Setting aside the fact that the Bible was written by mortal men & translated with rampant political liberties taken over the past two thousand years, the fact remains that the Bible’s definition of marriage is quite a far cry from what Miss California, Rick Warren and the delusional lunatics of the religious right are preaching from the mountaintops. With all the righteous indignance about “biblical marriage” these days, it’s long past time that somebody put these hyper-conservative, ill-informed, cherry-picking Bible-thumpers in their place.
The website Religious Tolerance has provided a very helpful article on the types of marriage found in the pages of the Bible. If you’ve spent your time believing everything your pastor/priest/parents tell you about what the Bible says, rather than doing your own homework, consider this your eye-opening backhand-to-the-face cheat sheet. Cliff’s Notes For Intolerance, if you will. Specific biblical chapters are quoted, so you can determine for yourself whether this is the work of some Christ-hating lunatic, or someone who’s spent his life seeing the word “God” used to justify disgusting hatred, idiocy and oppression, and has had enough.
Here’s a summary of the different kinds of marriage deemed acceptable in the Bible:
1. Polygymous Marriage
The most common form of marriage in the Bible. For the uninformed, this is an arrangement where a man has more than one wife.
2. Levirate Marriage
When a woman was widowed without a son, it became the responsibility of the brother-in-law or a close male relative to take her in, impregnate her and continue the lineage. If the resulting child was a son, he would be considered the heir of her late husband. See Ruth, and the story of Onan (Gen. 38:6-10).
3. A man, a woman and her property — a female slave
The famous “handmaiden” sketch, as preformed by Abraham (Gen. 16:1-6) and Jacob (Gen. 30:4-5).
4. A man, one or more wives, and some concubines
The definition of concubine varies from culture to culture, but across the board they tended to be live-in mistresses. Concubines were connected to their “husband,” but had a significantly lower status than a wife. Their children were rarely heirs, so they were safe outlets for sex without risking the line of succession. To see how badly a concubine could be treated, see the classic story of the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19:1-30). Imagine that taking place today. It does.
5. A male soldier and a female prisoner of war
Women who were taken as booty from a successful campaign were often forced to become wives or concubines. A detailed description of the process can be found here: (Deuteronomy 21:11-14)
6. A male rapist and his victim
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 describes how an unmarried woman who has been raped must marry her attacker. 8-12 more years of Bush and this could very well have been on the horizon.
7. A male and female slave
A female slave could be married to a male slave without consent, presumably to produce more slaves. See: American slave trade.
8. Monogamous, heterosexual marriage
The standard form of marriage, most closely resembling today’s Western societal marriage structure. Provided that you don’t count that marriages were arranged, and that inter-faith or cross-ethnic marriage were intensely forbidden throughout massive spans of biblical history.