Well, I’m all for Biblical Marriage

Now with new, improved karate-chop action!

Hey all. I’m reposting this column, with permission, from this site. Since everyone is up in arms about same sex marriage and the church’s many responses to the issue, I was asking the very same question, “Wait, what is biblical marriage, exactly?” I found the article quite enlightening. 😛

* * *

Mawage is what bwings us togevah today.

” We hear a lot about “biblical marriage” these days. Some of us might not be clear on what that means. The website Religious Tolerance has provided a helpful article on the types of marriage found in the pages of the bible.

Here’s a summary:

  1. Polygynous Marriage
  2. Probably the most common form of marriage in the bible, it is where a man has more than one wife.

  3. Levirate Marriage
  4. When a woman was widowed without a son, it became the responsibility of the brother-in-law or a close male relative to take her in and impregnate her. If the resulting child was a son, he would be considered the heir of her late husband. See Ruth, and the story of Onan (Gen. 38:6-10).

  5. A man, a woman and her property — a female slave
  6. The famous “handmaiden” sketch, as preformed by Abraham (Gen. 16:1-6) and Jacob (Gen. 30:4-5).

  7. A man, one or more wives, and some concubines
  8. The definition of a concubine varies from culture to culture, but they tended to be live-in mistresses. Concubines were tied to their “husband,” but had a lower status than a wife. Their children were not usually  heirs, so they were safe outlets for sex without risking the line of succession. To see how badly a concubine could be treated, see the famous story of the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19:1-30).

  9. A male soldier and a female prisoner of war
  10. Women could be taken as booty from a successful campaign and forced to become wives or concubines. Deuteronomy 21:11-14 describes the process.

  11. A male rapist and his victim
  12. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 describes how an unmarried woman who had been raped must marry her attacker.

  13. A male and female slave
  14. A female slave could be married to a male slave without consent, presumably to produce more slaves.

    and of course …

  15. Monogamous, heterosexual marriage
  16. What you might think of as the standard form of marriage, provided you think of arranged marriages as the standard. Also remember that inter-faith or cross-ethnic marriage were forbidden for large chunks of biblical history.

The important thing to realize here is that none of these models are described as better than any other. All appear to have been accepted.

So there you go. The next time someone says that we need to stick with biblical marriage in this country, you can ask them which of the eight kinds they would prefer, and why. “



  1. While accurate in one sense, this is also misleading.

    It presupposes every passage of the Bible in which any marriage arrangement is mentioned is equal to every other. While there are ways of understanding the Bible that might incline one to that kind of flatness, e.g., plenary, verbal, inerrant inspiration; it is not the only way to understand it or indeed the way anybody actually reads it.

    Most Christians, for example, would be inclined to draw their understanding of marriage from the New Testamnet (and perhaps the first two chapters of Genesis).

    And for those of us who do not subscribe to sola scriptura, there are 2000 years of the Church’s reflection and teaching, which, while not reducible to a simple or rigid sameness, does have considerable continuity grounded in the New Testament.

  2. Indeed. The key is the church’s imaginative (I mean this in a good way) interpretation

    If you haven’t figured it out yet Matt, there are two Tony’s who contribute

  3. “The important thing to realize here is that none of these models are described as better than any other. All appear to have been accepted.”

    No, all appear to have been documented. That’s rather a big difference…

  4. Oh, I don’t disagree that when people say they favor “Biblical marriage” they actually mean “The current, though ever-changing, socially acceptable form of ‘religious’ marriage.”

    I just think the distinction needs to be made clear, lest we continue using the idea of “Biblical marriage” as ammunition against groups we don’t like.

  5. “No, all appear to have been documented. That’s rather a big difference…”

    Given that Deuteronomy gives specific instructions for marrying captive of war, and prescribes that the rapist marry his victim, it’s a bit of a stretch to call it “documenting”. Further, since poor Onan gets killed by God for failing in his duty in the levirate marriage, I’d have to say that this is another case where the practice is more than merely documented.

    “While accurate in one sense, this is also misleading. ”

    I don’t believe so. The target of the piece is not the entirety of Christian or Jewish doctrine. As Anthony David Jacques just pointed out, the target is the phrase “biblical marriage.” That’s why the piece starts out as it does.

    There is a tendency to speak of “biblical” or “traditional” marriage without considering what that actually means. Rick Warren, for example, is fond of talking about how marriage has been the same for 5,000 years. He ignores the way we’ve virtually reinvented marriage. This is a-historical, which is something I have strong feelings against.

  6. OK, fair enough. Rick Warren, et al, are just being silly and irresponsible in more ways than one. And simply appealing to the biblical understanding of almost anything begs many hermeneutical questions.

    I would prefer to talk about “Christian marriage” rather than “Biblical marriage”. It is not free of it’s own hermeneutical questions. But, again, while not reducible to a simple or rigid sameness it does focus things on the continuities of Chrisitian understanding throughout the world and the ages.

    I guess I’d only add that one cannot understand the Bible outside the entirety of Christian doctrine.

  7. Tony,

    That’s sort of a rather reductionist statement. As Matt already indicated he does not support sola scriptura, and so for him, and most Christians (ie – catholics, orthodox especially) authoritative interpretation takes place outside of direct one-to-one statements in the Bible.

    Reading individual snippits authoritatively and haphazardly may be how we learned in growing up conservative, but the major stance the Church has upheld is that Christ interprets Scripture. And so the Apostolic interpretive trajectories are picked up and elaborated on by the believing community. There is also the elaborate interaction between OT law and its relationship to the people of God because of Christ.

    I agree Vorjack, Warren is not a sound exegete.

  8. And as I already indicated, your what hurts?

    But if Christ interprets scripture, then I’ll just let you know what he says next time we hang out.

    First, I’ll have to find him of course! (Apparently he’s gone missing…?)


  9. What I find interesting is that same-sex marriage is completely missing from the list of marriages the Bible “accepts”/”documents.”

    I wonder which of the Theophiliacs is now going to argue bravely for the renewal of polygamy, concubinage, slave brides, and levirate marriage since “traditional”/”biblical” marriage is just one among many social constructions of marriage.

    Seriously, if same-sex marriage is okay, why not any of these forms of marriage? At least they have some rootage in the biblical text.

