Biblical Marriage: Not a Pretty Picture

Christian apologetics and atheismWhat does the Bible say about marriage?  Jesus said, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Mark 10:8).  Sounds like today’s conservative position, with no restrictions against interracial marriage and no allowance for same-sex marriage.

But the Bible says much about marriage, and things get muddier when we look at the big picture.

Interracial Marriage.  Deut. 7:3 says, “Do not intermarry with [those in the Canaanite tribes].  Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons.”  King Solomon got into trouble for violating this rule and marrying foreign wives (1 Kings 11).

So the Bible says that marriage is with someone of your own tribe.

Concubine Sex.  King Solomon famously had 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3).  Four of Jacobs 12 sons were from servants of his two wives, and Abraham’s first child was from his wife’s slave.  Frankly, I’m unclear on the difference between wives and concubines, though one source emphasizes the similarity—concubines had similar privileges and their children had similar rights.

So the Bible legitimates sex with and children from concubines.

Rape.  Courtship rituals vary by society, but here’s an unusual approach: “If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver.  He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her” (Deut. 22:28–9).

So the Bible says that if you see a woman and don’t want to go through that whole getting-permission thing, you can rape and then marry her.

Captured Women.  “Now kill all the boys.  And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” (Num. 31:17–18 and see also Deut. 21:11)  I don’t know what we’re talking about here—whether it’s wife, concubine, or sex slave.

So the Bible says that capturing women (virgins only, please) is a reasonable way to get a bedmate.  It doesn’t much matter whether the woman is on board with the project or not.

Slave Marriage.  Exodus 21:4 says that a male Jewish slave can be released, but any wife given to him by his master (and her children) remain the master’s property.

So the Bible says that ownership trumps marriage.

Levirate Marriage.  Say a man is married but dies before he has any children.  Who inherits his stuff?  To solve this problem, the Bible demands that another brother must marry this sister-in-law, with the firstborn child considered the dead brother’s heir.  The Bible does more than simply document a curious Jewish custom; God enforces it with the death penalty (Gen. 38:8–10).

So the Bible says that getting children as heirs for a deceased brother is more important than having your own children.

Polygamy.  Abraham had two wives.  Jacob had two (or four, depending on how you count them).  Solomon had 700.

God said to David, “I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms.  I gave you the house of Israel and Judah.  And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.” (2 Sam. 12:8).  God has his complaints about David, but polygamy isn’t one of them.

So the Bible says that marriage is between a man and one or more women.

Apologists like to excuse the Bible’s craziness with its many variations on marriage by saying that it simply reflects the culture of the time.  It applied then, but it doesn’t apply now.  I can accept that—just do the same when the Bible says, “A man shall not lie down with a man.”  Put that into the same bin as levirate marriage, polygamy, or killing everyone in a tribe except the hot women that are kept for your pleasure.

Today’s Christian enthusiasm for marriage certainly wasn’t mirrored by the early church.  Here’s what Paul says: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” (1 Cor. 7:1).  So much for the celebrated role of procreation.

Paul said, “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.  But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry” (1 Cor. 7:8–9).  In other words, marriage is the second best option.

Paul also rejects divorce (7:10–11).  Those Christians concerned about the purity of marriage might want to look at their own house to see if they’re following the rules.  (You could say that Paul rejected marriage only because he thought the end was near.  This might help reinterpret his curious views on marriage, but of course his being dramatically wrong raises a whole new set of problems.)

Marriage wasn’t even a Christian sacrament until the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215.  This wasn’t a popular move among civil authorities of the time, because it granted the church the power to decide which marriages were legal and which not—and therefore decide which contracts (often based on marriages) were valid and which not.  When the Pope didn’t like an alliance, he could just annul the appropriate marriage.

The argument that the Bible and the Church make a clear and unambiguous declaration that marriage is between a man and a woman is in tatters.  Sure, let’s celebrate marriage, but let’s not delude ourselves about how recent our view of marriage is.

