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My Take: The danger of calling behavior ‘biblical’
The author argues that there are many meanings of the adjective 'biblical.'
November 17th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: The danger of calling behavior ‘biblical’

Editor's Note: Rachel Held Evans is a popular blogger from Dayton, Tennessee, and author of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.”

By Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN

On "The Daily Show" recently, Jon Stewart grilled Mike Huckabee about a TV ad in which Huckabee urged voters to support “biblical values” at the voting box.

When Huckabee said that he supported the “biblical model of marriage,” Stewart shot back that “the biblical model of marriage is polygamy.”

And there’s a big problem, Stewart went on, with reducing “biblical values” to one or two social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, while ignoring issues such as poverty and immigration reform.

It may come as some surprise that as an evangelical Christian, I cheered Stewart on from my living room couch.

As someone who loves the Bible and believes it to be the inspired word of God, I hate seeing it reduced to an adjective like Huckabee did. I hate seeing my sacred text flattened out, edited down and used as a prop to support a select few political positions and platforms.

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And yet evangelicals have grown so accustomed to talking about the Bible this way that we hardly realize we’re doing it anymore. We talk about “biblical families,” “biblical marriage,” “biblical economics,” “biblical politics,” “biblical values,” “biblical stewardship,” “biblical voting,” “biblical manhood,” “biblical womanhood,” even “biblical dating” to create the impression that the Bible has just one thing to say on each of these topics - that it offers a single prescriptive formula for how people of faith ought to respond to them.

But the Bible is not a position paper. The Bible is an ancient collection of letters, laws, poetry, proverbs, histories, prophecies, philosophy and stories spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own.

When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word, we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don’t quite fit our preferences and presuppositions. In an attempt to simplify, we force the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone and turn a complicated, beautiful, and diverse holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed. More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.

Nowhere is this more evident than in conversations surrounding “biblical womanhood.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

Growing up in the Bible Belt, I received a lot of mixed messages about the appropriate roles of women in the home, the church and society, each punctuated with the claim that this or that lifestyle represented true “biblical womanhood.”

In my faith community, popular women pastors such as Joyce Meyer were considered unbiblical for preaching from the pulpit in violation of the apostle Paul's restriction in 1 Timothy 2:12 ("I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent"), while Amish women were considered legalistic for covering their heads in compliance with his instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:5 ("Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head").

Pastors told wives to submit to their husbands as the apostle Peter instructed in 1 Peter 3:1, but rarely told them to avoid wearing nice jewelry as the apostle instructs them just one sentence later in 1 Peter 3:3. Despite the fact that being single was praised by both Jesus and Paul, I learned early on that marriage and motherhood were my highest callings, and that Proverbs 31 required I keep a home as tidy as June Cleaver's.

Opinion: What all those Jesus jokes tell us

This didn’t really trouble me until adulthood, when I found myself in a childless egalitarian marriage with a blossoming career and an interest in church leadership and biblical studies. As I wrestled with what it meant to be a woman of faith, I realized that, despite insistent claims that we don’t “pick and choose” from the Bible, any claim to a “biblical” lifestyle requires some serious selectivity.

After all, technically speaking, it is “biblical” for a woman to be sold by her father to pay off debt, “biblical” for a woman to be required to marry her rapist, “biblical” for her to be one of many wives.

So why are some Bible passages lifted out and declared “biblical,” while others are explained away or simply ignored? Does the Bible really present a single prescriptive lifestyle for all women?

These were the questions that inspired me to take a page from A.J. Jacobs, author of "The Year of Living Biblically", and try true biblical womanhood on for size—literally, no “picking and choosing."

This meant, among other things, growing out my hair, making my own clothes, covering my head whenever I prayed, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church (unless I was “prophesying,” of course), calling my husband "master,” even camping out in my front yard during my period to observe the Levitical purity laws that rendered me unclean.

