August 1, 2013

Quick, name a happily married couple in the New Testament. Let’s make it easier: how about just naming any married couple in the New Testament?

While you are compiling your list, let me say a few words about why this question matters. 

In these weeks after the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was declared unconstitutional (or at least the major parts of it), we are hearing frequent appeals to uphold ‘Biblical marriage’ from those who believe that marriage is simply and only between one man and one woman. They claim scriptural support for their view, but does that claim have a solid foundation? 

For example, John Yeats says that despite the Supreme Court ruling, “Biblical marriage will remain between a man and a woman. This is the clear teaching of Scripture.”  Similarly, John Piper asserts that “Marriage is created and defined by God in the Scriptures as the sexual and covenantal union of a man and a woman in life-long allegiance to each other alone, as husband and wife, with a view to displaying Christ's covenant relationship to his blood-bought church.” He cites four Biblical verses in support: Genesis 1:27-28, Genesis 2:23-24, Matthew 19:4-6, and Ephesians 5:24-32.

Time’s up; how many couples made your list?  How many married couples in the New Testament did you note?

If this question is a stumper, it is because there aren’t many.  Most of the people in the New Testament do not appear to be in marriage relationships.  Despite the repeated assertions that the Bible is clear about marriage, it is striking that so few of the people in the New Testament are seen in any kind of marriage relationship. 

Despite the fervid imaginings of Dan Brown, Jesus wasn’t married. Paul may have been married, but he was not at the time of his ministry. We know Peter was married, because reference is made to his mother-in-law, but his wife makes no appearance.  About the other Disciples we just do not know. If any of the others were married, we can wonder at the state of their relationship after they left home to follow Jesus. Martha and Mary, the Bethany sisters of Lazarus, were not married.

Yes, there are couples in the New Testament we know were married.  We know Mary and Joseph were married, happily we suppose, even after a most unusual beginning to their marriage.  We know Elizabeth and Zacharias, the parents of John the Baptist, were married. There are Priscilla and Aquila, missionary followers of Christ, who are mentioned six times in Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Timothy. But there are not many others. 

There are more married couples featured in the Hebrew Testament, for example Eve and Adam, Sarah and Abraham, Rebakah and Isaac, Rachel and Jacob, Ruth and Boaz, Gomer and Hosea, and, supposing they were married, the unnamed couple in the Song of Solomon. 

If we want to draw our image of marriage from the Hebrew Testament, however, we have to recognize that polygyny (one man/multiple wives) is a quite common feature of family relationships in those books of the Bible. One man/one woman is hardly a consistent theme. Levirate marriage is also a frequent obligation: the requirement that a man marry his brother’s wife if she becomes a widow.  Do we really want to take our bearings on marriage from the Hebrew Testament?

Look back at the four passages John Piper uses to support his claim that the Bible clearly defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Each speaks of couples that include a man and a woman and each celebrates the commitment each makes to the other, but none of the passages say that this is the only form marriage can take.  And two of the passages come from Genesis, written well before the commonly accepted practice of polygyny we see in subsequent books of the Hebrew Testament. 

Next time you hear someone assert that marriage is clearly defined in the Bible, ask them – or ask yourself – where is that clearly said? And where is that clearly shown?

also posted on River View Friend

Views: 1172

Comment by William F Rushby on 9th mo. 17, 2013 at 6:31pm

The ultimate Biblical reference to marriage is to the union of Christ and His Church, and this is no fraud. "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready." [Revelation 19:7]  See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bride_of_Christ

 

Biblical marriage is no fraud!!

Comment by Julie DeMarchi Heiland on 9th mo. 18, 2013 at 4:20am

Absolutely true, Mr. Rushby!

Comment by Howard Brod on 9th mo. 18, 2013 at 9:37am
Yes, but then the Catholic Church uses that reference to support their prohibition against married priests, nuns, and monks. Using that verse perhaps we should do as the Shakers and require all Christians to be married only to Christ.

Or, just maybe using the words in the Bible as a rule book is simply folly. And instead we should realize these are contextual stories (examples) of love, compassion, and forgiveness applied appropriately to various times in history.

I paraphrase the well-known question, "What do we say" when we let that same Spirit of Christ act on our hearts in our time of history?
Comment by William F Rushby on 9th mo. 18, 2013 at 12:16pm

Howard wrote: "Yes, but then the Catholic Church uses that reference to support their prohibition against married priests, nuns, and monks. Using that verse perhaps we should do as the Shakers and require all Christians to be married only to Christ."

