05 November 2014

Why the Term "Biblical Marriage" Is NOT Misleading

It's no secret that I believe in the sacredness of marriage.

As a husband, I understand that I bear the responsibility of humble, considerate leadership.  I also know the immense value of having a godly, supporting, and compassionate wife.  As a follower of Jesus Christ, I have a foretaste of divine intimacy through my marriage -- a relationship that all who love God will share with our Savior in heaven, for all of eternity.

For all of those reasons and more, I'm particularly keen to identify and address the problematic perspectives on marriage that exist more and more in our culture today.

This article, written by self-proclaimed "biblical scholar" Jennifer Bird, was published at the end of October and recently came to my attention.  Here, in order, are the sweeping claims she makes about "biblical" marriage:

  1. Relationships that qualify for legitimate marriage in the Bible include polygamy, open marriage for the man, forcing a woman to marry her rapist, and levirate marriage.
  2. Jesus advocates men leaving their wives and children in order to follow him and suggests that all men should be celibate (eunuchs).
  3. As defined by the Bible, the woman is the property of the man in heterosexual marriage and is treated as being less than fully human.
  4. The Bible does not condemn homosexuality as a legitimate form of marriage, but rather condemns cruelty and failure to procreate.
  5. God never defines marriage.
  6. Love is not considered "foundational" [I'm inferring that she means important or integral] to marriage; therefore, because the Bible does not endorse a marital relationship of loving mutuality, proponents of this view cannot biblically condemn same-sex marriage.

If you're like me, you read that list, let your forehead hit the desk, then blink a few times and wonder where to begin.

Logical fallacies aside, there are a number of reasons why Bird's arguments are inaccurate conjecture.  I've already extensively discussed marital roles and sexuality and won't fully rehash that discussion here.  However, I do want to address a few of her bigger claims -- not because I disagree with her personal opinions, but because I disagree with her simplistic dissection of the Word of God.  The not-so-veiled message she conveys, addressing a culture hungry for opportunity to reject absolute truth, is that the Bible actually reveals God to be a little more tolerant of sexual preference than we've traditionally made Him out to be.


It is Mrs. Bird's notion that God's condemnation of homosexuality in the Old Testament was less about the act itself than in its conjunction with other sins.  The two examples she uses are failure to procreate and sexual cruelty.

Of course, the fact that homosexuality is, by virtue of incompatible components, a failure to procreate, would mean it is still condemned by her logic.  In fact, were her reasoning sound, any sexual encounter -- even between a husband and wife -- that did not result in pregnancy would also be a punishable offense under Mosaic law.  While the bearing of offspring was of enormous significance to Israelite culture and an extension of marital joy -- not to mention a God-ordained responsibility -- it is not the lack of procreation that is being condemned in Leviticus 18 and 20.  Otherwise, all infertile marriages would be invalid by the same standard.

That's why, as Peter Hubbard so succinctly words it in Love Into Light, biblical sexuality is principally about "design and direction, not necessarily [the] achievement [of pregnancy]...  Within the covenant of a heterosexual marriage, sexual intimacy plays a variety of roles.  Pleasure and purity are just as sacred as procreation" (Prov 5.15-19; Song 2.8ff; 1 Cor 7.1-7).  God's command to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply is still a directive to the human race, and its importance was undeniably the basis for a number of Jewish laws pertaining to sexuality.  However, husbands and wives were expected to complete and fulfill one another in wedded purity -- whether or not their copulation produced offspring -- and marriage ultimately was intended to glorify God through the husband and wife's unified sanctity.

If sex can exist solely for the purpose of pleasure within the context of marriage, and if infertility in Israelite culture was not a sin before God (even if it was a cause of cultural shame), then the issue with homosexuality is not with the failure to procreate, but with the nature of the act itself.

