Tom Gilson

Marriage In the Bible: Just a Few Isolated Passages?

Among the many mistakes made by supporters of same-sex “marriage” is their view that marriage in the Bible rests on a few isolated passages of Scripture. A WikiHow page says,

Actually, the Bible says little on the subject; the usual citations are from Leviticus and Romans; nothing about it is mentioned in the 10 Commandments, and Jesus is silent on the subject.

Lately JB Chappell has been making a similar point. But if they're going to say that Jesus is silent on same-sex “marriage,” why don't they go the whole nine yards and say that everyone and their kids were silent on it until less than a generation ago?

If marriage is known to be what marriage is, then there is no need for Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, or anyone else to talk about it not being something else.

Three or four people sitting in a room may talk about the furniture, the family photos, or the artwork on the wall. From a recording of their conversation you could gather a lot about the kind of home they were in. You would be surprised, however, to hear the topic turn to, “Where's the door?!” And you would surely conclude that something drastic had happened to confuse the situation. Maybe they're in an earthquake zone and the lights went out as the room started shaking. Maybe someone lobbed in a smoke bomb.

No biblical thinker ever addressed gay “marriage” until someone darkened the room with confusion over what marriage is. But there was enough conversation on marriage that no one could doubt what they were talking about.

Jesus spoke about marriage being between a man and a woman (Matthew 19:4,5). Paul spoke of it in the same terms in 1 Cor. 7:1-16. The writer to the Hebrews (Heb. 13:4) instructs us to hold marriage in honor.

In Ephesians 5:25-33 Paul adds theological significance to marriage: it is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the Church, a picture he also alluded to in 2 Cor. 11:2. This was not just his teaching. In several parables Jesus spoke of weddings as a picture of his return, and in Revelation 19:6-9, the feasting after his return is called “the marriage supper of the Lamb.” The Church is termed the “bride of Christ.”

None of this makes the slightest sense if marriage is open to forms other than man-woman. Marriage is a union of opposites, coming together to create a unity unlike either partner on his or her own. Every more-than-passing mention of marriage in the Bible assumes this. It is part of the furniture of marriage, and it is the decoration that makes it beautiful as well.

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42 thoughts on “Marriage In the Bible: Just a Few Isolated Passages?

  1. “Jesus is silent on the subject”.

    This reminds me of the archaeologist who claimed that people used cell phones in Jesus’s day. They kept digging and digging and couldn’t find any telephone poles, hence they must of used cell phones.
    People will believe what they want no matter how much evidence is shown to prove them wrong.

  2. i am more than willing to “go the whole nine yards” and declare that everyone (for the most part) was silent on it until just recently. Just like pretty much everyone was silent on racism until fairly recently. Just like everyone was silent on slavery until fairly recently. The fact that everyone, for the most part, agreed upon a social convention does not make it right or wrong.

    Likewise, the fact that known Biblical examples that we have endorse a particular view of marriage does not mean that ONLY that view is acceptable. Regardless, teaching that the Bible sees marriage as “man-woman” is simply overly simplistic, as it just appeals to lowest common denominator as if THAT were the main thing thought about the marriage.

    The Bible endorses man-womEN marriage. It endorses warrior-captive marriage. It endorses rapist-victim marriage. it endorses transactional, non-consensual marriage. All of these were agreed upon at the time. People would have looked at a marriage based on monogamistic, romantic love like someone hearing “where’s the door?!” in your example above. The fact that so many cultures practiced only man-woman marriage is surely at least partly a result of them looking at women as pawns to be auctioned off.

    Not sure how same-sex marriage somehow compromises any other theological significance to marriage, like the Christ-church analogy. I do find it somewhat humorous that you say “none of this makes sense” if same-sex marriage is permissible, when Paul specifically refers to it as a “great mystery”. Maybe it isn’t supposed to make that much sense.

  3. Hello Tom, your argumentation will ring less than convincing for those of us who don’t see the Bible as being more inspired than other religious books:

    Moreover there is a compelling theological reasoning showing that homosexuality should be accepted by the Church:

    I would be glad to learn what your response to this is.

    Friendly greetings from Europe.
    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

  4. JB, the Bible does not endorse man-women marriage: it acknowledges that at times men have taken more than one wife, but it never displays that coming out well. There’s no endorsement there when it comes out poorly in every instance.

    Even if it did (which it doesn’t) it would still be man-woman marriage, not woman-woman marriage. The wives of a polygamous husband are not married to each other. There is no same-sex marriage there.

    Warrior-captive marriage and rapist-victim marriage were not re-endorsed in the NT. I’ll gladly admit that I don’t understand it all, but I do know that one way of identifying a culturally contingent instruction is to discover whether it is re-endorsed in other cultural situations.

    If you want to argue, based on what you see as the Bible’s “silence” on racism, slavery, etc., that the Bible’s morality is wrong, then you can do so someplace else where that’s the topic under discussion. The topic of this post is “what does the Bible say?” and its point is to make it clear that marriage is not an isolated topic taught in just one or two places.

    A “mystery” in Pauline language is always something that was previously unknown but is now being revealed. That’s not my opinion, it’s standard interpretation.

    Same-sex “marriage” compromises the theological significance of marriage by making it the union of the same rather than of different kinds of humans. The “bride” language of the NT (see also Hosea chapters 1-3) cannot sustain the distortion of being twisted into anything other than what it is.

  5. By the way, apart from its other weaknesses, your argument from silence fails by way of a non-analogous analogy.

    You draw an analogy between

    being silent on racism and slavery


    being silent on gay marriage.

    So we were supposed to have spoken up long ago against racism and slavery; and we also should have spoken up long ago against in favor of gay “marriage”? But the first two were existing cultural conditions, while the last was not. Silence with respect to the first two is completely different than silence with respect to the last; the analogy fails.

    [Note that I am not granting the racism/slavery issue here; I am setting it aside without rejoinder — though rejoinders are not hard to find — so that we can stay on topic.]

  6. Lothars-Sohn,

    If you don’t see the Bible as being more inspired than other religious books, does this make you a Pluralist? Do the other “inspired” books condemn or approve the act of homosexuality? I don’t know what Bible you’re reading, but mine does not accept this practice and should not be accepted by the Church. 1 Cor 6:9, Romans 1:24-27

    It is because we Christians who believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God, and not the koran or whatever else is considered “inspired”, is why we don’t accept the act of homosexuality. God is very clear on that subject. This is no different than any other sin, lying, stealing, adultery, etc..

  7. Tom (re: 5), the Bible acknowledges, permits, and regulates polygamy. And while it certainly it acknowledges all of the complications that arise from it (this is true of monogamy as well), it never condemns it either. If that’s not enough to say that it’s “endorsed”, perhaps we should consider 2 Samuel 12, where God says he delivered Saul’s wives to David, and that if he had wanted more, he could have had it. Considering it does seem to be the practice for successor’s to take over the harem’s of their predecessors, it stands to reason that they would have been considered King David’s wives as well.

    Like you say, though, it still isn’t same-sex marriage. So the question becomes whether appealing to the lowest common denominator as THE thing that cannot be changed is legitimate, or if that’s just one more thing that can change about marriage.

    The appeal to re-endorsement in the NT is lame. What, you need a line-by-line affirmation of OT practices in the NT? We know Levirite marriage and polygamy were still being practiced by Jews in Jesus’ era, and given that the early chruch was Jewish, there’s no reason to think that the practices suddenly ceased. The warrior-captive scenario was simply inapplicable, given that Israel was the conquered nation, not the conqueror.

