Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Category

Robert Gagnon on Divorce

November 28, 2012

I found it interesting to peruse Robert Gagnon’s article on divorce, “Divorce and Remarriage-After-Divorce in Jesus and Paul” (available here), which was a response to an article by David Instone-Brewer.  Among Gagnon’s comments:

Whether Jesus would have adopted an exception for adultery as Matthew thought, I do not know. I doubt that he would have permitted separation for anything less than adultery that was both persistent and unrepentant, given his teaching on forgiveness (Matt 6:14; 18:15-35) and the message of the six antitheses in Matt 5:21-48 (including the antitheses about not being angry, keeping one‟s vows, turning the other cheek, and loving one‟s enemy). He did not address the question of physical abuse but, consistent with the approach of later rabbis, I suspect that he would have regarded this as a criminal matter. One might reasonably guess that, as a safety precaution, he would have allowed separation if staying in the same domicile posed a substantial risk of serious physical harm. If he would have allowed remarriage for anything, undoubtedly it would have been for a divorce that occurred on the grounds of persistent and unrepentant adultery and extreme physical endangerment, and perhaps too for abandonment. Yet I think the evidence suggests that he would not have permitted remarriage for anything less than the death of one‟s spouse (and it wouldn‟t count if the spouse who did the divorcing was the killer). For anything else separation might be necessary but the remarriage remains intact. There can never be a real “divorce” apart from death of one of the spouses.

I don’t endorse his comments. For example, Gagnon’s acceptance of the idea of a primitive pre-gospel source document (Q) and specifically Gagnon’s suggestion that Matthew does not reflect the historical Jesus where Matthew departs from the purely speculative Q, is something I utterly anathematize.

More directly interesting to my discussion with Steve, Gagnon states:

Jesus could have said that he preferred a strict interpretation of the phrase ‘ervath davar in Deut 24:1 (“a nakedness of a thing,” “an indecency of some sort” understood as adultery—the Shammaite interpretation) over a loose interpretation (understood as anything that the husband might find objectionable about his wife—the Hillelite interpretation). In other words, he could have kept the debate within the law of Moses. But he didn‟t. Instead, even in Matthew‟s version (which Instone-Brewer favors over Mark‟s), Jesus contrasted what Moses permitted with what God implicitly disallowed in Gen 1:27 and 2:24: “Moses, with a view to your hardness of heart, permitted you to release [i.e. divorce] your wives; but from the beginning it has not happened in this way [or: it was not so]” (Matt 19:8). [Fn8] “So they [i.e., the man and woman joined in marriage in Gen 2:24] are no longer two but one flesh. What then God yoked together a human must not separate. . . . Whoever releases [i.e. divorces] his wife—not for sexual immorality [adds Matthew]—and marries another commits adultery” (Matt 19:6, 9; cf. Mark 10:8b-9, 11). For Jesus, God‟s will in creation trumped subsequent relaxations of that will, including deviations in Scripture found in the law of Moses.

While Gagnon obviously disagrees, Gagnon is highlighting the issue I raised. Jesus is correcting an overly broad liberal view of Deuteronomy 24:1 that permitted divorce for any reason, by explaining (in the Matthew account) that it was only for adultery. It might be interesting to explore the Shammaite vs. Hillelite distinction he mentions (and the documentary basis for it).

Gagnon’s conclusion is natural, given his rejection of the adultery exception as Jesuit (i.e. of Jesus), but given my acceptance of it, the opposite conclusion derives.

I would also agree, incidentally, with Gagnon’s observation that it is male hardness of heart (not female hardness of heart) that is mind in Jesus’ comment about the reason that divorce was permitted at all.

In any event, it made for some interesting reading. Thanks to my unnamed reader who pointed it out to me.



Responding to Steve Hays’ Argument for Divorce Grounded in "Domestic Violence"

October 24, 2012

Steve Hays recently published a post (link to post) in which he argued in favor of the notion that domestic violence is a legitimate ground of divorce.  I provided some comments in the comment box of that post, which led to Steve posting two new posts addressing some of my comments (link to Steve’s second post)(link to Steve’s third post).

Steve’s posts raise a lot of issues, no doubt.  But it seems that Steve’s major argument for his position is this one:

c) There is also an argument from analogy. A battered slave could be manumitted (Exod 21:26-27). A fortiori, a battered wife can divorce her husband. What’s true in the lesser case of a slave is true in the greater case of a wife, for a wife has greater rights than a slave.

This argument is invalid.  Just because something leads to the release of slavery does not imply that it leads to the release of a marriage.  A Hebrew slave was released from bondage upon reaching a seventh year of service.  But no serious person would suggest that a Hebrew spouse was released from marriage upon reaching a seventh year.  Thus, the fact that something led to the release of a slave does not imply that the something should lead to the release of a spouse.

Likewise, it’s worth noting that the provisions that warrant a divorce (adultery/fornication and actual desertion by an unbelieving spouse) are not things that warrant the release of a slave.  Indeed, it is absurd to suppose that if a slave’s master commits adultery, the slave is free to leave.  Likewise, in the law Hebrews were not commanded to let unbelieving slaves go free if they wished to go free.  Furthermore, while death of a spouse liberate the other from the marriage, the death of a master does not liberate a slave.

Thus, there is no good reason to suppose that this argument from analogy is valid.  The two things are non-analogous precisely on the point that the analogy aims to press.

There are also further problems with this argument.  First, the use of the “rights” framework is anachronistic.  The Scriptures don’t speak of “rights” and specifically in this instance the release of the slave was retributive justice against the master, not a “right” of the slave.

