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Biblical Marriage

Biblical marriage – introduction

Biblical MarriageSince this site did a post on Biblical Marriage, The Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill was one of five private member’s bills drawn from the ballot in the New Zealand Parliament towards the end of July. This has increased the intensity of discussion about the nature of marriage in the Bible. Here’s some quotes relating to marriage directly from the Bible:

1 Chronicles 3:1-5
These are the sons of David who were born to him in Hebron: the firstborn Amnon, by Ahinoam the Jezreelite; the second Daniel, by Abigail the Carmelite; the third Absalom, son of Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur; the fourth Adonijah, son of Haggith; the fifth Shephatiah, by Abital; the sixth Ithream, by his wife Eglah; six were born to him in Hebron, where he reigned for seven years and six months. And he reigned for thirty-three years in Jerusalem. These were born to him in Jerusalem: Shimea, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon, four by Bath-shua, daughter of Ammiel;

NB. Acts 13:22
When [God] had removed [Saul], he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.”

Deuteronomy 21:11-13
suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry, and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails, discard her captive’s garb, and shall remain in your house for a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.

Deuteronomy 22:28-29
If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.

Deuteronomy 22:13-22
Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, ‘I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.’ The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: ‘I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; now he has made up charges against her, saying, “I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.” But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10
When brothers reside together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband’s brother to her, and the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. But if the man has no desire to marry his brother’s widow, then his brother’s widow shall go up to the elders at the gate and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his town shall summon him and speak to him. If he persists, saying, ‘I have no desire to marry her’, then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, pull his sandal off his foot, spit in his face, and declare, ‘This is what is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ Throughout Israel his family shall be known as ‘the house of him whose sandal was pulled off.’

Numbers 31:16-17
These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the Lord in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.

Exodus 21:1-6
These are the ordinances that you shall set before them:
When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. But if the slave declares, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person’, then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.

Luke 16: 18
Jesus said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

Colossians 3:18
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Ephesians 5:22-24
Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

1 Timothy 3:2,12
Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once
Let deacons be married only once

Any questions?

1 Corinthians 14: 33-35
As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home.

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54 thoughts on “Biblical marriage – introduction”

  1. Thank you, Bosco, for posting this. I continue to wonder what, exactly people think they mean when they use the term ‘Biblical marriage’ or terms like it. This helps to demonstrate just how muddy those waters really are.

  2. Thanks, Bosco, for demonstrating so clearly that Scripture rejects the world’s system of values when it offers judgement on a topic.

  3. Are you being mischievous, Bosco?

    ‘Biblical marriage’ means the teaching on marriage of the Bible as a whole. That is, the teaching of the Bible on marriage with consideration for the whole counsel of God represented through Holy Scripture.

    Implying, as this post seems to do, that ‘biblical marriage’ is a form of nonsense because one can highlight awkward texts via citation, is neither fair to proponents of ‘biblical marriage’ who seek to develop a biblical theology of marriage, nor fair to the role of the Bible in the life of the church as its Holy Scripture, the root and ground of theology, including the theology of marriage.

    Are you saying that we should stop reading the Bible in relation to marriage because of such awkward texts?

  4. These texts are part of the Bible but they do not necessarily contribute to “the teaching on marriage of the Bible as a whole.” Their contribution to that teaching depends on how we receive and interpret those texts and weave or not weave them into that teaching.

    We might talk about ‘biblical social policy’ or ‘biblical justice’ or ‘biblical ethics’. In each case there are awkward, difficult, if not downright objectional texts when considered in isolation (ethnic cleansing texts could be cited under each of these headings in the way you have done for the texts above about marriage). I think it reasonable to understand ‘biblical X’ as a shorthand for ‘the teaching on X of the Bible as a whole.’

  5. Peter Carrell, what would the teaching be on biblical marriage from the whole Bible? It’s all so confusing.

    I’m glad I live now and not in biblical times.

    Bosco mischievous? The smile in his photo notwithstanding, I rather thought of him as a sobersides and hoped one day he’d lighten up a bit, but it was not my place to say such a thing.

