God’s definition of marriage

God’s definition of marriage, according to a lot of people today, is given in Genesis 2:24: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” But there are a few problems with that. For one thing, the word “wife” does not appear in the original text. The word used there is “ishshah,” or woman–the same word Adam uses in the previous verse when he says, “She shall be called woman (ishshah), for she was taken out of man (ish).” There was no license, no priest or rabbi, no vows, or in short, no wedding. Eve was a woman, and Adam just took her and started sleeping with her, without marriage. If you want to find the earliest Biblical reference to actual marriage, you have to go to Sodom.

Latter-day translators, of course, weren’t comfortable with the original idea of a marital union as two people who just start sleeping together, so they replaced the word “woman” with the word “wife” whenever the context makes it plain that she was paired up with a man. But this is an anachronism: the earliest Biblical reference to a formal marriage is found in Genesis 19, where Lot warns the men who were to marry his daughters that Sodom was about to be destroyed. It’s a casual, passing reference, but it’s the earliest.

According to the Genesis 2, God’s original definition of marriage was that you just start sleeping with each other. The formal ceremonies and vows and such arose from secular, cultural sources, of which the earliest Biblical records come from Sodom itself. But even though this kind of formal social acknowledgement has long been denied to gays, the older definition of marriage has always belonged to homosexuals and lesbians as much as anyone else. As long as there have been people, there have been committed, loving, same-sex couples, with or without society’s blessing.

Thus, according to the kind of marriage God allegedly created in Genesis 2, gay marriage has been around longer than Christianity OR Judaism. Moreover, Adam’s sons took “wives” too, so either God created marriage as a sexual union between a brother and his sister, or else there were other people around besides Adam and Eve. Either marriage and incest are the same, or else gay marriage is just as old as heterosexual marriage, since both types of relationship, as far as we know, go all the way back to our prehuman ancestors.

So remember that the next time someone whines to you about “changing” the definition of marriage. We’re not changing it. We’re restoring it, validating it, and celebrating it. We’re letting marriage be everything it was originally meant to be, free from the persecution and oppressions of selfish bigots.

And that’s a good thing.


  1. Gregory in Seattle says

    “But… but… God handed down the King James Version! Everyone knows that Adam and Eve, Abraham, Jesus and Paul spoke Elizabethan English! Just read the Bible and you’ll see!”

    I have actually had people insist that questions about what the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek actually say are irrelevant.

  2. busterggi says

    Ishshah – the bible makes its derivation a pun but I have to wonder about its similarity to Ishtar/Asherah. Anyone out there know?

    • Gregory in Seattle says

      Short answer: No. Ishshah and Asherah are derived from different roots entirely.

      Longer answer: In Semitic languages like Hebrew and Arabic, vowels are subordinate to consonants; clusters of two or three consonants (rarely four) have a root meaning which changes depending on how the vowels around them change.

      Ish is derived from the cluster ‘alif shin, which has a root meaning of “strength.” Ishshah derives from the cluster ‘alif nun shin, which means “humankind.” (Around 300 BC, Hebrew went through a shift and many words with the nun shin combination came to be pronounced shin shin.) Asherah is the feminine form of the name Asher, which is spelled ‘alif shin resh and has a meaning along the lines of “happy” or “blessed.”

  3. San Ban says

    Why should it matter what any particular religion’s definition of marriage is when we’re speaking of civil marriage, a legal definition in a secular republic and not religious ritual or law in a theocracy?

    • wilsim says

      Because the religious bigots are using their personal interpretation of an old dusty book to influence civil policy.

      • San Ban says

        That’s the very reason we should not be quibbling about what their dusty old book means. It’s irrelevant!

  4. Thomas Snyman says

    “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

    Unfortunately, however you read this it still says it is between a man and woman (ish/ishshah); but who is the mother Adam had to leave?

    • Deacon Duncan says

      But notice it does not say only a man and a woman. Just playing devil’s advocate, of course—the Old Testament God was clearly a bigot who hated people for being different and falling in love differently. On the other hand, there’s a whole lot less sound-bite appeal in having to quote the “murder-the-gays” commandments as one’s basis for intolerance. So I’m going to keep deflating their favorite catch-phrases wherever possible.

  5. says

    I enjoyed the post! A critical look at marriage in the context of the Bible yields some wild shit. I’ve recently become an atheist. I’m 24 and I’ve spent a good portion of my life preparing for ministry. I decided not to go to seminary 2 years ago, after finishing my undergrad in religion. Within the past two months, I decided to no longer subscribe to religion. The paradigm shift is dizzying to say the least, and extremely difficult at times. I like to call it PTGD–Post Traumatic God Disorder. I think it’s appropriate. I wrote a similar post about marriage a couple of days ago. It’s titled, “5 Other Biblical Definitions of Marriage.” If you have time, check it out. Thanks for blogging. I find myself searching for others that share similar experiences.

    Have you posted anything about your deconversion experience? I’d love to read it if you have. Thanks again. Keep kickin’ ass.

  6. David Prats says

    If you think marriage is defined by God, you should have spoken up a long time ago when the government began affording married people special privileges and requiring licenses in order to gain access to those favors. When you say “marriage is defined by God”, what you mean is that you want marriage recognized by the government so that you can have the benefits that come with that recognition. You can’t have it both ways. Either recognize that people different from you should be afforded the same opportunities as you petition the government to stop offering special treatment to married people, otherwise, you are just a hypocrite, and there is nothing Jesus disliked more than a hypocrite.

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