During my yearlong experiment, I interviewed a variety of women practicing biblical womanhood in different ways — an Orthodox Jew, an Amish housewife, even a polygamist family - and I combed through every commentary I could find, reexamining the stories of biblical women such as Deborah, Ruth, Hagar, Tamar, Mary Magdalene, Priscilla and Junia.

My goal was to playfully challenge this idea that the Bible prescribes a single lifestyle for how to be a woman of faith, and in so doing, playfully challenge our overuse of the term “biblical.” I did this not out of disdain for Scripture, but out of love for it, out of respect for the fact that interpreting and applying the Bible is a messy, imperfect and - at times - frustrating process that requires humility and grace as we wrestle the text together.

The fact of the matter is, we all pick and choose. We’re all selective in our interpretation and application of the biblical text. The better question to ask one another is why we pick and choose the way that we do, why we emphasis some passages and not others. This, I believe, will elevate the conversation so that we’re using the Bible, not as a blunt weapon, but as a starting point for dialogue.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rachel Held Evans.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (4,657 Responses)
  1. akmed

    Kill blasphemers

    One who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death. (NRSV)

    Leviticus 24:16

    December 4, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      How can one blaspheme a non-existent being? It's just another control mechanism – the religious leaders know the whole religion thing is so tenuous yet so lucrative for them, they have to keep control of it as long as they can.

      December 4, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • as.steroid

      why don't you believe, santa? what are you afraid of? you dont need to go to church, or even belong to a religion. just believe. it's harmelss.

      December 4, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • dissidentfairy

      In Santa we Trust: Which leads me to my next question: Why do Atheists celebrate Christmas? That is the ultimate form of hypocrisy! They don't believe in God, or in his Son, yet for some strange reason they still go through all the motions on December 25th! I've never met an Atheist yet living in the U.S. that didn't celebrate! My Atheist relatives all celebrate! Why is that? Because it's fun? Because All the Believing relatives expect it of you, so therefore, for that one day, you are willing to cast your convictions aside, cower down, and become a follower of something you don't really believe in?

      Willing to celebrate and embrace a holiday that was stolen by the Catholics, from the Pagans, a ritual that has trickled on down to the Protestants over the last 300 years, which has more to do with ancient s-ex worship than with anything else! Even the Pope has finally come clean...well sort of....just the other day he announced that December 25 is Not the birthday of Jesus Christ! Something most people knew years ago! But at the same time, Knowing, that the celebration has Nothing to do with God, he encourages people to proceed as usual for the sake of tradition!

      How offensive this must be to God! Not only to have a fake date attached to his Sons birth, but, a celebration stolen from the Ancient Egyptians, a date associated with their false gods, and their decadent s-ex worship! Early Christians never celebrated this and neither did the Puritans when it came to America, they saw it as Pagan.The Bible doesn't mention when Christ was born. Why? Because it wasn't a day we need to be focused in on. If it was, the Bible would have made it crystal clear. On the other hand, his death and his sacrifice Is to be remembered, and the Bible makes that perfectly clear. The Bible says that a man's death is far greater than his birth, why, because at birth no one knows what kind of person they will turn out to be.

      December 4, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • the AnViL

      df – i can only "speak" for myself... i do not "celebrate" xmass – however – i do observe the most excellent party season surrounding the "holidays" – the winter solstice (which xmass was originally) being the only one of which i recognize .

      also – you suck at refuting failed biblical prophecies. i am giving you an F-.

      p.s.

      cha cha cha

      December 4, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • manila

      dissintery–I LIKE. VERY WELL GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      December 4, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @dissident

      Because your religion doesn't have a monopoly on Christmas. I'm an atheist, and I celebrate for a few reasons.
      1) To show my parents that while I don't agree with the religious part, I respect that they hold those views.
      2) To see family, eat and drink with them, swap stories, and generally have fun.

      My parents do not push the religious side of it, and I don't bring up anything about atheism or religion. Your assertion of hypocrisy is ridiculous, and borne of complete ignorance. If you want to be so angry at people celebrating this time of the year, either out of tradition, belief, or any other reason, then don't do it here. Go preach to your church (of course if your a woman, the bible forbids that), and force those of your family that want to celebrate it to not, but don't pretend like you know the reasons for atheists to participate in some areas of the holiday season, and to call hypocrisy wherever you want to.