  10. Well, George, you’re kind of assuming that I (cause I won’t speak for everyone else) feel we *actually should* use the bible as a proof or standard of how marriage should be practiced.

    I sort of think at least half of those are just awful ideas. If that’s what the bible has to say, well, then I’d rather let culture decide how marriage should be practiced. Which it sort of has, anyways.

    I mean, I got to pick my wife. No matchmaker needed! That is easily one of the best ways marriage has changed, in our culture at least, since the bible.

  11. ADJ:

    So, let me get this straight:

    1. We shouldn’t use the Bible as “a proof or standard of how marriage should be practiced.”

    2. Instead, we should let “culture decide how marriage should be practiced.”

    3. But the forms of marriage in the Bible are examples of how one culture decided marriage should be practiced (at least, that’s what I take your point of view to be).

    4. The form of marriage you prefer is the one that is dominant “in our culture at least.”

    5. Which seems to imply that you have no principled reason for calling the biblical forms of marriage “just awful ideas,” except that they’re not your cultures preferred forms of marriage.

    6. But if that’s the case, then you can have no principled objection if the culture shifts (say, through mass conversion to Islam) to preferring those “awful” biblical forms of marriage.

    7. Which further entails that your support (if you indeed support) same-sex unions is just a cultural preference, which means you can have no principled objection if the culture–through majoritarian politics–blocks the introduction of same-sex unions into our civil codes.

    In other words, from my perspective, your critique of the Bible based on “let[ting] the culture decide” marital forms is a form of chronological snobbery.


  12. George,

    Let me make this one a little more clear for ya.

    “Well, I’m all for biblical marriage.”

    *Tongue clearly placed in cheek*

    lol and so on.

    How’s that?

  13. Wow, frankly I am staggered that there are references almost exclusively to the Old Testament on the topic. And the omission of the most critical one in the entire bible is disturbing to say the least.

    Christ raised the level of marriage from what it was a natural contract btwn a man and woman to a grace generating covenant with God as part of it. Its not an exclusive lateral relationship btwn a man and a woman, but a vertical one as well.This is why marriage is always binding as long as all parties keep faith. The man and the woman would have to break the contract with both God and their partner. This is one of the greatest invasions of the state into the purview of the church. But the most critical passage is Eph 5:32. The relationship of Christ to His bride the church is THE model for marriage. Christ does not take a male partner, Christ does not take on multiple partners. To suggest that these relationships are permitted is to acknowledge that Christ is not faithful to the church. The promise that Christ makes to the church would be broken, salvation wouldn’t hold any water, because Christ Himself would be sinful.

  14. ADJ:

    So, the article that you found “quite enlightening” and “helpful” you really meant us to take only “tongue in cheek”? And when you wrote, “The next time someone says that we need to stick with biblical marriage in this country, you can ask them which of the eight kinds they would prefer, and why.” And we weren’t supposed to take this statement seriously either?

    I’m now experiencing cognitive dissonance between the words of your post and the words of your comment.


  15. Honestly, George….

    For the record, the only thing *I* wrote was in italics. The rest is copied from the link. Just go visit the link and compare.

    Here, I’ll put the proper quotes and emoticons in the original text so as to dispel any confusion as to my own words and my intent.

    Have I resolved your cognitive dissonance?

  16. Quckbeam,

    I’m not sure about your use of Eph. 5 as a proof-text against same-sex marriage, but it sparked a few interesting hermeneutical possibilities in my mind. I hope you bear with me, despite my apparent sacrilege. This is just a thought experiment.

    The author of Ephesians is giving practical instructions about marriage interspersed with metaphorical language about the Church being the bride of Christ. Not that the union itself is only a metaphor, but that the marriage metaphor itself is the best human language can do in describing that union however literal it is/will be. But if we should take gender of Christ and the Church seriously or even literally, as you are suggesting, then the author of Ephesians seems to be advocating a hermaphrodite marriage: Christ(male) marrying a body(the church) with both male and female “members.” Not only that, but the other metaphor that is used in the NT by Paul (whether or not he is author of Ephesians is a different question) is that of the church as the body of Christ. So now we have a male Christ, marrying the (presumably) male body of himself. That’s just weird and frankly impossible.

    That is the paradox of metaphor, they are in many cases the best way to talk about God and the transcendent, but all metaphors hold the danger of being taken to the absurd when they are appropriated in literal ways.

    On the other hand, if we are supposed to take this gender distinction seriously, does that mean that the Church should be more feminine in nature? Is Ephesians telling us that we as the Church should be matriarchal not patriarchal so as to not homosexualize our marriage to Christ? Hmmm. Maybe we should take this metaphor literally… 😉

    In any event, I think we need to be careful when we use metaphorical language to proof-text anything, especially not anything so sticky as issues of sexual ethics. Excuse me, again, for my apparent flippancy. I hope you sense my playfulness.


  17. James:

    I think a normative statement of Jesus’ hermeneutic on marriage is found in Matthew 19:1-12, specifically, verses 4-6: “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let men not separate.” This state’s what you might call God’s creational intention for human sexuality.

    Jesus goes on to explain, in answer to a question, why Moses permitted divorce: “because your hearts were hard” (verse 8).

    For me, the creational intention sets the normative understanding of marriage throughout the Bible, while hardness of heart explains the variety of forms, which the law regulated.


  18. FWIW, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 does not demand an unmarried woman who had been raped must marry her attacker. The woman did not have to marry her attacker. Further, God commands that the man who took the virginity away from the woman, and her chances for marriage, must now take upon himself the responsibility of providing for that woman for the rest of her life.

