Presbytery of Genesee Valley: Amending Marriage

This Rationale mentioned Jesus and/or Christ, Bible and/or Scripture(s) and Confession(s).  The excerpt under review is:

* The statement restricting marriage to “one man and one woman” addresses polygamy in 17th century England. The statement that marriage is “between a man and a woman” reflects conventions of the mid-20th century and is descriptive, not prescriptive. This overture is necessary to clarify those ambiguities and antiquated statements contained in W-4.9000.

The first statement is apparently based on an editorial note for “The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America” version of The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXIV.

“Ed. 1647, Chapter XXIV reads: “I. Marriage is to be between one Man and one Woman: neither is it lawfull for any Man to have more then one Wife, nor for any Woman to have more then one Husband, at the same time.”

The emphasis of the original text is on prevention of polygamy. However, almost a century earlier (the 1560’s) the Second Helvetic Confession defined marriage as between “man and woman,” citing Matthew 19:4 as the controlling Scripture.

5.246 “MARRIAGE. For marriage (which is the medicine of incontinency, and continency itself) was instituted by the Lord God himself, who blessed it most bountifully, and willed man and woman to cleave one to the other inseparably, and to live together in complete love and concord (Matt.19:4 ff). … We therefore condemn polygamy, and those who condemn second marriages.”

Note that here too polygamy is specifically condemned.

What concerns me is the apparent “argument by non sequitur,” which is defined as a conclusion or statement that does not logically follow from the previous argument or statement. In this particular case, the fact that the Confessions in question oppose polygamy does not invalidate the traditional definition of Christian marriage.  In fact it’s quite the opposite.  The Confession’s authors opposed polygamy because Christian marriage was understood to be only between one man and one woman.

The statement about “conventions of the mid-20th century” is nonsensical on its face, since the Confessional record clearly shows that the convention of Christian marriage predates the mid-20th century by at least 500 years.  Decisively, the convention for marriage under attack is the very one articulated by Jesus Christ in Matthew 19:4-6.

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