    My point on the Bible’s stances on slavery, racism, etc. (and the Bible certainly isn’t silent on slavery) is not trying to show that the Bible’s morality is deficient, but demonstrating that just because everyone accepts something for a long period of time doesn’t make it right. Since that is essentially one strand of your argument, it is relevant.

    And I get that a “mystery” to Paul is something that is being revealed (I mean, he’s *talking* about it after all). But it nevertheless is something that isn’t really understood.

    So we’re concerned about the theological significance of marriage if SSM is permitted because scripture uses “bride” language with the Christ-church analogy/mystery? People talk in terms of the reality that they understand. Scripture also refers to the firmament above and the underworld below, but I take it you don’t think that this MUST be true because they use that language, I hope?

  8. JB, you say,

    The appeal to re-endorsement in the NT is lame. What, you need a line-by-line affirmation of OT practices in the NT?

    Lame? Thanks for the affirmation. Always nice to throw names around.

    NT re-endorsement helps us to recognize whether certain OT practices are culturally contingent or not. If a certain moral instruction is given in two disparate cultures and circumstances, that’s information that lends to the conclusion that it’s not dependent on the original circumstance. Or do you think Levirate marriage explains Paul’s words to the Gentiles in Ephesus or Rome?

    You don’t get “mystery.” It’s not something that’s not understood. It’s something revealed that was previously not understood. Look it up: not in Webster’s, but in any standard Bible dictionary.

    Could you explain how your firmament/underworld reference is analogous to the bride-of-Christ image in the Bible? I don’t see a shred of relation between them.

    Oh, and by the way: the Bible’s treatment of polygamy and monogamy are not the same, as you imply. How obvious need it be?

  9. It’s interesting that those who criticise Torah Law typically assume that its limits describe a best-of-all-worlds scenario rather than a practical social Law for a fallen world (and specifically, that of the ancient near-east). The Torah condones slavery – and hedges it in with restrictions. It condones polygamy – and hedges it in with restrictions. It condones various coerced marriage scenarios – and hedges them in with restrictions. After reading the legal parts of the Torah, read the OT narratives, which provide illustrative commentary on such topics as slavery, polygamy and rape (hint: the treatments are uniformly negative – such events are viewed as adversities, and commendation goes to those who are righteous despite them).

    See that slavery, polygamy, and coerced marriage are distasteful to the OT writers, and that many of the associated laws are about how to manage these situations, rather than commend them. Now consider what that means for the things that are absolutely condemned (eg incest, sodomy, sex with another man’s spouse, idolatry, child sacrifice). Consistent with Tom’s point above, the Torah is not introducing the idea that these are intolerable; it is affirming it.

    We must also remember that we approach the text with our own filters. Moderns see slavery as an abomination. This is partly a reaction to our own recent history of abusive slavery. But it’s also because we have been sold self-determination as the highest good, and tend to take great offence at anything that compromises this. If you cannot envision a world where the “right to liberty” is not absolute, you’re going to make a meal of any moral discourse older than a couple of hundred years.

  10. “It’s interesting that those who criticise Torah Law typically assume that its limits describe a best-of-all-worlds scenario rather than a practical social Law for a fallen world (and specifically, that of the ancient near-east).”

    That’s a good point, and I’d want to extend it to (at least some of) the New Testament as well. For example, a lot of people criticise St. Paul for saying “Slaves, obey your masters,” but what exactly was he meant to say? “Slaves, disobey your masters and get regularly beaten”? “Slaves, run away from your masters and live as fugitives, with the prospect of an agonising death always hanging over you”? “Slaves, try and organise a slave rebellion, and get crucified by the Appian Way”?

  11. And further to the above two excellent posts is that the people who try to condemn the Biblical view of something like say slavery do so in the context of a worldview that universally condemns it. But, of course, they wouldn’t have that worldview except for the Bible. Quite simply, there isn’t another worldview which could or does provide the ethical underpinnings that supports the view that slavery is morally unacceptable.

  12. Andrew W (#10). Great comment!

    At the risk of going too far off topic I would also like to point out a couple of the restrictions that were placed on slavery in the OT:

    Slaves were allowed to run away, Deuteronomy 23:15-16:
    “You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you. He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him.”

    In the NT Paul condemns enslavers which is surprisingly a “re-endorsement” of OT teaching, Exodus 21:16:
    “He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.”

  13. Those who think the Bible (particularly the OT) endorses slavery should perhaps read the book of Exodus, which is entirely about God’s liberation of Israel from slavery. It is a continual theme throughout the OT that God wants to set captives free.

    I can’t think of anywhere in the Bible where it is suggested slavery is a desirable state of affairs, even in places where it is regulated.

    The appeal to re-endorsement in the NT is lame. What, you need a line-by-line affirmation of OT practices in the NT?

    Actually, yes. The early Christian church, while largely compromised of Jews, discarded Jewish traditions of many centuries (such as requiring circumcision) incredibly rapidly.

  14. Some of the responses on here are truly mind-boggling. One does not have to resort to viewing the Torah as a moral law for an idyllic society in order to see its shortcomings. We are still in a fallen world, yet we can grasp that there are problems with it. This means that, on some level, it isn’t as “good” as it could have been. Of course, the NT rectifies some of this, but it still has shortcomings as well. So the question is, if both of these covenants or laws aren’t necessarily utopian in nature, then why are some things that both the NT and OT affirm (like slavery) open to renegotiation, but not others (homosexuality)?

    And it is simply not the case that OT treatments slavery and polygamy are “uniformly negative” most are simply unremarked on. Sure, Exodus is about freeing slaves. *Israelite* slaves. God didn’t have a problem with other slaves, apparently (or do we honestly think that the Egyptians ONLY had Israelite slaves?). And sure, in those cases where the OT recognizes rape, it portrays it negatively. But considering that wives had an obligation to provide their husbands with children (after all, that’s the moral imperative of marriage, right?!), you all tell me what they were sentencing a woman who had been raped to, when they married her to her rapist. Or, you know, when it was considered acceptable for a soldier to take a POW as a wife.

    And are we really asking “what was Paul supposed to say?” Really? How about instead of “slaves, obey your masters” he could have said this: “Masters, free your slaves.” Good grief.

    And, yes, it is through a biblical worldview that many condemn slavery, rape, etc. It was also through a biblical worldview that they were affirmed. Not sure how this is helpful. If the point is that we can take what was taught to us deny what the Bible explicitly affirms, then I wonder why we wouldn’t be able to affirm what it denies.

    The attempts to excuse the OT for its affirmation of slavery, or whatever, by saying “hey, look it wasn’t that bad – I mean, they couldn’t KIDNAP people and sell them!” are just sickening. They still thought it was OK to own human beings, marry them against their will, etc. It’s slavery, and it was OK. Full stop. That it may not have been as bad as colonial American slavery hardly made it a great life for a slave. And the fact the OT doesn’t say it was “ideal” is hardly relevant. What DOES the OT say was ideal? Freedom for everyone? Monogamous marriage? No for both.

    And, yes, I look at these things with my own “filter”. Of course. Those that attempt to excuse or mitigate it are doing the same thing.

  15. Tom (re: 9), I think that my “lame” designation was clearly not directed at you personally, and as such not a “name”. I was not calling YOU lame, and I certainly did not intend to call your intelligence into question. Nevertheless, I was careless with my words and for that I apologize. I will attempt to use greater care from now on. Instead, let me use your own words: such a move, to me, “seems strained”.