    That is assuming that the issue at hand is rape, an alternative translation is “Suppose a man has intercourse with a young woman who is a virgin but is not engaged to be married. If they are discovered, he must pay her father fifty pieces of silver. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he may never divorce her as long as he lives.” (NLT)

  19. Allow me to think out loud with all of you. These are not thoughts I feel are irrefutable (I don’t think many of those actually exist anyway), but are ideas that I have puzzled over long enough that I am ready to subject them to public opinion. So, in no particular order, here are three hermeneutical quandaries that are not necessarily related to each other and may only be loosely related to the topic:
    /1/ Are there scripturally normative ideas that contradict our modern conventional wisdom? If these examples exist what bearing should they have on our understanding of same-sex relationships? One example that comes immediately to mind is the biblical handling of illness. There is a preponderance of Biblical support that physical maladies are the direct result of sin or evil spirits (there is of course the notable exception in John 8, but even the text handles it as a ‘notable exception’ to normative causes). We can look back, often with disdain, at the centuries of church and medical practices that operated (pun intended) off of these normative presuppositions. I think all of us who are parents would be horrified if someone made a biblical diagnosis of our child’s autism as “demon possession” and prescribed prayer and an exorcism as a way to deal with it. Consequently, we have learned, however slowly, that Scripture was not making pronouncements that should have been received as medically normative diagnoses. Are we at a place where we need to evaluate where we place the fulcrum in order to balance biblical interpretation with medical/scientific reality? Those who hold that homosexuality is based purely on choice are quickly losing credibility in medical/scientific fields (including the fields of counseling and psychiatry). If homosexuality is the ‘genetic identity’ of a person, when do we quit trying to cast demons out of them? Conclusion: I am most comfortable with a ‘be patient and listen stance.’
    /2/ I have routinely been hung up on 1 Cor. 7 and Paul’s instruction on marriage. He seems to operate under the notions that all who receive his instruction are in man+woman marriages. This is problematic for me, because all who use these kinds of passages as proof texts against same sex marriage are essentially arguing a negative. They are going to say that because Paul does not mention same sex unions they are not in the realm of possibility in Christian doctrine. In the world of sound arguments an argument from the negative does not ever leave me convinced, though.
    /3/ Similarly (to #2), we know a few things about the biblical authors. Luke and Paul were intimately aware of Greek/Roman culture. Luke and Paul spend a great deal of time discussing the maladies of spiritual life in churches from the region. Luke and Paul are detail oriented and wrote with the purpose of being exhaustive. Paul, especially, left us with endless lists of sins, shortcomings and spiritual maladies. Why isn’t the argument against the cultural practice of homosexuality more pronounced (if it such an abomination)? Now, to say that it isn’t important because it isn’t included is another argument from the negative. What do we do with the existence with these two absences? I am not comfortable ruining (potentially) the lives and faiths of the homosexual community on the basis of missing information. Conclusion: I am most comfortable suspending judgment, lets be patient (and kind) and listen.


  20. Shawn:

    Hermeneutical quandary #3 is an argument from silence, and like all such arguments is hardly probative.

    The more interesting question, it seems to me, is why on those few occasions when Paul says anything about homosexual behavior, it is uniformly negative.

    If you rarely heard me say anything about socialism, but only heard me denounce it when I mentioned it, what conclusion would you draw about my beliefs on socialism?


  21. George,

    Forgive my flub on the “argument from silence,” nonetheless; I believe the series of issues as a whole is the source of my reluctance to be doctrinaire on the issue.

    Additionally, I think that Paul’s statements are negative, but hardly lucid concerning same sex marriage. Now, I can guess at your response to that, but will let you speak for yourself. Additionally, there is no logically satisfactory way to dismiss the “weight or volume” of material on a topic, but there is certainly a doctrinal responsibility to draw standards of faith and practice from the broader scope of Scripture. Do two or three statements from an author qualify as doctrinal substantiation?

    Also, I conceded up front that these issues were not going to settle the issue for me or anyone else, but they hardly leave one with the impression of certainty that is present on other issues in Scripture. Consequently, they are nagging me.

    You didn’t offer any thoughts on #1 – ?


  22. Shawn:

    Regarding (1), I don’t agree with you that the “preponderance” of biblical evidence suggests a linkage between sin and sickness or demon possession and sickness. I think it suggests that there can be a linkage, but not that there must be.

    Regarding (2), I think you’ve misconstrued the biblical argument against same-sex marriage. We’re not arguing a negative. I’ve tried to point out the normativity on Jesus’ teaching on marriage from Matthew 19, which draws on the creation narratives. When you couple that with all the biblical examples of marriage–which are heterosexual, even when polygamous–with all the paranetic material on Christian marriage (including 1 Cor. 7), etc., then you start seeing that when the Bible talks about marriage, it always means heterosexual marriage.

    In an earlier comment somewhere on this site, I pointed out that with all the supposed variety of marital forms in the Bible, same-sex marriage never makes an appearance. Of course, this too is an argument from silence, so take it for what it’s worth (which isn’t much). Still, why is it that through 1500 hundred years of history across a variety of cultures, many of which had some form of socially accepted same-sex sexual unions, the biblical authors didn’t include one?

    Regarding medical/scientific data: The problem with such data is not that it exists, but what it implies. The sciences have a generally determinist bent. They’re finding all sorts of genetic predispositions toward all sorts of behaviors. But what exactly is that supposed to prove? If there’s a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, for example, does that excuse the alcoholic’s drunken binges? Or it does it put them under the moral obligation to control their behavior? If there’s a genetic predisposition to violence, does that excuse the person’s rages or require them to work extra hard to keep them under control? Why do you assume that a genetic predisposition or orientation to do something automatically licenses that behavior morally? Sometimes it may, sometimes it may not. Either way, what determines the morality of a given behavior is extra-scientific. Science deals in “is.” Morality deals in “ought.” How you get to whether violence is wrong from the fact that someone has a genetic predisposition to violence is beyond me.


  23. Shawn:

    That last sentence should have had a “for example” in it somewhere. Obviously, you’re not arguing about violence at all. I’m simply trying to use the predisposition-to-violence argument as an analogous form to what I take to be your homosexual-orientation argument.


  24. I would ask the question: do we, as Christians, need to weigh in on the matter? I weigh in on certain issues and the same-sex marriage issue is low on my priority list, not because I don’t care but because I don’t see it having the gravity that other issues have.

    But I would be interested to hear why you all weigh in on the matter? Does it carry certain contexts and connontations for the way our country will go (i.e. further from an inherent (finger quotes)”biblical” foundation?) or is the support or opposition of same-sex marriage becoming merely a secondary party issue (i.e. the party I support believes this, so I need to find a way to support it myself). I hope the latter is not the case.

    I don’t agree with a person’s decision to be homosexual (an issue about which this debate is evolving). I also don’t agree with a person’s decision to be sexually immoral which has been widely accepted as normal long before homosexuality entered the political arena. The danger is that in our zeal to stigmatize one issue we will not address the other, more accepted issue.