Second, it is not clear that a wife had “greater rights” than every slave in Hebrew law.  In this case, for example, if we call what the slave has a “right,” the law does not provide for similar or greater rights for wives.

Steve tried to argue that wives did have greater rights because they had higher social status.  But actually, social status is something of a fluid concept.  For example, in second temple Judaism, the temple apparently included a “court of the women,” between the court of the Gentiles and the court of the men.  Thus, at least in the temple, a male Hebrew slave would have higher social status – he could get closer to the symbol of the presence of God than she could.  Of course, I recognize that in other aspects the social status of a wife was higher – in the home, the slaves would be expected to generally obey the wife.

Moreover, higher social status is not convertible into greater “rights.”  Whether one characterizes the mechanisms of Hebrew law in terms of “rights,” “legal protections,” “privileges,” or “prerogatives,” there was not some kind of general pattern of providing those with higher social status greater rights, protections, privileges, etc.  Indeed, the law called for a general principle of equality despite social status differences:

Leviticus 19:15
Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.
Deuteronomy 1:17
Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it.

There’s another problem with Steve’s analogy, which we could call the “two dimensional” problem.  Let’s suppose that married women were of higher social rank than male slaves.  That’s one dimension.  At the same time, though, marriage is a more binding bond than slavery.  “They twain shall be one flesh” is a bond that is greater than the highest degree of binding in slavery, the ear bored slave who wishes to serve his master perpetually (Exodus 21:6). Husbands have a duty to sacrifice themselves for their wives in a way that no master is called upon to act toward a slave.  That’s another dimension.

So, even if wives have greater rights than male slaves, the bonds of marriage are stronger.  So, Steve’s argument doesn’t establish what he wants it to, for at least that further reason.  It’s not really a proper a fortiori argument.

And the problems don’t stop there.  It is not mere battery of a slave that gives the slave freedom.  The slave gets freedom in the case of significant permanent physical injury.  Specifically, the slave gets his freedom for the loss of an eye or a tooth.

Exodus 21:26-27
And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.

But Steve’s move in his argument is from permanent physical injury to mere battery.  That’s a move from greater injury to lesser injury.  Even if permanent physical injury could justify breaking the marriage bond, Steve would still need to find some justification for something less than permanent physical injury breaking the marriage bond.

There’s an even more fundamental framing problem with Steve’s argument.  Why focus on a wife?  If a wife has high social status, surely in Hebrew law a husband has even higher social status.  And surely a free husband would have higher social status than a female slave.

But, of course, a “battered husband” isn’t nearly sympathetic enough for Steve’s argument.  Moreover, if “social status” were a determiner of degree of divorce rights, Steve’s argument would imply that men in general should have more divorce rights than women, and that rich men should have more divorce rights than poor men.  But one cannot imagine Steve seriously advocating such an absurd position.  Therefore, Steve’s argument should be rejected, to avoid the reduction to absurdity.

Although there are these plethora of problems with Steve’s argument, Steve may point out that I’ve addressed his third argument, argument c, but not his first two arguments, arguments a and b.  So, let’s briefly address them.

Steve argues:

a) Domestic violence is a travesty of what marriage represents, in terms of companionship as well as the emblematic significance of marriage (i.e. to illustrate God’s devotion to the redeemed). It’s the antithesis of how marriage is supposed to function (e.g. Eph 5:22-33).

b) Breach of covenant can nullify a covenant if one party fails to honor the terms of the covenant. And this isn’t the case of a spouse who makes a good faith effort, but falls short due to sin. Rather, this is acting in bad faith.

Let’s take for granted that “domestic violence is a travesty of what marriage represents,” as to the two aspects identified.  Let’s even assume that it is the “antithesis of how marriage is supposed to function.”  However, even if those statements are true, they fall short of justifying “domestic violence” as a ground of divorce.  These would just be legitimate complaints about sin, or arguments that this sin is severe (“travesty” has that connotation).  So, this is the weakest of Steve’s three arguments.  He doesn’t even include a step in the argument that leads to a conclusion in the form of “and thus divorce is justified based on domestic violence.”

Steve’s second argument also has problems.  One problem is the idea that marriage is a covenant.  While it is popular these days to speak of marriage covenants or “covenantal marriage,” these are not Biblical descriptions of the marriage between a man and a woman.   Nevertheless, Malachi and Jeremiah both intermix covenantal language with the description of marriage:

Jeremiah 31:32Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:
Malachi 2:10-16Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers? Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god. The Lord will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the Lord of hosts.
And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.
Yet ye say, Wherefore?
Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.
And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit.
And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed.
Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

My own view is that this is a blending of various aspects of God’s relationship with Israel – they were in a covenant with him, and their relationship to him was also illustrated as a marriage (usually with God as the husband, although note that he’s the bride in one part of Malachi’s argument).  Nevertheless, to avoid being contentious, let us assume that on some level or other a marriage is a covenant.

Steve’s argument refers to the “terms of the covenant.”  That would be fine if Steve could point us to terms of the covenant that support his position.  The problem is that there aren’t any such terms of the covenant for Steve to point to.  Rather, if any, the terms of the covenant are those specified in my previous post, namely that the parties must not engage in adultery/fornication.

Furthermore, a spouse who makes a “good faith effort” but falls into the sin of adultery doesn’t get a pass. So, “good faith effort” isn’t really the Biblical standard.  Granted that it is more heinous when a person does not make a good faith effort at their marriage than when they do make such an effort, but that effort is not the measure of the marriage bond.