    June Butler

    1. Hi June,
      Bosco is a regular comedian and when we are together we have lots of laughs. Any further lightening up and we will be floating over America like a helium balloon 🙂

      However it is also true that one or two things I have said over the years may have caused his brow to furrow with concern! (Probably wondering how the school he teaches in could have produced such a lousy product as me, albeit many years before he started teaching there).

      I think biblical teaching on marriage is clear that marriage is a relationship in which a man and a woman are bound together for life in a sexual relationship open to the potential to bear and to bring up children, with each asked to be faithful to the other, to love one another and to serve one another after the manner of Christ’s own loving example as one who sacrificed himself for others. Further, marriage is a good thing, not to be forbidden, but rather to be received with thankfulness.

      On the matter of divorce the Bible is a little less clear and many arguments arise among Bible readers because there are some small variations between the way Jesus’ own teaching on the matter is handed down to us, and a small variation between the gist of that teaching and Paul’s teaching on separation and divorce.

      On another matter there is some debate, not necessarily due to a lack of clarity (for some would say the matter is exceedingly clear), namely how to describe the role of a wife in relation to her husband. Again, I suggest that there is no lack of clarity about the over-riding commandment that each is to love the other, after the example of Christ.

      1. “I think biblical teaching on marriage is clear that marriage is a relationship in which a man and a woman are bound together for life in a sexual relationship open to the potential to bear and to bring up children…”

        Peter, just because you say it’s clear doesn’t make it clear to me, because you leave out many other biblical versions of marriage in your round-up. However when you say…

        “Again, I suggest that there is no lack of clarity about the over-riding commandment that each is to love the other, after the example of Christ.”

        I reply with a hearty, “Amen!”

        1. Well, June, you have got me beat. What are those other versions of biblical marriage in the Bible (as confirmed in the New Testament)?

          1. Peter, I do not have the potential to bear children, so if my husband died, would I be able to remarry? According to your description, I would not.

            Also, I don’t often see men marrying their brothers’ widows.

            And there’s the matter of divorced persons remarrying, about which Jesus was very clear, and yet it is done in most churches.

            June Butler

          2. (Replying to June/Grandmere Mimi 12:42 am)

            1 Corinthians 7:39 makes clear that you would be free to remarry. No explanation is given for that freedom in respect of marriage as a relationship open to bearing children.

            I do not know of any part of the New Testament which encourages the practice of marrying one’s brother’s widow etc. Or, if you prefer, there is no re-endorsement of a command to do so).

            On the matter of divorce I have noted above that there are differences in interpretation (and thus of practice). I think this is a matter for continuing examination and reflection as it is quite arguable that some churches have moved away from the teaching of Scripture in an unjustified manner. What I do not see anywhere in the churches is any change that at the point of marriage, couples must vow that it is for life (and not just for the life of the marriage). That subsequently and tragically those vows are not kept provokes the point of difference in the churches: how to respond in a godly and gracious manner? But we seem to have no trouble continuing with a biblical theology re the intended permanence of marriage. A striking matter of common Christian understanding, is it not?

          3. Two points, Peter.
            1) So you would not marry/have not married anyone who has made a pre-nuptial agreement? And you would argue that our church should be clear that we cannot, and this should be clarified in our marriage canons (I recall no formal discussion on this)?
            2) From the NT text you quote, you would not marry a Christian and a person who is not “in the Lord”? Currently we are required to have at least one person baptised (or a catechumen, an odd addition for a church which has such a short/weak? catechumenate!) – should we, from this text, have this changed to both must be baptised?
            Blessings.

          4. (replying Grandmere Mimi and Peter)

            As for levirate marriage – who’s to say it’s not a helpful thing, especially in cultures and economic circumstances where the widow will be left financially insecure? That may not be as much of an issue in the modern West; but then we are terribly spoilt. Either way, the New Testament certainly envisages the church securing the finances of the widows in the church, either by remarriage or direct aid.

