June 15, 2006

A Biblical Critique of Debbie Maken's Book "Getting Serious about Getting Married" (part 2)

PART II: Chapter 1 - "What the Bible Says About Marriage" (God's Blessing or Mrs. Maken's Commandment?)

In the first chapter of Getting Serious about Getting Married, Debbie Maken attempts to lay forth her case that marriage is prescribed by the Bible for most people. She states that "God does not change" and what people "learn about him from the Bible--whether in Genesis, Joel, James--is just as relevant for us today as it was in the past" (p. 22). But such an observation misses the point. I agree that God's nature does not change, but his expectations for humanity most certainly have.

Many people, believers and unbelievers alike, are ignorant of the fact that the Bible is a book of four religions, each expressing a covenant God made with an elect group of people. We have the religion of Adam and Eve, the religion of the Patriarchs (Noah, Abraham, etc.), the religion of the Jews, and finally the religion of the Christians. A crucial event paved the way from one spiritual epoch to another: the Fall, Mount Sinai, and the Cross. There can be no going back to a previous set of expectations. Contrary to what Mrs. Maken might claim, there is no way back to Eden. If anyone questions what I have said, they need to read the book of Hebrews, for example, and see what God has to say about those who try to follow the Old Testament. Bear this in mind as you consider my review of Mrs. Maken's claims.

Marriage and Loneliness

One of Mrs. Maken's proof texts is Genesis 2:18. Here we read that "it is not good for the man to be alone." Which man is the Scriptures describing here? Adam. A "helpmeet" was made for him. Many commentators, including Mrs. Maken, want to point to Genesis 2:18 as being a normative statement on marriage in general. That is, at best, debatable. Look at the text again. God did not say "it is not good for man to be unmarried." He said it is not good for "the man" to be "alone." Adam was indeed alone in the sense that no other human being alive.

Even if we understand Adam's state of being "alone" as referring to his marital status, God's comments are with respect to Adam in particular, not necessarily to men in general. For if we declare that men in general are under purview in this passage, then there can be no exceptions for singleness. Why? Because the Bible never encourages people to embrace that which God declares to be "not good." However, since Mrs. Maken concedes that some people are encouraged by the Bible to be single under some circumstances, then she must either call "good" what God says is "not good" or concede that Genesis 2:18 has a limited application. What limited application shall we embrace? Let the Bible speak for itself: "I will make him a help meet for him [Adam]" (ASV).

Mrs. Maken goes on to write: "Had God intended a buddy system of friends and family to be a happy compromise in the fight against aloneness, he could have simply made more people from the available dust and removed Adam's loneliness through community" (p. 24). This statement is about as compelling as saying, "Had God intended for most everyone to be happily married, we could just fall asleep and wake up to a spouse and a missing rib." Neither statement is substantive, because conjecture about the mind of God and the alternatives he might have otherwise picked is no substitute for exegeting the Scriptures.

There is one other matter to consider: God's plans for marriage in heaven-- that is, no marriage (Matthew 22:30). In both the beginning and at the end of history, we find God in perfect fellowship with humanity. We cannot assume that marriage was created for a fallen world because we find it instituted in an ideal world (Eden). However, we also cannot assume it is essential to an ideal world, per se, because it will not be part of the Resurrection. If marriage, per se, is not a provision for a sinful world nor an essential component of an ideal word, then what is it for? As it is, we cannot say with any certainty that the purpose marriage fulfilled in the Garden of Eden is one that it needs to fulfill today or one it fulfills in the life to come.

Marriage and Work

Mrs. Maken claims that marriage was designed to give meaning to work. This is a peculiar notion because God did not say, "I will make a suitable rationale for Adam to work." On the contrary, Eve is referred as a "help meet" to assist Adam in the work that was already purposed for him. Mrs. Maken confuses the means with the end. Woman is not the focus of man's work; God is. We work in order to glorify Him (1 Corinthians 10:31). If work is so dependent on marriage for meaning, shall we exempt singles from their labors until they get married? Why not? As it is, there are Scriptural reasons to work in spite of marriage (2 Thessalonians 3:10; Ephesians 4:28; Ecclesiastes 2:24).

