Do Southern Baptists Really Support 'Biblical' Marriage?


God bless you Paige Patterson! It is men of courage like you who will save the Southern Baptist Convention and the nation.

For far too long, our faith and our nation have taken an unbiblical turn when it comes to marriage. Your wisdom and insight in providing an academic program to train women how to make a Christian home is long overdue.

 

You are right, Paige. Traditional marriage as now defined by Western culture does not have biblical roots. It is incongruent with what is spelled out in the biblical text.

 

In fact, it would be hard to find a modern-day Christian who does abide by a truly biblical marriage in practice, for the biblical understanding of marriage meant male ownership of women who existed for his pleasure.

 

Upon marriage, both a woman's property and her body became the possession of her new husband (Ex 20:17). As the head of the household, men (usually between the ages of 18 and 24) had nearly unlimited rights over wives and children.

 

A woman became available for male possession soon around the ages of 11 to 13, when she became physically able to produce children. Today we call such arrangements statutory rape, yet the biblical model for sexual relationships includes adult males taking young girls into their bedchambers, as King David did in First Kings 1:1-3.

 

The biblical understanding of the purpose for marriage was reproduction. Marriage could be dissolved by the man if his wife failed to bear him an heir.

 

Besides reproduction, marriage within a patriarchal order also served political and economic means. Marriages during antiquity focused on codifying economic responsibilities and obligations.

 

Little attention was given to how the couple felt about each other. Wives were chosen from good families not only to secure the legitimacy of a man's children, but to strengthen political and economic alliances between families, clans, tribes and kingdoms. To ensure that any offspring were the legitimate heirs, the woman was restricted to just one sexual partner, her husband.

 

Biblical marriages were also endogamous--they occurred within the same extended family or clan--unlike the modern Western concept of exogamous, where unions occur between outsiders.

 

Men could have as many sexual partners as they could afford. Polygamy and concubinage were the norm, and no explicit prohibition for these practices existed within the biblical text.

 

For males, marriage was neither required in the biblical text, nor universally accepted throughout Western Christendom, as a prerequisite for sex. A man during biblical times could engage in sex with a variety of partners: concubines (1 Ki 11:3), war booty, slaves (Dt 21:10-14) and an occasional prostitute (Gen 38:15).

 

Biblical marriage was considered valid only if the bride was a virgin. If she was not, she could be executed (Dt 22:13-21).

 

Such marriages could only take place if the spouses were believers (Ez 9:12). And if the husband was to die before having children, then his brother was required to marry the widow. If he refused, he had to forfeit one of his sandals, be spit on by the widow, and change his name to "House of the Unshoed" (Dt 25:5-10).

 

Before marriage was elevated to a sacrament during the Council of Trent (1563), it was not regarded as sacred. The ideas that marriage must be licensed by the state or sanctioned by the church are modern innovations that go beyond the biblical tradition.

 

Even among Catholics, a simple proclamation of intent to marry spoken anywhere was sufficient for a couple to be considered husband and wife. Marriage was mainly a civil arrangement devoid of clergy-officiated ceremonies.

 

Historically speaking, the definition of marriage has always been evolving, from an understanding of marriage along the lines of property rights, to marriage as a means for procreation, to a family dominated arrangement designed to protect wealth, to more recently as a response to attraction, love and mutual respect.

 

Our modern definition of the traditional marriage based on love, trust, vulnerability and commitment is neither traditional nor biblical. In fact, what we call the traditional marriage is quite a modern invention (since about the 17th century).

 

Without hesitation we impose this modern concept of marriage upon our culture, mistaking it for some historical or biblical norm.

 

But, Paige, why stop with marriage? Why doesn't the seminary hold classes on how to treat slaves? There are multiple biblical references on how believers are to humanely treat their slaves.

 

Just because our secular society abolished slavery in the mid-19th century and Jim Crow in the mid-20th century doesn't mean that Bible-believing Christians must do likewise.

 

If the Bible advocates slavery, then by golly, so should the SBC! After all, wasn't our denomination started over this very issue?

 

While I appreciate you wanting to bring our nation back to a time when men and women knew their place and role in society, I urge you to go further and also bring us back to the glory days when the races also knew their place.

 

This way the political action that the Southern Baptist Convention has been advocating will be more congruent with what we teach.

 

Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

 

Order Miguel De La Torre's book Reading the Bible from the Margins now from Amazon.com

 

Previous related articles:

Baptist Seminary Homemaking Classes for Wives to Rescue Culture, Church

Baptist Seminary Offers Degree in Homemaking for Pastors' Wives

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