Marriage in the Bible: What Do the Texts Say? is an honest engagement with the relevant passages in the two primary Testaments of the Christian Bible. Rather than making the Bible confirm a specific stance on marriage, the author invites her readers to be honest about what these biblical stories, laws, commands, and sayings meant in their original contexts. In doing this, the author engages the conflicting messages about biblical marriage from such figures as Jesus, St. Paul, and St. Augustine. The first part of the book addresses four passages that many people believe defines “biblical marriage” as being intended for procreation, only between a man and a woman, anti-divorce, and holy or sacred. While these passages quoted out of context may be read to mean these things, when read in context the first two are not even talking about marriage, and the latter two assert that wives should be fearfully submissive to their husbands and show Jesus affirming a non-binary gender and non-hetero sex, among other things. The reader then gets a crash course on what marriages in the Bible actually look like, including additional content from Jesus and Paul that is anything but positive about marriage. The final section of the book highlights several of the themes in the Bible that are still alive and well, today, themes that have an impact on relational and social expectations of men and women, though most detrimentally for women. What might be most surprising are the insights in the final chapter, inviting people to take a fresh look at select moments for Jesus and Paul. Marriage in the Bible invites its reader to take these passages and their messages seriously, to consider the ways they influence beliefs and behaviors, and to decide if marriage as it is presented in the Bible is helpful and healthful for people today.
Jennifer Bird has been writing, teaching, speaking, leading workshops, and creating videos for faith communities on what the Bible does and does not say about marriage since 2012, when North Carolina passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Her upbringing in the United Methodist Church, Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, doctoral studies in New Testament and Early Christianity at Vanderbilt University, and thirty-plus years of teaching come together in this book, which is her effort to help people know how to handle the Bible in this conversation. She is the author of Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands and Abuse, Power, and Fearful Obedience: Reconsidering 1 Peter's Commands to Wives.
Section One: “Biblical Marriage”
Section Two: Marriage in the Bible
Section Three: That Which Remains
Postscript on Augustine
About the Author
Marriage in the Bible meets readers where they are to present them with researched perspectives, thoughtful prompts, and an honest invitation for dialogue on complex matters. And it’s a conversation piece that illustrates why Bird is among the premier public educators of the Bible.
With refreshing candor and directness, Dr. Jennifer Bird confronts head-on the patriarchal, heteronormative, and often abusive assumptions undergirding the concept of “biblical marriage.” Bird walks with her readers through a re-reading of key couples and passages in both testaments of Christian Scripture, offering linguistic, literary, and historical insight along the way to uncovering the vast chasm between the biblical world and today. She does not seek to impose her values upon her readers—though it is clear what her values are—but, rather, commends an honest interrogation of what modeling contemporary relationships after biblical precedent would really entail. Her work stands alongside Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History as mandatory reading in understanding and reframing contemporary conversations around love and marriage in light of the cultural influences of the past.
In her provocative book, Jennifer Bird challenges what we understand the Christian Bible to say about marriage. She provides scholarship in easy language about verses we thought understood. I promise you’ll have some jaw-drops along the way!
This is that rarest of books on the Bible. Written by a trained biblical professional, it reads as though it were not, meaning that it is an engaging page-turner, personal and personable, on a topic of immense contemporary importance.
Jennifer Bird’s Marriage in the Bible is the book that we need now. It delves deeply into how we interpret the Bible—a topic that has become increasingly important in both personal and political settings. In clear and accessible language, her book considers the context in which the biblical texts on marriage, gender and reproduction were written, the significance of word usage, and the dominant assumptions that we often bring to our reading of these texts. It will be a great resource for congregations, educational institutions, and the general public.
Dr. Jennifer Bird's new book, Marriage in the Bible, is a landmark work on the topic that both scholars and everyday readers will find illuminating, insightful and educational. Bird's uncommon expertise in this area shines through on every page. Prepare to be surprised, challenged and astounded in every single chapter of this exceptional book. Highly recommended!
Marriage in the Bible: What Do the Texts Do Say? is a sharp yet accessible reading of the Bible for Christians as well as people who are raised outside of Christianity or Judaism. Her chapter "Only Heteros" takes the readers through a nuanced understanding of not just the Bible but of relationships in ancient times as well as more modern day context of relationships, sex and sexuality. It's a must read for conservatives who are using the bible to discriminate against the LGBTQ population today.
Jennifer Bird unpacks the concept of “biblical marriage” in this refreshingly accessible and multifaceted book. In our present socio-political climate where the right to bodily autonomy and the safety of LGBTQ+ communities are threatened, Marriage in the Bible provides readers with a resource to critically examine the use of the bible in these debates. A major contribution of the work is that rather than enforcing a “correct” understanding of biblical marriage and relationality, it asks readers to examine the multiplicity, ambiguity, and mystery found within the biblical texts.
A timely guidebook by a masterful teacher that provides frames, concepts, and contexts to think more carefully and have more productive conversations about what the Bible says about marriage.
In Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands (2015), Dr. Jennifer Bird proved she is uniquely gifted to make challenging biblical concepts accessible to a diverse audience. Scholars, students, and seekers alike resonate with the questions asked and the perspectives offered by Bird in Permission Granted. Bird brings that same facility with the text, its context, and her readers' concerns to Marriage in the Bible: What Do the Texts Say? Here, Bird not only interrogates the popular term, ‘biblical marriage,’ and parses important aspects of the enterprise of and actors in marriage, but she also invites her reader to think deeply about matters of sex and sexuality in the biblical text. Teachers and preachers will do well to add Marriage in the Bible to their libraries and reach for it often.
This lively and accessible volume is an eye-opening must-read for any Christian wrestling with biblical teachings about marriage and the family.
11/8/23, Publishers Weekly: This title was featured in the “Scholars Chart Religious Changes” article.