December 1, 2015

A Non-traditional Marriage

In the ancient world, the process of acquiring a wife was very different from the reality we know today ...At thirteen, Joseph would have been considered an adult. He would spend the next ten years learning the family business and making a life for himself while living at home. In his early twenties, he would finally be ready to marry. Because men existed in the public sphere and women usually remained in the private sphere (that is, at home), Joseph would first have to approach a young woman's father (she's considered old enough to marry at thirteen). If the father thinks that they would be a good match or it would be economically beneficial to both households, he might give the man his permission to ask his daughter to marry him.

This is something of how the proposal went, Joseph would pour a glass of wine. If Mary did not accept the proposal, she could refuse it. If Mary did accept the proposal, she could drink from it. From that point on, they were technically married. Mary would remain in her father's home while Joseph returned to his in order to begin building a place for him and his bride. This could take more than a year and in the interim the bride might not even see her husband-to-be. Once the place has the approval of the father (I forget which one, Mary's or Joseph's), the big celebration is scheduled.

Think of the Wedding at Cana here - Both families gather together for about a week, they eat a lot, drink even more (the fine stuff first so that nobody notices that the poorer quality stuff is what they're drinking by the last day.) Proof is also given that the husband and the wife have known each other (in the Biblical sense of the word.) When it's all over, the wife goes to live with her husband and does not return to her father's house. For the first year of a husband's marriage, he and his wife are inseparable - he's not even allowed to go to war. They settle into the routine of married life and have a happily ever after, raising their children in this tradition - for the daughters to follow in their mother's footsteps and the sons to follow in their father's footsteps.

Now The Mary and The Joseph didn't get to have a traditional marriage. At some point after Mary had accepted the proposal and while Joseph went to prepare their place, an angel appeared to Mary. She was the first to know what was about to happen. God didn't ask Mary's Father or Joseph if either of them were okay with him supernaturally impregnating Mary. Once the truth was realized and word reached Joseph, he had decided to put away (divorce) Mary quietly because he was an honorable man and he didn't want any more scandal to fall upon either of them. Before he could carry out his plan, an angel appeared to him and changed his mind so that he goes through with the marriage - just not completely. It's not long before word of Jesus' birth sets in motion a chain of events requiring Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to be mobile.

Think about it, traditionally, a man must approach a woman's father to arrange a marriage with her. Breaking with tradition, God went to marry first. Traditionally, a woman goes to live with her husbands family. Breaking with tradition, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus couldn't do that. Traditionally, a wife is the helper of her husband, keeping their home. Breaking with tradition, Joseph was the helper who protected Mary and Jesus, kept them safe, and served as a surrogate father for a son that was not his own.

God didn't depend upon the structure of patriarchy in order to bring about Jesus' birth and ministry, in fact, He defied it by not going through the men in Mary's life first but around them and saving them for last. Mary and Joseph had to break the world's rules (their cultural rules some of which were based on God's instruction millennia ago) in order to partner with God and carry out his plans. The tradition that she had known had protected a system of oppression. One former pastor pointed out that any woman who wasn't married was a prostitute in the Bible - the woman at the well, the woman who anointed Jesus' feet, as well as their Old Testament counterparts, like Rahab the prostitute who has never been known as anything else, and the two prostitutes who had King Solomon solve a dispute for them. Married women were protected by their husbands, unmarried women were protected by their fathers. Women who lost that protection lived in a cruel world that harmed them more than it helped them. There's a reason why patriarchy has a bad reputation - it was a system of men that had blind spots. Any woman who wasn't protected by men also wasn't protected from other men. There's a reason why complementarianism has a worsening reputation - it's patriarchy lite (and in some cases, it's patriarchy by another name.) It suffers the same blind spots. Just ask all the single Christian women about their role in Christianity, ask the twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, and forty+ somethings and you'll find that for generations the role of women in Christianity is something that is lacking definition for many of the unmarried.

All I can say is that if we base our marriages off of what we think we know of marriage in the Bible, we're missing out on the whole truths when we divorce cultural context from the Bible's instruction. By applying a literal reading of the instruction to wives and husbands, we're failing to understand what that instruction was meant to correct or fix because so many of us limit ourselves to only what's within the Bible and things like how exactly marriage worked isn't written in the Bible - it's the sort of think that it's original readers would have already known so they didn't need to be explained to them. Like putting two sets of puzzle pieces together, just because something seems to 'fit' it doesn't mean that it makes for a big picture that makes any sense. That's what accounts for much of the confusion in Complementarianism today.

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