      December 4, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      dissident. That just shows how powerless god is and that it cannot be the omnipotent being imagined in the bible. I "celebrate" christmas because it is a mandatory holiday despite separation of church and state – when in Rome ...

      December 4, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • dissidentfairy

      AnVil: I like your answer regarding x-mas, but, regarding the rest of the Bible prophecy discussion, I haven't had the chance to respond to it as of yet, but, I will, very soon, I promise. I know, you are going to say, if I had time to write what I just did then I could have answered you. In a way you are right but not really, to answer you takes more time.

      Hawaii Guest: Who's angry? Certainly not me. I was just posing a few questions that's all. Turns out I was right regarding the "fun" part and pleasing "family" based on the answer that you gave, confirming what I suspected all along! Atheists that see it as fun are actually more innocent than Christians, who should see it, for what it is, not for what it isn't. At least Atheists are not claiming it to be something it's not. So I wasn't attacking Atheists. I was just asking out of curiosity more or less. As far as your dig about me preaching in a church goes.....I don't go to church! I do lots of independent research on my own:)

      December 4, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • dissidentfairy

      In Santa we Trust: Mandatory? Oh yes, that old antiquated law of holiday observance that must be obeyed or we shall receive 50 lashes, be subject to fines and imprisonment, brought before a firing squad, burned at the stake, and worst of all, face excommunication from the Church, as decreed by the Holy Roman Empire!

      December 5, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • sam stone

      F the lord. Clear enough?

      December 10, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  2. paulo

    Buddhists believe that there are beings that inhabit the various celestial realms. These are variously called angels, spirits, gods and devas by various cultures. But do Buddhists believe that a God created everything and manipulate human lives? No, we do not. There are several reasons for this. Modern sociologists and psychologists, believed that religious ideas and especially the Creator-God idea have their origin in fear. The Buddha says:

    "Gripped by fear men go to the sacred mountains, sacred groves, sacred trees and shrines ~ Dhammapada 188"

    December 4, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  3. Stella

    I see in myself the tendency to rise firmly against opposition, unless that opposition is myself. No one has deceived, tricked, betrayed, harmed me more than myself. Now, if I attempt to fix myself, I run into a quagmire. The solution to the problem of me will not be more of me. But there's hope. It's not in medicine, numbness, neutrality, or intense behavior modification. My only hope is this King Jesus who came into the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome Him. He overcame the world. Forgiveness, healing, and power are mine because I am His, and His desire is for me.

    December 4, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Huebert

      Stella

      There is only you. There never was any God or King Jesus. If you were able to solve your problems give yourself some credit; because it was you who did it.

      December 4, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • paulo

      I sense your negative energy

      December 4, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Wake Up

      Your religion gives you the disease and then offers you the cure.

      December 4, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • paulo

      yes, wake up, sort of like your mother, as she infects the men she bangs with AIDS.

      December 4, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Wake Up

      little paulo,

      She infects them with HIV not AIDS. When you get to middle school you will learn that in your science class.

      December 5, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  4. jim

    So many comments, so little progress. Awfully silly for a woman to try to live biblically to such an extreme. Good article otherwise. Rediculous how pols and so-called religious right like to pick from the bible to bolster a political agenda and try to insert their religious dogma into everyones lives. This is particularly true in their use of the Old Testament where only a few of the prosciptions are regularly selected out of all the directives. Jesus created a new order based upon the ten comandments with emphasis on love, which supercedes the old where God was an enforcer and a bully.

    December 4, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Stella

      why are you lashing out?

      December 4, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • the AnViL

      jim – your post is an excellent example of eisegesis.

      your jebus was clear on the matter:

      "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest part or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place." (Matthew 5:17)

      ¡ɯooq

      December 4, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • the AnViL

      *disclaimer

      all the accounts of the alleged jebus were hearsay. every account of the account of the alleged jebus was hearsay. there were no recording devices back then. there was no account of a scribe following the alleged jebus around.

