Part 16: Dealing with Objections: Where does the Bible affirm same sex marriage?

Summary

Some people believe that if you can’t find something specifically mentioned in the Bible then God hasn’t said anything about it. This is a bad way to interpret the Bible. The Bible is not a Constitution and can’t be used like a legal textbook. The Bible does not specifically affirm gay marriage. Nor does it say anything against it. It is silent on the issue, but this does not mean that God has nothing to say about gay marriage.

Show me in the Bible…

Once people realise that the verses they use to ‘bash’ homosexuals are not as clear as they thought they were, the next step in trying to use the Bible to show that God is against gay marriage is to ask for definitive proof from the Bible that God endorses gay marriage:

“Just show me one verse that says God affirms gay marriage and we wouldn’t have a debate at all, would we.”

The logic is apparently simple: if the Bible doesn’t explicitly say something, and appears to say the opposite, then it should be easy to see what the Bible actually means.

The problem is that this is an exceedingly weak argument which is based on a dangerously bad approach to Biblical interpretation, and ignores church history and theological development.

Let me give you a few examples to prove this:

Democracy

Nowhere does the Bible condone or promote democracy. The Bible condones monarchy, and uses the language of monarchy even to describe the church and “God’s Kingdom” on earth. Should we as Christians therefore stand against democracy as something that is secular, worldly and against Biblical teaching? No, of course not. The Bible provides principles about how we should support our governments, but does not indicate which form of government is best. The Bible talks of certain forms of government, but this does not mean that it would not recognise any other forms of government as being legitimate.

Note that we cannot even use the argument that the Biblical authors didn’t know about democracy – the New Testament was written in Greek, the language of some of the most powerful democracies that ever existed. The Bible does not mention or legitimise democracy because it doesn’t need to: it is not a legal and constitutional textbook that aims to cover every single case and form of every issue. It provides us with principles, and expects us to apply these as appropriate.

The structure of the church

The Bible does not give us any detailed instructions on what structure our churches should take. It talks of apostles, elders and deacons, but gives very few details on how these functions should work. How many people should be in each position? Are they voted for by the congregation or appointed by some other body? How long do they serve for? What are their powers and responsibilities?

It appears that each church we know about had slightly different systems in place, and that this diversity of practice was fine with the early church leaders. They didn’t need everything to be uniform across every community, nor did they appear to need a constitution or set of legal documents to be precise about these issues. The Bible is certainly neither a constitution nor a legal text. Again, we are given principles that we are expected to apply in our situation, without having every possible circumstance detailed for us in Scripture. This is just not what the Bible is, or what it ever tries to be.

Employment by a company

The Bible nowhere talks about people being employed by companies. The Bible talks about subsistence farmers, it talks of employment by the government / King, and it talks of employment in family businesses and by what we today would call sole traders. But there is no mention anywhere in the Bible of companies, let alone multinational corporations. Are Christians allowed to have jobs with such companies? If the Bible doesn’t say it’s OK, on what basis can you?

You might say that the Bible doesn’t really care about who you work for, and doesn’t have anything to say about this, but that would be to ignore a lot of verses about the roles of “masters” and “slaves”, and about how we are to behave in the places we work. You might say that the Bible does not prohibit any particular form of employment, and so we are not prohibited from making any choices we want to. I’d probably agree with this argument, but then I would ask very simply: “Where does the Bible prohibit same sex marriage”? It doesn’t. At worst, it prohibits same gender sexual activity, but it never says anywhere: “a man may not marry another man, nor may a woman marry another woman.” Since it says nothing about this, can we assume then that we can make our own decisions about it?

You might be battling with this example. You might say that these are totally different things, and that, of course, the Bible wouldn’t tell us we can’t work for large companies. But this is my issue: on what basis do you claim the Bible to be a legal textbook and Constitution for one aspect our lives, but not be the same for other aspects of our lives? One of the key principles in Biblical interpretation and application is consistency – if we use the Bible one way for one issue, we must use it that way for all issues. Or have a very good reason not to.

Genetic engineering, flying, heart bypass surgery, artificial insemination, the internet, and, and, and…

I am not sure which examples from our modern world would make most sense to you, but let’s ask simply: “what does the Bible say about X, Y or Z in the modern world?” What does the Bible say about whether we should fly in airplanes? Surely, flying across the sky in a metal tube is “unnatural” and “against nature”, and we should therefore not do it? What about genetic engineering or heart surgery or fertility treatments? Aren’t these things all “playing God” – they give us as humans the power of defining what life is. Surely, we should not go against the natural order the way God created it? What about all sorts of modern technology, like the internet or virtual reality? Are Christians allowed to use these things? Where does it say so in the Bible?

Life on Mars

I have recently become friends with Adriana Marais. She is one of the final 100 possible people working hard to be amongst the first to land on Mars and establish a human colony there. No, she’s not crazy. This is really her life goal. And all of the science is in place to make this a reality – the only thing stopping it being a reality is the price tag and how much money the team can raise. 

