Demonstrating the Lack of Scholarship in a “Scholar’s” Questioning of Biblical Marriage

What’s the fastest way to recognize that someone has an agenda? By simply listening to what they say.

Right now, on the heels of the Obergfell ruling (on which I comment here), the drive by what are probably (giving the benefit of the doubt) well meaning Christians to somehow make room in the faith for those who desire to live according to the desires of their flesh. But then you have some, who, one would think, would know better, say a “biblical scholar”.
Of course, just about anyone who has taught a class on the bible could call themselves a “biblical scholar”, but would probably be just ignorant about what the Bible has to say as a total pagan in the deepest Amazon. My great-grandmother, who would witness to telemarketers when they called, would probably be a greater biblical scholar than most of what passes for scholarship now, and never had more than a Guideposts magazine and her King James Version of the Bible. Need proof? Okay.
Let’s take this Huffington Post article by Jennifer G. Bird, titled “Biblical Marriage: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means“.
She begins,

In light of the recent resignations of two North Carolina magistrates, explained by their religious convictions that same-sex marriage is a sin or desecrates the “holy institution established by God Himself,” I would like to offer a few points of clarification to the overall discourse.

So, she wants to give “clarification“. I like it when people attempt to clarify things, it often demonstrates more error in what they’re attempting to clarify. So, she continues,
First, the kinds of relationships that qualify for marriage in the Bible, and thus could count as “biblical marriage,” represent quite a striking range of options.
Let’s just notice that she says “kinds of relationships”. Why is this important? It is important because the Scriptures describes a number of relationships: friendships, employment, marriages, master/servant, etc., that were specific to a given culture. There is a tremendous difference between describing something and prescribing something. Often the problem comes when those two are confused. Does she make that error?
They include polygyny (more than one wife or concubine, simultaneously), open marriage for the man (since he can have access to the female slaves or servants in the house), forcing a woman to marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) and levirate marriage (wherein a childless widow must marry the brother of her deceased husband). Those are just a few of the examples from the Hebrew Bible.
Apparently so. Levirate marriage has been practiced in a number of cultures. It served a purpose in those cultures. Do we practice it? No. So to bring it up is simply a straw man argument. And why people misrepresent what Deuteronomy 22:28-29 says is just a demonstration of laziness. Why translators use inflammatory language like that bothers me, because when we go to the context, especially reading the verses before it, and looking carefully at the original language (Bird’s bio says she has studied Greek so she could look it up in the Septuagint) there is no logical reason to translate it that way. Anyway, so far, she’s already demonstrated that she has not thought through the issues to represent them in the proper light.
She then switches to, what she calls the “Newer Testament” saying it,
[…]includes Jesus claiming that men can leave their wives and children in order to follow him (Luke 18:28-30), in addition to him somewhat throwing the gauntlet in Matthew 19:10-12, where he discusses men being made eunuchs or making themselves such for the sake of the kingdom: “Let anyone accept this who can.” 
Does Jesus really claim that men can leave their families to follow him? Is that what Jesus really said? Uh, no.

 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:28-30, ESV)

Notice that Jesus is responding to Peter’s declaration. What is interesting is that the word that is translated as “left” has a wide range of meanings, but can either either mean “abandon” or “sent away” depending on the context. The word’s semantic range gives comfort to those who have to walk away from their family because of compromising demands or that have been shunned because they are seeking to serve a greater purpose.

What about Matthew 19? Jesus had just given strict instructions about marriage in answering a question about divorce (which I’ve discussed here) and is responding to a statement made, again, by his disciples, and his concluding statement is a challenge to his listeneners. But then she turns her attention to the Apostle Paul, making him sound like either a schizophrenic or a hypocrite, saying,

Paul, the man who got the Christian movement started, says in 1 Corinthians 7 that he wished that everyone was as he was, which he clarifies later as being celibate. In the same chapter, Paul’s letter endorses equality between husband and wife in a marriage. This idea is later countered in Ephesians 5 when the writer endorses a return to the patriarchal ideal of men ruling over their wives. I think most people are simply unaware of the range of possibilities that qualify, regardless of which testament of the Bible we look to.

Now, what Paul’s celibacy, aside form the freedom it afforded him to do his missionary work, which also reflects Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 19, has to do with this I’m not sure, but I have to contend with the assertion that he was the “man who got the Christian movement started”. Do these people just not read the book of Acts? The “Christian movement” was going strong, in relative terms, years before Paul’s conversion. Paul’s contributions are what we have preserved as his letters are what has been preserved and comprise the majority of the New Testament, doesn’t mean that there were not others made, but that were not. But Ms.Bird confuses the concept of equality in value (something I’ve discussed here) with the recognition of the roles that men and women play in God’s economy by accusing Paul of being, somehow, contradictory. I have to say that, quite simply, she is misrepresenting the Apostle’s position to the issue which he was addressing, by saying,

The second point I would like to clarify is that, aside from that one moment in 1 Corinthians 7, marriage is discussed in terms of the woman as the property of the man. I say this with a fairly literal sense intended. It does explain why or how so many biblical stories show wives being treated as less than fully human, but I do hope that people who love the Bible can admit that this is an element of it that we ought not to continue to endorse.

