Everything wrong with the Nashville Statement: Article 01: the meaning of marriage

You remember the Nashville Statement, right? No? OK… 

Imagine Martin Luther in 1517 when he nailed his 95 theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, inviting a public debate on the church’s flagrant injustices. 

The Nashville Statement was nothing like that. 

Though it was published in a year ending with the number 17. 

Fourteen articles, from conservative evangelical Christian leaders (some of which were prominent Trump supporters), the Nashville Statement was an overtly sexist, homophobic and transphobic exercise in ideological line-drawing, dressed in theological language. 

CONTENT WARNING: This post reproduces some of its sexist, homophobic and transphobic language and arguments. 

The great injustices it deplored were same-sex marriage and “transgenderism”, giving only brief and veiled mentions of feminism. Because hey, the same organisation, the ‘Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’ (or ‘CMBW’) dealt with feminism 30 years earlier in the Danvers Statement.

Sorry, this is a looong post (5,000 words). But never fear! If you’d like a very abridged version, I’ve done a handy set of memes (also on my instagram).

Meanwhile, here’s your table of contents with estimated reading times:

Why bother with these statements? (1.5 mins)

There is much to be said against the practice of drawing up statements that require affirmation. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the Nicene Creed; it summarises a very particular and important story and goes some way to describe its lead participants (namely the triune God). In contrast, things like the Nashville Statement set up a checklist for what you have to think in order to qualify as ‘one of us’. They don’t tell a story and they don’t invite dialogue. They just… ugh. 

Anyway, my point is, whilst I am aware that there is much to be said against the practice of drawing up statements, I’m going to take their 14 articles and rewrite them.

When you stop and think about the words the Nashville Statement uses, and how it uses them, some interesting questions emerge. I think these are worth considering in more detail. 

Also, if there is one positive thing I’ll say about the Nashville Statement it’s this: the thing is well structured. I actually found it useful as a pathway to follow as I chewed over its words and reformulated each article into something I felt able to own. 

What took me four years? (2.1 mins)

It’s not that I wasn’t talking about the Nashville Statement back in 2017. But I had only recently started affirming LGBTQ+ identities and relationships. Whilst my work back then led to both fruitful and unfruitful conversations, I wasn’t sure that I could add meaningfully to the discussions that were already happening online. Like: 

Plus my views were shifting. Initially, I agreed with one (only one!) of the Nashville Statement’s 14 articles. Later, I realised that article erased the Holy Spirit from God’s work of salvation. I felt pretty bad for not noticing this straight off the bat. And if that’s where I stood on the basic theological stuff, where was I going to land on the less-familiar LGBTQ+ stuff?

Now I won’t for one minute pretend that my theology is all sorted or that I’m the perfect LGBTQ+ ally, far from it. Even back in 2017, I wrote a fifteenth article basically saying, “Just because I’ve written this now, that doesn’t mean my thinking won’t develop in the future.”

What’s changed is that I’m now starting to get serious about studying theology. And wow, there was no excuse for leaving out the Holy Spirit! I just… these people should have known better. And the fact that they didn’t says so much

So yes, my studies in theology reminded me of this statement. And this time, I’m going to say something about it. Plus it’s pride month, so probably it’s a good time to begin. 

Here goes. 

Article 1 in a nutshell (1.9 mins)

Article 1 says this:

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church. 

WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.

There are several problems to observe straight off the bat: 

  1. It presumes there is divine ‘design’ of marriage.
  2. It uses ‘signify’ a loaded and unexplained term.* 
  3. It’s implicitly critical of couples who are childless.
  4. It decries homosexuality, polygamy and polyamory with no distinction how these three things are very different to each other.
  5. It fails to recognise the legal significance or perishable nature of marriage. 

* No prizes for guessing which part of this post is the longest. 

I’ll unpack these in turn. 

Side note: when I deconstructed my old theology of marriage, it was terrifying. My journey to affirming LGBTQ+ identities was a walk in the park in comparison. Fair warning, in this post, I do some heavy deconstructing of marriage as a religious symbol for Christ and the church. If you’re not in a place where you’re ready for that, be kind to yourself and maybe revisit it later. 

