Monday, August 13, 2012

Response to "Top 8 Ways to Be 'Traditionally Married' according to the Bible." Part II.

. . . Continued from previous post.

"Man + Wives + Concubines (Abraham [2 concubines], Gideon [1], Nahor [1], Jacob [1], Eliphaz [1], Gideon [> 1 - I don't know how to type the sign that is actually here], Caleb [2], Manasseh [1], Solomon [300], Belshezzar [> 1])"

There is an important rule of biblical interpretation that many critics of the Bible don't tend to take into account.  In the narratives of the Bible, people do lots of different things - some good, some bad, and some indifferent.  Sometimes the biblical narrative will comment on a wrong action, but not always.  Even overall good people in the Bible do not always do the right thing.  Therefore, in order to determine biblical morality, it is not enough to simply find examples of someone in the Bible doing something.  One must find passages which clearly approve of a certain practice.

In the case of concubines, there is no mention of them at all in biblical law.  There is, in biblical law, a requirement that any man who has sexual relations with a woman (provided both are unmarried) must marry that woman (provided she and her family consent) (Exodus 22:16-17).  If a man has sexual relations with a woman, and either of them are married to another, this is counted adultery and both the man and the woman are to be punished with death (Leviticus 20:10; Matthew 19:9).  There seems to be no room for concubines in biblical law.

Of course, many people in the Bible had concubines anyway.  But this is no argument that concubines are an approved part of biblical morality.  Rather, they violate the law of God.

"Man + Woman + Woman's Property - Genesis 16 (man could acquire his wife's property including her slaves)"

Genesis 16 tells the story of how Abraham, not content to wait for the promise of God that he would have a child, took matters into his own hands (at the instigation of Sarah his wife) and attempted to have a child by means of Sarah's handmaid.  There is nothing in this text which indicates that God approved of Abraham's action, and that action does not fit with biblical law.  It is therefore not an approved part of biblical morality.

"Man + Woman + Woman + Woman (Polygany) (Lamech [2 wives], Esau [3], Jacob [2], Ashur [2], Gideon [many], Elkanah [2] David [many] Solomon [700], Rehoboam [3], Abijah [14], Jehoram, Joash, Ahab, Jehoiachin, Belshazzar)"

Here is something I wrote on the question of polygamy in the Bible in my book, Return of the Puritans, in a footnote on pp. 105-106:

"Polygamy was widely practiced in Old Testament times, and is not explicitly forbidden in the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses even regulated some aspects of the practice of polygamy, such as providing laws regarding how to treat children who come from different wives (see Exodus 21:10 and Deuteronomy 21:15-17). However, there is no statement approving polygamy or saying that it is acceptable, and Deuteronomy 17:16 says that a king 'is not to multiply wives to himself.' Genesis 2:24 indicates that God’s established pattern for creation is monogamy, and the various narratives describing polygamous relationships almost always stress the serious problems and sins that arise from it. The Law of Moses sometimes regulates occasions that are in themselves sinful. For example, in Exodus 21:8, we have a practice regulated that involves deception, even though deception is forbidden elsewhere. So the fact that something is regulated does not necessarily indicate that it is approved; there is a recognition that unethical things do happen and must be regulated. There is no explicit punishment for polygamous relationships; however, it is not ruled out that a marriage to another woman would be regarded as adultery. The polygamous relationship referred to in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 might refer to an already-existing polygamous relationship, not giving sanction for entering into a new one. To say that a person should not divorce his wives in a polygamous relationship (and that is not even said here or anywhere explicitly) is not to say that it is not true that he should not have entered into such a relationship in the first place. In the New Testament, polygamy is more clearly forbidden--but even here, it is not really explicitly discussed. In Matthew 19:9, Jesus says, 'Whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery.' This makes no sense unless polygamy is itself adultery, for the entire basis of the charge of adultery here is that a man who is not lawfully divorced (and thus is still considered lawfully married) is marrying another woman. In Romans 7:1-3, Paul makes a similar point. In his instructions for appointing church elders, Paul says (for example, in 1 Timothy 3:2) that a elder must be 'the husband of one wife.' This parallels, I think, the command in the Law of Moses that kings not multiply wives for themselves. Paul may be thinking of this very verse and applying its general equity to church elders. And if it is wrong for kings and for church officers to marry more than one wife, why would it be OK for others to do so? In short, taking into account all of the teaching of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, we can conclude that polygamy is wrong, even though the subject is not addressed with great explicitness."

Once again, the fact that something is widely practiced by people in the Bible is insufficient to prove that that practice has the sanction of God and is an approved part of biblical morality.

"Man + Brother's Widow (Levirate Marriage) Genesis 38:6-10 (widow who had not borne a son required to marry her brother in law; must submit sexually to her new husband)"

Genesis 38:6-10 is referring to a practice codified in biblical law in Deuteronomy 25:5-10.  (Why did the document not cite Deuteronomy 25?  My guess is that its author didn't know about it.  He/she has shown himself/herself to be quite sloppy in general so far.  How surprising for critics of the Bible!)  Go and read it.  As you can see, the basic idea is that in order to ensure that a man will have an heir who will continue his family line in Israel, if he dies without having any children, his wife is to marry his brother and the child born to them will be considered a continuing of the original husband's family line.