Mrs. Bird also uses the example of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, arguing that it was their practice of sexual cruelty and hostility toward outsiders that prompted God's judgment -- not their homosexuality.  However, this is evaluation doesn't consider historical or other biblical evidence to the contrary.  Jude 1.7 reveals that it was their "indulgence in sexual immorality and pursuit of unnatural desire" that was the cause of their condemnation, and two of the most significant Jewish historians of the first century, Philo and Josephus, both interpret Genesis 19:4-11 to refer explicitly to homosexual acts, not merely sexual violence:
About this time, the Sodomites grew proud, on account of their riches and great wealth; they became unjust towards men, and impious towards God... they hated strangers, and abused themselves with Sodomitical practices.  God was therefore much displeased at them, and determined to punish them for their pride. (Josephus -- The Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter 11)
While Mrs. Bird may be correct that none of the biblical examples of God judging homosexuality involved "two same-sex people in loving relationships," the nature of the relationship becomes a moot point in the face of God's blanket statements, across Old and New Testaments (Lev 18.22Rom 1.26-271 Cor 6.9), that the act of homosexuality in any context is a sin that should not be practiced by anyone who claims to love Him.

Monogamy, Divorce, and Adultery

"Did he say 'Blessed are the cheese-makers?'"
It's no secret that the words of Jesus are some of the most misconstrued teachings in all of history.  In her article, Mrs. Bird alludes to Luke 14, claiming that Jesus' statement in that passage -- that an individual's unwillingness to "hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters" made him unfit for discipleship -- is allowance for spousal abandonment if it is done in the name of Jesus.

Even a cursory knowledge of Jesus' teachings is enough to put a damper on this perspective.

The sentiment Christ expressed through the notion of "hating" family on His behalf was a challenge a). to value the Kingdom of Heaven above any human relationship, and b). to disallow dissuading opinions of family members that might otherwise keep the individual from following in His footsteps.  Jesus taught that the two most important biblical commands are inseparably linked: to love God above all else, and to love others more than ourselves (Mark 12.30-31).  Therefore, it is equally unacceptable to violate marital vows and fail to love a spouse "in the name of Christ," or to forego worship or ministry on behalf of a spouse.

Both Jesus and Paul further expanded on this idea.  The simple truth is that a married man will constantly face the challenge of maintaining two responsibilities -- one, to please his wife; two, to please God -- and he must balance those things so that neither relationship is neglected (Matt 19.10-121 Cor 7.32-35).  On the other hand, a single, chaste man is capable of pursuing one priority: to please God alone.  Furthermore, a man who is a eunuch by choice has taken his commitment one step further and removed from himself the possibility of sinning physically (whether through masturbation or sexual intercourse) and has declared that all of him belongs to the Lord and not to any human being (including himself).  Jesus specifically said that the lifestyles of celibacy or choosing to be a eunuch were not for everyone, and only those who are called should attempt!  Therefore, while neither Jesus nor Paul directly encouraged men to be celibate or eunuchs -- nor, for that matter, did either imply that married individuals are somehow second-rate Christians -- they were pointing out the freedom that the single individual has to devote him- or herself to the wholehearted worship of God.  After all, God Himself decreed that it was not good for man to be alone (Gen 2.18); a man who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains the Lord's favor (Prov 18.22)!  The point of these passages is to make clear the fact that the marital lifestyle contains its own set of complications, just as the single lifestyle does.  No matter which walk of life we choose, the primary relationship is the individual relationship with Christ.

I think it's important to track further through the healthy tension that exists between these ideas.  According to the Bible, monogamous, heterosexual marriage is God's design for humanity.  Yet marriage also brings the potential to hinder the individual's relationship with Christ.  Furthermore, while the relationship with Christ should remain the primary relationship even in a marriage, spouses can sin by making church, ministry, or personal covenants detrimental to their marriages -- just as worldly things can also steal our focus from our wives and husbands.  As believers, we need to recognize that our relationship with Christ exists to the inclusion of our spouse, and that it is never acceptable to pursue Christ instead of our spouse.   In fact, I would argue that you can't pursue Christ without also pursuing your spouse.  As Paul argued, there are no legitimate circumstances other than infidelity that are grounds for divorce (1 Cor 7.10-11), and that husbands and wives should live in ways that are mutually edifying (Eph 4.15-1629-32).  That doesn't mean we merely live to encourage each other in our jobs and hobbies, but that we inspire one another in our hand-in-hand pursuit of Christ together.