          5. (to Bosco’s questions to Peter, if he doesn’t mind my own opinion on the matter)

            1) I wouldn’t marry a couple who had made a pre-nuptial. They have already prepared in case they breach their vows – that suggests a lack of seriousness, or a surplus of worldliness.

            2) I wouldn’t marry an unequally yoked couple, as it would be unfair on them both, and especially for the Christian and any children they had.

          6. Hi Bosco,
            I think the Bible is clear on a number of aspects of marriage, including ruling out pre-nuptial agreements, and requiring of disciples of Christ that they marry fellow believers.

            I am somewhat weak-willed as a pastor and find that (1) I have never asked if a couple have a pre-nuptial agreement or not. Perhaps I should start asking; (2) I find it hard to say ‘No’ when friends ask me to conduct their wedding ceremony. However that is not say I cannot say ‘No’ where unequal yoking is clearly being presented.

            I think one can be clear about the ‘biblical view of something’ and be unclear about how one might address a specific situation related to that something.

            The Bible is very clear about worship for instance, that everything should be done ‘decently and in order’. But I have found over the years as a pastor that some services I am asked to be part of stretch my own tolerances re ‘decently and in order.’ I do not necessarily think it my role in the middle of a service to sort the chaos out there and then!

      2. Peter, thank you for your patience in responding to me. You seem to be picking and choosing your Scripture passages to arrive at your opinions as to what is or is not permitted in Christian marriage today.

        In the end, I’m back to agreeing with your statement about love, and I’ll leave it there.

        “Again, I suggest that there is no lack of clarity about the over-riding commandment that each is to love the other, after the example of Christ.”

        June Butler

          1. As ready as we can be Bro David. I just returned from walking my dog for half a mile or so, and it’s quite breezy with the occasional strong gust and a light rain falling. The weather will get worse, I’m sure. Thanks for asking.

            June Butler

        1. June, in case you didn’t see my response to your point about levirate marriage (and apologies if you did):

          “As for levirate marriage – who’s to say it’s not a helpful thing, especially in cultures and economic circumstances where the widow will be left financially insecure? That may not be as much of an issue in the modern West; but then we are terribly spoilt. Either way, the New Testament certainly envisages the church securing the finances of the widows in the church, either by remarriage or direct aid.”

          Essentially, a truly Biblical theology will not ignore such passages in favour of some “majority report” form of making theology. It will take into account the hard texts and let them change our minds, and where necessary, wrestle faithfully with the paradoxes.

          1. Owen, I saw your comment, but I’d more or less ended my part of the discussion. I surely believe widows ought to be cared for, but I see many possible complications that would prevent the brother-in-law from marrying the woman.

            June Butler

  6. Just taking one example quoted, the exact interpretation of the words in different translations makes a lot of difference, e.g.:

    [KJV] A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

    [NIV] Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…

    [JB Phillips] Well, for the office of a bishop a man must be of blameless reputation, he must be married to one wife only, and be a man of self-control and discretion.

    I guess we read it as “having no more than one wife”, but some might imagine it requires a bishop to have a wife while others might be sure it implies a bishop cannot be divorced (whether re-married or not) nor a woman.

    The translations have to try to allow for the culture of the writer and today’s reader, and it isn’t always easy, especially when we tend to bring preconceived ideas and our own hardness of heart to what we want to understand.

    The Deuteronomy rules that apply to women mistreated by men sound as though it is tough on the women – forcing her to be married – for life – to the ratbat who mistreated her, but that view is in the context of present culture where a woman alone hasn’t the bleak future they had back then, when a man divorcing a woman was a cruel act.

    These passages have more to do with social welfare and justice than marriage, and providing limits on what people may do rather than showing ideal relationships. It seems the Bible tackles the latter mainly by giving examples.