I do not see any reason to think that this supports polygamy, as there is no evidence that the brother would be required to comply if he were already married.  The idea that the brothers "dwelt together" suggests that the brother is unmarried.  Also, note that only the firstborn child would carry on the original husband's family line.  The successive children would carry on the family line of the new husband.

So what is the problem with this?  Is there an objection to be made to it?  I see no objection here - at least not explicitly stated.  Of course, the unstated objection (suggested, for example, by the harshness of the phrase "must submit sexually to her new husband") is that it would be a violation of the right of the woman to require her to marry her husband's brother.  (Interestingly, the text itself seems to think the burden of duty is more on the brother, the woman being portrayed as likely quite happy to do this and the brother possibly trying to get out of it - because he doesn't want to raise up an heir to his brother.)  Normally, the biblical practice is not to require a woman to marry any particular man, but this seems to be an exception to that.  (Of course, many men would be likely to have a number of brothers, given the absence of birth-control mentality and practices in biblical ethics.)  Is there some moral law that says that women can never have a duty to marry a particular person (or within a smaller group of particular persons)?  I am not aware of any.  God's law is the ultimate standard of morality.  Modern moral objections are based not on any evidence but simply on feelings with no rational basis.  Therefore, there is no rational basis for this objection.  The most that could be said is that some particular brother and woman would not want to marry each other and this would be a difficult thing for them to have to do.  This could be true (although, again, remember that there may be a number of possible brothers to fulfill this duty).  God sometimes requires us to do things we wouldn't choose to do ourselves, and our responsibility is to submit to his will, to obey him and to be content.

Perhaps there is something that the modern world can learn about relationships between men and women from this practice.  Modern western culture has an absurdly romanticized view of male-female (and now male-male and female-female) relationships.  "Is he The One for me?"  "Is she the Right Person for me?"  As if there is some kind of divine destiny written into nature appointing one man to one woman (or man, etc.).  Rather, the truth is that there is no such divine destiny (in this sense).  The real situation is that there is a world full of men and women, many of whom could be quite happy being married to each other.  If both spouses are committed to unselfishly obeying God, marriage between any two people can probably be reasonably happy.  Christians are used to the idea that once two people are married, they are not to get divorced.  And the same objection that is raised here could be raised in that case:  "What if we are no longer compatible?"  The answer in that case is, you must stay married anyway and work it out; and if you do, you can find contentment and happiness and a good marriage.  The same thing would apply to levirate marriages.

Note that our document is misleading in indicating that this practice amounts to a "non-traditional marriage."  This is still one man married to one woman at one time, the same as marriage version #1 on the chart.

Do the laws regarding levirate marriage still apply today?  The general opinion among Reformed Christians is that they don't, because they were a part of a body of laws (including also laws regarding property returning to families at the Jubilee, etc.) designed to preserve particular families and tribes among the physical descendents of Abraham.  Now that the Gentiles have been included in the people of God and the territory of God's people is no longer restricted to the land of Canaan, these laws are no longer applicable (see the Westminster Confession of Faith 19:4).  It is may no longer be practical, nor necessary, to keep all particular family lines distinct through the ages among the worldwide body of the people of God.  I am inclined to agree with this opinion at present, although I feel a need to do more research and think more about it.

"Rapist + His Victim - Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (virgin who is raped must marry her rapist; rapist must pay victim's father 50 shekels of silver for property loss)"

I already dealt with this in a previous post (, so I don't have much to add here.  Even if Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is talking about rape, it does not require a woman to marry her rapist against her will (which is obviously what our chart is suggesting).  It only says that the rapist must marry the woman unless her father refuses (no doubt taking into account the wishes of his daughter).

However, as I argued in the previous post, I don't think rape is in view here at all.

"Male Soldier + Prisoner of War - Numbers 31:1-18; Deuteronomy 21:11-14 (under Moses' command, Israelites kill every Midianite man, woman and child; save for the virgin girls who are taken as spoils of war; wives must submit sexually to their new owners)

I dealt with this in the earlier post previously mentioned.  The idea suggested here, that virgin girls were taken as rape slaves against their will, is a misreading of the biblical text.

"Male Slave + Female Slave - Exodus 21:4 (slave owner could assign female slaves to his male slaves; female slaves must submit sexually to their new husbands)

The chart seems to be trying to insinuate that the master could force his slaves to marry against their will, but the text says nothing about that.  I see no reason to put two servants marrying in a different category than option #1, the traditional marriage.

With regard to the ethics of biblical slavery/servanthood in general, see my comments on this in my book, Return of the Puritans, pp. 181-189, and also Glenn Miller's interesting and informative article at

And that's it.  I do have a message for the critics of the Bible:  It would be very nice if you could raise the level of this kind of dialogue by avoiding sloppy and misleading claims and research.  We could focus on more productive conversations, rather than having to waste so much time fixing your errors because you don't want to do your own homework.

See Part I.

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