Problem 1: The “divine design” of marriage (6.9 mins total)

Genesis in context (2.5 mins)

I’m gonna guess this is coming from the Genesis creation account where it says God created human beings male and female, and “for this reason” a man leaves his parents and is united with his wife. Also, when Jesus gets into an argument about marriage and divorce, he quotes these verses to argue that divorce isn’t how things were “in the beginning” (Matthew 19:1–12, Mark 10:1–12).

Jesus totally gets points for saying that arbitrary divorce was a sucky thing for anyone to do, especially husbands when their wives lived in a patriarchy. But many Christians take these verses to mean much more than that.

In particular, the Nashville Statement seems to take the Genesis account as showing how God originally created marriage. And designed it to be between one man and one woman.

But… well… no. 

You wanna dig into ancient Mesopotamian creation accounts? You’ll find they often look to explain how human beings came into existence, why societies are structured a particular way, and why bad things exist. 

And the big ones are pretty darned disturbing. Like, in both Atrahasis and Enuma Elish, people were created from the blood of a slain god so that the lesser gods didn’t have to work so hard. And the king of the gods (Marduk/Enlil) hated humanity because they kept waking him up, and… well, it’s a really interesting exercise to compare other creation myths with the Genesis accounts. And when you read stories like Enki and Ninmah it makes you wonder whether Genesis was written to counter ideas like, “God doesn’t want women to have kids.”

Yes, Genesis offers an origin story for marriage. But that doesn’t mean God ordained marriage or imbued it with sacred significance. If Christians are going to argue one particular model of marriage is a beacon to all humankind, we need more than just Genesis to go on. 

It’s got to be something that we can deduce from the attestation of scripture

So let’s look to see what scripture says. 

Yes, Genesis offers an origin story for marriage. But that doesn’t mean God ordained marriage or imbued it with sacred significance. Click To Tweet

Does the Bible attest to a ‘design’ for marriage? (3.8 mins)

When I read the Bible cover to cover, I read about: 

  • many problematic sexual relationships (actually, I’ve listed every instance of the two most common Hebrew phrases for sex and every single one had a problematic context, even when the sex itself was consensual); 
  • God’s utter disdain for broken promises, idolatry and oppression of the poor — in all of their sexual and non-sexual guises.

I also read about:

  • a people whose worldview presupposes that all sexual acts outside of marriage** pollute people’s bodies (heavyweights on this topic are Mary Douglas and Eve Levavi Feinstein); and
  • that same worldview of pollution being radically reconfigured in the teachings of Jesus (like seriously, Matthew 5:32 and Mark 10:11 were revolutionary; if you wanna read more, check out this paper on Academia.edu defending the NIV translation of Mt 5:32; I’m not giving an unqualified endorsement of its author, Ron Jones, but the paper is worth reading). 

**To be clear, in this worldview, that meant heterosexual, non-incestuous, endogamous, polygamous marriage. (Endogamy is about only marrying people from your own race.) 

When I read the Bible cover to cover, I read examples of virtuous people whose sexual activity fell outside of this ancient marital norm but who were nevertheless considered righteous. Like Rahab. And Ruth. And Esther. More than that, I read these examples as proofs of how such people could and should still be called members of God’s covenant people. (For more on this, read my review of Aaron Koller’s book Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought.)

I repeatedly read metaphors for the family such as a plant (where there is one root and many branches) or a body (where there is one head and many members) and yes, I noticed how nicely these images fit with polygamy. 

But even with Paul’s hesitancy toward polygamy in the New Testament, I read these same metaphors being appropriated to help the early church make sense of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and his identity as the source of the Christian community. 

I also read Paul drawing on the sacrificial work of Christ as a reason for household relationships to be more loving and equitable than the standard of his day. And he gets so side-tracked that he can’t finish his point about household codes without also describing Jesus’s saving work towards the church as a profound mystery. Gotta hand it to this guy. 

Lastly, I read several times where the image of a wedding is held up as one of unification and glorification. 

