Marriage According to Biblical Principles

A February 25 statement by Congressman Jim McDermott highlights some of the potential problems of arguing that marriage should be (as the Presidential prayer team has suggested) based on “biblical principles.” Such as:

A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed.

Ouch! (See also this blog providing further textual support for the passages the Congressman didn’t give verses for). (Link via Heidi Bond).

41 comments for “Marriage According to Biblical Principles

  1. Nate Oman
    March 1, 2004 at 1:42 pm

    Kaimi: Might it be possible to draw a distinction between biblical principles and the actual rules of the Pentatuach, much the way that the Supreme Court finds substantive due process rights from the principles inherent in Anglo-American legal practice, even when the substantive right differs from the particular rules of that practice at particular times?

  2. joe
    March 1, 2004 at 2:04 pm

    whachoo talking nate? nonsense, that’s what.

  3. March 1, 2004 at 2:17 pm

    Of course, you know that the fundamental biblical principle that President Bush refers to is marriage between a man and a woman. Thus, there really isn’t any reason to criticize his statement, or try and find ways in which to undermine what was said. Do we support good principles or not?

  4. March 1, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    I think that when they speak of Biblical principles they are assuming that the NT is included. Thus certain aspects of the Law of Moses aren’t applicable, such as the kinds of death sentences you mention.

    I know these sorts of things get invoked all the time. But while they may be applicable in a debate with an orthodox rabbi, they don’t really apply to the typical Christian. So it seems the sort of rhetorical approach that is slightly disingenuous. At best it will only convince those who already have a slightly negative view towards applications of the Bible.

  5. lyle
    March 1, 2004 at 2:43 pm

    I refer everyone to Pres. Packard’s speech to the Law society (something to the effect that Sodom&Gommorrah are upon us…oh, and a cute story about those LDS lawyers that don’t support the Church and the Kingdom of God will “wither”), the recent pro-amendment rally/training workshop held at the Washington D.C. Temple visitors center (last saturday, article available at,1249,595045796,00.html), and the Church’s efforts re: Prop 22 in California, etc.

    The time for debate is over….or you can wait till General Conference; but I find individual action more inspiring than obeying because X is a commandment.

  6. joe
    March 1, 2004 at 2:53 pm

    Word up. Why nonsense? check it: The biblical rules are specific. You either follow them or don’t. You could draw a principle from the rule, but that does not make the rule disappear. When the Supreme Court finds a right based on reading of the due process clause, both the right and the principle have to be followed. Peace.

  7. Adam Greenwood
    March 1, 2004 at 3:27 pm

    Of course, none of the traditional marriage supporters here have ever said anything about enacting those sorts of Old Testament rules into law. Do you think that other supporters have said they intend to (Jim McDermot is a supporter, in your opinion)? Or do you bring it up because you are afraid that’s the covert agenda of other supporters, albeit inexpressed?

  8. Kaimi
    March 1, 2004 at 3:27 pm


    That’s would be a more appropriate critique of the Congressman’s statement if the biblical principles against homosexuality (and by extension, against homosexual marriage) weren’t also largely based on law-of-Moses, death-penalty statements.

  9. Nate Oman
    March 1, 2004 at 3:31 pm

    Kaimi: Does it follow from your elliptical endorsement of McDermitt’s argument that one cannot draw any moral implications from the legal prohibitions in the pentatuach? It so, by what method do you determine which rules have important moral implications and which ones can be rejected as inapplicable, historical accidents, etc.?

  10. Kaimi
    March 1, 2004 at 3:32 pm


    I think that Jim Mcdermott’s critique — one that I find moderately convincing — is that politicians invoking “biblical principles” invariably refer to certain sets of cherry-picked principles that happen to support their political ideas.

    McDermott’s critique highlights the fact that no one (save perhaps a few wingnuts on the fringes) is really in favor of making the Pentateuch as written into law. Yet parties love to selectively cite verses here and there and claim that the laws they would write are based on biblical principles.

