Rutgers Church sent an overture to 220th General Assembly requesting some changes in the Book of Order which would unequivocally allow Presbyterian Churches to celebrate same gender weddings and thus fully embrace and support same gender families. This is a second short article from the perspective of biblical hermeneutics(interpretation of ancient religious texts). Earlier articles with the similar themes are Biblical argument for same gender marriage. and Biblical hermeneutics and homosexuality.
Anyone at least superficially acquainted with the Hebrew Bible knows that its narratives cannot be used today as a model for family life. In these narratives polygamy is standard, endogamy (marriages withing family, clan or tribe) is desirable, certain biblical family institutions are completely foreign and difficult for us to understand (levirate law, surrogate motherhood anchored in marriage contracts...). These biblical narratives clearly presuppose a very different and distant patriarchal tribal society.
In addition these narratives were part of an oral tradition and later became part of the written literature. Literature almost always records special, unusual, irregular, and all sorts of departures from the norm, in order to educate and/or entertain. As a result, biblical patriarchal and royal families present themselves as kaleidoscopes of pathologies. They almost always represent warnings, hardly ever positive examples.
When we move to the New Testament and the Gospels, the cultural and societal setting seems more familiar. This impression is unfortunately quite deceptive. Substantial elements of Hellenistic family institutions would be to us very foreign. While modern western families are predominantly nuclear (parents and their children living in their own home) Hellenistic families were complex multi-generational units with married sons living in their father’s house (such large households often included family servants and slaves). An important ancient family function was economic production (family farms, trades, shops), while today’s urban families are predominantly places of economic consumption. Our marriages are based on individual commitments, while Hellenistic marriages were negotiated by families and were accompanied by formal payments. Almost all of the sociological aspects of our family life are different.
If anyone wanted to use the the NT as a model of family life, even the return to the Victorian “traditional” family would be insufficient. Any such attempt would have to revert further back to a pre-industrial setting not unlike that of Amish communities. As picturesque and nostalgic as it might look, it is certainly not a viable model for modern and postmodern society.
Ancient forms and shapes of family institutions are clearly part of the biblical historical background and not an essential aspect of the biblical message. Many biblical family models transplanted to our times would be considered highly unusual, nontraditional or outright abusive and illegal.
The Bible does not provide a model for slavish direct copying, it gives an indirect spiritual and moral compass in a constantly changing societal and cultural environment.
Excellent, thank you Andrew!
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