Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Monday, August 18, 2003
Biblical Marriage

Atrios recently mentioned that the Presidential Prayer Team is currently urging us to:

Pray for the President as he seeks wisdom on how to legally codify the definition of marriage. Pray that it will be according to biblical principles. With many forces insisting on variant definitions of marriage, pray that God's Word and His standards will be honored by our government.

Here at the Nuisance, we believe prayer should be balanced by action. And, perhaps unlike certain others, we actually do read the Bible. So here, in support of the Prayer Team's admirable goals, is a proposed Constitutional Amendment codifying marriage entirely on biblical principles:

1 Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women.1 Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives.2

2 A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed.3 Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden.4

3 Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to permit divorce.5

4 If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother's widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law.6

1: Gen. 29, 17 - 28; II Sam. 3, 2 - 5.
2: II Sam. 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21
3: Deut. 22, 13 - 21
4: Gen 24:3; Num 25 1 - 9; Ezra 9:12; Neh. 10:30
5: Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9
6: Gen. 38 6 - 10; Deut 25 5 - 10

Addendum: I have been accused by commenters at OTB of misstating the texts and twisting the meaning. (What the last few commenters here said, I don't know, since my comments system is down at the moment.) Obviously, this post isn't intended to be a detailed examination of biblical marriage, any more than I seriously advocate the above amendment. But I will address some of their issues.

There are biblical passages permitting divorce, see particularly Deut 24 1 - 4. The prohibition in Deut 22 that I cited isn't universal. But for the majority Christian population of this country, Deut 24 is superceded by the Gospels, and Christ's statement cited above, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder" seems to be absolute and universal. (I suppose it would allow divorces for civil marriage, but the distinction between civil and religious marriage is an anachronism for either OT or NT times.)

The Deut 24 divorce law is as problematic as the laws I cited above, since it allows men to divorce, but not women. Causes are ambiguous; according to my biblical concordance, the school of Shammai required adultery or some similar strong cause; the school of Hillel allowed divorce for almost any reason. (In Jewish tradition, such disputes are almost always decided in favor of Hillel.) Divorce simply to take a 'trophy wife' seems to have been already known and disdained (Mala 2 14 - 16). Women, however, could not divorce. A woman seems to have had no alternative but to return to her family, if they would take her back. For an example see Judges 19:2; a concubine either "plays the harlot" (Masoretic) or "becomes angry" (Septuagint) with her husband and returns to her father. In either case, her conduct seems to be frowned on; see the rest of Judges 19 for her fate - note that the husband's actions don't seem to be condemned.

Obviously, it is not expected that the bride be a virgin in all cases, since marriage of widows and divorced women is allowed. And a few other exceptions are made, Deut 22 28 - 29 allows for a shotgun wedding when a couple is caught in the act. So the first clause of part 2 is oversimplified, but other than shotgun weddings, second marriages, and presumably women who have been raped, the rule would have applied. By the actual language of the text, it would indeed apply to all marriages, but remember that Deuteronomy predates the invention of lawyers - some flexibility to avoid an absurd result is implied.

Although it would be easy to get that impression, I want to make clear that I am not suggesting that the laws of the OT are absurd or barbaric. Whether you are a Jew, Christian, or secularist, it is important to remember that the laws were incredibly successful in their time and place. Like all laws, they were designed to ensure the community's survival. In biblical times, Jews wee a small and generally weak community, mingling with Egyptians, Babylonians, Philistines, Moabites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Amorites, and many other groups. Many of those other tribes/cultures were more numerous and powerful than the Jews. With the exceptions of the Persians and Assyrians, almost all of them are extinct and have been for a millienium or far more. The Jews survive and their fundamental idea, monotheism, has sparked religions - which can be seen, in a sense, as Judaic offshoots - whose followers are in the billions.

Traditional marriage is just that - traditional, not biblical. I am aware of no passage, OT or NT, which explicitly bans polygamy, and, as the passages above show, it was practiced by major biblical figures including Jacob, David, and Solomon. Homosexuality is certainly barred by the laws of Leviticus, but is is questionable whether the doctrine that Christ's life and death freed Christians from the OT law applies to that passage. Divorce is forbidden by Christ, but accepted by most Christians. And I won't even go into the many passages in the NT which condemn the luxury, acquisitiveness, and wealth which are so visible among many who claim to accept the Bible as a final guide in all things.

Those who wish to condemn gay marriage are free to do so. I myself have no problems with calling it a union or using some other term, so long as the legal rights of gay people are respected. But I do dislike it when those who advocate denying equal protection to gay people hide behind a few sentences in the Bible and say that they are merely expressing God's immutable will.