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Curt Stofferahn, Grand Forks, Published July 27 2013

Letter: Ahistorical moralists incorrect

Without wading into the ethical issues of same-sex marriage (“God’s traditional marriage sacred,” Forum letter, July 24), it is necessary to address the presumption that marriage between one man and one woman is somehow ordained by God because it is mentioned in the Bible. These ahistorical moralists are incorrect because the Bible doesn’t say anything about the definition of marriage, according to biblical scholars (Altoona Herald, June 2, 2013). Hector Avalos, Robert R. Cargill and Kenneth Atkinson are scholars at Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa, respectively.

They list all the ways in which the Bible describes marriage as something other than an exclusively heterosexual, monogamous institution:

“… we wish to clarify that the biblical texts do not support the frequent claim that marriage between one man and one woman is the only type of marriage deemed acceptable by the Bible’s authors. The fact that marriage is not defined as only that between one man and one woman is reflected in the entry on ‘marriage’ in the authoritative Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000): ‘Marriage is one expression of kinship family patterns in which typically a man and at least one woman cohabitate publicly and permanently as a basic social unit’ (p. 861).”

According to these scholars, the use of the phrase “at least one woman” is the clearest sanction of polygamy. Men with multiple wives were actually “highly blessed,” as evidenced by some disturbing passages:

“In fact, there were a variety of unions and family configurations that were permissible in the cultures that produced the Bible, and these ranged from monogamy (Titus 1:6) to those where rape victims were forced to marry their rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) and to those Levirate marriage commands obligating a man to marry his brother’s widow regardless of the living brother’s marital status (Deuteronomy 25:5-10; Genesis 38; Ruth 2-4). Others insisted that celibacy was the preferred option (1 Corinthians 7:8; 28).”

Additionally, these biblical scholars argue that the Bible doesn’t advocate too strongly for lifelong marriage either, as evidenced by passages that interpret acceptance of divorce and remarriage, along with some more antiquated guidelines:

“In fact, during a discussion of marriage in Matthew 19:12, Jesus even encourages those who can to castrate themselves “for the kingdom” and live a life of celibacy. Ezra 10:2-11 forbids interracial marriage and orders those people of God who already had foreign wives to divorce them immediately.”

Furthermore, these biblical scholars state that although the Bible doesn’t necessarily endorse same-sex marriage or relationships, neither does it state that the only virtuous marriages are those between one man and one woman.

Finally, these biblical scholars admonish us against using ancient biblical tests to inform contemporary politics: “Accordingly, we must guard against attempting to use ancient texts to regulate modern ethics and morals, especially those ancient texts whose endorsements of other social institutions, such as slavery, would be universally condemned today, even by the most adherent of Christians.”

Stofferahn, Ph.D., is professor of sociology, University of North Dakota.