Photo credit: patries71

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43 thoughts on “Biblical Marriage: Not a Pretty Picture

  1. Pingback: Homosexuality v. Christianity | Galileo Unchained

  2. Excellent post Bob. You make several good points, and the Bible references you use kick the idea of Biblical family values right in the teeth. It’ll be fun to see how the apologists will handle this one…

    • Hi not really an apologist but still
      First of all you are taking verses waaayyyyy out of context
      Second you view of interratial marriage is false due to the fact that they were forbiden to marry cannanites due to religion which would be the murder of innocent children, and not like the supposedly okay abortion laws which would make it illegal for what they did. The prohibition was due to that not race. In the bible there is interratial marriage which is not looked down apon but simply seen as marriage. Thats one point proved wrong.

      Third the concubine marriage was not supported by the bible and eventually was the downfall of solomon( the man who married the concubines) thats two points proved wrong

      Fourth rape is entirely unsupported that is only there as punishment for rape as in you had sex with her shes your wife. Thats three points.

      For lack of time in this post i will move on to paul. Paul was a eunuch in the bible there are three reasons for being so his was service for God( not that God was so cruel as to not allow it but paul loved God so much that h e did not wish a wife) another problem with your article is that the actual statement in the original text says ” Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” We can see by this that there was a specific reason that paul said what he said. I can think of multiple questions that would result in that answer. As for what he said to the unmarried he meant that if they can do it great that is good for them to keep themselves clean for the lord as a tribute to him he was saying that it was not bad for them to remain unmarried, but if they could not resist thier lusts it would be better for them to marry than to sin.

      The bible presents a single view of marriage, man and woman God did not want divorce but due to thier lusts he made an exception. What paul meant was that God intended one time marriage. With that i finish. You are disproved have a nice day.

      • In the bible there is interratial marriage which is not looked down apon but simply seen as marriage. Thats one point proved wrong.

        Nope, not proved wrong.

        Yes, there are instances you can point to where inter-tribal marriage was OK (or turned out OK). However, the Bible is inconsistent on that. I can find passages that reject interracial marriage. That’s all I had to do.

        Third the concubine marriage was not supported by the bible and eventually was the downfall of solomon

        Show me where God explicitly states that concubine marriage is bad (y’know, like “thou shalt not kill”).

        Fourth rape is entirely unsupported

        The Bible says it. I quoted it. That settles it.

        Paul was a eunuch in the bible

        Show me the verse that says this.

        With that i finish. You are disproved

        I think I have a different tally of this competition than you do.

        • The bible prevents interratial marriage due to reasons one of which is religion, as i said solomon and his downfall. You say you have examples i would like to see them please.
          I never stated the bible is against concubine, i intended to show that the bible does not support it as you seemed to imply.
          As for rape the verse you give does not support rape. It says that should you rape you must take her to wife.
          Paul himself does not state he is a eunich his apostles seem to imply it and tertulli an states that paul was a eunich.

          Also, with no ill intent, i like your sense of humor.

        • You say you have examples i would like to see them please.

          ?? It’s in the post above: Deut. 7:3 says, “Do not intermarry with [those in the Canaanite tribes]. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons.”

          I never stated the bible is against concubine

          Then are you saying that having concubines is OK today?

          As for rape the verse you give does not support rape

          If you rape a woman, you don’t go to jail. The crime that you’ve committed is not against the woman; it’s against the property rights of her father. Call it supporting rape or not; I say that it sucks.

  3. A couple of tiny little things. This article does not give Jesus’s full statement that starts in Mark 10:8. It continues “…..Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together. ”

    Deuteronomy 7:3 is correct but if you continue reading…. the reasoning for that commandment is pretty clear and its consistent with the 10 Commandments.

    The quote from 1 Kings…. if you actually READ 1 Kings, Chapter 11…. the first thing it does is indicate that what King Solomon was doing went AGAINST the instructions of God.

    Giving for Deuteronomy 21 as a citation as to the view of Christianity towards captive women is a lie and a blatant misrepresentation. If you actually READ the chapter and in particular that whole paragraph it states clearly in verse 14 “But if you marry her and she does not please you, you must let her go free. You may not sell her or treat her as a slave, for you have humiliated her.” Further the context for this rule is if the people then went to war against their enemies and take some captive and become attracted to and want to marry one of them. It DOES NOT say rape.

