“Biblical” Marriage

20120811-231930.jpgFollowing up from my prior blog on the Chick Fil-A issue, I received a question from Bill in Alexandria the other day. I’ve also received several emails, and had a number of posts on my Facebook site. It’s not directly related to Dan Cathy’s comments or the same-sex marriage debate, but I’ll answer it as best I can.

The question revolves around Facebook posts and a YouTube video that has been making the rounds lately (you can watch it here, but I don’t recommend it…it’s a waste of your time). It’s very, very difficult to respond to a video like this, simply because she’s all over the map and has absolutely no idea how to read the Bible or interpret Scripture.

All of these things — the YouTube video, the emails, the Facebook posts — revolve around the same basic contention. That is, that “Biblical or traditional marriage” is not defined as a man and woman, includes the requirement to marry my brother’s wife if he gets killed, requires me to stone my wife if I can’t prove she’s a virgin at marriage, permits multiple wives and concubines like Solomon and others, you’ve probably seen the list. Let’s try some clear thinking.

1. The Biblical definition of marriage. This starts at the very beginning — Genesis. In the story from Genesis 2, shortly after God creates man, he realizes that “it is not good for man to be alone,” and he creates a companion for him. That companion established the first “marriage,” from a Biblical perspective — one man, one woman, with a relationship described in Genesis 2:24, which outlines a very special spiritual, emotional, and physical union. This is reinforced throughout Scripture, especially in the New Testament. This includes instructions for men to love their wives in Ephesians 5:22-33, and the definition of a godly man being the husband of one wife in 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus 1, and elsewhere. Most Biblically-literate Christians are also very well aware of the New Testament’s constant comparisons between marriage and Christ’s relationship with the church, which further defines what marriage is and how it behaves.

All combined, we understand that marriage, Biblically defined, is a lifelong relationship between a man and a woman, characterized by love, sacrifice, Christ-centeredness, and meeting each other’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Divorce, adultery, and fornication are all violations of this Biblical ideal. Are there other examples of marriage in the Bible? Sure, especially in the Old Testament. But to equate these examples with the Biblical “definition” is to make a critical error is hermeneutics (the science of the study of Scripture) — that is, to equate the descriptive with the prescriptive. This simply means that there are many things in the Bible that are describe various situations, but do not require us to emulate the behavior. In fact, many times the Bible describes behaviors that we are NOT to emulate. Paul supervising the stoning of Stephen, for example (Acts 7:54 – 8:1), is obviously descriptive — the Bible does not condone or endorse this behavior. Examples abound, from David’s adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:24) to a hundred other examples — including Solomon and David taking multiple wives.

Throughout Scripture, we see many cases of Godly men taking multiple wives — and then see the consequences of that sinful behavior. Nowhere in Scripture is this behavior prescribed. In fact, every prescriptive passage with regard to marriage always identifies it as a wife and husband. Jesus quotes Genesis 2 when talking about a man leaving his father and mother and being joined to a wife (Matthew 19). This passage is directly followed by one that makes it clear that once joined, the union is permanent (except for unfaithfulness). Fast forward to 1 Corinthians 7, and the story is the same. And note the language in these passages — the language of “should,” “do not,” and similar phrases make it clear that these are prescriptive passages. Every prescriptive passage, from Matthew 19 to 1 Cor 7 and elsewhere, detail a long-term, monogamous, heterosexual union.

2. Old Testament Mosaic and Levitical laws. Now, on to this issue or stoning those who aren’t virgins, marrying my brothers wife if he dies, and other concerns. I have already blogged about the fact that we are no longer under the confines of the Mosaic/Levitical law, and that definitely applies here. The New Testament is perfectly clear that we are no longer under the law, and that Christ has fulfilled the law. It is still useful to us as a historical and teaching tool (1 Tim 3:16-17), but we are no longer subject to the law or justified by it. We have a new law now, the law of Christ. You can read more in 1 Corinthians 9, Galatians 3 & 6, Romans 8, or Hebrews 8. Joel C. Rosenberg also has a great blog on the topic — no need to restate his great exposé here. Biblical marriage, under the law of Christ, is loving, caring, and uplifting, much like Christ Himself.

