Marriage = (A Response)

Perhaps you’ve seen the poster pictured above in your journeys across the interwebs. It’s a quasi-comical statement about the “foolishness” of Biblical marriage. The point is clear, while many (or most) Christians strongly advocate a definition of marriage that sees it as a lifetime covenantal union between one man and one woman, there is a “clear” discrepancy between their “traditional” position and the Book from which they’re supposedly basing that view. My friend Ra McLaughlin, webmaster and Vice President of Curriculum and Web Delivery at Third Millennium Ministries, has given me permission to repost his response to this poster on Facebook. His thoughts are clear, detailed, and yet concise:

Biblical law doesn’t require women to marry their rapists (cf. Ex. 22:17). The bride price to be paid by rapists was a sort of reverse dowry, not payment for “property.” It was owed whether or not the woman married the man. In the only example of rape and subsequent attempted marriage that I can think of at the moment, the woman’s family chose to murder the rapist and his people rather than give her as a bride (Gen. 34).

The Bible also doesn’t require the stoning of women that couldn’t prove their virginity (unless otherwise stated, legal penalties are maximum not mandatory; cf. Joseph’s treatment of Mary in Matt. 1:19). Similarly, levirate marriage was not a requirement; it was assumed that the women would want an heir, but it wasn’t a necessary arrangement (cf. Deut. 25:7).

Sexual submission is mutual (the husband must also submit to his wife; cf. 1 Cor. 7:4).

Giving “slaves” as wives was part and parcel of the whole concept of arranged marriages. As part of the household, slaves and servants were under the authority of the patriarch, like his own children. So, it was the patriarch’s obligation to arrange their marriages as well as those of his own children. Marriage was seen as a blessing, and arranged marriages were standard for the surrounding cultures, as well. When romantic love was present, parents often arranged marriages according to the desires of their children (e.g., Jdg. 14:2).

Slaves could be acquired as booty in war, and women acquired in this manner could be married. This was probably due to the fact that they were under the authority of the one that captured them. Captured slaves were much more like chattel slaves, whereas Israelite slaves were much more like contracted servants. Even so, chattel slaves were to be treated as human beings and part of the household. Slavery akin to what we saw in American history wasn’t tolerated, or even practiced as far as I can tell. The subjugation of those captured in war was part of God’s curse on them for their sins against him (idolatry) and against others (you’ve seen Apocalypto?). It was supposed to be a more lenient sentence than the other option: death.

Polygamy was tolerated (though not endorsed or promoted, as per Gen. 2; 1 Tim. 3:2,12; Tit. 1:6). There are a number of passages in which multiple wives appear to be given to men as blessings from God, though probably the “blessing” aspect in these passages is the fact that these many wives produced many children. King Solomon is notorious for his 700 wives and 300 concubines — in violation of biblical law (Deut. 17:17), though the prohibition probably pertains especially to pagan wives that might lead the king’s “heart astray” into idolatry. Other odd arrangements, such as servants bearing children for their mistresses, were intended to provide heirs to barren women through surrogates, and not to give men greater romantic license.

At-will divorce/remarriage, polygamy, etc. were tolerated and regulated, but not endorsed (Matt. 18:8-9). Real estate in the Promised Land was inherited by sons, unless there were none (cf. Num. 27), so there were a number of means provided to women by which they could secure an inheritance for their children (e.g., levirate marriage). The goal wasn’t to treat women like chattel, but to provide them with legal and financial relief. Parents also had the freedom to leave wealth to their daughters if they desired.

In summary, yes, strange marriage practices were tolerated and regulated in the Old Testament, as accommodations to hard-hearted and even barbaric cultures. But as the New Testament makes clear, the ideal standard was always one man with one woman in a mutually respectful and loving relationship. Any authority men had over women was to be used to serve and honor them, not to control them. It was balanced not only by the obligation men had to use the authority well, but also by the mutuality of submission required in the relationship (cf. (cf. Eph. 5:21-33).


Posted on May 12, 2012, in Christian Worldview, Culture, Ethics, Old Testament and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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