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Bible Scholars' Controversial Claim: One Man, One Woman Isn't the Only Form of Marriage the Bible Supports


"...we wish to clarify that the biblical texts do not support the frequent claim that marriage between one man and one woman is the only type of marriage deemed acceptable by the Bible’s authors."

The Qatari site "Doha News" featured this romantic photo with its story on the mass terrorist wedding

Three professors with intricate knowledge of the Christian Bible came together to pen an article in the Des Moines Register this week intended to challenge that perception that the holy book only supports marriage between one man and one woman. This assertion -- one that is, quite naturally, overtly controversial -- will likely spark a plethora of discussion and debate.

Originally published on Sunday, the op-ed, written by  Dr. Hector Avalos of Iowa State University, Dr. Robert R. Cargill of the University of Iowa, and Dr. Kenneth Atkinson of the University of Northern Iowa, charges that the claim that the Bible only supports a very strict one woman, one man marital equation is rooted in "a lack of biblical literacy," specifically when it comes to arguments against gay marriage that are purportedly predicated upon the holy book.

Plastic figurines depicting a female couple and a male couple, displayed on a table, at the Gay marriage fair, in Paris, Saturday, April 27, 2013. Credit: AP

"As academic biblical scholars, we wish to clarify that the biblical texts do not support the frequent claim that marriage between one man and one woman is the only type of marriage deemed acceptable by the Bible’s authors," the scholars wrote.

Avalos, Cargill and Atkinson tackle, in particular, the many formulations and types of marriages that they believe the Bible includes. From polygamy to celibacy, the mechanics and compositions are intriguing. They write:

The phrase “at least one woman” recognizes that polygamy was not only allowed, but some polygamous biblical figures (e.g., Abraham, Jacob) were highly blessed. In 2 Samuel 12:8, the author says that it was God who gave David multiple wives: “I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom. ... And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more” (Revised Standard Version).

In fact, there were a variety of unions and family configurations that were permissible in the cultures that produced the Bible, and these ranged from monogamy (Titus 1:6) to those where rape victims were forced to marry their rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) and to those Levirate marriage commands obligating a man to marry his brother’s widow regardless of the living brother’s marital status (Deuteronomy 25:5-10; Genesis 38; Ruth 2-4). Others insisted that celibacy was the preferred option (1 Corinthians 7:8; 28).

Despite these claims, Avalos, Cargill and Atkinson do not claim that the Bible would also support, at least overtly, same-sex marriage. While they call advancing such a notion incorrect, they also note that it is impossible to claim that a man and woman equation is not the only form of marriage that is "allowable" in Biblical texts. The scholars write that these opinions are not their own and that they have deep roots.

In fact, they quote Martin Luther who, in 1524, wrote, "I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not oppose the Holy Scriptures.” That said, Avalos, Cargill and Atkinson also advance the notion that ancient texts should not dedicate modern moral standards.

Read their controversial article about marriage to see all of their arguments.

(H/T: Unreasonable Faith)


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