What Is the "Gospel" Response to the Prop 8 Ruling?

What Is the "Gospel" Response to the Prop 8 Ruling? August 13, 2010

That’s the question that Christianity Today asked a variety of evangelical leaders and thinkers.  Since not one of them affirmed the recent ruling by Judge Vaughn Walker, and since their email asking my opinion must have gone into my spam folder, I figured I’d weigh in here.  Here’s my answer to their question:

Both our sacred text and the Christian tradition equivocate on what, exactly, is marriage.  It’s a fluid concept, and it has evolved over time.  As Christians, we should have a voice in the continuing evolution of the concept of marriage.  The gospel of Jesus Christ does have something to say about marriage, namely, marriage should be Christ-centered and chaste (i.e., monogamous).  As Christians, we should promote monogamy among all people, be they straight or gay.  So, marry whomever you want in your church (sacramental marriage), but let’s all band together and encourage monogamy among our GLBT brothers and sisters by affirming Judge Walker’s ruling (legal marriage) and overturning Prop 8, an unconstitutional law that denies equal protection under the law to non-heterosexual citizens of our country.

Oh, and while we’re at it, if you’re a clergyperson, you should stop performing legal marriages.

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  • Jim

    I have a question, Tony. When you say that the concept of marriage evolves and is fluid, does that include what the gospel says marriage “should” be? That is, could marriage evolve to a point where marriage “should” no longer be monogamous?

    I’m just trying to figure out what’s allowed to evolve and what isn’t, and what the standard is for determining what marriage “should” or “shouldn’t” be. Is the gospel the final word, or a step in the evolutionary chain?

  • Hi Tony –

    Jim’s comment echoes my thought. I’m not at all sure why or how we can extract one element, for instance, of Jesus’ thought on the subject (monogamy) while also maintaining that because of discoveries in science, sociology, genetics, etc., we can “evolve” away from the other element(s), one of which (it seems) is the ‘heterosexual’ part of ‘monogamy’. If science should conclusively discover that some people have a “polygamous” gene and sociological studies conclusively affirm that under certain circumstances, polygamy’s actually a pretty good idea, what then?

    Not trying to be coy, just wondering. If you’ve addressed these issues elsewhere, feel free to just provide a link.



  • Paul Clifford

    As Christians, we should love people no matter what. I’d rather be known for loving people than for pointing fingers at them.

    I don’t think claiming constitutionality or equal protection should enter into it. Love your neighbor is a higher law and motivation. You don’t have to agree to love.

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  • Jim (and Andrew),

    What do you mean “what the gospel says”? The “gospel” doesn’t “say” anything. Do you mean, what the Gospel writers wrote, or what Jesus said?

    (I’m not trying to be snarky, either.)

  • Joey

    Where does it say marriage should be monogamous in the Gospel? I’m lost.

  • Jim

    I’m not sure quite what I mean by it. I guess I’m meaning in the same way you do when you say “The gospel of Jesus Christ does have something to say about marriage.” I suppose that’s what the gospel writers wrote.

    And I’m not trying to make a point or anything here, this is pure curiosity. I’m wondering how you see the gospel operating on our sexual ethics. Does it establish firm limits (“Two people and no more!”) or does it nudge the evolutionary process (“Marriage should move in this direction…”) or something else entirely?

  • @Joey, strictly speaking, you’re right. I guess I’m primarily thinking of Paul’s advocacy of self-control in sexual matters.

    @Jim, I think that sexuality is not a primary focus of the gospel of Jesus Christ. My commitment to monogamy has more to do with my commitment to liberal democracy and what’s best for our society than with particular theological convictions.

  • Jim

    Ah, I see. Thanks! I think I see where you’re coming from. It’s weird how I agree with you on many of the practical consequences of this matter for entirely different theological reasons. It’s almost like that Stanley Fish article where he argues that the consequences of anti-foundationalism are exactly the same as foundationalism. Cool.