Marriage and Children

It is beyond the scope of this review to address the issue of whether or not God commands married people to have children. Suffice it to say, if God does not command marriage of everyone, it is a logical conclusion that the same can be said about children. And that brings us to a favorite proof-text of Mrs. Maken and many other religionists: Genesis 1:28. In this passage, we read where God said, "Be fruitful and multiply." Unfortunately, it seems that too many commentators ignore a few words that proceed that statement (viz., "And God said unto them"). Why should we suppose that a wish for two people to be "fruitful and multiply" applies with equal force to six billion? It is also worthy to note that in Genesis 9:1 and 9:7, God does not say, "Let every man be fruitful and multiply." The addressees in these verses are also specified: four men alone on a planet with their wives.

Mrs. Maken's Reading of Malachi 2:15

Apart from Gen 1:28, Mrs. Maken takes comfort in Malachi 2:15. On page 27, she quotes the ESV: "Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth." One may come away form this verse believing God wants people to marry and have children in order to bring more believers into the world.

There's just one problem. Malachi 2:15 is a notoriously difficult passage to translate from the original language. John Calvin, one of Mrs. Maken's favorite religious figures, conceded as much (though he seems to support Mrs. Maken's reading nonetheless). When conservative scholars admit there are serious textual problems with the Hebrew manuscripts of Malachi 2:15, we should not be surprised when our English Bibles manifest a variance in translation. Let us look at some of the English versions of the Bible that do not support Mrs. Maken's reading of Malachi 2:15 ...

1. The following translations mention God "seeking godly offspring" but do not make any reference to marriage in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, Malachi 2:15 could be referring to the children of Jews in particular as opposed to humanity in general:
  • New Revised Standard Version
  • Revised English Bible
  • New English Bible
  • Douay-Rheims
  • New Living Translation
  • New American Bible
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible
2. The following translations don't even specify God "seeking godly offspring" much less anything about marriage in the Garden of Eden:

  • The Peshitta (Lamsa translation of Ancient Near Eastern Manuscripts of the Bible)
  • New American Standard Bible
  • American Standard Version (alternate reading given)
  • English Standard Version (alternate reading given - yes, the version put out by Mrs. Maken's publisher and quoted by her)
We see that those of Mrs. Maken's persuasion can ill-afford to be dogmatic about their position. However, if one wants to latch on to some possible gloss of the text, then it is best to look at the context and take the most plausible reading. Which reading shall we embrace? I agree with Markus Zehnder's understanding of Malachi 2:15:

"The phrase zerah elohim ["godly seed"] connects in the most meaningful way to the preceding verse if it is used as a designation for the offspring resulting from the marriages of the addressed men. According to the prophet, this offspring constitutes 'godly seed' only if the children are born out of the relation between members of the YHWH-congregation and Israelite wives, whereas the children born by women of foreign faiths cannot be called 'godly seed'." (Zehnder, Markus, "A Fresh Look at Malachi II 13-16," Vetus Testamentum 53, no. 2 (2003): 249.) (emphasis mine)
Unlike the Israelites, Christians do not constitute a physical kingdom, but a spiritual one. In a spiritual kingdom, "godly seed" does not come by physical means, but by spiritual means (Mark 4:30-32; Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Peter 1:22-23). I understand my remarks on Malachi 2:15 may seem like overkill, but the passage is a popular proof-text for religious pundits who promote marriage and childbearing. That Mrs. Maken or anyone else would try to make a such modern day application of Malachi 2:15 is simply unwarranted.

