Dr. James Dobson recently announced his choice of a fundamentalist candidate for president. His endorsement prompted me to pull up some old files. In a 1998 newsletter, “The Christian Response to the Homosexual Agenda,” he wrote:
To change the definition of marriage from the exclusive union between one man and one woman is to destroy the family as it has been known for 5,000 years.
This is one place where James Dobson really needs to study his Bible better and resist the temptation to generate such unBiblical rhetoric. Let’s go back a few thousand years and do a fact-check.
The time between 1921 BC and 63 AD is a space of 1,984 years. According to conservative dating, the year 1921 BC is the date of the calling of Abraham, whose family included his wife Sarah and her maid servant Hagar. And 63 AD is the traditional date for Paul’s writing of his First Letter to Timothy, in which Paul instructs his young apprentice that “an elder shall be the husband of one wife.”
What we have is non-traditional (or traditional, depending on where you are on the timeline) marriage for the Old Testament period, followed by a possible redefinition two millenia later. For almost 2,000 years, from 1921 BC to 63 AD, the “Biblical definition” of marriage allowed for a family composed of a husband with multiple wives and mistresses. Or instead of using the word “definition,” perhaps we should be labeling it something like “Hebrew marriage as practiced with God’s blessing and provision.” For 2,000 years.
Hebrew Marriage as Practiced with God’s Blessing and Provision
First, consider Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. Second, consider David’s seven wives [1) Ahinoam, 2) Abigail, 3) Maachah, 4) Haggith, 5) Abital, 6) Eglah, and 7) Bathsheba]. Third, consider Solomon’s 700 wives and his harem of 300 concubines. Fourth, consider the provision specifically allowing for polygamy in the Torah itself — in Exodus 21:10 — “If a man who has married a slave wife takes another wife for himself, he must not neglect the rights of the first wife to food, clothing, and sexual intimacy.”
There is a space of some 2,000 years in the Bible where the so-called definition of marriage as “the exclusive union between one man and one woman” absolutely did not exist. Nowhere in Genesis 1 and 2 do we read “and for this reason shall marriage consist of one man and one woman.” Even Paul’s so-called definition in I Timothy 3:2 is the requirement for a Christian bishop, not one to be imposed on non-Christians. (Unless, I suppose, you actually are a Dominionist.)
I am ashamed that my fellow Christians would brazenly misrepresent God and the Bible this way. Dobson’s categorical statement needs to be edited to read:
To change the definition of marriage from the exclusive union between one man and one woman is to destroy the family as it has been known for 5,000 years. Except for a period of about 2,000 years. In the Bible.
This is no laughing matter. For James Dobson and his friends to urge us to define marriage their way, and base that urging on a blatant misrepresentation of the Biblical record, is shameful. Real evangelicals interpret the Bible with integrity, not according to what is convenient.
I call on James Dobson and his fellow-travellers to repent, to refrain from lying about what the Bible teaches–for whatever reason, and to seek forgiveness from those they have been wrongfully accused for these many decades.
I do not Advocate Polygamy
I do not advocate polygamy. One wife is quite enough, thank you. I accept Paul’s idea that an elder should have one wife. There’s wisdom in that.
I have, however, had quite enough of Christian leaders who invoke two verses in Leviticus against their convenient scapegoats, but are willing to blithely explain away the truth of the scripture that stretches from 1921 BC to 63 AD, a space of some 1,984 years, that what we have today was not always the case, even in the Bible. What is written was written as an example for us.
I urge these spokespersons for God and for God’s people to practice the conscientious, faithful, and honest handling of the Bible. It’s called “rightly dividing the word of truth.” It is on account of you that God’s name is cursed among the Gentiles, for you who teach others to observe the Bible do yourselves disregard the Bible, whenever that disregard convenient for you.
Enough of your unBiblical propaganda. You are conditioning your followers to uncritically accept whatever propaganda flows their way. You are not training them them to exercise discernment, but instead are cultivating their gullibility.
You think that our Brother Dobson is just simplifying the argument, or maybe oversimplifying his case just a little?
Notice the change in the rhetoric. As far as I can tell, he rarely refers to “the Biblical definition of marriage.” You know why? Because he knows full well that there is no “Biblical definition.” He’s not stupid. He graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University, for pity’s sake! He is familiar with all the cultural relativism arguments that swirl around the topic of polygamy in the Hebrew scripture, avoids the interpretive quagmire, knowing that any hope for a nice and tidy “Biblical definition of marriage” is an illusion.
That, my friend, is why the more intelligent among them take refuge in the phrase “traditional marriage.” For some years now it is not usually “Biblical marriage” to which they refer, but rather “traditional marriage.” So we are left with the spectacle of evangelicals arguing not for what is Biblical, but for what is traditional. (And I’m not even going to bring up “traditional marriages” that are arranged! Is that when Western civilization started to unravel?)
But enough of your unBiblical propaganda. Please.
You can leave a better legacy to the church than undiscerning gullibility.
But like I say, you’re not accountable to me. It is before your Master that you stand, and your Master is able to make you stand.
(Like James Dobson is going to read this.)