Likewise, there can be all kinds of bad faith.  A husband can, in bad faith, wear his shoes in bed, knowing that his wife hates the fact that it muddies the sheets.  He might even do this because he’s a mean person, and not for any even remotely legitimate reason.  But one would be hard pressed to argue that if he does that once, she’s free to divorce and remarry – or even that she would be free to divorce and remarry if he often did it.

Of course, one difference between making the house a pig sty and physical abuse is the severity of the absence of love of neighbor that the man is exhibiting.  Indeed, there can be many violations of a husband’s duties to his wife or a wife’s duties to her husband.  In a sense any violation of any of the duties is “breaking the covenant.”

Presumably, though, Steve would argue that divorce is justified only when those violations are sufficiently severe.  The muddy sheets is not severe enough but “domestic violence” is severe enough.  But why does Steve get to decide what is severe enough?  After all, the Bible identifies adultery/fornication as the only example of what’s ordinarily severe enough (with desertion by an unbelieving spouse being an exclusion).

Indeed, Jesus’ way of describing the grounds of divorce is exclusive, not illustrative.  Jesus doesn’t say “unless it be for something like adultery” but rather limits it to sexual sin (“except it be for adultery”). So, while a heinous sin like spousal abuse may in a sense “break covenant” does not mean that it rises to the level where Biblical divorce is the solution.


Properly Loving One’s Neighbor

August 20, 2012

Douglas Wilson (there, I’ve now lost half my reading audience) has posted some shots at Horton’s piece on “gay marriage.” (link to Wilson) Wilson was struck by something Horton said, something that also struck me: “The challenge there is that two Christians who hold the same beliefs about marriage as Christians may appeal to neighbor-love to support or to oppose legalization of same-sex marriage.”

There are a number of problems with what Horton says. Here are a few:

1) The second table of the law best describes our duty to love our neighbor. If we disregard the law of God, we are simply having friendship with the world, not Biblical love of neighbor. None of that entails that we cannot be kind, friendly, and loving toward our neighbors who sin. On the contrary, we must be those things. However, we must do so without compromising the second table.

2) The law given to Israel did accord with love of neighbor, and particularly with the second table. In other words, the harsh punishments of that law for the sin of Sodom were not unloving, nor were they in any way a violation of the second table or the duty to love our neighbors as ourselves. Whether or not those precise punishments should be imposed, if those precise punishments were imposed, there would be no injustice.

3) The appropriate neighbor-loving reaction to Sodom’s sin (by the civil magistrate) is not affirmation or tolerance of that sin, but judicial correction of that sin. In other words, the general equity of the civil law of Israel applies. That general equity is at least that such sexual behavior deserves punishment by the civil magistrate (whether or not that general equity extends to the degree of punishment or the mode of punishment, we can leave to another discussion).

In short, Horton is wrong if he means that Christians can legitimately appeal to the principle of neighbor love to support or oppose such legislation.

Horton writes: “Although a contractual relationship denies God’s will for human dignity, I could affirm domestic partnerships as a way of protecting people’s legal and economic security.”

The problem, though, is that Horton is affirming something that he (as civil magistrate) ought to condemn. Legitimate concern for the person’s economic security cannot trump the civil magistrate’s duty to oppose evil.

One wonders if Horton would say the following:

Although a contractual relationship denies God’s will for human dignity, I could affirm mafia partnerships as a way of protecting people’s legal and economic security.

Although a contractual relationship denies God’s will for human dignity, I could affirm pimping/prostitution partnerships as a way of protecting people’s legal and economic security.

Although a contractual relationship denies God’s will for human dignity, I could affirm contract hit partnerships as a way of protecting people’s legal and economic security.

Although a contractual relationship denies God’s will for human dignity, I could affirm false witness for hire partnerships as a way of protecting people’s legal and economic security.

I hope the answer would be an emphatic, “well, of course not.” Horton wouldn’t want the shield of the state to be used to protect organized crime, pimps, hitmen, or sons of Belial in the course of their evil. So, Horton is being inconsistent (the hallmark of E2k) in supporting “domestic partnerships.”

I’m glad that Horton ends well (I quote his conclusion below), but I fear that he gets to the right conclusion without a solid framework:

At the end of the day, what tips the scales toward the second view is that I can’t see how neighbor-love can be severed from love of God, which is after all the most basic command of all. Even if they do not acknowledge “nature and nature’s God”—or anything above their own sovereign freedom to choose—reality nevertheless stands unmovable. Like the law of gravity, the law of marriage (of one man and one woman) remains to the end of time—not just for Christians, but for all people everywhere.

That’s where the rubber meets the road. If your interpretation of “love of neighbor” leads you to compromise your duty to God, it is not true love of neighbor. Love of God is the first and great commandment, and together with love of neighbor, it is the hermeneutic for understanding the entire Old Testament.


"So You Still Think Homosexuality is Sinful?"

August 16, 2012

Another graphic that is floating around the social media sites is one titled “So You Still Think Homosexuality is Sinful?” and subtitled “And therefore gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry?” (Example)

That’s not actually the reason that “gay marriage” shouldn’t be allowed. The reason is that such a thing is an oxymoron. Marriage is a permanent union between a man and a woman. Homosexuals have always been “allowed” to get married, they just don’t want to because they don’t want that kind of permanent union with a member of the opposite sex. More precisely, many have been married (for immigration reasons, because of family pressures, or the like), but that is not what they are demanding now.

