The worst Bible couple, of course, was Jezebel and Ahab. But which was the best? It’s an interesting question to consider even if, at the end of the day, the answer turns out to have been pretty obvious.
I’m looking for two things. First, both husband and wife should have strong and good character; a very good marriage might not qualify in this contest if we know nothing about one of the spouses. An example might be Noah and his wife: There’s no reason to think she was wanting, but we’re just not told much about her. Second, they should to at least some extent be a team, rather than just two good people whose virtues are independent of one another. Here an example might be David and Abigail: Both are praiseworthy, but we don’t know what they did together.
Let’s look at the Old Testament first. I don’t think any of the couples in Genesis qualify. Certainly not Adam and Eve, who are to blame for all our troubles, nor any of the patriarchs’ marriages (I’ve never been overly impressed with Sarah, or with Isaac, or with Rachel, and while I love Leah the problem is that Jacob didn’t). I’ll note that it is interesting that Moses and Joseph, arguably the two best men in the Torah, each had Gentile (Egyptian) wives: Asenath (Genesis 41:45, 50-52) and Zipporah (Exodus 2:21, 3:24-26). We don’t know much about the former, and while the latter may have saved Moses with her quick thinking and bravery, the passage of her circumcising her son is notoriously cryptic.
There’s lots of asymmetry in the Old Testament couples. Job, a good man, seems to have had a crummy wife, while Cain, the first murderer, had an obviously loyal one. And then there’s Hosea and Gomer, not to mention Samson and Delilah.
On the plus side, Hannah and her husband Elkanah deserve a mention. She, the mother of Samuel, was certainly a godly woman, and his reassurance (I Samuel 1:8) to her as she struggled with her infertility — “Am I not better to you than ten sons?” — is moving. So, incidentally, is Samuel 3:16, when David reclaims his wife Michal from her other husband: “Her husband followed her, weeping all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, ‘Go back.’ So he returned home.”
David had several wives, but only Abigail seems to have had estimable character — I don’t put his two other wives that we know much about, Michal and Bathsheba, into that category — and, as noted above, we don’t know much about David and Abigail as a couple. David’s son Solomon, we all know, had lots of wives, but only one is even named, the foreign ones were a notoriously bad influence, and his marriage to none of them put him and her on our list.
But you’ve waited long enough for the answer, dear reader: The two best couples in the Old Testament are Ruth/Boaz and Esther/King Ahasuerus. Thus, they include, perhaps not coincidentally, the two women with books in the Bible named after them. Note that the two women are at opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum: Ruth is destitute and not even a Jew, while Esther’s (impeccably Jewish) family seems to be well-off and well-connected, and of course she becomes queen.
I will hasten to add that, of these two marriages, the better is Ruth/Boaz. Esther is perhaps not as obviously superior to her husband as, say, Rebecca was to hers, and King Ahasuerus is not a terrible person, as Middle Eastern autocrats go — and he does choose well in marrying Esther and listening to her and finally delivering to Haman his just deserts — but we can’t overlook his treatment of of his first queen and his manipulation by Haman.
Boaz, on the other other hand, is a thoroughly decent fellow, and of course Ruth is a gem. We have to be glad that they found each other.
On to the New Testament. I’ll begin here by announcing the worst New Testament couple: Ananias and his wife Sapphira. But they are not as bad as Jezebel and Ahab.
There are three good couples to note in the New Testament. There’s the tent-making couple Priscilla and Aquila, who not only helped Paul in his evangelizing (to say nothing of likely working with him in the tent business) but risked their lives to save his. And there’s Elizabeth and Zacharias, the parents of John the Baptist, she a godly woman and he a high-ranking priest (although he was a little too quizzical with an angel).
But Mary and Joseph are the obvious winners for the New Testament. Like Boaz, Joseph is a stand-up guy; and like Ruth, Mary is a gem. And I think Mary and Joseph are the overall winners, too, coming out ahead of their ancestors Ruth and Boaz — who won’t mind, since it’s all in the family, according to the genealogies in Matthew and Luke.