“Abraham needed more than one woman and so do I.” It was the summer of 1995. They were the third church group I had ever hosted as the Denver City Director. Our Tuesday evening reflection had just wrapped up and everyone was getting ready for bed when the head elder, from a well-respected church, pulled me aside to tell me his understanding of biblical marriage.
I remember everything about the moment. The noise in the room, the shirt he was wearing and the conviction in his voice. There was nothing about his body language that said he was trying to pull my leg. For him the biblical definition of marriage meant that if he needed more than one woman it was within his moral rights to have more than one woman.
Last week Chick-fil-A revived a brewing controversy about the biblical definition of marriage when its company president came out against gay marriage. As you might imagine my mind immediately went back to that evening in the summer of 1995.
Like it or not there is no biblical definition of marriage. Anyone who tells you that there is such a definition hasn’t spent time studying the bible. There are lots of stories about marriage relationships and sexual intimacy. However, turning a biblical story into a definition for marriage quickly becomes problematic.
Take Abraham: he not only treated his wife like a piece of property to be bought and sold, he also slept with his wife’s servant Hagar without worrying about infidelity. Then there is Isaac, Abraham’s son, who married sisters and slept with their servants. There are the stories of Israel’s two greatest kings, David and Solomon, who took both wives and concubines, in Solomon’s case by the 100’s.
Where does this desire to have a biblical definition for marriage come from? Is it because we are afraid of any relationship that falls outside the cultural norm?
In 1995 I was repulsed by a man who felt he needed more than one woman. His idea of biblical marriage seemed counter to everything that Scripture teaches about mutuality and respect. There was a sense in which he had scripture - at least the biblical stories - on his side. It would be hard to argue that he was in sync with God’s heart. Dehumanizing and degrading women is counter to a faith which describes humans as creatures made in the very image of God.
Last week when I read about a Christian leader who was trying to define marriage in terms he was comfortable with I could not help but wonder why. From my perspective his only goal was to be exclusionary. This seems counter to the God of John 3:16.
We cross into very dangerous territory when we read into Scripture things that aren’t there.