The graphic itself is a flow chart. If you answer the title question, “no,” it rewards you by telling you “congratulations on begin part of civilized society!” Apparently, the graphic’s author thinks that having a faulty understanding of morality is part of being in a “civilized” society. It used to be that “civilized” referred to societies who live by rules (especially those rules associated with the Bible), not those that abandon rules.

For those that answer “Yes,” the graphic asks, “Why?” and offers six alternatives. The first alternative is, “Because Jesus said so,” which the graphic answers by saying, “Not true. Jesus never uttered a word about same-sex relationships.” There are several responses to this.

First, Jesus repeatedly referred to Sodom as an example of hardhearted wickedness deserving severe divine punishment:

Matthew 10:15
Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.

Matthew 11:23
And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

Matthew 11:24
But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.

Mark 6:11
And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.

Luke 10:12
But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city.

He doesn’t explicitly mention the term “homosexuality,” but he doesn’t have to. Everyone knows what kind of people the men of Sodom were.

Second, Jesus endorsed the old testament law.

Matthew 5:17
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

Third, Jesus sent Paul as his apostle:

Romans 1:1
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

1 Corinthians 1:1
Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,

2 Corinthians 1:1
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia:

Galatians 1:1
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)

Ephesians 1:1
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:

Colossians 1:1
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,

1 Timothy 1:1
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope;

2 Timothy 1:1
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus,

Titus 1:1
Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness;

… and Paul clearly taught that homosexuality is sinful.

The chart assumes that we will accept the claim that Jesus had nothing to say about the matter, and returns to the question “why.” The next option provided in the chart is “Because the Old Testament said so.”

The chart responds by asserting, “The O.T. also says it’s sinful to eat shellfish, to wear clothes woven with different fabrics, and to eat port.” The chart then asks, “should we still live by O.T. laws?”

The O.T. also says it’s wrong to kill people, commit adultery, and steal their things. Should we still live by O.T. laws? It’s safe to say that the chart’s author thinks we should, when it comes to those, and that we shouldn’t when it comes to eating kosher and avoiding mixed fiber clothing. In fact, aside from Jews and some Judaizers, we all generally agree on the points.

The question (which is begged by the graphic) is whether the prohibition on homosexual relations is one that falls in the former category or the latter category. The chart doesn’t offer any argument as to why we should consider it to be similar to the requirement to eat kosher, and not consider it similar to the prohibition on adultery. But homosexual sex is much more like adultery than it is like eating shrimp. Moreover, we have New Testament guidance which helps us distinguish between the ceremonial laws (like the dietary laws) and the moral laws (like the laws regarding sexual behavior).

The chart assumes that the answer to the question posed will simply be “yes” or “no,” rather than actually addressing the premises provided. Since there is another way to the “yes” outcome, we’ll address that in a minute. The “no” outcome loops us back to the “why” question.

The next option the chart provides is, “Because the New Testament says so.” The chart responds:

The original language of the N.T. actually refers to male prostitution, molestation, or promiscuity, not committed same-sex relationships. Paul may have spoken against homosexuality, but he also said that women should be silent and never assume authority over a man.

The chart then asks, “Shall modern-day churches live by all of Paul’s values?”

Actually, the original language of the NT does not distinguish between “committed” and other kinds of homosexual activity. In other words, it’s not as though the NT exclusively refers to male prostitutes (although it does refer to them, using the euphemism “dogs”). It uses terms that cover the range of homosexual activity, including both “active” and “passive” homosexuality. For example:

1 Corinthians 6:9
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

And the New Testament broadly addresses both male and female homosexuality:

Romans 1:26-27
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

Regarding what Paul said about women, he said that they were to be silent in the church not always. But yes, there are many things that Paul teaches about women that modern feminists (of both sexes) don’t care for.

Regarding the question of whether we should adopt “all” of Paul’s values, even if the answer were “no,” that would still leave open the question of whether we should adopt this very clearly stated moral value. One might argue that there are some of Paul’s values that were culturally conditioned (the typical feminist argument for egalitarianism). But even if we grant that argument’s force (I certainly don’t grant it, just to be clear), that still does not lead us to a conclusion that we throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In other words, raising an objection that we shouldn’t accept everything Paul taught does not automatically lead to a conclusion that we should reject everything Paul taught – or even that we should reject any particular thing that Paul taught.

If you think we should follow everything that Paul taught (or everything that the Old Testament taught – and it is clear that Paul is following Jesus and the OT), then graphic provides the following outcome:

Have fun living your sexist, chauvinistic, judgemental [sic], xenophobic lifestyle choice. The rest of culture will advance forward without you.

Of course, that’s not really an argument, it’s just a stream of epithets and an unsupported assertion regarding the direction of “culture.” But were we really expecting a rational argument? A return to a time where homosexuality was widely accepted is not a step forward – it’s a step backward. After all, it’s such activity that was widespread in Greek culture that Paul was condemning. To try to overthrow Biblical morals is not to move forward along a moral uprightness trajectory, but to revert to the lower pre-Christian state.

The chart is not through, though. It offers another option: “Because God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” The chart responds:

That was when the Earth wasn’t populated. There are now 6.79 billion people. Breeding clearly isn’t an issue any more.

That might make sense as an argument in favor of the use of contraception, but it is pretty much irrelevant to the issue of marriage. Notwithstanding what homosexual males may think, women are help meet for men in more ways than just breeding.

