The fracas around the impending redefinition of marriage in Australia has been escalating at a great rate. A private members bill is likely to be put forward in federal parliament in the near future redefining the definition of marriage. If passed, it will mean that marriage will include the legal union of two people of the same sex. Martin has already addressed the issue briefly on this blog with regards to the obvious cascade effect towards polygamous marriage. This is a very important issue, with wide-ranging consequences, and one which the Church should be deeply concerned about, and more actively combating. Distressingly, much of the church is silent on the issue, and many churches are pro-gay marriage (including 10 Baptist Union of Victoria churches).
Further controversy was caused by Margaret Court, recently. She is a former tennis champion, and church pastor, who spoke out against homosexual marriage and has copped a barrage of criticism. Obviously everyone is allowed their own opinion, unless they’re Christians and opposed to gay-marriage. But that’s another story. My point is that the issue is on the metaphorical table, and it’s important. I’m convinced the legal redefinition of marriage will occur soon, unless our Lord intervenes somehow.
There are many reasons why the redefinition of marriage is unbiblical. My focus here will be on one passage, though. And my analysis will be brief, because I think the case is strong and clear. The passage is Ephesians 5:22-33.
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
The husband is representing Christ. The wife is representing the church. Marriage is a dramatization of the gospel, of Christ love for his people. A redefinition of marriage to include gay unions would twist this God-rendered picture of the gospel beyond recognition. Marriage is between a man and a woman, because Christ is married to his church. Christ is not married to Christ, and the church is not married to the church. Any redefinition of marriage would be theologically disastrous, and Christians and churches who support such a move ignore the clear teaching of scripture.
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It’s an obvious question, but what’s your thoughts of polygamy in the Bible? Was God’s standard a little less back then because people lived in premodern tribal groups and not in modern civilized societies? I wonder how Paul would have written his letter to the Ephesians if he we writing 1000 years prior. I assume that marriage had to be re-thought at some point in its evolution from polygamy to monogamy.
Whilst I haven’t followed the Court controversy closely, I can’t imagine that people have called for her to be banished from ever expressing her views again. It seems like her opinion was treated in the way most other opinions are treated, with an opposing one. The fact that her opinion strikes very deeply at some people’s sense of identity should be of no surprise, nor should the response it has generated. The debate has perhaps soured because of her Christian faith, which, informing her opinion, becomes an object of strong criticism. On that note, it’s interesting that Tennis Australia has omitted the basic human right of freedom of religion in their public statement about the controversy.
Hi Adam. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
In addressing the polygamy question, the witness of scripture is consistent from beginning to end. In Genesis, God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Eve, and Rita, and Margaret, and Ruby, and Justine. So, from the earliest book we can see God’s design. As you move through the Bible, polygamy becomes common after the entry of sin into the world. I would also point out that at no point is there any explicit or implicit endorsement of polygamy in the OT. In fact, marriage serves as type and image for many of the prophets, who use the imagery of the husband and wife, often with the unfaithful wife being a whore (see for example Hosea) or unfaithful (see for example Isaiah 57, where Israel is unfaithful in her bed with other gods). In the NT, Jesus affirms the original plan of one man and one woman by quoting the passage (Matthew 19:4-5. and Mark 10:7). Paul is clear in affirming this also. Finally, in Revelation 21:1-4, the ultimate typology of marriage is unveiled, where Church (“the holy city, new Jerusalem”) is dressed as a bride, harking back to the Ephesians passage. Christ, and his bride, the Church. There is one bride, not two or more. The design is purposeful from the beginning – it illustrates Christ and his bride, the church. This is the typological, theological basis for the traditional definition of marriage. There is no evolution in the of understanding of marriage in scripture. God’s special revelation on this matter is consistent. Man is just sinful and stupid (which is a pretty consistent truth also!).
With regards to Court, you’re right that it’s no surprise that it generated a lot of huff and puff. I think it serves as an illustration that religious views, particularly those of Christians, are marginalised as “hate” and “bigoted”. Court does throw it right back, though, in the Sydney Morning Herald article. And that is a very good observation regarding the selective defense of human rights by Tennis Australia.
Thanks for your reply, Simon. It’s definitely an interesting topic, although not something I have a great deal of knowledge about. However, I’m going to question your stance on the consistency of scripture on the issue of polygamy.
I think to assert that the scriptural stance on polygamy, or marriage more generally, is consistent is highly contestable. At least it is widely contested today. To say that it is consistent depends on a interpretive scheme that renders it consistent, that produces a consistent narrative. By taking the text itself, however, there are plenty of examples in the Bible where the archetype of ‘one man and one woman marriage’ becomes unstuck in light of what seems to be God’s attitude of indifference to the matter.
For example, the story of the rivalry between Jacob’s wives, Leah and Rachel, not only involves polygamy between husband and wives but also the wives’ servants/ slaves (Genesis 30). There is no mention of a married status between Jabob and the servants of his wives, let alone their freedom of consent. Moreover, God plays an active role – one might say, is complicit – in the rivalry between Leah and Rachel in which God blocks or opens the wombs of one or the other (Gen 29:31-35, Gen 30:6, Gen 30:17-24). Interestingly, according to Leah’s interpretation of her good fortune, she says, “God has given me my wages, because I have given my maid to my husband” (Gen 30:18). That is, God rewarded her for giving her maidservant to her husband, Jacob. This seems to be an active condoning of polygamy on God’s part.
I see what you’re saying, Adam, but I do disagree. I interpret that circumstance in Genesis 30 as an example of God working a bad situation for good. I don’t think it follows that, because God uses situation a to his ends, he morally approves of situation a. In this instance, God would disapprove of the polygamy, but still utilise it for his ends. Also, there is no clear statement that the polygamy is good in that passage, or anywhere else in the Bible. Whereas there are scriptures which clearly state that monogamy is good. If we take the Bible as a whole, ie. do some systematic theology on the subject of polygamy, then I think we come to the conclusion that God disapproves of polygamy. I appreciate your position, though, and I think it’s worth thinking carefully about that issue.
