If you are a Christian or a Jew who is familiar with your scriptures, then none of these come as any surprise to you. If they do surprise you, you owe it to yourself to do some research!

Marriage Meme Madness

Have you ever encountered this chart? It calls the traditional and Biblical definition of marriage into question by examining eight “definitions” of marriage that are described in the Bible. Its intent is to denigrate traditional marriage, to make supporters of traditional marriage appear bigoted or hypocritical, and to make appeals to the “Biblical definition of marriage” appear ambiguous at best.

Does this meme succeed in its attack on traditional marriage, supporters of traditional marriage, or even the idea that there is such a thing as a “Biblical definition of marriage? We will take each example of marriage in turn, but first I would like to offer the following distinction, a distinction that was not made in the meme itself. There is a large difference between a purely descriptive account of what actually took place and a prescriptive description of what ought to be the case. One needs to be careful of the naturalistic fallacy – mistaking how something is with how it ought to be – and the moralistic fallacy – mistaking how something ought to be with how it actually is. Not all of the forms of marriage mentioned by this meme are problematic, but it would be a mistake to assume that those that are problematic are held up as positive examples.

  • Man + Woman = Nuclear family (Gen. 2:24).

This is what is meant by the “Biblical definition of marriage.” While I object to the characterization of the wife as “subordinate” to her husband, the Biblical role of the man is in authority, and wives are called to submit to their husbands. If you think that’s harsh, keep in mind what husbands are called to do for their wives. There are many excellent expositions of this concept. It is not sexist, nor should it count against the Biblical definition of marriage.

Interfaith marriages are forbidden, so that part is accurate, although it would be a mistake to interpret that as essential to the definition of marriage.

Most people today object to the concept of arranged marriages, so apparently the creators of the meme thought it would be damaging to include this aspect. The problem is, arranged marriages are as much cultural as religious – there is no Biblical mandate for them – and are practiced in various places around the world. There is even a growing group of individuals who turn to their parents for assistance with matchmaking, if not for actual arranged marriages.

It is true that a woman could be stoned unless proof of virginity could be produced. This is consistent with the punishment for other sexual sins. In fact, it is interesting to note how there are high penalties for all of the sexual sins. Given the extreme problems that sexual sins cause for the stability of marriage, and consequently for families and society as a whole, it could be that an extreme penalty was needed to ingrain the importance of marital fidelity. Regardless, the penalty for infidelity is not part of the definition of marriage.Most importantly, Genesis 218-24 indicates the standard for marriage that God intended, and Jesus referenced and upheld this standard when he was asked about divorce in Matthew and Mark.

  • Man + Wife + Concubines

The mere existence of concubines in scripture does not indicate that having concubines is moral or part of the definition of marriage, and it certainly was never upheld as a moral standard approved by God. Concubines were not wives but more like indentured prostitutes, so it is hard to see how this could affect the definition of marriage in scripture. Excessive wives and concubines were specifically prohibited for kings.

  • Man + Woman + Woman’s Property

The situation here is little different than with concubines; instead of being the husband’s property (a concubine) the woman was the wife’s property but used by the husband. God did not condone the practice in scripture.

  • Man + Woman + Woman + Woman…

Again, this practice is not condoned in scripture, it was merely a common cultural practice that actually went against God’s plan as originally intended.

  • Man + Brother’s Widow (Levirate Marriage)

This is a legitimate form of marriage in scripture (in fact, it’s a legitimate form of marriage today as well). Since the woman’s original husband was dead, her marriage to him was void. The original husband’s brother could then marry her (and actually was expected to marry her, if she had no children). This provided for the continuation of a man’s line after his death, since the first child produced by the new marriage would be counted legally as the dead man’s heir. This also meant the widow had someone to provide for her. So why was this very compassionate form of marriage put on a chart attacking the Biblical definition of marriage?

This is just another version of the nuclear family.