  • Of course the drive towards polygamy is genetic. That goes right along with the core natural selection drive to spend our genes as far and wide as possible. I don’t think that’s up for debate.

    If, however, social science where to find polygamy is helpful to a society, that would undercut the reasoning of Paul and the self control aspect Tony mentioned. Polygamous (or at least multi-partner) drives are universally genetic, but detrimental as well. This is why I think the “SSM will lead to polygamy” argument is so rocky; both come from genetic drives, but to say that SSM has the same detrimental effect is to inject a relatively unfounded claim into the equation.

  • Would you really expect anyone that got quoted in Christianity Today to affirm the ruling?

    Personally, I’m a huge fan of Andrew Marin. But as he only got 60 characters to respond in, there would be little way to write a response other than what he did.

    That, and he’s naturally evasive. And should be.

    Good post by the way.

  • I don’t think I would phrase questions of the normative status of certain sexual arrangements with the words “what the gospel says”. I think “what the gospel says” about the Prop 8 ruling operates on so many different levels and speaks to so many different issues related to the ruling, it’s debatable whether or not it’s possible or even wise to try to capture it in a paragraph. But alas, we’re a sound bite culture.

    I’m just thinking about how we adjudicate matters of sexual morality. Seems to me that human beings need a more robust vision of human sexuality than what is offered either liberal democracy or some of the more progressive elements of Christendom. “Monogamy” and “equal protection” just don’t say enough for me. I sometimes (very snarkily) say, “Any sexual ethic that doesn’t tell me why I shouldn’t marry my sister (as long as we use appropriate birth control) can’t really be that useful.”

    But that may be just me. Thanks for the discussion.

  • Sean Capener

    One thing that might be helpful for those to whom it makes sense to refer to marraige as something that exists in uniform across the biblical narrative, and has “always meant” a particular thing, would be to read up on the Israelite household structure in the patristic through second temple periods. Jon Berquist’s book “Controlling Corporeality” is a great start.

  • toddh

    I liked Paris, McKnight, and Marin’s answers in the CT piece. No matter what one’s own opinion on this issue is, I think the writing’s on the wall for which way this is going. It’s more about how we as Christians can live in a pluralist society.

  • Ryan Braley


    What did you mean by that last line about how clergypeople should stop performing legal marriages?


  • Jo Jo

    Wow. Just, wow.

  • Marusha

    I don’t know how to say this nicely but Tony you are terribly wrong in so many ways.

  • L. Reese Cumming

    You know, if I hadn’t steered my way here, I would swear that this site is philosophical (man made) instead of theological (God made).

  • James L

    L. Reese (#17)

    That is an arbitrary, silly, and, dare I say, “man-made” distinction. Philosophy is a good thing. It says so in Proverbs.

    Tony J,

    I’m with Ryan (#14): what was that bit about not performing civil marriages all about?

  • L. Reese Cumming

    Sorry. My comment wasn’t meant to criticize. Just an observation. What I was curious about was how people would interpret it.

  • I am hopelessly ignorant on the subject, but interested. I wondering what you mean by equivocate on the nature of marriage. Could you flesh that out a bit?

  • Tony Arens

    Tony – After reading about 100 verses and supporting vereses regarding marriage in the Bible, the consistent terminology is “husband” and “wife”. Re’aya, (wife) refers to “female” in hebrew. Sizigos (greek) refers to a “female” as well. References to “husband” infers “male” in both cases. So Scripture appears clear to me that marriage is between Ba’al and Re’aya – husband/wife, male/female.

    A fluid concept that evolves? If the contents of scripture is fluid and evolves, then my house is built on sinking sand.

  • Soluman

    Tony Arens,
    I don’t think that is a helpful way to interpret scripture. Do you think that intent of those passages was to forbid gay marriage? Clearly not. The biblical authors weren’t concerned with gay marriage because it was not a concept that existed to them.

