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Web letter by Jeff Lehn: Biblical marriage standards must be adapted to 21st century realities

Kudos to the Journal Gazette for covering the dueling marriage rallies held on the grounds of the Courthouse on July 1. However, I was disheartened to read that Pastor Wendell Brane opened his remarks to the Stand Up for Marriage rally by nodding to his wife, Terry, who was standing next to him, and saying, “This is what biblical marriage looks like. One man, one woman.” Brane went on to say, according to the report, that the Bible describes marriage as heterosexual, monogamous and committed.

I’m sorry, but as I read the Bible as a fellow Christian pastor, I’m hard-pressed to find the “biblical marriages” to which Brane refers so confidently. How about the patriarchs? Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all had more than one wife or concubines. How about the famous King David? He slept with another man’s wife when he was off fighting in battle. Or the wise and wealthy King Solomon? He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. How about the prophet Hosea? He married a prostitute, Gomer, who ran away and slept with another man.

Sure, I suppose you can go all the way back to Adam and Eve, but, don’t forget, as the story goes, they didn’t have much of a choice. Well, how about the New Testament? Again, proponents of so-called “biblical marriage” are disappointed. Jesus was single and on a few occasions he even had the gall to claim that one’s family could be the greatest deterrent to embodying his kingdom here on earth. The apostle Paul, too, was single and one time, in his first letter to the Corinthians, went so far as to call on all who were unmarried and widowed to stay single like him.

My point is not to say we can’t derive guidance from the Bible in making sense of a faithful Christian understanding of marriage today. In the church, we do and we should. But we must interpret the Bible with theological acumen and wisdom, recognizing that Abraham (in his polygamy) and David (in his adultery) and perhaps even Jesus and Paul (in their singleness) are not carbon copies for us to imitate in the 21st century. Frankly, if we’re limited to these biblical examples of marriage, then many of us have already deviated from the mark.

Instead, we must engage in responsible interpretation of the Bible, with a careful eye on our theological traditions and in conversation with the minds God gave us and the experiences we’ve shared. Perhaps then, with the help of the spirit, we can brush up a little closer to the reality of this holy mystery in which somehow and some way God joins two people together as one.


Pastor, First Presbyterian Church

Fort Wayne