Even The Pagans Understood Marriage

They do not write a marriage contract between males: for though the pagans are assumed to practice homosexuality, and in fact, do practice it, they are not so far gone in derision of the commandment against it as actually to write a marriage contract.

—Rabbi Rashi (1040–1105 AD) quoted in Milton Himmelfarb, The Jews of Modernity (1971) (HT: Richard Samuelson)

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  1. Most Pagan peoples did not have “the Commandment” in their syllabus. Marriage contracts among those cultural groups were to protect bloodlines & ensure the protections of the ensuant “families.” Extra-marital actions were often performed with slaves & indentured servants, as well as with prostitutes (of varying types).

    • Charles,

      Two things.

      1. Rashi was noting that even the pagans did not re-define marriage. He’s saying that they had something like a civil union. He’s recognizing that pagans have a natural knowledge of marriage. The Rabbi was historically correct.

      2. The Apostle Paul says similar things. He did not claim that the pagans acknowledged the commandment as such but that they have a natural knowledge of the moral law and that natural knowledge appears in various ways. Paul says:

      For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Rom 1:18–23)


      For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (Rom 2:12–16).

      Paul says that pagans have a natural knowledge of God that is sufficient to condemn them. They know the moral law law intuitively. Paul uses the word “law” here in two distinct but related senses. The pagans do not know the law as it was revealed to Israel, in 613 commandments, but they do know the essence of what we call the moral law. “The work of the law” is written “on their hearts” and their “conscience bears witness” to that natural knowledge of the law. This is why Reformed theologians (e.g., Calvin, Ursinus, Olevianus et al) wrote freely about “natural law” and the natural knowledge of God.

  2. Dr. Clark,

    I’ve seen no sign of Heidelberg questions 101 & 102. Have I somehow missed them or are they still to come?

    With gratitude to, and for you.

    John Barber

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