All that being said, Mrs. Bird does pose a challenging question when it comes to the issue of polygamy.  I myself have to wonder why God chose to pronounce legal punishment for sexual immorality when it occurs in same-sex acts, bestiality, or as a violation of another covenant marriage, but not when it involved multiple marital partners.  Since God desired His people to be monogamous and follow the design He established at Creation (for the record, Mrs. Bird's assessment of Genesis 2 in her article is completely incorrect), why did He not outline punishment to be exacted on those who took multiple wives?  Would that not have been more of a deterrent than simply allowing them to discover on their own what a mistake it was?

While I don't have one definitive answer, there are several reasons why I believe God chose to act in this way.

True, the Bible might not explicitly condemn the practice of having multiple wives in the Old Testament (though the practice of polygamy is nowhere protected, endorsed, or regulated in the New Testament church).  However, the Bible does extensively portray having multiple sexual partners as a flawed variation on God's design and sharply contrasts that lifestyle with the image of the exclusive, monogamous relationship God desired to have with His people (Gen 29.30Deut 17.171 Sam 1.4-7Mal 2.11).  In much the same way that the Law of Moses did not encourage divorce but merely regulated an existing practice, God also permitted the practice of polygamy -- partly for the benefit of procreation (especially in the instance of levirate marriage -- a childless widow could marry a brother of her deceased husband in order to provide her with an heir and financial stability), and partly because the practice had crept into Israelite culture long before they were even a defined people group, and to forbid the practice would have necessitated divorce.  Therefore, just as God permitted Israel the right to practice legal divorce -- because they were going to do it anyway -- likewise, He permitted polygamy.  In other words, when God found it necessary to establish ground rules for divorce (Deut 24) as well as for how to treat a second wife (Ex 21.10), it was because He was providing legal protection for the parties involved. Regulations like these were directly intended for the protection of Israelite women from unsavory alternatives: false accusations of infidelity, wanton sexual and physical abuse, favoritism and neglect, excommunication from the assembly, shunning by family and friends, and execution.

Jesus cut to the heart of the matter in Matthew 19 when He reminded the Pharisees who challenged him on this topic that it was their own rebellion that had made divorce necessary -- as well as all other rules surrounding Jewish sexuality.  That's why I think the best answer to the question of why God chose to allow these practices instead of mandating punishment is that He has "given over" the world at large to the practice of sinful desires (Psa 81.12Acts 7.42Rom 1.24).  This is not because He has given up on them or because He doesn't care about our behavior, but -- again -- because they are going to pursue those things anyway.  Therefore, God specifically conceded to Israel practices such as polygamy, slavery (a topic I've also discussed previously), and divorce in order to show them the emotional and spiritual costliness of living in ways He did not intend.

The other side of this issue is found in Paul's assessment of the law in Romans 5 -- that where sin abounds, revealed by the law, grace abounds sufficiently to cover the trespass.  One of the ways God has always communicated His grace is by withholding immediate retribution upon sin.  He will one day judge man's wickedness, of course, but He stays His hand for the time being, extending grace, mercy, and opportunity to a world that would rather play around with sex and pleasure than acknowledge His providence.  God didn't command every sin in Jewish culture to be punished by law because one day all sin will know just punishment by the law of His eternal character.  All sin must be punished: even the sins that Christ removed from His followers were punished at Calvary.

He was punished on our behalf, and the righteous wrath of God against our iniquities was satisfied.