  • Rapist + his victim

While it is true that marriage was required after a rape, the phrasing of this chart is backwards: It is not that a woman was required to marry her rapist, but rather that a rapist was required to marry his victim (provided she was not already engaged). Sending a woman away after raping her was considered a disgrace to her greater than the rape itself; other men likely would not marry her, which meant she would have to live as a desolate woman. Imprisoning or killing the rapist would have served little purpose, but forcing the rapist to marry his victim forced him to provide for her and established some semblance of legitimacy for the woman.

This is also another version of the nuclear family.

  • Male soldier + Prisoner of war

Soldiers were permitted to marry female prisoners of war, provided they were virgins. The soldiers were required to allow the woman to mourn for her family, and were prohibited from treating the woman as a slave, which would have been common in that time. The woman would thus have been provided for through marriage.

This is yet another version of the nuclear family. Of course, the reason this type of marriage was included was because it offends modern sensibilities to think about marrying prisoners of war. Given that such prisoners were a common reality in context of the Israelite conquest of Canaan (when the permission was originally given), it is difficult to find another more humane way of handling the situation. In most cases the culture the Israelite were fighting was entirely destroyed due to their extreme wickedness, so the women couldn’t go home. Forcing them to provide for themselves would have only heightened their distress, and would have likely resulted in them being slaves. Marriage provided for them in practical ways and enabled them to establish new lives as part of the Israelite community.

  • Male slave + Female slave

Slaves were allowed to marry. If people wish to complain about this, imagine the outcry if slaves weren’t allowed to marry. Is it so odd that a slave would be permitted to marry other slaves? It is difficult to see how a slave getting married is offensive or somehow constitutes a new definition of marriage. As for the requirement of sexual submission, that is not supported by the reference the chart supplies.

This is still another version of the nuclear family. I suppose we could continue to multiply examples of the nuclear family (Farmer + Woman, Priest + woman, etc), but what would be the point?

To sum up, we have seen that each of the examples provided in the chart was either a version of the nuclear family with Biblical approval, or a violation of the nuclear family model with no Biblical approval (as descriptive, not prescriptive). Appeals to the “Biblical definition of marriage” are not ambiguous, but rather refer to marriage as God intended “from the beginning,” rather than the various unapproved versions of marriage in scripture.

It is likely that several of the versions of nuclear marriage are included not because they serve as alternate definitions of marriage, but rather merely for the culture shock they create. This culture shock encourages one to disavow Biblical forms of marriage out of a sense of moral superiority. However, several of the types of marriage described are more compassionate than they appear at first to modern Western sensibilities.

Finally, in the context of the same-sex marriage debates today, it is worth noting that all of the Biblical forms of marriage this chart addresses are heterosexual in nature, serving to underscore the traditional, Biblical view of marriage.

“But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; 
she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

15 thoughts on “Marriage Meme Madness

  1. jalexander Post author

    The formatting on this post is giving me fits… Every time I fix one formatting issue, a different one crops up!

    Reply
  2. Adam Cooper

    A good break down of the meme, understandable and coherent with good biblical points. Your use of words towards the beginning of the post could be a little more common phrase, with a more easily understood choice of words. Afterwards though, it is evident you worked into your writting flow and chose words easily read, understood, and used. Good job with this post. Devotional next time?

    Reply
  3. Laura

    I think your link to Deuteronomy in the victim/rape description is wrong; should be Deuteronomy 22, maybe?

    Reply
    1. jalexander Post author

      Thanks Laura! I somehow accidentally posted the link to the passage about Levirate marriage. I fixed the problem!

      Reply
      1. Laura

        No problem. :) I stumbled across this post via fb and have been thinking about it on and off ever since. Recently I was told that our definition of rape today is different than in Biblical times–basically, that rape back then was defined as a man having sex with a woman without her father’s permission (whether or not the woman was okay with it). Have you heard this before? If it’s accurate, I think that this should really change many people’s views today on the apparent injustice of the law.

        Reply
  4. Griffin

    “Imprisoning or killing the rapist would have served little purpose, but forcing the rapist to marry his victim forced him to provide for her and established some semblance of legitimacy for the woman.

    This is also another version of the nuclear family.”

