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Biblical Marriage

I bet you thought I was going to post one of those charts that shows all the different types of marriage depicted in the Bible.

You did, didn't you.

Instead, I'm sharing this Washington Post article, written by Jennifer Wright Knust, a Baptist pastor and biblical scholar.


Debunking 'Biblical marriage': Why the Bible can't dictate today's sexual morals

By Jennifer Wright Knust


Part I: Biblical Marriage

Lately biblical interpretation has become the frontline in a heated battle to determine what God really thinks about sex and marriage. As a biblical scholar, historian and Baptist pastor, however, I find this debate to be misguided and destructive. The Bible is simply too complicated and too contradictory to serve as a guide to sexual morals. Treating the Bible as a rulebook impoverishes the biblical witness and short-circuits our ability to speak honestly about sex. Since the Bible never offers anything like a straightforward set of teachings about marriage, desire, or God's perspective on the human body, the only way to pretend that it does is to refuse to read it.

If we do take the time to read the Bible, we are likely to discover that the biblical writers do not agree with us, whatever version of sexual morality we are seeking to promote. Written more than 2,000 years ago at a significant historical and cultural distance, the Bible gathers together a diverse collection of ancient books, edited over time, not a coherent, divinely inspired set of instructions that can easily be applied. Tracing even a few, limited topics from one biblical book to another can make the point: If one book forbids marriage between foreigners and Israelites, the next depicts such marriages as a source of blessing, not only to Israel but to all of humankind. If one insists that women are saved by childbearing, the next recommends that women avoid childbearing altogether in order to devote themselves more fully to God. If one suggests that sex with a relative, the wife of another man, or with a male lover will certainly lead to the nation's downfall, the next depicts heroic kings engaging in precisely these forms of sex. And these are just a few examples. Is it any wonder, then, that the Bible has failed to settle current debates about what a divinely sanctioned sexual morality might look like? Perhaps it is time to stop pretending that it can.

The Bible can, however, invite further reflection about what means to have a body, to be human, and to love one another. I first learned this principle from my mother, who read biblical stories to me every day before school. Waiting for the school bus, we would open the pages of our oversize picture Bible and read all about Abraham, Moses, Jesus and just about everything in between. Instead of trying to make the Bible dictate morality to us, we asked questions about the stories we encountered, guessing at what they might mean. Thanks to my mom, by the age of nine I already knew that the Bible is filled with curious, contradictory and sometimes troubling stories. I sometimes wonder how a lesson taught to me when I was a little girl can seem so elusive to adult purveyors of "biblical morals" today. Loving the Bible means reading it and reading it means that our preconceived notions about its teachings will be overturned.

Let's begin with an easy target: "biblical marriage." Despite frequent claims to the contrary, not a single biblical book endorses marriage between one man and one woman for the purposes of procreation. Directed at men, the laws attributed to Moses assume that Israelites will marry as many wives as they can reasonably support. By contrast, when Jesus speaks about marriage, he largely warns against it, presenting family life as a distracting waste of time. The apostle Paul follows suit, teaching that celibacy is the best choice for Jesus' followers. He recommends marriage only as a concession to those unable to keep their sexual impulses in check. Later New Testament writers do sanction marriage, but not for the sake of procreation and romantic love. Instead, marriage is portrayed as a venue for testing the fitness of male church leaders, who are told to love their wives and to be kind to their slaves. Wives, children and slaves, however, must obey the men in charge, no matter what, and this in a culture where the sexual access of masters to their slaves was simply presupposed. Biblical books never speak to marriage as currently practiced in the US and what they do say is totally contradictory.

Since the Bible won't solve the marriage debate, perhaps we could at least discern God's opinion about sexuality from its pages, and on this basis decide what God wants for our sexual lives. Yet, as we will see next, the Bible rarely supports current notions of sexuality.

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Does this change or affect in any way your perception of what the Bible says about marriage?  Does it matter to you what the Bible says about marriage? ;)

Answer Question

Asked by jsbenkert at 4:46 PM on Apr. 3, 2013 in Religious Debate

Level 37 (89,331 Credits)
Answers (19)
  • Oops!  I forgot to post the link.  Here it is.


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 4:47 PM on Apr. 3, 2013

  • wow.... just wow!! That is certainly NOT what I've been

    Answer by ggsmom333 at 5:01 PM on Apr. 3, 2013

  • I think the idea of "biblical" marriage is bullshit, honestly.

    Answer by sahmamax2 at 5:38 PM on Apr. 3, 2013

  • This doesn't change my views at all but, it does reinforce the notion that all of those who claim that the bible states marriage is about 1 man & 1 woman are full of shit.

    Answer by 3libras at 6:08 PM on Apr. 3, 2013

  • I respectfully disagree with her opinion. I do believe the OT outlined very clearly and extensively what's sexually appropriate and what's not. I don't really think that's where the debate should lie. It's dishonest to twist Scripture around to suit our needs at the moment.
    The issue really is that there's religious marriage and there's civil marriage and one doesn't determine the other, they are different "contracts". And just as the state cannot come into my synagogue and "invalidate" the marriage it performs according to our religious views, no religious institution should tell the state what marriages are "appropriate".
    That's where the issue lies, not on whether or not the Bible condones or condemns certain sexual acts, because even if it does, that doesn't mean that's what secular law should be based on.

    Answer by momto2boys973 at 6:53 PM on Apr. 3, 2013

  • The Shaker's prescribe to the Christian Biblical rules for sex and marriage (meaning those set out by Jesus rather than the OT). That's why there are only 3 of them left, and once they die, their land will revert to the state where it is located.

    Answer by NotPanicking at 6:54 PM on Apr. 3, 2013

  • I think her point, as a biblical scholar who (I would assume, considering her credentials) must be quite familiar with both books of the Bible, is that the Bible contradicts itself so much, not just in the Old Testament alone, but also between the OT and the NT.  So while there may be some "clear" instructions in some parts, they are inconsistent.  It may be "dishonest" to twist the scriptures to suit one's needs, but one would have to cherry-pick, ignore and twist in order to support a single definition of marriage - so using the Bible to support a stance on marriage would be dishonest.



    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 7:59 PM on Apr. 3, 2013

  • As far as whether or not it should have any place in discussions about same-sex marriage, I agree that it should not. Holy matrimony can be performed by religious institutions, but federally-recognized unions should not be influenced by the religious teachings of any faith.


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 7:59 PM on Apr. 3, 2013

  • I bet you thought I was going to post one of those charts that shows all the different types of marriage depicted in the Bible.

    You did, didn't you.

    No. I questioned what exactly a Biblical Marriage was and before I had time to think about it I opened it. I don't have enough patience to read the entire post, sorry, but to answer your simple short question at the end, no, it doesn't really matter to me what the bible says about marriage.

    Answer by maecntpntz219 at 8:10 PM on Apr. 3, 2013

  • "I think her point, as a biblical scholar who (I would assume, considering her credentials) must be quite familiar with both books of the Bible, is that the Bible contradicts itself so much, not just in the Old Testament alone, but also between the OT and the NT"

    If she was an actual scholar, she would know there are no contradictions in the OT. I'm no scholar, so I can't say if there are contradictions between OT and NT or in the NT. But the OT is perfectly consistent.

    Answer by momto2boys973 at 8:51 PM on Apr. 3, 2013

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