No, GOP, biblical Marriage was not between one man and one woman

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The freak-out by the Republican presidential candidates over the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage provokes me to revise and reprise the points below. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee have formally pledged: “We will not honor any decision by the Supreme Court which will force us to violate a clear biblical understanding of marriage as solely the union of one man and one woman.” Sen. Ted Cruz also called on Americans to ignore the SCOTUS ruling.

Does that mean the rest of us can repudiate the decision making W. president in 2000, and can refuse to recognize corporations as persons?

In any case, the Bible doesn’t actually say anything at all about homosexuality, since it is a form of identity that only came into being in modernity. (Same-sex intimacy has been there all along, but in most premodern societies it was not a subculture, though medieval male bortherhoods were common and in South Asia there were hijras).

But wackiest of all is the idea that the Bible sees marriage as between one man and one woman. I don’t personally get how you could, like, actually read the Bible and come to that conclusion (see below). Even if you wanted to argue that the New Testament abrogates all the laws in the Hebrew Bible, there isn’t anything in the NT that clearly forbids polygamy, either, and it was sometimes practiced in the early church, including by priests. Josephus makes it clear that polygamy was still practiced among the Jews of Jesus’ time. Any attempt to shoe-horn stray statements in the New Testament about a man and a woman being married into a commandment of monogamy is anachronistic. Likely it was the Roman Empire that established Christian monogamy as a norm over the centuries. The Church was not even allowed to marry people until well after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, since it was an imperial prerogative.

Ancient scripture can be a source of higher values and spiritual strength, but any time you in a literal-minded way impose specific legal behavior because of it, you’re committing anachronism. Since this is the case, fundamentalists are always highly selective, trying to impose parts of the scripture on us but conveniently ignoring the parts even they can’t stomach as modern persons.

1. In Exodus 21:10 it is clearly written of the husband: “If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife.” This is the same rule as the Qur’an in Islam, that another wife can only be taken if the two are treated equally.

2. Let’s take Solomon, who maintained 300 concubines or sex slaves. 1 Kings 11:3: “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.” Led him astray! That’s all the Bible minded about this situation? Abducting 300 people and keeping them immured for sex? And the objection is only that they had a lot of diverse religions and interested Solomon in them? (By the way, this is proof that he wasn’t Jewish but just a legendary Canaanite polytheist). I think a settled gay marriage is rather healthier than imprisoning 300 people in your house to have sex with at your whim.

3. Not only does the Bible authorize slavery and human trafficking, but it urges slaves to “submit themselves” to their masters. It should be remembered that masters had sexual rights over their property assuming the slave-woman was not betrothed to another, and so this advice is intended for concubines as well as other slaves. And, the Bible even suggests that slaves quietly accept sadism and cruelty from their masters: 1 Peter 2:18: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel.” So a nice gay marriage between two legal equals with no acts of cruelty would be much better than this biblical nightmare.

4. Then there is Abraham, who made a sex slave of his wife’s slave, the Egyptian girl Hagar, and then abandoned her to cruel treatment.

Genesis 16:1-6:

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.” 6 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

So let’s get this straight. Abraham isn’t said to have married Hagar. Apparently he and Sarah had separate property, because Hagar remains her slave. So he slept with someone else’s slave and got her pregnant. And then when that caused trouble between his wife and her slave, he washed his hands of his property-lover and let his wife mistreat her. As we know from 1 Peter, Hagar was supposed graciously to put up with this, but she was made of fiercer stuff than that, and you really have to root for her in this rather sick family situation.

5. According Mark 12:19, guys, if your brother kicks the bucket, you have to marry your sister-in-law and knock her up. Since the Bible approved of multiple wives, you have to do this even if you’re already married. If you think in-laws are hard to get along with now, try being married to them.

6. So I don’t think this happens very much, but guys, in biblical marriage you might have to cut your wife’s hand off if she defends you too vigorously. That’s right. Say you’re at a bar and this big bald badass with tats starts smashing your face in. And say your wife likes you and wants to stop the guy from giving you a concussion. Say she reaches down and gets him by the balls. So the Bible would reward her for loyalty and bravery and fast thinking, right?

Nope. Now you have to cut off her hand. I mean have to. You’re not allowed to have a moment of weakness and think about how pretty her fingers are. Off with it, to the wrist

GOP, you think I’m making this up, right?

Deuteronomy 25:11-12: “11 If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.”

I’m not sure exactly what kind of weird marriage Deuteronomy is recommending, where certain actions taken by they wife to keep herself from being turned into a widow are punished by her husband by chopping off her hand.

