‘Biblical’ Marriage Unmasked

by Rev . Dr. Miguel De La Torre

Many Christians today speak about the traditional biblical marriage, but if truth be known, “traditional” marriage is not a biblical concept.

In fact, it would be hard to find a modern-day Christian who would actually abide by a truly biblical marriage in practice, as the biblical understanding of marriage meant male ownership of women who existed for sexual pleasure.

Upon marriage, a woman’s property and her body became the possession of her new husband. As the head of the household, men (usually between the ages of 18 and 24) had nearly unlimited rights over wives and children.

A woman became available for men’s possession soon after she reached puberty (usually 11 to 13 years old), that is, when she became physically able to produce children. Today we call such sexual arrangements statutory rape. The biblical model for sexual relationships includes adult males taking girls into their bedchambers, as King David did in 1 Kings 1:1-3.

Throughout the Hebrew text it is taken for granted that women (as well as children) are the possessions of men.

The focus of the text does not seriously consider or concentrate upon the women’s status, but their identity is formed by their sexual relationship to the man: virgin daughter, betrothed bride, married woman, mother, barren wife or widow.

A woman’s dignity and worth as one created in the image of God is subordinated to the needs and desires of men. As chattel, women are often equated with a house or livestock (Dt. 20:5-7), as demonstrated in the last commandment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, wife, slave, ox or donkey” (Ex. 20:17).

Because women are excluded from being the subject of this command, the woman—like a house, slave, ox or donkey—is reduced to an object: just another possession, another piece of property that belonged to the man, and thus should not be coveted by another man.

There are many ways in which the Bible cannot be a literal reference point or guidebook to modern-day marriages. 

Because the biblical understanding of the purpose for marriage has been reproduction, marriage could be dissolved by the man if his wife failed to bear his heirs.

Besides reproduction, marriage within a patriarchal order also served political and economic means. Marriages during antiquity mainly focused on codifying economic responsibilities and obligations.

Little attention was paid to how the couple felt about each other. Wives were chosen from good families not only to secure the legitimacy of a man’s children, but to strengthen political and economic alliances between families, clans, tribes and kingdoms. To ensure that any offspring were the legitimate heirs, the woman was restricted to just one sex partner, her husband.

Biblical marriages were endogamous—that is, they occurred within the same extended family or clan—unlike the modern Western concept of exogamous, where unions occur between outsiders.

Men could have as many sexual partners as they could afford.

The great patriarchs of the faith, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah, had multiple wives and/or concubines, and delighted themselves with the occasional prostitute (Gen. 38:15). King Solomon alone was recorded to have had over 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3).

The book of Leviticus, in giving instructions to men wishing to own a harem, provides only one prohibition, which is not to “own” sisters (Lev. 18:18). The Hebrew Bible is clear that men could have multiple sex partners. Wives ensured legitimate heirs; all other sex partners existed for the pleasures of the flesh.

A woman, on the other hand, was limited to just one sex partner who ruled over her—unless, of course, she was a prostitute.

Biblical marriage was considered valid only if the bride was a virgin. If she was not, then she needed to be executed (Dt. 22:13-21).

Marriages could only take place if the spouses were believers (Ezra 9:12). And if the husband were to die before having children, then his brother was required to marry the widow. If he refused, he had to forfeit one of his sandals, be spit on by the widow, and change his name to “House of the Unshoed” (Dt. 25:5-10).

As much as we do not want to admit it, marriage is an evolving institution; a social construct that has been changing for the better since biblical times.

Those who claim that the biblical model for marriage is one husband and one wife apparently haven’t read the Bible or examined the well-documented sources describing life in antiquity.

The sooner we move away from the myth of the so-called traditional biblical marriage, the better prepared we will be to discuss what constitutes a family in the 21st century.

Originally posted at Associated Baptist Press Inc.; Photo via Flickr user freefotouk.

We received many comments about Dr. De La Torre’s omission of New Testament texts. He responded with the article, “Marriage in the New Testament.”