    NT re-endorsement demonstrates nothing (other than that they still thought a certain way). Does NT re-endorsement of slavery mean that it is objectively acceptable, or that the cultural conditions that led to its acceptance in the OT are still binding? We don’t know. Likewise, if the NT denies something that the OT affirms, does that mean that cultural conditions that made it acceptable have changed, or does it mean that the OT folks were, well, wrong? Well, I know that only one answer will be acceptable here. In any case, the fact remains that there is still a lot that was similar between OT & NT Judaism, and early Christianity. Not everything changed. So, the fact that something was re-endorsed simply doesn’t mean that it isn’t culturally contingent.

    And, paradoxically, I think I understand “mystery” just fine 😉 In cases of “mysteries”, as used by Paul it is certainly true that it was once hidden and now revealed. It still doesn’t mean the thing in question is understood – not fully, anyway. In Ephesians 1:9 Paul refers to God’s will being revealed to us. In what sense do we know what that is? Certainly not fully. Paul calls the rapture of the saints as a “mystery.” We understand THAT we will be raptured, but not much else. So, there are typically aspects that are understood, and necessarily aspects which are not. Mystery is divine revelation to Paul, and if you are claiming that marriage must be between (sexual) “opposites” in order for the analogy to hold, then that certainly isn’t something you get from his revealing the mystery (in the text).

    The relation between bride terminology and firmament terminology is simply that people spoke/wrote in language that they understood, trying to depict concepts as they understood them. Surely, we’re on the same page this far? So, while we acknowledge that the firmament/underworld language in the Bible is wrong, we do so while understanding that their knowledge of the world was imperfect. They wrote with that knowledge, and in terms that everyone else would understand. And so, with the Christ-church marriage analogy one can rightly wonder if something similar is occurring.

    First of all, I am no Hebrew or Greek scholar, but is there even a gender-neutral term like “spouse”? That is something to consider right off the bat. Biblical authors are not about to refer God as a female, and with no gender neutral language what else would they refer to the church as? In any case, the church is only explicitly identified as a “bride”, to my knowledge, in Revelation. And it usually is a good idea not to extrapolate too much from Revelation. And I know that in Hosea, the picture of his marriage to a prostitute is a picture of God’s relationship to Israel. But, again, God wouldn’t be referred to as a female, and I think it stands to reason that they conceived of prostitutes as exclusively (or close to it) female.

    The point is simply this: unless one conceives of God the church as *actually* being female in some weird sense, I don’t see how SSM can actually undermine such a mystery.

    And I agree that the Bible treats polygamy and monogamy differently. By the time of Paul and the early church, they would forbid church leaders from being polygamous. Perhaps ironically, this might be due more to the fact that Roman culture was monogamous, and Jews were still practicing polygamy. And the practice itself was obviously not banned across the board. Regardless, there is a difference.

    But the fact that the OT depicts problems in polygamous marriages hardly means that they viewed the problem being *caused* by polygamous marriage. Job’s wife told him to curse God and die, but the problem is hardly because of his being married to ONLY one woman. Likewise, Jacob loved Rebekah more than Leah, but the problem is not necessarily viewed as inherent to polygamy as much as the fact that he had a jerk for an uncle. Solomon’s wives were foreign, and that presented problems, but do you really think they would have thought it was a problem if he had 1000 Hebrew wives who were faithful?

  16. JB,

    “NT re-endorsement demonstrates nothing (other than that they still thought a certain way).”

    You know, if you’re just going to tell us we’re wrong, why don’t you simplify it and say, “hey, y’all are wrong and I’m right”?

    The NT did not re-endorse OT forms of slavery. If you feel intellectually responsible ignoring what’s been said about that on this thread, then you might as well just say, “hey, y’all are wrong and I’m right.”

    If you feel intellectually responsible mis-reading my arguments, you could say the same again. What I have in mind here is where you wrote, “So, the fact that something was re-endorsed simply doesn’t mean that it isn’t culturally contingent.” What I had written was that it tended to lead us to that conclusion, not that it meant we should draw that conclusion. To wit,

    NT re-endorsement helps us to recognize whether certain OT practices are culturally contingent or not. If a certain moral instruction is given in two disparate cultures and circumstances, that’s information that lends to the conclusion that it’s not dependent on the original circumstance.

    You distorted my position and made it easy to attack. How fun is that?

    Going on, your firmament/bride analogy breaks down.


    How would you fill in that x?

    As to a gender-neutral term like spouse, you misunderstand the fact that the Bible does not support modern idiocy about men and women being interchangeable.

    But that doesn’t mean the church must be female in some weird sense (have you no sense of figurative language?). It means that there is something figuratively meaningful there, and that it’s meaningful in a way that the generic “spouse” would not be. Think of initiative, and who usually takes it in relationships. (If that’s sexist, so be it.)

    The fact that the OT only views polygamous marriages as coming out badly does not mean that the OT is teaching polygamy is wrong. I agree with that. It does mean, though, that it’s not affirming polygamy. It’s acknowledging it, and it’s being realistic about it, and it’s being 100% consistent in that.

    As for the “mind-boggling” things you wrote on, do you have an exception you can show us to the “uniformly negative” principle you objected to? Can you show us where it was treated positively?

    And are we really asking “what was Paul supposed to say?” Really? How about instead of “slaves, obey your masters” he could have said this: “Masters, free your slaves.” Good grief.

    Good grief yourself. Do you have the slightest idea what he did tell masters? (Hint: read Philemon, too.) Do you have any idea what the economic and social effects of “masters, free your slaves” would have been?

  17. There is a further issue, here, JB, that underlies this whole discussion and must not be ignored.

    The topic of the blog post was (essentially), “What does the Bible say?”

    Your whole line of argument is (essentially), “How wrong is the Bible?”

    That’s a different question, the answer to which involves the entire apologetic and hermeneutic enterprise. My reasons for accepting biblical authority are not the same as my reasons for interpreting various passages as I do. I speak for all conservative believers when I say that.

    You’re taking us far afield here. Do you have anything to say about the actual OP as it was intended to be read? Or do you prefer to take this as another opportunity to confuse a conversation with red herrings, straw men, and other smoke bombs?

  18. When slaves are told to obey their masters in the same breath as wives being to told to submit to their husbands (and husbands being told to love their wives), when nothing is said against it, and when Paul himself sends a slave back to his master, I don’t think it is a stretch at all to say that slavery is being endorsed as permissible. It isn’t as if Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon, and told him “set him free”. No, he told him to treat him right, and that he’d be there soon. So, certainly there’s a degree of accountability there, but nothing to prevent Philemon treating Onesimus right for a time, then less so.

    The obvious thing here that is overlooked is that there had to be a reason why Onesimus wanted to escape. It was a dangerous thing to do so. It’s very plausible that he wasn’t be treated well. And are you *seriously* going to try to justify Paul’s stance on slavery the same way southern plantation owners tried to justify it: economic impact? I mean, call me crazy, but when discussing the issue of slavery you probably don’t want to sound like a Confederate. In any case, of course the economic impact would be terrible. And, of course, doing the right thing has its price. Isn’t that one of the most important things about being a Christian: “take up your cross and follow me”?