    That’s exactly why we should see the concept of marriage as fluid. Most Americans see marriage as a union of two equals that is based on the idea of romantic love, but that is not the view of marriage portrayed in the bible.

    As for the view of marriage current in the ancient near east, I have a feeling that it fits the views of the proponents of proposition 8. It was intrinsically related to procreation and involved strict gender-defined social roles (meaning that husbands and wives had different responsibilities by definition). Clearly this precludes gay marriage, but in this type of society homosexuals also wouldn’t desire to marry one another. They would simply have romantic and sexual relations outside of their marriages. So I think it would be anachronistic to interpret the bible as forbiding gay marriage.

    Of course, now that our concept of marriage has evolved to pertain to a partnership of equals based on love, and without the assumption of strict social roles of husband and wife, the idea of gay marriage has become much more intuitive. Ironically, the “redefinition” of marriage that proposition 8 supporters fear so much has already occurred, and they themselves have taken part in that redefinition (assuming that their marriages are similar to mine, at least)

  • Tony Arens

    It provides the definition Soluman – never said the passages forbid anything . If the biblical definition of marriage was stated as “between two people” rather than between Ba’al and Re’aya – husband/wife, male/female, than I’d agree with you. I’m a little old fashioned in that I believe that the biblical authors wrote God’s Word through them – and since God is timeless, His definition reigns true today for He has always known that His creation would go so far as to celebrate homosexuality. My word, look at how He created us physically – Doesn’t that at least provide a clue to the creators intent? Gay marriage is one more man-made incremental step to chaos. It will be interesting to see what gay marriage ultimately destroys – it’s fist victim is Catholic Adoption… The potential list is very long… ever consider that?

  • L. Reese Cumming

    Soluman –
    Simply taking the statement by Tony Arens on its face value without interpretation, I would agree that this factual translation does not mean that marriage cannot include a union between two members of the same sex. However, to assert that the biblical authors were not concerned with gay marriage because it wasn’t a concept that existed with them is an assertion I am not familiar with as a universally accepted premise. Which biblical author(s) is being referring to here?

    Now from this premise I then read that marriage must be kept fluid (permitting gays to marry). But who defines that fluidity, and upon what moral ground is that definition supported? Does fluidity contain any borders? If one does not feel they are “equal” any longer with their spouse, or if a spouse falls out of romantic love with their spouse, does this invalidate or annul the marriage?

    By the definition of marriage as presented: “a union of two equals that is based on the idea of romantic love”, it seems to me that either of these new conditions would annul the marriage. A marriage could not be a marriage in any condition other than one of equality and romantic love. So with that thought, I then contemplate if marriage is meant to have so little a glue to its structure. Is marriage best defined as something so temporary? Is “temporary” beneficial to the constancy of “good” in our society or is it just individualistic in nature? Does Jesus teach the concept of individualism over the concept of community (Church)?

    Finally, I’m a bit short in understanding the roles of a husband and wife as being “strict”. Man and Woman are different beings, created by God to be different. Each lives out their existence in their unique role defined by God. Man and Woman have anointed purposes on this earth, and are emblematic of God’s creative powers. To classify that as “strict”, by my estimation, is to declare God as limited in His scope and unfair in His judgment.

  • After thinking about this, there seems to be a lot more support for polygamy than blurring the lines of gender as implied by the Bible.

  • Soluman

    @ Tony A. Thanks for the response! I’d say that by stating that marriage occurs between a man and a woman, the bible is stating a fact, rather than a definition. We could state the same fact today: barring those few states, marriage occurs between a man and a woman. That is not a good reason to oppose gay marriage, however.

    As for the timelessness of the bible, I’m a little afraid to take a strong position on it because I am not a theologian. But I’d say that the bible is written in human language, and human language is always relative to a context. If the bible contains timeless concepts, then in order to get at them you must read through the context of the language first.

