It is amazing that we are seeing such contentious arguments about marriage right now. Obama makes a change of public position, Mitt Romney pretends that Mormons never held scriptural positions on marriage that allowed, rather actually favored polygamy. Obama's statement unleashed a torrent of radical and angry claims by politicians from the right and religious leaders. Anthropologists know that the argument that marriage has always been between a man and a woman is false, we find in some people, among Tibetans for example, where they practice polyandry or the marriage of one woman to several brothers, or among the Nuer where two women may be pressed by their kinsmen to marry and one take on the role of man to maintain the male number.
In general one has to wonder why Christians are making such a fuss about gay marriage. The main argument is that it would undermine marriage for Christians. Blaming some one else for your own failures is an old method of avoiding responsibility for your actions, but in the face of terrible divorce rates in the most fundamentalist Christian states and communities it seems just silly (see: http://www.religioustolerance.org/....). However, since we hear almost every day that marriage is a central rite for Christians and that a marriage between a man and a woman is a necessary requirement it is right that we should look at scripture to find out the basis for these claims. The basis, however, does not exist. In fact, early Christians were exhorted not to marry. In 1 Corinthians 7:20 of the King James version Paul tells Christians, "Everyone should remain in the state in which he was called." The implication of this letter for Paul is that he is trying to settle the flock concerning the way of life people should follow in the period of time before Christ's return and in Paul's life it was considered immanent.
In 1 Corinthians 7:25 Paul states, "Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the impending distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage." He goes on, "But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as if they had none." Again Paul is insisting that the Return is upon the Christians in a manner very near. There is another reason, the church at this time was a community of equals in both property and rank. To marry meant that one had the "trouble" of providing for children and a house and a career or livelihood. To Paul this meant a distraction from commitment to the growing needs of the community to teach and spread the message. He remarks on this in 7:33 "...but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided." This division was seen as a weakness of members and thus it was considered necessary not only for Christians not to marry but not to have children. Strangely he invokes his own example of being both celibate and unmarried for people, but then suggests that widows if they cannot control themselves should marry. Most other Bible translations have these same statements from Paul with little variation, like the Jerusalem Bible for example. I discuss this in more detail given the historical context of the early Christian church and the suppression of various sects until the rise of the Catholic sect at: http://www.dailykos.com/....
If we look deeper, however, and at other authors of the early Christian fathers we find a more theoretical concept of why marriage was considered "filthy" as Tertullian referred to it, but actually a device of the devil. St. Jerome argued that people had to avoid the pleasures of the world not only to protect them from temptation, but sex and marriage were seen as a direct means by which the devil controlled the world and prevented Christ's return. A great text on this is by religious scholar Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion: The Message of the Alien God and the beginnings of Christianity, Beacon Press, 1957 (various editions published in the 60s). Here the devil has set himself up as god and leads people into creating more people thus dividing the holy "staircase" of light that would direct the savior to earth to save the world. The early Christian community was heavily influenced by Manichean thought and that of Zoroaster. The writings of Marcion clearly oppose the devil (demiurge) vs the savior who is aided by a female figure often seen as the Jewish goddess in various names but also rarely as Mary. In the lost Gospels of Mary there was supposed to have been elaboration on this, but the last official discussion - saved in Lewis Ellies du Pin's (1691) summaries of the early Church councils - is bare. Du Pin's work is available in English translations in most university libraries with seminaries.
There was an impression in the first century of our era, that if you married and had children you were just guilty of falling for temptation, but those who encouraged people to marry and have children were actually the agents of the devil acting to prevent Christ's return. The practical value of this can be seen in the fact that Roman civil authority had long been based on the clan, the family and the production of children through the patrilineages of the tribes. Undermining this authority went far to bring success to the Christian community and end their control by the state.
As an anthropologist and religious scholar I have written on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the evolution of scripture. The nature and the composition of the family is not part of that body of literature, especially regarding the New Testament. Later additions were made to satisfy the needs of people, and once Christianity became the state religion in the 4th Century of our era, marriage again became a central part of dogma. There are many versions of the New Testament, see Rudolf Bultmann's fine summary analysis, History of the Synoptic Tradition, English translation 1963. Most are later versions, early Medieval, written by Church officials after Constantine completed the official installation of Christianity as the religion of the empire, evolved over several hundred years. An example can be found in Luke, chapter 11, the Apostle says that Christ stated of marriage, "The children of this world marry and are given in marriage, but those who are deemed worthy to attain That World (Heaven) and the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage."You have to remember that in the first years after Christ's death his followers thought he would return in his lifetime. That was the promise and expectation. There was no need for marriage or children and in fact, many early Christian communities, like the earlier Essenenes (see discussions on the Qumran community and its relation to John the Baptist)refused marriage and lived in separate sex lodgings.
Niccolo Caldararo, Ph.D.
Dept. of Anthropology
San Francisco State University
See my article with T.B. Kahle on the Dead Sea Scrolls in Nature at: http://www.nature.com/... and
my article in Radiocarbon on the varieties of scriptural writings and dating at:
Caldararo, N. "Storage Conditions and Physical Treatments Relating to the Dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls." Radiocarbon 37 (1995).