  11. March 1, 2004 at 3:32 pm

    I guess Paul’s writings and the Epistle of Jude don’t establish a clear enough principle, along with other biblical writings, about chastity.

  12. March 1, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    Kaimi, are you arguing that the anti-homosexual commands are only part of the Law of Moses? I’ve read that from various homosexual theologians but have been rather underwhelmed by their arguments.

  13. Nate Oman
    March 1, 2004 at 3:37 pm

    Kaimi: Claiming that a host of anit-homosexual passages in the Bible supports a general principle against gay marriage and then calling this principle “biblical” hardly seems like cherry picking. Whether or not this is a normatively attractive position or a legitimate way of reading the bible are different questions, of course, but it hardly seems like a transperently illegitimate political manipulation of the text. Certainly, as someone who has solemnly invoked the consensus of constitutional law scholars as a legitimate authority, I would expect a less textual, clause driven interpretive stance from you.

    What bothers me is the way that people cherrie pick hermeneutic theories ;->

  14. Kaimi
    March 1, 2004 at 3:43 pm


    Again, we have the potential for cherry-picking. Paul’s writings say a lot of things — for example, women are to keep silent in churches, and it is better to be single than to marry.


    I don’t think that the Bible is a good source of law, period. It was not designed to be a source of law in our Constitutional system. It can be regarded as a historical document with some legal significance that was binding in some ways in prior legal systems and is not itself binding in the United States — similar to, for instance, the Magna Carta.

    As such, where it has good ideas, they might correctly be part of a system of law; where it has bad ideas (from a legal standpoint) they should not be preserved.

    I’m even less thrilled about the idea of adopting pieces of the Bible. That seems to give false moral legitimacy. That ability to give false legitimacy is why I dislike the cherry picking that goes on.

    Did that clear up my position?

  15. Adam Greenwood
    March 1, 2004 at 3:49 pm

    The point is, Kaimi, that it seems odd to criticize someone for deriving a moral principle from the Bible, when you yourself agree with that moral principle. How can there be ‘false moral legitimacy’ when you accept the moral principle as legitimate?

    I don’t understand what you mean about using the Bible as a source of law. I’m pretty sure the President still wants to write an amendment and enact it into law that way, instead of having the Solicitor General argue that the Bible has already enacted protection of traditional marriage into law.

  16. March 1, 2004 at 3:54 pm

    I don’t know that Bush, or anyone else for that matter is claiming a need to adopt “pieces of the Bible” in enacting legislation. Bush suggested that the general biblical concept of marriage be sustained. Clearly he only meant to refer to marriage between a man and a woman, or at least marriage beteen man and woman. (No need to get into another discussion of polygamy). I don’t see how this broad principle, which truly is not subject to debate, takes away any moral legitimacy from the only morally legitimate position on this issue.

  17. Nate Oman
    March 1, 2004 at 3:57 pm


    1. I don’t think that anyone is necessarily claiming that it is a source of law in the technical sense that say the U.S. Code or the Federal Reporter 3d is a source of law.

    2. The good idea/bad idea model is fine, but you have to notice that it does have a tendency to rob the text of any independent normative force. We interpret the text in light of what we antecedentally know to be good or bad. The text itself ceases to be a source for such things. I am puzzled by what you mean by “from a legal stand point.” Are you talking about actual legal arguments, as in “It follows from the Supreme Courts holding in Smith v. Jones that…” or by “legal point of view” do you simply mean some broader notion of public policy arguments?

    3. I am affraid that your last point doesn’t make much sense to me:

    “I’m even less thrilled about the idea of adopting pieces of the Bible. That seems to give false moral legitimacy. That ability to give false legitimacy is why I dislike the cherry picking that goes on.”

    First, how is “adopting pieces of the Bible” different than “where it has good ideas, they might correctly be part of a system of law; where it has bad ideas (from a legal standpoint) they should not be preserved.” Both seem like cherry picking to me.

