Biblical role models for marriage – any suggestions?

We had such an interesting discussion last night at the cathedral’s LGBT Group (aka Gay Club).

The conversation was about marriage, looking at it from a biblical, social and personal point of view rather than talking about the current attempts to change the law.

The question that we really found interesting was how many positive role models of married life we could find in the bible.

The truth is, we struggled far more than we imagined we would.

Suggestions included:

  • Ruth and Boaz – but we know far more about them before they were wed than after
  • Mary and Joseph – again we don’t know much about their married life apart from the fact that they lost their son on a day out
  • Adam and Eve – well, we are in the mythic here and there’s a lot of squabbling about blame to wade through before we can really talk about relationships.

So, your suggestions please. Can you think of good role models for marriage from the bible? Who would you nominate?


  1. Jacob and Rachel (and Leah): because when two wives don’t give your bloke enough heirs, give him your servants too before lying about gratuitously nicking the parents’ family gods. Proceed to deceiving him about which son is which in his dotage.

    Tamar, Er and Onan: because if you fail to abide by the cultural laws of the day, “the LORD” will strike you dead out of the blue.

    • Do you want to try for Ahab and Jezebel whilst you are at it?

      It is much harder than you would think it would be, isn’t it?

      • I’ve only recently got into a suitable frame of mind to read the bible as *detached* text (Kindle helps) and have just finished Genesis – that’s quite bad enough.

        I did google “couples in the bible” and all I got was very *generic* marriage advice.

        Abraham and Sarah: at least she bakes cakes on demand…

        • Abraham and Sarah is rather undermined by him offering her to local rulers for their own pleasure to get him off the hook.

          Cake or no cake, I think we must conclude that this rules them out as positive role models.

          • Quite a lot of things rule them out – neither the stereotypical cake nor the unequal treatment for laughing are triumphs for women’s lib. Also: thinks son’s inquisitive streak will be satiated by the gloss “the LORD will provide the offering” – definite failure to understand psychology there.

            It’s certainly not lacking for negative examples. Also, makes one think how much cultural context is a factor – it might be reasonable to say “a couple that gets on well together” but Isaac and Paul and Paul and Kelvin would have different understandings of what constituted “well”…

  2. One that actually seems good: Aquila and Priscilla. We only hear of them doing things together, on more or less equal-partnership terms.

  3. Stephen Clark says

    Always struck by good old David
    Doesn’t seem to matter that he has wives (that’s with an s) and concubines
    Lots of kids seems to be the important thing…not the number of wives

  4. Suz Cate says

    Tim beat me to it–I would also commend Prisca and Aquila, and for the same reason.

  5. Margaret of the Sea of Galilee says

    Elkanah and Hannah. He loved her despite her infertility. He accpeted her wishes about Samuel (to keep him at home till he was weaned, to give him to The Temple and he took her to Jerusalem every year to visit and give him his wee jacket).
    Mr and Mrs Manoach – parents of Shimshon. They lovingly brought up this God-given child who was so weird. Manoach believed her meeting with the angel.
    The Woman of Valour (Prov 31!0-31) and her husband. Both strong, productive and moral people. Though they are generic and unnamed it’s a good model and can even be translated to any two partners not just a man and a woman.
    Still thinking about Moses and Zipporah – she who thought quicker and understood and acted immediately to save “Israel” (before the Exodus was even a rumour). That is a much more complicated story but want to get my tuppence-worth in !

  6. With regards to the Wife description in Proverbs 31, we did have a long chat about her and noted that she did all the work whilst he did all the sitting around at the city gate.

    The obscurity of some suggestions does rather make the point that it is unexpectedly difficult to find good examples.

    • Margaret of the Sea of Galilee says

      If you take the Frst Testament seriously these are not obscure examples.
      Do you think Hannah is obscure – there are *pages* written about the woman. AND she wrote the rough-copy of the Magnificat!
      Everyone (male and female) in the 2nd Testament is pretty obscure – compared to the First Testament – not really described in detail or even in a story with a beginning, middle and end. The Koran says more about Mary than the Bible in fact.

  7. I think Elkanah is pretty obscure and my guess is that about 2 % of my congregation would know who he was.

    • Margaret of the Sea of Galilee says

      Then there is the Power Couple of their generation: King Solomon and The Queen Of Sheba with her unshaven legs and their brilliant minds. Albeit a One Night Stand (or however long it takes a camel train to rest, turn around and go back). But they (according to “some traditions” ) had their son Menelek who returned to Jerusalem and took the Ark of the Covenant back to Ethiopia where it (questionably) resides to this very day guarded by a solitary monk in a solitary cell amongst a complex of Coptic monastic cells (most of which are no longer occupied).

      • Interesting as Soloman and the Queen of Sheba are, one night stands don’t count as models for a good marriage. (At least not according to those gathered last night at Gay Club).

  8. Steven says

    Its gotta be Gomer and Hosea.

    Ok it seems great at first – they have kids blah blah blah. Then the wheels come off:

    for their mother hath played the harlot; she that conceived them hath done shamefully; for she said, I will go after my lovers, that give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink.


    And Jehovah said unto me, Go again, love a woman beloved of her friend, and an adulteress, even as Jehovah loveth the children of Israel, though they turn unto other gods, and love cakes of raisins.

