With the publication of the Nashville Statement, we again wade into the biblical marriage debate. It’s really gotten me thinking about the supposed proof text of proof texts regarding one man-one woman “traditional marriage.” That proof text, of course, is Genesis 2:24. Importantly, Jesus quotes this text in both Matthew and Mark (albeit in response to a question about divorce). So these days, essentially, this text is predominantly employed when anyone mentions “biblical marriage.”
What confuses me, however, is how so many of the biblical characters ignored this “command” when it came to their own marital situations. And we aren’t talking about those damn liberals, and we can’t even blame the millenials. We are talking about the fathers of the faith. We are talking Abraham and David for starters.
So as we continue in Sunday school talking about “biblical marriage”, we are studying the various marriages in the biblical narrative. Some are, admittedly, prettier than others.
I decided when it was my turn to continue on in David’s marital history beyond his marriage to Abigail. Now his marriage to Abigail was at least somewhat scandalous. Certainly Abigail acted questionably by expressing her displeasure with her husband Nabal to David in private. I have little doubt pastors and laity alike would say this sort of move would be out of bounds today if it were to happen. But here’s the man after God’s own heart entertaining such conversation and then when Nabal is taken out “by Yahweh”, David takes Abigail as his wife…and in a passing comment in 1 Samuel 27:3 we learn that David had another wife, Ahinoam. Remember too that both Abigail & Ahinoam were David’s wives AFTER he’d married Michal. Now at this point, Saul had taken Michal back from David and given her to one of his buddies. So you can see how very cosmopolitan this whole marriage thing was back during David’s time!
As if this isn’t enough, we learn about more of David’s harem in 2 Samuel 3:2-5. Here we see that David has at least 3 wives who bore him sons and 3 other women who are not noted as wives who also bore him sons. No mention of daughters could very well mean that David had additional wives and/or concubines who failed to produce sons and therefore aren’t mentioned. At this point in David’s life, he hasn’t even had Uriah killed so that he could take Bathsheba as his wife!
Given all of this, my mind turned to the question of when was Genesis written? Did David know about Genesis 2:24? Was this supposed biblical model for marriage at least an oral tradition during David’s time? What about Moses? Did he really author the Pentateuch?
My answer to some degree is: Who cares if Moses wrote the final form of Genesis or not? Certainly, the Psalms show us that David celebrated some form of God’s Law in song and poem. Surely he knew that Genesis or some Mosaic Law passed down through the ages prescribed against his loose ways with women.
Or, does that text not mean what we’ve made it mean? And if it doesn’t describe the biblical model for marriage, then does that mean we can all just marry multiple wives and have children with whomever we want?
My hunch is that Moses didn’t write Genesis in its final form and that Genesis very well may have been written in 900-1000 BC, which is not too far from the reign of David, and not really all that controversial today though many might find it so. But even with that acknowledgement, if one man-one woman was the ideal set forth by Yahweh, David didn’t come close to following it, and he doesn’t really get any flack for failing to do so except from Jonathan when David took Bathsheba and had Uriah killed. But that wasn’t about the number of wives, it was about the killing of a man due to David’s covetousness of Uriah’s wife.
A main point to all of this is: David wasn’t concerned with his eternal salvation when it came to his stance (or lack thereof) on biblical marriage. Perhaps Genesis 2 is the recipe that supersedes all others as it relates to God’s design for marriage, but even if it is, David was called a man after God’s own heart despite philandering that would make Bill Clinton and Donald Trump blush.
Now, it’s important to point out that Christian communities during at least the first 500 years AD held each other to a one man-one woman marriage standard. They didn’t allow the double standard pagans did in which they called women to be chaste but not men. No, all Christians were to remain chaste in marriage and out. And if, in the marriage context, the word “chaste” seems inappropriate, Google “chastity catholic.”
So even though King David et al failed miserably to uphold biblical marriage as we understand it today, by the time of Jesus and the apostles and for considerable time afterwards the early Christians insisted on the countercultural marriage arrangement between one man-one woman.
BUT don’t chalk this up to some sort of “Bible tells me so” kinda deal. There are too many “beacons of the faith” in the Bible who ignored–and did it notoriously, if not egregiously–the reading of Genesis 2 that would mandate one man-one woman. And you can’t chalk it up to being “culturally acceptable” because as soon as you do, you’ll need to accept homosexual marriage. No, one man-one woman has to be upheld on the basis of procreation potential and/or in how Paul talks about marriage as a portrait of how Christ relates/loves the Church. I actually think the most compelling reason is the procreation argument which I realize has a whole slew of problems, but God’s command to be fruitful and multiply figures heavily in Genesis.
Or you can just say that you believe one man-one woman makes the most sense since going beyond that gets outrageously complicated. I mean more than one wife? That’s definitely not a simple formula.
As to same-sex marriage, I tend to fall on the side that would not call that particular relationship “marriage”. I’m happy to call those committed same-sex relationships something else–make up the most wonderful term you can think of–and give them the same government-endowed benefits as heterosexual married couples enjoy, but I believe marriage is between one man and one woman, and that even though many of the Bible’s most celebrated lives failed miserably to model marriage, they weren’t disqualified from God’s favor. So I could certainly be wrong about defining marriage as such, but at least I know that my error won’t keep me from the Kingdom, and–ask David–neither will yours. May the Lord bless you and keep you.