  7. Omitted from this list is the very first Biblical reference of all to marriage. And perhaps the most profound since it holds true through all times and cultures

    27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

    28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

  8. I have some comments:
    1 Chronicles 3:1-5
    These are the sons of David who were born to him in Hebron: the firstborn Amnon, by Ahinoam the Jezreelite; the second Daniel, by Abigail the Carmelite; the third Absalom, son of Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur; the fourth Adonijah, son of Haggith; the fifth Shephatiah, by Abital; the sixth Ithream, by his wife Eglah; six were born to him in Hebron, where he reigned for seven years and six months. And he reigned for thirty-three years in Jerusalem. These were born to him in Jerusalem: Shimea, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon, four by Bath-shua, daughter of Ammiel;
    David, like many Kings, had numerous Wives and Mistresses. With regard to this we should be mindful of the Prophet Nathan’s admonition of him!
    NB. Acts 13:22
    When [God] had removed [Saul], he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.”
    And let us not forget that God forbade David to build the Temple because he had blood on his hands, even though that blood s at God’s prompting!
    Deuteronomy 21:11-13
    suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry, and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails, discard her captive’s garb, and shall remain in your house for a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.
    This is a (partial) description of a compassionate treatment of women (in a society where women were not economically independent. Rape is being outlawed! The context is important! In fact this passage is so female friendly that some Biblical scholars have advanced it as proof that Deuteronomy was authored by a woman!
    Deuteronomy 22:28-29
    If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
    Again, context is important. This law applies in a city, where her cries (had she made them) would result in his apprehension. It is specifically ruled out in the country where her cries would not be heard.
    Deuteronomy 22:13-22
    Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, ‘I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.’ The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: ‘I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; now he has made up charges against her, saying, “I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.” But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
    If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
    If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.
    In the ancient world, women were chattels of the male head of their household (husband, father); this simply acknowledges that while simultaneously outlawing unmarried sex.
    Deuteronomy 25:5-10
    When brothers reside together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband’s brother to her, and the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. But if the man has no desire to marry his brother’s widow, then his brother’s widow shall go up to the elders at the gate and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his town shall summon him and speak to him. If he persists, saying, ‘I have no desire to marry her’, then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, pull his sandal off his foot, spit in his face, and declare, ‘This is what is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ Throughout Israel his family shall be known as ‘the house of him whose sandal was pulled off.’
    Again, a law protecting women! See how it was practiced in the Book of Ruth.
    Numbers 31:16-17
    These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the Lord in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.
    The All Blacks should slaughter the Springboks! Hyperbole was common amongst ANE peoples. Just as it is now.
    Exodus 21:1-6
    These are the ordinances that you shall set before them:
    When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. But if the slave declares, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person’, then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.
    And they were all subject to the laws of Juval (Jubilee) (Slave does not mean, in this context, what we think). Besides, slavery, of any sort, was abolished almost 2,000 years ago.
    Luke 16: 18
    Jesus said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
    Jesus tried to contradict God often (“You have heard it said…, but I say to you…”), this is one of the reasons I reject him.
    Colossians 3:18
    Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
    Very Roman!
    Ephesians 5:22-24
    Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
    As above.
    1 Timothy 3:2,12
    Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once
    Let deacons be married only once
    Paul, applying Judaism’s rejection of polygamy, belatedly, to the nascent Christianity.

    1. Thanks David for your reply.

      Please can you quote where Nathan, God’s prophet, admonishes David about his polygamy. In the Bible I read not only that God gave him the many wives, but that God was quite willing to give him more wives:

      Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 2 Sam 12:7-8

      I really wonder, however, when you suggest that God’s command to kill in Numbers 31 is hyperbole and really refers to them having the equivalent of some sort of Bronze Age friendly game of rugby.

      Blessings

  9. My OT professor opened my eyes to an interesting phenomenon. The Masoretic text of Gen. 2:24 says “they shall become one flesh”. The LXX version, quoted by Christ (Mark 10:8; Matt. 19:5) and elsewhere in the NT (1 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 5:31), says “the TWO shall become one flesh”. It would seem, in this case, that LXX preserves the authentic reading; the MT was changed “to preserve the honour of the patriarchs,” who were of course polygynists.

    This little slip shows, I think, two things:

    First, the (priestly?) compilers and editors of what became the Old Testament canon had a very high view of the marriage ideal, as also comes out in the prophetic literature that likens YHWH’s relationship to Israel to a marriage (in which the wife is unfaithful but never utterly rejected by her husband, e.g. Hosea and Gomer). This is the obvious background to Paul’s own “nuptial” understanding of the Church’s relationship to Christ, which in turn governs his ethics of marriage.