But I do not — in all of my reading and studying of the Bible — I do not see a divine endorsement that there is only one true and just way to have a sexual relationship with someone, and that that way is a lifelong heterosexual marriage covenant between one man and one woman. 

I have looked. It is not there.

Problem 2: Does marriage ‘signify’ something sacred? (14.2 mins total)

What’s a sign anyway? (1.4 mins)

The Nashville Statement just drops this word ‘signify’ in there without explanation. What do they mean? Metaphor? Image? Sign? I’m gonna guess that the intended meaning here is something along the lines of “illumine” or “illustrate” and then some. 

The idea is that marriage helps people understand the relationship between Christ and the church. When non-Christians see married Christian couples they’ll find that marital example attractive and mysterious in a way that draws them into the gospel message and hope. 

For the record, I don’t know of a single person who has come to faith this way. (But I’m happy to be told of examples.)

Or maybe the Nashville Statement is saying that marriage is an image to help Christians as they deepen in their relationship with God? 

In general, I have not found the idea of being married to Christ something that has helped deepen my relationship with God. Indeed, last Christmas, I had a wonderful moment when I realised I could think of Jesus as someone I could grow up with, not grow up for.

Are we talking marriage or celibacy? (2.7 mins)

Yes, I’ll admit… I had some affinity with being married or betrothed to Christ waaaay back when I was seriously considering being single and sexually abstinent my entire life. But… that was in the context of a vocation of celibacy. 

Come to think of it, has anyone else noticed that this is whole “being married to Christ” image is thrown around primarily in the context of virginity

And that when it involves teenage girls and purity rings it’s uh… really quite creepy? 

I don’t want to throw shade on nuns who, in all reverence, take up this image of being married to Christ, even if I have some issues with how that gets practiced. But, if marriage is meant to “signify” the relationship between Christ and the church, it seems odd that some of its most pronounced expressions in the church concentrate around people who aren’t having any sex at all. 

I mean, what if:

  • marriage isn’t a major symbol/image to help people understand the ongoing or future relationship between Christ and the church; and
  • in a non-coercive, mature context, abstinence can be a legitimate symbol/image for waiting for Christ’s return; but
  • conservative Christian culture (and purity culture) has blundered in confusing a vocational choice for an essential Christian ethic?

I mean, that would explain a lot.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t have sex until I was married and that was probably the best choice I could have made. There are many healthy reasons why people might want to make the same choice. But some of my reasons were not good and I still had my own pile of garbage to pick apart once I was married. 

We can talk about the ethics of pre-marital sex and extra-marital relationships. But I really, really struggle to see how wrapping sex solely inside a (heterosexual, monogamous etc.) marriage is a deep and meaningful sign of the church’s relationship with Jesus.

I also struggle to see how such an image/sign works in practice to build up the life of the church. 

Especially given the well-documented carnage wreaked by purity culture. Just saying.

But what about scripture? And Ephesians 5? (2.5 mins)

I struggle to find scriptural support for the idea that marriage is some deep meaningful sign. 

It’s not in Ephesians 5. (Or Colossians 3. Or 1 Peter 2.)

And it’s not in 2 Corinthians 11 (read my essay here). 

And the apocalyptic end of Revelation doesn’t show marriage but a wedding. With a city. And given how thoroughly cryptic that entire book is we should have a care before put the weight of an entire moral framework onto its words. 

For sure, Paul encouraged the early church to have household dynamics that were more equitable, basing his argument in the life and identity of Jesus. But while he drew on Jesus’s saving work to say husbands should behave better, he was not mapping out a sacred meaning for marriage any more than he was for slavery. 

Seriously. 

In Ephesians 5:23–24 Paul uses the identity of Christ as an argument for wives to respect their husbands. He does exactly the same thing in Ephesians 6:5–8 when he tells slaves to obey their owners. (And again later with parents and children.) But he also leverages the identity of Christ as an argument for husbands to love their wives and for owners not to threaten their slaves. 

In short, when Paul argues for anyone to behave decently towards anyone else, his reason is “because Jesus.” That’s how Paul makes his case. And I have no complaint. 

