An Obvious Truth: The Bible Supports Traditional Marriage

by John Mark Reynolds [author, academic]

Both the Bible and Newsweek make assertions about marriage and homosexuality. The difference is that the Bible claims to speak for God while Newsweek simply asserts things on its own authority. If God has spoken in the pages of the Bible, it is rational to obey what He said. Charity fails to find any good reason to consider what Newsweek printed as compelling.

While we represent very different faith traditions, we agree that the Bible is a trustworthy guide for humanity and that gay marriage is inconsistent with its teachings.

The Newsweek article and the editorial that accompanies it make two false claims. First, that it is unreasonable for Bible believers to take the Bible as a serious guide to modern ethical issues. Second, that even if the Bible is taken seriously, traditional American family values cannot be found in it.

Sadly, Newsweek has fallen into the anti-intellectualism that refuses to take old books seriously. In America this prejudice often comes from confusing progress in one area, such as science, with progress in another. The art of Michelangelo and music of Handel are no less important or illuminating today than when they were created. Art, culture, religion, and ethics do not progress or develop using the same methods as science. As a result, it is easy to imagine a society that is scientifically advanced, but morally bankrupt. Stalin’s Russia was more scientifically sophisticated than some of the smaller nations in the Soviet Empire, but morally degenerate.

Old books can contain timeless wisdom, especially if those books turn out to be divinely inspired.

It is very reasonable to take the Bible’s claims seriously. Of course, this is not merely because the Bible asserts that God inspired it. Any book can make such a claim. Rather, over centuries, against critics who have used arguments and torture against Bible believers, we have developed reasons for our knowledge that the Bible is God’s word.

First, over the centuries the Bible has been found to accurately describe the human problem. Second, it points to the person of Jesus Christ. The practical experience of millions of humans and the investigation of thousands of careful thinkers has shown He is the true solution to the human problem. Third, when examined philosophically, the Bible’s insights are coherent and compelling. Scholars like the philosopher J.P. Moreland and Pope Benedict have defended the Bible’s truth in this generation.

A Bible believer is within her rights to use everything she knows in making a decision. When doing so she should not be forced to give the entire history of why her evidence is compelling every time she makes an argument. Any well-read person knows that Bible believers have argued for why they take the Bible as serious moral evidence.

This reasonable standard should apply to any group that plays by the rules of reason. No atheist should be forced to defend the entirety of his reasons for the type of evidence he excludes every time he makes a political assertion.

Newsweek is wrong, therefore, to simply assert that the Bible cannot be reasonably used in moral decisions. Of course, Newsweek also claims that the Bible supports gay marriage, but this assertion is so unlikely as to more closely resemble a wish than a reasoned belief.

The Bible and Gay Marriage

It is stunningly implausible that modern readers at places like Newsweek have discovered that the Bible teaches exactly the opposite of what almost all readers at all times have found in it.

Those who have read the Bible seriously over long periods of time come to amazingly similar conclusions about what God wants in marriage. We have had centuries to try out many different ideas and test them against the text of the Bible and experience. Only traditional marriage has stood the test of time and reality.

The Orthodox of Russia came to the same conclusion as the Roman Catholics of Italy. The Pentecostals of Kenya came to the same conclusion historically as the Reformed Christians of Scotland. Over history different accommodations have been made to extreme or difficult situations, but the ideal has been clear: God’s will is for marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for (at least) life. Nothing else will work.

The only dissenters have been a tiny minority of moderns trapped in a few decaying nations and religious institutions. They often delude themselves by noting support amongst the “youth” in their own nations, while ignoring their irrelevance in those very parts with the most youth! As members of global churches, we do not have the luxury of such religious ethnocentrism.

The case for gay marriage in the Bible usually depends on confusion, adopting an intellectually unsound strategy for reading old books, or a basic misunderstanding of Christ’s message.

The Confusion

Badly educated readers of the Bible often confuse a description of a moral situation in the Bible with approval.

The Bible tells the reader what the world is really like. When a newspaper like the Post reports on political corruption, they are not condoning or advocating it. A good paper is unfailing in telling what is really happening as opposed to what the editorial board wishes were happening. In the same way the Bible reports the failings of even its heroes. David committed murder and adultery. The tensions between Abraham’s two sons continue to bedevil us today. That does not mean God desired either of those situations.

Nobody reads the Bible for very long without realizing that the stories show a clear pattern: people who deviate from God’s best plan for marriage cause untold problems for themselves and others.

A Bad Method of Reading Old Books

Of course the kind of reasoning that finds a right to abortion in a Constitution written in 1789 can find anything desired in any book. The trick is to find an idea you agree with in a document and make it the only idea you will take seriously. Anything you read later that disagrees can then be dismissed as missing the “spirit of the book.”

One should not underestimate how comforting this method of reading really is. A person can pick up any important text and discover that it fundamentally agrees with his own insights! Of course, it also imprisons the reader in his own assumptions and does not allow a different voice to be heard.

An ethical system is most valuable exactly at those points where a particular culture wishes to dissent from it. The man in a deeply corrupt political culture needs “Thou Shall Not Steal” to buttress his decision making exactly when all the people he admires are stealing. In a few nations of the world it is the case that parts of the Biblical ethic are unpopular, but that only increases their importance to us.

The central problem with reading old books through modern prejudices is that they will never be able to strengthen us in the very areas where our culture needs help.

