As I Was Preparing a Bible Study About Same Sex Marriage . . .

My job description doesn’t include teaching classes on sex or marriage, but this is what I was asked to do for a congregation pondering Biblical teachings on these ubiquitous matters last weekend, especially in light of this.  They wanted a Biblical interpretation of same sex marriage from a progressive point of view.  The previous week they’d received the same lesson from a more tradition point of view, taught by a friend of mine.

David_and_Jonathan_icon1Marriage equality is not going away.  And here’s my Big Confession:  I believe that marriage equality is a holy thing, sanctioned by God because God is all about Covenant Relationships.  Not this.  Not this.  Not this.

But this.  (Sorry for all the links.)  As I was studying this topic anew, a couple of things occurred to me for the first time.

Remember these verses?

  • Genesis 2:18 Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’
  • Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

What I realized about these verses – that so many use to prove that marriage is about a man and a woman – is this:

  • The word for “helper” here (‘ezer עֵזֶר) is actually a male noun. I’m not saying the helper for the man must be male.  But this is interesting.
  • At no time in ancient history or even today in some cultures, did the man leave his father and mother.  It has always been the woman who left her parents.
  • And for that matter, Adam didn’t have a mother and father.
  • The word for woman and wife – throughout all the OT – is the exact same Hebrew word (ishshah אִשָּׁה) which is also the same word for a female animal.  

Were Adam and Eve really even “married”?  When I looked for passages about “traditional marriage” in scripture, I found that there aren’t any.  Yes, there’s the marriage at Cana but that’s about the party after the marriage ceremony.  And if the ceremony was anything like most ceremonies in those days, it would have involved the husband and the bride’s father signing a contract.  There were no vows, unless we count the promises made to pay a dowry.

The first time “marriage” is used in Scripture (Exodus 21:10) it’s about taking a second wife (or “woman.”)  She was literally “taken” as in fetched, snatched, procured.   It’s the same word in Hebrew:  לָקַח laqach .  

[Thank you Carole Fontaine and Krister Stendal who taught me Hebrew and Greek.]

I would encourage everybody to pull out your Strong’s Concordance and check out the marriage passages in both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures.  Could someone please find a verse that illustrates the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman that is not figurative?  (Serious question.)

Image is an icon of Jonathan and David.

2 Sam 1:25-26

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6 responses to “As I Was Preparing a Bible Study About Same Sex Marriage . . .

  1. Jan – just wondering – did your research include any of the PCUSA study material (which I understand has received mixed reviews and that’s kind of how I read it as well)?

  2. diking77@comcast.net

    Thank you, Jan!!!!!

  3. Preach!

    Another note on ‘ezer: it’s also used to describe God! God, of whom the church has traditionally written using masculine pronouns.

  4. Fun fact: the word 4494 “manoach,” the resting place and sense of security Ruth will gain from marriage, is the same term for the ark of the covenant coming to rest inside the house of God!

    Unfortunately, it’s only used *once* referring to marriage.

    Fifteen occurrences of 1166 “baal,” though, from the tradition of “ruling over” one’s wife. :-/

  5. The only Hebrew I know is “aleph,” “beth,” and “shalom,” so I can’t argue with your interpretation of the Hebrew, but I know that in Spanish and German it is not safe to infer actual gender from grammatical gender.

    You might be interested in Joel Hoffman’s book “And God Said…”, in which Hoffman, an expert Hebrew translator, discusses the difficulties of translating Biblical Hebrew into English. This problem seems to be much more complicated than looking up words in a dictionary.

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