son of two Lutheran pastors, Vaughn Roste has since worshipped and worked in Episcopalian
and Presbyterian Churches, but his current employment is in a United Church. Holding
degrees in theology and music from two different church institutions, he currently
freelances as a writer and musician in Edmonton.
heard a lot about "biblical marriage" lately, largely as a defensive reaction
against same-sex marriage. I read one letter to the editor written by a Lutheran
pastor that claimed that "the Bible clearly teaches that marriage is the God-ordained
covenantal union of one man to one woman." How very applicable to the contemporary
situation, I thought. If the Bible really teaches that (and in such modern language
too!), then we all should be paying the Bible a lot more heed.
I picked up my Bible and looked up all the passages that have anything to do with
marriage (I had help: I used a concordance). I examined the scriptural use of
all the words I could think of related to marriage: marriage, marriages, marry,
marries, married, wedding, weddings, wed, husband, husbands, wife, and wives.
told I looked up over 800 references. Exempting the references which are narrative
(e.g. "Adam named his wife Eve" Gen 3:20) or metaphorical (Christ's marriage to
the church, Rev 21:9), I was able to distil those 825 verse references into 12
general principles: 12 Biblical "rules" or guidelines regarding marriage which
encompass the gamut of scripture. I hereby present the list, with the applicable
Biblical Principles of Marriage
Marriage consists of one man and one or more women (Gen 4:19, 4:23, 26:34,
28:9, 29:26-30, 30:26, 31:17, 32:22, 36:2, 36:10, 37:2, Ex. 21:10, Judges 8:30,
1 Sam 1:2, 25:43, 27:3, 30:5, 30:18, 2 Sam 2:2, 3:2-5, 1 Chron 3:1-3, 4:5, 8:8,
14:3, 2 Chron 11:21, 13:21, 24:3).
- Nothing prevents a man from taking
on concubines in addition to the wife or wives he may already have (Gen 25:6,
Judges 8:31, 2 Sam 5:13, 1 Kings 11:3, 1 Chron 3:9, 2 Chron 11:21, Dan 5:2-3).
A man might chose any woman he wants for his wife (Gen 6:2, Deut 21:11),
provided only that she is not already another man’s wife (Lev 18:14-16, Deut.
22:30) or his [half-]sister (Lev 18:11, 20:17), nor the mother (Lev 20:14) or
the sister (Lev 18:18) of a woman who is already his wife. The concept of a woman
giving her consent to being married is foreign to the Biblical mindset.
If a woman cannot be proven to be a virgin at the time of marriage, she shall
be stoned (Deut 22:13-21).
- A rapist must marry his victim
(Ex. 22:16, Deut. 22:28-29) - unless she was already a fiancé, in which case he
should be put to death if he raped her in the country, but both of them killed
if he raped her in town (Deut. 22:23-27).
- If a man dies childless,
his brother must marry the widow (Gen 38:6-10, Deut 25:5-10, Mark 12:19, Luke
- Women marry the man of their father’s choosing (Gen.
24:4, Josh.15:16-17, Judges 1:12-13, 12:9, 21:1, 1 Sam 17:25, 18:19, 1 Kings 2:21,
1 Chron 2:35, Jer 29:6, Dan 11:17).
- Women are the property of their
father until married and their husband after that (Ex. 20:17, 22:17, Deut.
22:24, Mat 22:25).
- The value of a woman might be approximately seven
years’ work (Gen 29:14-30).
- Inter-faith marriages are prohibited
(Gen 24:3, 28:1, 28:6, Num 25:1-9, Ezra 9:12, Neh 10:30, 2 Cor 6:14).
Divorce is forbidden (Deut 22:19, Matt 5:32, 19:9, Mark 10:9-12, Luke 16:18,
Rom 7:2, 1 Cor 7:10-11, 7:39).
- Better to not get married at all -
although marriage is not a sin (Matt 19:10, I Cor 7:1, 7:27-28, 7:32-34, 7:38).
many of these Biblical principles are followed by Christians today? Not a single
one [with the possible exception of number 3 - some Christian women may still
have no choice in their marital partner]!
in the Bible does it say that "marriage is the God-ordained covenantal union of
one man and one woman;" in fact, it says explicitly to the contrary! The Bible
lists at least 15 polygamists (not including Herod, who is known from the historical
- but not Biblical - record to have had 9 wives), and in not a single place does
polygamy carry with it any sense of opprobrium. Unfortunately, the pastor mentioned
above would have been far more correct to say that "the Bible teaches that marriage
is a covenantal union of one man to as many women as he might want and can afford."
the next time your favourite politician or preacher claims to use the Bible in
support of traditional
marriage, ask him or her which of these 12 principles he or she is actually advocating.
Probably none. Anyone who claims to use the Bible in support of a strictly monogamous
union of one male and one female based on love, mutuality, and commitment will
be hard pressed to find 2,000 year-old Bible verses in support of that very modern
position. In fact, I daresay they cannot. The Biblical view of marriage is not
monogamous: it is not necessarily based on love, nor on any amount of mutuality.
Christians would consider these Biblical principles of marriage to be misogynistic
and repulsive - and judging by today's standards,
they'd be right. Views have changed since
Biblical times, as has our concept of marriage. Some would claim that this is
the result of the Holy Spirit working in our world; most agree that just about
all of the changes are a good thing. But if we concede that our concept of marriage
has evolved, is it not potentially arrogant to summarily discount the possibility
that marriage should continue evolving, or even that it might be God's will that
it do so?
the looks of the above list, it's a good thing our perspectives have changed from
the Biblical model. Thus as we continue to dialog and prayerfully discern God's
will in the area of same-sex marriages, we obviously cannot consider 2,000-year-old
statements made in other cultures and contexts to be all that is important.
do not misinterpret that I am claiming that the Bible is not important - of course
it is. It is central to my faith, as it should be for any Christian. But to rely
on solely the Bible is to dangerously ignore two millennia of progress in the
areas of science, technology, and human rights, a sin which we dare not let ourselves
commit if the church is to remain relevant to contemporary society at all.
rely solely on Scripture for church policy is to ignore the possibility that the
Holy Spirit has been active at all in the sixteen centuries since the canon was
closed in 405 CE. Indeed, we need to consider that the Holy Spirit may be actively
encouraging us today to move beyond a literal reading of the Bible and to refuse
to become modern Pharisees.
of course the Bible is integral to who we are as Christians, we do ourselves,
the church, and yes, God a disservice if we ignore even the possibility of a revelation
more recent than 2,000 years old. While we cannot and would not want to ignore
the Old and New Testaments, we also cannot ignore the Now Testament. Praise God
that, consistent with the spirit of almost every Biblical narrative, God even
today continuously and patiently calls us ever forward.
to Steven Spencer for additional fact-checking.