One day, the world too will know judgment, which is why -- historically and presently -- God has allowed wickedness to continue, not because it is acceptable, but because He still extends the opportunity to repent.

Patriarchy, Abuse, and Women's Rights

"English Breakfast tasted like powdered wig anyway!"
American culture at large misunderstands God's directive of patriarchy as badly as it grasps the concept of submission.  After all, we live in a nation that looks back to its origins and subscribes to the belief that, if we don't like the authority over us, we have the right to defy and overthrow it.  For that same reason, feminist ideology looks at the the world's unfortunate history of misogyny, connects it to biblical patriarchy, and cries "unfair."

This is another example of man misappropriating a biblical directive and warping it to meet his own interests.  God established man as the head and leader of the household and woman as the supportive home-maker.  He did not intend for man to be domineering or cruel, nor for woman to be peevish or weak, but these are characteristics that have defined marriages through the ages.

However, that doesn't mean the system is flawed -- only that our adherence to it is.

Biblically, a woman wasn't to be considered any less human or the "property" of her husband -- not even under Old Testament law.  While the buying and selling of human beings does exist in the Bible, a man who purchased a slave and made her his wife was no longer permitted to treat her as a slave but as a wife.  Furthermore, any man who obtained a wife through war, through the death of a brother, or by going behind his father-in-law's back was held to the same standard of providing for his wife (or wives) the care she (they) deserved.

When the Bible speaks of wives submitting to their husbands, it is not commanding mindless obedience or the surrender of the woman's right to her own opinion.  To the contrary, biblical submission is the wife willingly placing herself under the authority of her husband, recognizing that God has given to man the role of loving leadership and to woman the role of loving support.  That no more gives the husband the right to be withholding, condescending, or abusive than it gives the wife the right to be nagging, insubordinate, or bitter.

Furthermore, nowhere in the Bible does God endorse violence or aggression -- sexual or otherwise.  In fact, Proverbs 6 states that two of the seven things God hates are hands that shed innocent blood and hearts that devise wicked plans, which clearly encompasses the realm of sexuality in marriage.  Therefore, when Mrs. Bird makes the claim that acceptable biblical marriage includes "forcing a woman to marry her rapist," she is taking a difficult passage of Scripture and forcing the wildly inaccurate assertion that God -- God who is love; God who shows mercy; God who extends grace; God who abhors violence, arrogance, theft, and wicked schemes -- would look favorably upon rape as an acceptable means of acquiring a wife.

For the sake of argument, let's look at the three scenarios in the Deuteronomy passage Mrs. Bird references.  The first involves a man who sleeps with a betrothed virgin while in the city; the second, a man who rapes a betrothed woman while in an isolated place; and the third, a man who coerces a virgin who is not betrothed into sexual relations while in the city.  The location of each scenario is as important as the sentences God pronounces.

In the first instance, a woman who was legally engaged to one man has sex with another man.  In this instance, no one is given the benefit of the doubt.  The woman did not cry out for help -- neither during the act (though it occurred in the city where individuals who could hear her screams were close enough to rescue her) nor afterward when she had the opportunity to come forward to her husband-to-be and accuse her rapist.  Therefore, the evidence points to consensual sex, probably not restricted to an isolated incident.  The text would imply that they were most likely discovered in the act.  Therefore, both the man and the engaged woman were put to death, because being betrothed in Jewish culture is on par with being legally married.  In other words, the crime in this scenario is adultery.

In the second instance, a man rapes a legally engaged woman far away from the city, where she could have screamed for help but no one was around to rescue her.  In this instance, the benefit of the doubt goes to the woman: her protection is more important than the man's reputation (which, by the way, is unheard of in patriarchal societies where a man's word would normally override a woman's without a second consideration).  The engaged woman's accusation of rape would have be enough for the man to be executed.