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Comments (13)

Larry Turner

It is very interesting to
It is very interesting to read this. While most of the time, when people talk about “biblical marriage”, they only reference the Old Testament, neglectfully overlooking the New Testament. The Old Testament was the Old Covenant with God, pre-Jesus. These people had different rules to live by (even the personality of God is different). For our lives, the New Testament holds more weight. Personally, I feel way too many are living in the old way (and are Old Testament Christians): this tends to be the “representation” of Christianity to the world by many. But, since Jesus came to save us and fulfilled the Old Covenant with God in our behalf, we must change. We must be New Testament Christians (again, here, within the New Testament, the personality of God is different, so should we be).


I will have to disagree with
I will have to disagree with you on your whole article, you it with a bias .
for one you need to read the bible as a whole and stop taking vesus out of context. second is that your arguement make the assumption god approved of this marriage style the early jewish people had. no god states in the very being no sutible helper could be found for adam so god made eve ,and stated that reason a man a woman are made to be together read gen 2 again . if this is not enough read lev18 if this is not enough read the ten comandments if this is still not enought read the story about sodom and gomorrah and why it fell gen 19 . you want love for wife read about jacobs love for rachel and how he was tricked gen 29:14-30 our the whole story would even be better. if you look you will see man love for his wife beyond sex in the old testament. now the new testament when jesus speaks in the gospels about divorce and adultery he speaks to the men about there wives does he not read matt 5:27-32 . jesus restates gen 2 in matt 19:1-12 and talks about divorce . go to 1cor 6:12-7:40 read this and read ephesians 5:22-33 ,1 peter 2:13-3:7 . in conclusion the bible is full of stories were the israelites messed up and screwed things up and had to repent and go back to following god .it is our story as humans how we get close to god and get comfortable and let other thing pull us away from god and destroy our lives ,then we come to a place were we hit bottom and start searching for god all over again and come back into his presents .

Roger Bird

Did you even read this blog?
Did you even read this blog? Your arguments are directly addressed – and skillfully disposed of – in this article.


I am not a professional when
I am not a professional when concerning the bible, and I do not claim to be. However, I am pleased to say that I am a rather close reader. Please, if you will, note that the article didn’t say that there WAS no love between a husband and wife, simply that it was not REQUIRED. And if you look at it technically, the version of the bible we read is drastically different from the Hebrew version, thanks to the bastardization and/or misinterpretation of hard-to-translate words. I do believe YOU need to seek out a copy of the Hebrew bible and translate it yourself so that you can see most if not all of the points in this article are completely true.

Aaron Miller

You make a very good point
You make a very good point there. It is also rather unfortunate in my opinion that Rev. Dr. De La Torre made no reference to the New Testament in this post. I think reading the New Testament would be essential to understanding biblical marriage from a Christian viewpoint, rather than a Jewish one. I have nothing against Jews, but I believe this is a Christian website. (Although I doubt any Jew would view the Hebrew Bible in such a negative light as Torre seems to.)

Diana Barlow

I have to admit that the
I have to admit that the content of this blog was very informative as to the Old Testament way of thinking about marriage. I do however have to (sort of) agree with the previously made comments. If you really want to argue that “Biblical Marriage” should include equality for all. then find relevant scripture in the New Testament. The old Testament, it can be argued, isn’t necessarily what “Christians” live by since it wasn’t written in the “time of Christ”. If you want to turn the cheeks of Christians find the teachings of Jesus that speak of the equality in marriage that we need today! I sincerely hope that you can and maybe when other Christians read it their eyes will be opened.


How can you possibly write an
How can you possibly write an article refuting the biblical view on marriage without using a single source from the new testament?

How about Ephesians 5:25 – Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” and on it goes. Men are called to love their wives to the point of death! That certainly doesn’t paint a picture of “ownership.”

Even if you were correct in your assertion that our view of biblical heterosexual marriages was incorrect or historically accurate, that still does not discount the fact that the bible is incredibly clear that homosexuality is a sin. So i’m not sure what you’re trying to prove with this article.

The Word of God has no changed, society has.


First; and this is completely
First; and this is completely my opinion, the original model for a marriage was the focus here and why scripture from the OT was used. Anyone who truly reads AND studies the Bible would know that and would both understand and agree that women WERE property then. Marriages were not [all] about love at that time. We have to remember about the time it was written; the laws of that time and of the specific cultures of that time. We have to remember who the audience was at the time that specific laws had been provided. The love you bring up regarding the scripture in Ephesians is of course AFTER Christ. This is from the NEW covenant after the laws had been fulfilled by our Lord who then teaches about love. So of course He would then tell the husbands to love their wives just as Christ loved the church; He is telling them that being married is no longer just about property and prestige, but that marriage is about love and those who were married at that time needed to know that. It had nothing to do with being gay or straight but had everything to do with going from property to love.