      ɐɥɔ ɐɥɔ ɐɥɔ

      December 4, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Dubya

      ɐɥɔ ɐɥɔ ɐɥɔ

      December 4, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  5. ryoko

    I am Buddhist, so do I need to have those biblical values?

    December 4, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Stella

      yes, since your god is a false, fat god

      December 4, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Huebert

      @Stella

      Most Buddhist don't believe that Buddha was a god.

      December 4, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Stella

      so just a fat blob?

      December 4, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • kok

      buddha eres muy gordo con un pinga muy pequeno

      December 4, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • the AnViL

      buddhists believe in reincarnation – they're just as delusional as xians....

      but this isn't about buddhism. buddhism isn't posing a threat to freedom, liberty, equality, and rights. there's little danger in calling behavior "buddhist".

      shaddap

      December 4, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Dippy

      kok, your Spanish is terrible.

      December 4, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • kok

      Dippy: tu eres un mARICON pendejo cara crica

      December 4, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • sam stone

      yeah, just a fat blob. like john hagee, just a lot less annoying

      December 5, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  6. Daniel Cocciardi

    And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
    Matthew 28:18 KJV
    "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore..."
    Matthew 28:18 NIV

    Not "some power". Not "power over the church only". Not "power will be given to me in the future when Scofield says so." Not "power to help a certain politicians campaign only". Not "power over one specific corner of your life". ALL AUTHORITY ON EARTH.

    December 4, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Bring'em Young

      But that authority was given to ghim by the men that created him, so no power was given at all.

      December 4, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Which God?

      @ Daniel. I would really like to know how jeebus was quoted, word for word, long after he died, by people who never knew him, never witnessed his passing (and so-called resurection), and know for a fact this is what jeebus said?

      December 4, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • biobraine

      All of your arguement is based upon your faith in the bible. To those of us who see the bible as nothing but man made, your arguement is meaningless.

      December 5, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  7. Eduardo

    I understand her frustration and confusion. Behind all this is Satan. He got all of us in this stage. But God Still love us and every one is going to be judge weather we belief or not.

    December 3, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Gadflie

      May I recommend a visit to reality occasionally, it's obvious that you haven't been there in quite some time.

      December 4, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • sam stone

      The threat of judgement is a hoax.

      We do not fear that supposed judgement.

      If you do, too bad for you

      December 4, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • Which God?

      @ Gadflie. Eduardo had beans and rice for lunch, got gassy, his phart went to his head instead, and blew his brains out. Hence reality check went out with his brains.

      December 4, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  8. Tom Sawyer

    Using the Bible as the basis for your position in any debate is pointless–it doesn't persuade anyone to change their position. Those who also believe in what the Bible says either already agree with you or know a different verse that supports their position, and those who don't will find your argument irrelevant and therefore completely unpersuasive.

    December 3, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • Which God?

      Biblically, Boblically, Boo. Phoo the bible.

      December 3, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • dissidentfairy

      Tom Sawyer: So then why are you here?

      December 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • the AnViL

      df: you don't have a problem with "voicing" their opinions – do you?

      i mean – this is the opinion section... cnn created these forums for people to express and share their opinions...

      some people use facts when they express their opinions – like tom sawyer did here....

      but you knew that already – right?

      December 3, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • the AnViL

      df: – remember – i already pointed out to you that quoting your bible will never be evidence of the validity of the words written in that bible...

      is it less palatable coming from someone else?

      December 3, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • dissidentfairy

      AnVil: I guess I'm just curious as to why a devout Atheist would waste his time on a forum such as this? If I were an Atheist that couldn't be swayed why would I bother? It certainly can't be that important to try and convince a believer not to believe is it? What difference could it possibly make to an Atheist whether someone believes or not? I could see an Agnostic possibly being interested in hanging out because they are unsure, but an Atheist, who's mind is set in stone, what does it avail him?

