by Michael Fragoso
December 8, 2008
Via the Corner, there is this profoundly misleading piece from Newsweek on marriage and the Bible. In it, Lisa Miller attempts to go through the Bible bit by bit, showing how “Biblical” marriage is a ridiculous construct that no reasonable person would want-polygamy in the Old Testament, and Pauline prudishness in the New. In the end, we should just adopt the Bible’s narrative of “inclusion” to be good Christians and accept same-sex marriage.
Just to take one of her points: are self-described “Biblical” Christians bound to the polygamy of the Patriarchs? Of course not. In the 10th Century, Aelfric, Abbot of Eynsham, was asked to translate the first seven books of the Bible by his king into what is now known as Old English. In his preface to the Book of Genesis he expresses his unease at such a task, worried that those who do not understand the canons of Scriptural Interpretation might misunderstand facts of the Old Testament. Certain Biblical actions followed “the customs of the age” but were robustly condemned by the contemporary Church and had been since its inception, such as the polygamy of the Patriarchs or the attempted sacrifice of Isaac. Aelfric notes that those who hear these stories should not be allowed to dwell on the literal actions of the Patriarchs, but rather on the educative functions: such as polygamy as representing the fecundity of the Church, or the sacrifice of Isaac prefiguring Christ on the cross. Instead, he feared, any powerful Saxons who had this read to them by an unthinking priest-as the non-clerical classes were largely illiterate at the time-would see Genesis as a license to commit polygamy or engage in human sacrifices, against the expressed teachings of their Church, but with an apparent “Biblical” mandate.
Likewise, all of Miller’s “novel” objections to St. Paul’s famous “It is better to marry than to burn” line* or questions about Christ’s evident chastity have been answered countless times throughout Christian history, but that doesn’t stop her from making them as if she’s done something terribly groundbreaking in the process.
Frankly, dealing any more with Miller’s specifics would not be at all fruitful. She elides much of the New Testament, and her history is reliant on the quotably wrong Stephanie Coontz. Where does one begin to answer imputations that King David was a homosexual? How can one comprehend-let alone respond to-an argument that first apparently admits Christ’s virgin birth and then proceeds to equate the Holy Family to “Jesus has two (Immaculate) Mommies”? The Bible is simply a weapon-at-hand for her preferred policy ends. She’s the sort of person Aeflric was worried about.
*It is worth noting that even here Miller’s translation betrays a prejudice. She takes St. Paul to mean “burn with passion.” Perhaps. He also might mean “burn [in Hell].” The early Fathers were divided on the issue, as were many prominent glossators. It’s funny how the inconvenient, morally absolute reading-found in King James, among other translations-doesn’t get picked up by Miller.