Marriage: Models and Mirrors in Scripture

September 5, 2012

As we develop a curriculum on marriage for use in the PCUSA, we must take a look at some biblical data causing questions and confusion in the church. Readers of this blog and contributors of others have cautioned that a fair Bible study on the meaning of marriage must include the diverse forms family takes. There is no question that the biblical narrative reports polygamy (Lamech in Genesis 4, Jacob in Ge 29f) and concubines (Abraham, Ge 25:5; Solomon, 1 Kings 11). As an aside, it is interesting to note that there are no reports of homosexual marriages or polyamory (multiple spouses, as distinct from polygamy which is limited to one man married to multiple wives) in the Scriptures. Suggestions that David and Jonathan were homosexual lovers (1 Samuel 18:1) or that Jesus and John lived a secret life together (John 20:2) are spurious claims argued from silence or an assumption that “love” is necessarily expressed sexually. There is mention in Paul’s Corinthian correspondence of the man involved in an incestuous relationship with “his father’s wife,” condemned in the strongest terms (1 Corinthians 5). The fact that these various arrangements are mentioned is not evidence enough to permit them in today’s Christian community. It would be necessary to demonstrate that these arrangements were models blessed by God, recommended as normative for all humanity, and carried over from Old to New Testament in order for us to consider them legitimate arrangements for Christians today. Otherwise, we must consider the data as mirrors into the soul and society of human nature. One must give God credit for preserving a biblical story that is full of bad as well as good examples; the fact that there are relationships that exemplify God’s design alongside corrupt ones indicates that the Book is as much about human nature at its worst as it is about God’s design for humanity at its best.

By the time of the New Testament, in a Greek/Roman culture in which all forms of sexual practice were evident, the Christian norm for sexual relationships was monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Jesus quoted Genesis 2, the “two shall become one flesh” passage in his comments on marriage in Matthew 19; Paul made clear that sexual immorality included all other forms than heterosexual marriage (1 Cor 6:9). And we cannot ignore the theological observation that the Bible began with Adam and Eve, two becoming one, and ends with Revelation 21-22 and the “wedding feast” celebrating the joining of Christ and his Church. And sprinkled through the Old Testament are illustrations of defilement, in terms of Israel’s adultery in spurning Yahweh and going after other gods (Hosea, Isaiah). The illustration of exclusivity, intimacy, and faithfulness makes sense only in the context of the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, as God designed the sexes and commissioned then for their role in illustrating the great mystery of God’s covenant and redemptive act through history.

It remains a mystery to me why God allowed polygamy by the “righteous” Fathers of the chosen people. These relationships were certainly complicated, but prolific with progeny for the purposes of that “great nation” God promised to create. But even then, there were rules for the joining of a man and a woman in marriage, no room for homosexual unions nor polyamory, and after a time the sanction for polygamy was withdrawn. Jesus is our interpreter and teacher in this matter, and his Word settles the problem of what we are now to do (and not do).

The Scriptures lift up models of faith and practice for us to emulate. They also present us with mirrors into our own souls. A mirror helps us see ourselves as we really are, but it is the models we follow. May God give us the wisdom to tell the difference.

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6 Responses to “Marriage: Models and Mirrors in Scripture”


  1. […] Marriage: Models and Mirrors in Scripture « Bringing the Word to Life […]

  2. Jodie Says:

    I think the difference we need to make in wisdom is the difference between a sexual relationship and a marriage relationship.

    Paul helps us best understand the Genesis passage when he explains that it is really about Christ and the Church. Christ as the second Adam, leaves his FatherAndMother and joins with the Church and the two become One. We must also remember that the only context in which Jesus invoked the Genesis passage was in condemning divorce.

    What we should be concluding from that is that in the marriage between Christ and the Church, divorce is off the table. Good News!

    The relationship between Christ and the Church is not about sex and not about gender. Love, in Christ, as explained so eloquently in 1 Cor 13, is also not about sex or gender. Nor is the love between David and Jonathan or Jesus and his disciples (which outside of the Twelve most definitely included both men and women).

    Yet, what would Christian marriage be based on, if not on the marriage between Christ and the Church and the Way of Love?

    So we must conclude that Christian marriage is not about sex, and not about gender. (!)

    There really isn’t any other starting point or guide.

  3. Ken Says:

    One cannot read Pauline theology back into Genesis and assert that it was about Christ and his church all along. Paul was not trying to teach us about marriage by writing of Christ and his church; it’s the other way around. He teaches us about our union with Christ by using marriage as a model. Of course it isn’t sexual, but marriage is. Consult just about any passage of Scripture that treats of marriage.
    To borrow a phrase from Luther, if Jodie is right I’ll eat the Holy Spirit – feathers and all.

  4. Jodie Says:

    Ken,

    I’ll let you take it up with the Apostle Paul next time you see him. But you are going to look mighty funny with all those feathers sticking out of your mouth. 🙂

  5. Jim Conner Says:

    There are roles of sexuality both physical and cultural involved in the teaching of Christ [the groom/husband] and the church [betrothed wife] . Christ is the protector and redeemer of the church he is the warrior who fights for his bride and lays down his life for his love. The bride is redeemed into the beauty God originally intended for her, the complementarity is replete in the picture the fact that people today are educated to reject male and female roles does remove them from the picture, even those which moderns do not find ‘fair’ or appropriate.


  6. Y’all are just making this all too complicated. Is it even possible for people in this so called “post-modern” to even conceive (no pun intended) of love between two people of the same gender to be asexual? As my old granny used to say, “get yer minds out of the gutter!” I love my biological brothers and sister, but no way in a sexual manner. I love my parents, but not sexually, and I love but my children, but not sexually. So maybe the metaphor of Christ and Church loses something in translation….

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