      My favorite uncle is an Atheist. Actually he's my favorite because he's my father's identical twin, (My father is a believer). As an Atheist my uncle doesn't object to God and religion because even though he doesn't believe, he feels it makes life a little safer in his community, rationalizing that some may be diverted from crime based on their fear of God. So even though he doesn't think it does them any good, he still feels it benefits him by making his city a safer place to live. I don't know if I necessarily agree....I tend to feel that criminals will be criminals!

      December 4, 2012 at 3:47 am |
    • ThinkRationally

      @ dissidentfairy: "...an Atheist, who's mind is set in stone, what does it avail him?"

      This is a straw man argument. Most atheists, I would say, do not have minds set in stone. The most common position is that of agnostic atheism. This means that we readily admit that we don't know for sure, but in light of the total lack of evidence we simply can't believe in a supernatural god.

      I, for one, am prepared to change my views if the evidence changes. Up to this point, however, there is a complete lack of any evidence at all, and religion bears all the hallmarks of being created by humans.

      I read these articles because I'm interested in the perspective and the discussion. Is it your goal to exclude those who disagree with you, or to make them feel unwelcome? Is your faith so feeble that opposing thoughts threaten it? No, not likely–more likely it is in fact your mind that is set in stone.

      December 4, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • dissidentfairy

      ThinkRationally: My thoughts were based on Tom Sawyer's stance which sounded rather impenetrable to me! So what you are saying is most Atheists are really Agnostics? Of course all views are welcome on the site....In regards to me, as much as I do love an element of fantasy in my life, whether it be in art or interior design, or the way that I dress, etc., I chose not to live in fantasy when it comes to something as important as the existence of God. Why would I wish to believe in him if he were only a figment of my imagination? I wouldn't! That would be beyond ridiculous!

      December 4, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Jumpin Jehoshaphat

      @dissidentfairy – How do you conclude Tom Sawyer is a devout atheist? He may be Hindu for all I know, but I think his point is valid regardless of what his religious beliefs are. Arguements based on any religious text will not be persuasive to someone who is not of that faith and, as he pointed out, those who are of that faith will likely already agree with the arguement. So there is no persuasive effect.

      December 4, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  9. Peter

    "God is the greatest invention of man." - Jose Maria Vargas Vila (Colombian writer)

    December 2, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • sam

      no god is not. Man created god,,god did not create man. please stop this dellusional psychotc thinking

      December 3, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • the AnViL

      *cracking up*

      December 3, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  10. Peter

    "The Bible is a manual of bad customs." - Jose Saramago, Nobel Prize Laureate

    December 2, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  11. Conservative Mom

    The author doesn't know the first thing about hermeneutics or exegesis, which is basically a fancy way of saying she doesn't know how to read and interpret things in context. Therefore she sets up a ton of straw men for her to fight against and use to accuse and smear other Christians who don't go along with her ignorant misinterpretations. Sadly, she's hurt and disappointed, so there's more satisfaction – not to mention money to be made – by her by peddling her tripe to misinformed suckers than in actually doing her homework.

    December 2, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • fintastic

      "she doesn't know how to read and interpret things in context."

      Oh really? that's the same lame excuse we've been hearing for years.... Don't like what is written in black and white? must be a misinterpretation, or you've take it "out of context" What a joke. The babble, the great book of pick-n-choose. In the mean time, it's a book written by man, to control man, that contains hundreds of contradictions and absurdities.

      Nothing more than a book of mythology fairy tales, fantasy....... word of god? yea right.

      December 3, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • the AnViL

      all religion peddles tripe to the misinformed.

      conservative moms are one of the biggest causes of the propagation of ignorance on this planet.

      December 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • the AnViL

      for every xian who claims a grasp of hermeneutics or hints at superior exegetical skills – i will show you an eisegete.

      there is no way any xian can validate their religion without discounting, or reinterpreting certain verses or even whole books in their bibles.