God shows humankind a truthful picture of how messed up even His followers are. He then works slowly over painful centuries to show the best way of living. It is the case that we want things that will do harm to our own lives, our neighbor’s lives, or the existence our communities, but we should not want those things. Sometimes the bad results of social experiments are not apparent for decades and only obvious when the harm has already been done.

The Bible demonstrates that wholesome sexual expression is an act reserved for one man and one woman in lasting relationship. It demonstrates though story after story how any other cultural accommodation is destructive.

Understanding the Bible

Not surprisingly the Bible is more intent on showing what God is for than repeating endlessly what God is against. As we realize from our own experience, there is no limit to the inventive ways that humans can discover to wreck and destroy God things. It is simpler for the Bible to say what beautiful actions are that try to create an ever growing list of what they are not.

The ministry of Jesus proclaimed the very good news that God’s Kingdom was here. He taught His friends what life in that Kingdom could be and spent much less time on what life in it was not. In the Kingdom people can become free of being controlled by tyrannical and disordered desires. This included the hope for freedom from the love of money and the worship of power. In the Kingdom, all desires would find their proper place and marriage between a man and a woman was the only proper place for sexual expression.

When the Old Testament talks about homosexual behavior (in Genesis, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy), it condemns it. It never condones it. Since He was primarily ministering to a Jewish audience, Jesus had no more need to condemn homosexual behavior than He did other vices all His Jewish contemporaries thought wrong. However, when His earliest followers confronted more morally immature cultures they quickly and universally condemned such actions (Romans, I Corinthians, I Timothy, and Jude).

Bible readers know that God has fully expressed Himself in male and female persons. The state must be interested in marriage, which otherwise could be left to the churches, because of its vested interest in healthy children.

Children deserve to be raised with parents who express the fullness of the divine image. We reject a low view of women or men that thinks either sex is dispensable to this important project.

Of course, little in this life is ideal, but this fact should not encourage society to elevate the flawed to the level of the ideal. If we can only fall short of our best intentions, then it is wise to make our intentions the best!

Proponents of gay marriage suggest that the Bible has been twisted to support many dubious moral positions and this is true. Marriage is not, however, an issue that ever generated controversy (until recently) amongst Bible readers. All readers of the Bible agreed about the general teaching. In the age of Jesus the norm was for sexual expression to be beautifully expressed in marriage between one man and one woman.

Facile comparisons of race to sexuality in this context are useless. There are good reasons they are resented and rejected by the vast majority of those who have been subject to racial discrimination.

Race was unknown to the ancients and is not universal in the way sexuality is. Racists, as all ideologues do, invented weird categories and justified their desires with twisted religion and science. Race based slavery was not part of the received Biblical consensus in any other place or time. America was morally wicked for embracing it for so long and the Biblical justifications always dubious.

Understanding Jesus: A God of Love and Mercy

Christianity teaches love, mercy, and forgiveness for those who do bad things. Having needed it, we are personally grateful for that mercy and forgiveness. Sometimes proponents of gay marriage misunderstand what He was saying.

Jesus offered this divine forgiveness to a woman who faced the wrath of hypocrites eager to stone her for adultery. Only a fool or the hypocrite would assert that he always done the right thing.

Hypocrisy is not, however, helped by hedonism. Jesus forgave the woman, but told her to “go and sin no more.” He did not reinterpret the Old Testament to proclaim adultery another life style choice.

The Newsweek writers seek to cure moral disease by declaring sickness as health, but Jesus will not participate in their cover up. We are all sinners and need mercy and forgiveness for our sin and not the false comfort of being told that our sin is acceptable.

You cannot define away a real problem.

Jesus loves everyone enough not to let us do whatever we want. Every generation attacks Biblical ethics in some new way, but Biblical ethics endure. The hypocrite pretends he has no sin and is damned. The hedonist pretends his sin is good and is condemned. The reasonable man repents.

We can testify from our own lives that the best reaction to such failings is to pray, “Lord Jesus Christ son of God have mercy on me a sinner.” ExileStreet

copyright 2008 John Mark Reynolds

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Biola University.His personal website can be found at and his blog can be found at

5 Responses to “An Obvious Truth: The Bible Supports Traditional Marriage”

  1. TheTruthIsDifficult Says:

    Reynolds is way off base. He is basically telling us that we need some to tell us what the Bible means. He is wrong. Everyone should actually read the Bible. Not just be told what to think from there religious leaders. Because if they did, they would realize that the Bible defines marriage as between one man and many women. It is clearly described that way. In not one passage is there any guidance or preference to marriage between one man and one woman. I don’t need someone who thinks there more enlighted on the Bible to tell me that. I can read it right in the book.

  2. TheTruthIsDifficult Says:

    The Bible is also clear on adultery. Adultery is in the Ten Commandments. It has a clearly prescribe punishment, death. Homosexuality is not in the Ten Commandments or even the ten deadly sins. Yet the religious right rants on against it. Why don’t they rant on against adultery. Take away the ability to have a second marriage for people who commit adultery. Follow the literal interperation of the Bible and stone people who commit adultery. Why, because the very people condeming homosexuals are the ones commiting adultery. They don’t want their rights taken away. Its a joke to use the Bible to take away homosexuals rights or call homosexuals sinners, when most of the rest of the Bible is not followed.

  3. Jason Says:

    “If God has spoken in the pages of the Bible, it is rational to obey what He said.”

    Spoke like a true slave.

    I’d say you’re right, though – the bible does favor traditional marriage. That is just one of the many reasons to reject it.

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