    Second, I still don’t understand why the invocation of Biblical “principles” rather than specific Biblical rules can’t be understood as resting on some non-trivial hermeneutic. Obviously, the particular interpretive theory is not stated in this case, but when are interpretive theories EVER stated in political rhetoric? Answer: Almost never. However, if the invocation of principles is actually a reference to some underlying, non-trivial interpretive approach then it hardly seems like cherry picking at all.

    None of this means that you have to agree with the interpretive approach or even the validity of biblical authority. It does mean, however, that you ought to exercise the logical principle of charity and avoid tilting at straw men.

  18. March 1, 2004 at 3:58 pm

    Kaimi, it seems like this thread is merging with the other thread on the subject.

    If the state considers marriage something within its purview and marriage is primarily considered a religious issue, then clearly we have a problem. You simply *can’t* exclude the Biblical understanding by society of what constitutes marriage.

    Now you *can* critique perhaps types of proof-text exegesis. But the general conception of marriage as constituted by the Bible *defines* marriage for society. To change that is to have a direct impact on marriage. While one can debate the pragmatic consequences of the current events, the fact is that all this is due to making marriage a state issue rather than a purely state-independent religious issue.

  19. Nate Oman
    March 1, 2004 at 4:03 pm

    For an interesting take on these issues from a Protestant point of view, check out:

  20. Kaimi
    March 1, 2004 at 4:54 pm


    I’m tilting at Clark and Brent; it’s not polite to call them “straw men.” :)

    I’m mostly tilting at the idea that the Bible endorses or advocates anything similar to the current regime we call “marriage.”

    The bible involved a system of marriage — to the extent it can be called such — that basically involved shacking up with a woman from one’s tribe, paying a fee to her dad, and calling her one’s property. One could also shack up with her sister or cousin or servant, and might not even have to pay the fee.

    It was a tribal marriage system and is almost certainly not importable into today’s society.

    What we have instead is the Bible, as interpreted by the Jews, as re-interpreted by early Christians, as re-interpreted in the Middle Ages, as re-interpreted in the Renaissance, and now as filtered through the text of the Constitution and modern laws. Given that the regime that is currently in place under the title “marriage” is at best a fourth cousin of any ideas of marriage in the Bible, I find it highly unpersuasive when people say “since marriage is based on the Bible, let’s go to the text.”

  21. Nate Oman
    March 1, 2004 at 4:57 pm

    Kaimi: Then it seems that — strictly speaking — McDermitt’s cute little quotation and the accusations are cherry picking are irrelevent to your argument.

  22. March 1, 2004 at 5:01 pm

    Who said “let’s go to the text”? McDermott, the Saddam lackie?

    Again, Bush was talking about “principles”, which you correctly identify as having been passed down and interpreted over time until we arrive at the present day understanding. Thus, we can hear President Bush say that marriage should be based on “Biblical principles” and we know what he means. Never mind that your claim that the Bible fails to endorse the current concept of marriage completely discounts the role modern prophets play in expounding scripture.

  23. Kaimi
    March 1, 2004 at 5:04 pm


    McDermott’s statement is an excellent illustration of the fourth-cousin-at-best relationship between modern marriage and tribal biblical ideas. And one of my problems with cherry-picking stems from what seem to be attempt to use cherry-picking to aid in perpetuating the misguided idea that the fourth-cousin is actually a twin sister.

    McDermott’s quote drives home the key point: We don’t really want biblical marriage. Biblical marriage is nothing like what we accept now.

    However, one can, by cherry-picking, avoid that reality and instead create the perception that the only thing standing between us and some sort of pure, biblical marriage ideal is the crazy mayor of San Francisco.

  24. March 1, 2004 at 5:04 pm

    Kaimi, I’m calling you on this one. Defend your view from a NT context. Jesus clearly says marriage is between man and woman. (Lk 14:20; Mk 12:25; Mt 22:30) He follows Gen 1:28 in this. He speaks of adultery clearly defining an implicit fidelity within the marriage.