      ¡buız

      December 3, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Gadflie

      Biblical exegesis? Really? So, are you talking revealed exegesis or rational? Both are laughable of course but I'm interested in your answer.

      December 3, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Such a comment is meaningless unless you can actually state what the context is that supposedly changes the meaning of the verses the author is using. Otherwise, you're just employing terminological obfuscation.... in other words, using lots of fancy words and terms to hide the fact that you haven't actually debunked nor even challenged anything the author said.

      December 4, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  12. McDuck Quackerton

    The danger of calling things biblical is that people with rational thought will (rightfully) dismiss you because they recognize the bible as the fairy tale book that it is. Your statement that the bible is "an ancient collection of letters, laws, poetry, proverbs, histories, prophecies, philosophy and stories spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own." is way too long. What is the bible? A collection of stories. Nothing more, nothing less. Some of the stories aren't even original and were taken from other mythologies.

    December 2, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Peter

      Many of this stories were contracted to professional writers to fill voids in the sequence of events and things they wanted to include in this book. A clear example (that the Catholic church has accepted and agreed) is the Book of Acts (or The Acts of the Apostles). THose apostles that were with Christ dissapeared after they kill Jesus. To justify the church that Saul (later Paul) created they hired writers to write about those apostles and they came up with all those mithological events. The "serious student of the bible" believe those are inspired by God. Let me tell you, that god is a piece of art: pretentious, arrogant, criminal, directed the destruction and killing of thousands, etc. In his name christians killed hundred of thousands or people during the cruzades.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • andrew

      Nonesense

      December 4, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  13. The Court

    Well no barn animals, anyone find Adam and EVE yet.
    Have DNA tested find out what side you are from.

    December 2, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  14. Prophetic Warning

    The clearest evidence that monogamy is God’s ideal is from Christ’s teaching on marriage in Matthew 19:3–6. In this passage, He cited the Genesis creation account, in particular Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, saying “the two will become one flesh”, not more than two.

    Another important biblical teaching is the parallel of husband and wife with Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5:22–33, which makes sense only with monogamy—Jesus will not have multiple brides.

    The 10th Commandment “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife [singular] … ” (Exodus 20:17) also presupposes the ideal that there is only one wife. Polygamy is expressly forbidden for church elders (1 Timothy 3:2). And this is not just for elders, because Paul also wrote: “each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Paul goes on to explain marital responsibilities in terms that make sense only with one husband to one wife.

    The example of godly people is also important. Isaac and Rebekah were monogamous—they are often used as a model in Jewish weddings today. Other examples were Joseph and Asenath, and Moses and Zipporah. And the only survivors of the Flood were four monogamous couples.

    Polygamy’s origins and consequences
    It is very important to remember that not everything recorded in the Bible is approved in the Bible. Consider where polygamy originated—first in the line of the murderer Cain, not the line of Seth. The first recorded polygamist was the murderer Lamech (Genesis 4:23–24). Then Esau, who despised his birthright, also caused much grief to his parents by marrying two pagan wives (Genesis 26:34).

    Skeptics often try to discredit this teaching by pointing to examples of multiple wives in the Bible. But what does the Bible really teach?
    God also forbade the kings of Israel to have “many wives” (Deuteronomy 17:17). Look at the trouble when Israel’s kings disobeyed, including deadly sibling rivalry between David’s sons from his different wives (2 Samuel 13, 1 Kings 2); and Solomon’s hundreds of wives helped lead Solomon to idolatry (1 Kings 11:1–3).

    What about godly men who were polygamous?
    Abraham and Sarah would have been monogamous apart from a low point in their faith when Hagar became a second wife—note how much strife this caused later with Ishmael and Isaac and their descendants to this day (Genesis 16, 21). Jacob wanted only Rachel, but was tricked into marrying her older sister Leah, and later he took their slave girls at the sisters’ urging, due to the rivalry between the sisters. Jacob was hardly at a spiritual high point at those times, and neither was David when he added Abigail and Ahinoam (1 Samuel 25:42–43). Also, Hannah, Samuel’s mother, was humiliated by her husband Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah because of Hannah’s previous barrenness (1 Samuel 1:1–7).