In the final instance, a man sleeps with a legally single virgin in a place where their sexual involvement is discovered.  The word "seize" in the text certainly suggests that the sexual act involved violence or coercion (it's the same word used for rape in the previous scenario at any rate).  However, while the Hebrew word ("taphas") means to attack or to capture, it is elsewhere written as "yaresh," which means to take possession or to dispossess -- as in the seizure of an enemy's city.  It's a word which means "to lay claim."  Therefore, while the word in context certainly implies rape, the fact that the scenario is set in the city or a community where they are discovered in the act (whether because the girl was screaming for help or because they were interrupted by an intruder), would allow for the possibility that the sex was perhaps consensual (if unlikely).  Additionally, the fact that the pronounced sentence is a fine instead of death further highlights the important caveat that the man in this scenario wasn't violating a legal marriage, and was therefore "laying claim" to a woman who is not legally obligated to another man.  Another possibility is that the act of "seizure" was happening behind the back of a father who did not approve of the relationship, in which case "seize" would imply an act of deception as opposed to an act of violence.

In the event that the text does describe a rape, however, the punishment is for the man -- not the victim.  What Mrs. Bird would interpret as "forcing the woman to marry her rapist" is really the other way around: the rapist is forced to make restitution for his crime.  As Matthew Henry stated it, "The law was to deter men from such vicious practices, which it is a shame that we are necessitated to read and write of."

First, the hefty fine levied upon him was the bride price, but the requirement to live with the woman he'd violated would be a heavier burden to carry: he'd be entering into a family who would have nothing but disgust for him for what he'd done to their daughter and sister, and he'd be financially dependent upon an angered father-in-law until he could provide for his own family.  Second, though this might seem outlandish to Americans, the command to marry the woman was for her physical and emotional protection.  The law again gives her the benefit of the doubt, that she was indeed coerced (as opposed to doing the seducing herself!), and would not be subject to the punishment for sexual immorality she otherwise might have faced.  Furthermore, the opportunity for her to marry after being raped, according to Jewish rituals of purification and atonement, would have been slim to none.  Fair or not, any other suitor would shun her on the basis of her sexual impurity; therefore, she would live the rest of her life alone and uncared for.  Third, in the absence of capital punishment, the opportunity is therefore provided for repentance and restoration.  Because sex belongs in marriage, any Jewish man who engaged in sex with an unbetrothed virgin would be obligated to marry her in order to protect her shame as well as to correct the wrong that has been done.  If this was done in the form of rape, what was taken from the woman certainly cannot be returned; however, by becoming her legal husband, the man will then serve her for the rest of his life to atone for his sin.  This is not an opportunity for him to continue to abuse her: no husband is allowed to "diminish [the] food, clothing, or marital rights" from his wife (Ex 21.10).  This is the consequence he has brought upon himself.

Again, as hard as any of them might be to swallow, such cultural laws as the one in Deuteronomy 22 were always intended for the protection of the innocent woman -- even in the instance of rape.  God no more commanded violence toward women than he commanded infidelity -- in fact, He absolutely hates both of these things.  Though His people might fail in this regard, God is always concerned with care for the lowly, the poor, and the downtrodden, and He promises them justice and hope.  The countless instances of men in the Bible and in history abusing, objectifying, and betraying their wives are misapplications of God's design for patriarchy.  Never is the practice of emotional, sexual, or spousal abuse endorsed or commanded by a loving God, who -- contrary to Mrs. Bird's simplistic assessment  -- repeatedly decreed that husbands should love their wives as their own bodies, be faithful to them, rejoice in them, and prefer their needs above every last shred of self-interest (Lev 20.10Deut 24.5; Prov 5.18; Mal 2.14Ecc 9.9; 1 Cor 7.3Eph 5.25; Col 3.19; 1 Pet 3.7).

