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Arland Jacobson, Moorhead, Published July 21 2012

In law or practice, the Bible has no clear view of marriage

In letters to the editor about the firing of St. Joseph (Moorhead) fifth- grade teacher Trish Cameron, it is frequently asserted that the biblical view of marriage is one man and one woman. The fact is, the Bible nowhere makes this clear.

The Roman Catholic Church, or any other ecclesial community, has the right to define marriage as they wish (so long as it does not violate U.S. law) and expect fidelity to its doctrines and practices, at least of its employees. But it is wholly inaccurate to claim that the biblical view of marriage is one man and one woman.

Often, monogamous marriage is assumed, but some biblical law assumes polygynous marriage (one man, multiple wives, e.g., Exodus 21:10; Deuteronomy 21:15-17). The Bible has many examples of polygynous males (Abraham, Jacob, Esau, Moses, Gideon, David and Solomon, among others). Very likely, polygyny was limited to elites who could afford several wives – a sign of wealth and status that very few could attain.

Moreover, the Bible permits practices rejected by most Jews and Christians, such as marrying close relatives, the purchase of a wife, levirate marriage (a surviving brother of a deceased married brother mandated to marry the widow) and so on. Adultery was prohibited, but apparently concubines, maids and female servants didn’t count. Homosexual acts were condemned, but there is no proof that homosexuality itself was either presumed or condemned.

Jesus was not married (very unusual for Jewish males), and he demanded that disciples abandon their families, including wives and children. He even praised “eunuchs for the kingdom” (Matthew 19:12).

Paul, too, was anti-marriage. He permitted it, but counseled against marriage. In a “pastoral letter,” bishops and deacons may have only one wife (1 Timothy 3:2,12), though this presumes that others might have more than one (translation here is a problem: the words may mean only one marriage, i.e., not remarried).

The Bible simply has no clear view of marriage, in law or in practice. It is inaccurate to claim that it does. As always, individual Bible verses can be cited to support most anything, but an honest assessment has to look at the bigger picture.