    Why did God seem to allow it, then?
    God’s permitting of polygamy seems more like the case of divorce, which God tolerated for a while under certain conditions because of the hardness of their hearts. But it was not the way it was intended from the beginning (Matthew 19:8). Whenever the Mosaic law had provisions for polygamy, it was always the conditional: “If he takes another wife to himself … ” (Exodus 21:10), never an encouragement. God put a number of obligations on the husband towards the additional wives, which would discourage polygamy. In view of the problems it causes, it is no wonder that polygamy was unknown among the Jews after the Babylonian exile, and monogamy was the rule even among the Greeks and Romans by New Testament times.

    December 2, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • the AnViL

      all that is great if you are xian... but – what about people who aren't xian? what about people who don't believe the bible is the divine inspired word of your imaginary man in the sky?

      do you believe it's right to limit the equality of americans based on YOUR theological ideals?

      December 2, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • dissidentfairy

      Prophetic: What an excellent post! You are right on with your Biblical understanding of the Bible! My sentiments exactly:)

      December 2, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • sam stone

      your warning is foolishness

      December 3, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Shootmyownfood

      Your entire post is basically preaching to the choir. Christians believe these things; non-Christians do not. However, there should never be an imposition of "Christian morals" on those who are not of the Christian faith. Simply put – we don't believe that an invisible 'divine' being wrote this book, nor were the authors of the various sections "divinely inspired" and therefore this is no more than another Aesop's fable.

      December 3, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  15. Jody

    James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

    December 2, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • fintastic

      Harry Potter = “It's going to be all right, sir," Harry said over and over again, more worried by Dumbledore's silence than he had been by his weakened voice. "We're nearly there ... I can Apparate us both back ... don't worry ..."

      December 3, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Star Wars 3, Obi Wan Kenobi speaking: Only the Sith deal in absolutes

      December 4, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  16. Bob

    Wow one woman's look for Christianity and self in the teachings of man rather than the relationship with Jesus. While some traditions in the Bible have changed the fact that she is in this quandary is only because she hasn't met the real person Jesus. Its really a shame that people who call her Christian who know less than she does cling on to the false ideas she has and parade them as a bad witness to Christ and the Gospel. We really have to question is this girl really a Christian at all knowing what we know the Gospels say about true believers actions.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • fintastic

      Oh here we go again with that "true believers" crap.

      December 3, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Bee

      That's part of the problem- her claim to be Christian is not for you or anyone else to question. If she declares herself Christian, that's between her and God.

      December 3, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Susan StoHelit

      You claim to know the mind of God? To know who is and is not a true Christian according to Jesus? Talk about the very definition of hubris!

      December 4, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  17. MeowCat

    Good article. It's the first step. Step 2 is to realize that, as stated by the author, the bible is not inspired by God.

    December 2, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  18. Far Right Busted

    This story can only bring out the extreme prejudice the far right places and has always placed upon others in their non-ending quest for power over others. Their sense of reasoning about unconditional love appears to be non-existent when compared with ongoing prejudice and discrimination against others. Is it any wonder why people are leaving the church and seeking God elsewhere! Think about it. People are not going to take it anymore. God is great and so good but God will not allow continued prejudice to become pervasive over Jesus' teachings about love and compassion for others.

    December 2, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  19. Carrie

    Fabulous !! A perfect way of saying what I've been trying to say for years! This is so literate, thoughtful, and reasoned. I would dearly like to email this to share with several people I know. I also want to keep it for myself. But I can't figure out how to email it. Please help me! Thanks !

    December 2, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  20. Mac

    GOD is the biggest lie PERIOD!!!
    http://video.msnbc.msn.com/nbc-news/50024646/#50024646

    December 1, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • The court

      The justices' decision will likely resolve an ongoing battle between scientists who believe that genes carrying the secrets of life should not be exploited for commercial gain

      December 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.