This article, ‘The Influence of Biblical Traditionalism on U.S. Family Law’ by Pishati Pranava starts with the surmise that family and religion are inextricably linked to each other. Religious institutions, in general, have taken a lot of credit for emphasizing the importance of families, providing family direction and assistance, and even defining appropriate family forms in some cases.… Read More »

This article, ‘The Influence of Biblical Traditionalism on U.S. Family Law’ by Pishati Pranava starts with the surmise that family and religion are inextricably linked to each other. Religious institutions, in general, have taken a lot of credit for emphasizing the importance of families, providing family direction and assistance, and even defining appropriate family forms in some cases. Aside from that, religion is frequently used in families to find meaning in...

This article, ‘The Influence of Biblical Traditionalism on U.S. Family Law’ by Pishati Pranava starts with the surmise that family and religion are inextricably linked to each other. Religious institutions, in general, have taken a lot of credit for emphasizing the importance of families, providing family direction and assistance, and even defining appropriate family forms in some cases.

Aside from that, religion is frequently used in families to find meaning in relationships. Families have long been recognized as the primary source of religious socialization. For over two thousand years, Christianity has influenced millions of families and continues to have an influence on families of estimated two billion religious’ believers.

The biblical concept of marriage and family, as viewed through the revelation-historical lens, is founded on the conceptual order[1]. So here, this article focuses to discuss the evolution of biblical traditionalism and its impact on modern American family law.

Evolution

The concept of marital behavior was slightly alien to the churches before the domination of Christianity in Europe. It took centuries to bring broader marital regulations under priestly administration and religious practice. After including the concept of marriage into religion, the Church had to deal with English and Continental monarchs for a few more centuries.

Reformers objected to the Church’s jurisdiction over marriage and its application of canon law as they’re slightly contradictory to civil marriage. Later Monarchs took control of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, and Protestant theology helped justify the adoption of civil marriage statutes.

The Protestant reformations differed slightly in their theology, but they all emphasized the importance of marriage to civil society and the appropriateness of state and community involvement. At the same time, the monarchies, and the English, got a Biblical naturalist understanding of marriage and family law.

That most of the traditional canon law was accepted and incorporated by Protestant reformers, and it remained part of common law in both Protestant and Catholic Europe until the late eighteenth century. As a result, English marriage laws in the sixteenth century resembled those of the ancient Catholic tradition.

To defend existing laws, seventeenth-century English theologians proposed the commonwealth model of marriage and the family. This model “aided in the substantiation of traditional hierarchies of the husband over wife, parent over child, church over the household, and state over the church.”

Later English common law was transmitted to American law and was widely accepted by early American civilian authorities. The agreement between citizen’s and the government’s views on marriage emphasized the Bible’s influence on this fundamental aspect of early American family law. Religious background on marriage was undeniably present and prevalent. Soon it was enacted and verified by the authorities.

Christian and Jewish Influence on Marital Concerns

According to the early Christian church, marriage was “subject to the law of nature, conveyed in reason and conscience, and frequently acknowledged in the Bible”.

Beginning with their standardization in the twelfth century, the church’s theology and laws of marriage became widely expressed and profoundly influential. By taking and comparing with Jewish customs, Christian customs were influenced for the better.

Patriarchy was practiced in almost all traditional households in the early centuries, despite religious preaching that placed equal value on men and women. It holds male leadership in both the home and the church, Biblical patriarchy extends that exclusion to the civic sphere as well so that women should not be civil leaders.

When a man and a woman married, common law combines them into one individual and husband. The legal doctrine of marital oneness was known as coverture. Coverture, in its purest form, meant that a woman could not use legal channels such as lawsuits or contracts, possess assets, or sign legal documents without her husband’s assistance.

And the husband became both his wife’s political and legal defender, thereby oppressing her. In Jewish tradition, the husband’s power over the marital household gave way to a more explicit description of the husband and wife as a unit, “led by the husband,” in the New Testament: Saint Paul’s letters to the early Christian churches teach that husbands and wives “shall become one flesh,” but that “the husband is the head of the wife.”

As a result, the Christian tradition later retained the patriarchy of the Jewish tradition while emphasizing unity.

In early Christianity, the Jewish tradition’s mix of monogamy and polyandry took hold to a firm cooperation to monogamy. However, the primary goal of monogamy was not reproduction, but purity. The early Church regulations attempted to control sexual desires and conduct; many early Christians like St. Augustine, saw sex as sinful.

Celibacy was considered as a close spiritual connection to God’s kingdom and was thought to be vastly inferior to marriage. Church teachings emphasized the importance of mutual consent and voluntariness in marriage for it to be legal. Marriage made sex legal, which was previously illegal.