    If you agree that NT re-endorsement is not fully conclusive, and that it only *tends* to demonstrate that a moral instruction is not culturally contingent, then it must be more probable that something not socially/culturally based will be re-affirmed. But how do we know if something is not socially/culturally based? You’re saying that this (at least in part) is determined by re-endorsement in the NT. Do you see the problem? It’s affirming the consequent. If it’s your conclusion that the best explanation for such a re-affirmation is that it isn’t culturally contingent, that’s one thing – you’re simply reasoning abductively (which can be considered affirming the consequent, but isn’t really fallacious, since the conclusion isn’t rendered certain). But that doesn’t seem to be how you’re stating things. This is why I say that it demonstrates nothing, and that is aside from the fact that there are just a lot of many other variables to consider.

    The firmament was, to my knowledge, considered to be the boundary between the sky and space, I don’t know of a good parallel in English, but perhaps “sky” or “atmosphere” would suffice. As for “underworld”, that was conceived to be a place, well, under the earth (because it was flat). So, we could say the earth’s crust or mantle might work. But of course, it was also conceived as a place of death, so “the grave” or even “Hell” might work.

    As for men and women being “interchangeable”, I have no idea what you mean. Gender-neutral terms don’t necessarily imply that men and women are “interchangeable” (although it depends on what that means, I guess); it can just mean that something applies to both. Surely that is not problematic?

    I do recognize figurative language, and I do recognize that when the church is referred to as a “bride” (in Revelation), that it is symbolic or figurative. Which is exactly why I don’t see how SSM would undermine the symbolism. But the claim that the gender-specific language of the Christ-church analogy is ‘meaningful in a way that the generic “spouse” would not be’ is simply begging the question if there were no gender-neutral terms. Which, as far as I can tell (and, again, I am no Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic expert), these did not exist at the time.

    As far as “initiative”, clearly in Paul’s day it would have been the case that men took the initiative far more often than not (although there are always exceptions. See: Ruth). Which again highlights the problem (for you), does the fact that certain relationships don’t fit the analogy perfectly mean that they aren’t valid “marriages”? If a woman takes the initiative in the marriage, does that invalidate the marriage? If a quadriplegic marries even though s/he’s incapable of having sex (thus nullifying the two-become-one-flesh analogy), does it mean they aren’t married or that the analogy is undermined? I’m pretty sure you’d say “no” to all these things, as well you should.

    But as such, neither is there any reason to think that SSM will undermine the analogy. So two men or women are not “opposites” sexually. They are still not clones, and odds are they are opposite in some sense, and so complement each other in that sense, as is the case with pretty much every other married couple, I am sure. What you’re essentially doing is making sexual organs the most important aspect of the Christ-church analogy, and I just don’t get it.

    You keep saying that the OT ONLY portrays polygamous marriages badly, but that simply isn’t the case. I will address that separately, however.

    Finally, with respect to side-tracking, I think my initial comment was clearly responding to things you said in the OP. Later, people responded to what I have said, and vice versa, and the conversation has branched. So, while I acknowledge that on some levels the conversation is “far afield”, it is not the case that I’m simply throwing out “smoke bombs” or red herrings.

  19. Bluntly, asymmetry in relationship gives moderns (including many Christian moderns) the heebie-jeebies, especially in America. It doesn’t matter whether it’s master-servant, husband-wife, government-people, parent-child, society-person, we feel the need to reject, apologise for or work around any hint that asymmetry of authority is inherent rather than situational, temporal or pragmatic. Where possible, we decry it completely (eg slavery, marriage). Where it is undeniable (eg parent-child), we console ourselves with its temporality and attempt to wean ourselves from it as soon as possible.

    The ancients had no such hang-ups. Ancient moral writers, the Scriptures included, have plenty to say about abuse of and rejection of the inherent authority, and many different opinions on what it is and when it applies, but they don’t reject the concept.

    In the New Testament, applied discussion of human authority typically has three foci: how to respond to mistreatment by rightful authority (note: the conclusion is not “authority is unjust”), how to be under rightful authority (just or not), and how to be a rightful authority in holiness (not “give up your authority”, but “serve”).

    That said, the Scriptures treat different situations differently. Masters are told to identify with their slaves, perhaps even suggesting that they should free them (see Philemon). In contrast, fathers are never told to be equal with their children.

    That’s a long introduction to get to marriage. Because we’ve stripped a lot out of marriage. For many, a modern “marriage” is an affirmation and celebration of a pre-existing cohabitation arrangement based on a sexual relationship of mutual affection. Usually, it is desired to be mutual and permanent.

    What is modern marriage not? It’s not a “coming of age” event, where the husband and wife prepare to take their respective roles as full members of society with particular responsibility for raising children, nor where responsibility for a daughter’s well-being is handed from her father to her husband. It’s not a social alliance between families. In many cases, it’s not the beginning of anything new, nor even necessarily permanent.

    All of these assumptions are part – to some extent – of the ancient Jewish understanding of marriage, and they are not spelled out explicitly in the Scriptures because they are – to the authors – obvious. We notice the differences between their view and ours when we read something that strikes us as odd not because of the deliberate point but because the givens behind that point seem wrong. Worse, we moderns have been trained to treat these conflicts as proof of the cluelessness of the ancients, rather than as an opportunity to dig deep and really understand their world-view and ours. Feel free to construct an argument showing that they are wrong, but do it with a full sensitivity to where their argument comes from, not a simple dismissal because you don’t understand them or because their assumptions push your modernist buttons.

  20. JB,

    Your answer on “firmament,” etc., was entirely too complex: all I asked was for you to fill in the “x.” By not doing so you avoided answering the question or dealing with the flaw in your analogy.

    Your confusion over men and women being interchangeable was a confusion you introduced yourself by implying that “spouse” might have been the chosen term instead of “bride,” had such a term existed in Greek. Think about it.

    Your understanding of slavery in the NT is still weak and distorted, but I’m past caring, because you’re still trying to show that the Bible is wrong, when that wasn’t the topic of this blog post. I’ve discussed it in the past; I’ll undoubtedly discuss it again in the future; but for now it’s a red herring, when the question is, “what does the Bible say?”, not “is it true?”

  21. Here are the instances of polygamy in the OT. A few of these are implied by an absurd number of offspring, but for the most part, these are explicit references to multiple wives/concubines. I have designated a “-” sign next to those instances that seem, in some fairly direct way, to negatively portray the status of multiple wives. Likewise, I have placed a “+” sign that seem to positively portray it.

    Lamech (Genesis 4:19)
    – Abraham(Genesis 16, 25:1-4)
    Nahor (Genesis 22:20-24)
    – Esau(Genesis 26:34)
    – Jacob (Genesis 29-30)
    Eliphaz (Genesis 36:11–12)
    Simeon (Genesis 46:10; Exodus 6:15)
    – Moses (Numbers 12:1)
    Gideon (Judges 8:30)
    Jair (Judges 10:4)
    Ibzan(Judges 12:8-10)
    Abdon (Judges 12:13–15)
    – Elkanah(1 Samuel 1)
    + David (1 & 2 Samuel)
    Saul (1 Samuel 14:50; 2 Samuel 3:7)
    Jerahmeel (1 Chronicles 2:26)
    Caleb (1 Chronicles 2:46, 48)
    Ashur (1 Chronicles 4:5)
    Mered (1 Chronicles 4:17-19)
    Manasseh (1 Chronicles 7:14)
    Machir (1 Chronicles 7:15-16)
    Shaharaim (1 Chronicles 8:8)
    + Abijah (2 Chronicles 13)
    Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:18-23)
    Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:14)
    Joash (2 Chronicles 24:3-16)
    – Solomon (1 Kings 11:3)
    Ahab(1 Kings 20:1–3)
    Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:15)
    Ahasuerus (Esther)
    Zedekiah (Jeremiah 38:23)
    Belshazzar (Daniel 5:2)

    So, if I have counted correctly, that is 32 mentions. Of these, 24 are simply not remarked on at all; they are simply stated as fact. Of course, in many of these cases, they are minor characters who we may not expect for there to be much elaboration. But in others, they are “major” enough we might expect elaboration – either some kind of extensive denunciation (Ahab, Manasseh, etc.) or perhaps even positive portrayal (Gideon).