  • Soluman

    @ L. Reese Cumming. Thanks for the interesting response!

    First, when I characterized marriage earlier as a union of equals based on romantic love, I was trying to describe our sensibilities about marriage, not define it. I tend to think that in our society, we would look down on a marriage that doesn’t involve love, or one in which the husband and wife are fundamentally unequal. That’s not to say that those marriages are not real marriages, just that they don’t live up to our expectations of a good marriage. I won’t be attempting to define marriage in the sense that you’re looking for, because I think there are different layers of definitions depending on the perspective that you want to take (e.g. legal, religous, anthropological, psychological, etc)

    As for my assertion that the biblical authers didn’t possess a concept of gay marriage, I’m referring to the difference between our modern concept of marriage and the concept of marriage current in the ancient near east. Gay marriage makes sense in a context where marriages are expected to be based to be a union of two loving partners. Since that was not the context of marriage in the ancient near east, gay marriage would not have made sense to the biblical authors (any of them). I don’t think that I’m claiming anything controversial. A quick google search on the topic of marriage in the ancient near east brought up this peer-reviewed research article (www.ivpress.com/title/exc/2737-1.pdf). I would say that gay marriage does not make sense in the social context described in this article.

    Lastly, I’m not sure what to make of your last paragraph. I’m certainly not denying that men and women are physically different, but I am denying that men and women have uniquely defined social roles. My wife and I decide on our respective responsibilities based on our individual interests and abilities, not based on our genders. I wouldn’t dream of telling my wife to cook because she’s a woman, and I don’t think that it’s inappropriate for me to cook because I’m a man. In fact, I think our genders have nothing to do with this question. I’m not saying that the bible commands women to cook, but I am saying that the concept of marriage that the biblical authors did recognize was based on strict gender-based social roles, which most people in our society reject.

  • It seems that it is a huge assumption that the authors of the Bible didn’t have a perspective gay romantic love. Certainly there isn’t a whole lot in there, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t have any perspective of it.

  • Tony Arens

    God reveals Himself and His plan for humanity in many ways – one way to to simply observe His creation. Just look at the physical creation of a man and a woman – how they are physiologically different and how they are made for physical (sexual) union. Now compare that to the physical union of two of the same gender. Hmmm. Too simplistic? Perhaps. It’s interesting … any time we take God’s original, simple intent (or command) and twist it to fit into our “progressive” world view – suddenly it becomes incredibly complex and requires scholarly theologians and philosophers to normalize the complexity.

  • Soluman

    I think you misunderstood me. Gay romantic love would have been familiar to the authors of the bible. But to the authors of the bible, that would not have been the same as gay marriage. To you and I, romantic love is a feature of marriage, but that is the modern perspective. The social paradigm of ancient marriage would not have been able to include gay marriage for the reasons I outlined.

  • @Soluman, agreed, I don’t think it was in the mindset of Biblical authors that gay marriage was in their mindset, though it might have been. There isn’t much evidence either way, I guess.

  • L. Reese Cumming

    Soluman –
    I believe that the historical record clearly demonstrates that marriage, in defining the physical and moral value and virtue of marriage, is based upon both a genetic predisposition of survival in the physical realm, and within the spiritual realm, God’s will for the two unique beings He created, Man and Woman, to share the experience of His creation as stewards of Earth. Marriage is simply the human membership of the Garden of Eden as God created it; one Man and one Woman, imbued with the ability to create offspring as God intended.

    When God created Man and Woman, He did not first assign housekeeping chores, and then fashion Man as man with all of his character, and Woman as woman with all of her character. Those assignments became identified to each gender as the two lived out their marriage through the actions each took in an attempt to fulfill the relationship of love and creation. Sacrifice, not preference; survival, not pleasure brought about gender assignments in all cultures. Today, only within secure and affluent cultures, man and woman can make choices about many things, but only man can impregnate a woman as God set it up, and only woman can give birth. This is how it was created and this is God’s marriage, not man’s.