7. The Bible doesn’t even approve of marriage at all! 1 Corinthians 7:8 “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do.” So contrary to the GOP’s notion that the Bible authorizes only a single kind of marriage, of which it approves, actually it much prefers believers to die out in a single generation. Only the weak and unbiblical get married.

So this is the real problem. People like Huckabee and Cruz shouldn’t be married in the first place, much less holding up some imaginary ideal of biblical marriage for everybody. And if all the biblical literalists would just obey 1 Corinthians, the whole problem would be over with in just a generation. Then the rest of us could get some peace and make rational policy on social issues.

And as for getting married biblically, you can do that in all kinds of imaginative ways– take two wives and someone else’s sex slave as Abraham did, or 300 sex slaves as Solomon did (not to mention the 700 wives), or your brother’s widow in addition to your own wife. And remember, if your sex slave runs away because you’re cruel to the person, the Bible (Philemon) says that other people have the duty to return the slave to you, i.e. basically imposes the duty of trafficking slaves back to sadistic sex maniacs who exploit them. But if the owner is nice and a good Christian, he might consider letting the sex slave go. But he doesn’t have to.

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Related video:

The Young Turks: “Huckabee: Supreme Being Overrules The Supreme Court”

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40 Responses

  1. Quite right Prof Cole! From my recollection, there is no mention of a wedding ceremony in the bible. Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding celebration, but no mention of a ceremony. Abraham went into the tent with Sarah and “knew” her, that’s it — no ceremony there either. The authoritarian, Victorian mindset of Christian fundamentalists is so tediously grinding and tiresome; why can’t they just leave other people alone?!

  2. In Genesis 19 the older daughter of Lot says to the younger, “come let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve the seed of our father.” Jesus descended from Lot through this incestuous encounter. I don’t know why conservatives don’t base sermons on this bit of scripture.

    • Lot was Abrahams nephew. He isn’t in Jesus’ lineage. See Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38. Matthew gives Jesus’ lineage through Joseph while Luke gives it through Mary.

  3. Agree with your general point, but Mark 12:19 is part of quote by Jesus’ theological opponents, who were trying to trip him up with tricky questions. Seems weird to say the Bible commands something when it quotes something that Jesus’ opponents asked him.

  4. “… the Bible doesn’t actually say anything at all about homosexuality” – factually incorrect: see Leviticus 20:13.

    Nothing to do with what I think of the matter, but there it is.

    • My understanding is that this refers specifically to anal sex, not to any other male-on-male action. David and Jonathan must have so restricted their love, or the Lord wouldn’t have been so pro-David. That they were doing something is hard to deny, see 2 Samuel 1:26.

  5. So they are lying about the Bible!
    The great deceiver, Satan, must surely approve.
    With all their lying, they must love them some Satan.

  6. This is one of my favorite subjects, the true facts about the bible that modern day puritans like Mike Huckabee and others simply chose to ignore.

    I have to rank this as one of the most misogynist laws in Leviticus… God condones a husband dragging his bride to her fathers front steps and murdering her “If the groom suspects she is not a virgin on their wedding night.” It is acceptable for him to MURDER HER!! How many times do you think that law was abused?

    Jesus is quoted as saying…”I came to fulfill the law not do away with it” which is in direct contradiction to what the cherry pickers would have you believe. If Christian puritans do believe the old testament is no longer valid then they should stop quoting old testament law about homosexuality.

  7. We could also bring up the consumption of bacon-wrapped shellfish by the folks claiming that the Bible is the literal word of God. Weren’t both shellfish and bacon banned from human consumption in the Bible’s dietary laws?

  8. The bellicose gaggle of right-wing extremists in U.S. political endeavor who have tied their political futures to the concept that personal religious beliefs and interpretations of scripture trumps the law and human rights will make them UNELECTABLE.

    Governor Abbott of Texas has signed a directive link to gov.texas.gov making that concept part of the legal fabric of that State and in doing so has assured he will be a ONE-TERM Governor.

  9. Rat Salad

    “holy books” can mean anything… So do these fanatics create a “stab in the back” myth, as Hitler did with Versailles?

  10. Professor, I think the underlying problem these loons have is that, to them, marriage is all about sex. It isn’t all, even not too much about sex. They are acting like sex-obsessed teenagers.

  11. Despite your scholarly points, Huckabee, Cruz and their ilk will believe whatever they want to believe. Scientists say climate change is a monstrous threat. They don’t care. They believe the scientists are wrong because that is not what they want to believe. The war on drugs has been a disaster, but the evidence won’t change their minds.

  12. Carl Howard

    Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I see.
    You have to read BETWEEN the lines.
    Ahhhhhhh.
    So the foundation of so-called “Biblical Law” is a document so cagily devised, one has to “read between the lines.”

