For reasons too silly to explain, I’ve been reading various posts from Christian apologists boasting about how their allegedly Biblical model of monogamous marriage (“one man, one woman, for life”) is clearly morally superior to alternative arrangements. I have nothing against monogamy, myself, we’ve been practicing it for years and it has been working out remarkably well so far. That said, it’s really difficult to find a set of Biblical exemplars to look up to as a married couple. Most of the prominent Bible couples I’ve found suffer from either polygyny, patriarchy, or some other unfortunate major defect. Here follows a relatively concise and reasonably accurate review of only prominent named married couples. David and Solomon are not included here, for the obvious reasons.
- Adam & Eve (Genesis 2-3)
The original Biblical coupling was an arranged marriage consisting of people who managed to ruin pretty much everything for everyone by listening unskeptically to an unscrupulous apple sales rep. Their parenting skills were such that their firstborn murdered his younger brother over a non-vegetarian recipe that was considered tasty enough for Jehovah.
- Abraham & Sarah (Genesis 11-25)
The first in the line of Biblical patriarchs married his half-sister Sarah and then allowed her to be taken into Pharaoh’s harem after being bribed with oxen, asses, camels, and servants. This worked out badly, and the Lord arranged for Sarah’s return to her husband by way of punishing countless innocent third parties. Sometime later, Abraham impregnated Sarah’s Egyptian slave girl at her behest, and this lead to precisely the sort of unpleasant intrafamilial complications that one might well expect. Eventually Sarah was blessed with a child of her own, and Abraham proved his worth as a father by inventing male genital mutilation and sometime later binding Sarah’s only son to an altar to become a human sacrifice to Jehovah.
- Isaac & Rebekah (Genesis 24-27)
No doubt traumatized by seeing his father raising the sacrificial knife, Isaac grew up to be a fairly quiet sort, eventually attaining the status of 40-year-old virgin. Abraham set about to rectify this situation by sending his chief steward to find a sufficiently servile young woman from among his own kinfolk, and Rebekah passed the test by voluntarily watering all ten of his camels. Their marital union was evidently pretty solid, since Isaac did not acquire other wives and/or concubines as did his father before him and his sons thereafter. Bit of a hiccup towards the end, though, as Rebekah conspires with her favored son Jacob to rob his brother of Isaac’s blessing (apparently some sort of nontransferable binding magical contract, much like the Goblet of Fire from my least favorite Harry Potter novel).
- Jacob & Rachel (Genesis 29)
This starts out as a wonderful love story when Jacob toils for seven years to win Rachel’s hand in marriage, but gets crowded quickly as he is tricked into marrying her older sister Leah instead. Jacob consummates his marriage to Leah without noticing that Leah isn’t Rachel until the next morning. Ye gods, what a rude awakening! It gets weirder, though, as Jacob eventually becomes married to both Leah and Rachel and repeatedly impregnates their handmaidens Zilpah and Bilhah as well. A complicated four-way marriage featuring literal sister wives would make for fairly enjoyable reality television, but surely it cannot be considered a model marriage from a modern Christian perspective.
- Moses & Zipporah (Exodus 2)
I bet most people who’ve heard of Moses don’t even realize he was married, much less that his wife performed the world’s first emergency circumcision upon their son in order to spare Moses’ life from a certain wrathful deity. I have no idea what the moral of that particular story is supposed to be, but it’s hard not to be impressed by a woman who can dispatch her firstborn’s foreskin with ruthless efficiency and only a shard of flint. There isn’t really much to say about this Bible couple, mostly because the Bible doesn’t really say that much about them. We know that Zipporah was sent back to her father’s house during that whole ten plagues kerfuffle, which was probably a prudent move, all things considered. I certainly wouldn’t want my family around when it’s raining frogs and whatnot.
- Heber & Jael (Judges 4-5)
We don’t know much about the relationship between Heber the Kenite and his wife Jael, but I assume that it was a bit more mututally respectful than the average patriarchal union, seeing as she famously slew an enemy general with nothing but a tent peg, a mallet, and a saucer of warm milk. No, seriously, that is the story, and it is probably one of the oldest in the entire Bible. Anyhow, not much to say about marriage here.
- Elimelech & Naomi (Ruth 1)
Included here strictly for the sake of completeness, we know very little of how they operated as a married couple.