    We all understand that the non-rational aspects of a man and a woman’s personalities are quite different and cannot be made the same or equal by any means. Yes, there is overlap, but there is a universal acceptance amongst both the religious and scientific communities that each gender is imbued with unique characteristics that the other gender cannot fully acquire.

    As to the thoughts on gender assignment of tasks, while a married couple can assign household tasks and such according to their preferences, any parent quickly realizes that their gender equips and limits them in handling certain aspects of a child’s upbringing.

    To think marriage is simply a legal contract created by man to be as fluid as he chooses, gives me pause. To imply that gay marriage is God’s will sets quite the precedent. The last I can recall that primary doctrine was altered, and that through a new Covenant, was when Christ came as salvation for man. I’m looking around but I don’t see Christ anywhere physically; leaving me with that long pause.

  • Tony Arens

    LRC – very well said!

  • Soluman

    L. Reese,
    I appreciate the response, but I don’t think you are addressing any of my points. I’m also unclear if you are endorsing a society which defines social roles based on gender or not. Most people would tend to think that men and women are not constrained in their social roles based on their gender. In fact, we have laws forbidding that.

    I am a parent, and I don’t believe that my gender uniquely empowers me to do something that my wife couldn’t do. Although we do have different roles, they are not gendered roles.

    In any case, I don’t really know how to respond to you other than to reiterate my point. Marriage is not a single stable concept lasting thousands of years. Each society and each generation has their own perspective and expectation of what marriage is supposed to be, and it’s undeniable that our perspective is different from the perspective of the biblical authors (all of our perspectives).

    If you think that Christians should base their marriages on the customs of the ancient near east, then you may be asking for more than you realize. Have a look at that paper I linked and decide if that describes your ideal. I think you may be attempting to apply the bible inconsistently by using it to deny homosexuals the right to marry based on the practices of ancient Israel, but not actually looking into those practices to model your own marriage after them (if you are married).

  • Jim

    I’m not sure there’s really anything to discuss here. LRC and Tony Arens consider the biblical writers’ take on marriage as binding across time and culture. Soluman does not. Nothing further can really be said about marriage until there’s some agreement about the grounds of marriage, whether it’s the Bible, the ancient near east, Washington, or popular opinion.

  • Soluman

    Hi Jim,
    That’s a good way of framing the discussion, but I’m not sure it hits it exactly. I would say that, like many modern Christians, LRC and Tony Arens are ignoring the cultural context of the bible, which is the context of the ancient and hellenic near east. In doing so, they are reading their own views about marriage into the bible. This forms a kind of feedback loop: By not investigating the cultural institution of marriage at that time period, they are assuming that the biblical authors meant the same thing as we do by the term “marriage”. This leads them to conclude that the concept of marriage hasn’t changed. But this is circular and false.

    I’ve given some examples and posted a peer-reviewed study of marriage in the ancient near east. It’s obvious to anyone who reads it that we do not share the same concept of marriage as the biblical authors.

    My point about this is simply that it would be anachronistic to read a prohibition against same-sex marriage into the bible. The biblical authors couldn’t have been thinking about same-sex marriage because it couldn’t fit into their sociocultural paradigm of marriage. That’s not to say that gay marriage is alright, but simply that any attempt to read a direct prohibition against it into the bible would be dishonest.

    On a related note, the biblical prohibitions against homosexuality in general is subject to the same type of analysis. In the bible homosexuality is referred to in the language of ceremonial impurity (“abomination” in leviticus refers to ceremonial impurity), or dishonor (in Romans), rather than the language of sin. But Paul’s concept of what is honorable and dishonorable is relative to his own context, which is the hellenic near east.

    I suppose this will be my last post on the topic, but it’s been an interesting discussion. Thanks for your responses.

