<snip>I CHOOSE NOT TO LIVE BY SOME BIBLE STANDARDS
by Howard Bess
We all have a mind’s eye picture of a preacher with Bible in hand declaring that something is true because it is written in the Bible. It is not just preachers. Lay people spout the same attitude. Well intended and devout believers constantly write letters to the editor expressing their confidence in the Bible. They all are certain that the Bible is God’s Word to the world. If it is in the Bible, it must be true.
In the past this attitude has led to advocacy of slavery, segregation, subordination of women and corporal punishment for children. It has been only when these Biblical teachings were challenged and set aside that justice has prevailed. The latest challenge to Bible standards is the current debate about Biblical marriage and same-sex marriages. The Bible standard advocates are calling for Biblical standards for marriage.
Many of the relevant passages are found in the book of Leviticus. The place of women is set out as a part of the property codes. Women were property. Men were owners of women. A man could own as many women as he could afford. Polygamy was the standard, not monogamy. Men owned women in three categories.
They owned wives;
they owned concubines;
and they owned slaves.
All were available to their owner for his sexual use. Most of the women involved were little more than breeding stock. These standards were prevalent all over the Middle East and reflect Mesopotamian and Babylonian traditions.
Over the centuries, custom changed and, while polygamy was allowed and was common, cultural pressures and standards evolved toward monogamy. One standard did not change. Women in Jesus’ day were still seen as property. Marriages were still arranged. A woman had no voice in the acquiring of a husband. A young woman was provided for marriage for what was deemed the best interests of the father.
During the times of Jesus, the life of many women in a poverty economy was precarious. A man could divorce a woman by declaring his freedom from her. The worst scenario for a woman was to have no owner. The so-called prostitutes that hung around Jesus were not prostitutes in a modern sense. They were vulnerable women who had no owner. Evidently Jesus accepted them and provided them with a level of protection and security. One of the criticisms of Jesus was that he associated with prostitutes.
To his credit, the Apostle Paul declared that in Christ there was no longer slave or free, male or female. In spite of the acceptance by Jesus and the declaration of Paul, the early church embraced and perpetuated patriarchal dominance and female submission. The Leviticus standard of male ownership of wives continued in most of Christianity until the 20th century. It now seems incredible that women in the United States did not have a vote until the 19th Amendment was adopted in 1920.
I scratch my head when I hear someone declare that we need to return to Biblical standards for marriage.
Around the world and within the United States the understandings of marriage and marriage practices are hugely diverse. In that diversity a new question has been inserted in the public discussion. Should two persons of the same sex be allowed to marry? It is a subject that is never addressed in the Bible. It is a modern question that has evolved over the past 50 years. The Bible is a collection of ancient writings. I would not expect any of these writings to address a question that is so recent. Bible quotations seem so very irrelevant.
Today the typical marriage is clearly outside Biblical standards. Women are as active in choosing a mate as is a male partner. Arranged marriages are no longer the norm. The relationship is seen as a partnership, not an owner/client arrangement. Most Americans have happily rejected Biblical marriage.
Is there no standard for marriage that can be embraced in our modern world? I suspect that diversity of understandings will win the day. The need to formalize the attractions that we have for a loving companion will not go away.
I like the simple formula that Darlene and I embraced. Before a small group of witnesses, we stood before a minister and spoke words to one another. First, I said “I Howard take you Darlene to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health so long as we both shall live. To this I give you my promise.” Darlene responded by speaking the same words to me. We were married.
The Bible standards seemed so very irrelevant.
The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.<snip>