The argument from the large number of human beings is a red herring. At the time when Adam and Eve were created, it was just them. But by the time Jesus introduced the “Adam and Eve” argument, there were at least millions upon millions of people on the earth. Granted that billions is more than millions, but trillions is more than billions, and millions is still a large number. Jesus’ argument that marriage was ordained to be one man and one woman by the creation of one Eve for Adam was made when the Earth was already largely populated, and was not tied to the question of reproduction – it was addressing the issue of divorce.

The chart assumes that the large number of people negates Jesus’ argument, and so returns to the question “why.” The next option is “because the Bible clearly defines marriage as one-man-one-woman” to which the chart responds:

Wrong. The Bible also defines marriage as one-man-many-women, one man many wives and many concubines, a rapist and his victim, and conquering soldier and female prisoner of war.

This argument is itself wrong, which has already been thoroughly addressed in my previous post (link to post regarding Biblical definition of marriage). In very brief, the rapist/victim and soldier/prisoner examples are also one-man-one-woman examples. Moreover, the examples of polygamy are examples of a man being married multiple times, not of a multi-party marriage. Furthermore, polygamy is described but not condoned by the Bible. Finally, for the purposes of this particular argument, we should add that expanding the definition of marriage to include polygamy and concubinage still excludes “gay marriage.”

The chart seems to think that this argument is helpful, however, and so it proceeds to a final option, from which the chart provides no “out.” The chart’s final option is: “Because it just disgusts me.” The chart responds:

Props for being honest. However, a whole population of people shouldn’t have their families discriminated against just because you think gay sex is icky. Grow up!

What “whole population” does the author have in mind? The whole population of Sodom? What the chart’s author really means is, “the homosexuals” – and not really all of them, because most of them prefer promiscuity – but let’s assume that it is all or most of them.

Their families aren’t “discriminated against.” What defines a family is the presence of parents and offspring. They are parts of families (they are offspring of parents), but they do not form their own families. But even if their social units were “families,” they are not “discriminated against,” simply because we don’t mislabel their relationship “marriage,” just as we are not discriminating against divorcees by failing to call them “widows” and “widowers.”

Whether or not homosexual sex is “icky,” is not really the point. We may think that toilets are icky, but we don’t discriminate against plumbers who fix them.

But we can flip it on its head. Just because a small fraction of males think that women are “icky,” and wish to abandon the natural use of women in favor of men, doesn’t mean we have to make such perversion legal, much less pretend that a “committed relationship” that is based on such perversion is “marriage.”


How the Bible Defines Marriage

August 15, 2012

There is a graphic that has made its way around various social media sites (example) that purports to describe “How the Bible Defines Marriage.”

The graphic manages to oversimplify things, get things wrong, and needlessly complicate things. Let’s address the needless complications first.

The Bible is pretty clear on the definition of marriage. Marriage is the union of a man and a woman. There are many passages that illustrate this point – perhaps the easiest is “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.” (Deuteronomy 7:3)

The situation in which a woman is given to a man is a marriage. There is more to it than that, of course. After all, there are such things as fornication, broadly encompassing adultery, rape, and prostitution, none of which are marriages.

The graphic needlessly complicates things by describing eight scenarios: one in which a man and a woman are shown, and then seven more. All that is needed is that first box of the graphic.

There are, remarkably, three more boxes that likewise show one man and one woman in this graphic. The only difference is that in these three, the people have different clothing/accessories. These are all actually examples of a man/woman marriage, so they aren’t really alternatives to the “traditional” case at all.

Three of the remaining four boxes show one man plus more than one woman. There will be more discussion of these below, but these boxes are not really alternatives to the first box, either. Instead, they are instances in which one man is either married to one woman and has some kind of sexual relationship with other women or a man is married more than once. It is not as though there is a three-way knot tied, in which the women are bound to one another and their husband. Instead, the man is married twice (or more times).

The last remaining box is perhaps the creepiest looking, as it illustrates a skeleton plus a man plus a woman. It is a reference to the levirate law. The levirate law did not vary the “man plus woman” model. Instead, it provided for certain widows to be provided automatically with a husband. The very existence of the law presumes and emphasizes that marriages are between a man and a woman.

In short, all that was really needed was one box showing a man and a woman. That’s how marriage is defined in the Bible. There is no other definition. There are lots of examples of marriages and other sexual behavior in the Bible, and there are quite a few laws about marriages in the Bible, but there is only one definition.

Now that we’ve seen that the graphic is needlessly complex, lets address some of its inaccuracies, by examining each block in turn.

First, within the “Man + Woman” block, the graphic states:

– wives subordinate to their husbands
-interfaith marriages forbidden
-marriages generally arranged, not based on romantic love
-bride who could not prove her virginity was stoned to death

The statement regarding subordination is certainly true. The Bible does teach that the man is head.

The only “interfaith marriages forbidden” are those between believers and unbelievers. Thus, for example, there is nothing in the Bible that forbids a Hindu and a Muslim from marrying one another, only one that forbids a Christian marrying a non-Christian.

Saying that marriages were “generally arranged,” is probably a misstatement. Generally, marriages involved the father of the bride giving the woman to a man to be his wife. To induce him to give her to be the man’s wife, the father was ordinarily given a dowry – a payment. Typically, young men would not have the financial means to give such a payment, and thus their fathers would be involved in making the payment to the fathers of the brides-to-be, to obtain them for their sons.

In such a process, romantic love may or may not play a part. Romantic love is something that would obviously incentivize a young man to work hard to obtain a dowry, or to beg his father to obtain one particular young lady rather than another.