    So, I think my claims are correct that a) it is true that not all polygamy instances are portrayed negatively and b) that most are not remarked on at all. And, like I said before, even the instances that I’ve listed here as “negative” are pretty dubious. In Moses’ case, Aaron and his wife denounced his additional Ethiopian wife… because she was Ethiopian. That hardly seems like a polygamy problem. In Solomon’s case, as I’ve already discussed, the problem is not portrayed as having more than one wife, but that he had too many *foreign* wives that he let influence him. In the case of Abraham, Jacob, and Elkanah the problem was very similar: one wife giving another a hard time for not being able to conceive. And while that certainly could seem to be an inherent drawback to polygamy, it is notable that in all these instances, the obvious inference from scripture is that it is MORE preferable to take another wife than it is to remain childless. The concept of Levirite marriage also seems to affirm this. It may be a conditional endorsement, but an endorsement nonetheless.

    Of course, then we have the instance of David, where God Himself calls him out not for polygamy, but for adultery and murder. In so doing, God tells him that he actually delivered Saul’s wives to him. I don’t know how the endorsement for polygamy could get stronger than that. Oh wait: God tells David if he wanted more, God would have given him more. The example of Abijah is pretty straightforward: God certainly seems on his side, everything about him is portrayed positively, right up to mentioning that he had numerous wives.

    And this isn’t discussing the obvious nature of the regulation of polygamy. It wasn’t forbidden; it was regulated. This is clearly an implicit endorsement. If our current law states that “when driving a car, you must have a driver’s license”, the implicit affirmation is that it is OK for you to have a car. The same occurs in the Torah with polygamy – and let’s not forget the man who wrote it (or was inspired to write it) was, well, a polygamist.

  22. Tom (re: 21), I’m not sure why the answer re: “firmament,” was “entirely too complex”, but I did give words to fill in for X. Use “sky” if you want. Use “Hell” if you want. I assumed you would be filling me in on what the problem with analogy was, because I do not know what problem you are referring to. If I missed where you pointed it out, my apologies – but I wasn’t intentionally avoiding it.

    Re: “spouse” and gender-neutral language, you still have not told me what you mean by that, so it’s tough to “think about it” (as if I hadn’t already). Yes, I’m saying that “spouse” *might* have been used if there had been gender-neutral language at the time. If what you mean by “interchangeable” is that the terms can then be used to equal effect, then I think I understand. For instance, with the statement “It is wrong for people to murder each other”, one could just as easily be “It is wrong for [men/women] to murder each other. If that’s what you mean, then I am sure many/most would want to deny the possibility of the phrase “groom of Christ” carrying the same meaning as “bride of Christ”. The question would be why: is it because there is no figurative sense in which that could ever work, or because that figurative sense wouldn’t have worked at the time?

  23. So you’re saying, JB, that

    bride:Christ::firmament:sky ??

    But there’s no analogy there! “Bride” is related to “Christ,” and the relationship between the terms is one of analogy: The church is to Christ as a bride is to her husband.

    On the right side you simply have a pre-scientific understanding: people thought of the sky as a kind of firmament.

    The terms on the left have no analogous relation with the terms on the right whatsoever. There’s no analogy there.

    “Groom of Christ” fails because Jesus wasn’t a bride. That’s been obvious to everyone in all of history until same-sex “marriage” advocates threw clouds of confusion into the conversation. Now it threatens to be circular: I’m using the “bride of Christ” terminology to show that SSM is wrong, and I’m using the wrongness of SSM to show that no other terminology works.

    But wait: no, what I’m really doing is making it clear what the Bible teaches, which is what this post is about; and you’re still trying to prove that the Bible’s teaching is wrong, which is not what this is about.

    Let’s just stipulate this, JB: You don’t agree with the multiple passages in the Bible that show marriage is for a man and a woman.

    As far as I can discover there is no Greek word for spouse. The theology of husband:wife::Christ:bride wouldn’t allow for a gender-neutral relationship, in any event; see here. And before you go off on the “headship” term being sexist, do some study as to what it actually entails in context.

  24. “And, yes, it is through a biblical worldview that many condemn slavery, rape, etc. It was also through a biblical worldview that they were affirmed.”

    Not true. Slavery has existed, to the best of our knowledge, throughout all of human history. Slavery was practiced by every culture that had the economic/military might to engage in it. However, it was only through the ethical structure introduced in the Bible that slavery was abolished from the world stage and deemed morally unacceptable.

  25. On the list of wives:

    – Abijah (2 Chronicles 13) I’ll grant as “positive”. It’s certainly portrayed as a sign of his power and virility that he has multiple wives and children. And it is certainly true that many kings had many wives. But note that these examples stand in direct contradiction of Deuteronomy 17:17 (given that it is tied to lust for silver & gold, I take it the warning here is against sexual greed rather than foreign idolatry).

    – In contrast, David’s polygamy is a long way from positive. For all his virtues, the man was a long way from sexually pure, and his own failings and failure to discipline his sones lead to much violence in his family and Israel.

    And behind all this stands Genesis 2:24 (and surrounds), which seems to set an ideal for marriage far beyond most of what we see practiced in the OT. Indeed, I don’t recall that verse being directly referred to in Scripture until first Jesus and then Paul emphatically revive it in the NT. And the way they use it suggests to me that it was prominent in the thinking of those they talked to. Why it had fallen out of consideration in the old kingdom and then been revived by the Jewish teachers I have no idea.

  26. Tom (re: 24), there is no doubt that those comparing the church to a “bride” did so because God is going to be conceived as a male, and they had no concept of a male spouse. The question is whether that terminology teaches us more about what marriage actually is, or what their assumptions were.

    But there is a better point here to be made about biblical analogies in general. Whenever analogies are made to describe spiritual truths, is it a good idea to take the basis for the analogy and try to extract more from it than what was intended? I would say no, and my guess is you would say so as well.

    Consider the parable of the mustard seed. Jesus says in both Mark and Matthew that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds. Does it undermine the spiritual truth here if I told you that the mustard seed is NOT the smallest seed on earth (because, of course, it isn’t)? Only if for some reason you though the spiritual truth was related to THAT particular fact. But what’s presented in the explanation does not seem to indicate that.

    Or consider the analogy between the kingdom of heaven and the ten virgins. Clearly, Jesus is using elements of wedding ceremonies particular to His culture in this analogy. Would it make sense to say that if we don’t have ten virgins performing certain tasks in wedding ceremonies today that it undermines this analogy? No.

    Now let’s consider the different marriage analogy, between Christ and the church. Jesus as a bridegroom is mentioned by John the Baptist, but in this case John presents himself not as the “bride”, but as the “best man”, essentially. What does this tell us about marriage or best men? If a best man does not “rejoice greatly”, does it undermine the analogy? Or how about when Jesus mentions the friends of the groom not being able to fast during the wedding? What does this tell us about marriage? If there is no dinner at a wedding, is this an affront to God?