  • Keith

    God reveals Himself and His plan for humanity in many ways – one way to to simply observe His creation. Just look at the physical creation of a man and a woman – how they are physiologically different and how they are made for physical (sexual) union. Now compare that to the physical union of two of the same gender. Hmmm. (comment 30)

    You might want to think twice (or maybe, really, for the first time) about using this kind of argument (the ol’ “the parts don’t fit” argument). We have it on good authority–from some who know from personal experience–that “the physical union of two of the same gender” physically works out pretty well. Are you in a position to claim otherwise? How do you know? From the reports of those who have tried, we can at the least conclude that if omniscient, omnipotent God really wanted to reveal that such “unions” shouldn’t happen by making that physically manifest in the design of our bodies, He could have done a much better job of it. See 1:13 to 2:13 of this:

  • Tony Arens

    Sorry Keith – I disagree. I do have it on good authority – very good authority. And the “ol” arguement as so put it alive and well and still applies – but it requires logic and common sense rather than pure emotion.

  • Jim

    Though I don’t think “the parts don’t fit” is a very persuasive argument (the proper response, imo, is: “so?”), I agree with Tony Arens’s rejection of Keith’s (and the youtube speakers) rebuttal. I can fit carrots up my nose, but that is clearly not the designed use of either carrots or noses.
    In any case, our interpretation of nature (general revelation) is determined by the Bible, not the other way around. Our speculation about the parts fitting, etc. is only meaningful in the context of what God has specifically revealed about sexuality. In this I disagree with Soluman. While I believe God has revealed his will within a particular culture (cultures, really), that revelation is not limited solely to that culture. When Jesus says “But at the beginning of creation” in Mark 10 he’s making a a transcultural point.
    In other words, the only way to tell whether the parts fit is to see what God says about the parts, and how they’re supposed to be used.

  • Soluman

    I guess I can’t really drop completely out of this discussion, even though I tried.

    I’m not claiming that the bible only applies to the context of the ancient/hellenic near east. I think that Christians should take the teaching of the bible to apply to everyone equally across all cultures. However, the biblical authors were writing to specific audiences for specific purposes, and they shared a common language and culture with their audiences that differs drastically from ours. In order to apply the bible to our lives, first we have to understand it in the context that was written.

    Here’s an example: When we read in a newspaper something like “Ohio State beats Oregon in the Rose bowl”, the newspaper author is assuming that we know what Ohio State is, and what the Rose bowl is, and what football is. In short, he knows who his audience is. We wouldn’t expect him to have to explain the rules of football in his article.

    When the biblical authors refer to marriage, they are referring to the institution of marriage that exists in their society, they don’t define it for us. They don’t explain what it was based on. In order to understand what marriage meant to them, we have to turn to history and sociology. Once we understand the historical and cultural situation that they were in, we are in a position to interpret what the biblical passage means in our context. It is simply impossible to apply the bible to modern life without understanding its historical context. It is actually worse than impossible, it is disastrous.

    The question is, once we have understood that cultural background of the bible, what does it say about homosexuality as it matters to us? I think that it says nothing. That’s my opinion, and it may be wrong. But if it is wrong, it is not for the reasons being given in these comments.

  • Jim

    While I agree with the importance of understanding context, I’m not sure where you get the principles that the biblical authors “don’t define [marriage] for us” and “don’t explain what it was based on.” In the Mark 10 passage I quoted it certainly seems like Jesus is explaining his denial of divorce in terms of the original creation. That is, he is claiming that marriage in the ancient near east was based on the order of creation.
    Paul in Ephesians 5 argues that (ancient near east) marriage was “a great mystery” that somehow represents Christ and the church.

