Which biblical marriage?

Which biblical marriage? July 25, 2012

A good friend of mine sent me the following note on Facebook the other day and with her permission I would like to open this conversation up to folks who are interested and willing to jump in.  Here is what she wrote:

Hey there. Sounds like you’ve had quite the month for online conversations, debates and dialogues. I’m sending this in a message because I don’t want it to get out of hand on a fb feed, but I have a genuine question: If you were going to use one marriage in the bible (or several marriages; I’m trying to keep this simple) as a model for contemporary marriage in the US, which case would you draw on? I wish I could actually ask liberals and conservatives alike — without sounding snarky and igniting a comment war. But since you’ve been listening/reading the [conversations] all month, I thought I’d let you channel them! I mean, I’m actually kind of stumped on this. Is there even one marriage, or one family, in the bible that we would want to embrace as a model? … Okay, maybe Mary, Joseph and Jesus — is that the nuclear family prototype? Are there any others? Don’t rack your brain over this. But really, I’m curious. Letitia

I don’t want to lead the witness or begin in a combative mode but I think some biblical facts might be helpful to frame the conversation. Here’s a graphical summary of what types of marriages I can find in the bible:















And because I deeply appreciate truth in humor (and AM snarky at times):

But just debating biblical models of marriage is not really at the heart of Letitia’s question.

Here’s what she added when we decided to open up the conversation:

I don’t assume that biblical stories and characters are necessarily the (only) source of authority on which people draw when they say something is “biblical.” We might want to say that marriage (or parenting, or friendship, or other kinds of relationships) should strive for aims and ends, embody values, and encourage virtues virtues that are at the heart of biblical texts: love, justice, charity, and so on. (Many liberals and feminists would take this tack, I think; I do.) But for some reason, when I hear appeals to “biblical marriage,” I assume that people mean marriage that follows the model of marriages that are actually described in scripture. Now, maybe this is a flawed (even uncharitable) assumption on my part. But it does lead me to reflect on the marriages and families we do see in scripture. I wonder: what do Contemporary Christians make of them? Do they figure at all into our visions of faithful partnerships, family life, sexual expression? And if so… how?

If I am reading her correctly, her question is: what biblical family do we do we embrace and lift up as the example by which to set our compass? What say ye?

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239 responses to “Which biblical marriage?”

  1. I was wondering what others were saying about “Biblical Marriage” and found this article along with everyone’s comments. I want to state that I am not a perfect Christian, and where I am coming from is my understanding from what I have read in the Bible and other sources.

    God created man and woman to be partners, not man and man, or woman and woman, or even man and women, ect.
    Only one perfect person in the Bible (Jesus), the rest are humans, which are far from perfect as one can get.
    The Bible was written centuries, more than one author in the OT and NT. While I believe that the Holy Spirit help them to write it down, most of it is History of the faith and how God works through anyone.
    Jesus says (and I’m paraphasing) love your neighbor as yourself. While I do not support gay marriage, I believe in love the sinner, hate the sin. I have and always will be there for a gay friend, but they know that I do not agree with all their choices, and they with mine.
    Jesus came for everyone, and I will make sure everyone I meet knows that.

    My main question to everyone that for some reason after about 3 months from the last comment to mine today is, Why is all the focus on the Christian faith? Yea we aren’t perfect, but in other religions, you could be killed for being gay. Heck even other countries will kill you if you are gay or a Christian.

    Aren’t you atleast glad we live in a country where we can have these conversations?

    • Nate,

      You raise a great question. The simple answer to why the focus on Christianity is that I am a Christian and so are many of the folks who stop by and read from time to time. I love my Christian family so much that I have the courage to critique where it needs to grow. There are great conversations happening all over the web and world in traditions other than Christianity – for that I am grateful. I am also not qualified to host conversations on being gay and Jewish or gay and Muslim.

      Yes, I am immensely grateful for living in a country where we can have these conversations but please be aware that people are killed in slow and quick ways (bullying, vile abuse that leads to suicide or outright murder) in this very country for being gay and often the “excuse” stems from a Christian framework.

      As for choices – it is not my choice to be a lesbian – God created me to love in the way that I do.