The Natural Law Flaw

Near the end of Chapter 1, Mrs. Maken makes the following statement: "Natural law simply means the 'way something is made is the way it should act'" (p. 27). Thus, Mrs. Maken assumes that it is just "natural" for us to marry and have children. Obviously, the fact that we are created "male and female" points to the design of marriage being the norm early in humanity's history. However, what else was the norm for human beings in the Garden of Eden? The norm was that they were "naked and unashamed." Innocence allowed for sexuality's full expression. There were no unpleasant repercussions. If we want to look at nature, as Mrs. Maken suggests, then we must look at animals who wear no clothing and have no artificial constraint on their sexuality.

Indeed, the proponents of "natural law" sound, at times, very much like Darwinists. Of course, Evangelical "natural law" proponents would never encourages us to do what "comes natural." Many fall back on their Calvinistic position of total heredity depravity to explain that our natures are flawed by sin. But there is nothing flawed or sinful about being "naked and unashamed," per se, so why do we cover up?

We see from the matter of nakedness that people must, at times, forego even that which was originally declared good in God's eyes. The same holds true for marriage. The issues of nakedness, sex, marriage, and reproduction stand or fall together. If the Fall necessitates constraints on any one of these, then the same holds true for others. We live in a fallen world of scarcity, poverty, hunger, stress, pain, disease, sadness, covetousness, hatred, and death. If nakedness and sex are not unqualified blessings, then neither are marriage and children (Proverbs 30:21, 23a; Luke 21:23).

Conclusion about Chapter 1

Maken's comments about marriage in the Garden of Eden are proof of nothing except how things might have been under more ideal circumstances. It seems that she wants us to embrace marriage enthusiastically and unreservedly regardless of what the Fall did. If we are going to expect human beings to replicate one component of the Edenic experience in such a manner, then perhaps in addition to promoting marriage, we should join a nudist colony. Needless to say, I won't hold my breath for any to take me up on that offer.

19 Comments:

Blogger Gordon Hackman said...

I just finished reading this current post and I'm grinning from ear to ear. Great stuff! Keep it up.

Peace,
Gordon

6/17/06, 1:16 PM  
Blogger Anakin Niceguy said...

Thank you, Gordon.

If you have any specific comments or suggestions about my critique, let me know. I consider my posts to be subject to revision if necessary.

6/17/06, 1:44 PM  
Blogger Gordon Hackman said...

Anakin,

Don't know why I didn't think to mention this earlier. Are you familiar with Laura Smit's book "Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love?" If not, I think you would find it beneficial. Smit is like the anti-Maken, not only in the sense that she defends singleness as the default position for Christians, but also in the sense that her book is thoughtful, non-condescending, and theologically serious. It has a great apendix dealing specifically with ways in which the Protestant church, in particular, has failed singles.

Peace,
Gordon

6/20/06, 3:20 PM  
Blogger Anakin Niceguy said...

I have had heard of the book and though about reading it sometime. I am not sure if I picked up the reference in something you said on another blog, or if it was someone else. At any rate, thanks for the info nonetheless.

6/20/06, 5:57 PM  
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6/21/06, 5:01 AM  
Blogger dabears27 said...

Maken is not bashing men, she is bashing old bachelors.

6/23/06, 5:30 PM  
Blogger Anakin Niceguy said...

"DaBears,"


It's my understanding that "old bachelors" are men.

6/23/06, 6:32 PM  
Blogger dabears27 said...

yes but married men ae not old bachelors and Maken is not bashing married and engaged men.

6/24/06, 9:11 AM  
Blogger Anakin Niceguy said...

Yes, DaBears, but neither is she targeting older single women (as if they bear absolutely no responsibility for their current status).

6/24/06, 9:31 AM  
Blogger Gordon Hackman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/24/06, 7:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OLDER SINGLE WOMEN???

Anakin, are you aware that there is a severe shortage of single Christian men in the church? See "O Brother, where art thou?' and other ChristianityToday.com articles about how the Christian man shortage has affected single church-going women. Most of us are just doing the best we can!
Aside from her blatant prooftexting (which the pro-gift of singleness writers are equally, if not more guilty of), my biggest complaint about Maken's book is that she denies that this shortage even exists.

