A debate about the definition of “marriage” is not something new. In fact, conversations about marriage have been going on for centuries. Within the United States, the debate has taken on a feverous pitch as of recently due to a number of factors. One factor is a proposal to redefine “marriage” in the UK. Another reason is that the President of the US, Barrack Obama, stated in May 2012 his belief that gay marriage should be permitted by law. Adding fuel to the already contentious debate, the president cited his Christian beliefs for his view, saying, “The thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule — you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated,” he said. “And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids, and that’s what motivates me as president.”
Since these comments were made, the debate throughout the US has been strong. Not wanting to make a rash reaction to the debate, I took it upon myself to study out the subject at length. Since early May, I have read hundreds of pages about the subject, ensuring to read arguments for and against a “traditional” view of marriage, as well as arguments for and against gay marriage. I’ve also taken opportunities to listen to intellectual debates on the subject, again, giving equal time to individuals who hold opposing views.
During my research, I was disheartened to see how some chose to communicate. Those maintaining a traditional view of marriage occasionally used inappropriate terminology and spoke in harsh judgmental tones. Additionally, those who advocate gay marriage accused those who don’t agree with them of being bullying, bigoted, and unloving. Yet through it all, I came to quickly understand one truth: not everybody is having the same discussion. There are some Christians who debate exactly what it is the bible has to say about marriage and homosexuality, with specific arguments being made as to whether or not the New Testament actually says anything about homosexuality or not. Additionally, there are other debates that are political in nature. These arguments focus on whether or not the church, or Christians should intervene with the state or whether the separation of church and state should be violated. Due to the fact that these are two different discussions, I wanted to break down each one separately.
What does the Bible say about marriage?
When trying to understand marriage, many Christians immediately open to a few specific passages. Genesis 2:18-24 is argued by many as the first “wedding”, with God as the one overseeing the ceremony. If indeed this is an historical event, it is difficult to argue against what is taking place. Adam, the first man, is alone. Therefore, God creates a “helper” suitable for him. When Adam first sees his wife, he breaks out in poetry, “This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” He sees distinct differences in his newfound partner, but realizes the “oneness” in which they were created by God. The passage uses distinct language, using the terms “man” and “wife”. These terms verify that from the beginning, the marriage relationship is between a husband and wife, man and woman, male and female. God created marriage. He designed marriage. He was purposeful about who should marry, why they should marry, and the meaning of the marriage relationship.
Some balk at this understanding, maintaining the viewpoint that Genesis 1-11 is allegorical in nature, and not historical. According to this view, Adam and Eve were not historical, but merely a story illustrating God’s handiwork. While there is much that could be mentioned on this view, it doesn’t hold water when compared with other passages within scripture. In Matthew 19, Jesus himself quotes Genesis 2 as if marriage were specifically designed between a man and his wife. In Ephesians 5, Paul writes specifically about the role of wives and husbands. Elsewhere, Paul takes note of husbands and wives, as does Peter. Indeed, if one is able to come to a different conclusion from the scriptures other than marriage being the union of a husband a wife, male and female, then the subject needing to be discussed is not the subject of marriage, it is the subject of scripture, and whether or not it maintains any true authority or not. If any Christian believes that scripture does not contain any authority or is not relevant in today’s culture, they would also have a difficult time making a God-centered case for or against marriage in any capacity, as they would be able to provide no foundational evidence as to what God says about the subject.
We must turn now to the subject of homosexuality. Like the subject of marriage, many Christians and denominations have been debating what, specifically, the bible has to say about the subject of homosexuality. Many immediately turn to such passages as Leviticus 18:22, or the Genesis 19 account of Sodom and Gomorrah. Others maintain that we are now under the new law and that one cannot adhere to the Old Testament account of the law as there are many other laws maintained there that we certainly do not adhere to today. Therefore, the discussion often turns to the New Testament, where three passages are the focal point of the discussion. These passages include Romans 1:26-27; as well as the modern day English term of the word “homosexual” found in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:9-11.
First, the passage in Romans 1:26-27. Again, the “traditional” Christian viewpoint maintains that this is a clear passage condemning homosexuality. However, some scholars have maintained that if we truly understand this text within the appropriate culture of which it was written, the text has no such meaning. The first major advocate for this view is that of John Boswell. Boswell’s case, in short, is that homosexual practices were condemned only because in this culture, they were affiliated with idolatrous cults and/or temple prostitution. Others maintain that the sexual acts committed here are not homosexual in nature, but instead refer to the act of pederasty. The vast majority of Christian scholars disagree with these two viewpoints. Greek language scholars affirm that the language used here has nothing to do with pederasty and is certainly homosexual in nature. Additionally, while many scholars agree with Boswell’s claim that the text is regarding cult practices and temple prostitution, they also maintain that the text indicates that the act of homosexuality itself is wrong in the eyes of God as the act is a form of idolatry.