    However, another question is where to draw the line of “sin.” Peter Gomes (“The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus”) is a self-proclaimed celibate homosexual. 1 COR 6:9 states that “homosexual offenders” (NIV) will not inherit the kingdom of God. Can one be a homosexual and not “offend” by practicing celibacy?

    Just banter…

  25. George,
    I am going to risk throwing my ‘real opinion’ out there for the sake of furthering dialogue. I don’t really think same-sex unions have any bearing on the church. Christianity has never hinged on sexuality. There is no mention of sexuality in the creeds. I remember all the drama going on in the A/G over the last decade regarding divorce and see a lot of eerie parallels in this issue. I think that ultimately the final result will be a lot of ruined lives and ministries and a complete lack of progress in achieving the Church’s biblical mission. So, that is my “final line” on this whole issue for what its worth.
    Now, having said that, I do believe a rigorous biblical discussion is ALWAYS valuable, even if I think its ultimate conclusion is a non-issue for the church (the interpretation of symbols in Revelation, for instance).
    Regarding /1/- I think you are looking ‘backwards’ through current information and worldviews (which is my point ultimately). There most certainly were lengthy periods of Jewish and Christian history where sickness was seen as the result of sin and/or demon possession and they referenced a preponderance of biblical information to back it up, and based archaic medical practices on the presupposition. There is staggeringly more biblical information to support such claims than we currently have regarding homosexual behavior. The point, for me, is that we dismiss this thinking out of hand, today. We dismiss it as superstitious, uninformed, and even in your terms saying, “there can be a linkage, but not that there must be.” I believe this view of Scripture is accurate, because it balances reality as we know it through extra-biblical means with what Scripture says, however, it does not merely give validation to the idea literally presented in the Bible. The result is a worldview that recognizes that sometimes sickness is punishment for sin and sometimes it is a spiritual ailment (though, it is normally caused by things like bacteria and viruses), but that has not always been the case in society.
    Regarding /2/ and /3/, I believe that you agree that a biblical statement that defines what you should do alongside what you should not do is stronger than a statement that merely defines the affirmative. The only reason I have questions about the lack of what “not to do” in these statements (especially in the New Testament) is the presence of a culturally normative homosexual practice (meaning it was publically known/accepted – not predominant). Greek philosophy and culture is closely tied to Christianity in the early church and there is no (that I have seen) outcry against the practice in any of the patristic material or creeds, it was a non-issue.
    I find your observation about medical data (and the material reductionism behind it?) being deterministic interesting as a discussion all by itself. For the record, I have the same kinds of misgivings about giving things like a genetic predisposition to alcoholism carte blanche moral immunity. However, I think biologists would draw a line of distinction between a genetic marker predisposing someone to anger and a genetic marker determining their sexuality. I don’t know about you, but there is no amount of decision making that will make a male sexually attractive to me – I am programmed genetically to be attracted to women (however, recent studies on frogs have proven the ability to change the orientation of amphibians by tweaking genes chemically). I also think, based on the history of alcoholics in my family, that I am predisposed to alcoholism. I keep that predisposition firmly in check with good decision making. There is plenty of peer reviewed material, most recently in psychiatry, that backs these distinctions up – and even labels the ‘reprogramming’ of homosexuals through behavior therapy as damaging because sexually is proving to be a genetically determined trait.
    BTW – I knew what you meant with the analogy, I am not trying to win an argument, even if I could “cherry pick” a logical technicality. I am trying to increase my understanding.
    Great discussion thus far!

  26. Jmalutinok,

    One of the primary reasons that it is a big deal for several of us is because as members of The Episcopal Church, this issue is always boiling just below the surface and threatening to tear the Anglican Communion apart.

    Also, there are few Christians really listening to the gay community in a truly sensitive way, and so I at least am trying to contribute sympathetic ears to gay Christians.

    What’s more, is that I feel evangelicals especially have done a wretched job at interacting with gay people and often lapse into blatant homophobia. So I tried with my essays to give a bit of a rebuke to Evangelicals.

    But yes, global poverty and oppression is significantly more important than talking about sex.

  27. John:

    I weigh in on the gay marriage debate for a variety of reasons. I think it’s important, I think it’s relevant, I think the Bible speaks on the issue, and I think that’s where the controversy lies. By the way, opposition to gay marriage is not a Republican issue; it is a bi-partisan issue. Our president, to take one example, has stated that he is opposed to gay marriage. And in California, Proposition 8–a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage–passed because of the overwhelming support of African Americans, who vote 90% Democratic.

    I think the basic rule for all Christians regarding sexuality is celibacy outside marriage, fidelity within it. Insofar as Peter Gomes is following this rule, he is acting as Christians traditionally have done. For me, orientation is not justitiable, any more than lust is. Legislation doesn’t pertain to desires but to deeds. Of course, in the church, we are enjoined to get our lusts under control too.


  28. Shawn:

    In my understanding of churhc history, church councils produced two kinds of statements: creeds, which pertained to Christian belief, and canons, which pertained to Christian behavior. If homosexuality is not mentioned in the creeds, it is only because those are the inappropriate theological media for addressing behavioral issues. Take a look at the canons of the councils, and I’m sure you’ll find a lot about sexual behavior.

    Furthermore, I’m not sure you’re correct that issues of sexual morality–including homosexuality–were non-issues among the patristics. I googled “early church and homosexuality” and came up with this precis of quotations spanning the 2nd-4th centuries: http://www.catholic.com/library/Early_Teachings_on_Homosexuality.asp. I imagine that if you began digging around in the canons of the councils, not to mention the sermons and biblical commentaries of the fathers, you’d find a lot more grist for the mill.

    I don’t dismiss seemingly outmoded biblical teaching out of hand. As I stated, I think there can be cases where sin is the cause of sickness. And frankly, so do you. We know, for example, that sexual promiscuity with multiple partners increases one’s chance of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. We also know of the many health risks associated with obesity, which itself can arise from–among other causes–gluttony. At any rate, I don’t want to get into a detailed biblical discussion of every text that pertains to this issue. Let’s just agree that the Bible sometimes draws a connection between sin and sickness and sometimes doesn’t. We’ll have to disagree on whether the total weight of that evidence is affirmative or negative.