But that does not mean Paul was holding up marriage as a mysterious, sacred symbol. 

I mean, if he had meant to hold up marriage as somehow special, over and above all the other images he throws into the mix, then it’s really weird that he only really links marriage with Jesus in the context of household codes. And it’s exceptionally weird that when he looks at marriage in its own right (like in 1 Corinthians 7) he doesn’t mention Jesus much at all. 

And it’s very weird that none of the other New Testament writers did either.

About Ephesians 5: When Paul argued for anyone to behave decently towards anyone else, his reason was “because Jesus.” That's the context for what he says about marriage. Click To Tweet

The Old Testament isn’t much help either (2.7 mins)

I know there are many prophecies in the Bible (most of them violent) that draw on the images of sex and marriage to make their point. Most of these are in the Old Testament but again, they weren’t written to teach about marriage. Rather, they took that culture’s assumptions about marriage to speak about the state of the covenant people’s relationship with God. 

Big difference. 

If God was going to institute marriage, there would be: 

  • story to back up how this came into being (like with Passover or the last supper); and 
  • a wealth of subsequent literature emphasising its importance and sacred significance. 

Let’s suppose the Genesis creation account of Adam and Eve is such a story and that it endorses only heterosexual, lifelong, monogamous marriage. (I think this interpretation is flawed, but I’ll roll with it for now.) 

Why is there such a dearth of Old Testament literature calling people back to this model of marriage? If marriage is as important as the authors of the Nashville Statement contend, and carries a sacred significance, then surely there should be at least as much Old Testament writing about lifelong monogamy as there is about the Sabbath? 

But there isn’t. There just isn’t.

Think of it this way: toil was the result of the fall, but that didn’t stop the biblical authors banging the drum about the Sabbath. If we assume polygamy was the result of the fall (and tbh, I think it was), then if monogamy was such a big sacred, holy ideal, where are the prophecies slamming polygamy? They are not there. 

Why? 

Because, in the Old Testament, unless you were marrying someone who worshipped other gods, marriage wasn’t seen as carrying sacred significance.

(And maybe that’s why endogamy was such a hotly debated topic in Old Testament times?)

This means that if we try and make any argument for the sacred significance of marriage, and we base it on the scant evidence in the New Testament, then that argument must necessarily be divorced from the Old Testament witness. 

Sorry, I’m not here for that kind of theology. 

In the Old Testament, unless you were marrying someone who worshipped other gods, marriage wasn’t seen as carrying sacred significance. Click To Tweet

OK, but can marriage be holy? (3.3 mins)

Yes, we can attribute special significance to a marital relationship. 

I believe that God has joined my husband and me in a wonderful, mysterious and even holy way — and many Christian couples would say similar. And if our joint relationship is a beautiful work of God, I’m totally on board with Jesus when he said that people shouldn’t try to separate us. 

But just because God has graciously done all this for us, that doesn’t mean heterosexual monogamous marriage is a core Christian symbol of such profundity that it can command the ethics of all sexual encounters.

Yes, we love each other. And I like to think our love for each other speaks something about God’s love to the rest of the world. After all, Jesus said that love for one another is how people will know that that we follow him. But my husband’s and my marital status isn’t a major part of this equation.

Again, not gonna lie, I believe sex is prophetic. I think it’s a powerful form of speech. At its best, it can be an immensely pleasurable way in which we laugh at ourselves as both wonderful and yet vulnerable, transient beings. And yes, part of me wants to believe that this private prophecy we make when we have sex is something that can shape the world for good. 

But. 

That is a theology of sex, not marriage. 

The Nashville Statement tries to write sexual ethics with reference to a theology of marriage. 

But I think it should be the other way round: develop marital ethics with reference to a theology of sex (as well as marriage). 

If people want to hold up marriage as a context for mutual love, reconciliation, celebration, collaboration, creativity, glory and unity — fine, go for it. Not gonna complain. The world would be a better place if all marriages were like that. 

And if you wanna say the church’s future relationship with Christ will look like that – sure, why not? Sounds good. 