  2. OK, if you believe in marriage between “one man and one woman”- one is entitled to one’s beliefs. What gets me is the infuriating hypocrisy of a society wherin 50% of traditional marriages end in divorce, and that’s somehow ok. Family values are defined by the love and giving in our hearts!

    • Who says the divorce rate is ok? And one man and one women marriage is much much more than just my opinio. It’s scriptural fact and Gods intended design, the only one He blesses.

      • God also gave Abraham his second wife. Is that okay with you? Lot was going to give his daughters to strangers so he wouldn’t be raped by men at his door. Then when they ran away from the city, the daughters got him drunk and had sex with him so they could get pregnant as they thought they were the only survivors, but truth be known, they knew that a city not to far away was okay. So they actually committed one of the greatest sins in this whole world and that is incest, yet he was not condemned for it and neither were his daughters. Is this okay with you? If so, then you are sicker than the homosexuals you so hate.

  3. Yes, the entire scripture, as informed BY JESUS. I see no sense in continuing this conversation with you, Frank. We are coming from vastly different understandings, which is fine. It is NOT fine, though, when you JUDGE and CONDEMN my LGBTQ friends and cause them pain. I don’t recall Jesus EVER causing ANYONE such pain that they would take their own life. Insensitive, bullying assholes do that, but not Jesus.

    • Sorry Jeff, Jesus affirmed Gods created order as well as the entire OT. You are the one causing pain by lying to them.

        • Yes I am guilty of sinful behavior in my life!

          Around this issue there is nothing to feel guilty over. God declares it, we choose to follow or reject it. Some people reject it and it has nothing to do with me. People make their own choices in life and will live with the consequences, both the temporal and the eternal.

          So tell me where does God condone and bless homosexual behavior in scripture or are you going to further deflect the question?

          • I am DONE “debating” you, Frank. I used to believe in your dreadful theology (including hell and that God wrote the bible) but I no longer do. I’m not going back, and you’re not going forward, so what is the point in arguing with you?

          • Jeff its obvious what truths you have abandoned. They will still be there should you choose to accept them again or you can continue to live a lie… once again we get to choose.

          • I’m a little confused Frank,
            According to you God’s commandments are the “laws” that you follow and base your judgment on whether or not same sex couples is wrong. Now I know I don’t know you but based on the comments that you have posted so far it would seem as though you condemn people who are homosexual. Aren’t they still children of God? Even though in your eyes they are sinning, shouldn’t you still treat them with respect and allow them to live their lives the way they see fit? Not every one in this entire world shares the same religion, the same beliefs. So why should they be oppressed because one religion doesn’t believe in it? What I was taught as a child was that everyone is equal and to accept people for who they are because God made them. Everyone in this world sins. I thought that the beliefs that America was founded on was that people could have freedom of religion and that there would be equality for all man.

          • Hi Emily. I condemn no one, that’s not my job.

            The bible lays out Gods sexual ethic and if we love God we would follow it. Now very few do but that does not mean that God has changed or that we should not hold up God’s ideal. This is only an issue because some want to ignore, change or delete things that they do not like from Gods ethic.

            Yes God made us all and loves us all too much to leave us where we are. If we truly love others we would never leave them in a state of sinful behavior. That would be hate. So leaving someone to live as they see fit against Gods design is hate in its highest and most powerful form.

  4. Sacrificial LOVE for one another is a “sin”? Show me where Jesus says that, Frank.

    • Depends on what ou mean by sacrifice and love. Jesus defines love as keeping Gods commandments. So it’s not love to encourage or affirm sinful behavior.

        • seriously, Melody? how about this one? “conservative phobic troll alert” Aren’t we trying to have a conversation here? such name calling is cheap and easy…..

        • Oh dear if you don’t even know this verse why should anyone take you seriously at all?

          John 14:15

          What verse tells us that God condones or blesses homosexual behavior?

          • ““If you love me, keep my [Jesus’] commands.” And what were Jesus’ commandments?
            Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
            OK, now I’m confused, Frank. Is your religion based upon the Hebrew bible or Jesus’ teachings? Are you Jewish (and that’s perfectly fine – I have many good Jewish friends) and follow the 613 laws or do you follow the reformed/reinterpreted way (law) of Jesus?