    You wrote: “The only reason I have questions about the lack of what “not to do” in these statements (especially in the New Testament) is the presence of a culturally normative homosexual practice (meaning it was publically known/accepted – not predominant). Greek philosophy and culture is closely tied to Christianity in the early church and there is no (that I have seen) outcry against the practice in any of the patristic material or creeds, it was a non-issue.” Two points: (1) See the hyperlink above which is a precis of patristic statements on the topic. (2) Romans 1 addresses the issue of male and female sexuality within the context of pagan idolatry. This was a typically Jewish polemic against pagan immorality. I believe that the text applies beyond situations of cult homosexual practice, but it at least applies to that one culturally sanctioned form of homosexual behavior. So, again, I’m not sure your statement about either the Bible’s or the patristics’ silence on socially approved forms of homosexuality is correct.

    In the final sentence of your comment above, you wrote that scientific studies are proving that sexuality “is proving to be a genetically determined trait.” It all depends on how you define “sexuality” and “determined” doesn’t it? If sexuality is defined as “orientation,” you may have a point. But if it is defined as behavior also, then you lose your point. Case study: Peter Gomes, whose orientation is homosexual but whose behavior is celibate. Which brings us to the word “determined.” If by determined you mean that one’s orientation cannot be anything other than homosexual, you may have a point. But if you’re talking about behavior, you once again lose your point, for the simple reason that any number of people whose orientation is homosexual have nonetheless engaged in heterosexual marriage practices or have been celibate. So, even if genetics determines orientation, it does not determine behavior. To use myself as an example: I am heterosexual by orientation; that doesn’t mean I sleep with every women I encounter. We may not choose or orientation, but we certainly choose our behaviors.

    That’s the point of the analogies I used. We may have an orientation to alcoholism–what is an orientation but a predisposition, after all?–or to anger. That doesn’t mean we should act out on it. The moral question is whether such orientations are moral or immoral. That’s not a question science can definitively answer.


  29. George,

    Always good polemicizing with you.

    Your link to the summary of quotations is
    appreciated, and it is helpful to the conversation.


  30. George,

    You make some good points. I would add that neither Iconography nor Church Architecture support homosecual marriage.

    If a person has a large sexual appetite might be influenced by their genetic make-up, this does not mean that for people with such an appetite committing fornication or adultery is not sinful. Or if one has a genetic basis for violent action that they are not responsible for violent actions.

    Here is a link with some pretty extensive references to primary sources if interested:

  31. Quickbeam:

    I like the list, although its citation of canon law is a bit tendentious, e.g., “enacted oppression of homosexuals into secular law” as a description of a legal act is hardly an objective statement.

    Thanks for adding in the points about iconography and architecture. We free-church Protestants generally forget and/or repudiate that non-textual side of the Christian tradition. But in both Catholic and Orthodox theology, icons and architecture communicate theology too.


  32. jmalutinok,

    I agree with you, but maybe in a different way or for slightly different reasons than adhunt.

    IMO: I just think the whole issue *in the public realm* is no longer the church’s business, at least not for the time being.

    If the church wants to “fix” marriage, they ought to work on their own track record (the all too often ignored log in their eye) before they beat down other people’s doors (the speck in their eye) and demand they submit to some type of church authority.

    The divorce rate is the same for a group of church-goers or non-church-goers.

    Real threats to marriage and family should identified and addressed first. Things like spousal and familial abuse, rape and incest, adultery and then divorce. Those create broken homes and broken children who grow into broken adults. These things take lifetimes to cope with, sometimes never fully.

    And these real threats should be taken head on within the church community first and foremost. I lived through some of that, and it comprises most of my earliest memories for years on end. In a Christian home.

    So quite frankly I don’t care if the couple down the street is two guys and their adopted son.

    But I will put my fist through the face of any father who treats their children the way I was treated. Homosexuality isn’t half the threat to marriage I would be in that instance.

    (P.S. And sorry if I struck a nerve with this post, guys. I was just giggling at the surface level humor in it as it struck me. Didn’t mean for it to spark such an intense debate.)

  33. ADJ:

    I think the discussion has been interesting, and I appreciate that you sparked the debate.

    For me, the question is why the church can’t address its own sorry practice of marriage and society’s sorry practice of it at the same time.

    Think of it this way: On the logic of your argument–first the church addresses itself, then others–the church wouldn’t be able to address any issue in society at all, for it commits the same sins as the broader society. Is society indifferent to the poor? So is the church. Does society legitimate violence through the widespread distribution of disturbing video games? Church kids are buying those games. Do the powerful defraud the naive through financial pyramid schemes? Look at all the health-and-wealth televangelists. If the logic of your argument is that we cannot address society’s problems until we are pure, then we cannot address society’s problems at all.

    Come to think of it, however, we can’t even address our own problems on that standard. If we must be pure to critique society, why are we allowed to be sinful and yet address the church’s problems? Does the “cast the first stone” rule apply only in our relationships to those outside the church, or does it apply to all relationships?

    Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I agree that the church can be (and is) a hypocritical institution. Or rather, to be more specific, I agree that I–a member in good standing of that hypocritical institution–am myself a hypocrite. So, what shall I do? Should I abandon proclaiming the standards because I and everyone else keep them imperfectly? No, I should proclaim them graciously. The gospel is a message of grace, and it includes a demand of repentance.

    There is a balance here, and I know I don’t always get it. But I don’t abandon the striving for balance. I strive to attain it.

    Just a thought based on my experience of my own hypocrisy…


  34. George,

    In response to your last post directed at me. Within the context of this conversation, do you believe that the church as a social entity has created a hierarchy of social ills?

    You seem to believe that the few vague statements regarding some form of ceremonial/ritual homosexuality encompass all of human experience, and that they constitute a non-negotiable moral shortcoming on behalf of those engaged in any ancillary behavior. Interestingly, you also point to the spiritual malady of greed/gluttony as the cause of the “sickness” of obesity. Isn’t unabated greed/gluttony a sin? Don’t we see entire races and nations of people suffering at the hands of greedy and corrupt rulers?

    Why isn’t the church making a social outcry against obese priests? Why isn’t fox news pandering hate-speech and propaganda against the civil rights of fatty’s all over the country? Why aren’t we restricting food assistance the government gives for the overweight and holding prayer vigils at state government buildings so that all the chunky citizens of the world will understand that we, as Christians, might love them, but we hate their sin and aren’t going to let their deranged and hedonistic idolatry of food ruin the morals of our God-fearing country? Don’t they understand that my children cannot hope to have a quiet family meal while their deformed and grotesque bodies are engaged in food orgies at the local McDonald’s?

