Biblical Family Values - Five Uncomfortable Facts (Part 1)

I find it deliciously ironic that the most vociferous defenders of the notion of family in western society are Christians. Just a brief glance at background or history of numerous 'family associations' such as Focus On The Family, American Family Association, and yet more (thanks to the Southern Poverty Law Centre website) shows that there is a strong correlation between being a Christian family lobby organisation and being classified as a hate group.

"Damien, you couldn't possibly saying that modern Christians are a bunch of hypocrites when they say they are defending family values when, or even because, they base their beliefs on the Bible! How dare you!"

How dare I indeed. But this is exactly what I am saying. 

More to the point - the idea of 'family values' in the Bible is completely out of whack with modern society, to the point that following the literal reading of the Bible will likely render you a war criminal. Think I'm joking? You won't be at the end.

In this series, I want to highlight how out of touch the Bible is with modern morality, why the Bible is not a book that we should be looking to for good moral guidance, and how to be seen as family-friendly, modern Christians have to gloss over, or hide, a lot of Bible verses that counter the modern narrative.

The first topic I want to touch on is marriage.

The Biblical Idea Of Marriage Is Not What You've Been Told.

What exactly is the Biblical definition of marriage? That, unfortunately, depends on which section of the Bible you read. God's book gives conflicting messages - and if God's chosen book can't get a clear message across, then we have a problem.

The verses where it says "one man and one woman" can be found anywhere, so I don't need to point those ones out to you. It's the others I'm interested in - the ones that clash with the modern commentary. 

These fascinate me because Christians will swear til they are blue in the face that God only wants happy families. Churches run marriage seminars telling you God's plan for a happy marriage, or God's plan for raising children, or God's plan for something else - yet they don't seem to realise that according to the Bible, the only marriage God cares about is one where the man has all the power.

Let's go...

One, nowhere is polygamy prohibited in the Old Testament. 

Exodus 21:10 states "If he (a man) marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights."

2 Samuel 5: "After he left Hebron, David took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem, and more sons and daughters were born to him."

1 Kings 11:3 - "He (Solomon) had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray".

And the big one - the patriarch Jacob! Jacob, the man through who Israel literally came to exist, is recorded as having two wives, and furthermore, the Bible explicitly states that Jacob didn't really love the first wife because it was the younger sister he had the hots for - but his in-laws did a switcheroo on the wedding night.

Nowhere does God say to anyone "Thou has too many wives!". The only hint that God had a problem with polygamy was the fear that a man with too many wives would no longer follow God -
Deuteronomy 17:17 - "He (the king) must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold."
So God doesn't have a problem with polygamy per se - he only has a problem with it when the person practising the polygamy doesn't worship him as much as what he used to, which proves that God only cares about one thing: himself!

Second, polyandry, the practice of a woman having multiple husbands, is not permitted. 

There is no rule explicitly permitting a woman to have multiple husbands like there is permitting a man to have multiple wives.

Not even in shared relationships. Deuteronomy 22:22 states, a man who sleeps with another man's wife is to be put to death.

Thirdly, it doesn't matter if you don't love your wife.

Deuteronomy 21:15-16 - "If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love.".

So God is OK with a man not loving his wife, just as long as he doesn't screw the children's inheritance up on account of it? OK. At least the kids are looked after.

Now let's look at Genesis 29:31-34:
When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” 
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon. 
Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi.

So the Bible admits that Leah was not loved by her husband, God knew that Leah wasn't loved by her husband, so Leah did the only thing she knew she could to try win the affection of her husband - getting herself pregnant, all with God's blessing and assistance.

The next time an evangelical Christian tries to tell you that getting pregnant to get the affection of a man is immoral and unwise, tell them that God was more than OK with it in the Bible!

Fourthly, concubines are OK!

What is a concubine, you ask? It's basically a second-class wife, a woman whose sole purpose in the relationship is to be there for sex. It's an exclusive relationship on her part, but no commitment is required on the part of the man. So much for gender equality in God's economy!

And for some reason, God does not explicitly prohibit this practice. God really hates people eating shellfish enough to ban it in Deuteronomy 14:9, and he must hate it when people wear two types of fabric together as per Leviticus 19:19, and don't ever boil a baby goat in its mother's milk (Exodus 23:19), but the practice of taking a woman into your household, making her of lesser status than the other women already in your household, for the sole purpose of having sex exclusively with that one man for the rest of her life, God has little to nothing to say.


Fifthly, marriage is a choice - for the man, that is. Not for the woman.

One, the example of Leah and Rachel when it came to Jacob. Jacob was expecting to see his squeeze Rachel behind the veil, but the girls parents forcibly married off Leah instead. Did she get a choice? No.

Genesis 29:21-23 -

Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he went in to her.
Let's read this for what it is - rape. Leah was not Jacob's choice. Jacob was not Leah's choice. It was her dad's choice. Jacob had sex with a woman he did not choose, and she had sex with a man she did not choose. This is a textbook definition of rape.

Two, war brides are OK. 
Deuteronomy 21:10-13 - When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife.
Charming. So when you and your mates are busy killing foreigners (like when God tells you to) and you see a hot foreign girl, after her parents have been killed (possibly by your very own sword!) you are well within your rights to take her home and tidy her up - but give her a month by herself before you get down to business, if you know what I mean.

Again, the woman in the situation gets no choice. Her parents are dead and the only way to stay alive is by being the sex object of the man who was there when your parents were murdered.


Third, the practice of levirate marriage. Never heard of it? That's because it's pretty much a no-no culturally for pretty much every part of the world at the moment, but for God's people at the time, no issue at all.

Levirate marriage is the practice that when a married man dies and if he was childless, the brother of that man has to impregnate the widow, in order to continue the family name of the dead brother.

And I mean must impregnate her.

If you're thinking this sounds creepy, then yes, it is as creepy as it sounds.

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. 
Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfil your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother.  
What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also. 
Genesis 38:6-10 

If God is willing to kill you because you didn't fulfil the command, then God must really care about who has sex with whom and where the semen goes.

One other thought I have about this was that if God could miraculously impregnate Mary to conceive Jesus, why couldn't he just get some of Onan's sperm and miraculously impregnate Tamar, rather than putting her through the shame of having to have sex with someone she didn't marry?


Biblical family values are superior to secular family values? Only if you ignore all the really creepy, immoral, unnecessary, illogical, misogynistic or contradictory passages in the Bible.


Stick with me, guys, as I will cover other controversial topics in later editions of this series.

Stay cool.

- Damien

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