Unification News for January, 1997
Book Review - Marriage and Romantic Love in the Bible
What the Bible Really Says about Love, Marriage and Family.
by John Temple Bristow,
Chalice Press, 1996. 150 pages.
reviewed by John Slater-NYC
When pastors want to preach on what makes good families, the hard part is the Bible text.
As this excellent book illustrates, there's no ideal family in Scripture. With a remarkable mastery of his sources, John Temple Bristow, a Christian (Disciples) pastor, shows that what prevails instead are ancient customs, unstable marriage populations, and ideas which led to extremes in the early church.
The gritty realism, however, makes this a hopeful book. When scribes confronted Jesus about divorce and marriage, he separated Moses' law from God's law. Similarly, in his ten chapters, Bristow separates human conventions from spiritual ideals.
Old Testament marriage was about property, of which women were a part. In the harsh Levant, this at least assured physical well-being. Bristow finds in that period five models of marriage-arranged, sexual attraction, delayed attraction, rich husbands, and falling in love.
He also finds a few modern lessons. For example, he says, might not a family-involved marriage, like arranged nuptials, or marriage as a sound business pact followed by sexual attraction, help curb modern divorces?
Jacob is the sole case of romantic love. And only King David is enamored of beauty.
In the early church, Bristow sees a carryover of the Greco-Roman denigration of sex, resulting in Mary as virgin, celibacy for the pious, and marriage as a sacrament.
Jesus reverses the property idea by upholding the Genesis ideal of marriage as "one flesh." His own family was dysfunctional. He asks fairness for Judea's divorced women, a social epidemic caused by men, and for God's providence calls followers out of families.
The saving grace of marriage, then, is found in Genesis before the fall. There, Bristow seeds an egalitarian innocence which Christians may pursue under grace. He emphasizes Paul's idealism and argues that his hard sayings-"Wives, be subject to your husbands"-were, in the Greek phraseology, progressive for his day.
This book has a rare economy in recounting scores of biblical families, marital pacts in cultural context, and prominent lineages, such as Jesus' five female ancestors. It is a sermon-giver's delight.
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