    My ultimate, and only real point, is not that sin shouldn’t be spoken against because we cannot be consistent, but that we are so quick to slam the homosexual community because they are the minority. In fact, it is so easy to dismiss them and their perspective, because they are not only the minority but they are different. However, I am not really surprised – everything we need to know we really did learn in kindergarten, “Hey! That kid is different from us and different is bad. Let’s beat him up.” These people are most guilty of the moral abomination of being different from the general population.

  35. Shawn:

    I agree with you that we need to be careful about condemning the sins of others when we have sins of our own. The whole speck/log thing from Jesus comes to mind here.

    By the same token, I think there is a hierarchy of sins, and so do you, unless–to take just one example–you think gluttony is as evil as genocide, which only ends up making genocide as trivial as gluttony.

    So, what is this debate all about? Is it about whether homosexuality is a sin or whether homosexuality is such a grave sin that it warrants the attention it’s getting. It seems to me that you’re doubtful homosexuality is a sin, and therefore your certain that it doesn’t rank in the list of no-nos the church ought to be worried about.

    I think homosexuality is a sin, and I think it’s grave enough to talk about. From the standpoint of social consequences, I think no-fault divorce has far greater consequences than homosexuality because it affects far more people by several orders of magnitude. But since no one has posted about that, I haven’t commented on it. I go where the debate is.

    In my opinion, gay marriage has become an issue because the sexual revolution has basically undone centuries of tradition and cultural habits regarding marriage. I get the impression that some of the Theophiliacs think “traditional marriage” (one man, one woman, for life) is just one iteration in the evolution of sexual relationships. That’s the standard social-science line, and I’m always interested to see how writers who otherwise eschew Enlightenment modes of thinking buy into them when it comes to sex. But whatever. I think what we’re missing is that even from a social-science point of view, “traditional marriage” or lifelong heterosexual monogamy is a cultural achievement that should not be discarded lightly. Cultures that practice polygamy privilege men over women. Cultures that practice serial monogamy do the same. If you don’t believe that, just ask some 40-something woman with three kids who’s been dumped by her husband for a 20-something bimbo. Heterosexual monogramy practices the equality of the sexes, elevates the status of women, and controls the appetites of men.

    That’s why I’m concerned about it.


    P.S. You wrote: “You seem to believe that the few vague statements regarding some form of ceremonial/ritual homosexuality encompass all of human experience, and that they constitute a non-negotiable moral shortcoming on behalf of those engaged in any ancillary behavior.” I don’t think the statements are vague, I don’t think their application is limited to cultic settings, and therefore I don’t think their moral status is negotiable.

  36. George,

    “In my opinion, gay marriage has become an issue because the sexual revolution has basically undone centuries of tradition and cultural habits regarding marriage. I get the impression that some of the Theophiliacs think “traditional marriage” (one man, one woman, for life) is just one iteration in the evolution of sexual relationships. That’s the standard social-science line, and I’m always interested to see how writers who otherwise eschew Enlightenment modes of thinking buy into them when it comes to sex. But whatever. I think what we’re missing is that even from a social-science point of view, “traditional marriage” or lifelong heterosexual monogamy is a cultural achievement that should not be discarded lightly. Cultures that practice polygamy privilege men over women. Cultures that practice serial monogamy do the same. If you don’t believe that, just ask some 40-something woman with three kids who’s been dumped by her husband for a 20-something bimbo. Heterosexual monogramy practices the equality of the sexes, elevates the status of women, and controls the appetites of men.”

    I was following until the very last statement. What alternate reality do you live in? Do you honestly believe that the centuries of marriage tradition undone by the sexual revolution promoted equality of the sexes, elevation of women, and regulation over men’s desires? Have you spoken to your grandmothers about life prior to 60’s? Have you spoken with any educated women over the age of 50 about university life in recent decades? Do you remember the Women’s Suffrage Movement?! But whatever. Now I know that you are now going to differentiate between ‘serial monogamy’ and ‘heterosexual monogamy’ like the former was a cultural devaluation of the latter and I’m a moron for not buying into your alternate history about how one man + one woman for life has been a cultural staple, but you cannot seriously believe that ‘heterosexual monogamy’ has been normative or that it has promoted the things you say it has.

    Perhaps we should clarify what you think heterosexual monogamy means. If I am ranting over a simple misunderstanding I would like the opportunity to blush appropriately.

  37. Shawn:

    Let’s take this one step at a time:

    (1) I believe that heterosexual monogramy (one man, one woman, for life) is an improvement on polygamy, concubinage, and other ancient forms of sexual relationship. Do you agree?

    (2) One of the reasons I believe that heterosexual monogamy is an improvement on those forms of sexual relationship is because it equalizes the status of men and women. Or, if we’re going to be nuanced, it approaches a better relationship of equality between men and women.

    (3) No, Shawn, in fact I’ve never spoken with any educated women at all. I’m a complete dolt who’s lived in one of the most liberal states of the union my entire life, went to college and graduate school, and married a woman with an MBA who–before we had kids–made three times my annual salary. Oh, and my grandmother was born in 1898, so she actually lived before women had the right to vote. So I have no basis of comparison here, and I guess I should just concede your entire argument. How stupid of me to have even raised the issue!

    (4) Back to planet reality, there are at least two different sexual revolutions that we can speak of: (a) the revolution in women’s status and (b) the revolution in sexual practice. The former revolution has to do with voting rights, educational opportunities, and work. The latter has to do with access to sexual goods outside of marriage. The two revolutions are logically separable, even if historically correlated.

    (5) What heterosexual monogramy has done is to equalize (or at least better approach a status of equality) with regard to access to sexual goods. It deligitimates the (typically male) search for sexual satisfaction outside of matrimony, binds them to the products of sexual union, and legitimates the ongoing faithfulness of spouses to one another over their lifetime. Serial monogamy, by contrast, deligitimates long-term commitments, elevates short-term passions, despises children as inconveniences, degrades older women who are no longer sexually attractive to men, and privileges male sexuality over female sexuality. If you don’t believe me, ask why abortion is so important to the second kind of sexual revolution I mentioned above. For the simple reason that unless a woman can get rid of a child, she can never be a man’s sexual equal. This is the explicit argument made by pro-abortion groups. I cannot imagine a more degrading view of women than thinking they must be functionally male in order to be genuinely free. One more thing, the latter sexual revolution has increased the correlation between single-mother parenting and childhood poverty by de-linking marriage, sex, procreation, and childrearing.