Simon, before disagreeing with you (I note your respectful disagreement with my interpretation), I will say that, yes, some systematic theology is helpful in producing a more cohesive picture of what the Bible says on a particular issue (my take on what you said). However, it does by necessity assume that 1) all scripture can be systematised, and 2) that its systematisation allows for a clearer understanding of individual cases in the Bible. Without getting into a post-modernist debate about rejections of meta-narratives or whatever, the formation of a systematic theology does not occur without reference to one’s own historical setting, embedded as it is in particular cultural understandings. So, yes, whilst I can see that systematic theology could help make better sense of a confusing portion of scripture, it itself exists in tension with what could otherwise be read as an internal contradiction.
Now, to respectfully disagree with you. 🙂
By arguing that God uses ‘bad’ situations for his own ends, begs the question of what ends and in what ways do they justify their means.
In the story told here in Genesis 30, God directly intervenes in the lives of people in a way that creates a particular situation. In this example, God controls the fertility of both women that creates a situation that aggravates sibling/ intra-marital rivalry. In producing such a scenario, God then rewards his subjects through acts that are morally questionable – the giving of servants to produce offspring, which effectively amounts to sex slavery if we assume that those maids had no choice but to sleep with Jacob. If God does not approve the situation that he has had a large role in creating, or at least does not morally approve of the means involved, then it seems very strange that he created the situation to begin with. By arguing that God uses unacceptable means to achieve his more purposeful ends, seems to imply that God has no choice but use those means, despite it being the case in this story that he explicitly accepts those means in rewarding what would otherwise be immoral behaviour.
It seems to me redundant to say that there is no mention of the goodness of polygamy in the story. It remains the case that God rewarded both sisters in giving their servants to Jacob; a situation that could have been avoided had both sisters been fertile. Polygamy, as a means in itself, is rewarded. If God found polygamy to be unacceptable, he would not create the situation by which it was the only means towards his particular ends (whatever they may be in this case), let alone reward it.
Adam, I fear we are getting further and further off topic! I’ll try and round off this discussion as neutrally as possible, to prevent me getting the “last word”, so to speak.
Your conception of God, and how this God might work in our world, is evidently different to mine. Suffice to say, I don’t agree with your conclusions in your most recent comment. With that in mind, it might be best to agree to respectfully disagree at this juncture. I’m very happy to have this discussion, but we should keep the comments on the topic of the blog post. Thanks for your thoughtful input, and hope to see you back here soon!
Fair call. Although, I think we are still on the topic of the biblical definition of marriage, despite the slight divergence into whether God condoned polygamous means in working towards his ends. I don’t mean to be argumentative for the sake of it, despite the internet making it quite easy to be. I am actually concerned about how we come to the conclusions we reach. Thanks for the discussion. Talk to you next time.
Hi Adam & Simon
I can see merit in what both of you are saying. I really like what Simon has done with the sweep of the Bible. We need to do a Biblical Theology of marriage – there is a progression in what happens with it through the Bible. However I think Adam is correct on Genesis itself. Genesis clearly teaches polygamy. However it also has many other examples that are in fact quite against the Law given in Exodus, the next book (making of sacred pillars, setting up altars, marrying a close relative, etc). It would never do to take an example from Genesis and uphold it as something to be followed today (without going through a thorough Biblical theology of the issue – that is, tracing the theme through the Bible). So Simon in the end is quite correct, since, of course, the New Testament/ Jesus speak very clearly against polygamy.
Thanks, Martin, for your insight into what is definitely a complex issue. I really should leave this alone, but I will say this, so I am not misunderstood.
You have in a sense made my point regarding the definition of marriage in saying, “there is a progression in what happens with it through the Bible”. That is, in essence, what I was arguing; that because there is a progression of the idea of marriage in the bible itself, it seems troublesome to argue that redefinition of marriage is unbiblical. I wasn’t suggesting that the writers of the NT condoned polygamy; Paul seems very much in favour of monogamy. To draw out a biblical moral code to live by today would, of course, entail a systematic theology.
My point really boils down to whether a redefinition of marriage is actually unbiblical when there is clearly a progression of the status of marriage in the bible itself, of which God on occasion appears rather indifferent to cases of polygamy, even after the Law.
A clear example is documented in the story of David, the Lord’s anointed, who took for himself many wives and slept with others to produce offspring, to which there is no mention of any wrongdoing, except in the case where he was found guilty for plotting the death of Uriah. In this case, though, he is guilty of his plotting to kill Uriah so he could have his wife. It was wrong to steal another’s wife by killing the man, but not the polygamy itself. In fact God says, through his prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:8, “I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more!”, implying that “I could have given you more wives!”. God rewarded his anointed with many wives. As a punishment for organising Uriah’s death, God arranges for the wives of David to be taken away and given to someone else to sleep with for all Israel to witness (2 Samuel 12:11-12). Women, far from being protected by a faithful husband in a monogamous marriage are given away as men’s possessions to be had.
I don’t wish to put words into God’s mouth. His words are already there, written down. The God of the Bible appears to have found polygamy, in these examples, as something perfectly acceptable. However, I do not propose that a systematic theology would necessarily come up with the conclusion, ‘polygamy is biblically acceptable’, except if it allowed for internal inconsistencies of which there are clear examples.
I trust that my response is not taken to be unnecessarily argumentative. To the extent that we aim to better understand how God feels about polygamy, and ultimately how we think about a biblical definition of marriage and whether it fitting to redefine it, I think it is worth going through some of the nitty gritty.