Facebook kills me sometimes (shameless plug for my twitter account). I think people use it to advertise dirty laundry, spread rumors and execute much malice and manipulation. With that said, I'm addicted to it. The benefit of this site is that I get to see the thoughts and beliefs of people I would normally not gain access to. I find this particularly interesting when it comes to political beliefs, especially ones pertaining to homosexual marriage.
I recently saw one of my friends posted a picture which read:
"According to the Bible:
1.) Marriages must be in the same faith.
2.) Not only should a wife be subordinate (Ephesians 5:22), but she must prove her virginity lest she be stoned (Deuteronomy 22:20-12).
3.) Marriages should be arranged. If a woman's husband dies without having had a son, she must marry his brother and have intercourse with him until they have a son (Mark 12:18-27).
4.) Many of the 'Men of God' were not only married but had at least one concubine (Abraham, Caleb, Solomon).
5.) God frequently blessed polygamists (Esau, Jacob, Gideon, David, Solomon, Belshazzarr).
So forgive me if I'm not interested in your 'Traditional Family Values.'"
While I normally don't bite on these kind of posts, the beauty of America is that people can have different opinions and not be shot, I thought this message needed to be spoken to. How should a Christian respond to such a posting? How do we respond when the opposite side pulls the "Bible" card on us? In this post I hope to help Christians realize the value of context and scholarship when it comes to discerning truth from lies in this hotly debated arena.
With that said there are plenty of ways to challenge and stir the pot on this issue. In a sense Christians are "closed-minded." That is a fair claim, the Bible says it, we believe it. You can also doubt the validity of our religion, I cannot argue that which is to be received on faith. You can say we lack grace, and foster hate. Like I said, unfortunately the Christian name has been smeared by hate filled groups who reflect poorly on the majority whole. But posts like the one just mentioned actually bear no impact on Christian beliefs at all. I have seen and read similar posts and blogs all around the web, highlighting the discrepancy with "traditional family values" and the Bible. What I have never seen is this same mentality used by liberal scholars or pro-Gay theologians. That is because these claims lack any sort of scholarship. Let's look at some quick fallacies of that six point photo.
1. A Poor Understanding of Ancient Near East Cultures (ANEC)
Parts of the Bible were written by various authors across various cultures. Most of which represent an ancient near east lifestyle. Because God revealed scripture to certain people in certain times, Christianity is not a-cultural (without culture), but is rather supra-cultural (throughout cultures). In ANEC's women had very few rights (think Muslim women's rights on steroids), this was normative across all ANECs not just Jewish ones. Because of this, if a woman was married and her husband died without leaving an heir, she would be in danger of neglect and death. She would not be able to provide for herself. She would have no value on her life. This is not a Biblical precept, this is cultural. A Kinsman redeemer (point 4 on the photo) was then offered to bring survival to the woman and carry on the name of the deceased brother. This was not an act of self absorbed sexuality, but an act of grace in a culture the a 21st century observer may have trouble grasping. This was good for the woman. The book of Ruth is a story on the value of a kinsman redeemer, it is also one of the greatest love stories ever told.
This same mentality occurs when people quote scripture saying that after the Jews conquered a tribe, they can take the women as their wives (which changes point one on that chart). Women of a conquered tribe were usually slaughtered or left to die (no husband = no identity = die helpless). But God allowed the Israelite men to marry these women. Anyone who quotes this act as an act of sexual aggression fails to read the contexts of the passages which continues to provide marital stipulations (faithfulness, provision, wellbeing) on the husband. This too, a ANEC act of grace. History confirms this.
Point two (stoning a woman who is not a virgin) is a legitimate passage, but you must understand the context of it. The author of the graphic quotes Deuteronomy 22:20-22, but fails to include 22:1-24. The context of this passage is a marriage ceremony, where two people would vow themselves to each other on grounds of virginity and various property values (ANEC trait). If a husband becomes dissatisfied with his wife, claiming she is not a virgin, and proof is made that she is indeed a virgin, he is to be flogged and is not allowed to divorce her, but is held to honor his commitment under the oversight of tribal elders. If a woman is found, after swearing to be a virgin, to not be a virgin, she is to be stoned. It is also interesting to note that Deut 22:24 mentions that if the man is not a virgin, he is to be stoned as well. This is not only because it shows marital infidelity, but also represents an act of perjury during the wedding ceremony. We also see that God provisionally provides grace for these women. Rahab is a prostitute who ends up serving the Lord, and is included in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 (in ANEC's it was shameful to include women in such lists, unthinkable to include a prostitute! Yet God granted a provision). Jesus also frequently deals with adulterers in the NT and expresses forgiveness and new life.