    So, yes, I do believe that heterosexual monogramy has been–all things considered–a benefit to humanity, which is why I prize it as a (fragile) culture achievement, which some of you seem eager to dynamite. If you’d like to see what a society looks like when heterosexual monogramy is abandoned, take a close look at the inner city or rural Appalachia, where the second sexual revolution has had its most deleterious effects. If chronic, generational poverty is your thing, then by all means, you can have it.


  38. George,

    OKAY – I have my bib on (to catch my imbecilic drool), my dictionary out (to luk up big wurdz) and my mommy next to me to wipe my bottom (so that I can have the time I need to concentrate on comprehending your elaborate steps).

    /1/ Yes, actually (perhaps even ironically), I agree 100%

    /2/ I don’t think heterosexual monogamy does any such thing. Go back and read #1 again, here is the nuance I see. Christianity provides a system of justice and equality based on people valuing each other more than themselves and living sacrificially to serve those around them. IF two Christians, who make these biblical principles an essential part of their worldviews, marry each other and live out said principles in a monogamous relationship, then the status of men and women is equalized in said monogamous relationship (if these things do not affect their worldviews, then they just get a divorce and blame it on God instead). It does not have much to do with heterosexuality or monogamy, in my opinion, it has to do with living out Scripture’s instructions to hold others in higher esteem than ourselves, to live humbly as Christ exemplified, and to seek the unity that the Spirit brings. I am guessing an essential difference between you and me is that you think “heterosexual marriage” automatically guarantees those things. I am not willing to make that assertion just yet.

    /3/ Okay lets see… Having attended College and graduate school (twice), check. Having married an educated woman with multiple degrees who can make three times more than me, check. Having an ancient grandmother who lived through some of the roughest things in American history (who has recently passed, God rest her soul), check. Living in a demonstrably hippy/blue/liberal state, check. Being a complete dolt, in spite of my obnoxious loquaciousness, check. So, wait, what’s the point of this entry? Am I supposed to compare something else now, wink… wink?

    /4/ So, I assume you meant the one that best supports your point right. Like, I logically deduce from your statements that you meant the one about sexual behavior, or whatever – because “In my opinion, gay marriage has become an issue because the sexual revolution has basically undone centuries of tradition and cultural habits regarding marriage” obviously refers in a logically different but circumstatially correlated way to the one about voting rights and stuff, but not that other one?

    /5/ I’ll reference you back to my comments on #2, and in that context I agree.

    In summary, I am eager to dynamite nothing, except perhaps people that jump to conclusions and start drawing emotional appeals out statements that were stated clearly as speculative thinking. Just as a side question, which sexual revolution are we talking about when you mention “the inner city or rural Appalachia?” Is that the one where your point makes sense, or the other one (circumstantially related but logically distinguishable)?

  39. George,
    Where is the evidence that homosexual monogamy isn’t as beneficial to the world as you claim heterosexual monogamy is?

    I think Shawn has made an excellent point (worth repeating): if two people of whatever gender are not willing to commit to self-sacrificing love for each other, but get married anyway, pain, suffering, divorce, abuse, adultery, incest or some combination of the above are likely to occur. There is no evidence that being heterosexual as opposed homosexual in anyway prevents any this from happening.

    By the way, I have no idea who you are talking about when you make comments about theophiliacs wanting to dynamite heterosexual marriage. The majority of the people who contribute/post to this blog are happily married…to women…who we love. If we are making what appears to be unabashedly pro-same-sex-union statements at all, it is because you are making wildly extreme comments against, and we feel that to establish some semblance of balance, we have to present other possibilities.

    For me, at least, I’m just not sure, and I get less sure everyday. What makes me less sure? The rhetoric of people who are really, really sure that homosexuality is a sin, and that homosexual unions would destroy the mythical fabric of society, those are the people who push me further and further through the middle ground of uncertainty toward the other side.

    That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t want to get in the way of some sort of sordid contest going down between Shawn and you. I will not be a referee for that.


  40. Shawn:

    1. Glad we can move this one off the debate table.

    2. My position is that heterosexual monogamy is a necessary but not sufficient condition of equality between the sexes.

    3. I was demonstrating that I too can be sarcastic. We can move this one off the debate table.

    4. This was a descriptive point. Do you disagree, or is it your contention that we cannot have equality between the sexes (in terms of voting, education, and work) without access to sexual goods apart from marriage?

    5. Again, see the statement of my position at 2.

    In re: the inner city and rural Appalachia, the latter sexual revolution was in mind.


    P.S. Perhaps I should say that I’ve been heavily influenced by the writings of David Blankenhorn, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, and (through her historical studies of the Victorians) Gertrude Himmelfarb.

  41. James:

    At this point, I honestly don’t know what to say.

    So let me make some meta-points about my rhetorical style.

    (1) My learning style is combative. I strongly assert a position and wait for someone to strongly push back on it. I find that this proces–which can be rough and tumble–is best suited for helping me develop, defend, clarify, modify, and even repudiate positions. I generally don’t take the strong assertion of contrary positions personally, and I hope others don’t either.

    (2) My writing style is debate, not dialogue. This flows out of my learning style. I generally don’t qualify my statements with “in my opinion,” “it seems to me,” or “I feel that” because I take it for granted that what I write is what I think and feel. I actually do this better in person than online, because my non-verbals are more engaging conversationally than my verbals might let on. Unfortunately, this writing style is very different than most of the Theophiliacs’, who seem to me to be searching out their positions on matters.

    (3) I am also 12-15 years older than most of you. I’ve got stronger opinions on these matters–even settled opinions–because I already went through my searching-out phase in my 20s. I think generational differences sometimes complicate my exchanges with you and others on this site.

    (4) Evidently, I’m considerably more conservative than most of you on social issues, and far more classically liberal than you all on politics and economics. The disagreements, in the nature of the case, are going to be sharp, therefore.

