a wedding ring. Hence, in the final analysis the decision is a personal one, to be made in accord with the conscientious views one holds.
This book was first written while Newman was still an Anglican, and was published in 1845. After converting to Catholicism, Newman published a somewhat revised edition in 1878. The next year he was made a Cardinal in the Catholic church.
[The follwing is the material ommitted by the ellipses (…) in the Watchtower quote from An Essay on the Development of the Christian Doctrine]
…and ornamented on occasions with branches of trees; incense, lamps, and candles; votive offerings on recovery from illness; holy water; asylums; holydays and seasons, use of calendars, processions, blessings on the fields…