Est. May 2008

17 February, 2013

Text, Context, Pretext, Proof Text*

Most of you folks who are reading this – if you’re around my vintage – probably heard at least one of your English teachers tell you at least once or a dozen times that if you didn’t understand a word in a sentence that you could discover its meaning from the context of the sentence – the rest of the sentence that it’s in.

This concept is, of course, expandable to include a sentence in a paragraph or a paragraph in a group of paragraphs.

There are some folks out there, however, who either don’t get this concept, or get it and would rather not use it.  This second group is usually those folks who want a specific statement to say what they want it to say, so they conveniently (?) leave out the rest of the words around it.

And this is altogether too common among folks who wrench verses out of the Bible in order to make a case for their, well, for lack of a better word, agenda.  And the following Associated Baptist Press article by Miguel De La Torre (‘our author’, for short) is a sterling example of this.

Before I go further I want to let you know that this post is going to be a long one; it seems it must be in order for me to adequately deal with the many claims our author makes concerning biblical marriage.  In the interests of bandwidth, I’ll give the whole context of the passage, with our author’s pretexted verse in bold.

Now, on to the show.

It’s obvious by even a cursory reading of our author’s article that he has concluded that biblical marriage was little more than a slave/owner relationship where the woman is little more than a household appliance with no rights of her own.  And his strategic use of out-of-context verses wrenched from the Bible might even lead one to agree with him.  But when you start putting his out-of-context verses back into their original contexts, his thesis begins to fall apart.

He also neglects the nutshell-point of ‘biblical marriage’ – one man, one woman, for life.  God plainly laid that out in Genesis 2, verses 20 to 25.  Pretty much every one of our author’s points indicate how sinful mankind loused up God’s original design for marriage.

His first pretext is 1 Kings 1:1-3: here is the entire context, with our author’s verse in bold:
Now King David was old, advanced in age; and they covered him with clothes, but he could not keep warm.  So his servants said to him, “Let them seek a young virgin for my lord the king, and let her attend the king and become his nurse; and let her lie in your bosom, that my lord the king may keep warm.”  So they searched for a beautiful girl throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king.  The girl was very beautiful; and she became the king’s nurse and served him, but the king did not cohabit with her’ (emphasis mine).
Note that King David didn’t cohabit with the girl – she was, not to put too fine a point on it, a living hot-water-bottle for the king.  That the king didn’t cohabit with her is hardly a ‘biblical model for sexual relations’.

King David also broke the ‘one woman’ portion of God’s marital rule by taking numerous wives; we’ll get to that momentarily.

Moving on. 

Our author’s next verses both deal with his claim that biblical marriage was nothing more than ownership; he states that ‘women are often equated with a house or livestock (Dt. 20:5-7), as demonstrated in the last commandment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, wife, slave, ox or donkey” (Ex. 20:17)’.

Here are the verses in question, author’s quote in bold:
‘The officers also shall speak to the people, saying, ‘Who is the man that has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would dedicate it. Who is the man that has planted a vineyard and has not begun to use its fruit? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would begin to use its fruit. And who is the man that is engaged to a woman and has not married her? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would marry her.’ ‘Then the officers shall speak further to the people and say, ‘Who is the man that is afraid and fainthearted? Let him depart and return to his house, so that he might not make his brothers’ hearts melt like his heart.’’ (Deuteronomy 20:5-7, 8). 


‘“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17)
Note that by leaving out verse 8 from the Deuteronomy quote, it does seem as if women are being equated with property; including verse 8 we see something different.  We see that young fighting men who are distracted by something in their lives – a new house, a new vineyard, a fiancée, or fear – are unsuitable for battle because their distractions would ‘make his brothers’ hearts melt like his heart’.  Therefore, it’s not a property-ownership problem, it’s a fear and distraction problem.

As far as Exodus 20:17, what about Exodus 14, which bans adultery?  If a woman is no better than a possession, and a possession is something the man could do whatever he pleased with, why would God have a problem with that married man trading his wife’s feminine abilities to a neighbor for, oh, say, a sack of wheat or an ephah of wine, or the use of an ox for plowing?  Besides, God speaks specifically against treating wives as property so often, I haven’t got the bandwidth to provide all the proofs. 

Our author then claims that biblical marriage was little more than a method by which the ‘legitimacy of a man’s children’ could be secured and how these marriages ‘occurred within the same extended family or clan’:
Little attention was paid to how the couple felt about each other. Wives were chosen from good families not only to secure the legitimacy of a man’s children, but to strengthen political and economic alliances between families, clans, tribes and kingdoms. To ensure that any offspring were the legitimate heirs, the woman was restricted to just one sex partner, her husband.

