Musings Of A Spiritual Atheist
One Man, One Woman

Those opposed to same sex marriages frequently use the definition of marriage as being “The union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others” instead of “The union of two people to the exclusion of all others”. Doing so negates the concept of same sex marriage completely, which is, of course, why they want it to be the definition. It should be pointed out that Biblical marriages have not often been one man with one woman, and have frequently not excluded other people.

The argument used is that god first made Adam. Then, so that children could be born, a rib from Adam was taken and built into a woman who was then presented to him as his wife. Thus the very first marriage was of one man to one woman and the ceremony was performed by god. All this happened in the Garden of Eden before Adam sinned, bringing degeneration onto the human race. Therefore, marriage should reflect that original marriage and be between one man and one woman without anyone else being involved.

That's fine as far as it goes, but we do not live in the Garden of Eden and it does not reflect Canadian reality very much, and neither does it reflect Biblical reality very much. A previous discussion was on the concept of free will and how man got it from a Bible perspective, and the ramifications that come from it. Marriages that differ from that original case exhibit some of those ramifications. It must also be noted very explicitly, that not all Canadians accept that explanation for the establishment of the relationship of marriage, and may not accept the authority of the Bible at all. It must be stressed that Canada is a multicultural society, not a Bible society, and beliefs differ widely. No one explanation for subjects such as these may be enshrined in the law without violating those very laws guaranteeing religious freedom on which our country is founded.

With that in mind let us examine the statement that marriage in god's eyes is one man and one woman. If the story about Adam and Eve actually happened, and many religious people believe it is allegorical rather than historical, this may have been true, but the Bible records that very soon afterwards it was quite false. The ancients in the Middle East practiced polygyne, the marriage of one man to many women, although it is usually referred to as polygamy. Polyandry, or one woman having many husbands does not appear to have been practiced.

Many of the men blessed by god had more than one wife, some had a wife and concubines (secondary wives), some just committed adultery as well as being married, and at least one (King David) committed murder so he could fornicate with another man's wife while already married himself, an action referred to in the Bible as an "abomination before the Lord" (see the list under the previous heading). In his old age this same man became incapable of sexual intercourse and was provided with two young girls for sexual stimulation. These young girls were probably about 14 years old or so and virgins, but David still became one of the human ancestors of Jesus Christ. God blessed these men, despite their sexual proclivities, thus making it clear that murder, adultery, fornication, polygamy, sexual intercourse with minors, and acts of abomination could all be overlooked and tolerated by god, even if not approved.

Abraham was married to Sarah, but had sexual intercourse with Hagar, Sarah's slave-servant. As a result Hagar became pregnant and gave birth to Abraham's first born son, Ishmael. It is also recorded that after Sarah died, Abraham married Keturah and had other children. It is also recorded that he had unnamed concubines at Genesis 25:6, where it says:–

“But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.”

Note that "concubines" is in the plural, i.e. more than one.

The relationship between Abraham and Sarah and the relationship between Abraham and Hagar, and their respective offspring, is used in Galations 4:24-31 to show the difference between Israel under the Mosaic Law (represented by Hagar), and Christians under the Law of Love, the new covenant, (represented by Sarah). Verse 31 ends with, “So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free”. The point being made was that the old covenant was slavery, but Christians were free. That is important in this context as the things forbidden under the Mosaic Law are not necessarily forbidden under Christian law. Note, however, that polygamy predated the Mosaic Law and was not an essential feature of it, although certainly practiced. Inadvertently the account also makes it clear that Hagar had no say in whether she had sexual intercourse with Abraham. She was a bondwoman, a slave, the property of Sarah, and was bound to do what she was told. That raises the question of her consent and her willingness to take part.

Abraham's grandson, Jacob was also a polygamist. Genesis 28:2 says:–

“Arise, go to Padanaram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother’s father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother’s brother“.

So Jacob married his first cousin. This is an interesting relationship in the Canadian context, because it was not so many years ago that cousins were not permitted to marry each other in Canada. At that time, if first cousins wished to marry, a Bill had to be introduced in Parliament to authorise it on an individual basis.

Isaac's uncle and father in law tricked him, however, and he ended up married to Leah, the elder sister. Later on he did get to marry Rachel as well. Again, one of the patriarchs was in a marriage that is later stated under the Law of Moses to be an abomination before the Lord, having married his wife's sister while his wife was still alive (Leviticus 18:18):–

“Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time“.

Despite this, Jacob also was given the promise that his line would be the one through whom all nations would be blessed and became a human ancestor of Jesus. Once again we have an example of how doing something that is an abomination is not a bar to god's favour.

Later, Rachel gave her servant to Jacob as a wife. The Bible records, at Genesis 30:4:–

“And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her and Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son.”

Not to be outdone, Leah then gave her servant to Jacob as a wife, and she had children with him as well, as it says in verse 9:–

“When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife. And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a son.”

Altogether, between the four wives, Jacob had twelve sons, who became the twelve tribes of Israel, the chosen people.

With this history in mind, how can anyone say, with a straight face, that the Bible's concept of marriage is one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others? Such a statement is nonsense.

Wait! Doesn't the New Testament restrict one man to one woman? One would certainly have thought so, but there is no direct statement to that effect. However, Corinthians 7:2 does say:–

“Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.”

This could certainly be understood as recommending that only one man and one woman be involved, but could also be understood to be just a recommendation to those who have difficulty living without a sex life to get married. It could also be understood to mean that all Christians must marry, but that would make it internally inconsistent, i.e. "Don't touch them but get married".

The matter is further confused by the instructions that Paul gave in 1 Timothy 3:2 about whom to choose as elders in each congregation:–

“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach.”

He repeated the gist of this instruction in Titus 1:5:–

“For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.”

The confusion arises over restricting an elder to those who are “a husband of one wife”. That restriction can also be understood two ways. The first is that an elder, or bishop, must be married and unmarried men may not be considered. This is unlikely as Jesus himself praised those who remained unmarried for his sake, holding them up as an example to follow. We should also remember that he was himself unmarried, and that Paul recommended the single state as being the ideal state in 1 Corinthians, 7:1-11.

In Titus Paul pointedly referred to “one” wife when he could just as easily not have mentioned the number. By specifically giving a number we are left with the impression that at that time and place there may have been Christians who had more than one wife and who, for that reason, did not qualify as congregation leaders. If this is the case then it would mean that a man restricting himself to having one wife was the preferred state, but that it was not compulsory. It must be noted, however, that we are only left with that impression and there is no plain statement to that effect.


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