Getting marriage wrong

Historically, Christianity got the concept of marriage wrong. We should not be surprised that an unhealthy and oppressive view developed.

By Miguel De La Torre

The Hebrew Bible’s interpretation of marriage was that women were akin to property, while men were biblically provided with the opportunity to have multiple sex partners. The New Testament interpretation privileged singleness, while women were human incubators who found their salvation through childbirth.

The shapers of our faith took over from there.

“Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman,” said the second-century Greek Church father Clement of Alexandria.

Tertullian, the early Christian author from Carthage, wrote of the woman: “You are the one who opened the door to the devil…. You are the one who persuaded [Adam] whom the devil was not strong enough to attack. All too easily you destroyed the image of God, man. Because of your desert, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die.”

“As long as woman is for birth and children, she is different from man as body is from soul,” said St. Jerome, a priest and theologian who died in 420. “But when she wishes to serve Christ more than the world, then she will cease to be a woman and will be called man.”

Of celibacy, Jerome wrote: “Either we pray always and are virgins, or we cease to pray that we may fulfill the claims of marriage.”

St. Paula, the Roman saint and Desert Mother who lived 347-404, observed: “I must disfigure that face which contrary to God's commandment I have painted with rouge, white lead and antimony. I must mortify that body which has been given up to many pleasures. I must make up for my long laughter by constant weeping. I must exchange my soft linen and costly silks for rough goat's hair. I, who have pleased my husband and the world in the past, desire now to please Christ.”

“Nothing so much casts down the mind of man from its citadel as do the caresses of women,” wrote St. Augustine (354-430). “Nothing is so much to be shunned as sexual relations.” 

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), said: “Rid society of prostitutes and licentiousness will run riot throughout. Prostitutes in a city are like a sewer in a palace. If you get rid of the sewer, the whole place becomes filthy and foul.”

“God created man with a broad chest, not broad hips, so that in that part of him he can be wise; but that part out of which filth comes is small,” said church reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546). “In a woman, this is reversed. That is why she has much filth and little wisdom.”

On marriage, Luther said to women: “Bring that child forth, and do it with all your might! If you die in the process, so pass on over, good for you! For you actually die in a noble work and in obedience to God.”

Should a wife refuse to have sex, Luther said, “it is time for the husband to say, ‘If you will not, another will; the maid will come if the wife will not.’” 

John Calvin (1509-64) said: “Woman, by nature (that is, by the ordinary law of God), is formed to obey; for the government of women has always been regarded by all wise persons as a monstrous thing, and therefore, so to speak, it will be a mingling of heaven and earth, if women usurp the right to teach.”

“The vulgar proverb, indeed, is that [the woman] is a necessary evil ... given as a companion and an associate to man, to assist him to live well,” Calvin said in his commentary on Genesis.

And more recently:

Beverly LaHaye: “The woman who is truly Spirit-filled will want to be totally submissive to her husband…. This is a truly liberated woman. Submission is God’s design for women.”

James Dobson: “The primary responsibility for the provision of authority in the home has been assigned to men.... Whether women’s activists like it or not, a Christian man is obligated to lead his family to the best of his ability…. God apparently expects a man to be the ultimate decision maker in his family.” 

Albert Mohler: “The church must help this society regain its sanity on the gift of children. Willful barrenness and chosen childlessness must be named as moral rebellion. To demand that marriage means sex -- but not children -- is to defraud the Creator of His joy and pleasure in seeing the saints raising His children. That is just the way it is.”

Miguel A. De La Torre: “The greatest threat to justice-based, loving, mutually giving marriages has been the so-called ‘biblical traditional marriage’ and how the Christian Church, throughout the ages, imposed said definition upon society.”

Previous commentary by Miguel De La Torre:

Biblical’ marriage unmasked

Marriage in the New Testament

OPINION: Views expressed in ABPnews/Herald columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.