As much as you've provided some excellent theological analysis to counterpoint her mandatory marriage position, I do hope that you will provide some balance to your critique by addressing some of her valid concerns about some of the dismissive messages given to singles desiring marriage in the past few decades. I was raised in the hey-day of the charismatic movement and can attest to it well.

There's a book by Ellen Varughese "The Freedom to Marry" that addressed the "permission denying" phenomena of treating marriage and singleness as a gift or a calling. Also, Gillis Triplett.com has an article "Is it the will of God for me to marry or remain single" that affirms that it's a personal choice, providing an African American voice to the issue that is dynamic and quite humorous.

6/25/06, 2:02 PM  
Blogger Anakin Niceguy said...

Anonymous,

I am in agreement with you. I think the fundamental flaw lies in the assumption that God gives us no geniune choices in the matter of marriage/singleness, and that we are not free moral agents. People are going to have to realize that free moral agency does not undermine the Sovereignity of God. When we realize that then we don't have to stumble on such question as - "Why didn't God stop Eve from taking the forbbiden fruit?"

I understand there is a shortage of men in the church, but I also believe that a good many Christian men have been passed up by their Sisters because of some rather strigent standards these women have. When an attractive and intelligent Christian woman remains single for a long time, it may indeed be her fault.

6/25/06, 6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Women and stringent standards...
...hmmm...well, I think it works both ways. There are a lot of Christian men who are too godly to admit to themselves (let alone to others) their high standards but are obviously waiting for something better to come along!

Traditionally, men have been the pursuers, motivated mostly by attraction to whatever degree of beauty is accessible (there seems to be some biological reasons for that as well, so I'm not knocking that). Women seem to have much longer lists of what we want (not that I'm claiming that as grounds for mental or moral superiority!) and rarely do we feel physically attracted to a guy from the get-go which seems to make it harder for a man to figure out what to do to get the woman he wants to reciprocate the attraction (opt for a lesser challenge??)

Traditionally, women were in a passive position of having to be pursued (and still are, when it comes to godly women who want marriage, not flings), so the onus was on us to compromise and give the guys who were interested in us a chance (rather than going after the ones we wanted, who would have gone after us if they were interested and actually back away when they sense pursuit-fair enough...or try to exploit a sexual opportunity).

But now that women aren't financially dependent on men anymore, it kind of devalues the main feature that men had to attract women in the past: money, means, etc. So now men have the more complicated task of having to deal with the rest of the items on list, such as interpersonal skills. I don't want to sound like a pollyanna, but I believe that this is how God is transforming the world.

6/25/06, 7:34 PM  
Blogger Josh Justice said...

Anakin,

I'm impressed by your handling of scripture here. I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees Genesis 2:18 that way!

Attending a dispensationalist seminary, I'm definitely being challenged to see the distinctions in how God relates to people at different times, and the limited scope of some of his promises and commands. I can't say that I'm a hard-line dispensationalist, because some of their interpretation of prophecy seems to go against the clear meaning of the text (which it was dispensationalism that taught me to value!). But, I will say that one major thing I've learned, as you've said, is to never assume that a passage in one part of scripture applies to the rest - but rather to see how it is given to see if it's universal.

7/8/06, 8:40 AM  
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7/24/06, 3:26 AM  
Blogger KnightWatch said...

> ... are you aware that there is a severe shortage of single Christian men in the church?<

Oh, come on, can it be THAT bad? Surely it hasn't gotten to the ridiculous 7:1 ratio that Lynn Burrows dicusses in her article, MARRIAGE CHOICES for SINGLE WOMEN!!!

I know there's a male shortage in the churches, but how much more nonimal difference is there than in the sex/ ratio of US?

9/2/06, 9:06 AM  
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