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The Chick Fil-A Uncrisis Nonscandal

20120801-195438.jpgWow! In the short time I’ve been doing this blog, I don’t think an issue has cried out for some clear thinking more loudly than this one. In case you’ve been living in a bubble or doing postgraduate research in Siberia (hey, it could happen), I’ll give you the basics…

Just about anyone who has tried to eat at Chick Fil-A on Sunday knows they’re closed that day — and most know why. Since it was founded in 1946 by S. Truett Cathy, their company has sought to promote and live out Biblical values, including being closed on Sundays to allow employees a day of rest and worship. Now led by Truett Cathy’s son Dan, the company maintains that credo, and for the most part this has been uncontroversial. However, recently Dan Cathy has been in the media — and squarely in the sights of some very harsh critics — for stating in an interview with Baptist Press that he supports “traditional marriage.” When asked about the company’s support to various marriage ministries and donations (through its charitable giving arm, WinShape) to Christian organizations, Cathy said,

“Well, guilty as charged…we are very much supportive of the family — the Biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that.”

Uncontroversial? Hardly. The result of these donations and comments has been a backlash of personal attacks, boycotts, and worse. Why? Because, according to CNN, “the comments of company President Dan Cathy about gay marriage to Baptist Press on Monday have ignited a social media wildfire.” Not just social media, but now we have entire cities taking the unprecendented (and unConstitutional, by the way) step of trying to ban Chick Fil-A, along with universities and other supporters.

Okay, with that background and context, put on your clear-thinking brains. I see at least two major problems here.

1. First I hope you see the biggest problem quite obviously — Cathy actually never mentioned gay marriage. At all. He voiced his support for the traditional family, and that’s all. Does that mean he is against same-sex marriage? Possibly, but he never stated an opinion on the issue. To be fair, I think we can reasonably assume that Mr. Cathy believes homosexual behavior is sinful — thus his affirmation of traditional marriage. But “traditional marriage” also covers other unrelated topics, such as fornication, adultery, and unjustified divorce. “Traditional marriage,” then, generally means a long-term, monogamous, heterosexual relationship. It does not mean — or even imply — hatred or bigotry toward any person or group. Affirming traditional marriage is no more “anti-gay” than it is “anti-divorce” or “anti-adultery”.

2. While Mr. Cathy was talking about his company at the time, it was clear to me from both the article and his prior interviews with Ken Coleman that he was expressing a personal opinion, not corporate policy. News flash — I feel like I should be whispering — sinners work at Chick Fil-A. In fact, I have zero doubt that Chick Fil-A employs adulterers and fornicators. And yes, I have little doubt that Chick Fil-A employs homosexuals. Their hiring practices are not based on Dan Cathy’s personal opinions on traditional marriage, as he clarified in a recent statement. Worst case, we have a private citizen (who is also a CEO) expressing a personal opinion about a social issue. Sure, his opinion is not “en vogue” right now — but that doesn’t make him a bigot, intolerant, or a “hater”. Others who disagree may choose not to patronize his business, which is fine. I still don’t see a crisis or a scandal.

As if this weren’t enough, I have great concern about Cathy’s freedom of speech and freedom to hold and express his religious beliefs — but I’ll leave that out of this blog. I also won’t go into the details of the Biblical position on marriage or homosexuality on this blog (perhaps later), that’s not the point. Please, friends, let’s think clearly about this — read the comments, then look at the response. Is this reasonable?

I did, however, try to eat at Chick Fil-A tonight — the drive-through line was backed up just over a mile, and a line was coming out the door. I settled for Five Guys, but man…Chick Fil-A sounds good right now.