The Arithmetic of Biblical Marriage

Jon and Chris

 Jon & Chris

Photography by D. Plasman

According to the folks at, there are eight formulas for marriage found in the Bible. Here they are, along with my flavored commentary.

(1)  A man + a woman = marriage. Found in Genesis 2:24, this is the most popular definition of marriage and the most widely chosen. From what we’ve been hearing, it’s the only viable definition of marriage offered by those who oppose the recent SCOTUS decision. Within this seemingly crystal clear formula for marriage, however, is some additional arithmetic.

(2)  A man + a woman + the widow of the man’s brother = marriage. A little confusing, but let me explain. If a married man’s brother dies, leaving his widow no children, the obligation to marry the widow falls on the deceased man’s brother (the one already married to a woman). This was called a Levirate marriage and you can read about it in Genesis 38:6-10.

(3)  A man + a woman + concubines = marriage. This arrangement was quite popular with God’s holy people, and God didn’t seem to mind the arrangement one bit. Abraham had a few. Gideon had one. King Solomon had hundreds, that’s because kings, who were also called God’s sons, got all the perks.

(4)  A man (rapist) + a woman (the rape victim) = marriage. This one is really nasty, yet, God made provisions for this arrangement in Deuteronomy 22:28-29. The criminal, excuse me, the man (rapist) was also obligated to pay the father of the woman (the rape victim) fifty shekels of silver. If a shekel weighed an ounce, the total in today’s dollar would come to about $750—a modest cost (with no jail term) for marrying the woman you raped.

(5) A man + a woman + the woman’s slave = marriage. Holy Crap, this is getting messy! Basically, this is the Genesis story of Abraham and Sarah and Sarah’s slave, Hagar. Because Sarah hasn’t yet conceived, she offers Hagar to Abraham, who wastes no time getting Hagar pregnant. Sarah gets jealous and tells Abraham to send her away, which he does. Then God sends an angel to Hagar reminding her, “This is a God-arrangement. Go back to Abraham and tell Sarah to cool it.”

(6) A man (an Israelite soldier) + a woman (a prisoner of war) = marriage. It’s all there in Numbers 31 and Deuteronomy 31. After God tells the Israelites to slaughter their enemies down to the last breathing child, God issues an exemption to young girls who are virgins; they are reserved for the Israelite soldiers (unmarried heterosexuals, I presume) to take as their wives. When it comes to marriage, God is amazingly creative!

(7) A man + a woman + a woman + a woman . . . = marriage. Polygamy was an ancient marriage practice which the biblical writers believed God sanctioned and approved. And let’s face it, if the authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the Bible, I’m not going to argue with them.

(8) A man (a male slave) + a woman (a female slave) = marriage. In Numbers 21, God’s law allowed Israelite slave owners to arrange for the marriage of their slaves.

As far as I can tell, there is no evidence in the Bible for the configurations of: a man + a man = marriage, or, a woman + a woman = marriage. The reasons are twofold: (1) Same gender marriages were not able to produce children. What God’s people needed most through the eight configurations of marriage were lots and lots of children to secure their future. (2) A man + a man union, in particular, was an “abomination” because one of the men had to assume the role of a woman—passive, subservient, the property of her mate. What respectable man could assume such a role and look at himself in the mirror the next morning?

Thank God, we are moving beyond the archaic, culturally bound, biblical arrangements of marriage and finally coming to embrace this truth: When two people love each other, marriage should bring them together in the most intimate ways.

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  1. Jody July 4, 2015 at 9:14 pm #

    Love this pic of Chris and Jon!! Nice blog/pic!

  2. Mary Kansfield July 6, 2015 at 11:49 am #

    Daniel — You are too much. I was never very good at mathematics, so I am very grateful for your help in making sense of “Biblical mathematics.” Press on, press on. Love your blog and pics.

  3. Peggy July 9, 2015 at 11:16 am #

    As usual, you nailed it, Dan. I hope I may share this with others by referring them to your blog.