    Got it. Check.

  13. Just to clear a bit: You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion. ‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. (‭Leviticus‬ ‭18‬:‭22-24‬ NKJV)

    • Which is why I make it a point to lie with men in a very different way than I lie with women. ;)

  14. They can do whatever VooDoo they do in their little churches. Kiss snakes, wave goat entrails, kneel and talk gibberish, whatever.

    You are only married if the big, bad government says you are married. Nothing else counts.

  15. Will this be the first time that a major-party nominee has publicly committed to violating a Supreme Court ruling? This could get to a Constitutional crisis in a hurry.

  16. Erik Davis

    @DougSaunders Yeah, but isn’t any attempt to argue the point using scripture a concession to its relevance in the first place?

  17. Thanks Juan. If people choose to believe that God wrote the Bible and they can interpret it as they wish, and ignore any bits they do not like, so be it. These people should not have any power to affect any other human being.

  18. A grass roots social revolution is happening and the Republicans are like Neanderthals standing in the way of change. Whether it’s the Affordable Care Act, the Confederate Battle Flag and race, immigration/amnesty, Gay Marriage or the Pope speaking out on climate change, the Republicans are on the wrong side of history being made. A 21 year old nutjob with a gun was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

  19. The overall theme of the bible is redemption central to the the life of JESUS . When asked about divorce he defined marriage as male and female. Do I believe in civil rights?of course. Marry who you want it does not change my personal relationship with Jesus.

    • According Mark 12:19, guys, if your brother kicks the bucket, you have to marry your sister-in-law and knock her up.

      Actually, this is from Genesis 38:8, the story of Onan:
      Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.

      This also puts the lie to the problem being masturbation.

    • The problem with declaring the theme of the “bible” is that many Christian denominations have their own “bibles” and they are all allegedly based on the Tanakh, the Hebrew bible, although the Christians refer to their source as the “old testament,” as though their “new testament” replaces it or, at least, amends it.

      What a bible says only matters to its believers and none of it matters to a non-theocratic government or the citizens of that government.

      In other words, why should I give a hoot what bizarre rants spew from the mouths of Huckabee, Cruz, Santorum, or their acolytes?

  20. Traditional marriage has always been between one man, and all of the slaves he can afford.

    Some of the slaves might have higher status than the others, but … Yah.

  21. Excellent commentary – but don’t be too flippant, please, because it undermines your important overall point. In the book of Philemon, Paul is sending the runaway slave Onesimes back to his owner (who now has a book of the Bible named after him), but with a condition that Philemon treat Onesimes “no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.” The idea that he was a sex slave is rather farfetched. Instead, it seems to me that Paul was actually acting on his own high-sounding rhetoric that there is neither slave nor free, male or female, in the new Christian community.

  22. Merl Allen

    It was usually between one man a woman and several concubines. I don’t remember multiple verses on homosexuality in the Bible but I do remember the verse about divorce. God was against it. But for some reason you multiple marriage fake christians never bring that up.

  23. The fundamentalist Christianists in this country consistently ignore the fact that the institution of “marriage” is a civil arrangement, codified by law. Its goals include property rights, rights of children, and the smooth transfer of these assets in the event of death or divorce.

    As a civil, legally-defined arrangement, OF COURSE marriage can be re-defined as needed to keep up with the times. Moreover, the legal definition — since it’s defined by law — necessarily overrides the “scriptural” definition. People are free to graft on their own rules and expectations on the legal state of marriage, stuff like “love” and “fidelity” and even “subservience” — but this is not a part of the actual LAW. Plus, they can supplement existing law with their own additional contracts.

    In short, people have no fewer rights from this Supreme Court decision. So what’s the big fuss?

  24. Wrong. Biblical marriage was established by God in Genesis 2 prior to the fall of man.

    “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

    Everything else you quote in the Bible is a historical account of what people did or conjured, after the fall. I wouldn’t use a historical example of Solomon, for example, to justify a statement indicating that the Bible says we should have 300 concubines. No. The Bible simply *records that* Solomon had 300 concubines, but there is no instruction to follow this example. God’s instruction prior to the fall of man was part of the perfect order, which included true Biblical marriage, found in Genesis 2.

  25. You forgot the rapist has to married his victim and the “bounty’ of war are young unmarried girls that soldiers “can keep for themselves”

  26. Ann Sosman

    I think if the issue were polygamy, specifically, one man and as many women as he likes – (but NOT one woman and many men) – the GOP would have no problem with it. And sadly many “traditional marriage” wives would consider it their duty to like what the man likes.

  27. Ann Sosman

    omg this is hilarious: ‘ Deuteronomy 25:11-12: “11 If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.” ‘

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