    Now I agree that the fact that Jesus and Paul saw marriage as a divine institution begun in creation and expressing his redemptive purpose with the church does not mean that what we call marriage today is necessarily so. Indeed what we call gay marriage is neither of these things. Jesus’ and Paul’s notions of marriage have very little to do with the notions of those advocating gay marriage. On all this, I agree with you. The institution they describe (divinely ordained in creation and expressing his redemptive purpose) is not the institution we believe in today. How could it be? What percentage of Americans believe their marriage to be expressing the mysterious union of Christ and his church? No, Americans have an entirely different notion of marriage than Jesus and Paul. In all this we agree.

    Where we disagree is that I think Jesus and Paul were right. Further, their notions of marriage were not dominant at the time, either. Paul needs to say “this is a great mystery.” Obviously the notion of the union between Christ and his church was not present in ancient near-east marriage. Paul is telling his culture something they don’t believe about what marriage is. He tells us the same thing, in a culture equally hostile to such a notion.

    When Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan, he does so in a particular cultural context and an understanding of first century racial relations is important to understanding the parable. But within this context Jesus defines “neighbor” as “even your enemy.” Obviously, in 21st century America we have different notions of “neighbor” and race-relations than 1st century Jews. Yet our notions must submit to Jesus’, despite the change in culture. Likewise with marriage. If Jesus thinks marriage was instituted by God at the beginning of creation, then, well, he’s right. It was.

  • Soluman

    Hi Jim,
    I think I understand where our disagreement is here. In Mark 10 Jesus is answering a question about the Jewish law using legal reasoning. He does not specify why two people would get married, or what social role the institution of marriage plays. Those concepts are implicit to his audience by his use of the word “marriage”. He is not expressing a different view of marriage here than the prevailing view of his time. He’s expressing a theological and legal view of why people shouldn’t be divorced.

    To be honest, I find this passage fascinating in its own right. For one, Jesus is commenting on the Jewish law before the law was made obsolete, so it’s not clear if his conclusion is binding on Christians at all after the ressurection.

    In any case, I think the root of our disagreement is that we are discussing different things. My points are not theological, but practical. If you want to understand the context of the bible (any part of the bible), you can’t do it by reading the bible. The bible will not explain those things that the original audiences understood. Period. That is true for any historical document, and the bible is a historical document. I think that Christians are making a mistake when they assume that the divine source of the bible makes scholarship unnecessary, as I said earlier, a disatrous mistake.

  • Jim

    Soluman, it feels as if our arguments are not touching. Perhaps you are right that we are discussing different things. When you say Jesus “does not specify why two people would get married, or what social role the institution of marriage plays” I get the sense that these, for you, would be what ‘defines’ marriage. Perhaps this is what you mean by practical.
    On the other hand, I keep referring to marriage as “a divine institution” that “reveals the mystery of Christ and his church.” For me, it is how God sees or designed marriage that ‘defines’ it. Perhaps this is what you mean about my points being “theological.”
    But it seems to me that the “practical” concerns of marriage must be governed by the theological. If God did indeed especially design marriage for a specific purpose, aren’t we disobedient in ignoring said purpose?
    Let’s use your football example. Ohio State is playing Oregon in the Rose Bowl. A controversy arises about whether the receiver needs two feet or just one foot in bounds for the catch to be complete. Suddenly, Jesus descends from the heavens. “Verily, verily,” he says, “From the beginning of creation, football has been for the entertainment of sports fans, therefore both feet must be in bounds. What lines God hath drawn, let no man cross.” With a bright light he ascends again into the heavens.
    Now imagine five-hundred years in the future. Football has entirely replaced war as a manner of settling national disputes, and two great nations are playing football for control of the last oil reserves. Once more a controversy develops as to whether one or two feet are needed in bounds. The holy rule book is consulted.
    Now if I understand your argument and apply it to this situation, you would say that future football has a different social function and context than present football, and Jesus’ rule does not apply. Something surely could be learned by it, but Jesus meant by football something different that the future nations do.
    But I say that Jesus’ words act as a radical critique of future football. Football was instituted by God for the entertainment of man. They’re doing it wrong. They need to repent, discover what God requires of football, and obey. Scholarship about what present football looked like could certainly be helpful, but no amount of contextualizing will change what God made football for.