The roles of husband and wife only function properly when they are understood as a partnership.  The husband might have authority over the wife, and the Bible teaches that a woman will wrestle with her desire to be the leader in the relationship (Gen 3.16), but there is no inequality built into the biblical model of marriage.  The husband is not closer to God or superior to his wife.  She merely chooses to place herself in a role that supplements her husband's, offering encouragement, insight, and wisdom that he might not himself possess, and practices a willingness to follow his lead.  The husband, therefore, has the great responsibility of considering his wife, of providing for her and valuing her opinion on decisions, but also being careful not to place upon her the burden of being the leader -- not because she can't handle leadership or authority, but because it is his God-given responsibility to be the spiritual compass.  It is a man's inherent tendency to shirk responsibility while it is the woman's inherent tendency to crave control, which is why it's easy to point out relationships in which the wife "wears the pants."  However, it is God's intent that a man should model Christ to his wife, being her strong, compassionate leader, embodying the role of Christ to His people through their marriage.

If this model is understood and followed, things like infidelity and abuse cease to be factors.

The term "Biblical" isn't misleading -- it's misunderstood

There are three underlying problems with Mrs. Bird's article, all of which undermine her conclusions about marriage.

The first is that she presumes fallibility in traditional understanding of the biblical text on the basis that they are limiting and archaic.  In other words, her position is the same adopted by many modern skeptics: "traditional" interpretations of the Bible, while groundbreaking and worthy of recognition, are flawed and can't be fully accepted.

I certainly won't argue that the biblical scholars of bygone eras were perfect or complete in their understanding of the Word of God -- after all, in this life we only perceive the truth through a dimly lit mirror (1 Cor 13.12).  For that matter, Martin Luther tore the book of James out of his Bible and Augustine couldn't make up his mind about baptism.  However, I do know that God has given to His followers direct access to the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2.16), that we are made capable of understanding divine principles by the Holy Spirit, and that -- just as He raised up leaders with spiritual insight in biblical times -- God has raised up theologians in more recent history who have collectively steered the church universal in the pursuit of righteousness.

Are there areas of disagreement in Christendom?  Certainly.  The nature of human opinion makes them virtually unavoidable.  However, the core precepts of God's Word surpass human opinion, and they have been plainly understood since Christ Himself taught them -- since God ordained them.  It would be foolish of us to disregard the wisdom of our spiritual forefathers simply because we live in the midst of a culture that has chosen the creature over the Creator.

The second problem with Mrs. Bird's argument is that she fails to differentiate a biblical precept from the biblical record.  In other words, just because something is in the Bible doesn't make it "biblical" in the sense that it is a prescribed Christian behavior.

The Bible is the means of understanding God.  It contains historical records, allegories and parables, poetic introspection, litanies of His gracious acts, sweeping descriptions of His character, letters of spiritual direction, and -- above all else -- the account of the Lamb of God's perfect sacrifice on our behalf.  The Bible is the spiritual history of humanity's constant rejection of God's divine ordinances, in defiance of God's continual extension of mercy.  Therefore, the Word of God records the sinful acts of mankind as well as the righteous ones.

In fact, it records more failure than it does success.

Both the failures of wicked men (which are not to be emulated) as well as the successes of righteous men (that are to be replicated) are recorded in the pages of Scripture.  There are also instances of righteous men falling into sin (i.e. King David) just as there are instances of wicked men being objectively, morally "good."  Therefore, just because things like murder, incest, genocide, marital instability, and other countless acts of wickedness are recorded in the Bible doesn't mean God endorses them: it simply means that mankind has always had a penchant for wickedness and even as followers of Christ we can never let down our guard when it comes to sin.  That's why the Bible teaches that man cannot justify or save himself (Rom 3.10Eph 2.8), and that Jesus is the only means of salvation (Acts 4.12).

The final problem with Mrs. Bird's article is the issue of improper context.