Likewise, romantic love (or lack thereof) is something that would lead a young lady to try to influence her father’s decision regarding potential suitors and suitable dowries. In other words, the marriage market was not the supermarket. Except in the case of heartless fathers, their daughters were not simply for sale to the highest bidder.

That said, it was not up to the young woman, and so the young woman’s romantic love had only an indirect role. The young man’s romantic love might have a greater role, although since sons were supposed to honor their parents, there was certainly a possibility that romantic love would be entirely overlooked.

The final point is the least accurate. The situation referenced is that described in Deuteronomy 22:14-21. In that passage, a man marries a woman and discovers that she was not a virgin. He then goes around telling people about this, to his wife’s shame.

In this case, if the parents object they are to produce the evidence of her virginity. Once this is produced, the man is fined heavily and the man is prohibited from ever divorcing the woman (normally the law allowed for divorce).

On the other hand, if the it turns out that the man was right, and the woman was sexually experienced before marriage, then she was to be executed by stoning at the door of her father’s house.

So, this was not simply a case that the woman was not a virgin, but that her husband discovered this after marriage and objected to it publicly, and it turned out to be true. There was no requirement that men deal with their disappointment about their wives’ lack of virginity in this way. You may recall that when Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, he thought about divorcing her quietly – which would not have invoked this provision of the law (he understandably assumed that she was not a virgin from the fact of pregnancy).

Moving on to the second box, the graphic lists “man + wives + concubines.” The practice of concubinage is described in the Bible, but never endorsed. For example, while concubinage is mentioned in Genesis, in the law it is never described or regulated.

The next box is “man + woman + woman’s property.” The graphic cites Genesis 16 for the idea that “man could acquire his wife’s property including her slaves.” This is a strange claim, given

Genesis 16:3
And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.


Genesis 16:6 But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thine hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.

That doesn’t seem very close to the graphic’s description, at all. Moreover, note that this is an example of Abram entering into a second marriage. This, as with other polygamous marriages, is described but not endorsed.

The next box is “man + woman + woman + woman … .” The Bible does describe many instances of polygamy (and specifically polygany). These, however, are examples of one man being married multiple times – not of a 700-1000 way marriage (in the case of Solomon). While the law does regulate polygamous men, it does not endorse polygamy. Indeed, “husband of one wife” is a requirement for elders and deacons in the New Testament, making it clear that monogamy is the moral requirement.

Continuing counter-clockwise, the next box is “male slave + female slave.” It is true that the law provided for slaves to marry one another, and provided that the arrangement of this marriage was at the will of the slaves’ master.

The next box is “male soldier + prisoner of war.” Actually this is misleading, because “prisoner of war” is not an accurate description of a non-combatant woman captured during war. There was a specific provision whereby in certain cases women of conquered countries could be taken as wives, rather than being killed off or sold into slavery with the rest of the people of their nation. There were specific regulations of this practice, some of which are actually quite interesting.

The next box is “rapist + his victim.” The passage cited for this Deuteronomy 22:28-29, which states:

Deuteronomy 22:28-29
If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

Standing by itself, one might think that this referred to a situation of rape. There is, however, a parallel provision of the law in Exodus:

Exodus 22:16-17
And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.

This parallel passages suggests that Deuteronomy passage is referring to a seducer, not a rapist per se. Moreover, the Exodus passage makes it clear that the father still has the right to refuse his daughter to the seducer. If the father has the right to refuse in the case of seduction, much more in rape as well. Thus, while a father is given a right to insist on the marriage (and the dowry being paid), the father is not forced to give his daughter up.

It should be noted that while “lay hold on her” does sound like physical violence, it can just mean what it literally says. When, a few verses earlier, the law refers to the case of the rape of a betrothed woman, a different word (translated “force”) is used. It’s certainly broad enough to include rape, though. Whether it is intended to refer to rape, or not, the other parallel passage makes it clear that the marriage to the man is not automatic, but depends on the consent of the girl’s father (as with all marriages where the daughter is still under her father’s authority). In any case, the man must pay the dowry. The point of the law is, of course, about protecting a now unmarriageable woman (given that there was generally an expectation that a woman would be a virgin at marriage).

Incidentally, that’s the same reason for the dowry – namely so that in case the man fails to continue to care for the girl (by divorcing her, for example), the patriarch of her family will have at least some means to maintain her. The point of the dowry is not to quantize the value of the woman, but to protect her against the case of divorce, both as a bond and as an insurance policy.

The final box of the graphic illustrates (somewhat eerily) a levirate marriage. The levirate law was designed to protect widows who had no son to provide for them. These women were entitled to have one of their husband’s kinsmen marry and provide for them. The graphic is wrong to call the man her “brother-in-law.” There is no brother-in-law after the death of a spouse. Moreover, the nearest male kinsman might be a cousin, rather than a brother. The point of this marriage was to provide for the welfare of the otherwise helpless widow.

The graphic says, “must submit sexually to her new husband,” but both husbands and wives have that mutual obligation. In fact, the law regulates polygamy in certain cases by specifically requiring the husband to continue to feed, clothe, and fulfill his first wife’s “duty of marriage” as he had done before. The New Testament explains more clearly:

1 Corinthians 7:4
The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.

More could be said on this topic, but won’t for now.

Finally, as noted above, the chart is incomplete. For example, there is no example of “man + female slave,” which is a situation provided for in the law. Likewise, there is no discussion on the marriage limitations imposed on inheriting girls (girls in families that have no sons must marry within their own tribe). Furthermore, there is no discussion of the extensive rules prohibiting various types of incest, or of many of the rules related divorce, including the prohibition on leap-frog marriages (re-marriage to a woman you previously divorced unless she has remained single).