    Now you can discuss OT views on dowery and tribalism. However to be relevant to a Christian you are going to have to explain why the Christian must accept those as defining marriage.

    It seems like your view of “Biblical” means “OT and neglect NT.” Further you are using the term “Biblical” independent of any hermeneutics. Yet clearly those appealing to the Bible aren’t appealing to it independent of some process of interpretation.

    So I’m sticking to my strawman charge.

    Now I agree that people who say “since marriage is based on the Bible, let’s go to the text” *if* they do so independent of interpretation. But I think that implicit “neglect the interpretation method” is what makes your position highly unpersuasive. One could point out that the same argument applies to the constitution. After all a lot of people on both the right and the left rail against the supreme court by “let’s go to the text.” (I had the misfortune of listening to Limbaugh making just this argument about campaign reform this morning) To follow your line of reasoning, we must neglect the constitution as being the constitution since clearly it is the constitution “as interpreted by the founding fathers, as re-interpreted in Jacksonian America, as re-interpreted in the post-Civil War era, as re-interpreted with FDR’s stacked court,” and so forth.

    If you would reject just such an argument with quotations of the constitution, why do you accept it with respect to the Bible?

  25. Kaimi
    March 1, 2004 at 7:12 pm

    First, regarding what the Bible says or does not say. I’ve recently seen some interesting discussion of what the Bible says about homosexuality. In one post, the Historian over at the Metaphysical Elders attacks the idea that the story of Sodom and Gomorah establishes that homosexuality is a sin. In another post, a non-LDS preacher addresses the question in greater detail. He also arrives at the conclusion that the Bible does not prohibit homosexual relationships.

    I certainly agree that modern prophets have been very clear — it is impossible to argue that modern prophets have not condemned homosexuality. However, I remain so far unconvinced that the Bible, as written, cannot be reasonably read in a way that is consistent with acceptance of homosexuality.

  26. March 1, 2004 at 7:46 pm

    Kaimi, haven’t you switched topics? Is this discussion *marriage* or homosexuality? (Further I think the link you provided conflates homosexuality as inclination with homosexuality as sexual practice) If we take the reading you seem to suggest we are led to the idea that fornication isn’t wrong, only adultery. (And yes, I’ve read the arguments that porneia is only cultic prostitution sex and not fornication but I don’t find them persuasive – and in either case that leads us to exegesis which it appears you’re trying to avoid)

  27. March 1, 2004 at 7:51 pm

    To add to that last post:

    The point is that sex outside of marriage is wrong and marriage is defined by Christ as between man and woman. I don’t see how this leaves homosexuality much Biblical wiggleroom even if one were to concede some of the passages considered overt condemnations. I agree they don’t condemn homosexual inclination. But I don’t think the inclination is wrong if never acted upon.

  28. Kaimi
    March 1, 2004 at 10:20 pm


    First, your examples of scriptures do not support the assertion that “Jesus clearly says marriage is between man and woman.”

    In two of the cited verses, Jesus is merely answering a hypothetical about a marriage (Matt 22:30 and Mark 12:25). Neither text addresses the exclusivity of male-female marriage in any way. I don’t see any way to extract from either of those texts a rule that marriage is between man and woman. (To use an imperfect analogue, If I say, “Clark, suppose I go duck hunting and trip and break may arm, should I go to the hostpital?” and you reply “Yes, you should”, I don’t think I can interpret that as a positive statement on your part that duck hunting is a proper activity).

    Luke 14:20 is similarly unpersuasive. Take a look at the text! First, the person who married the wife was _not_ obeying the Lord; second and more importantly, marriage is being portrayed here among a list of other excuses that keep people from God. Again, there is no reasonable way to read into this text a rule of male-female marital exclusivity.