          • My belief is based on the entire Scripture, as is the Christian faith.

            It is not love towards God to ignore His created order and reject what He defines and its not loving to others to accept, encourage, affirm or remain silent over sinful behavior.

          • Homosexuality dates back to the almost the beginning of time. Men will have sex with an animal even so what difference does it make if he has sex with another man? The Romans and Greeks were quite known for their homosexual activities and it doesn’t say in the Bible that Jesus was made at the homosexuals and demanded that they cease, but that he was mad at them for money. If he was so against it, it would be spoke about in length, yet it is not, therefore, the Bible really does not condemn it.

  5. I’ve often wondered about this because all heterosexual couples in the Bible seem to have had some extremely concerning relational issues. The only good example of a healthy marriage could be Aquila & Priscilla but we know very little about them. Of course, the only Biblical pairings who epitomise modern Christian ideas of marriage are same sex couples, namely David & Jonathan and Ruth & Naomi. Curious, isn’t it 🙂

    • I can find nothing in the Bible that would indicate that David/Jonathan and Naomi/Ruth were sexual relationships. In fact, Naomi councils Ruth to go jump Boaz’ bones. Can you help me out here?

  6. It’s good to have raised this. What we look on as marriage today is certainly very different to marriage in 1st century times. For a start the social norm in Biblical times was parental arranged marriage, involving child brides, typically betrothed at age 9 and married at age 12. We’d call it forced marriage. One would go to prison today for these things. So, one needs to think hard before we romanticize the ‘biblical concept’ of marriage. The marriage at Cana, that Jesus implicitly endorsed, in all likelihood involved a parental arranged, underage child bride, because that was the social and cultural norm of the time. Our society has moved on, as it needs to, although such practices still exist in some conservative cultures in parts of the world.

  7. If we extend the meaning of “marriage” to include “committed two person sexual relationships” then I think we should include the following in biblical examples of marriage:
    – Jonathan and David.
    – Ruth and Naomi.
    – The centurion and his male servant.
    All of these are discussed in detail at the wonderful web site http://www.wouldjesusdiscriminate.org
    My own opinion, expressed in the blog, “Same Sex Marriage and the Bible,” is that the Bible is clearly against casual sex outside of any committed relationship, homosexual or heterosexual. But there is no biblical basis for arguing against sexual relations within the context of any committed relationship, regardless of the sex of the people in the relationship. If you are interested in my logic, see my blog at sacredpause-roger.blogspot.com/2012/07/same-sex-marriage-and-bible.html
    Pax Christi!

    • Sigh! There is absolutely no evidence, in fact there is evidence to the contrary, that those realatioships were sexual ones. It’s been debunked ad naseum and you should be embarrassed to post it.

  8. Anna, you cannot see it, but you just got a standing ovation from me. Bravo! Fantastically documented response. Thank you.

    As for me? I would echo, in so many words, what so many have already said: do what resonates with your soul.

    For me, a monogamous, heterosexual union is the way to go. That’s my conviction. If I were to marry a man, or several people (men or women), or my slave (which I don’t have), it wouldn’t be right for me. It would be, dare I say, sinful – for me. I’m not gay. I have absolutely no desire to marry several women. I have absolutely no desire to own another person.

    But this is the way that best resonates with me. Someone else will have different convictions and I support them in that.

    After I re-read my comment, I want to make clear, I don’t regard someone else’s desire for a particular union(s) -whether homosexual,multiple partners, etc- wrong or sinful. I don’t have those desires, so it would be sinful/wrong/untrue for me to participate as if I did have those desires.

  9. As a “Christian,” if I still see marriage as a social institution, with rights granted by the state, then frankly, it doesn’t matter what the Bible says about it.