The books of Old Testament Law have an entirely different audience with an entirely different focus than do the gospels and epistles.  Though Genesis through Malachi still have historical and spiritual relevance today, they are not directly applicable to the New Testament Christian in the same way they were to the Old Testament Jew.  The old covenant under the law has now been fulfilled and made obsolete in Christ, and we have been given a new covenant of grace (Heb 8:13).  Now, that doesn't mean that the Old Testament is less important than or inferior to the New Testament.  Despite the differences in audience, culture, and covenant, the same message of love for God (expressed through devotion and obedience) and for others (expressed through the death of self-interest) has always been the joint theme God sought to impress upon His people (Deut 6.51 John 2.7).  The extensive situational laws recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy were all predicated on the summarizing basis of the Ten Commandments -- which in turn were predicated on the primary commandment to love and worship the Lord God above all else.

Therefore, it is inaccurate to base a "biblical" definition of marriage on Old Testament law alone.  Proper biblical theology is recognizing the conjunction of all biblical teachings with the unified purpose of understanding the ways in which God expressed His grace to mankind through all eras of human history.  What we ultimately glean from studying Mosaic law is the underlying truth that Israel failed to recognize: that holiness through works is impossible, that God always intended for them to rely upon Him alone, and that all the sacrifices and rituals in the world could never accomplish the redemptive work Christ took upon Himself.

What we don't glean solely from the Pentateuch is a unified definition of biblical marriage, because a biblical marriage doesn't simply follow Jewish traditions or mimic stories found in the Bible.  A biblical marriage conforms to the overarching standard of God's holiness in terms of obedience -- obeying the rules of design (one man, one woman, forever) as well as the rules of interaction (fidelity, kindness, mutual respect, etc).  A biblical marriage ultimately considers how God intends human relationships to mirror His love for us, and is structured to bring the married individuals closer to one another as they grow closer to God.

In Sum

C. S. Lewis observed in Mere Christianity that "good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either."  That of course begs the question of who is "good" and who is "bad."  What Lewis was getting at is that there is a level of spiritual understanding that only comes through mature faith -- a life radically changed by Christ, and radically dedicated to Him.  That's why, to those who would reject the truth of the Bible, the "word of the cross is folly" while those on the other side cling to it with hope and security (1 Cor 1.18).

At the risk of sounding elitist, it only makes sense that people who are "outside the fold" would not completely understand the complexities of the Bible -- not to the same degree as someone who believes it wholeheartedly.  After all, the authority on Michelangelo's work is not the Survey of Art student who may have a blossoming appreciation for High Renaissance but isn't quite sure how to fully differentiate one artist's work from another's.  The authority is the museum's curator, the man who has devoted his entire career to studying Michelangelo's life, work, and legacy, and who fought the Board of Directors for the opportunity to bring Michelangelo's work to his museum -- solely for the benefit of those who also would desire to study the master artist.

There is perhaps nothing more dangerous to faith than amateur theology.  That's why Paul urged believers to bring every thought captive (2 Cor 10.5), James cautioned against double-mindedness (Jas 1.8), and Peter spoke repeatedly of sober-mindedness (1 Pet 1.13; 5.8).  It is so easy to be swayed in what you believe if you don't know what you believe.  It is only through habitual, earnest, and humble study of God's Word that the disciple will have opportunity to grow in spiritual maturity -- to know and understand God and His principles and to nurture a discerning spirit.  Not everyone has to be a scholar, of course, but every follower of Christ should know and understand the pillars of biblical truth and be prepared at all times for sneak attacks by false doctrine.

Objections to biblical truth like the ones Mrs. Bird raises are understandable.  Many who come to faith in Christ find one or more biblical directives difficult to swallow.  However, the problem is not that God's law is somehow cruel or unfair.  The problem is that we are unwilling to allow God to be bigger than our sexuality and bigger than our problems.  We don't like the idea of a God who gives specific parameters, and we don't like a God who doesn't give us the cushy lives we feel we deserve.  It is only by recognizing that we are unworthy of the grace He supplies -- by acknowledging that our opinions, our sense of morality, and our desire for comfort aren't worth nearly as much as the Word of Truth -- that we can truly begin to understand Him and truly know that He is good.