But we need to remember that signs and images are not ethics. 

Nor are they the thing that they point towards.

And...

…even when something is an image/symbol/sign for something else, it still exists separate from any meaning we give it. If we are always hung up about what marriage or sex represent rather than what they actually are, we will never have healthy marriages or sex lives. 

And if you wanna read me going into more detail on this subject, I’d suggest this post: Priestesses in the church? Why CS Lewis’ argument was right, but his conclusion wrong.

Marriage is not the only image the church has (1.9 mins)

The Bible has many images and metaphors used to describe and illumine the church’s relationship with Jesus. You know: shepherd and flock, master and servants, king and subjects, vine and branches, head and body, first-born and siblings, friends eating round a table. 

Why, why, why should the image of marriage be elevated to special significance? Why should it be emphasised in the embodied practice of the church over and above these other images? I’ll admit, marriage is a more convenient image because we encounter it more frequently in our lives than, for example, shepherding or royalty. But elevating marriage makes zero sense. 

Unless… you are somehow invested in the idea of marriage in a way that is separate from the health, life and witness of the church

So maybe the authors of the Nashville Statement do have an interest, separate from the witness of scripture, to elevate a particular form of marriage? If so, then that would explain why they can so easily gloss over the Bible’s presentation of polygamy, concubinage, endogamy and its violent use of marriage metaphors.

No one is going to argue that every marriage presented in the Bible was healthy or ethical. But if we’re going to argue that God endorsed just one very particular model of marriage as a beacon to all humankind, then, as I said, we need to have more than just Genesis to go on

And we don’t. 

Problem 3: About marriage being procreative (1.6 mins)

OK, the Bible depicts a culture that is very, very, very natalistic (that is, pro having children). A lot of what the Bible says about marriage is less about sex and more about protecting people’s rights to have kids. 

The church has generally accepted the validity of John the Baptist, Jesus and Paul, all of whom didn’t go down the natalism route. But it still hasn’t really thought through how much our understanding of marriage carries the hallmarks of natalism. 

Meanwhile, it strikes me that there are only two possible reasons why the Nashville Statement says God “designed” marriage to be procreative and puts this on the same level as covenantal, lifelong etc. 

One is to alienate heterosexual cisgender couples who are unable to have children or who choose not to have children. This flagrantly goes against the witness of scripture, but hey. 

The other is to create a definition that excludes all marriage couples who are not cisgender heterosexual couples. 

I actually don’t think the authors of the Nashville Statement were aiming at heterosexual married couples who are unable to have children of their own. But the fact that these statements do implicitly criticise such couples says something about how actively they wanted to speak against same-sex marriage. Sigh. 

(For the record, when my husband read this, he said he thinks I’m naïve and that they are aiming at intentionally childless couples. 

Problem 4: Homosexuality, polygamy and polyamory (1.2 mins)

For the record, these are three very different things with different values underpinning them.

Homosexuality is not a marriage or relationship framework, it’s a sexual orientation. Speaking of which, bisexuality, asexuality and even pansexuality are also sexual orientations. But I’m guessing the authors of Nashville Statement felt they didn’t need to talk about those. 

Polygamy is a marriage framework that privileges men’s sexual agency over women’s. 

Depending on who you ask in the poly community, polyamory might be a relationship framework or an orientation. Also, depending on who you ask, polyamory might be a statement that romantic love and commitment need not be limited to one person. Or it might a defiance of all forms of hierarchy and an endorsement of “relationship anarchy”. 

My point here is that these are three different things and people who identify with these terms don’t appreciate being grouped together and written off in a single statement. 

So… let’s not?

Problem 5: Actually, marriage is a social and legal construct (3.9 mins)

My last complaint about this article of the Nashville Statement is that it fails to recognise the legal significance of marriage. 

We can go around with our own ideas about what “Christian marriage” should be, and we can agree or disagree with how our various jurisdictions recognise marital relationships. The authors of the Nashville Statement can say marriage is not a “mere” human contract but this does not change the fact that marriage has a secular meaning. It has a legal meaning. It has consequences for finance, inheritance and housing rights. (All of which come into stark relief when there’s marital abuse. Just saying.)