  10. I agree with Justin, I don’t think it’s the right question to be asking which marriage relationship mentioned in the Bible should be the model – no marriage in the Bible is held up specifically as an example to be followed. I think when people talk about “biblical marriage” they are talking about the principles that the Bible specifically lays out for marriage – such as that it should be between a man and a women (Mark 10:7-8), that divorce is not God’s intention for marriage (Mark 10:9), that sex should be within marriage (Hebrews 13:4, among many other verses, just search “adultery” or “sexual immorality”), that deacons (who should be a model to those in their church in how they live their lives, including in their marriages) should only have one wife (1 Timothy 3:2, NKJV), that homosexuality is not acceptable in God’s sight (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), that husbands should love their wives and wives respect their husbands (Col. 3:19, Ephesians 5:22-23, 1Peter 3:7), along with all the other references to treating each other kindly, patiently, etc. All these things come together to present the “biblical” idea of marriage, and they are based not on any one couple held up as an example but on what God says marriage should be. As Christians we shouldn’t be looking to human marriages, which are never going to be perfect because people are not perfect. We should be looking to what God says on the subject and seeking to fulfill His ideal for marriage. Which, when you read through the Bible, is never embodied in one single couple but is instead presented to us in verses like the ones I mentioned above. That’s what I think is meant when Christians talk about what a “biblical marriage” should look like.

  11. If we want to be really honest with ourselves, beyond love God and your neighbor as yourself, the Bible doesn’t teach us a whole lot about any relationships. What does it mean to be a good sister, aunt, cousin?

    • And this is what the pro-homosexual argument has to devolve into. Since there is no positive affirmation of homosexual marriage or unions, we get appeals to love that is smooshed out like peanut butter over bread, with no discernment and no restrictions whatsoever.

      • I am not sure how you are getting that there are “no positive affirmations of homosexual marriage” when there are – tons – in the church. And in what way are we not in discernment? What do you mean by “no restrictions” And I am not a “pro-homosexual argument”, I am a child of God. Please stop talking about people as issues as nothing more than labels and take the time to get to know some real people, some actual gay and lesbian Christians.

        • I actually know some gay and lesbian Christians.
          I mean by “no restrictions” is that the appeals to “love, love, love” for homosexual behavior can be applied to any sexual behavior.
          By “no positive affirmations of homosexual marriage” I mean that in the Bible there is no positive affirmation of homosexual behavior or relationships.

      • Goeff – you have Jesus to blame, then. HE was the one who said all the Levitical purity codes were adventures in missing the point: “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy not sacrifice.”

  12. If we want to box ourselves into something I have an idea. Why don’t we listen to the two commands that Jesus gave us in the New Covenant? It was there that he told us where our priorities should lie.

  13. I think it is problematic to even ATTEMPT to use a collection of ancient stories as a modern-day “reference guide” for particular, contemporary issues. The “Marriage =” diagram illustrates this quite clearly. It seems as if the Jewish culture in Jesus’ time was attempting to do the same thing – arguing about how to interpret and apply Mosaic Law into the context (Roman oppression) in which they lived. Jesus basically told them that they were WAY off base and then he boiled the Law and the Prophets (their “Bible”) down to “Love God by loving Others AS yourself”. Hmm. That seems to work in a BUNCH of modern-day issues, doesn’t it? Lying – is THAT loving the Other? Killing? Coveting? Stealing? Adultery? Hoarding? Self-centerness? Boasting? Cheating? Threatening? Using/Abusing? Wasting? Polluting? Are any of those (add your own) Loving the Other. Nope.
    Now to answer the question of this post, “Which Biblical Marriage?” in this light: ANY marriage where each are pouring Kenotic (self-sacrificing) Love into the Other. NEVER one in power over the other. Think, rather, of how a grist-mill water wheel works. I would say that MOST (all?) in the diagram above do NOT fit the reciprocal “Love poured into the Other” marriage. And I think we know a bunch of Hollywood marriages today that do not. Even a high percentage of “common folk” marriages do no. Same sex marriage? I think it’s quite possible! I know a BUNCH of couples that are living out Kenotic Love NOW! 🙂
    Love God = Love Others = Love Ourselves. One. Done.

