Breakdown of Biblical Marriage

Three biblical scholars from three different universities have teamed up to take on the topic of “biblical marriage.” Dr. Hector Avalos, Dr. Robert R. Cargill, and Dr. Kenneth Atkinson co-wrote an editorial that was published in the Des Moine Register:

Iowa View: 1 man, 1 woman isn’t the Bible’s only marriage view

The debate about marriage equality often centers, however discretely, on an appeal to the Bible. Unfortunately, such appeals often reflect a lack of biblical literacy on the part of those who use that complex collection of texts as an authority to enact modern social policy.

As academic biblical scholars, we wish to clarify that the biblical texts do not support the frequent claim that marriage between one man and one woman is the only type of marriage deemed acceptable by the Bible’s authors.


Although some may view Jesus’ interpretation of Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19:3-10 as an endorsement of monogamy, Jesus and other Jewish interpreters conceded that there were also non-monogamous understandings of this passage in ancient Judaism, including those allowing divorce and remarriage.

In fact, during a discussion of marriage in Matthew 19:12, Jesus even encourages those who can to castrate themselves “for the kingdom” and live a life of celibacy.

Hmmmm. I like Hector Avalos, but he’s gonna need some facial hair if he wants to run with this crowd.

It’s worth a read just to see how easily they can point out examples of alternative kinds of marriage in the Bible. They get bonus points for mentioning the New Testament’s advocacy of the celibate lifestyle, which usually gets overlooked.

The comments on the article are surprisingly positive for a newspaper comment stream. My guess is that will change.

Bob Cargill on the Holy Grail
Hallquist on Eich
Romance at Mars Hill
Atheists in the Evangelical Mind
  • evodevo

    The look on the faces of my fundamentalist co-workers when I quote Jesus about there being “no marriage in heaven” is priceless. Those who quote the bible the most in service of their right wing agenda usually are the most clueless about its contents.

    • Nox

      When evangelical christians talk about “The Bible” they are usually not referring to the book of that same name (which most have not ever read) (I say “most” to be safe but I’ve never met one who had).

      There is a sort of virtual canon in evangelical culture made up of certain parts of the bible (the book) and snippets from various christian traditions (some going back no further than the 1950s and most no further than the early 1800s). Stuff their pastor said, stuff Billy Graham said, whatever bible verses their pastor mentioned in church, folk tales, random things they heard on the radio, things they vaguely remember hearing about in Sunday school thirty years earlier, and their own intuitions about what god would want are tossed in one pile and pointed to as the final word on all matters religious or secular.

      In evangelical (and really most christian) circles, this unwritten, incoherent mashup of semirandom christian memes is referred to as “The Bible”.

      • evodevo


      • Danny Dixon

        Unfortunately true. Examples:

        “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”

        “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”

        Sinners will burn forever in hell (Check out Matthew 10:28).

        Assuming Jesus said, “I am Almighty God,” (Check out Jesus’ prayer to his Father at John 17:3).

        Christians go TO heaven as opposed to Heaven comes down to a renewed earth.

        Jesus was a God-Man (See 1 Timothy 2:5 and go to

      • Jesse Cooper

        Even the ones who do read the Bible do the same thing. I read the bible several times a week when I was a Christian, and I still fell into the rhetoric we all used at church, because it sounded good.

        And that’s the key thing, isn’t it? It sounds good, and that’s why people listen to it. If you stop to think, *really* think, you realize how idiotic it is and you get out. That’s what happened to me, although not by choice. I was forced to think… not that I regret it one bit.