Biblical marriages were endogamous -- that is, they occurred within the same extended family or clan -- unlike the modern Western concept of exogamous, where unions occur between outsiders.
I’ll deal with this in a moment: suffice it to say that marriages for economic and political alliances ran counter to God’s laws.

Our author’s next comments actually made me laugh out loud:
Men could have as many sexual partners as they could afford. The great patriarchs of the faith, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah, had multiple wives and/or concubines, and delighted themselves with the occasional prostitute (Gen. 38:15). King Solomon alone was recorded to have had over 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3).
Really?  Men could have as many sexual partners as they could afford?  How does that jibe with Exodus 20:14?  Our author coincidentally forgets to mention that.  As to ‘Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah, had multiple wives and/or concubines’, first note that there’s no indication Isaac had any more wives or concubines than his beloved wife Rachel; Abraham disobeyed God when he accepted Sarah’s maidservant Hagar, and the resulting pregnancy and birth of Ishmael caused no small amount of grief in his life – and when Isaac was born, the fighting got so bad Abraham eventually sent Hagar and Ishmael away.  Jacob, after stealing his brother Esau’s birthright and his blessing (at the instigation of his own mother, by the way) got shafted by his uncle Laban in being given not one wife but two, for which he worked 20 years; the tales of the infighting between Leah and Rachel for their husband’s affection hardly constituted a happy marriage.

Here’s the full context of Genesis 38:1-26, the Judah/Tamar incident (again, the author’s pretexted text is in bold):
And it came about at that time, that Judah departed from his brothers and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; and he took her and went in to her. So she conceived and bore a son and he named him Er. Then she conceived again and bore a son and named him Onan. She bore still another son and named him Shelah; and it was at Chezib that she bore him.

Now Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord took his life. Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also. Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up”; for he thought, “I am afraid that he too may die like his brothers.” So Tamar went and lived in her father’s house.

Now after a considerable time Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died; and when the time of mourning was ended, Judah went up to his sheepshearers at Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. It was told to Tamar, “Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” So she removed her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gateway of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah had grown up, and she had not been given to him as a wife. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, for she had covered her face. So he turned aside to her by the road, and said, “Here now, let me come in to you”; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. And she said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” He said, therefore, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” She said, moreover, “Will you give a pledge until you send it?” He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” And she said, “Your seal and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. Then she arose and departed, and removed her veil and put on her widow’s garments.

When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite, to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her. He asked the men of her place, saying, “Where is the temple prostitute who was by the road at Enaim?” But they said, “There has been no temple prostitute here.” So he returned to Judah, and said, “I did not find her; and furthermore, the men of the place said, ‘There has been no temple prostitute here.’” Then Judah said, “Let her keep them, otherwise we will become a laughingstock. After all, I sent this young goat, but you did not find her.”

Now it was about three months later that Judah was informed, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the harlot, and behold, she is also with child by harlotry.” Then Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!” It was while she was being brought out that she sent to her father-in-law, saying, “I am with child by the man to whom these things belong.” And she said, “Please examine and see, whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?” Judah recognized them, and said, “She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not have relations with her again. (Genesis 38:1-26)
So, Judah had multiple wives (against God’s command); he refused to follow the codes of levirate marriage (see two good discussions of the topic here and here); he mistook Tamar as a prostitute (there’s that whole adultery thing) and then he was publicly humiliated by Tamar.

That’s simply delightful, isn’t it?

As for Solomon, here is the whole story:
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the sons of Israel, “You shall not associate with them, nor shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods.” Solomon held fast to these in love. He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away. For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not follow the Lord fully, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab, on the mountain which is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestable idol of the sons of Ammon. Thus also he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.

Now the Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord had commanded. So the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant. Nevertheless I will not do it in your days for the sake of your father David, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen.” (1 Kings 11:1-13, emphases mine)
Solomon’s polygamy resulted in the destruction of the kingdom of Israel, breaking it into Israel to the north and Judah to the south.  Polygamy was certainly not God’s idea – it was sinful man’s, and sinful man received the just punishment for his sin.

Here’s another laugher from our author:
The book of Leviticus, in giving instructions to men wishing to own a harem, provides only one prohibition, which is not to “own” sisters (Lev. 18:18). The Hebrew Bible is clear that men could have multiple sex partners. Wives ensured legitimate heirs; all other sex partners existed for the pleasures of the flesh.