In other words, the Bible says a lot more about marriage than what appears on the graphic, what appears on the graphic is not completely accurate, and the graphic needlessly complicates the issue of how the Bible defines marriage, in that the Bible defines it – at a fundamental level – as the permanent union of a man and a woman.


Frank Turek on Same Sex Marriage

May 27, 2012

Marcus McElhaney has posted a video series from Frank Turek providing arguments about and against same sex marriage. I don’t fully agree with Turek’s approach of saying that we shouldn’t bring the Bible into the discussion, but the arguments he uses mostly seem like pretty strong arguments. Check it out at this link.

Sin of Onan

September 29, 2009

*** Caveat ***

Onan’s sin was something disgusting, something that displeased God, and for which Onan was slain. The reason I’m spending a whole post on this topic is that recently some Roman Catholics have been trying to use the issue of Onan’s sin as some sort of argument that “Protestant” folks are unwilling to consider Scripture.

I realize, as well, that there are some Roman Catholics for whom this is not a matter of serious consideration. They have a theology that their church has given them (or so they think) and they are going to stick with that, regardless of what Scripture says or doesn’t say.

I also realize that some of them think that it is a notable matter that many of the Reformers held over some traditional ideas that influenced their view of what Onan’s sin was. Apparently, for them, it is a significant issue if our understanding of the text is different than the majority view of the text from relatively early in the patristic period through at least the first two centuries of the Reformation era.

Finally, of course, I’ve tried to use euphemism in the following discussion, for reasons that should be apparent to any adult. If you decide to comment on this post, keep in mind that if your comments are explicit, I will censor them.

*** End of Caveat ***

What is the sin of Onan? Many Roman Catholics today argue against certain contraceptive activities on, among other things, the idea that this is condemned as the sin of Onan in Genesis 38:9. The following is a response to that idea.

First, the text:

Genesis 38:9 And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.

Next, the text in context:

Genesis 38:6-11
And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also. Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father’s house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house.

i) Genesis 38:9 does not provide any universal moral commandment.

The wording of the verse itself should be a clue to that. Also, of course, the context of the verse should be a clue. The verse is worded in that God was displeased by what Onan did and slew Onan. Furthermore, this discussion is not given in the context of a set of laws, but rather in the context of an historical account.

ii) Genesis 38:9 is susceptible to several possible interpretations, because it merely states that the thing that Onan did displeased God and that consequently God slew him.

There are several possible things that displeased God about what Onan did. The thing that displeased God could be:

1) Because Onan slept with his brother’s widow.

2) Because Onan spilled his seed on the ground.

3) Because Onan refused to raise up seed to his brother.

4) Because Onan disobeyed his father.

We can rule out (1), because Judah had commanded Onan to do this, and Judah’s command is supported by the later Mosaic codification of the levirate law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).

If (2) is correct (and, in a sense, it is correct), the question is why? The only clear answer is …

That (3) is correct. The reason that spilling the seed on the ground was wrong was because it was a refusal to perform the duty required by Judah and later codified by Moses. Onan failed to honor his father, and God slew him.

We might add (4) as well, but (4) is correct inasmuch as (3) is correct.

iii) Several less general principles can be drawn from this passage.

It is dangerous to rush to generalizations from a single passage. There are several generalizations that could be made from this text, in view of the meaning of the text.

1) That disobedience to parents is wrong.

2) That failure to obey the levirate law is wrong.

3) That levirate relations should be procreative only.

4) That marital relations should be procreative only.

Given the level of detail provided in the text, (1) seems to be unsatisfying. It does not seem that God was simply displeased because Onan disobeyed his father, but over the manner in which he did so.

The fourth option (4) is much too general. The fact that this was a levirate relationship is significant to the flow of the text, and a generalization that fails to account for this seems to fail to identify the true issue.

The remaining options are (2) and (3). These are not far apart. Nevertheless, we can distinguish between the two. The issue is not one in which Onan obeyed the levirate law and then did something else in addition, instead it is one in which he refused to obey the levirate law. Thus, (2) is the better answer than (3).

iv) The fact that Calvin (and Luther?) viewed Onan’s activity to be inherently displeasing to God does not make it so.

A surprising number of people think that it is significant that Luther (?) and Calvin generalized Onan’s sin rather differently than we do. Nevertheless, Luther and Calvin agreed with us that their views ought to be held up to the light of Scripture. Since their views of this particular text do not seem to be sustainable exegetically, we are justified in departing from their position on this issue.

Some have even gone so far as to suggest that if we say Luther/Calvin/whoever misunderstood this text, we’re saying they were unsaved. Certainly that is not what we are saying. The fact that people disagree with the best exegesis of the text does not mean that those people are not Christians.

v) Does Onan’s intent matter?

In seeking to generalize the teaching of the verse differently, some have asserted that Onan’s intent in doing what he did was unimportant. It didn’t really matter (say they) that he was seeking to avoiding raising up children to his brother. I find this idea strange. Intent is normally highly significant. Furthermore, the text makes a point of telling us Onan’s intent.

If we ignore Onan’s intent, we would be in the position of saying that even if Onan simply spilled it accidentally, God would still have slain him and that Scripture uselessly provided us with this information about what was going on inside Onan’s mind. Can any reasonable person think that is the case?

vi) What about Er?

