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.)
Right on! This is like one drop in a bucket. But I suppose you can only work on it one drop at a time.
Yeah, I know. One drop at a time. Feels slow sometimes, but there it is.
“Unbiblical Propaganda”? You did not include, in your accusations regarding Dr. Dobson’s take on marriage, anything but the short quote from a 1998 newsletter, ”The Christian Response to the Homosexual Agenda,” so it is difficult to know just where he was coming from.
You state, “Nowhere in Genesis 1 and 2 do we read “and for this reason shall marriage consist of one man and one woman.” I don’t think there is a place within the same reference that says, “and for this reason shall marriage consist of two men, two women, three men and one woman, or any arrangement you would like to indulge in”. It does, however, in Genesis 2 describe God’s intent in His creation of man and of women.
In verse 18 it tells us, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper as his partner.” God referred to “the man” (apparently one man) and “a helper” (apparently one helper) for him. (we find out later that ‘the helper’ was a woman)
Then in verse 21 the bible states, “So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22. “And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man”. God again refers to “the man” (one) and He refers to “a woman” (one). Sounds clear to me that what we have here is one man and one woman!
Then God “brought her (one) to the man” (one). God gave her to him. A popular line in our wedding ceremonies today is, “Who giveth this woman to this man?” In this Genesis account it appears to be God who giveth the woman to the man – – – – the first marriage??? Hmm.
Verse 23 goes on to tell us that “the” man accepted her and called her ‘Woman’ and was in very close union with him (for she was taken from him).
24 further states, “Therefore “a man” (one man) leaves his father and his mother and clings to “his wife” (one wife; not wives or husbands), and they shall become “one” flesh” (not two flesh, or three flesh). It would appear that the reference about leaving his mother and father is referring to a future time for future marriages because “the” man and “the” woman had no mother and father, only their Creator.
From this account many Christians and/or students of the bible, come to accept that since God instituted this first union between one man and one woman, that this set up is probably what God intended from the beginning and for the future. What God intended was not always what was done, however, and in various cases it seems that God accepted, or at least put up with the changes we made to His plans, because of the hardness of our hearts. I take this to mean because we do what we want to do rather than what He has instructed us to do.
Case in point might be in Matthew 19 during a discussion regarding divorce between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus was saying, “What therefore God has joined together let not man put asunder”. The Pharisees then asked Jesus, “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?” Jesus said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered (allowed) you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so.” So it would appear that God put up with their disobedience to a point. However, consequences always come.
I do not presume to be a theologian, so I can only say that as I have studied this subject in God’s Word that what I have presented above has seemed to be biblical and logical to me.
I am with Delores. Marriage between ONE MAN and ONE WOMAN!!!!!
All caps is considered shouting, especially when accompanied with multiple exclamation marks.
Remember, “Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” God bless you, sister.
thanks for pointing that out and making me feel bad for stating and standing up for what I believe in. I was not saying it in anger I was only saying it with passion for my belief behind it. Anger and passion is different and I if you don’t know the feeling behind it then I don’t think you have the right to accuse.
As you wish. God bless you.
I know this response is years later, but I am grateful for this blog post and agree with the author. I think so much of the American Christian world focus on what we do with our genitalia (who marries whom, and what people do in their bedrooms) and conveniently ignores other ‘biblical’ admonitions. For example, let’s look at fat people. Does the Bible condone gluttony? Nope. But we rarely have rants concerning how ‘un-biblical’ it is to be too fat. We gloss over that because we are smart enough to realize that the Bible was more likely just talking about too much consumption in general. Likewise, spending so much time and energy defending “traditional” marriage seems like you’re missing the main point, which was (correct me if I’m wrong): Love your neighbor as yourself. Period. Stop all the judging. Thanks to the author for the time he took to explore this issue!