    Secondly, the biblical editors, with their high ideal of marriage as human relationship and as God’s will for humanity in creation and as an image of the relationship between God and Israel, were nevertheless aware that marriage in practice fell short of this ideal. Already in Eden the relationship between the first spouses becomes a competition for domination of the one over the other (Gen. 3:16 — “desire” cf. Gen. 4:7, where it is desire for mastery). And clearly God’s plan was worked out through — or at least in spite of — the patriarchs’ falling short of this ideal (though the story of Isaac’s miraculous birth from Abraham’s one wife, for example, implicitly criticizes Abraham’s taking of a concubine for purposes of procreation).

    So, God can write straight on the crooked lines of our lives.

    If anything, the “Biblical teaching” on marriage (especially the Old Testament, which people have such fun with in posts like this) is extremely permissive: God seems to make every allowance for our “context” and “cultural norms”, however far these fall short of the ideal glimpsed by the biblical writers, almost in spite of themselves.

    But that doesn’t let us off the hook, does it? Our Lord himself says, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” Is the modern divorce culture, for instance, any less a hardness of heart? And are we, under a New Covenant written in the fleshy tables of hearts formerly made of stone, to harden our hearts again?

    That seems to me the real question raised by “biblical marriage”.

    1. Thanks, Jesse, for the MT/LXX insight. Very helpful. I think you highlight the problem with speaking of “biblical” anything/many-things. Often there is an imposing of a uniformity on the multiplicity and diversity of the texts that is dishonest. We do ourselves a disservice amongst straight-forward thinkers. It is doubly so when serial polygynists use “biblical marriage” as a term of condemnation of others. Blessings.

  10. I think that the Revd Dr Carroll is one who cherry picks among the many possible biblical passages and comes up with those which support his preconceived idea about what constitutes “biblical marriage.” Then he dismisses those passages not supporting his position as not contributing to his concept of “the teaching on marriage of the Bible as a whole.” And then he pooh poohs anyone who might point to these texts as being silly and mischievous.

    1. I quite agree we can’t ignore strange or difficult texts; praying over them and seeing how they fit into God’s salvation history – and in this case His concept of marriage – is a joyful act. I’m quite happy with talking about the Deuteronomic texts and so on – they don’t make me abandon biblical theology, however.

      1. I am not hearing anything different in your approach. What is “biblical theology” if not your own cherry picking along with Peter?

        1. By accepting the texts and integrating them into a theology matching up to Christ. I’m probably less bothered than some Christians by a world of blood and fire; I don’t take those to be a priori bad things.

          Let’s the take stoning adulterers one. Of course adulterers deserve stoning to death – every human deserves death. That’s what Hell and the Cross are about, after all. How does Jesus deal with that (John 8)? He doesn’t reject the law; he rejects the judges. He makes the precise point that no-one is good; not even one. As with Paul’s interdict about letting enemies bring down coals upon their head, Jesus reserves judgement to God – and so judges not to condemn the woman (cf the Samaritan woman).

          Brother David, the hardest texts are the best texts. Give me those to preach on every week.

    2. Except that, David, what I understand to be the ‘biblical view of marriage’ coheres with how the church has understood marriage through the ages, agrees with all churches currently remaining committed to understand marriage in monogamous terms, something vowed (still) to be faithful and permanent unto death, yet acknowledges difficulties and differences re divorce. If I am a cheerypicker then I am part of a cherrypicking church!!

      1. I think, Peter, that the different understandings whether one can divorce or not is not a minor difference, but is one of the signs of a deep division amongst Christians. We cannot, hence, speak as if all churches agree on the nature of marriage. Christians don’t.

        Christians always cherry-pick the Bible. We even cherry-pick which texts are in our Bible.

        Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door. They opened their Bible and showed me a text (A). I pointed to a text which just happened to be on the next page (B) that conflicted with their position. They said, “but we read B in the light of A”. I responded, “but I read A in the light of B.” The Bible is messy. Some translations tidy it up as best they can, but if people want a neat, tidy, theologically coherent system – the Bible can be very disappointing.

        Blessings.

        1. Hey Bosco, I quite agree that if people come to Scripture expecting a systematic theology, they’re liable to be disappointed or forced to be dishonest! Does that mean we should avowedly ignore those parts which don’t fit our preconceptions? Or should we wrestle with the paradoxes? “I will not let you go until you bless me”…

          1. Owen, I think we should be honest about all the scriptures, read them in context, and be open with parts that present us with difficulties. Blessings.

        1. Hi David and Bosco,
          I would be fascinated to know how you work out the ethics of marriage and sexuality.

          It is all very well making the charge of ‘cherrypicking’ against me, but what is your approach? Is it free of cherrypicking from (say) tradition or reason?

          1. Thanks, Bosco (for 7.16 am).

            Trajectory is an important part of dealing with ethics/Bible when the Bible is unclear on a matter (taken as a whole, as you do in that post re vengeance).

  11. Completely impossible to ‘follow’ everything the Bible says, on marriage or anything else. We were given intellect and compassion for a reason:

    ‘Blessed are those who find wisdom,
    those who gain understanding,
    for she is more profitable than silver
    and yields better returns than gold. ‘

    ( rather than
    ‘lean not on your own understanding’, a big favourite of the anti-intellectual Christian…)

    I loathe the phrase ‘cherry-pick’, it’s always used so negatively: why wouldn’t one pick the best cherries in the orchard? Why wouldn’t one search for the phrases which illuminate God and Jesus, rather than those painting the cruel ungodly societies of 2000 plus years ago?

    Seek a God of love and that’s what we find…’Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.’

    A lot of religion reminds me of a song from The Wizard of Oz…which reminds me of a poem by the lyricist of that very musical:

    No matter how much I prove and prod,
    I cannot quite believe in God;
    But oh, I hope to God that He
    Unswervingly believes in me.

    ( E Y Harburg )

  12. I’m not comfortable with making the statements that you make quite often Peter. I am not comfortable with statements that begin “I think the bible is clear,” or “I think one can be clear on the ‘biblical view’ of something” and finally, “The bible is very clear about.” For me when you make those statements you have cast the bible as something that it isn’t. And yes, you are certainly free to approach the bible in that way, but you will need to forgive those of us who don’t and who shudder when you do.

    1. David, is there anything the Bible is univocal on? The existence and holiness of God, perhaps? Is there anything the New Testament is univocal on? The unique importance of Jesus Christ in God’s salvation plan?

      There’s a certain passive aggression in your post that hardly seems deserved by Peter’s posts; Peter acknowledges tensions and difficulties, and seems simply to be faithfully seeking truth – presumably much as you are.

      1. Thanks, Owen for your comment. Can we please try and not get into a discussion about tone and stay with content as the heart of your comment does. Tone is very difficult in digital discussion. I do not want ad hominems on this site. Blessings.

      2. Owen, I think that many of the texts collected into the Old Testament and the New Testament share in both of the concepts of the existence and the holiness of God.

        And I think that the gathered texts of the New Testament share in the concept of the importance of Jesus Christ. I think that the concept of God having a plan of salvation is an something one reads into the text, especially the collected texts as a whole.

        However, I think that the fact that the texts in the two Testaments share these concepts is an important reason for their inclusion. It would seem ludicrous that the compilers of the “authorized” collection or canon would purposely include any text to the contrary.

  13. Hi David,

    I am trying to see the clarity of the Bible through the lens of the church. It would worry me if I started saying the Bible was clear about things the church was not clear about (hence my acknowledgement of a lack of clarity re divorce, on which churches differ). However I appreciate that even that may still be uncomfortable!

    1. Isn’t this a circular argument Peter? The Church says it because the Church says that the bible says it, but the bible says it, because the church says that the bible says it. It’s all very neat and tidy. And suspect!

