Biblical Marriage and Biblical Interpretation
Today I want to do some more foundation work on looking at the Bible to discern how God intended us to live our marriages.
When we study the Bible it’s important to know the audience to whom things were written. One huge factor is old testament (or covenant) versus new. While God didn’t change, our relationship with Him did change. What’s more, many of the rules that were imposed on the Jews of old don’t apply to us. I can freely eat shrimp, pet a dog, shave my beard, or mow the lawn on Saturday (the Sabbath) whereas those under the old covenant were forbidden from doing any of those things.
We are told that marriage is an example of God’s relationship with us. If our relationship with God changed because of what Jesus did, does that mean there are changes in how husbands and wives are supposed to relate? If the example changed, it seems likely what was based on the example might also change. I’m not saying it proves anything, but it should make us consider the possibility.
Did any of God’s rules or expectations for marriage change when Jesus came? Absolutely. Jesus said that divorce for any reason was never God’s will, that He only allowed it because of the hardness of men’s hearts. The “new” rule is that divorce followed by remarriage is only valid when done because of sexual sin. Beyond that, Jesus made sexual sin a much bigger category when He talked about lusting for a woman we see as adultery of the heart.
I offer these examples as proof that we can’t blindly apply what the OT says about marriage to our lives. If something appears in the old testament but not the new that doesn’t mean it’s no longer valid, but it does mean we need to do some digging.
Another issue is the fact that the Bible often narrates a story without making any comment on what happens. We are told, for example, that Lot’s daughters got him drunk and had sex with him so they could get pregnant. Nowhere are we told what they did was wrong. Some of what we read about how men treated their wives in the OT may be the same thing, the narration of something without pointing out it’s wrong.
Then there is the reality that culture is a major factor. Certain things in the Bible were done for cultural reasons rather than because God said they were to be done. In some cases, these were not contrary to God’s will, so there was no problem. But that does not make them things God commanded. Other things might have been allowed by God because of the hardness of heart issue, but they were not His will.
Culture can also result in a rule that is necessary and good in one place and time, but not in another. When the Bible was written, and especially during the time of the Old Testament, women had it hard. Without a father or husband to care for and protect her a woman’s only real options for making money were begging and prostitution. What’s more, a woman without a father or husband was looked down on. She was also at much greater risk of being taken advantage of or raped. None of this was God’s will, it’s just the reality of being female in those times. The Bible actually provides far more protection and rights for women than most contemporary non-Jewish women had.
None of this is to say we can just ignore what the Bible says because we don’t live in the same time. But ignoring how culture coloured what was written is not wise either. Understanding the times and the audience can really help. It also helps to see who said something in the Bible and if they claimed to be speaking God’s truth. At least once Paul made it clear he was giving his opinion, rather than a command from the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:12 & 25). Certainly Paul’s “judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy” is valuable, but it might be something that was valid then but is not now.
One last thing for today. Much of what Paul wrote was in answer to questions he had been asked. Sometimes he gave a reminder of the question asked (1 Cor 7:1 for example) and other times he does not. This is a lot like seeing one side of a text conversation, and it makes it easy to misunderstand. Imagine, for example, that a friend sent me a text asking if I felt it was a good idea for his daughter to go to the prom with a fellow who seems rather questionable for a number of reasons who drove a motorcycle. If I texted back “Don’t let her go to any dance with mister motorcycle,” that answer out of context could be taken as me saying no one should ever go to a dance with a guy who owns a motorcycle. I think this is the reason for some of the confusion over verses that seem to say conflicting things or seem to say something other than what the Bible as a whole says. (Last Sunday I gave the Matthew 25:31-46 example of how a passage taken out of context can be used say something contrary to the Word of God.)
Of course, none of this is to be used to try to negate a verse that we don’t like. The goal is to use the tools to find what the Bible says and then live that. What makes that difficult is we all have beliefs that are set in stone, and we are usually blind to things that bring those beliefs into question. This is especially true of human doctrines with many years of history behind them.
All of this is going to come into play as we move forward the next few weeks. I wanted to get it out there before it comes up. You are of course free to disagree with me, but most of this is standard exegesis and hermeneutics. The arguments come from how those tools are applied to scripture!
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