However, it aided in the good of the individual as well as the growth of the Church (population). As a result, the Church decided to outlaw birth control, forced abortion, and infanticide.

In general, the Church attempted to exert tight control over sex. In St. Paul’s writings, litanies of banned sexual crimes like homosexuality, sodomy, prostitution, and polygamy may be found. Another significant difference between early Jewish and Christian traditions concerned marriage termination.

A Jewish husband could divorce his wife on his terms. With one distinction, a man could divorce a wife who had committed adultery or fornication in the Christian tradition. A person could only divorce and remarry if the marriage was abolished, which required a finding that a valid marriage did not exist.

“What God has joined together, no man shall separate” Jesus declares, stressing the marriage relationship’s eternal nature. He went on to add that “for your hardness of heart, Moses enabled you to divorce your wives[2], but it was not thus from the beginning; anybody who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.”

But later Canon law enabled both men and women to seek a legal separation, although absolute divorce was remained forbidden. Church tribunals permitted official separations in cases of adultery, desertion, or cruelty.

Influence

Biblical traditionalism adheres to a premodern conception of natural law shaped by Biblical text and Judeo-Christian philosophy[3]. Early Western conceptions of family law were influenced by biblical traditionalism. The marital notion was particularly prominent in early American family law.

Early family law regulations, such as those contained in the New Testament, proclaimed the married couple to be a unified unit led by the husband.

That connection acquired legal shape in the theory of coverture, which submerged the wife’s legal personality into her husband’s. Wives ceased to exist as independent legal entities, and they were unable to execute legal papers or hold assets without the assistance of their husbands.

Other features of Biblical tradition found in early American law were the significance of free consent in the formation of lawful marriage and the inseparable nature of marriage. Whereas the latter emphasized the importance of conjugality, the former predicted the growing prominence of the contract idea in family law.

These rules define and constrain affiliation in marriage and the marital family; create unchangeable terms governing the intact marriage, displaying the conjugal couple as a single unit in many ways; presume marriages to be permanent, and require a state declaration for legal dissolution.

The federal government recently passed the Welfare Act of 1996, which expressly mentions marital formation as one of the statute’s goals. States are gradually establishing such programs, which are aimed at both the poor and the general population.

The Défense of Marriage Act, the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, and the rising number of state constitutional amendments restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples all aim to strengthen traditional conjugality. It is evident that the early biblical preaching has an impact on all of them.

Other Perspectives

According to Professor Don Browning, Christianity can and should contribute to family law “only if it rejects the view that Christian denominations on marriage, family, and children are a pure revelation” and “understands itself as a carrier of forms of rational choice applied to marriage and family that its sacred writings affirm but do not fully create or completely dominate.”

These are fair to non-Christians who fall within the jurisdiction of the law, as well as a matter of political requirement in a democratic state[4].

Our “culture of expressive identity and personal liberty” as well as our rising pursuit of “short-term happiness,” he claims, hurt the family, children, and society. Because it “facilitates and encourages these inclinations,” family law is not a bystander.

It has turned toward individuality, with no preference for one type of sexual or familial contact over another. In contrast, Christian teaching seeks to “integrate sex and marriage, marriage and birth, parenthood and married life? into a linked and self-renewing whole.”

Conclusion

To summarize, biblical traditionalism beholds marriage and family ties, prompting many people to prioritize their marriages and families.

Christianity has benefited the modern law life by elevating the status of marriage, encouraging trust and loyalty in marriage, facilitating marital stability by prohibiting divorce, elevating the status of children in society, countering cultural trends that impact families, assisting in the resolution of relational problems through pastoral counseling.

Religion has also had a detrimental impact on marriage and family life, such as justifying physical punishment, discouraging, and prohibiting divorce even in cases of abuse, and dishonoring gender equality and oppression. Marriage is defined in the Bible as a lifelong partnership between one man and one woman.

This biblical concept was recognized by English law until the advent of same-sex ‘marriage’ altered legal marriage. So, the bible does not remain perfect forever; it evolves with time, generations, and beliefs, but the bible’s contribution is what caused the rules to evolve over time.


Reference

[1] Petts R, ‘Introduction To The Special Issue Of Religions—“Religion And Family Life”’ (2019), Available Here

[2] Jonker M, Schrama W, and den Hoven M, ‘Religion And Culture In Family & Law’ (Utrecht law review, 2016), Available Here

[3] Hamilton V, ‘Principles Of U.S. Family Law’ (2021), Available Here

[4] Cochran, R., & Witte, J. (2009). Journal of Law and Religion, 25(1), 249-253 Available Here


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Updated On 2021-08-06T06:55:32+05:30
Pranava Pishati

Pranava Pishati

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