    In all of these cases, I think it is clear that the analogy is meant to teach us something UNrelated to weddings or marriage. They use their understanding of such to highlight a point. And so, we should consider that to be a prudent approach when Paul uses the same bridegroom analogy. What is being taught? That Christ loves us like a husband loves his wife? Or that marriage can only be between a man and a woman? Clearly, SSM does not undermine the former, only the latter.

    Of course, in this case, Paul is specifically exhorting us to follow the example of Christ in our marriages. In what way are we to do this? Husbands are to love their wives, wives are to submit to their husbands, etc. Of course, these instructions are given elsewhere without making an appeal to this analogy, so it is hardly something new. And we are to be following Christ’s example in everything anyway, and there is no reason to think that cannot be done in a SSM, especially given Ephesians 5:21.

    The crux of Paul’s statements come in Ephesians 5:31, where he reveals the “mystery”: the relationship between Christ and the church is likened to Gen. 2:24. What seems the case here is that, unlike what was being done in previous verses, Paul’s understanding of marriage, male-female union, “one flesh”, etc. is informing us of the relationship between Christ and the church, not the other way around. In the previous verses, what we knew about Christ informed us in how to treat each other, not about what marriage is or is not.

    So is the understanding that Christ and the church are “one flesh” in some analogous way as a man and wife are “one flesh” somehow compromised by allowing gays to marry? I don’t see how. It would seem to me dependent on how one understands how the whole “one flesh” thing works. Since (apparently) you think revealing “mysteries” means that we understand them well, feel free to explain how that works, and why it isn’t applicable to SSM. One thing is clear: Paul thought that the “one flesh” union was achieved (at least in one way) sexually (1 Cor. 6:16).

    So, given that there is only form of sex that gay couples are incapable of that heterosexual couples are, there would seem to be only one way in which permitting SSM could somehow undermine this idea. And that would be if the there was something specifically magical/mystical about procreative sex. Which raises all sorts of questions I’m not sure we want to get into.

    Or we can just admit that we don’t exactly know what causes this “one flesh” status. Or we could say that it’s caused by sexual intimacy in general. Or we could say that it’s caused by a joining-together independent of sex. But any of these options would mean that SSM would not undermine the analogy. Because there’s zero reason to think allowing two men to marry or two women to marry would somehow mean that a husband caring for his wife isn’t still analogous to Christ caring for the church.

    It isn’t that I do not agree with the multiple passages in the Bible that show marriage is for (only) a man and a woman. It’s that THERE ARE NO such passages. It’s a conclusion that is generated from the affirmation of heterosexual marriage and the declaration of homosexuality to be immoral. And, yes, I do disagree with the one unambiguous passage that declares homosexuality in general as “unnatural”, due to the flawed reasoning behind it. But that, as you have made clear, is a separate discussion.

    As far as the “theology of husband:wife::Christ:bride” , i don’t see how your source provides any support for the notion that a “gender-neutral relationship” would undermine the analogy, nor that such a relationship is impossible. So the husband is seen as the head of the wife, and Christ the head of the church. Does that change if SSM is permitted? And so Paul is exhorting wives and husbands specifically about their roles – that is the only status he understood. Are you trying to claim that because Christ is seen as the “head” of the church, that therefore there must be a male “head” in every marriage relationship? It seems to me that is making the mistake that I was discussing above: trying to extrapolate too much from an analogy; specifically, one which was clearly not explained in the text.

  27. It isn’t that I do not agree with the multiple passages in the Bible that show marriage is for (only) a man and a woman. It’s that THERE ARE NO such passages.

    But isn’t Tom’s point that there are few passages addressing this specifically because it would be taken as a given? There are many passages that refer in some way to marriage, and every single one of them takes it as a given that the marriage is between a man and a woman. The argument that “they only use husband and wife because they didn’t have gender-neutral words” doesn’t hold up because every single time same-sex intercourse is mentioned (and there are only a few) it is absolutely condemned. The words exist if they were wanted, and they are not.

    I read the words “car” and “motor vehicle” hundreds of times a year, and in only a handful of them does the writer bother to clarify that bicycles and aeroplanes are not included. In most cases, there’s simply no room for confusion.

    Consider when Jesus is teaching on divorce, and rules that a man must not divorce his woman/wife. If you, in that day and age, were to pipe up and ask “What about if a man divorces another man?”, you would not be congratulated for finding a clever edge case; you’d be stoned, or perhaps merely shunned. They didn’t overlook that situation in the writings; they assumed that no good Jew would be perverse enough to consider it worth of question.

    The other thing to note is that marriage is always viewed as (among other things) a wrapper for sex. Paul rebukes a faction in the Corinthian church for having sex-free marriages (1 Cor 7). For the Christian (and the Jew), sex should come with marriage, and shouldn’t come without it. If a certain sexual pairing is proscribed, then that inherently and necessarily proscribes any marriage involving that pairing.

  28. The “one flesh” reference is to sexual intercourse for procreation. It is the one biological activity that involves two people for its completion. In every other way, humans are complete, self-contained biological wholes, but not with respect to reproduction.

    See Girgis, George, and Anderson for more on this (you’ll have to look it up, I can’t get to it from where I am). They also deal with the inevitable (and tiresome) question of sex where procreation is impossible, which I don’t have time to deal with right now.

  29. I really don’t understand what all the fuss is about weather Jesus said anything about marriage or not. Jesus never mentioned anything about sacrificing babies, does this mean it’s okay to throw babies into a fire pit to some unknown god? Or what about wearing underwear, did Jesus say anything about that? Maybe we should throw all our underwear out because Jesus didn’t mention anything about it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it mentioned in Scripture that Jesus said and did a lot of things that didn’t make it into the Bible?
    The way I see it, if homosexuality is considered a sin, then why should same-sex-marriage be allowed? Wouldn’t this include same-sex-sex? It doesn’t make any sense. And if you think just because a government legalizes it and that makes it okay, you’re wrong. If a government makes a law that states the earth is flat, are you going to believe it?

  30. Andrew W (re: 28)

    I agree that it would have been a given for them. The question is what that means. It was also a given that the earth was flat, there was a dome over the sky, etc. But despite the fact that much scripture is written with this assumption, and it is even captured in language that is used, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t argue that there are passages that demonstrate or teach that the earth is flat. There is a difference between what one assumes and what one explicitly tries to prove.

    Every time slavery is mentioned, it is done with the assumption that it is permissible. Every time polygamy is mentioned, it is done with the assumption that it is permissible. Both have their limits of course (as does everything), but this appeal to the assumptions biblical authors make justifies things that we all consider to be very wrong now. So either you really don’t think that assumptions are good indicators of what’s actually true, or you are awfully selective when you apply this principle.

    My point about gender-neutral language isn’t that they would have used it if they could have. My point is that appealing to the use of gender-specific language as if that proves something is flawed, because there was no other option.

    Also, I’m not disputing that one can argue against SSM on the grounds that homosexuality is condemned. But arguing that there are passages which teach monogamous, heterosexual marriage is a different kind of claim.

  31. David (re: 31),

    I don’t know of too many people arguing that all legal things are morally acceptable. Adultery is legal; it doesn’t make it right. So, no, if the government says the earth is flat, of course that doesn’t make it flat. Likewise, if the Bible says the earth is flat, it doesn’t make it flat, right?

