Jesus left room for people who do not fit inside the “one man + one woman marriage” paradigm and New York State wisely, and finally rushed in. After speaking directly about marriage and divorce (Matt. 19: 1-9), Jesus says “Not all men can accept this statement (about man/woman marriage), but only those to whom it has been given.”
He then follows, in verses 11 and 12, with the exclusions to this model stating them as:
- Men born as eunuchs
- Those made eunuchs by men
- Those who choose to live celibate lives
Culturally, those called “eunuchs” were men that did not reproduce or were non-masculine or effeminate. They served as: courtiers, treble singers, guardians of women or harem servants. That was then. Now, those “born that way” in our culture and times would be gay men: those who do not choose to reproduce with women. (Mention “kissing a woman” to my gay male friends and the facial muscles will tell the tale.) These are the equivalent of Biblical “born that way” eunuchs. The “those who choose to live celibate lives” eunuchs included Jesus Himself and the Apostle Paul who urged everyone to not marry. Yeah, good word, Paul.
What if clever, see-into-the-future Jesus, right there in Matthew 19, were saying to the disciples, “There are some people that do not fit into your husband/wife understanding of marriage, nor will they in the future. There will be some who cannot be confined by that one man + one woman dynamic, nor is this model given for them.”
“Don’t be messin’ with the Biblical model of marriage,” you may caution me. “Right there in Genesis 2:24 it says ‘a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife. “Right there.” Well, the Hebrew word translated into “shall” in many translations is best translated in the imperfect tense as “will”. Some men will leave father and mother and join with a woman. And, according to Jesus, some will not fit the mold. For them, the model will not work.
The term “Biblical Marriage” in itself is interesting. Shelves in Christian bookstores are filled with advice instructing us how to live out the perfect “Biblical marriage”. I suggest that our contemporary norm for marriage is the cultural adaptation of Biblical principles that have evolved over the past two centuries. Do I want a marriage mimicking that of the average woman of Jesus day (or prior)? Do I, as a woman, want to be treated as property, told who to marry or be one of many in a stable of cuties? No. Actually, hell no. For the bulk of the Bible, the following is a list of formal marriage agreements:
- Polygamy – several spouses
- Polygyny- several wives
- Levirate – the widow goes to the brothers in succession
- Endogamy – marriage in your own group/tribe
- Exogamy – marriage outside your own group/tribe
Paul tells Timothy that church leaders should be the husband of one wife (I Tim. 3:2). We read this verse in context of today’s culture and translate it to mean: only a man who has never been divorced can be a church leader. In the Roman culture of the Jesus-day however, (and that is who Paul targets), a heterosexual married man may have had more than one wife with a young boy on the side (Matt. 8:5-13). Paul advises church leaders to restrict his sexual relationships to one wife so that he may more effectively serve God. Knowing the times and context is essential. Our understanding of marriage has evolved yet, Jesus’ principles of the treatment of others, of love and respect are timeless. Cultural views of roles and institutions however, are not timeless.
At the writing of the New Testament, marriage itself was a personal and civil agreement between two participants not needing governmental or religious approval. Until the late 1500’s, marriages were not witnessed, nor was there a ceremony. The words, “I marry you” got it done. By today’s standards, those people would not be legally married. Again, culture dictates.
The construct of marriage began to change under the Council of Trent 1563. Christianity started to flex its muscle hoping to save people from the sin of multiple partners and to establish marriage as the confines in which to create children. Christianity also dictated the need for a priest to witness the event. Love did not enter the business, financial and protective contract until the 1800’s. So, marriage has greatly change over time to become the institution we currently understand. It has been adapted as the understanding of male and female gender roles progressed in conjunction with societal and religious influences. Saying “It (marriage) has been this way for two thousand years” over and over, does not make it so.
There are Biblical principles in the verses on marriage that I can extract and bring to my culture and context: Love each other, commit to one another, treat one another with respect and honor and stay together. We take these verses to the present marriage model. I am not compromising on Biblical principles, I hold to the Jesus principles and recognize that not all of the almost 6,468 commands in the Bible are for us today.
Jesus spoke into His culture yet He left room for others. Same-sex loving couples would not have been understood by Jews, the disciples, Paul or other New Testament writers. We Christians are often guilty of restricting the freedoms of others by our selective imposition of rules written within cultures millennium past. Women are not seen as inferior and enslavement is no longer viewed as honorable. We have adapted much of Biblical ethics to our culture and left specific instructions written to people in the ancient world behind. We are going through that process again. The Bible has remained intact and it will remain intact in this next adaptation as well.
There are indeed gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are in our midst. They want to experience same sex marriages and relationships, and many even want the same blessings of God on those relationships enjoyed by the man-woman model. We want to impose “Biblical marriage” constraints on glbt people, but do not even do that to the heterosexual population. We heterosexuals adapted the marriage and divorce model with time, yet we hold a death grip on “Biblical marriage” to the exclusion of homosexuals.
Just as there is provision within the Jesus dialogue for me as a woman to be seen as equal and not as property two thousand years later, there is likewise provision for my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered friends to operate and please God outside the man/woman model. “Simple” says Jesus in Matthew 19: 11 – 12, there are men who will marry women and then there are others for whom this is not the case. Arching over all of this, the same standards of love, commitment and the treatment of others are the timeless Biblical principles that God expects of same sex couples as He expects of me.
We have, over time, freed ourselves from the strict enslavement of women and other people groups as we understand principles over words written in and to a far different culture and era. We’ve exempted ourselves from “Biblical marriage” and turn a blind eye to the direct words of Jesus and Paul on divorce because we know those words do not translate to our culture. In other words, we have found a freedom for the heterosexual majority and within the same verses, hold in bondage the homosexual and transgender minority
Jesus is the Son of God Justice Superhero. He came to upset the who’s in and who’s out thinking. He does not care about traditions that men build over the centuries or the exclusions we conceive. Look for the message of Jesus in the Bible. He is the Bringer of Equality. He is the Breaker of Tradition. He is the Bridge for All. He is the Door to Freedom. He has left room at the marriage altar for all the children He loves. Some of you may not be able to accept the gracious, just provisions made by Jesus. But, do not stand in the path of the “sexually others” who do not fit into the norm.
Congratulations New York State. The church was instructed to be those who fight injustice and oppression (Isaiah 58). In the case of marriage equality, we have built restrictions with our human traditions and biases. Courts understand what some faith-based people find difficult to grasp: the definition of marriage has matured for all people. We have allowed the evolution for heterosexual couples. It is now time to occupy the room Jesus opened and let two adult people who love one another and want to commit to one another enjoy the blessings and protection of marriage.
And, Jesus, the Breaker of the Yoke of Bondage, who liked a good party and celebration, invites all couples under the chuppah, raises His glass to them and cheers “Mazel Tov”. Congratulations New York.