Biblical marriages

A popular infographic claims to present interesting, even shocking, information about “biblical marriage”. This biblical marriage infographic is unhelpful.

Biblical marriage infographic

Facebook does not seen good at giving attributions, so I don’t know who produced biblical marriage infographic, if it was you write to me and I’ll gladly attribute it :)

I’ve seen several people, including Rowland Crowcher, post this “infographic” on Facebook. Since I’ve spoken quite a bit on “Family in the Bible”, and am due to speak to a leaders group from the NZ Christian Network on the “Theology of Marriage” really soon it makes me hopping mad!

In one sense the graphic is “true”. The Bible does present all these, and more (some arguably worse) patterns of marriage. It is also true that God chose to work in and through many of these. Just looking at Abraham (the “father” of the three monotheistic religions) or Jacob (aka “Israel”) makes it clear that God does not turn aside from some convoluted and perverse human arrangements in choosing who to use as a channel of grace.

But, do any of these represent “a biblical view of marriage”. Hell no! It is time for some stakes in the ground. In terms of the teaching of Scripture it is clear that Gen 2 is a privileged text (Jesus and Paul both cite it when discussing marriage). This passage, and the teaching of Jesus and Paul make some basics clear:

Marriage:
  • was ordained by God
  • is the union of a man and a woman
    • produces and nurtures the next generation
    • provides necessary partnership

However, in this (as in everything else) human sinfulness warps and twists God’s intent. All of the “biblical” marriages listed in the graphic reflect this.

See some of my earlier posts for background to this one:

I am aware that some people will understand what I have written in the very short and angry post as endorsing particular views on the currently hot and vexed topic of “Gay marriages”. It does. Gay marriage is perhaps an oxymoron if marriage the partnership of a man and a woman, and is intended to produce as well as nurture the next generation. However, the view endorsed above says nothing about either Civil Unions, or about the possibility of blessing (or even solemnising) them in churches. As far as I am concerned that seem to be separate issues, and ones on which my view of marriage does not entail any particular position. I wish that we (Christians of all stripes, marriage activists of every opinion, and especially the authorities of both states and churches) would just sit back and separate the two things and issues.

9 comments on “Biblical marriages

  1. Deane

    “making violent love to her”

    I remember reading these words in Jane Autin’s Emma, and my first thought was that this otherwise staid story of quotidian events had suddenly taken an unexpectedly erotic turn. Of course, my second thought was that the phrase probably had a quite different meaning in the 19th Century than what it does today.

    “Gay marriage is an oxymoron since … marriage [is] the partnership of a man and a woman”

    I mean, really, an “oxymoron”? Maybe from some fading or peculiar perscriptive viewpoint, but no, not in the general language that is spoken today. Language and social institutions develop and change/, and nothing is accomplished by pretending that one can oppose that by ruling that definitions are absolute – that the definition of “marriage” is limited to one man and one woman, or for procreation and nurturing of the young. And your intimation that all you are doing is defining words, and aren’t proclaiming on the substantive issue, is a pretense that is at best mildly ridiculous. Those same-sex couples who want the legal and social benefits and obligations of a marriage should not be denied it – for the benefit of their lives and the benefit of society at large. Moreover, those heterosexual couples that, for whatever reason, know that they can never have children don’t want to hear the nonsense that marriage is for the ideal of “producing as well as nurturing the next generation”.

    Marriage, for those who want it, is an evolving idea – and that is the joke that the Facebook infographic made well. The Bible’s description of human relationships is sometimes better than its prescriptions, if one abandons such perverse and fictional notions as an original state of bliss and the Fall.

  2. tim

    So near and yet so far!

    Those same-sex couples who want the legal and social benefits and obligations of a marriage should not be denied it” I thought that was precisely what the notion of a “Civil Union” was about? All I am saying is that a marriage and a civil union are two similar but different things.

    On the question of childless couples I don’t disagree, except to say that those I have known are even more aware that something that would be their ideal is missing. Many have also found ways to turn this lack into something positive. Life is not “fair”.

  3. tim

    PS this repost (originally form 2004, then from 2010) may fill in some background Once were couples.

  4. The Skeptic

    Genesis 2 provides a definition of marriage? What a hoot! Genesis 2 does nothing of the sort. It is clear just who is doing the “twisting” here.

    Genesis 2 explains how God made plant life for man’s use, then God made the animals for man’s use and then God made the woman for man’s use (a help meet for him). Not a word about marriage. Nor does it say (1) a man can only have one woman, (2) they should produce and nurture the next generation, nor (3) anything about partnership.

    As usual the preacher is making it; he’s trying to say the bible contains his definition of marriage. But of course it doesn’t. No, the graphic provides a much more accurate depiction of what the bible contains.

  5. tim

    The Skeptic wrote:
    Genesis 2 provides a definition of marriage? What a hoot! Genesis 2 does nothing of the sort. It is clear just who is doing the “twisting” here.
    Sorry, I don’t think anyone in this conversation, except you has claimed that it does.

    On the rest, you might like to look at subsequent posts and the conversation there.

  6. Deane

    I know you’re refusing the term “marriage” for homosexual couples, but the recognition of legal and social equality for homosexual and heterosexual couples is the very point at issue. That is – I’m saying let’s abandon the traditional conceptions of “marriage” that seek to restrict the extension of its social benefits to homosexual couples. The argument doesn’t stop at pointing out traditional definitions, when the contention is that those definitions should change. And further, basing definitions on the Bible meets the obvious rejoinder that the Bible is constantly being re-contextualised and applied in new social settings, and its own cultural constructs regarding sexuality, gender, etc, are “reinterpreted” for application in our own cultures. So – why not also with “marriage”?

    Also, the dismissal, by appeal to definitions, and use of the term “oxymoron”, veils the substantive positioning. Such a rhetorical move also correlates strongly with an authoritarian personality, as research has shown. Authoritarians love those ol’ boundaries, definitions, an semantics, no matter what the effect on people in reality. “Authoritarians should find gay marriage oxymoronic and oppose it because it mixes up and confounds a traditionally gendered institution rooted in female-male relaionships” (Bill E. Peterson and Eileen L. Zurbriggen, “Gender, Sexuality, and the Authoritarian Personality” Journal of Personality 78:6 [Dec 2010]: 1801-1826, 1822).

  7. tim

    Deane, thanks for the thoughtful response to a rant, and thanks also for the suggestion that I might be an “authoritarian personality” with the referenced quote to give academic support to the claim ;)

    As you might expect (having read quite a bit of my stuff) I am very sympathetic to talk of legal and social equality. I am shocked and horrified by the way many of my fellow Christians speak and act towards homosexual people and couples (because in my experience their tolerance is greater towards individuals than towards actual couples present together). However, I am not sure that it would be helpful to ditch the term “marriage” since it refers to a reality and one which is in fact different from a gay partnership, because here social and biological are intertwined in complicated ways.

    We Westerners are so quick to talk of rights. I am not sure that marriage is a “right” it is more of a responsibility and also a blessing.

  8. tim

    Taking your quote: “Authoritarians should find gay marriage oxymoronic and oppose it because it mixes up and confounds a traditionally gendered institution rooted in female-male relationships” (Bill E. Peterson and Eileen L. Zurbriggen, “Gender, Sexuality, and the Authoritarian Personality” Journal of Personality 78:6 [Dec 2010]: 1801-1826, 1822) out of context (since I have not read the article) I am puzzled by the description of marriage as a “traditionally gendered institution” I would have thought the relationship in which a man and a woman produce and care for children was not so much gendered by tradition as by biology?

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