    Hey, look, I don’t have time to do a ton of research and and such going through all this but from just basic, simple reading with a decent study Bible… it sounds to me rather than praising this guy, you should be deeply critical of him for taking things out of context to misrepresent the truth.

    • I try to trim Bible quotes to the bare minimum, but you’re right that the expanded version can give more context. I do my best to make sure that the meaning relevant to the topic isn’t changed.

      if you actually READ 1 Kings, Chapter 11…. the first thing it does is indicate that what King Solomon was doing went AGAINST the instructions of God.

      Agreed, but why? Because he engaged in polygamy? Nope–because they were foreigners. Sounds like pretty clear support for polygamy.

      Giving for Deuteronomy 21 as a citation as to the view of Christianity towards captive women is a lie and a blatant misrepresentation. … It DOES NOT say rape.

      No, it doesn’t, and I didn’t say that it did. This is the “captured women” section.

      I don’t see how Deut. 21:11 is a problem–lie, misrepresentation, or simply taken out of context.

      “If you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife.” Does this ring true today? Is this something you’re cool with adding to God’s definition of marriage? If not, then you see my point.

      This is quite different from the typical conservative position that the Bible clearly and unambiguously refers to nothing but today’s flavor of marriage. As I hope you’ll agree, that’s nonsense.

      you should be deeply critical of him for taking things out of context to misrepresent the truth.

      A rather large charge! Gotta give some support for it, though, for it to stick.

      • What you put is completely wrong he never says take them captive he says marry them. That gives the women a choice and should she refuse they dont drag her out by her hair

        One of his main points is actually read find out what it means not chop it up till it suits your purposes.

        • You’re the one who needs to find a consistent message within the Bible, not me. If the Bible says both X and not-X, I only need to point out the embarrassing one and my point is made.

        • the bible has many apparent inconsistencies I do not wish to go them over one by one. As paul speaks he speaks person to person; you ae speaking to someone who has a major problem with something that is okay with moderation; but they can’t be trusted in moderation so you just tell them not to do it. Another person feels that it is completely wrong so you can tell them its okay they don’t have the same problem. No inconsistencies; just a need to dig deeper.

          Also a quick apology for my spelling; and my name- it is Robert, not Roberte.

      • I know this is an old post and you have moved, but I very much enjoyed this. I have come to the same conclusions about the bible as you have, although I am not an atheist. I don’t believe God has a religion. At any rate about these captive women. Supposedly they were treated well and given the option to marry. But what woman in her right mind would want to marry someone who just murdered all her family and friends? I sure wouldn’t! It boggles my mind about the way Christians dance around these issues to try to make sense of them. And the woman being forced to marry her rapist? They have the same law in radical Islam that every one roundly condemns. A poor muslim girl ended up commiting suicide over it recently. And yet Christians somehow rationalize it when it is in their own tradition. I consider this very dangerous because when you don’t learn from history then you are doomed to repeat it. I have more respect fro Christians who at least acknowledge these problems, rather than attempt to whitewash it.

        At any rate I will take a look around here and then head over to your new website. Good job!

        • I’m glad this was worthwhile.

          As for women forced to marry their rapist or the murderer of their family, I agree. But imagine a patriarchal society where women were merely property and perhaps this kind of thinking is possible. But having that book be relevant today?! Wow–hard to believe that some Christians would argue that.

          C’mon over to the new site. All the old stuff is there, plus lots more.
          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/

    • …it sounds to me rather than praising this guy, you should be deeply critical of him for taking things out of context to misrepresent the truth.

      Can you give any examples where any of these scriptures are addressed by Christians as they are preaching their ideals on marraige and family values? What’s more misreprentative of the truth than ignoring these altogether?

      A basic, simple reading with a decent study Bible tells us that these ancient Biblical standards failed, and civilization has progressed to something much better.

