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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)
  • "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."

    Exactly. Which is why the whole "sanctity of marriage" isn't really a good argument as well. The state doesn't "sanctify" anything, it legalized a union- period. Religious institutions sanctify and will continue to do so regardless of what unions the state decides to legalize. So the "sanctity of marriage" isn't threatened at all.

    Answer by momto2boys973 at 8:53 PM on Apr. 3, 2013

  • She is one among many biblical scholars who have remarked on the inconsistencies of the Bible.  I understand that your beliefs will not allow you to acknowledge them, but as you said, you are not a scholar.  She is, and even though she recognizes the inconsistencies in the Bible, she is also a pastor, which means that even though she can admit that the book is not infallible, she can still find enough worth in it to use it as a guide in the faith she preaches.  It also means that she recognizes that no one can honestly use the Bible to support a side in the marriage debate.

    Of course, I never felt that the Bible should be used as a guide to determine the laws that affect all citizens.


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 8:50 AM on Apr. 4, 2013

  • "She is one among many biblical scholars who have remarked on the inconsistencies of the Bible. I understand that your beliefs will not allow you to acknowledge them, but as you said, you are not a scholar"

    I'm not a scholar to know what inconsistencies the NT has in itself and vis-a-vis the OT. I'm, however, quite knowledgeable about the OT and have actually been confronted with the so-called "inconsistencies" some people claim it has several timed and have shown how it's not inconsistent at all. I have no problem addressing them again.

    Answer by momto2boys973 at 9:44 AM on Apr. 4, 2013

  • Biblical marriage entailed taking a women into the man's bed and consumating like rabbits. Done and done. Biblical marriage is a falacy because such unions are not unique to any religion. Tribes in unexplored areas of the planet almost always have some form of marriage--i.e. a rite or ritual that joins two people together. They may not even have a religion or a deity. But they understand the concept of pair bonding. And I have sent Sharon lists of the errors and contradictions in the O.T. Like her christian sisters, she refuses to acknowlege them.

    Answer by witchqueen at 12:24 PM on Apr. 4, 2013

  • marriage started with God , it is a union by him

    Answer by dirtgirlfashion at 2:26 PM on Apr. 5, 2013

  • Laws of the Land base the Laws from the Bible

    Answer by dirtgirlfashion at 2:27 PM on Apr. 5, 2013

  • How do you back up that claim, dirtgirl?   Because if you took even a cursory look at other civilizations that predate Judaism and Christianity, those civilizations that came long before the stories in Genesis were written, you would find marriage as institutions in those cultures.  As witchqueen points out, other cultures that have no connection whatsoever to your god also have marriage.  AND in your Bible, there are so many different depictions of marriage that it would seem that your god was being a bit schizophrenic when he was describing marriage.

    Furthermore, in a nation that was supposedly based on Religious Freedom, there should be no laws based on religious writings.  That would infringe on the religious liberties of other non-Christian citizens.


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 5:21 PM on Apr. 5, 2013

  • marriage started with God , it is a union by him

    Answer by sahmamax2 at 7:20 PM on Apr. 5, 2013

  • "marriage started with God , it is a union by him"

    There are many societies that don't even know the concept of G-d and yet they have a concept of marriage and family.

    Answer by momto2boys973 at 10:00 PM on Apr. 6, 2013

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