As the culture continues to battle over the legitimacy of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, there have been a number of popular attempts to attack the idea of defending "traditional marriage" between one man and one woman from the Bible. One of the most common forms of this have been attempts to show that "traditional marriage" as defined in the Bible is not what modern conservative Christians think it is. Here is an example of a popular image floating around on Facebook making this kind of argument:
I would like to respond to the claims of this image and show that historic Christian ideas about marriage are indeed the same as the biblical view. Let's go through the specific examples one by one and point out what is correct and what is not correct.
"MAN + WOMAN (NUCLEAR FAMILY) Genesis 2:24 (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)"
"Wives subordinate to their husbands" - Yes. In the Bible, there is a hierarchy of authority. Men have higher authority than women in the marriage. Of course, they are to use this authority for the good of their wives and families, and to the glory of God, an in obedience to all of God's commands. A classic passage discussing this is Ephesians 5:22-33. Much could be said about what all this means in practice. I don't want to get into all of that here. But I do want to remind the enemies of the Bible to be charitable and honest in their attempts to understand the Bible's point of view, as they would ask for their own points of view.
"Interfaith marriages forbidden" - Yes. In the Bible, marriage is to be "in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 7:39; Deuteronomy 7:3-4; Nehemiah 13:23-27; 1 Corinthians 7"10-16). It is not good to willingly produce a family where one of the partners is an enemy of God and a follower of a false religion. This will produce strain on the marriage as the two spouses will have differing beliefs and values. It will be a source of temptation to the godly spouse. It will be a source of danger for the children.
"Marriages generally arranged, not based on romantic love" - Certainly I think the Bible calls for parents to be involved in the marriage decisions of their children. There is no set biblical prescription for how people should choose their spouses. It is not the case that the Bible allows parents to marry off their children against their will. It rather opposes this idea. (I dealt with this in an earlier post - http://freethoughtforchrist.blogspot.com/2012/04/bible-and-rape.html) I would agree that marriages should not be based, at least solely, on romantic love. But surely a man and a woman should not get married unless they have a reasonable chance of liking and loving each other! The Bible does not say otherwise. So this charge is mostly made up out of the critic's imagination.
"Bride who could not prove her virginity was stoned to death" - This is derived from Deuteronomy 22:13-21. Go and read it. As you can see, the law here deals with a woman who has gotten married upon a pretense of being a virgin, and after her marriage her husband accuses her of lying about having been a virgin. There is a trial, at which evidence of the woman's previous virginity is sought. If there is evidence of her previous virginity, the man is shamed and fined one hundred shekels of silver, to be paid to the woman's father. And he is not allowed ever to divorce her. If there is no evidence of her previous virginity, she is to be stoned to death.
Why is this issue of virginity taken so seriously? Well, for one thing, if the woman is not a virgin, how did she cease to be one? She appears to be guilty of adultery, in that she is now marrying a husband when she appears to have had sexual relations with a previous man (who therefore, in biblical law, should be her husband). She has also shown herself to be a liar and has brought shame on her family, has shown she does not submit to authority, and has cheated her husband. All of these sorts of actions are treated with great gravity in biblical law. Sexual crimes are treated with great seriousness, because of the importance of the family as well as the need to show respect to God's purposes in giving us sexuality. Being rebellious and anarchical is also treated with great seriousness in biblical law (see Deuteronomy 21:18-21), because of the importance of respecting the God whose authority is exercised in family, church, and state, and because of the importance of proper discipline for the maintenance of society. I see nothing problematic in any of this.
How exactly is the woman to be tested for previous virginity? Her parents are to present a cloth in their possession to the elders (that is, the judges of the case), which will exonerate her from the false charge. What exactly is this cloth? Perhaps it is a cloth from the wedding night, with blood on it from the breaking of the hymen. If this the case, the objection might be raised that sometimes hymens break earlier in life accidentally and that blood does not always accompany first-time sexual intercourse. This is a good point, but we must remember that biblical laws are case laws. They exhibit a specific response to a specific set of circumstances, providing general rules that are to be flexibly applied to other circumstances. For example, in Exodus 21:28-31, we have a case law that says that a man whose ox gores someone after he has been told previously of its tendency to do that and has done nothing to prevent it is to be put to death (unless a sum of money is imposed on him). Does the fact that oxen are mentioned prove that the law only applies to oxen, and not to other dangerous animals or objects? No, the law is a case law offering general principles to be applied to related circumstances (like pit bulls, drunk driving, etc.). For another example, the Bible says that no one is to be put to death except on the testimony of two or three witnesses. But can't witnesses lie? Yes. The general principle here is that there must be adequate evidence to bring someone to conviction. Normally, two or three (independent) witnesses would be sufficient. If in some case this clearly is not sufficient for some reason or another, further evidence would be required based on the point of the general principle. I mentioned in an earlier post on "The Bible and Rape" (see link above) the law that says that if a married woman is raped in a city, she is to be held guilty of adultery because she "did not cry out." If one doesn't know this is a case law, it seems absurd. Women can't always cry out, even in cities! True, but often they can (especially in the smaller cities of biblical times). The point is that she is to be held guilty if she consented rather than trying to escape, however that might be determined in various circumstances.
We have the same sort of thing here. Much of the time, under normal circumstances, it might be that there could be evidence of previous virginity on this cloth that her parents possess. However, the law is not intended to ignore situations where this might not be the case. The point is that some method should be taken, if at all possible, to ensure the woman's virginity before marriage, so that this evidence can be presented to exonerate her from a false charge of adultery upon her getting married if such should happen. I see no problem with this.
Remember also that, like much modern civil law, biblical civil law is practical and deals with situations which might arise, without making any claim that such situations are ideal. What a horrible mess already exists if the situation of this passage should even arise at all! What a lack of trust is already built into the relationship! Surely we should do all we can to avoid such situations arising in the first place, by being careful in choosing mates (and in helping our children choose mates), by encouraging trust, etc. But non-ideal things happen, and we must do something about them when they do.
To be continued . . .
See Part II.