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Marital status

Who was the woman at the well from John 4:16-18? Prejudiced opinions seem overly anxious to paint her as either an immoral woman or an innocent victim. Either extreme reads more into the text than it says. She had had five husbands. Whether simultaneous or sequential polyandry, divorced or widowed is also not explained. Then Jesus said that the man she was currently with was not her husband. Whether she merely lived in the same household with a man or was having relations with him is also not clear. What is very clear is that Jesus did not judge the woman. He simply taught her about true worship. We do know that the woman could see that Jesus was a prophet, and she believed that the Messiah was coming and spread the news of Jesus to her whole village.

As Jesus encountered the woman at the well, he discussed her marital status (John 4:16-18). He invited her to bring her husband back, then he stated that the man she is currently with is not her husband. In the beginning God joined the first marriage with no formality or papers. Then marriage became a matter for the family. Two sets of parents approved, the couple went into a tent alone and a party was held. Then the church tried to put God back into the picture. Eventually, marriage became a state matter, in a strange mixture of church and state. Today, some still go into the tent and declare themselves a couple. The line is rather fuzzy. Most churches recognize the state’s legal authority over marriage, but we face a dilemma as Old Testament marriage styles make a comeback.

Should the state continue to be involved in private marriage affairs? Should we continue to define marriage according to state demands? Should we especially in the church define marriage according to recent historical criteria (ie. the state being involved) or should we use more ancient, biblical definitions? Even if we decide that it is better for us to be legally protected by having a state-recognized marriage, does that mean that we have the right to judge those who chose otherwise? How does all this jive with the separation of church and state?

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