Biblical Marriage – Part 3

Posted by By at 12 September, at 07 : 08 AM Print

Whereas Mitt Romney and the Republican Party have proclaimed “Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman,”

Whereas the Chick-fil-A company supports “the biblical definition of the family unit” and its president prays “God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is about.”

Whereas, the Pennsylvania legislature has unanimously proclaimed 2012 to be “The Year of the Bible,”

Whereas I began writing this series on the day my wife and I were celebrating 34 years of marriage,

Be it resolved: let’s take a look at biblical marriage.

In the first article we looked at biblical marriages from Adam to Lamech; in the second, the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and the third, Kings David and Solomon. In this fourth and final article, we are going to look at biblical marriage called levirate marriage, the strange and bizarre biblical marriage to the gods, and then draw some conclusions on biblical marriage.

“Levir” is Latin for “husband’s brother.” In levirate marriage, the brother of a deceased man must marry his brother’s widow and conversely, the widow must marry her deceased husband’s brother. Levirate marriage is known in many societies throughout the world, but concentrated in societies with strong clan structures such as the Ancient Near East.

Levirate marriage is demanded in Deuteronomy 25:5.

When brothers live together and one of them dies without leaving a son, his widow is not to marry outside the family.  Her husband’s brother is to have intercourse with her; he should take her in marriage and do his duty by her as her husband’s brother.

Deuteronomy 25:7-10 even details the penalties for non-performing brothers-in-law: being dragged before the city magistrates, having his shoe torn off by the jilted bride, and allowing the jilted bride to spit in his face. One would think that the next few verses would detail what happens to a non-performing sister-in-law. It doesn’t. That’s because levirate marriage is a contract made by men and for men. A woman’s thoughts, feelings, and rights such as opting not to be penetrated by her brother-in-law are non-existent.

So, what does Deuteronomy 25:7-10, the penalties for a non-performing brother-in-law? Answer: the penalties a woman incurs for rescuing her husband from a beating by another man.

When men fight with one another, and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him, and put out her hand and seize him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand; your eye shall have no pity. (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)

Levirate marriage is also found in Genesis 38 7-9.

But Er, Judah’s first-born was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him. Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother.

Many Protestant denominations as well as the Roman Catholic Church say that Genesis 38:7-9 prohibits the sin of masturbation. While it is a story about sin, it is not the sin of masturbation, something the Bible says nothing about, but rather the sin of failing to perform levirate marriage, something the Bible says a lot about.

Levirate marriage is obviously a huge deal in certain parts of the Bible such as Genesis and Deuteronomy. Interestingly, it is expressly prohibited in Leviticus 18:16.

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; she is your brother’s nakedness.

I’ll leave it to the biblical literalists to tell you how that makes sense. I’ll also leave it to the biblical literalists to explain how a little, a little bit more, or a whole lot of masturbation has anything to do with failure to perform levirate marriage.

If levirate marriage is weird, having marital sex with gods is even weirder! According to the Bible, not only is it legal, it’s a good thing!

The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair; they took to wife such of them as they chose. (Genesis 6:2)

Even creepier is Genesis 6:4

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughter of men, and they bore children to them. There were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.

For those of you who are keeping score in polygamy-monogamy tote board, we do not know if these marriages between the gods and humans were polygamous or monogamous.

As so, in the Year when Mitt Romney says “marriage is between one man and one woman as does Chick-filA, in the Year of  the Bible in Pennsylvania, and on my 34th wedding anniversary, what can we conclude about marriage?

One conclusion might be that polygamy is not only biblically permissible, it is the norm. While  Miles Parker Romney might draw that conclusion, a better one, I think, would be to say that biblical marriage practices, both to humans and to gods, vary widely. And because they vary so widely, we should be very careful stating the Judeo-Christian view of marriage is “between one man and one woman” or  the Chick-fil-a company supports “the biblical definition of the family unit” and prays “God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is about.”

King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Jesus had zero wives and zero concubines. Ditto that for St. Paul on both counts.  St. Peter was married (Mark 1:29), but he left all to follow the Christ (Matthew 19:27). That’s a pretty wide range of choices. I, for one, hearkened to none of them.

And before we use the Bible to support the so-called “defense of marriage” laws and before the  pastors go all Leviticus 18:22 on me, which, by the way, is only a few verses away from the passage prohibiting the levirate marriage mandated in Deuteronomy 25, consider this passage about King David and Jonathan from 1 Samuel 18:1-4

Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. Saul took him that day and did not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.

Nothing more than a biblical bro-mance? Jonathan’s father King Saul didn’t think so.

I know you have chosen the son of Jesse – which is a disgrace to yourself and the nakedness of your mother! (1 Samuel 20:30)

Or David’s own words for Jonathan.

“Very pleasant hast thou been unto me; wonderful was thy love to me, passing the love of women.” (2 Samuel 1:26)

Still believe in the “biblical” definition that “marriage is between a man and a woman?” The assertion is dishonest because it is incomplete. The actual marriage vows, say “… ‘Til death us do part.” These words are part of the marriage vows because Jesus prohibited all divorce in Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18. In short, if we are going to defend marriage biblically, we must outlaw divorce. Sorry Rush.

Congregations can define it as they wish, but if the state is going to define marriage, it should be something like “Marriage is a, loving committed relationship between two adults.” The purpose of the state is to allow these people in to express that love and commitment for each other.

If we learn anything from the Bible, it is not about collecting 700 wives and 300 concubines, levirate laws or marriage to the gods. What we learn from the Bible is that we should love one another, be gracious and kind, forgive and have forbearance, with lots and lots of emphasis on the forgiving and forbearing stuff. Oh, did I mention marriage is about forgiving and forbearing? That is precisely what marriage should be, for the state, for you, and for me.

Photo by Penn Provenance Project

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- who has written 29 posts for Rock The Capital
The Rev. Timothy Dewald was Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Lebanon Valley College joining the faculty in 1989. He retired in May 2010. In 1993 he won the College's Evelyn J. Knisley award for Inspirational Teaching. In addition to teaching mathematics, Rev. Dewald served the College in 1992 as acting chaplain, taught courses in East Asian religions, a First-Year Seminar on Darwin and evolution, Einstein’s general relativity, and the New Testament, as well as a mathematics and statistics courses. He also served as a parish minister for 23 years. Rev. Dewald graduated from Dickinson College with a degree in political science and religion. He earned a master of divinity degree from Andover Newton Theological School in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1987, he received certification in mathematics from the Pennsylvania State University. - Email Timothy Dewald

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