      • They have not failed, other worse methods have come but they result in disease and death. Civilization has not progressed to something better it has worsened he law of entropy states that as time goes on chaos rises, the biblical standards kept order now that we desert them the world is plummeting

        • look at aids and other sex-spread diseases that are a result of the new better methods. No sexual diseases are a result of bible-sanctioned marriage.

        • The Old Testament is focused on patrimony–that is, knowing who the father of a baby is. That’s it. Having sex with a woman is a problem only if she belongs to another man.

          You need to read the Bible as it’s written rather than imagining your own views in it.

  4. Pingback: Gay Marriage Inevitable? | Galileo Unchained

  5. I am thankful that Jesus Christ restored sanity to the definition of marriage between one man and woman and limiting the legitimacy of divorce only to cases of adultery. I certainly agree that there is a lot of “craziness” about polygamy and concubinage in the OT, and as a modern woman I detest these practices! However, as one personally coming to terms with Jesus Christ from a non-Christian non-Western background, I am well aware of the economic security marriage affords women, especially in the ancient world. There is no direct suggestion/injunction in any first-person (i.e. God-ordained) OT law to marry multiple wives or take concubines, but only guidelines/limitations are placed on the selection and treatment of more than one wife IF someone were to take more than one wife. It seems polygamy and concubinage (especially among kings) were tolerated in the OT more for the economic security of women than for the pleasures of men – there are numerous OT references protecting the economic and “conjugal rights” of secondary wives/concubines, and preventing rape or mistreatment of even captive women. Even in the days of Judges 19-20 when everyone did what was right in their own eyes, the entire tribe of Benjamin was almost wiped out for harboring and not bringing to justice the gang rapists of a concubine woman (even though she too had just been unfaithful to her keeper).

    In the light of Jesus Christ’s revelations about the OT and condemnation of many Pharisaical practices and attitudes, as much as I hate polygamy and concubinage in the OT, I clearly see God in the OT looking out for and restoring worth to women (regardless of race and social status) in a male-dominated world – Bathsheba despite being forcefully seduced and widowed and losing her child conceived out of adultery, became the mother of king David’s heir Solomon; and Ruth the Moabitess became a matriarch leading up to Jesus Christ.

    • Sue: Thanks for the comments. Come to the new site: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ (I’ve moved).

      Jesus restored sanity? So that means that his dad was a bit insane for sanctioning polygamy and having lax divorce rules?

      It seems polygamy and concubinage (especially among kings) were tolerated in the OT more for the economic security of women than for the pleasures of men

      I’ll agree that the welfare of women and widows is mentioned, but the real way to make sense of the way women are treated in the OT is to see that it’s all about patrimony: I need to know that the baby coming out of my wife is really mine. Adultery is a problem only in that I no longer know. Prostitution isn’t a problem for the man, and so on–it all makes sense if viewed from the eyes of patrimony.

      preventing rape or mistreatment of even captive women

      We must be thinking about different parts of the Bible. “And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” (Numbers 31:18)

      the entire tribe of Benjamin was almost wiped out for harboring and not bringing to justice the gang rapists of a concubine woman

      I haven’t read that one lately, but what is the actual crime here? That the rights of the concubine were violated? I doubt it. I think it’s that the property rights of the man were violated.

      I clearly see God in the OT looking out for and restoring worth to women (regardless of race and social status) in a male-dominated world

      I kind of admire your optimistic attitude, but I think you’re making the Bible into a sock puppet so that it says what you want it to say. The OT is full of God sanctioning crazy stuff–genocide, slavery, and so on. And this is the omni-beneficent creator of the world? Looks like just another Canaanite deity to me.

      Ruth the Moabitess became a matriarch leading up to Jesus Christ

      “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation.” (Deut. 23:3)

      Oops.