I don't think that the imagery of Christ as bridegroom and the church as bride is confined to a single verse.  It appears repeatedly in the Bible, and is even prefigured in the Hebrew Bible's imagery of the relationship between God and Israel".  And, as far as I can tell, the rationales behind Catholic and Shaker celibacy do not follow logically from the NT teachings about Christ and the Church.

 

The Apostle Paul likens the relationship between husband and wife to that between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:25-33): e.g.  "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." Eph.5:25

 

I see no basis here for regarding Biblical marriage as a "fraud"!

 

Comment by Doug Bennett on 9th mo. 18, 2013 at 12:48pm

The fraud is in the use some people make of the Bible, in this case the claim that the Bible unambiguously says that marriage is always and only between one man and one woman.  (I'm repeating myself.)

Comment by Julie DeMarchi Heiland on 9th mo. 18, 2013 at 6:20pm
Mr. Bennett, I am not being a smart aleck here, just genuinely curious. I understand what you're saying if you refer to polygamy in the Bible. However, I wonder how you would define marriage? Also, if you contend that the Bible cannot be relied upon as an accurate guide to describe what marriage is or should be before God, what basis would you rely upon? Does marriage serve any purpose at all? Finally, I wonder where in Scripture (if, in fact, it matters) you would find precedent for the acceptance of homosexual "marriage?" Thank you.
Comment by Doug Bennett on 9th mo. 19, 2013 at 8:27am

Julie – About 15 months ago, I wrote about marriage in a blog post entitled The Never-Changing Case for Marriage

I’ve written often about the Bible, which is an essential foundation for my spiritual life. The Bible is nearly always a place to start in trying to understand what God asks of us, but rarely the place to end. A few months ago, I wrote a series of four blog posts on the Bible : The Bible As a Gift, The Bible As a Community Chronicle, The Bible As Inspired Work, and The Bible As Unfinished Work.

I’ve also written about the Bible in two recent Friends Journal articles, Toward a Testimony of Intimacy (March 2013), and Homosexuality: A Plea to Read the Bible Together (June-July, 2012). 

On marriage specifically I think a sober conclusion is that the Bible doesn’t say much, what it does say can seem contradictory, and doesn’t in the end provide much specific guidance. The deep core of Jesus’s teaching does give us our starting point, that we are to love God with every fiber of our being, that we are to love one another, and that these two (oddly, wonderfully) are very much the same urging. 

A marriage is a very special bond between two people, one that helps them understand more clearly what love means, and therefore helps them love more fully both God and their neighbors. Love forms us into families, and we give those families shape and protection through marriage. Love draw us all in. Nothing in the Bible – or at least nothing in the New Covenant – justifies excluding some people from what marriage can bring them in terms of knowing and sharing love.

Comment by Howard Brod on 9th mo. 19, 2013 at 3:04pm

Friend Joan,

Since you use the words of the Bible to guide your life, I wonder how you reconcile the teaching you just provided with these passages in the Bible:

"As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?" (1 Cor. 14:33b-36).

"Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." 1 Timothy 2:11-12

Surely, you must see that these above admonishments were in reference to cultural realities of the day.  Why is it any different with the definition of marriage?

Just one more quandary: If the Bible had been consulted regarding slavery, it would never have been abolished in the U.S. 

"Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect  and fear.  Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ." Ephesians 6:5

Do you realize what a cultural institution, steeped in all of human history, the practice of slavery was? (for thousands upon thousands of years, with many, many references in the Bible).  So, please do not offer arguments to justify a practice just because its been around a long time and it is supported in the Bible.

The whole purpose of Christ's coming was to free us from the law and inspire us to let nothing but the love and forgiveness of God reign in our hearts.  It saddens me that so many Christians have returned to making "the law" their god by turning the writings of early Christians into rules.

 

Comment by Howard Brod on 9th mo. 19, 2013 at 6:09pm
I do try to follow Jesus commandment, "love God with thy whole heart, and love thy neighbor as thyself". The essence of his commandments is love. Of course, I fail miserably all too often. You are correct that I do not believe all of the words in the BIbe are his commandments, because many of these words contradict his commandment to love.

So, we both are where we are; and I truly do wish you well.
Comment by William F Rushby on 9th mo. 19, 2013 at 7:18pm

Doug Bennett wrote: "On marriage specifically I think a sober conclusion is that the Bible doesn’t say much, what it does say can seem contradictory, and doesn’t in the end provide much specific guidance."

My sober conclusion is that Doug Bennett is wrong in his claim that: (1) "the Bible doesn't say much about marriage", (2) "what it says can seem contradictory", and (3)" in the end [the Bible doesn't] provide much specific guidance."

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