Est. May 2008

09 June, 2013

Acknowledgment Versus Endorsement

Three men, Hector Avalos, Robert R. Cargill, and Kenneth Atkinson, wrote an article wherein they state that ‘the biblical texts do not support the frequent claim that marriage between one man and one woman is the only type of marriage deemed acceptable by the Bible’s authors’.

The authors seem to try to build their case on only two foundation stones.  The first is a definition of ‘marriage’:
The fact that marriage is not defined as only that between one man and one woman is reflected in the entry on “marriage” in the authoritative Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000): “Marriage is one expression of kinship family patterns in which typically a man and at least one woman cohabitate publicly and permanently as a basic social unit” (p. 861).
And here the authors begin the game of ‘Acknowledgment Means Endorsement’.  The definition quoted above acknowledges that polygamy was called ‘marriage’ simply because ‘marriage’ meant the public and permanent cohabitative union of a man and a woman (or women), but it doesn’t endorse polygamy (nor does it endorse monogamy).  But our authors seem to conclude that because of the phrase ‘at least one woman’ is an endorsement of polygamy.

Here’s foundation stone number two:
In fact, there were a variety of unions and family configurations that were permissible in the cultures that produced the Bible (emphasis mine).’
Again, just because the culture permitted something doesn’t mean God permitted it.  Read the Bible and you’ll see tons of examples of the culture permitting things that are obviously not permitted by God.  In fact, here’s a really good example: divorce was permissible in Israelite culture because Moses allowed a certificate of divorce:
They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:7-8, emphasis mine)
The culture allowed divorce; God didn’t.

The authors write:
The phrase “at least one woman” recognizes that polygamy was not only allowed, but some polygamous biblical figures (e.g., Abraham, Jacob) were highly blessed.
Polygamy was allowed by the culture, not by God; though Abraham, Jacob, and even David and Solomon were all ‘highly blessed’ materially, their domestic lives were a shambles: Abraham ‘going in’ to Sarah’s servant, Hagar, started a series of events which included strife between Sarah and Hagar, strafe between Ishmael and Isaac, two banishments of Hagar, and heartbreak for Abraham when his firstborn was driven away.  Jacob’s two wives fought over –their husband’s affection, and Rachel blaming Isaac for her barrenness.  David’s polygamy led to in-house banishment of his first wife, Michal (2 Samuel 6:2-23), his rape of Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah, the death of her first child by David, strife between his sons, the rape of Absalom daughter Tamar, the murder of Amnon by Absalom, Absalom’s coup, Absalom’s death at the hands of Joab and the accompanying debilitating grief of David, and the attempted coup by David’s son Adonijah. 

Oddly, the authors don’t include Solomon in their list; Solomon was richer than Croesus, was endowed with great wisdom, ruled a huge kingdom, and had ‘700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines’ (1 Kings 11:3).  And his polygamy ended up turning him from God and to idolatry (verse 4), even after his father David had warned him repeatedly to be obedient to God.  After his death, everything God had given him – kingdom, wealth, power – was destroyed as Israel followed in his footsteps and descended into idolatry.

Polygamy: endorsed by culture, punished by God.

The authors then move to Deuteronomy 22:28-29:
“If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”
The authors seem to believe that this is a ‘type’ of marriage which is separable from other types of marriage, but the only difference in this ‘type’ of marriage is the reason for it, which is something the Eerdmans definition doesn’t deal with.

Our authors move on to insist that levirate marriage obligated a brother ‘‘to marry his brother’s widow regardless of the living brother’s marital status’ (Deuteronomy 25:5-10; Genesis 38; Ruth 2-4).  Once again, there’s nothing in any of the texts to indicate the current marital status of Onan, Shelah, the kinsman redeemer, or Boaz; they might have been married, they could have been married, but the passages don’t say they’re married, so there’s nothing that insists levirate marriage took precedence over existing marriage.