- Boaz & Ruth (Ruth 2-4)
The aforementioned Naomi loses her husband Elimelech and both of her sons, but her daughter-in-law Ruth remains faithfully by her side. They move back to Naomi’s homeland and she comes up with a clever plan for Ruth to seduce Boaz, “Wash yourself, put on perfume, change your clothes, and go down to the threshing floor. But don’t let him know you’re there until he has finished his dinner. Watch him so you will know where he lies down to sleep. When he lies down, go and lift the cover off his feet and lie down. He will tell you what you should do.” Feet was probably a sexual euphemism, if you hadn’t already guessed. Perhaps Moabite women could afford to be a bit more forward than is the usual custom in Bethlehem back then. Or today. Quite possibly, ever. At any rate, the plan worked, and Boaz was induced to marry Ruth and purchase everything that belonged to Elimelech and his sons, in accordance with the traditions of Levirite marriage. Needless to say, modern Christians would be at least mildly uncomfortable arranging marriages on account of kinsmen obligations to widows.
- Ahab & Jezebel (1st & 2nd Kings)
Obviously not going to be upheld as an exemplary couple by anyone who believes all the nasty stuff written about them in the Bible. It is probably just anti-Baalist agitprop, but you get the idea.
- Elkanah & Hannah (1 Sam 1)
Elkanah is one of the few men in the Bible to be thoroughly overshadowed by his wife, which is unusual for such a thoroughly patriarchal narrative. His less favored wife Peninnah taunted his more favored wife Hannah until she suffered symptoms of depression. This right here is why you should stop at one wife.
- Nabal & Abigail (1 Sam 25)
At the beginning of Abigail’s tale, she is married to a rich and powerful asshole (Nabal) who doesn’t properly appreciate her. At the end of Abigail’s tale, she is married to a different rich and powerful asshole (David) who also doesn’t appreciate her, and who conspires to murder one of his own soldiers in order to increase his wife count.
- Uriah & Bathsheba (2 Sam 11-12)
Probably these two could well have been happy together, but for the forceful adulterous intervention of King David. This Bible story does not feature anything resembling a happy ending for Uriah, who remained a faithful soldier unto the end and died wholly unaware that he’d been cuckolded and betrayed by his king.
- Hosea & Gomer (Hosea)
In this story, the Lord God arranges a marriage between his annointed prophet and a “wife of harlotry” and (lo and behold!) she cheats on him. This was probably meant as some sort of tortured theological analogy, but still, these folks aren’t going to make anyone’s list of exemplary married couples.
- Ahasuerus & Esther (Esther)
Persian emperor puts away his old wife because she won’t do her sexy belly dance, then he holds a massive beauty contest to pick out his next wife. Esther wins, becomes queen, averts a Jewish genocide (which her husband would have been totally cool with but for the fact that his new bride turned out to be a closet Jewess) and invents the best holiday in the Jewish calendar. It’s a great story, but not exactly a love story.
- Zacharias & Elisabeth (Luke 1)
Cannot think of anything snarky to say about these two, which puts them towards the top of my list of Biblical couples worth emulating. Maybe don’t wait to have children until you’re in your old age and require divine help, though. They might turn out, you know, a bit weird.
- Joseph & Mary (Matt 1, Luke 1)
According to Catholic tradition, this was a marriage between an elderly widower and pregnant virgin in her early teens, intended from the beginning to be a perpetually sexless union. Their childrearing skills were such that they once left their only child behind in a major metropolitan center, and he later grew up to extol hatred against both mother and father.
- Ananias & Sapphira (Acts 5)
Anyone familiar with their story can tell you that these two were immortalized in Scripture strictly as cautionary examples, having been magically struck dead for lying on their spiritual tax forms. (This is the only known use of Avada Kedavra anywhere in the New Testament.)
- Felix & Drusilla (Acts 24)
Antonius Felix was the Roman governor of Judæa, and the second husband of Drusilla, daughter of Herod Agrippa I. It need hardly be said that a pagan ruler and his Jewish wife who both refused to convert to Christianity, even after hearing the gospel expounded by a leading apostle, aren’t exactly in the running for exemplary married couple from a Christian perspective. Unlike most of the above Biblical couples, though, they hold the distinction of being independently confirmed by contemporary historians such as Flavius Josephus.
Well, that’s about all for now. Mostly cautionary examples or vague sketches of married life, not a load of happy, loving, monogamous couples worth emulating in the here and now.
If you know of any other named Biblical couples worthy of consideration, please leave a comment below.