While there is much more that can be written about the passage in Romans 1, I again concluded that the vast majority of Greek scholars agree that Paul is indeed writing specifically about homosexuality. Nevertheless, many maintain that the term “homosexual” did not appear in the English language until the 19th century, therefore Paul’s words 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 should not contain the specific word “homosexual”. The Greek term that has been translated as “homosexuals” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:9-11 by many modern bible translations (including ESV, HCSB, NET, NLT, NASB, NKJV, and the NIV rendering of “men who have sex with men”) is άρσενοκο (arsenokoitai). The debate about the term is whether the term is active, or passive, and whether or not the term is specifically about homosexuals or whether it is about male prostitutes.
The main arguments for the latter understanding was made famous once again by John Boswell. Boswell claimed that the Greek word arsenokoitai is passive in nature, not active. Additionally, Boswell’s argument is that the vast majority of Greek writers (including Plato, Herodotus, Aristotle, and Plutarch) as well as Jewish writers (Philo and Josephus) never use the Greek word in their writings and/or don’t ever translate the term as “homosexual”. He vehemently maintains the same view he has of Romans 1 – that Paul is only discussing the act of homosexual prostitution.
Against the translation of Boswell (as well as similar arguments made by authors Bailey and Scroggs), other Christian scholars have noted that early church fathers have written about Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. These writings come from church fathers such as Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. Additionally, while Boswell maintains that church fathers never used the specific Greek term used by Paul, this, too, is incorrect. Chrysotore used the term in his writings more than a few times, and was sure to include it in a homily he wrote outlining the meaning of Romans 1:26. Again, I came to the same conclusion as the vast majority of modern-day scholars (which includes hundreds of textual translators of modern-day English bible translations). The historical and linguistic evidence is quite strong, making the translation of arsenokoitai as “homosexual” well-founded.
The conclusion of the biblical argument is simple: marriage is an institution created by God, not by the state. The Bible defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. While some argue that the Christian argument is lacking because the bible never condemns polygamy, it must be noted that the bible never encourages it either. To be sure, every biblical marriage that included polygamy has serious consequences for their actions.
Can’t the Government Redefine Marriage?
Outside the biblical argument, the sanctity of marriage has centuries of evidence in favor of the institution being more of a religious institution than a national institution. Nations and governments around the globe have adopted marriage from religious institutions, not the other way around. This turns the discussion toward politics.
Before diving into a discussion on politics, it should be noted that I am about as moderate as they come. Within my sphere of friends and family I have many democrats and many republicans. When having discussions with one who is adamant about one party, I am sure to remind them that Jesus was neither a republican nor a democrat. He lived in a completely different culture. He rarely mentioned politics.
With that said, the political argument for gay marriage, as best as I can tell, is that all people are equal, period. Those who argue in favor of gay rights often make the same philosophical arguments that were made in the 60’s regarding civil rights. If a law was in place that stated whites could marry and not blacks, or Jews could marry and not Protestants, would this be permitted?
This argument, as sincere as it’s made out to be, is flawed. Again, nations the world over have adopted definitions of marriage from various religions, not the other way around. For a government to change the definition of marriage is for the government to not submit itself to the separation of church of state, and instead absorb the church and rule over it. At any point in time the federal government could say, “We’ve changed the definition of Sabbath…it’s now Tuesday,” or “We’ve decided it’s in the best interest of the people to change the definition of the Eucharist.” Some may be rolling their eyes while reading this, but what would stop the federal government from changing other definitions that have come directly from religious institutions? I can think of nothing.
Additionally, everybody has the right to marry under the current definition of marriage. Nobody’s “rights” are being infringed upon in any way. There are guidelines as to who one is able to marry, just as there are still guidelines in place for “free speech”.
Is there a viable solution? I believe so. I believe if the federal government wishes to make civil unions permissible and fully legal with all the same rights of marriage, they’re free to do so. But the state cannot change the definition of marriage, a definition which they adopted from elsewhere. The United States has adopted its definition of marriage from within the roots of Christianity and other religious institutions. To change the definition would overstep all guidelines as to how religious institutions operate freely.
In summary, marriage is clearly communicated from within the scriptures. Marriage is sacred. The bible clearly discusses marriage as being between one man and one woman. Additionally, this “one flesh” mentality of the marriage relationship is a bond that clearly symbolizes the relationship that Jesus has with His church. It’s the most beautiful, sacred relationship two individuals can share with one another. This is marriage. It is good. It is right. It is pure. It is holy.