The Bible and the 'Gay Marriage' Question (Part 2)

What does the Bible actually say about “gay marriage”? That question is the title of a a recent op-ed piece in the Huffington Post written by Lee Jefferson, a visiting assistant professor of religion at Centre College. According to Jefferson the answer is: “Nothing,” or at least “Nothing negative.”

This is the second part of a three-part series. (For part one, click here)

Genesis 2 and its implications for “gay marriage”

Another flawed argument that Jefferson makes is that “the Bible does not clearly endorse one form of marriage over another.” This would have been news to every first-century Jew, including the historian Josephus. Josephus explained to Gentile readers that “the Law [of Moses] recognizes only sexual intercourse that is according to nature, that which is with a woman. . . . But it abhors the intercourse of males with males” (Against Apion 2.199).

Jefferson tries to substantiate his claim by asserting that the story about Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 “is a gender creation story, not a creation of marriage story.” Yet Genesis 2:24 clearly extrapolates from the story about the creation of woman in 2:18-23 the marriage principle that “for this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and be joined to his woman (wife) and become one flesh.”

The narrative begins with an originally sexually-undifferentiated human (Heb. adam, “earthling”), from whom some indeterminate portion of bone and flesh is taken from one of the human’s “sides” (a better translation than “ribs” since it is the meaning given to this word, tsela, everywhere else in the Old Testament). This extraction is made in order to form a woman, thereafter turning the adam into a gender-specific man (Heb. ish). The woman is depicted as the man’s “counterpart” or “complement” (2:18, 20)-a translation of Heb. neged that means both “corresponding to” (denoting likeness as regards humanity) and “opposite” (denoting difference as regards sex or gender).

The subtext of the story is that man and woman may unite in marriage to become “one flesh” because out of one flesh the two came. This is a beautiful image of a transcendent reality: that man and woman are each other’s sexual “other half,” the missing element in the spectrum of sexuality. Clearly the story indicates a foundational male-female prerequisite for valid sexual unions, irrespective of (as Jefferson puts it) the absence of “a jazz band reception in Paradise.”

Jesus and “gay marriage”

Jesus apparently understood Genesis 1:27 (God “made them male and female”) and Genesis 2:24 (cited above) as implying a male-female requirement for marriage. Jesus cited these two texts back-to-back (Mark 10:2-12; Matthew 19:3-12) in order to make the point that the complementary twoness of the sexes, male and female, is the foundation for limiting the number of partners in a sexual union to two.

When man and woman unite in marriage, the sexual spectrum is completed such that a third partner is neither necessary nor desirable. Jesus applied this principle not only explicitly to a rejection of a revolving door of divorce-and-remarriage (a form of serial polygamy) but also implicitly to polygamy, which both in Jesus’ day and in ours is the easier prohibition.

We know that this was Jesus’ point because the sectarian Jewish group known as the Essenes (who regarded even the Pharisees as too lax in their observance of the Law of Moses) similarly rejected polygamy on the grounds that God made us “male and female” (zakar uneqevah). They connected this phrase in Genesis 1:27 to its occurrence in the Noah’s ark narrative where the twoness of the bond is stressed (“two by two”; Damascus Covenant 4.20-5.1). They then deduced that God’s will at creation was for marriage to be a partnership of two and only two persons.

Jefferson stresses Jesus’ silence on the issue of homosexual practice as “exhibit A” for his claim that “same-sex practice is a topic of little interest to the Biblical authors.” Yet Jesus also says nothing about incest or bestiality. Surely this “silence” does not suggest Jesus’ indifference. Why should Jesus spend time talking explicitly about offenses that no Jew in first-century Palestine is advocating, let alone engaging in, and that his Hebrew Scriptures already proscribe in no uncertain terms?

Clearly Jesus regarded a male-female requirement in marriage as an “irreducible minimum” in sexual ethics, the foundation on which other sexual standards are predicated, including monogamy.

A half dozen other historical arguments establish Jesus’ opposition to homosexual practice, including his adherence to the Law of Moses generally and his intensification of sexual ethics in particular (not only as regards polygamy and divorce-and-remarriage but also as regards “adultery of the heart”); the fact that the man who baptized him (John the Baptist) got beheaded for defending Levitical sex laws; and both early Judaism’s and the early church’s univocal opposition to homosexual practice as an egregious offense. Jesus wasn’t shy about expressing disagreement with prevailing norms. Silence speaks for his acceptance of the prevailing view.

Read Part 3

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