2. A Poor Understanding of Scripture Itself
Posts like this claim to trap Christians with the Bible, yet in so doing they prove they do not know the Bible. I heard one woman making these same statements on a blog say that she "had read the entire Bible numerous times, a task many Christians should try." Not only does this create an arrogant straw man claim, but gives a neat little irony to those who have read the Bible. This post makes two claims 1.) Many men of faith had concubines, 2.) God frequently blesses those engaged in polygamy. First a disclaimer: the Bible is both descriptive and prescriptive. Some of the things mentioned in it are prescribed, some merely describe. Much of the OT, as it represents ANEC cultures distant to us, is descriptive (see point 3 for further comments). The Bible mentions rape, incest and child sacrifice, but to say mentioning these things ordains their practice is ignorant. If a newscaster reports a story of a child rapist, the anchor is not making himself out to be a child rapist, or commending child rapists, he/she is merely reporting a story. To say that all scripture requires normative implementation is a literary fallacy. For both of these claims (concubines, polygamists), they must be understood inside of what God has already said about marriage. Genesis 2 clearly gives the grounds for marriage, that definition is 1.) at the beginning of the Bible, and 2.) very clear (one man, one woman). My point is that what marriage is, is clearly established. If I write a book called "My Favorite Color is Red" and open up with the statement, "My favorite color is red," then it would be horribly redundant to state that fact after each instance I mention another color.
It is true that the many of the men of faith had multiple wives and concubines. But the mere statement of those facts are at odds with the already clear and implicit statement of marriage made in Genesis 2. When mentioned, we should see these functions as outside of God's intended role for marriage. In fact we see that for many of these men, their extra-marital functions were their demise. Abraham spurred God's instructions and conceived with his concubine. As an interesting side note, Abraham becomes angry at Hagar (the concubine) yet God protects her (Gen 16:7-13). This is because Hagar's conception was not her fault, but Abraham's sinful doing which represented his lack of trust in God. As a result, Ishmael, the child, became the father of the Ismaelites who fought against the Jews for ages to come (we still see this struggle continue as Ishmael's line, the Muslims, fight against the modern day Jews). This act was a sin against God, and Abraham and his people are bearing the consequences up to this day.
As far as multiple wives, again, it is a true statement from the author, but an incomplete truth. Note this passage pertaining to Solomon: "He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God...So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done...And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. (1 Kings 11:3-4,7,9)." Immediately after these passages we see that the Lord, because of Solomon's sins, raises up adversaries who chase him until he dies. That was left out of the little graphic. His father David, was "A man after God's own heart," yet he committed murder and adultery. This is what the Lord says to David after his most famous case of adultery: "Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. (2 Samuel 12:9-11)." In Psalms 51:3-4, David expresses deep resentment over his sexual sins: "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight." It is clear from these two events that concubines and multiple wives were not according to God's will and blatant sins. God did not stand for them.
Yet it is true, God blessed David, he blessed Solomon. He also blessed Paul, a murderer, he blessed Matthew, a thief, Simon, a violent zealot, Thomas, a doubter, the woman at the well, a burned out lover, the lepers, the outcasts, the sinners, the depraved. That is because before the gospel is about anything, it is about grace. That is what gives us hope. That is what saves a wretch like me. Jesus uses imperfect sinners, that is my only hope in life. There is forgiveness of sins at the foot of the cross. That is why the Bible is so great.
3. A Poor Understanding of Testamental Unity
This is a larger topic which I will not go into huge detail on. But to put it briefly, the cross abrogates much of the "law" of the OT. Those practices which are not abrogated are explicitly mentioned and confirmed in the NT. We don't see the NT (because of the advancement of ANECs) taking huge stands on virginity claims or kinsman redeemer references (women were gaining value as individuals), but we do see the Biblical view of marriage mentioned explicitly numerous times. This shows that the cross doesn't change marital roles, but does amend certain aspects of OT laws as they pertain to sexual purity. This one is less apparent to the untrained eye, but is understood by most scholars regardless of faith.
The Bible is a Christian's best friend. It should be used and understood well, and that means a good understanding of the context and history of the scriptures. When we learn how to read and interpret scripture properly, messages like the one mentioned lose much of their "scare" value. We do not need to make excuses for what God has said. His word is athoritative, and we are subjected to it, not the other way around. When we apply our minds, rather than setting the theological "cruise control", we find that scripture will always come out Pro-God, not Anti-God. For those of you keeping track, the Bible is still winning in the score column. Hold on. Love God. Love others. Fight the good fight.