      • Her turning the bible into a sock puppet thats what you are doing. God sanctioned genocide when the society became so evil and even then he provided chances for mercy. Look at jonah he told the evil nation of ninevah the truth and they repented you look at all the judgements but not the years and years and years of mercy. The time is coming when all will be judged the lords mercy is great but not infinite

  6. I must also add that Jesus Christ (Who identified Himself as “before Abraham was, I AM” – God in the OT) has revealed to us the true character and intent of God in the OT towards women. And Jesus Christ clearly is a restorer of justice to women in every respect – from honoring his mother Mary, to defending the woman caught in adultery, to delivering and saving prostitute Mary Magdalene, to speaking to and offering eternal life to an adulterous Samaritan woman, to exemplifying a poor widow who gave all her money (however little), to healing a Gentile woman who simply touched His robes, to ensuring His mother was cared for (by John the disciple) while being crucified, to making women the first witnesses to His resurrection….

    • I really think you’re stretching here. The true character and intent of God is quite plain–he’s a genocidal maniac. He acts just like a king of the time. And wouldn’t the creator of the universe have more tricks in his bag than just genocide? If you want to steal land from someone else (the Canaanites in this case), couldn’t you just give the Israelites land elsewhere? Or teleport the Canaanites somewhere? Or create a new island and put them on it? Or turn them into birds? Or put up a force field to avoid them hassling the Israelites? Or make their women barren 50 years prior so they’d all just go extinct? He’s got nothing except genocide.

      Sounds like what humans would invent.

      to ensuring His mother was cared for (by John the disciple) while being crucified

      A small point, but this is weird. Jesus had brothers and sisters. Why couldn’t they take in their mother?

      “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Matt. 13:55-56)

      The Bible makes way more sense if you take it as a legendary book. To make the case that it’s actually history is almost impossible.

      • Look at my other points you miss his amazing years of mercy, when he led the Israelites into the promised land he executed his long pent up wrath, and remember as for God his ways are perfect, and who can understand his errors. We cant even understand what he does wrong much more what he does right. If you look at the bible as fairy tails you are wrong unlike other religions we can prove the history of the bible. Before science was invented the bible knew of currents and the earth being a sphere. It is near impossible to deny the veracity of the bible.

        Just to make sure i clear it up the reason the Canaanites werent teleported or whatever was they were being judged.

  7. OT is only a reference book . NT is the actual Bible . OT almost corresponds with Qoranic teachings . Abraham`s slave Hagar had a son Ishmail from Abraham Ishmael“s progeny is Islamic . In NT words like concubines polygamy polyandry homosexuality , beastiality and other sex deviations are not found . Jesus the only Son of God died to establish a new covenant between God and man . Jesus mediated this new covenant much like Moses conveyed the old covenant . NT only is for Christians today

    • IJ: The Marcionites felt like you do. The OT was an interesting book, they said, but it was the book of the Jews. The NT was for the Christians. (And the Marcionites, though a popular sect, died out in the first few centuries of the common era.)

      However, most Christian churches accept both books today. I kind of like your thinking–rejecting the savagery in the OT would be a nice step forward–but I think you’re on your own.

      • We cannot completely reject the old testament it is there for lessons and learning, the one thing to not practice from OT is sacrafices that was representation of Jesus now we have the NT to tell us how we are to worship now.
        Another thing to remember is that jesus said ‘ I am not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it’ the law being general of OT

        • Another thing to remember is that jesus said ‘ I am not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it’ the law being general of OT

          Yeah, I remember. And how does that help your case?

        • he is come to show what the old testaments is realyy about to verify show it true. If he did not believe it he would have sid so. therefore dont reject the OT

  8. I am pro-choice (although I do not believe in abortion as birth control – there are contraceptives for that) and I am absolutely pro LGBT rights including marraige. But I have to say as a child raised by a bible scholar, it is made clear that rules of the 10 commandments, and details derived from them, were no longer in effect with Jesus’s death on the cross. The new rules came from his teachings.

    • False like Jesus said ‘i am not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it’ also i wish you were clearer on your pro choice opinions. But ev e n jesus is against gay relationships

        • Matthew 19: Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate what jesus is pointing out in this section of the bible is the specifying of man and woman nowhere does it give way to gay marriage.

        • So we just throw Bible verses at each other? I’ve already shown in the post above that your efforts only prove the Bible to be contradictory. If that’s your point, OK, I get it.

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