by Leah Waldron
Dan Cathy’s comments this week on the importance of the “Biblical” family (his first since the famous “guilty as charged” statement earlier this summer) were a bit off the mark. As it turns out, the Bible’s idea of a “family” was nothing like the modern-day Christian family that Cathy believes in, or the “mom plus dad plus children” household that we now call “traditional.” It’s true that the Bible says to “honor thy father and mother,” but many kids in the Bible had more than one mother and father.. In fact, the “Biblical family” included a variation of mothers, fathers, concubine parents and slave parents.
For example, take one of the most important families in the Bible: God’s. God didn’t have a wife, and his son never married (the recent papyrus discovery was a hoax). I suppose Jesus could have settled down at some point, but since he was nomadic and had 12 male disciples, this was not feasible. But as far as the Bible was concerned, God never had a wife, and neither did his son. But maybe God and Jesus were above all that marriage stuff.
Next up, the very first “married” couple: Adam and Eve. According to the Genesis, Adam and Eve did, in fact, settle down (after the eviction) and raise a few kids. But, just like all families in the Old Testament, they were not “married” when they started having children. In fact, marriage in the Bible was based on (you guessed it): love (and, for good measure, a few lines about woman serving man, and their union serving God, etc.) But still: love! They didn’t sign paperwork or file a joint income tax the next year. Instead, there was a general understanding that their God-given union would bring forth children, and it usually did. Until, of course, concubines and slave women entered the picture, which God was 100 percent was cool with.
The Bible is full of multi-wife/slave households, including one of the oldest families in the Bible, Jacob’s. The grandson of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob had 13 children with four women, an arrangement that was perfectly fine with God. In fact, two of Jacob’s wives were sisters (Rachel and Leah), and the other two “wives” were Rachel and Leah’s slaves, Bilhah and Zilpah.
According to the Bible, Jacob slept with his slaves in order to, as was the custom, bring forth more children (Rachel was barren at the time, and Leah was already pregnant with more of his children). Based on everything we hear about the importance of the “traditional family,” you would expect God to get angry about a man having sex with his slaves while his other wives are pushed aside. But, no. On the contrary, the book of Genesis states that Jacob was one of God’s favorites. After his last child was born, Jacob was re-named “Israel,” which loosely translates to, among other myriad phrases, “the prince of God.”
When you read about “Biblical” families in the Old and New Testament, it appears that God didn’t care about a nuclear household, at all. Instead, he wanted as many child-making unions as possible so that the world, once desolate, would populate. Now that the world is pretty much populated (check and check), Christians read what they want to read in the Bible, assuming that “mother and father” meant a two-parent household, or the perfect “Biblical” family. But based on the Bible, when God said “honor thy father and mother,” he probably meant “honor the two people (or 20 or 30 people, in Biblical times) who raise you,” which makes a lot more sense, if you think about it. If God pushed the idea of marriages in order to bring forth a population of followers, wouldn’t he be happy with any couple bringing up a healthy, happy, possibly-Christian child?
Fortunately, none of this will matter if the gay marriage question goes to the Supreme Court, and we let a (civil) higher power decide. But for those Bible-readers out there who keep telling me that the “Biblical” family is the way to go (ahem, Dan Cathy), read your Bible.
There’s a lot more to a “Biblical family” than you think.
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