A woman, on the other hand, was limited to just one sex partner who ruled over her -- unless, of course, she was a prostitute.
Okay, to save some space I’ll just give you the link to Leviticus 18.  Yep, that Leviticus 18, which includes such hits as ‘You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.  Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion’ (verses 22 and 23).  Yep, the Leviticus 18 which is subtitled in my Bible (the NASB) as Laws on Immoral Relations.  So if Leviticus 18 gives us rules on owning a harem, maybe owning a harem can be considered ‘immoral relations’?

Just a thought.

Biblical marriage was considered valid only if the bride was a virgin. If she was not, then she needed to be executed (Dt. 22:13-21).
The whole story:
“If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then turns against her, and charges her with shameful deeds and publicly defames her, and says, ‘I took this woman, but when I came near her, I did not find her a virgin,’ then the girl’s father and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of the girl’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. The girl’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man for a wife, but he turned against her; and behold, he has charged her with shameful deeds, saying, “I did not find your daughter a virgin.” But this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city. So the elders of that city shall take the man and chastise him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give it to the girl’s father, because he publicly defamed a virgin of Israel. And she shall remain his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.

“But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you.’
If our author’s hyperbolic assertion that only virgins were eligible to be brides, then every widow who’d born a child and lost her husband would have been ineligible for remarriage – even the youngest ones – which is ridiculous on the face of it.  But here there’s more than just the virginity – there’s deception in the air as well.

The groom married the bride assuming she was a virgin; this assumption may have come from her age, or it may have been an assertion either from the girl herself or from her father.  If the groom’s accusation turned out to be demonstrably false (and there were ways of proving it), he was the one who bore the guilt – he was fined and he ended up being considered by the people of his village a liar.

But if the accusation was true, then he was the injured party – he married the girl in good faith that her virginity was still intact.  Either the girl lied to him or her father lied to him; if her father had spoken of her virginity in good faith, then the girl had lied even to her own father.  And the punishment for bearing false witness, for adultery, and for dishonoring parents was…death by stoning.

And the stoning for adultery is why we read in the book of Matthew that Joseph was willing to quietly put Mary away when he found out she was pregnant before their wedding – he didn’t want her stoned to death for harlotry.
Marriages could only take place if the spouses were believers (Ezra 9:12).
The whole story:
Mixed Marriages

Now when these things had been completed, the princes approached me, saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, according to their abominations, those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands; indeed, the hands of the princes and the rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness.” When I heard about this matter, I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel on account of the unfaithfulness of the exiles gathered to me, and I sat appalled until the evening offering.

Prayer of Confession

But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the Lord my God; and I said, “O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens. Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt, and on account of our iniquities we, our kings and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity and to plunder and to open shame, as it is this day. But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

“Now, our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken Your commandments, which You have commanded by Your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from end to end and with their impurity. So now do not give your daughters to their sons nor take their daughters to your sons, and never seek their peace or their prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it as an inheritance to your sons forever. After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us an escaped remnant as this, shall we again break Your commandments and intermarry with the peoples who commit these abominations? Would You not be angry with us to the point of destruction, until there is no remnant nor any who escape? O Lord God of Israel, You are righteous, for we have been left an escaped remnant, as it is this day; behold, we are before You in our guilt, for no one can stand before You because of this.” (Ezra 9)
Ezra wrote these words after Cyrus of Persia had granted the Israelites their freedom to return from their exile to their land.  They’d been exiled because they’d turned from God and had intermarried with the non-Israelites of the land around them, which had led them to gross idolatry.  Now Ezra was looking at the very same thing that had sent them into exile seventy years previously.  He was looking at a return to the same sinfulness not long after God had gotten them returned to the land.  Did the wives of the returnees have to be Israelites?  Absolutely – just as the pre-deportation Israelite wives should have been Israelites.
And if the husband were to die before having children, then his brother was required to marry the widow. If he refused, he had to forfeit one of his sandals, be spit on by the widow, and change his name to “House of the Unshoed” (Dt. 25:5-10).
This is the law of ‘levirate marriage’ which Judah failed to follow (mentioned above); again,  for an excellent overview of this rule, see these two good discussions of it: here and here.  They do better justice to it than I can here, plus this is running way long.

But perhaps now you, gentle reader, can see how important context is, particularly when using Bible verses to bolster any claim you may make.  This is not to say that you shouldn’t use Bible verses to do so – it is to say to make sure those verses actually do bolster your claim.

Otherwise, some jerk like me might point out your mistake.

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