    A better scripture to use to try to prove your assertion in Christ’s words is Matthew 19:5, which states that “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh.” However, even this one is not particularly strong support, as it is Christ’s reply to a specific question of whether it was proper to divorce a wife.

  29. Matt Evans
    March 2, 2004 at 12:20 am

    Hi Kaimi,

    Given that you know, by virtue of modern revelation, that homosexual behavior and fornication are immoral, and that marriage is exclusively for men and women, I don’t see why you complain when people interpret the bible in harmony with these truths.

    It reminds me of the debate about whether Isaiah 53 is about Jesus. Since modern revelation confirms that Jesus _is_ the messiah of Isaiah 53, I don’t see why a Mormon would side against those who assert that Isaiah 53 is a prophecy about Jesus.

    Instead, Mormons should encourage people who, whether due to the spirit or Christ, intuition, or good luck, embrace true principles without the benefit of modern revelation.

  30. March 2, 2004 at 12:53 am

    Yeah, my bad. I quickly quoted out of the Anchor Bible dictionary without looking up the scriptures (and thereby the context) Color me embarrassed. Perils of posting while doing other things. The Anchor Bible was arguing for Jesus having a traditional view of marriage because men marry and women are given in marriage. i.e. he spoke of marriage as a Jew. I suspect that to them the argument from silence in connection to the passages I listed would infer that Jesus had a traditional view of marriage as between man and wife. To assert that Jesus rebelled from established tradition and was marrying men to men seems to require evidence. Thus the burden of proof is on those who say Jesus *here* overthrew the pattern of Genesis.

    Still we do have in the NT 1 Cor 7:2. We also have that old missionary scripture 1 Cor 11:11.

  31. Kaimi
    March 2, 2004 at 8:54 am


    I’m always a bit hesitant to ascribe New Testament silence by Jesus on Old Testment rules as acceptance or endorsement, given his blanket statements about the law of Moses. (Though his relation with the law of Moses is very ambiguous and the New Testament has apparently contradictory statements).

  32. March 2, 2004 at 10:13 am

    “However, I remain so far unconvinced that the Bible, as written, cannot be reasonably read in a way that is consistent with acceptance of homosexuality.”

    If you are not convinced then you will not be so. Nothing anyone here can say will ever convince you, if the words and interpretation of scripture by the prophets are insufficient. You would prefer the interpretation of those whose agenda is one which promotes homosexuality to those who seek to do the mind and will of the Lord. These are not trivial matters subject to multiple harmonious interpretations. In my mind, the Bible, both Old and New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and modern revelation through living prophets have made these matters clear. Sex outside of marriage, marriage being between man and woman, is immoral and wrong. Homosexuality has been condemned throughout history through reliance on scriptural teaching, even during periods of apostasy. If you cannot accept this, then it is because you will not accept it. I don’t mean to come across so brash, it is difficult to draft for tone. My intent is merely to opine that these really are not difficult issues.

  33. lyle
    March 2, 2004 at 12:56 pm

    Anychance we might involve Latter-day revelation in our efforts to understand what “The Bible” says about the issue? I’m not informed enough to quote, but it seems that it would shed light on the subject…which while maybe not accepted by non-LDS, would help LDS posters here.

  34. March 2, 2004 at 1:32 pm

    You guys don’t seem to be arguing the same points. Kaimi claims that the arguments against homosexuality made purely from Biblical sources are weak, and that our current western concept of marriage is not entirely supported by the biblical text either. He’s NOT arguing that homosexual acts are OK in the sight of God, or that God supports homosexual marriage, unless I’m mistaken.

    Everyone else is arguing against the points Kaimi is not arguing for, based mostly upon modern revelation and traditional Christian interpretations of the Bible. Given that we’re all LDS here, and we have the Proclamation on the Family which makes God’s definition of marriage explicit, we don’t need to be convinced of it. If McDermott was basing his arguments on the Proclamation, there would be no problem (aside from lack of convincing power to non-LDS). If he was arguing from centuries of Christian tradition, there would be no problem (aside from lack of convincing power to people who are non-traditional Christians).