Actually, if you will go find
Actually, if you will go find and translate the Hebrew version of the Bible, it says absolutely nothing about homosexuality. The word did not even exist back then. The men who came to Lot asking for the angels did not say ‘so that we may have intercourse with them’–they said ‘so we may know them’, because they were in a small, isolated town and not used to strangers: Lot himself was a stranger in their midst. Similarly, the anti-gay ‘proof’ in Romans? It was referring to the ceremonies that the people in the town did to worship false gods, like Athena, Apollo, and Aphrodite. Never once does the bible say anything against people of the same sex being together.

Do you honestly think the people who translated the Bible into English (namely, the men in control of the church in England!) didn’t put their opinion in? THEY may have seen it as an abomination and therefore switched the sex around to fit as they wanted it to. They could have and DID–when It was being translated, the church could do what it wanted and no one could correct them because they weren’t learned enough.

You would be doing yourself a HUGE favor to look up a proper translation of the bible or to translate it yourself.

Emily Martecchini

Jesus said “Husbands love
Jesus said “Husbands love your wives,” because, as the article states, in biblical times, the attitude was that wives were just the property of their husbands (straight men). In other words, straight men had to be taught that they should love their wives. Maybe people in homosexual relationships back then never would have dreamed of thinking of their romantic partners as property, so maybe Jesus didn’t feel he needed to address them on this issue. I think you are absolutely right that the Word of God has not changed and society has, but maybe society has been reading the Word of God wrong all these years, and is changing for the better and finally beginning to read it right.

John Kupitz

Thank you for your article. I
Thank you for your article. I sympathize with your experience, and love you as a person, but I agree with some of the comments above regarding the New Testament and the true “biblical” definition of marriage. Unfortunately, the word “biblical” is itself deceiving. It is
“biblical” to kill a bunch of babies in order to prevent a rebellion because the Pharaoh did it. This of course, is not what we mean when we use the word “biblical”. A better word is “godly” or “Christian”. The Christian view is made clear MANY times in both testaments. While the “civil” law made a woman the property of a man, that was NEVER God’s law. A man does not “own” his wife anymore than Christ “owns” the church. He is the head, who gives his life for his bride. The picture of a man and woman is to reflect this. And yes, the biblical picture of marriage does presuppose children as an expression of marital union. This cannot be a requirement, but it is the norm. It is the norm because the Christian view of society holds the nuclear family as the basic unit of any and every healthy society. Otherwise, we do as the LGBT community and pro-choice advocates have done, and we divorce sex from “making babies” (and raising them). On the other hand, I do believe and understand that same sex attraction is real. To that there is no easy answer. I hope to see you and your partner in heaven, but I expect, when every deed is judged, this is something that will require God’s forgiveness. Fortunately, we have a very gracious God. Perhaps even your orientation is not as bad as I and others like me tend to think it is. Believe me when I say that I wish you every happiness in Christ. But also believe me when I politely must disagree with your assessment of what is “biblical”.


Bottom line: Christians use
Bottom line: Christians use Old Testament which is a translated version of Hebrew Bible. It was translated to fit the rise of Christianity. If one uses the example of Adam and Eve, guess what? They were related. They were never even married. There are five scenarios of what marriage really was during that time. None were traditional between 1 man and 1 woman as we have today. Look them up. They are described in full detail. So if you are going to use Genesis as establishment of what a traditional marriage is, then you must also use the five types of marriage described throughout Hebrew scripture to make your argument not to allow same-sex marriage. By that we can fight that traditional marriage is also unbiblical. Neither traditional that we have today or same-sex marriage is defined in the Hebrew scriptures, minus God creating a man and a woman, but marriage is not even discussed there, people believe it’s in there because that’s what they have been taught.


Very interesting; it’s too
Very interesting; it’s too bad that my own mother doesn’t care.

This is why I’m never getting married.

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