Now, the question is: do all of earth’s laws and rules apply on Mars? Do all of the Bible’s laws apply? If so, why? 

Just for a minute, let me try and think this through like a traditionalist Christian who uses a literalist approach to Scripture. With only around 100 people in the first Mars colony, do people have to be married to have children? Why could we not apply the same rules that must have applied to Adam and Eve’s children – they must have had children with each other, or at best, had brothers and sisters marrying each other in order to start families? If Mars is a new start for humanity, why couldn’t we have a new start to laws, morals and norms? 

Where in the Bible does it deal with these issues? And trust me, these are issues we will need to deal with in the next few decades.

The Bible doesn’t say everything

The Bible is not a Constitution. It does not cover every possible issue we will face as Christians. What it does do is give us principles and approaches, together with stories that provide patterns and examples for us to discern from.

The Bible is not a legal textbook. It is not a list of laws that we must stick to, that cover every aspect of our lives. Again, it provides principles and examples, and invites us to engage with the world around us, and within our communities of faith, to discover what God wants us to do in every new environment we find ourselves.

The fact that we might not be able to find a verse in the Bible which says definitively that God is for gay marriage does not mean that we should therefore just assume he isn’t. We’ve shown in the earlier parts of this study that the seven passages that are used to argue that God is against gay marriage do not actually say this. They say that God is against sexual abuse, sexual slavery, sexual excess and sex as part of religious ceremonies. God is against these things – always has been, and always will be. He is against all and any forms of these things, even those forms that are not specifically listed in the Bible. But none of this has to do with gay marriage.

Now, the Bible doesn’t say that God is for gay marriage. It just says that God is for marriage that is loving, consensual, covenantal, faithful and lifelong.

By the way, the Bible never prohibits gay marriage either. It just never talks about it at all.

The Bible doesn’t even say everything about marriage

Let me give you one more example to show why it doesn’t matter that the Bible does not specifically talk of gay marriage. The Bible also does not explicitly talk of cross-cultural marriage.

This is not a trivial point, because the Bible seems to be exceptionally clear that we should marry only within our own cultures. There is a “creation principle” in play, that God made everything according to “kinds”, and there should be no crossing between these kinds. The consistent message of the Old Testament is that when we marry across cultures there are problems: from Abraham in Egypt, Samson and Delilah, to Solomon and his wives, the witness is clear. The Deuteronomic Laws don’t forbid marrying non-Israelites outright. Rather, it lists seven Canaanite nations who are completely off-limits (the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites) of which “You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son.” (Deuteronomy 7:3) The Deuteronomist goes on to explain the reasoning behind this decree: “For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the Lord will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly.” (7:4)

Malachi even calls it “an abomination”: Malachi 2: 11-12: “Judah has been unfaithful. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves by marrying women who worship a foreign god. As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the Lord remove him from the tents of Jacob — even though he brings an offering to the Lord Almighty.” The prophet Ezra spends two whole chapters (9 & 10) talking about this issue. He says this: “The Israelites have married the people living around us. The Israelites are supposed to be special, but now they are mixed with the other people living around them. The leaders and important officials of the Israelites have set a bad example in this thing.” When I heard about this, I tore my robe and my coat to show I was upset. I pulled hair from my head and beard. I sat down, shocked and upset. Then everyone who respected God’s Law shook with fear. They were afraid because the Israelites who came back from captivity were not faithful to God.” (Ezra 9:2-4a).

It’s clear this is a huge issue. So, where in the Bible does it say specifically that cross-cultural marriage is acceptable to God?

I am, of course, assuming you believe that cross-cultural marriage is no issue. I am assuming that you don’t think there is a restriction on marrying across cultures, language barriers and skin colours.

And yet, nowhere in the Bible does it say that these marriages are OK. The Bible does seem to imply that they are not acceptable to God.

So, why do we think cross-cultural marriages are fine today? Because we don’t treat the Bible as a Constitution or a legal textbook. The Bible gives us principles for marriage that we apply to all marriages, whether they are same-culture or cross-culture. And these principles apply whether the marriages are heterosexual or homosexual.

This is not the final word on the affirmative case for gay marriage, but it is the start. Let’s not abuse the Bible, nor ask it to do something it cannot and will not do, nor apply an extremely bad hermeneutic to the way we interpret the Bible.

The Bible does not specifically, directly affirm gay marriage. But it doesn’t matter. That’s not how the Bible works. In the next section of this study we’ll deal with the issue of when, how and why we change the church’s traditional interpretation of the Bible.

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Previous article in this series: David Gushee on ending the teaching of contempt

Next article in this series: Dealing with Objections: Where does the Bible affirm gay marriage, Part 2 (women and slaves)

Click here to see the index of the full series of blog posts on the issue of Christians, the Bible and homosexuality.

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