This goes to the problem with confusing description with prescriptionHow women were treated and considered then has little to with now, because we are on the receiving end of biblical revelation, we can clearly see where things were done rightly and wrongly using and using a sound exegesis draw proper application, and as a “scholar” she should recognize this distinction.

She continues,

Third, when people say that the “Bible says homosexuality/gay marriage is a sin,” I know that they believe that the Bible says this, since I used to think so, too. But it does not.

Let’s examine this statement and demonstrate why it is, in fact, a fallacious argument for two reasons:

  1. It is clearly anachronistic. By using the term “homosexuality/gay marriage” terms which only entered the lexicon in the modern era, she is creating a false premise. The terms are only used in modern translation to give the terms which could be more graphic in their depiction a more civilized edge.
  2. The biblical documents give clear indication that the behaviors which are described are clearly sinful, embodying a rebellious spirit against God intending to not only dishonor his gifts but degrade his image bearer.

But she continues,

There are passages such as the Sodom story (Genesis 19), which depicts every male in the town gathering to gang rape some visitors. The issue there is not “gay sex,” but rather that these men were just plain cruel to outsiders.

Really? Does she not see the connection? Dr. Robert Gagnon demonstrates that such assertions are not rationally based in this paper, but its this assertion that seems to demonstrate willful blindness on her part,

  The scene would have been no less offensive if Lot had succeeded in giving the men his two virgin daughters to do to them as they pleased.

She wants to minimize the scene as if it only has something to with basic “cruelty” rather than as an exposition of man’s depravity apart from God.

As she prepares to close, she says,

Finally, there is no specific place where “God Himself” establishes marriage as a holy institution. Genesis 2:24 is talking about the fact that humans do have an urge to leave home and start their own families. The “and cling to his wife” phrase can (and perhaps ought to) be translated as “cling to his woman.” We read into this passage the idea of marriage, mainly due to the translations we are reading.

We have a fallacy here similar to what I have previously demonstrated. But let’s look at Genesis 2:24, just to be sure,

 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.(ESV)

Immediately, if one sees the word “therefore” we should pause and ask the question, “what is it there for?” The reason that it is important to ask that question is because when it is used it is signaling the conclusion of an argument. The writer of the account in Genesis is drawing a conclusion from what has  come before. So, she is once again misrepresenting the text. So, what came before this statement? The creation of the woman who was then “brought (v22)” to the man, the Hebrew word can be used to describe the presentation of a bride. So, her demand of an explicit command or ordinance is simply irrelevant in the place of what is implicit in the presentation.

She closes her post with this,

When I hear someone say she only believes in “biblical marriage,” my knee-jerk reaction is to want to ask her which version she is referring to. I also find myself wanting to remind her that love is never discussed as foundational to marriage. Thus, while same-sex marriage is not endorsed in the Bible, neither is a loving, mutually agreed upon union of a man and woman.

I just, oh boy, face palmed. If her “knee-jerk reaction” is to ask “which version”, she simply hasn’t paid attention. Jesus, in Matthew 19, said,

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”(Matthew 19:4-6, ESV)

Jesus, when answering a question about divorce drew from the very text (Genesis 2:24) she dismissed to make his argument for the nature of marriage, which is where the biblical concept that Paul draws from to make his arguments about marriage. Her assertion that a “loving, mutually agreed upon union of a man and a woman”,  is “not endorsed in the Bible” is equally and demonstrably fallacious:

 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry…(1 Corinthians 7:36,ESV, emphasis added)

I find it hard to reason that by using the plural pronoun that there was not a degree of mutual agreement on their part given the context of all of Paul’s statements regarding marriage throughout his epistolary corpus.

Clearly, Ms. Bird has a demonstrable case of eisegesis, bringing her suppositions to the text and clearly, clearly misrepresenting it. Take this as a lesson that we can judge even those who claim to be scholars as lacking in scholarship.


  1. […] Back in 2015 I addressed this very argument, demonstrating rather conclusively that it confuses description with prescription, committing some of the very same errors in facts and reasoning that are found in the Obergefell decision. I can’t fault anyone for not knowing about these arguments, because I’m just a simple, country blogger with less than 300 followers (thank all of you very much, btw) who isn’t into self-promotion and who doesn’t generate much controversy, except in the com-boxes of other blogs. If anyone finds themselves confused about what “biblical marriage” is, please check the first link in this paragraph. […]

  2. Debating the soundness of Biblical claims is often not really the deciding factor when we make decisions about whether or not to believe in Jesus. There’s really no proof that booze, drugs and unprotected sex are good for us, yet we indulge in these kinds of things with passion and zest.

    We resist God mostly because we don’t want Him to spoil all our fun. We don’t want Him to deprive us of a good time. We don’t believe He can be trusted with our lives, our futures, our sex lives, our jobs and incomes, our ambitions. What we don’t see and never consider is how deeply He loves us and longs to satisfy our deepest longings. When, in reality, He knows us better than we know ourselves and remembers the dreams we once had about who we would become when we grew up. (He planted those dreams in our DNA.) To the extent that I resist His will, I fight becoming who I always really wanted to become.

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