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Bible passages describing eight family/marriage types.

Part 1:
Two common types: nuclear & levirate

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  • "Scripture defines marriage as a faithful, lifelong covenant between a man and a woman. That is a value that believers are not free to dismiss." Jimmy Barrentine, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa, 2007. 1

  • "If everything is marriage then nothing is marriage." Benigno Blanco, vice-president of the Spanish Family Forum. 2

  • "We are in a transition between a new consciousness and old definitions. The new consciousness will win but as with every human struggle to emerge from ignorance, there will be casualties long after the issue is decided." John Shelby Spong speaking about same-sex marriage.

  • "I guess I just don't understand how people can be so passionately hateful about something that won't affect their lives one bit." 'Stew,' from a culture wars forum, also speaking about same-sex marriage.. 3

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Family types mentioned in the Bible:

We have seen hundreds of articles, postings, blogs, etc. on the Internet referring to "biblical marriage" or "marriage in the Bible" as being a union of one man and one woman. Surprisingly, many were written by pastors, priests or ministers. But a close reading of the Bible shows that there are at least eight different marriage/family styles mentioned in the Bible without criticism:

Display of 8 marriage types in the Bible 4

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Of the eight types of marriages mentioned in the Bible, many were non-consensual and some would have involved continual rapes. The first two types shown in the above graphic are described here:

  • Type 1: The standard nuclear family: God is recorded as promoting the this type of marriage in Genesis 2:18: Referring to Adam, "...the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him." (King James Version - KJV) "Help meet" also appears in the Jerusalem Bible. It is translated "helper" in many other translations (e.g. Amplified Bible, An American Translation, James Moffatt Translation, New American Standard Bible, New Century Version, New International Version, New World Translation, Revised Standard Bible, Young's Literal Translation.) The Living Bible, New Living Translation, and Today's English Version use a phrase like "a suitable companion to help him."

    The original Hebrew word, when used to refer to humans, implies a partnership of two equals, rather than a relationship between persons of unequal status. "Co-worker" or "equal partner" might be a better translation. The Contemporary English Version, New American Bible, and Revised English Bible use the more accurate term "partner" indicating an equal status between Adam and Eve.

    Genesis 2:24 describes how a man leaves his family of origin, joins with a woman. They consummate the marriage, and live as a couple. There were quite a few differences between the customs and laws of contemporary North Americans and of ancient Israelites. In ancient Israel:

    • Inter-faith marriages were theoretically forbidden. However, they were sometimes formed most notably by Solomon.

    • Children of inter-faith marriages were considered illegitimate.

    • Marriages were generally arranged by family or friends. They did not result from a gradually evolving, loving relationship that developed during a period of courtship.

    • A bride who had been presented as a virgin and who could not be proven to be one was stoned to death by the men of her village. (Deuteronomy 22:13-21) There appears to have been no similar penalty for men who engaged in consensual pre-marital sexual activity.

  • Type 2: Levirate Marriage: The name of this type of marriage is derived from the Latin word "levir," which means "brother-in-law." It is called "yibbum" in Hebrew. This involved a woman who was widowed without having borne a son. She would be required to leave her home, marry her brother-in-law, live with him, and engage in sexual relations. If there were feelings of attraction and love between the woman and her new husband, this arrangement could be quite agreeable to both. Otherwise, the woman would have to endure what was essentially serial rapes with her former brother-in-law as perpetrator. Their first-born son was considered to be sired by the deceased husband. Before the details of conception were determined, such a belief made a lot of sense. It lives on in some version of Sharia law among Muslims which state that a woman can conceive any time up to seven years after engaging in intercourse.

    In Genesis 38:6-10, Tamar's husband Er was killed by God for unspecified sinful behavior. Er's brother, Onan, was then required by custom to marry Tamar. Not wanting to have a child who would not be considered his, he engaged in an elementary (and quite unreliable) method of birth control: coitus interruptus. God appears to have given a very high priority to the levirate marriage obligation. Being very displeased with Onan's behavior, God executed him as well.

    Ruth 4 reveals that a man would be required to enter into a levirate marriage not only with his late brother's widow, but with a widow to whom he was the closest living relative.

    Deuteronomy 25:9-10 describes a process called "halizah" whereby a man can refuse to marry the widow in a levirate marriage. The widow spits in his face, and takes one of his shoes. He is humiliated from that time onwards by being referred to within his community as "the one without a shoe." As one might expect from the low status of women in ancient Hebrew society, there was no mechanism by which the widow could opt-out of a levirite marriage.

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This topic continues with the description of six other family types in Part 2

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Michael Foust, "California 'gay marriage' bill goes to Schwarzenegger," Baptist Press, 2007-SEP-10, at:

  2. "Spanish pro-family leader decries government policies," Catholic World News, 2005-JUN-20, at:

  3. "Stew" posting a response to "Dispatches from the Culture Wars" bulletin board on the topic "Canada paves the way for gay marriage," on 2004-DEC-09. See:

  4. We do not know the creator of this image. If you are that person and would like to be credited with authorship or would like to have the image removed, please send us an Email. You can use the "contact us" button below.

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Copyright © 2001 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUL-3
Latest update: 2018-MAY-16
Author: B.A. Robinson
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