    Do you seriously believe this? So we should not imprison people who rape other people? And as far as she would be considered dishonorable or whatever, could God not have made a commandment or something dictating that women are equal and It’s not the victim’s fault if they are assaulted? This is God’s law you are discussing and you don’t think he could have made a quick note, perhaps in between the laws on stoning, to point out that victims are not at fault for their crimes, and women are not unclean because some scumbag raped her? This is such a terrible law, if you’re some loser with no chance of attracting a respectable partner well then just go rape someone and pay her father some silver. I mean after all there isn’t any sense in imprisoning these people, let’s just sentence them to the terrible punishment of marriage to the person you violated.

    Reply
    1. jalexander Post author

      Hi Griffin, thanks for your comments.
      You seem to have slightly mistaken the main thrust of this article, which is to demonstrate that the “types of marriage” that this meme lists from the Bible fail to actually introduced new, biblically-sanctioned forms of marriage. I trust that this point is obvious.

      That doesn’t mean, however, that the moral wisdom of this law isn’t important. It *is* an important question, but one I wasn’t attempting to answer in this post. Here is a link that answers that issue in a little more length than I’ll do in a comment: http://www.gotquestions.org/Deuteronomy-22-28-29-marry-rapist.html

      As a brief summary, essentially the actual marriage was left up to the choice of the father, and most fathers don’t actually want their daughter marrying a rapist. That meant that essentially the rapist had to pay a fine, which was a deterrent. Furthermore, the fact that divorce wasn’t permitted in for a man who raped also served as a deterrent – nothing the woman did would really justify his divorcing her. Finally, don’t automatically assume that the woman wouldn’t want to marry the man who raped her. The only case of rape I know of in the Bible after this law was instituted was when Amnon raped Tamar, his half-sister. Tamar actually begged him to marry her after that. It doesn’t necessarily make sense to me either, but that culture is very different than today’s. (I just remembered another case in the book of Judges. The guilty people were destroyed by Israel.)

      In response to your question, no, God can’t dictate a law to govern attitudes. We can’t do that even today – we can only legislate regarding *actions*. The rules of Judaism did represent an improvement over other Ancient Near-Eastern cultures, and did elevate women, and Christianity elevated women even further.

      Reply
  5. k

    Sure do see a lot of Old Testament on here….pretty sure that is the same set of books that all other ignorant “scholars” try to discredit Christianity with (see Jewish law…).

    Reply
    1. Habib

      That set of books is the only reason you believe what you believe. No prophecy, no fulfilling the covenant no anything if you relegate it to old nonsense. And if you think that Jewish law is nul and void by covenant fulfilment then you don’t need ten commands, stupid hate and all that baggage that right wing christians use against minorities. Majority oppressing minority because of religion and/or tradition and rejecting their rights is no way to lead a secular country based on human rights.

      Reply
      1. jalexander Post author

        Habib, I don’t know the beliefs of “k” above, but for many Christians (myself included) it would be inaccurate to say that we only believe what we believe because of the Bible – particularly in regards to the issue of same-sex marriage. I’m not what sure you mean by your next sentence. However, the fact that Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Mosaic covenant does not mean that no one need live a moral life. Hating one’s neighbor is still immoral, as is homosexuality remains immoral. For more on the interplay between the Old Testament Law and Christianity see my post, Christians and the Old Testament Law. Finally, regarding majority oppression of a minority, it is not at all clear that there is any “right” to same-sex marriage, even in a secular society. There are certainly secular public policy cases against same-sex marriage, so it’s not as if Christians are merely forcing their religion on others. For one such case, see the article What Is Marriage? by Girgis, Anderson, and George in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

        Reply
  6. Annalisa

    Josh, from what I understand about the Levirite Marriage is that a man was required to produce his brother’s heir, that he didn’t actually take her as a wife or marry her, that he didn’t have to be single at the time (which would mean taking her as a wife would be polygamy). I could be wrong here, though.

    Reply
    1. jalexander Post author

      See Deuteronomy 25:5-9: 5 If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. 6 The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.

      7 However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” 8 Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” 9 his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.”

      Reply

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