Part 19: The Importance of Marriage in the Bible and Christian Faith

Whether you agree with my analysis of the so-called Biblical “clobber verses” in previous blog entries or not, the discussion about LGBTQI issues in the church is really centred on the issue of marriage (and sex). The next few entries in this series will be focused on what the Bible says – and doesn’t say – about marriage.

Since I began my work on this issue over a decade ago, most Christians have shifted from being totally opposed to LGBTQI people to now welcoming them into their churches – even if only as “sinners” who need be “healed”. But they believe and teach that LGBTQI people should be celibate, and they believe that marriage can only be between a “natural man” and a “natural woman”. For them, the actual “sin” of homosexuality is same-sex sexual activity, and since they also believe that sexual activity is confined to marriage, LGBTQI people should neither marry nor have sex.

Most countries that have legalised gay marriage have actually created a new category called “civil unions” rather than including LGBTQI people in laws about marriage – this is largely been done to placate conservative religious groups. Churches are enabled to hide behind this legal distinction, by acknowledging civil unions as legal entities but continuing to deny gay “marriages” in their churches.

So, even although responsible Biblical scholarship shows that the Bible verses most often quoted to oppose LGBTQI inclusion in the church do not actually talk about loving LGBTQI relationships at all, we still need to deal with what the Bible does and doesn’t say about marriage. It all comes down to one question: Can gay couples get married? We will see that this question is also related to another issue: can queer people have sexual intercourse? (Of course they can physically, but I am framing this in the way conservative Christians would frame it. What they really mean is: who can have sex that is not considered sinful by God?)

I am going to approach the topic of marriage from a variety of different perspectives, and try to ask and answer all the questions I have encountered on the topic. Here is a summary of these questions, and I will update this post to include the links to the answers as I write them:

  1. What is the purpose of marriage? Are there reasons that only men and women can be married?
  2. God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Is there a “creation order” or “creation ordinance” that created a pattern for all marriages of all time?
  3. Jesus only mentioned marriage once, and He referenced the creation story of a man and a woman when he did. Does this not create a precedent for all marriages?
  4. If LGBTQI people can get married, why are there no examples of gay marriages in the Bible?
  5. Marriage is often used in the Bible as a symbol of God’s relationship with us – would gay marriage subvert or pervert that, or give the wrong picture?
  6. Why is the Bible full of examples of marriages that don’t fit the “one man-one woman” model?
  7. If marriage is such an important institution, then why will there be no marriage in heaven?
  8. What does ‘one flesh’ really mean with regards to marriage, and does the human body really not allow gay sex?
  9. What does it mean that Eve was made as a ‘help meet for Adam’, and can a same sex marriage ever be properly complementary?

If you have other questions you’d like answered, please add them in the comments below.

Summary of my responses

Marriage is an institution designed to provide for one form of companionship, security and the continuation of humanity. There are no inherent reasons why marriage has to between one man and one woman. This might be the normal form of marriage (as in, statistically, more than half of marriages take this form), but other forms of marriage would also be able to achieve all the purposes of marriage we can imagine.

The Bible never claims to be a fully comprehensive manual for all aspects of life. It does not, for example, give instructions for care of a woman during pregnancy or childbirth. It gives very scant nutritional advice. It gives no instructions on what to do with the dead. It recognises adoption as a category, but gives no instructions or guidelines about it. And for all that conservative Christians obsess over sex, the Bible gives almost no information at all on healthy sexuality. Actually, attempts to reduce the Bible down to codes of practice end up being not just difficult, but practically – as in, literally – impossible (see The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith, A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans, and A Year of Living Biblically by A J Jacobs). Using the Bible this way is wrong.

I don’t believe that the Bible mandates a particular form of marriage. I also don’t actually think that marriage is as important in the Bible as we have made it today. After all, marriage wasn’t actually part of God’s original design (if we are going back to Genesis as a pattern for modern life, we can’t just skip over the bit that appears to show that women were an afterthought to a perfect creation). More significantly, marriage will not exist in heaven.

Even more importantly, God is not gendered. Neither are the angels. The current day obsession by conservative Christians to maintain a binary male/female view of sexuality and gender is just not defensible from spiritual principles. Seeing gender as a spectrum makes much more sense of what we believe about God, and what we know of our reality.

But now, you probably want more details so you can see how I got to these conclusions. That is what the next series of posts is about. Given the craziness of the Covid world we live in at the moment, these are not going to come as fast as I would like, but should all be done by January 2021. Stay with me for the details, and feel free to add your questions and answers to the comments below.

Previous article in this series: Ten Passages that point to a positive view of homosexuality

Next article in this series: Part 20: The Purpose of Marriage.

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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