“Biblical” Models of Marriage

2nd_century_hebrew_decalogueAccording to Newsweek’s Lisa Miller, the Scripture is not a good source for supporting traditional marriage.  For example, here is the introduction to the article published Monday:

“Let’s try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. “It is better to marry than to burn with passion,” says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?”

So, if I’m understanding Miller correctly, the biblical “models” of marriage include adultery, polygamy, and incest.  Furthermore, Jesus and Paul didn’t think much of the institution at all.

My answer to this argument is two-fold: first, the Bible nowhere supports, promotes, or endorses these perversions of traditional marriage although God allowed them all to happen.  We could say the same thing about any number of other topics.  God doesn’t cause any man to sin, but He allows it to occur all the time for various reasons.  In addition, the Mosaic law brought harsh judgment on adultery, incest, and homosexuality among other moral sins.  These are also condemned in the New Testament.

Second, the biblical model (one man + one woman = one flesh) is given simply and clearly in Genesis 2:24, a model that is quoted by Christ Himself in the New Testament:

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

The Newsweek article addresses this very point in this manner:

“Social conservatives point to Adam and Eve as evidence for their one man, one woman argument—in particular, this verse from Genesis: “Therefore shall a man leave his mother and father, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” But as Segal says, if you believe that the Bible was written by men and not handed down in its leather bindings by God, then that verse was written by people for whom polygamy was the way of the world.”

Well, here is the first glimpse into the foundational mindset expressed by Miller and the various “experts” in her article: the Bible is not really authoritative at all.  It is not God’s Word; it is the opinions of men, flawed men.  However, for true followers of Jesus Christ, the Bible is exactly what Miller denies: the very Word of God.  Christians believe that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).  Were Moses, Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon all flawed individuals?  Yes, just as we all are.  But God used men just like them to communicate His pure truth to us.  And don’t forget, it was Jesus Himself, the Son of God, who used Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19 to demonstrate the permanence of marriage and the evils of sexual immorality and divorce.

One other biblical model of marriage notably absent in the Newsweek article is the one found in Ephesians 5.  In verses 22 and following, Paul demonstrates that traditional marriage is a model indeed, that of Christ and His Bride, the Church.  Again, Genesis 2:24 is brought up to demonstrate the oneness and permanence of that relationship.

But as mentioned previously, Lisa Miller’s depiction of biblical marriage is limited greatly by her presupposition that it is NOT the very words of God.  Next time, we’ll pick up on her statement that…

“A mature view of scriptural authority requires us, as we have in the past, to move beyond literalism. The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it’s impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours.”

…and her view of Romans 1…

“Paul was tough on homosexuality, though recently progressive scholars have argued …”


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by PhilipT on December 18, 2008 at 8:12 am

    Miller’s comments reflect a misunderstanding of the historical genre in the Bible. The historical narratives are primarily descriptive with some prescriptive implications (or even more rarely, prescriptive statements). No serious Christian scholar, preacher, or layman considers all Biblical history as prescriptive. If he/she did, they would have to condone murder, lying, disrespect to parents, idol worship, as well as sexual sins. Just because the Bible describes an action without a condemnation (no matter how influential the individual may be in Scripture who is involved in the action) does not indicate that the action is morally right.

    My guess is that Miller’s “misunderstanding” of the historical genre comes from an intentional desire to discredit the Bible and those who follow it. More of her poor arguments could also be addressed, but I digress….


  2. Posted by PhilipT on December 26, 2008 at 6:50 am

    I have been pondering your reflections on this article and they are some of the clearest I have found. I was fascinated how Miller begins by attempting to “uphold” Scripture when it suits her purposes, but attacks the authority of God’s Word when it does not suit her purposes. She elevates the historical sections of Scripture to a didactic level (that the stories themselves tell us how we should live) and diminishes the didactic sections of Scripture to an unauthoritative status.

    If one is attempting to take a fair look at the Bible to see what position it takes on an issue, he should at least attempt to interpret it accurately and treat it as authoritative; any other approach is not a fair approach to providing the Bible’s teaching on any topic.


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