  • Soluman

    Interesting post Jim,
    That’s not exactly what I meant by “practical”. I meant to say that, all theology aside, before you can read an ancient book you have to have some background information. That’s a practical matter.

    In this case, the essential background information is the role and function of marriage in the ancient near east. When Jesus uses his mouth to form the aramaic word for “marriage”, as he is conversing with his disciples who live in the first century AD, he is using the word is it was understood at the time. He doesn’t have to tell his disciples what marriage is, and the gospel writers don’t have to remind their audiences about what the role of marriage is in their society. The audience already knows! But we are not the audience of the bible and we do not know, unless we study it.

    That is what is analogous to the rules of football. Marriage in the modern world is a different institution with different rules. And we can’t transfer everything that was said about the ancient institution into our current institution.

    My original point in this thread was to say that nowhere do the biblical authors address gay marriage because the sociocultural institution of marriage at that time could not have involved gay marriage. Marriage was not based on romantic love between two equal partners, it was an asymmetric relationship with strict gender-defined roles that had nothing to do with romantic love (at least initially, spouses may have eventually fallen in love). These two institutions are not relevantly similar.

    There is no theology in this argument. In order to understand it you do not have to believe that marriage is divinely ordained, and you don’t even have to be a christian. It’s a practical question of how we can interpret an ancient text.

    As an aside, however, I am also skeptical of your theology. I don’t think that Christians need to believe that God specifically created marriage to be in a particular way for all time. There is no biblical support for this assertion, particularly when we consider that the biblical authors only addresses their contemporaneous audience, and not future readers for all of the bible for all time. But apart from that, it is actually impossible for society to stand still for thousands of years, remaining at the level of the ancient near east. Did God particularly bless only the ancient social institutions and want them to last forever? That is not plausible.

  • Jim

    Soluman says, “When Jesus uses his mouth to form the aramaic word for “marriage”, as he is conversing with his disciples who live in the first century AD, he is using the word is it was understood at the time.”

    I think this sentence illustrates out fundamental disagreement. This is why I brought up the parable of the good Samaritan. When Jesus used the aramaic word for “neighbor” he was quite clearly not using as it was understood at the time. What self-respecting Jew would include Samaritans as their neighbor? Rather, he was applying a divine corrective to the cultural perspective. Your culture is wrong, said Jesus, even Samaritans are our neighbors.

    The same is true for marriage. When Paul says marriage is a model for Christ and his church, he is applying a corrective to culture. What first century Ephesians believed such a thing? But Paul dishes out the divine perspective.

    That corrective, both for neighbors and marriage, is equally valid today. We still must love our enemies, and marriage still models Christ and the church.

    I hope you see that I’m not slighting scholarship or context. It’s precisely that context that allows us to understand the hatred Jews would have for Samaritans. Jesus spoke Aramaic, the New Testament was written in Greek. Context is not only important, but a great deal of fun. Studying it is like wearing another man’s clothes for a day, and seeing the world through his eyes. But the Bible gives us, in addition to a cultural perspective, a divine perspective. “Thus saith the Lord,” it cries into the wilderness of culture.

    Twenty-first century marriage should not look like ancient near-east marriage. Nor should it look like twenty-first century marriage. It should look like whatever God wants it to look like, which is to say like Christ and his church. The Bible is an expression of culture, surely. But it is also a divine correction to that culture, and every culture. Certainly, marriage can vary somewhat between different cultures. But in all of them husbands should love their wives, as Christ loved the church. In all of them. And for that to happen, there must be wives, and husbands to love them.

  • John Edmonds


    How can a bisexual person practice monogamy?

    Also, the NT allowed for polygamy.

  • Bisexuals are attracted to people of both genders. That doesn’t negate one’s ability to be monogamous.