  14. Genesis 2 doesn’t offer a model for marriage. It’s all about domestication of creatures and the recognition of a reproductive partner. These are also the elements found in the graphic above; all of these forms of marriage are designed to promote the reproduction of the children of Israel. (It might also be argued that sex slavery is not a form of marriage, but is rather a use of sex as a payment/reward for violence and/or the use of sexual urge as a weapon.)

    In Gen. 2, God takes the side (Hebrew tsela’) or half the ribcage of the adam (not yet a name) to create a partner for the creature. (Translations being what they are, the word does not mean a single rib bone.) Being the only two of their kind, they have no real choices about partnerships. In the mythos of the Hebrew texts, they are the source for all the rest of humanity. There is a lot of male-domination material there; the adam takes power (dominion) over the other creatures by naming them and eventually does the same to his (literal) other half; he names her Chava, which means Life. [It’s not clear that the adam has a name at this point; the only place in Gen 2 (v. 20) where the original dirt creature has a name is debatable, since it can only be determined from the vowel points which were added by the Masoretes in the ninth century. The same applies to Gen 3:17.]

    Matt 19 is a discussion about divorce. It is clearly not an absolute teaching, as Jesus says in Mt 19:11-12. He recommends fidelity in marriage as something to strive for; he references Gen 1:27 (not Gen 2). The clear expectation is that men marry women–not the other way around, as the immediate discussion of eunuchs makes clear. A man unable to function with a woman would have been considered a “eunuch” in the 1st C (and might have the opportunity for political advancement, as Acts 8 demonstrates). His interaction with other similarly “disabled” men would not be a social concern, which helps us understand why it’s not an issue for Jesus or for most of the texts. Women interrelating with other women are also not a concern, since such relationships don’t affect a woman’s ability to bear children to the man who owns her.

    We don’t live in the first century, and nothing about the environment, economics, or opportunities we in Western cultures share in any way resemble the cultures of that time or earlier. The need for reproduction is debatable as we humans currently have trouble feeding and providing adequate health care for the 7 billion people now inhabiting the planet. So my contribution to the discussion is this: Even if there were a model of marriage in the Greek and Hebrew scriptures, why would we insist on applying it universally? Is it reasonable to use the scriptures, which have not been updated or amended since about 125 CE, as if they were statutes? Even in the time of Jesus, only some of the Hebrew texts were considered laws. Why do we use these texts as if they were regulations, rather than as guides to loving interaction and healthy connection to Creator, creation, and each other?
    Blessings to the conversation.

    • Clear and well reasoned points Anna! I appreciate you taking the time to offer your thoughts to further the conversation. I hope you will invite others to the chat 🙂

    • If you notice you put “the man who owns her.” That is the problem with marriage. That piece of paper makes people think they have ownership. That is considered slavery. Don’t forget that Abraham had a wife and a concubine or what ever you want to call her, handmaiden, wife, whatever, but he took her and made her have a baby. Now, is this Biblical marriage? I think it is. I think just like the table it shows 8 different types of marriage in the Bible. How can this be so? There is no way to have 8 different ways. This just gives more credence to the Bible being a bunch of bullshit.

  15. Hi Kim,
    I’ll do my best to answer your questions!

    1. I can think of married couples mentioned in the NT, but I hesitate to use them as “examples of a good marriage” because they’re not presented in the text to fulfill that purpose. When 1 Timothy (I think) says that a man is to have one wife, that command is given in the context of what to look for in a leader for the church. Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned in Acts not because they’re a good example of what a godly marriage looks like, but because they tutor Apollos. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a place in the NT where a writer mentions a couple as an example of a good marriage.

    2. I don’t think it means we leave off those debates, but maybe it means that we realize that what was commanded or allowed at one point is not always going to be commanded and allowed at all times.

  16. I think a lot of people would argue that Genesis 2 and Matthew 19 define the parameters of marriage, not to mention the fact that the New Testament doesn’t seem to make room for marriage as being anything other than between one man and woman. I can’t think of a single NT reference that allows men to have concubines, for instance.

    • Ok, I will go with you there Justin, but are there examples, role models of such marriages in the NT that we can look to? And if we are going to only talk about marriage from a NT framework does that mean we can leave off all the debates about sexual prohibitions in the Hebrew scriptures?