At the end of the day marriage is social in nature. It’s a public status. And whilst the meaning of that public status may be interpreted in different ways by different people, it is something that exists and holds legal force which, in many countries, is quite separate from any religious interpretation. We can’t ignore that. 

Marriage is a public contract — if not between two families, then between two people. This is how marriage has been regarded for centuries, including in the cultures of the Bible. We can’t ignore that. 

We achieve nothing good if Christians go around viewing every non-Christian or non-religious couple as “not married” or “not properly married”. To say that marriage is only marriage when it has an extra sacred dimension, is to use the word “marriage” differently to how most people have used it for most of history. 

I have time for people who choose to embark on marriage with both a legal and religious significance. But if we’re going to turn around and say marriage is a special contract that should go by the name of “covenant” then we should own the fact that we are giving marriage this meaning.

I get that most people (myself included) incorporate wedding vows into their understanding of marriage and, yes, these promises are a pretty big deal. The Bible shows that one of the things God cares most about is remaining faithful to his good promises. So yeah, I can see him having real issue with people breaking promises, or treating them lightly, or worse – being forced or tricked into making them.

But even when we remember this quality of God’s faithfulness, we still need to recognise what we’re doing. We may consider in-good-faith marriage vows to have more substance than any legal marital status, but those promises do not, on their own, constitute a marriage. 

What’s more, even with this special meaning, marriages still end. When one person dies, the marriage is over – regardless of one’s emotional feelings towards the deceased. 

This alone should be a massive wake-up call for Christians to realise that marriage is perishable. If it was everlasting then we could expect to be married at the resurrection. But the Sadducees asked Jesus that question and his answer was a flat no (Matthew 22:23-33). There is no marriage in eternity. Why? Because it is necessarily a social construct and a social contract – even when it has the (beautiful) bells and whistles of a spiritual dimension. 

Concluding thoughts (2.9 mins)

Don’t get me wrong, a monogamous, heterosexual, (non-incestuous), life-long marriage characterised by mutual faithfulness, adoration and companionship can be an amazing and wonderful thing. Hey, I’m in one myself and I’m loving it. 

But. 

What makes our relationship amazing is not the marriage status. 

It’s the fact that we’re two people: 

  • who really get and enjoy each other, 
  • who both buy into the same commitments and dreams for our relationship and for each other, 
  • who communicate honestly, 
  • who learn willingly, 
  • who bear with each other graciously (if I say so myself!), and 
  • who desire always to act ethically towards each other. 

And by the grace of God, I pray we continue to do so for many years to come!

I don’t for one minute want to downplay the privilege that I believe my husband and I share on account of the work that God has done to bring us together, and that God continues to do as he holds us in togetherness. Our wedding day had social and emotional and religious significance for us.

But in the relationship we share, I don’t believe the marriage feature of our relationship has a special sacred purpose over and above the substance of who we are, who we are together, how we behave towards each other and how we behave as a couple towards the wider world. 

For these reasons, I cannot even with the Nashville Statement’s assertion that marriage is a special sacred sign of Jesus’s relationship with the church. 

This might be the most controversial statement I’ve made yet, but I honestly believe that breaking away from a religiously-loaded understanding of marriage would be genuine good news for many people today.

When I shared a draft of this post with a friend she wrote back to me. I thought she put it so well:

Marriage is both something very ordinary and public, but with the capacity for holiness and beauty. I’ve felt so confined by Christian marriage ideologies and it’s like I can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the ordinariness of marriage isn’t me doing something wrong, but it’s normal. And it empowers me to work toward a better marriage because I know there’s potential that I can chose to seek out, not forced to participate in.

Talbot Jenkins Boutler

So what would my statement be? (2.0 mins)

I guess it would be something along these lines: 

I AFFIRM that sexual relationships, particularly that seen in a loving, covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, can be a useful illustration of the covenant love, reconciliation, celebration, collaboration, creativity, glory and unity that will exist between Christ and the church. I also affirm the usefulness of other images to aid understanding of the current and future relationship between Christ and the church, including priesthood, servanthood, family, royalty and citizenship. 

