The scripture used by many conservative Christians to define marriage as one-man-one-woman (#1M1W), doesn’t actually define marriage at all. In fact, Jesus never defined marriage. The famous passage in Matthew 19 goes like this:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (Mt 19:1-12)
Let’s be clear. The Pharisees did not ask Jesus to define marriage, they asked him if/when it was lawful to divorce a wife for any reason. Jesus was answering a very specific question. The question wasn’t about marriage; it was about divorce.
Let’s also be clear that just because two people get married, it does not mean that God brought them together. Many people are lawfully married by their own doing, not God’s. We as people often make wrong choices, including whom we choose to marry. So that whole argument about “what God has joined, let no man separate” is not relevant to every marriage situation.
The question the Pharisees asked had absolutely nothing to do with same-sex relationships. It was a direct question about male and female divorce in the light of Jewish law — and the answer Jesus gave pertained to that specific question. If the question had been about whether same-sex relationships were permissible, Jesus would have given an answer relative to that scenario. His answer did not define marriage. His answer simply addressed the one reason a male could get a lawful divorce from a wife. Remember, marriages back then were usually arranged. Marriage was rarely based on love and a desire to commit, but rather on a family business transaction. Daughters were seen as property and could be traded into marriage for livestock. (Maybe the answer Jesus gave had more to do with going back on a business deal than anything else — just a thought.) A woman’s life and livelihood could be destroyed by divorce in those days. So, carelessly discarding this “property” (“for any and every reason”) showed disregard for the Creator in whose image she was created.
I find it interesting how those who use the first few verses (3-8) to define marriage, never quote verse 11 where Jesus replied: “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
I am not one to claim that gay people should somehow be classified as “eunuchs”; however, Jesus was very clear that not everyone (eunuchs were used as one example… perhaps heterosexual couples NOT joined together by God would be another…. or gay people, etc.) can live by what he was saying. Jesus was clear that this word was only given for those male/female marriages who have been brought together by God (not every heterosexual couple who gets married is joined together by God). Jesus made sure the the Pharisees knew this, thus he stated “the one who can accept this should accept it.”
There is no reason to believe that being a eunuch was the only exclusive group who could not accept this word about lawful divorce. And there is no reason to think that Jesus’ answer about divorce was ever intended to define “biblical marriage.” Maybe more people fit within Jesus’ exception than within the so-called “rule”?
photo credit: Steve Evans via Flickr, cc.
GARY TAFT is a Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for the Gay Christian Network, and hosts the annual summer camping event for LGBT Christians known as “Camp OUT”. After 19 years of marriage, Gary finally reconciled his faith and same-sex attraction in 2003. Gary has four grown children and 3 grand children.