In fact, the story of the kinsman redeemer in Ruth 4 may indicate he was married after all:
Boaz offers Naomi’s land to the kinsman redeemer, and he accepts; when Ruth is added, the kinsman redeemer says, ‘“I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”  Matthew Henry, in his commentary on this passage, writes:
I cannot redeem it for myself. I will not meddle with it upon these terms, lest I mar my own inheritance.” The land, he thought, would be an improvement of his inheritance, but not the land with the woman; that would mar it. Perhaps he thought it would be a disparagement to him to marry such a poor widow that had come from a strange country, and almost lived upon alms. He fancied it would be a blemish to his family, it would mar his blood, and disgrace his posterity. Her eminent virtues were not sufficient in his eye to counterbalance this. The Chaldee paraphrase makes his reason for this refusal to be that he had another wife, and, if he should take Ruth, it might occasion strife and contention in his family, which would mar the comfort of his inheritance. Or he thought she might bring him a great many children, and they would all expect shares out of his estate, which would scatter it into too many hands, so that the family would make the less figure.
I think Mr. Henry’s ‘Chaldee paraphrase’ may be closer to the reality, because, if you look at what’s supposed to happen to a kinsman redeemer who refuses to ‘do his duty’ regarding levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:8-9), we see the following:
Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ then his brother's wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house.’
That doesn’t happen in Ruth 4, so obviously the kinsman redeemer had a really good reason not to take Ruth – and the only ‘good reason’ would have been that he had a wife already and didn’t want to engage in polygamy (at least, that’s my opinion on the matter), since, as Mr. Henry points out, another wife would have meant more children which would have complicated the inheritance.

The authors then move to 1 Corinthians 7:8 and 28 and say Paul is insisting ‘that celibacy was the preferred option’.  Anyone who’s read the Pauline writings knows when Paul is ‘insisting’ and when Paul is ‘suggesting’ – it’s pretty obvious, and in many cases he tells his readers he’s only suggesting.  This is one of those ‘suggesting’ passages.

Then the authors give us this:
Although some may view Jesus’ interpretation of Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19:3-10 as an endorsement of monogamy, Jesus and other Jewish interpreters conceded that there were also non-monogamous understandings of this passage in ancient Judaism, including those allowing divorce and remarriage.
Jesus absolutely endorses monogamy in Matthew 19, and I can say that because He was the one who said it in Genesis 2:24 (Jesus is the Son of God, God Incarnate, so what God says, Jesus says).  But Jesus doesn’t endorse polygamy as proper simply because He acknowledges that it happened.  And just because ‘other Jewish interpreters conceded that there were also non-monogamous understandings of this passage in ancient Judaism, including those allowing divorce and remarriage’ doesn’t necessarily mean they are endorsing those understandings, either.

Here’s a real head-scratcher:
In fact, during a discussion of marriage in Matthew 19:12, Jesus even encourages those who can to castrate themselves “for the kingdom” and live a life of celibacy.
Huh?  What?  Encourages?  Where?  Jesus is acknowledging that there are eunuchs in the kingdom; some were born that way, some had it done to them, and some did it to themselves.  The only way to see this acknowledgment as an endorsement is if you’re playing the game and want it to be an endorsement.

Lastly, I find it quite interesting that the authors bring up Ezra in their article, because Ezra is an example of a man who acknowledged something without endorsing it.  ‘It’ happened to be interracial marriage, something that, apparently, the culture accepted as being okay.  Ezra acknowledged it, but he absolutely refused to endorse it, because God had forbidden interracial marriages.

Ezra refused to play the game.  So did Nehemiah.  And Isaiah.  And the rest of the prophets.  These men of God refused the play the game, even though it was counter-cultural.

Far too many people of God in our modern age play the game.  They ought to take lessons from Ezra, and Nehemiah, and the prophets.  Just because the culture endorses it doesn’t mean God does; just because the culture endorses something doesn’t mean we have to endorse it.

In fact, Christians have an obligation not to endorse things God doesn’t endorse.

And just because it’s acknowledged in the Bible doesn’t mean that’s an endorsement of it.

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