Same-sex marriage – the most difficult topic in this entire theological debate. There are no examples of it given in the Bible, therefore it must be wrong, right? Or is it, there are no examples of it given in the Bible, therefore it must be okay….right?
Well, there is a traditional teaching that if one wants to find out the meaning of something in Scripture, one must flip back the pages to where that “something” first appears, because that is the headquarters of it’s elucidation.
The first marriage appears within the beginning chapters of Genesis, and it’s purpose has been briefly discussed in part 1 of this series. What I didn’t mention however was the extremely enchanting theology of bashert, meaning “destiny” or “soulmate” in english, which sadly goes unheard in most Christian circles.
We all know the story of Chavah splitting from Adam’s body, but we pass over the brief yet powerful story of Chavah splitting from Adam’s soul in Genesis 5:2
זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בְּרָאָ֑ם וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָ֗ם וַיִּקְרָ֤א אֶת־שְׁמָם֙ אָדָ֔ם בְּי֖וֹם הִבָּֽרְאָֽם׃ (ס)
be·ra·’am; za·char u·ne·ke·vah vay·va·rech vai·yik·ra a·dam, be·yo·vm hib·ba·re·’am.
He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created.
Here, “Adam” is translated “Man” yet in other places, “Adam” is the name of one individual in particular. Surely the original author of Genesis wouldn’t have been so careless as to include the same word with different meanings in such close proximity to each other? Even the Israelites, who understood it’s direct context, would’ve confused the two. This has lead Rabbis, Pastors and theologians to speculate that this was no accident, and “Adam” meaning “Man” actually takes on a far more complex meaning.
For centuries, people have understood this verse to refer to one androgynous soul consisting of both Adam and Chavah, some even going so far as to say one androgynous being with two faces, back and front.
Howard Schwartz has noted
Facing in two directions made walking difficult, and conversation awkward. So God changed His mind and split Adam (man) into two, making two backs, one for Adam and one for Eve, and dividing them into two separate beings.
Should this long-held understanding of soul mates be true, the first union would have been androgynous, being neither heterosexual nor homosexual, unlike the reunion (“one flesh” – Gen 2:24).1
It’s not clear where the modern perception of Christian marriage comes from, but bashert is only the beginning evidence of how our view of marriage has changed over the centuries.
We only have to open a history book to learn that premodern marriage wasn’t as peachy as we like to think. In fact, Stephanie Coontz – author of Marriage, a history: How Love Conquered Marriage – has joked that Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got To Do With It? should’ve been the processional song for the weddings that took place during our early history.
♫ Got to do with it? ♫ Got to do with it?♫
During this period, marriages were usually arranged by families and were performed to strengthen alliances, form peace treaties, build a labour force and to keep assets in the family; This is why polygamy/bigamy was so widespread and is even referenced in the Torah, but never explicitly condemned.2
So if polygamy isn’t condemned in the Bible, does that mean we can still practise it? Well, that’s a topic for another day but what we can say is that the while God’s purpose of marriage has not changed, there is no mention of “one man, one woman” given in the Bible to tell us what a marriage should look like – Though it must be noted, many argue that Yeshua’s mention of “the two will become one flesh” in Matt 19:3-6 is proof of monogamy as God’s ideal.
The most fascinating thing in this entire debate however, is the findings of Dr. John Boswell – all of which has been published in his 1994 book Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe. Dr. Boswell spent 12 years researching same-sex unions/reunions in pre-modern Europe and some of his discoveries, including a multitude of antiquarian liturgical documents, were unearthed in the Vatican archives and in collections ranging from Sinai to Istanbul.
Among these, a captivating icon depicts a wedding between none other than St. Serge and St. Bacchus, whom are canonised in both the Catholic and (Eastern and Oriental) Orthodox traditions as holy Saints. Furthermore, the icon depicts Christ himself as the pronubus (best man/officiate), an idea which almost seems blasphemous to modern conservative Christians.3
In the 6th Century CE, Severus of Antioch said
“we should not separate in speech (St. Serge and St. Bacchus) who were joined in life”.
Then in the 10th Century CE account of their lives, Saint Serge is blatantly referred to as the “sweet companion and lover” of Bacchus, making it obvious that their relationship went far beyond friendship.4
EDIT: Image of the icon is not working, see it here, courtesy of Matt and Andrej Koymasky.
Dr. Boswell’s book also includes over 69 antiquarian manuscripts, detailing the instructions of how to conduct gay weddings, otherwise known as “adelphopoiesis” (ἀδελφοποίησις) or “brother-making”. These ceremonies included rituals such as gathering of a church community, a blessing at the altar, participation of a priest, joining of the right hands, eating the Eucharist and a banquet afterwards. These are all characteristics of a wedding, suggesting that it is just that, and not a ritual instead representing civil partnership.
Dr. John Boswell entered eternal sleep on Christmas Eve in 1994, but one thing is for certain – his research into LGBT+ people in the early church will go down in history. His fascinating discoveries give gay people a place in the church, just as they had before and just as God always intended.
1. Schwartz, Howard and Caren Loebel-Fried. Tree Of Souls. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
2. Coontz, Stephanie. Marriage, A History. New York: Viking, 2005.
3. Boswell, John. Same-Sex Unions In Premodern Europe. New York: Villard Books, 1994.
4. Roberts, Carlos C. Rainbow And The Spirit. Authorhouse, 2012.