    So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and a homer of barley, and a half-homer of barley;

    and I said unto her, Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be any man’s wife: so will I also be toward thee.

    So it all ends happily ever after.

    Now that is a marriage.

    • You can kind of see why this one is not one of the scripture choices we are offered in the marriage service.

    • Rosemary Hannah says

      Yeah, after he has beaten her up and … I did write a story about it from her point of view – still think it one of the best things I have written – as is stands it is a vile story. Interesting, but vile.

  9. Pam R says

    You could of course argue that these messy and imperfect relationships, full of love, hate, jealousy, longing and betrayal, are fairly typical of the human condition. In a way these stories are grounds for hope, because they speak to the reality and complexity and mystery of human connectedness. We fail, but we keep trying.

    • Yes – I agree with that, Pam. There’s quite a lot about relationships going wrong and [sometimes] being put right.

      It is striking though that there are not many obvious happy stable couples whose lives we hear much about.

      • Rosemary Hannah says

        Yes and I think Jacob and the wives fall into that category. There is a lot wrong in the picture there but also a lot to like. Somehow, despite the jealousies and the miseries they do kind-of hold it together.

  10. Rosemary Hannah says

    Mind you, happy stable couples do make terribly boring stories. There are not many happy stable PEOPLE in the Bible – but there are a heck of a lot of good stories.

  11. Augur Pearce says

    I thought the definitive answer had been given by Mrs Betty Bowers? –

  12. Robin says

    David and Jonathan? Ruth and Naomi? At least they provide us with Scriptural passages that would grace a wedding service!

    • I was just about to give them a shout out myself. Admirable stories of love uncluttered by the dysfunctional horrorshow stuff attending upon some of the previous suggestions.

    • Well, David and Jonathan were each married to someone else and Naomi, as Ruth’s mother in law does offer her useful tips on how to seduce her kinsman Boaz. (Go sleep with him on the threshing floor and uncover his “feet”).

      Lovely as some of the ideas are around David and Jonathan and around Ruth and Naomi, I do struggle a bit to think that they are good examples of married coupledom.

  13. Rosemary Hannah says

    No, especially as the clever money is on David engineering Jonathan’s death …

  14. Well, that’s me telt.

  15. If it’s difficult to find what you’re looking for in the Bible doesn’t that rather suggest:
    1) you’re trying to fit the Bible to your world-view rather than the reverse;
    2) that, therefore, a non-Biblical culture is dominating your Christian discipleship
    3) that it may be worth trying the reverse procedure – rather than saying “how does the Bible answer my question that I bring to it?” saying “what does the Bible have to say to me, ask me, about how I conduct my life?”

    My reading (for what it’s worth) is that neither the Old nor the New Testament, taken as wholes, are particularly positive about “marriage”. They regard this institution as full of risk and danger, of suffering and of pitfalls (like the rest of human life). Indeed the New Testament promises the end of marriage (Matthew 22:30//Mark 12:25 – when the dead rise they will neither marry nor be given in marriage)

    • No, Nick. I don’t think that because one can’t find something in the bible it suggests that I’m trying to fit the Bible to my world view.

      Nor does it suggest that a non-Biblical culture is dominating my Christian discipleship.

      I take the bible more seriously than to think anyone could live in a “Biblical culture”

      So far as I can see, your comment was more about your world view than mine.

      • So why can’t you find what you’re looking for? If you’ve searched the texts for something (in this case positive role models of marriage) and failed to find it, what does this mean?

      • I’m also puzzled about your rejection of the possibility of a “Biblical culture” (a phrase I didn’t and wouldn’t use, but never mind). What is the relationship between the Kingdom of God and culture, do you think? It rather seems to me that the coming of the Kingdom for which we pray would necessarily involve the coming into line of “culture” with the will of God, which in the meantime is revealed to us, as best we can find it, through the Word of God in the Old and New Testaments, discerned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (to use my denomination’s formula).

        • I’m far from certain that God has will. Most people who want to tell me what the will of God is seem to be trying to make me change to suit themselves.

          • “Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven” – I’m presuming you, like me, say this reasonably often (possibly in more contemporary English). What does this mean, if it doesn’t mean that God has some “will” for us and for all creation? (I would stress that I am not claiming to know what that will is nor whether anything in particular is or is not in line with it, just that I’m not sure what discipleship could be if it weren’t the attempt to discern and align to God’s will).

          • I think that God’s will is for our good.

          • It seems improbable to me that the prayer “your will be done” simply means “our good be done”. I simply can’t hear it as not meaning that God has some intentions (opaque to us) and we are praying that those intentions be realised. I don’t doubt, however, that those intentions, that will, are for our good.

  16. Having read, as I do the first third of the Holy Bible in the last three months….I am struck by the fact that we don’t actually seem to see anything that is a ‘good example’ of monogamous marriage. Many/most men are polygamous and the prevalence of the concubine is almost universal.
    The ‘models’ in particular Mary and Joseph are not drawn from Scripture it would seem but from tradition, nothing wrong with that. But a lot of it is fanciful don’t you think.
    The received wisdom nowadays that Mary was most likely in her early to mid teens and Joseph probably 30+ (possibly much older) would raise all sorts of questions and, indeed, eyebrows in your average Church

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