Tom Gilson

The Meaning of Biblical Marriage: Who Decides These Things?

Shari Johnson describes herself as “I am an evangelical Christian who, I am sorry to say, used to be one of the ‘don’t-confuse-me-with-facts-because-my-mind-is-made-up’ type of Christian.” Now in a Fox News opinion piece she tells us, “When I hear terms like ‘God’s design’ and ‘Biblical marriage’ I have to wonder who decides these things.”

Her daughter at age 37 told her she was a lesbian. In the course of her reaction to that she discovered in herself a lack of love, and that she “had to rethink many things… including some things I knew (or thought I knew) about the Bible.”

She asks a good question: who decides these things? What is God’s design? What is biblical marriage? Listen to what she tells us:

He [God] was far more disturbed about my lack of love than He was about her homosexuality…. We keep a death grip on the scriptures that suit us—and the translation of those scriptures becomes more a matter of tradition, opinion and convenience than the Word of God…. The principles for heterosexual marriage are the same for same-sex marriage—love, commitment, faithfulness, loyalty, honor and respect. How can we deny that to anyone?…. God attends gay weddings. Who knew?

She criticizes the “appalling hypocrisy” of parents who turn a blind eye to children “living in sin” while condemning homosexual relationships. I couldn’t agree more: both are grievous distortions of God’s design for intimacy and partnership. I agree with her, too, that love must be the primary motivating principle in all that we do, even with those we disagree with.

She goes on to tell us how she made what she regards to be a personal growth discovery:

When I asked a wise friend how she reconciled the scriptures with her daughter’s homosexuality, she said, “I can’t. So I just let God sort it out.” I took her advice and I learned things about God I would never have known if I were still telling Him what His scriptures mean.

There’s something very odd going on here. Before I address it, though, I need to straighten out a rhetorical ploy in her piece. “God attends gay weddings,” she tells us. Well, of course he does, provided that one is willing to stretch the word “wedding” to include same-sex versions thereof. God “attends” everything, in the sense that he is present and watching. What she really means is that God approves of and blesses gays getting “married.”

My question for her—and now I’m beginning to address the oddities—is who decides these things?

There is more. She tells us she has given up telling God what his Scriptures mean.

My question for her on that is, really?

She wonders who can know God’s design for biblical marriage, but she’s quite sure he blesses same-sex unions just as he does opposite-sex marriages.

My question for her is, “How do you manage to make that work?

She ends her piece asking, “What if I’m wrong?” But it’s a past-tense question, one that she asked two years ago. Today she has it all figured out, and what she has figured out is that it’s wrong to think you have it all figured out.

She is appalled by hypocrisy, she tells us, in the course of an opinion piece that’s rife with it. She is filled with passion for her beliefs, but she cannot explain them to us without denying them.

Before I close I must go back to the question, Who decides what God’s design is for biblical marriage? That’s easy: God decides. “Well, sure,” you say, “but what help is that for us who want to know how we ought to make decisions about marriage?” That’s a fair question. God’s choices could only be helpful if he told them to us in a way that we can understand.

He has done that. He has made it clear that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5).

Shari Johnson has a book coming out in June. This opinion piece seems incomplete, especially in the abrupt manner in which it ends, so i might be an excerpt from that book. I’d like to offer her the benefit of the doubt, that if we had her whole book to read, then what she has to say might not be so self-contradictory. At the same time I am sure she approved this column’s publication in the form it’s in.

She says she is an evangelical Christian. She wonders how we can know God’s design for marriage. I suggest she read what he has said, and that she give up on telling us (or God) he didn’t mean it.

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10 thoughts on “The Meaning of Biblical Marriage: Who Decides These Things?

  1. How convenient that when a reasonable and good-faith interpretation of Scripture leads one to an unpalatable or unpopular conclusion, all of a sudden that interpretation is suspect and it’s presumptuous to “tell God what the Scriptures mean”.

  2. “…I am sorry to say, used to be one of the “don’t-confuse-me-with-facts-because-my-mind-is-made-up” type of Christian.

    Seems like this is the real problem. She hasn’t thought through what her beliefs mean and when confronted with a difficult issue has to reinvent Christianty to deal with it. First she sets up a false dichotomy based on her misunderstandings and then decides to redefine Biblical teaching to deal with it. How does the Biblical definition of marriage have anything to do with whether she can or should love her child.

  3. Or perhaps a better way to understand Ms. Johnson when she says the following:

    “…I am sorry to say, used to be one of the “don’t-confuse-me-with-facts-because-my-mind-is-made-up” type of Christian.”

    is…
    seems you still are.

  4. How convenient that when a reasonable and good-faith interpretation of Scripture leads one to an unpalatable or unpopular conclusion.

    Truth is not about opinion or a popularity contest… or how “sincere” and “honest” one is or to what level it’s done in “good faith.” Personal interpretations of Scripture is condemned in II Peter 1:20-21. Ms. Johnson’s “conclusion” must be vigorously condemned because it is false and dangerous.

  5. How does the Biblical definition of marriage have anything to do with whether she can or should love her child.

    Very good point, BillT. She can fully love her child without approving what her child is doing. Doesn’t God do that? She could have attended the ceremony, just like God did, but not approved of it.

  6. How convenient that when a reasonable and good-faith interpretation of Scripture leads one to an unpalatable or unpopular conclusion, all of a sudden that interpretation is suspect and it’s presumptuous to “tell God what the Scriptures means”.

    @Mr. Gronk
    OK, by what criteria do you justify this as a “reasonable and good-faith” interpretation of the Biblical teaching on sexuality and marriage?

  7. Holo,

    I guess I had understood that passage to refer to “interpretation” of the oracles that the original authors of Scripture received. Its claim being that the written text of prophecies matched the original intention of the Holy Spirit. Not that, once written, Scripture isn’t open to interpretation. The question then becomes who is “qualified” or “authorised” to do the interpreting. But that’s perhaps a discussion for a different thread.

    Holo and Victoria,

    What I was getting at was probably the exact opposite of what I managed to convey — ha! To me, it seems abundantly clear from Scripture that same-sex sex acts, at least, are sinful and forbidden. This is the “reasonable” and “good faith” interpretation I was talking about, and the one that becomes suspect because it’s unpopular.

  8. @Mr. Gronk
    Ah, OK….clarification noted – proper context makes all the difference 🙂

    I think we need to make a distinction between how we as Bible-believing Christians, redeemed by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, should understand God’s revealed will on human sexuality and His design ideal for that, and how we as Christians should treat fellow human beings who fall short of that ideal (which includes, I’m sure, many of us Christians, too). Personally, I hope and pray that I will always extend to them the grace, genuine love and compassion that God has extended to me. As members of an essentially secular society, how do we want our fellow citizens to be treated?

  9. The biblical design for marriage is revealed in the Bible. The best source I have ever come accross to see this design is at http://www.mbgod.com. After reading for myself I can say for sure, i understand it now.

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