  32. Tom (re: 29 & 30),

    Um, reproduction does necessitate two people – no question there. But there are all kinds of other biological activities that require two people – with sex being one of them. Breastfeeding is another. Certain disease transmissions are another. Communication. Etc. So this fails as a justification for “one flesh” referring ONLY to procreative sex, as does any scriptural basis – because it sure isn’t taught there.

    As for Girgis, George, and Anderson; their argument fails at the same level every other attempt to base marriage on procreative acts do – in drawing such an arbitrary, and obviously ad hoc, distinction between procreation and “procreative-type” acts. There’s only one reason to draw the distinction, and that’s to preserve the relationships that so obviously seem like marriages, and to prevent those that so obviously don’t seem that way. Perhaps ironically, this is exactly like a liberal, intuitive approach (see Wedgewood Instead of inventing such an obviously ad hoc distinction, maintaining that marriage simply must contain a *specific* sexual activity with an end in mind – but with the end being unnecessary – the far more obvious and unmotivated response is that this specific sexual activity must not actually be necessary, if the end goal isn’t. So, while I realize that they deal with it, the problem is that they deal with it badly.

    Finally, my insistence that “there are no such passages” is simply based on the fact that I don’t consider the authors assumptions as the intended message, which is hardly novel or strained. And, in fact, evangelical readers of the Bible will utilize such a hermeneutic quite regularly.

  33. I know this is off topic, but it’s short:
    All humanity is fallen. God worked directly through some of them, but He used them *where they were at the time.* There is no biblical instance of someone becoming perfect while they were here on Earth, after which God worked through them. Many of these grew spiritually through their experience, but they did not become perfect.

    If, therefore, you search for fallen people who perfectly followed God’s perfect guidance, you search in vain. That’s judging the Creator by the creation.
    Now, back on topic: what does the Bible say?

  34. Andrew W (re: 26),

    OK, we agree on Abijah being a positive reference, which would contradict the claim that polygamy is never endorsed or portrayed positively. But, you want to claim that the positive reference is in “direct contradiction” to Deuteronomy 17:17. I don’t know what your stance is on the inspiration/inerrancy of scripture is, but it is somewhat surprising to see an acknowledgement of a contradiction like that.

    In any case, I’ll actually disagree that this is a contradiction. Deuteronomy 17:17 applies to kings, and Abijah was a judge. And your interpretation seems misguided as well, as you say it seems to be a greed thing whereas, in verse 15 the warning is against a *foreign king*, verse 16 is a warning against going back towards Egypt, and verse 17 is a warning about being led astray. If the concern was primarily greed, then it doesn’t seem like v17 would be phrased as if once a king had too many wives, THEN he might be led astray.

    Not also that there is no set number here on how many is too many. It’s not as if more than one is crazy talk. No, “too many” is simply whenever a man’s heart is starting to get led astray. This, of course, was Solomon’s mistake.

    As for David, you say that his “polygamy is a long way from positive”, yet you cite his failings with parenting and adultery, as if that is somehow a result of polygamy. Sorry, that doesn’t follow at all. If documenting his failings at parenting and sexual purity are indications that the outlook on his polygamy was negative, then there are just as many negative outlooks on monogamy. The simple fact is that David is appropriately raked over the coals for his adultery and murder, but never once is denounced for his polygamy – despite ample opportunity to do so. And, of course, overall David is portrayed as “a man after God’s own heart”, with the one notable failing being the Uriah-Bathsheba episode. And, as I mentioned before, if one reads 2 Samuel 12, it’s pretty clear God claims credit (as He should) for delivering to David what he has, including multiple wives, and that David could have asked for more and God would have granted it.

    If someone could explain to me why Genesis 2:24 seems to set an *ideal* for marriage that would be very helpful. The context seems to be clearly otherwise. By that I don’t mean that it’s doing the opposite, I just mean that the context is clearly *explanation*, not *exhortation*. Genesis 2:24 starts with “That is why…”. The passage is clearly pointing back, and it is obviously pointing back to Eve being made from Adam’s rib. Now, we’ll leave alone for the moment whether or not we should consider this literally true (although it is critically important). The question, I suppose, is whether anything about monogamy or polygamy could be concluded from woman being made from man because no “suitable helper” could be found, it wasn’t good to be alone, etc. and the conclusion that “this is why man and wife are considered/become one flesh”. It seems to me that nothing at all can be concluded from this as to whether monogamy this was God’s plan for *everyone*, or if it is ideal. Marriage is clearly endorsed – but as far as I know, nobody disputes that. Getting much more out of that passage is reading into it.

    In fact, if we read the next chapter like how many want to read passages involving polygamy, we would have to say that the problems depicted in Genesis 3 reflect badly on monogamy. But, of course, this would be nonsense – and so is trying to read unrelated problems as scripture portraying polygamy badly.

  35. You should be more diligent in your handling of the OT. The Abijah of 2 Chronicles 13 is the Abijam of 1 Kings 15:3-5.

  36. Victoria, you are correct, thank you for that. Obviously, I missed the other reference. My memory got the best of me as well, as for some reason I thought he was a judge, so not my best effort.

    Regardless, not a whole lot changes. The reference to him in 2 Chronicles still is overall positive, and while 1 Kings obviously attributes that to God’s faithfulness to David, it nevertheless remains the case that the comparison is made between David and Abijah, and if the author thought polygamy was a sin for David, then it would seem odd that Abijah is said to continue in the sins of his fathers and not follow David. Did 14 wives cause Abijah to stray from the Lord? Nothing is said about it, so there’s no reason to think that in particular was the problem or that it contradicts with Deuteronomy 17:17.

  37. It seems to me that you guys are missing an important principle in OT narrative interpretation

    From Fee and Stuart’s excellent book:

    1.An Old Testament narrative usually does not directly teach a doctrine
    2. An Old Testament narrative usually illustrates a doctrine or doctrines taught propositionally elsewhere.
    3. Narratives record what happened—not necessarily what should have happened or what ought to happen every time. Therefore, not every narrative has an individual identifiable moral application. 4. What people do in narratives is not necessarily a good example for us. Frequently, it is just the opposite.
    5.Most of the characters in Old Testament narratives are far from perfect—as are their actions as well.
    6. We are not always told at the end of a narrative whether what happened was good or bad. We are expected to be able to judge this on the basis of what God has taught us directly and categorically elsewhere in Scripture.
    7. All narratives are selective and incomplete. Not all the relevant details are always given (cf. John 21:25). What does appear in the narrative is everything that the inspired author thought important for us to know.
    8. Narratives are not written to answer all our theological questions. They have particular, specific, limited purposes and deal with certain issues, leaving others to be dealt with elsewhere in other ways.
    9. Narratives may teach either explicitly (by clearly stating something) or implicitly (by clearly implying something without actually stating it).
    10. In the final analysis, God is the hero of all biblical narratives.

    Fee, Gordon D.; Stuart, Douglas (2009-10-07). How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Kindle Locations 1933-1947). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

    There is a more important set of threads interwoven into the narrative of the OT: human nature : created in the image of God, corrupted by sin. The first thread is anchored in Genesis 1:26-27, the second in Genesis 3. The narrative about Cain and his descendants in Genesis 4:1-24 illustrates both threads very clearly. On the one hand, we have Abel, who understands God’s ways and follows them (the proper sacrifice and attitude) and on the other, Cain and his sacrifice and attitude. This leads to murder and banishment. On the one hand, we see that part of the image of God remains – the creativity, adaptability and reasoning that Cain and his descendants display (Genesis 4:17-21: the arts, building and architecture, science and technology, learning how to adapt to a harsh environment); on the other hand, we see the corrupting effects of the Fall, and sin: Cain and his unacceptable sacrifice, the murder of his brother, and Cain’s descendant, Lamech – he killed two people, and he is the first mention of polygamy – an apparent departure from God’s design intent, and just look at his attitude and arrogance and non-reliance on God’s favour and protection.