    Which brings me back to the gay marriage debate. You guys see ambiguity in texts where I see clarity. You see no worries where I see danger. You seem to think it’s okay to fundamentally change long settled marital laws and customs because what could possibly go wrong; I tend to worry about unintended and unpredictable consequences. I guess time will tell which of us is right and which wrong. What worries me is that we went through a major round of marriage revisions in the 50s through 70s: removing the stigma against extramarital sexual behavior. legalizing the widespread use of contraception and abortion, making no-fault divorce the legal standard throughout the land, etc. I think these have been bad for our society. I take it you and the others don’t, or at least don’t think it’s so bad.

    I don’t know what kind of evidence would convince you of my position; and I don’t know what kind of evidence would convince me of yours. But I do know that fundamentally changing the legal definition of marriage will have consequences.

    Anyway, I feel like perhaps I’m just alienating people–you especially–by harping on this issue. So I’m going to retire from commenting on it. I’ve said my piece. It’s not convincing anyone, and I’m not being convinced to change my mind. Why continue debating?


  42. George,

    The comment about “enacted oppression” I think is simply the political method of chose used by Emperor Justinian. I didn’t take the comment from the author to imply anything PC by it. The term male was beginning to be applied to homosexuals in the fourth century, a trend that the Church supported since it preferred to define maleness based on anatomical organs rather than procreative libido. I think this stemmed from the scriptural quote about being eunuchs for the Lord Matthew 19:12 and the desire of the church to frame it that way.

    In the Byzantine court there were spadones & castrati covered by law. As I undestand it “natural” eunuch (homosexuals) were suppressed (probably a better term then oppressed)but I admit that I don’t have a handle on the material or the subject that well to know for sure.

  43. George,

    As often happens, I tend to sort of agree with you on matters of homosexuality and marriage etc… The big difference between us tends to be that I am not for enacting societal norms (for the most part) by way of legislation.

    You’re right! Laxed attitudes to sex outside marriage and increased and flippant use of contraceptives have led to relational disaster in our society.

    Then let the counter example be in the Church and not in the courts! The problem with natural law folks (as I see it) is that “law” seems the “natural” outworking of what should be “easily discernible” ethical outlooks. Obviously not everyone see’s the logic.

    So let the relationships tumble, and let the Church bring the reconciling hope of Christ to people. I’ll never get why having secularly recognized gay “marriage” threatens Christian marriage.


    p.s. – I’ve grown accustomed to your rhetorical style, so I don’t get alienated by it. Probably because I (sadly) have a similar temperment.

  44. George,

    I am not alienated or upset. We can agree to disagree and move on to other posts and other fights. My last post was to clarify that I’m pretty sure every person on this blog has a very high regard for marriage, regardless of our thoughts or questions about SSU, etc. Sorry if I sounded testy, but one must clarify these matters. And the whole “some sort of sordid contest” thing was meant with tongue firmly in cheek. Just wanted to clear the air.


  45. George, et al,

    It stands to reason that the church cannot be perfect. We can definitely agree there.

    But if the church could ever say, “Look, the divorce rate within the church is 15%, compared to 50% outside the church. We’re doing something right, please let us help and be a model for others.” That would be good. That should be a goal, and that is where the effort is needed most, IMO.

    And it’s not enough just having a small divorce rate. We need to know, not hope, that those families who are not divorcing are not just afraid to divorce or remaining in broken, unfaithful or dangerous relationships because it’s seen as a moral duty. There is a quality of life that needs to be established as well. It’s a comprehensive problem with many layers of responsibility and accountability.

    Marriage is broken in our country, regardless of faith. If church leaders want to be vocal about the brokenness of marriage, this is the issue that seems to need attention.

    If church leaders were at least as vocal, if not more outspoken, about these other things as they are about gay marriage, we’d be heading in the right direction. That would be a good turn of events, in my mind.

  46. All,

    I can’t help feeling a little responsible for the awkward denouement of this thread (apparently the way George is feeling too). However, I am with George and others. I presented my opinion as something I was ready to fight about in a public forum, and not as something I was ready to commit to belief. So, I hope there is not anyone who thinks I am offended, upset, or anything of the sort. I was having fun.

    On a personal note, George, I value your opinion. I want to discuss in a place where ideas are rigorously tested, and I see you as a person who can facilitate that. In fact, I think you’re someone who can argue for or against something on the basis of information and regardless of how you feel personally, which I value. This is something I think many here are able to do. So, please, don’t be less rough and tumble for my sake. I want the truth, and I think the truth can handle us having heated debate. Bring it, Brother!

  47. Tony,

    First off I don’t see that pushing for a lowering of divorce will be effective. In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI warned(1968) that the widespread use of contraception would lead to “conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality”; he also warned that man would lose respect for woman and “no longer [care] for her physical and psychological equilibrium”; rather, man would treat woman as a “mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.” Why? By breaking the natural and divinely ordained connection between sex and procreation, women and especially men would focus on the hedonistic possibilities of sex and cease to see sex as something that was intrinsically linked to new life and to the sacrament of marriage.

    Until the church’s are able to re-establish the relationship btwn a man and a woman in marriage exclusively and sex outside of marriage becomes a social, political and economic no-no divorce will remain unchanged.

    The leading scholars who have tackled these topics(contraception, divorce, and cohabitation) are not Christians, and most of them are not political or social conservatives. They are, rather, honest social scientists willing to follow the data wherever it may lead. And the data has largely vindicated Christian moral teaching on sex and marriage. So the intellectual foundation for dissent on moral matters is collapsing.

    Public health advocates (back in the mid-60’s)had predicted that the widespread availability of contraception and abortion would reduce illegitimacy; yet the United States witnessed such a dramatic increase in illegitimacy from 1965 to 1990—from 24 percent to 64 percent among African-Americans, and from 3 percent to 18 percent among whites.

    Check out George Akerlof at the University of California at Berkeley studies.

  48. Quickbeam,

    I think you misunderstand my opinion.

    I’m not saying we “push for” a lowering of the divorce rate. I’m saying we address the issues that lead to an unacceptably high rate of divorce within the church. Maybe I didn’t make that clear.

    From what I can tell by your post, you and I probably come at this from completely different perspectives and for completely different reasons, but I think we’re saying the same thing, essentially. It’s not the rate that is bad, the rate is only the outward statistic that tells us there is a problem, and that problem starts long before two people decide to get married.

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