      You approach the bible as if it actually is the form in which it is presented, a single, unified bound volume. But it isn’t, it’s a collected library of disparate and often unrelated texts.

  14. There are vicious and virtuous circles, David!

    I think of the situation more as a dance than wither a virtuous or a vicious circle. Holding each other together, church and Scripture move forward in God’s purposes through history.

    Yes, the church exists because of the preaching of God’s Word (bound together in written form as the Bible, the Holy Scripture of the church); but the Bible exists as the church’s Holy Scripture because at a certain point in history it made a determination that this collection of sacred writings would be its Scripture and not another collection. The dance continues as Scripture judges the church when it errs (e.g. the Reformation), and the church wrestles with the meaning of Scripture.

    Yes, the Bible is a single, unified bound volume, received as such by the church (with some differentiation re the extent of the collection between East/West, Roman/Protestant, but the differentiation is of minor importance doctrinally speaking). Its singularity is its collective witness to Jesus Christ. Its unity is in its revelation of the gospel. Its binding is the one Spirit of God inspiring all its writings.

    Your view of the Bible, “it’s a collected library of disparate and often unrelated texts”, is a view held by some Christians around the world. It is not the view of any church I know as conveyed in canons or constitution. It certainly is not the view of evangelical Christianity.

    To the extent that circularity is involved in my argument, I suggest consideration is given that it is a virtuous circularity as celebrated in the universal church through the ages. Do you stand with the church through the ages on Scripture or otherwise?

    1. I am a Christian who stands otherwise. The Church’s bibliolotry, even of so-called Evangelicals, has wrecked havoc and destruction on the lives of millions of innocent folks over the past 2000, both Christian and non-Christian. I shall never be deluded by that which you call a dance. I don’t use the bible to try to prove anything. It has been misused in that fashion to utter folly for far too long.

      1. “So-called” evangelicals? Really, Brother David?

        As for your response to me – of course we agree that the compilation of the canon was guided by certain principles. An inspired text, the rabbis and Fathers thought, must match up to certain theological concepts which defined the Jewish and Christian faiths.

        That would seem to indelibly link the term “Christian” (in our case) with those concepts – the near-entirety of the faith for 1800 years, whatever its particular permutations, believed in the existence and holiness of God and the unique importance of Jesus. It rather seems to be what Jesus himself believed in. It’s even the basis on which Marcion rejects the Old Testament – it does not match up to the character of God as he understood it! Now, I suppose you might say that of whatever texts you find distasteful; but beware the logic in such a position. It will take you all manner of self-contradicting places – like it did Marcion. You’ll end up needing to reject Jesus as well as far as his own terms went.

        I remember reading a Kwok Pui-Lan book which, at one point, took serious offence at the entire concept of idolatry. It was simply a way of ostracizing the religious Other. Now, this seems rather presuppositional, but without the presuppositions fully confessed; to Kwok, it is evident that God, whatever God is, cannot call on our sole allegiance; furthermore, Moloch cannot be real, rebellious angel as per the general view of the biblical texts and the Rabbis (so the only Other being ostracized is, in fact, the Amalekite). So if there can be no rebellious angel, and the God appealed to is one entirely unlike any text of believers for 2800 years, can Kwok meaningfully be said to be a Christian?

        Ah, but there I am sure she would radically misuse Wittgenstein and the French linguistic philosophers to justify her redefinition of the term. I suggest she avoid aviation engineering; redefinition there might prove rather more fatal. (But perhaps that is the point; planes are quite real to her, God is not.)

          1. You’re quite right, most academic theology is mindless gibberish. We’ve found common ground! Next we should start a barbershop quartet.

  15. ‘Next we should start a barbershop quartet.’

    now there I can help!
    Though I have to caution the last group I helped start which was for the purpose of singing close-harmony broke apart a couple of years later when people couldn’t agree on which songs to sing, where and when to rehearse, who was in charge…

    1. I can sing 2nd tenor/baritone, but my English has a very heavy Mexican accent. Not unlike Gloria on Modern Family, although I think that her accent is Colombian or Venezuelan.

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