    As it is, though, McDermott claims to be arguing from ‘biblical principles’, which we as LDS know are not always what traditional Christianity have interpreted them to be. The concepts of “God’s principles”, “Biblical principles”, and “Traditional Chistian principles” are three intersecting sets, but the overlap is not complete. By basing his argument solely on the Bible, he’s leaving himself open to logical attack based upon the text itself when separated from traditional Christian reading of it.

    Just because Kaimi points out this flaw in reasoning doesn’t mean he rejects the principles. Tearing down flawed arguments so that better ones can be created is an important process, in my opinion, and is more likely to garner widespread support for marriage solely between man & woman than is supporting a potentially flawed argument.

  35. March 2, 2004 at 1:47 pm

    I am not so sure, Levi. Kaimi is criticizing President Bush’s advisers who suggested that marriage be based on “Biblical principles” by citing to Jim McDermott and others who point out specific instances in the Bible which may be problematic when viewed independent of any modern understanding or interpretation of marriage and the Bible. My point, and what appears to be the point of many others, is that in referencing “Biblical principles” the President’s advisers clearly implied the modern accepted view of marriage based on centuries of understanding on interpretation of the scriptures. Are there differences between certain traditions and provisions in the law of Moses and today’s Christian concept of marriage? But pointing out differences does not undermine the understood message of those who recommend that “Biblical principles” be adhered to in formulating our societal definition of marriage. The most fundamental principle is that marriage is between a man and a woman. Regardless of the various other “Biblical principles” that could or could not be relevant, that principle is the clear guiding “Biblical principle” held up by pro-traditional marriage advocates. It seems silly to criticize this simply because there are things in the Bible that we no longer subscribe to.

  36. March 2, 2004 at 4:07 pm

    I’d just second Brent’s point. I believe that when people quote “Bible principles” they *never* simply mean the text but rather the text and a standard set of interpretations. I say that because no text has a meaning independent of some interpretive approach. I pointed this out to Kaimi in one of the other threads by drawing the parallel to the constitution as a text. That’s been my whole point.

  37. March 2, 2004 at 4:44 pm

    I think I understand Kaimi’s point, and although I am in over my head when engaging in legal debates with this crowd, I would add one point (or a couple points). Citing the Bible as a source of authority does not necessarily mean that the person is using a fixed moral code as a basis for a legislative change. Because, as Kaimi points out, the Bible is filled with messages and contrasting (and sometimes contradictory) behaviors and moral guidelines, it is probably possible to find a Biblical justification for nearly any law one wishes to create. The Bible is, at best, a rhetorical tool and not really an absolute source of moral correctness. I think that we LDS believe this to be true because we often cite the idea that we believe the Bible to be true insofar as it is translated (interpreted) correctly and then go on to defer to modern revelation to correctly interpret all Biblical passages.

    I think the evocation of the Bible in legislation is more of a signal to others of one’s competence as a cultural carrier of Christian ideals and of the law as representative of what that cultural group _should_ believe. To say the law is based on Biblical principles is essentially saying, I’m a Christian (like you) and support this law and so you should too. Or, if you’re a good Christian you will support my legislation.

    This is not really the same thing as saying, the Bible tells us to do this and therefore I think we should make it a law that everyone comply, which is basically what Islamic fundamentalists try to do when creating Islam-based constitutions.

  38. March 2, 2004 at 4:54 pm

    And that is the point. Bush’s advisers in calling for a marriage definition consistent with “Biblical principles” were advocating the former, while McDermott, perhaps intentionally, was interpreting their statement as being the latter.

  39. fred
    December 20, 2004 at 5:52 pm

    If YOU believe in it,do it,but leave others to do what they wish,and don’t force your views down everyone elses throat(‘scuse the pun)

  40. Adam Greenwood
    December 20, 2004 at 6:14 pm

    Right back at ya.

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