    Notice that there is no value judgement in Genesis 4 – the narrator does not tell us what he thinks about Cain and his line, just what they did; but the narrator has skillfully started weaving those threads into the tapestry of Scripture. But, in Genesis 6, he states explicitly what God thought about the effects of the Fall on humankind (Genesis 6:1-7) and what He was going to do about it.

    One can see these threads time and again throughout Scripture, particularly in the lives of many of the key figures in God’s narrative of His plan of redemption: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his children, Moses, Samson, Jephthah, David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Jeroboam and the kings of Judah and Israel. We see David, a man after God’s own heart, ready to kill Nabal and his men for the way Nabal treated them, yet unwilling to kill Saul when he had the chance (twice, no less, because Saul was the Lord’s anointed); we see David take more and more wives, the last, Bathsheba, by adultery and the murder of Uriah by proxy; we see the threads of God’s grace and mercy, as well as His resolute determination to deal with sin ( 2 Samuel 11 ends with a pronouncement of what God thought about the situation: 2 Samuel 11:27 NASB

    2 Samuel 11:27 (NASB95)
    27 When the time of mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house and she became his wife; then she bore him a son. But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the LORD.

    2 Samuel 12 opens with God’s pronouncements and actions, centered on 2 Samuel 12:7-10, with verse 9 as the point, and closes with God’s grace in 2 Samuel 12:24-25 (I would surmise that both David and Bathsheba sought God’s forgiveness and mercy, for the name of that second child was Solomon (a variation of shalom, peace, but Nathan told them to name the child Jedidiah (beloved of the Lord) as well, and he would become an ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ in His incarnation.

    We see Solomon, as a young man, in 1 Kings, described as a man who loved the Lord…except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places (1 Kings 3:1-5), and who prayed that marvelous prayer in 1 Kings 3:6-9, along with God’s answer in 1 Kings 3:10-15.
    At the dedication of the temple ( 1 Kings 9:1-9), God warns Solomon explicitly about turning away from Him ( and this is a reiteration of what God told Israel in Deuteronomy); yet for all his wisdom (there is that image of God thread), at the end of his life his heart is turned away from the Lord because of the multitude of foreign wives: 1 Kings 11:1-13, against the explicit commands in Deuteronomy 17:17, Exodus 23:31-33, Deuteronomy 7:3, to say nothing of the sad story that Judges portrays. Why? That is the thread of the corruption of human nature again. The point is not about whether or not the OT endorses polygamy – the point is about those intertwined threads of human nature (image of God, corrupted by sin) and God’s grace, patience, and resolute determination to deal with sin. To read the Bible without keeping these things in mind is to miss what it is really trying to tell us about ourselves, and what God is going to do about it to fix us.

    The historical narratives are not the primary go-to documents for understanding how to apply God’s principles – they are about what flawed human beings did, what happened in the context of God’s redemptive plan, unfolding in human history, by His sovereign and permissive wills. The Law tells us the OT standard, but it is the Prophets where we find God calling His people to account for their rebellion, their failures to walk carefully according to His statutes and principles.

  38. The Apologetics Study Bible (available with Logos Bible Software), has this view on OT historical narrative:

    How, then, should we understand the intentions of the biblical writers? The first historians (that we have evidence of) were the Sumerians, for whom history was a matter of personal experience, not the analysis of sources or principles of interpretation. Later, Mesopotamian rulers desired to interpret the present or future in light of the past. Events on earth are controlled by the gods; hence, their decrees have a prominent place in their myths and legends. Indeed, that may have been the cultural function of the myths and legends. The earliest historiographers in the modern sense of the word were Manetho (third century B.C., Egypt) and Herodotus (Histories, c. 440 B.C.) and later, Aristotle (384–322 B.C., Natural History of Animals). The biblical writers were something in between: The view of these ancient Hebrew writers is that history has a planned goal. History is not the result of forces or great men, but moves forward to an end planned by God. Their purpose in writing history was didactic: to teach the reader about how God acts in human affairs, what are His purposes and the consequences of obedience and disobedience to that purpose.

    Lowery, K. (2007). Writing History—Then and Now. In T. Cabal, C. O. Brand, E. R. Clendenen, P. Copan & J. P. Moreland (Eds.), The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (T. Cabal, C. O. Brand, E. R. Clendenen, P. Copan & J. P. Moreland, Ed.) (xxxii). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

  39. Levirate marriage is another case in point.
    We see an example of this practice in Genesis 38:1-30, with Tamar and Judah. Here it seems that this practice was not to Tamar’s favour, and she had to take matters into her own hands to get justice (incidentally, Tamar is in the lineage of grace, as an ancestor of Jesus). By the time of Moses, God gave explicit instructions about the practice, permitting it, with constraints (Deuteronomy 25:5-11, for example) – to ensure that the practice would not be abused and be of real benefit to the widow.

    In the time of the Judges, we find one bright light in that dismal period, where every man did what was right in his own eyes (a key to understanding the period, BTW), in the narrative of Ruth and Boaz – set against the backdrop of the Mosaic Law and the period of the Judges, we find Ruth, a Moabite woman who married into an Israelite family, widowed, and in Bethlehem, with her old and widowed mother-in-law, Naomi. We see in Boaz the Kinsman-Redeemer, a righteous and faithful man, whose obedience to God’s Law is a blessing to Ruth and Naomi, and once again, in the lineage of grace, Ruth becomes an ancestor of King David, and ultimately, Jesus Christ. Nowhere in the narrative is the narrator telling us what to think about the practices, but we see by reading between the lines how Ruth and Boaz’s devotion and obedience to the Lord God of Israel leads to blessing for them, and a further step in God’s redemptive plans. Interestingly, in Ruth 4:10-13, at the marriage of Ruth and Boaz, the people there bless them, saying (v12)

    Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the LORD will give you by this young woman.”

    New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Ru 4:12). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

    The point of the narrative for us is not whether or not levirate marriage is something that should or should not be practiced by Christians in NT times and beyond. This was something that the ancients practiced, and when done in accordance with God’s Laws, fulfilled His desire that His people show compassion and care for one another. Levirate marriage is a first level detail in the larger scope of God’s redemptive plans and actions in human history, and in the Kinsman-Redeemer, we have a type of Jesus Christ. The fact that Ruth was a Moabite, and yet was welcomed into the assembly because she named the Lord God of Israel her Lord and God as well, is such a beautiful picture of Jesus redeeming not just Israel, but people of all nations, tribes and tongues.

  40. Bible is crystal clear on the union between ONE man and ONE woman for the legitimity of marriage.

    Thanksfully, Bible is an inspired collection of writings that is brutally honest. One dimension of it is a sum of biographies of God’s people who were not perfect but as imperfect as us. And God saved them by pure mercy and no merit. That is such a consolation to me.

    God choosing me, a merciful sinner, is in no way God’s endorsement of my sinful deeds.

    You are invited to visit our website ( Of special interest may be our theatrical exposition to the book of Revelation “Beyond The Veil Of Death” ( that is in the writing. You may follow as it progresses.


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