Note that Er was also wicked and was slain by God. We’re not told what Er did, and yet we know Er didn’t have children. Some have interpolated this to mean that Er was doing the same basic act as what Onan was doing, and have attempted to use this to justify generalizing beyond the levirate situation.

The problem with such a claim is that the extent of our knowledge is that Onan’s older brother Er was wicked and was slain by God. We’re not told why or what he did. We are not told that he did anything remotely similar to what Onan did. Furthermore, Judah’s concern regarding Shelah does not seem to be motivated by a fear that he will do the same thing as Onan, but more of essentially a fear that Tamar was “bad luck.”

Likewise, the larger context (which I have omitted for brevity) adds that Judah ultimately blocked Onan’s younger brother from marrying Tamar (Er/Onan’s widow). Subsequently, Judah himself did (unintentionally) raise up seed to his son, by sleeping with his son’s widow (whom he thought at the time was a prostitute). It should be noted, however, that the children of that union are never attributed to Er, but always to Judah.

vii) But is the death penalty the appropriate punishment for violation of the levirate law?

While Moses did not appoint death for violation of the levirate law, God is free to sentence to death everyone who violates His law in any degree (James 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.) And, in any event, dishonoring one’s parents was a capital crime under Mosaic system, and the command here was a command of Onan’s father.


Joseph and Mary’s Marriage

February 19, 2009

On a recent Dividing Line there was a clip played taken from, if I recall correctly, the “Catholic Answers” show, regarding Joseph and Mary’s “marriage.” The caller asked (and I may be slightly paraphrasing) two questions:

1) Where in the Bible does it say that marriage is only valid when it is consummated?

2) Did Mary and Joseph have a valid marriage?

The host (well, the person providing the “Catholic Answers”) answered the first question by appealing to Genesis, where it says that the “two shall be one flesh.”

The host then went on to say that Joseph and Mary never became one flesh, but (and again I’m paraphrasing) that was ok because NT sacramental marriage hadn’t come to be, yet. But if Genesis is the institution of the definition of marriage as valid depending on physical union, then the fact that sacramental marriage hadn’t come to exist yet is irrelevant – since the question wasn’t whether the marriage was sacramental, but whether it was valid.

They did have marriage before the apostles, and physical union was a normative aspect of Old Testament marriage. That’s one reason that the New Testament places such great emphasis on the fact that Mary and Joseph didn’t “know” each other from before Jesus was conceived until Jesus was born.

Matthew describes it as being that Mary was found to be with child of the Holy Ghost “before they [i.e. Mary and Joseph] came together” (Matthew 1:18). Of course, Catholicism today claims that Mary and Joseph never came together, but the natural sense of the text is that they did come together, just later. This is especially so when coupled with the statement, only a few verses later that Joseph “knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son,” rather than saying that Joseph “never knew” her.


Married Priest Movement on the Rise

November 11, 2008

One of the standard objections to the Papists has been that they violate Scriptures by forbidding their “priests” and bishops from marrying. Scripture not only permits the marriage of ordinary folks but of elders/bishops and deacons, the servants of the church. Scripture not only permits such marriage, but views it as the norm: not that every elder and deacon must be married, but that this is the ordinary course of events.

Now, in England this issue is coming to something of a bubble, because of the influx of married former Anglican clergy into the papist ranks. Anglicans, because of the historic (and largely dissipated) influence of the Reformation, do not forbid their clergy from marriage. This influx of married clergy creates tension, because the married clergy are not required to give up their wives when they join, while their newly acquired colleagues must remain unmarried.

One expects similar tension may also exist within other parts of Romanism, as some of the “Eastern rite” priests that have joined Rome’s communion also included married clergymen. The Eastern Orthodox traditions, while generally forbidding bishops to marry, do permit their priests to marry (UPDATE: this sentence apparently confuses some who conclude that I’m suggesting that sometimes men who are already ordained in EO churches go from being single to being married – with that in mind, I should point out that I’m not aware of examples of either of those things happening).

The following linked article, from Sify news (which seems fond of pop-ups), describes the views of the apparent future head of Romanism in England and Wales, a certain “Bishop McMahon.” (link)

McMahon claims, “There is no reason why priests shouldn’t be allowed to marry. It has always been a matter of discipline rather than doctrine.” We agree with him that there is no good reason. There are purported reasons, though, that were previously set out. “The Church” (as his comrades are fond of calling it) did not impose celibacy without some pretext. If someone wants the pretext, they need only turn to the polemical sites of any number of papists. The usual answer, framed against modern Evangelicals, is that celibacy frees one up to serve God. The more traditional answer is a perception that the sexual act itself is somehow unholy: i.e. that it is more holy to be single than to be married.

That is to say, while the practice certainly is disciplinary, it is one imagined (by its supporters) to be based on doctrinal arguments. It is interesting to see that within the ranks of papalism there is dissent even on these matters. One wonders what is next? He supports marriage for “priests:” will he support marriage for bishops too?

Finally, one wonders what “Joe Roman Catholic Lay Apologist” thinks about these things. Such a guy is typically himself married, but in favor of a celibate priesthood. Such a guy typically appreciates the fact that Rome’s position on this matter of discipline cannot rationally be defended as simply an arbitrary decision with “no reason” (McMahon’s words). On the other hand, against him is the Bishop of Nottingham – someone with far better credentials within the Roman hierarchy. What can this poor Joe do? Disagree with a bishop? or admit that there is no good reason for required celibacy?

We’ll have to wait and see.


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