Biblical Marriage

Christians are fond of defending the sanctity of Biblical Marriage.  One man, one woman, bonded for life, sexually exclusive, and celibate before marriage.  The thing is, that’s not in the Bible.  In order to find that model of marriage, we have to move much farther forward in history.  If anyone was to take the Bible literally, a “Defense of Marriage Act” would look more like this:

Polygamy

Taking the Bible as a whole, there are far more references to polygamy — and far more approval from God himself for the institution — than for monogamous marriage.

  • If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated:  Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: Deuteronomy 21:15-16
  • Earlier in the same chapter, rules are spelled out fortaking captive slaves and adding them to your harem of wives.
  • And David took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron: and there were yet sons and daughters born to David.  2 samuel 5:13
  • David, the direct ancestor of Jesus, the savior of the entire world, had 6 wives and many, many concubines.  Concubines, by virtue of NOT being wives, are pretty solid evidence that non-married sex wasn’t an especially bad thing in the Old Testament.
  • Speaking of non-married sex, King Solomon, the wisest man in the history of the universe, had 300 concubines.  Think about how many times you had sex last year.  Solomon probably had you beat before he even got to the first of his 700 wives.  1 Kings 11:3
  • Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, didn’t do quite so well.  He only had 18 wives and 60 concubines.  2 Chronicles 11:21
  • Esau had three wives.  At first, he married two Caananite women, but his parents were mad at him — not for having two wives, but because they were foreigners.  So he found himself a good Jewish girl and took her for his own.  (LINK)

Jesus’ take on Polygamy

Christians love this passage:  5. and said, `For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh‘ ? 6. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”  Matthew 19: 5-6.  It proves Jesus advocated one man, one woman, with no divorce, right?

Well… not exactly.  For some reason, they forget the rest of the passage.  8. Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”  Jesus goes on to prohibit divorce, but NOT multiple wives.

Christians are fond of defending the sanctity of Biblical Marriage.  One man, one woman, bonded for life, sexually exclusive, and celibate before marriage.  The thing is, that’s not in the Bible.  In order to find that model of marriage, we have to move much farther forward in history.  If anyone was to take the Bible literally, a “Defense of Marriage Act” would look more like this:

Polygamy

Taking the Bible as a whole, there are far more references to polygamy — and far more approval from God himself for the institution — than for monogamous marriage.

  • If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated:  Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: Deuteronomy 21:15-16
  • Earlier in the same chapter, rules are spelled out fortaking captive slaves and adding them to your harem of wives.
  • And David took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron: and there were yet sons and daughters born to David.  2 samuel 5:13
  • David, the direct ancestor of Jesus, the savior of the entire world, had 6 wives and many, many concubines.  Concubines, by virtue of NOT being wives, are pretty solid evidence that non-married sex wasn’t an especially bad thing in the Old Testament.
  • Speaking of non-married sex, King Solomon, the wisest man in the history of the universe, had 300 concubines.  Think about how many times you had sex last year.  Solomon probably had you beat before he even got to the first of his 700 wives.  1 Kings 11:3
  • Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, didn’t do quite so well.  He only had 18 wives and 60 concubines.  2 Chronicles 11:21
  • Esau had three wives.  At first, he married two Caananite women, but his parents were mad at him — not for having two wives, but because they were foreigners.  So he found himself a good Jewish girl and took her for his own.  (LINK)

Jesus’ take on Polygamy

Christians love this passage:  5. and said, `For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh‘ ? 6. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”  Matthew 19: 5-6.  It proves Jesus advocated one man, one woman, with no divorce, right?

Well… not exactly.  For some reason, they forget the rest of the passage.  8. Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”  Jesus goes on to prohibit divorce, but NOT multiple wives.

More importantly, there is not a single passage to be found in the New Testament where Jesus condemns, outlaws, or otherwise prohibits polygamy.  Really!  There isn’t a single one.  Read it for yourself and see.  One would think that if it was important for his followers to abandon the marital traditions of hundreds of years, and more importantly, of his own forbears — those men who were individually chosen by God  —  he might have taken a moment to mention it.

Paul on Marriage

Much of today’s Christian perspective on marriage is taken from Paul, the only Biblical non-disciple to claim to have had a chat with Jesus about theology.  But his perspective isn’t especially helpful,either.

  • “Now for the matters you wrote about:  It is good for a man not to marry. 1 Cor. 7:1

Paul goes on to say, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.  Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.”  This verse is often used to “prove” that Paul was mandating strict monogamy, but in broader context, this simply doesn’t follow.  Jesus’ own words implicitly support the model of marriage from the Old Testament — multiple wives.  Since Paul clearly doesn’t care much for women or sex to begin with, it’s understandable that he would not want to marry more than one.  But like Jesus, he does not prohibit or condemn polygamous marriage.  It was how things had been done for centuries.  You’d think he’d have mentioned it if it was important.

Early Christian Views of Marriage

In truth, we have to look to the Catholic Church, fifteen hundred years later, to find the first blanket prohibition of polygamous marriage.  Four centuries after Paul, Augustine was wrestling with the lack of Biblical condemnation of polygamy, and the Church Fathers’ enthusiastic support for the practice.  In the second century CE, Catholic leaders were openly advocating pluralistic marriage.  Basilides and Carpocrates were both polygamy advocates.  They were eventually branded as heretics, but notably — it wasn’t because of their views on marriage.

Even a thousand years after Paul, concubinage was still permitted and even encouraged in civil codes — In Christian Europe.  It wasn’t until the Council of Trent — In 1563 — that the church finally decided on one man/one woman as a model for good Christian marriage. (LINK)

More disturbingly, the Catholic Church’s series of medieval laws regarding marriage seem to have had very little to do with following Biblical edicts.  Instead, they had a very real economic effect for the Holy See.  By outlawing multiple marriage, concubinage, adoption, and inmarriage, the Church acquired as much as 40% of the property in many parts of Christendom within a few centuries. (LINK)

Other Notable Biblical Views on Marriage

  • “Your women” (wives) are not allowed to speak in church.  1 Cor 14:34
  • Slaves are fair game for masters to give or sell as wives.  Exodus 21
  • It’s good and holy to poison your wife if you think she’s cheated on you.  Numbers 5
  • If you capture a woman from a vanquished ally, you can “try her on for size” as a wife.  If she doesn’t please you sexually, you can just let her go, and forget the whole thing.  Deuteronomy 21

Like so many other Christian beliefs, the modern emphasis on one man and one woman — sexually exclusive for life — rests not so much on the Bible, and much more on the vagueries of political expediency through a long and often brutal history of religious domination and suppression.

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Biblical Marriage

  1. Consider Matthew 19:12 – which states natural born eunuchs are not destined for marriage with the opposite sex; also Acts 8:27 – which reveals an angel of the Lord directed a natural born eunuch – Treasurer for the Queen regent of Nubia (aka Ethiopia in Greek) – was chosen as the very first non-Jew to convert and believe in Jesus Christ.
    Amen

    Posted by Donald Pretzer | January 26, 2012, 9:01 am
  2. Great post. BTW: I assume you have seen this video by America’s best Christian: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFkeKKszXTw. Gotta love Mz. NBowers.

    Posted by danielwalldammit | April 25, 2012, 5:47 pm

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