I DENY that the goodness of the image described above is, in and of itself, a reason to reject the possibility of remarriage after divorce, or marriage in an intentionally childless, homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. I also deny that marriage exists without human contract; even Christian marriage is characterised by both public witness and a covenant promise made before God.

In writing it this way, I’ve tried to achieve the following:

  • Greater explanation of the significance of marriage 
  • Put the significance of marriage into broader perspective
  • Recognise both the relationship and legal significance of marriage
  • Say Christian marriages are characterised by public covenant promise 
  • Stay silent on whether ‘divine design’ for marriage exists or what it looks like 
  • Say we cannot immediately dismiss non-traditional relationships, but stay silent on whether these are ethical or not 

Whew! That was long! I don’t think the rest of the posts in this series won’t be as long, thank goodness. 

Meanwhile, what did you think? Would you re-write the article and if so how?


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3 thoughts on “Everything wrong with the Nashville Statement: Article 01: the meaning of marriage

  1. I would like to push back on two claims:
    “a people whose worldview presupposes that all sexual acts outside of marriage** pollute people’s bodies”
    I don’t think this is true. When we read the story of Tamar and Judah there is no suggestion that the act of engaging a temple prostitute (Judah) or being a temple prostitute (Tamar) was immoral or even irregular.
    The point of the story is that Judah has betrayed his family obligation and Tamar takes steps to right the wrong.

    Secondly, we can read Ruth as going to the threshing floor to seduce Boaz. Again there is no condemnation of this act.
    I think however, we can see both of these stories as protecting ‘family obligations’ and I think instead of getting hung up on sexual acts or marriage, they are indications of threats to the family which is a much more important theme throughout the Hebrew Bible. Thus Ruth’s actions are seen within the purpose of protecting the ‘family’ she has created with Naomi.

    (It can also be seen in the Levitical laws where sexual relationships within the patrilineal family are explicitly outlawed, but similarly related individuals on the maternal side are not mentioned. If you live within the fathers house, it is those relatives that are off-limits for a sexual relationship).

    The prohibitions on extra marital sex are for young upper class virginal girls who are able to be married off and their virginal state avoids non-biological offspring. It’s not even all women. The experience of concubines, slaves and other women in the household who are used for sex is not even considered important.

    Which leads to my second point:
    “Unless you were marrying someone who worshipped other gods, marriage wasn’t seen as carrying sacred significance.”
    Again, it’s not even marriage that is the issue here but the threat to the family that foreign wives ‘signify.’

    Which is to say, I don’t disagree with the main thrust of your argument, but I think reframing it in terms of family or ‘kin’-dom allows us to understand the nuance of the text in a much more satisfactory way, than trying to fit our understanding within the norms of marriage does.

    1. Hi Michelle, thank you for taking the time to read and comment and your point about protecting family obligations is on point.

      The story of Judah and Tamar is intriguing and could be considered an exception to the “pollution” rule. However, I would still stand by my assertion about the worldview given the extensive support from other passages like the woman suspected of being an adulteress in Numbers, plus the language in Deuteronomy 22 and Dt 24:1-4, plus (princess) Tamar’s protests to Amnon. It’s also fundamental to the New Testament debates that Jesus had. And that’s not even touching on the prophecies. I will however want to go away and think some more about Judah and Tamar!

      Your point about Ruth is valid, but I still think my pollution point stands in her case. She was acculturated into being one of Naomi’s people – hence why she’s NOT called a Moabitess at the end. Hence the endogamy point is harder to argue in her case – but it does highlight how endogamy was a hotly debated topic.

      And yes – I agree the threat that foreign wives “signify” is what people were concerned about. And it was to do with ‘kin’-dom, as it were – preserving family line was a BIG deal. But I think it only became a matter theological concern when other gods were in the mix. I might not be expressing myself brilliantly here, but hopefully you can see what I’m trying to say. Thanks again for taking the time to digest and think on all this.

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