Alabama State Representative Alvin Holmes is offering $5,000 to anyone who can show him in the Bible where it states that marriage is only between a man and a woman. The offer comes in response to the state legislature’s consideration of a ban on homosexual marriage.

I am not sure what Rep. Holmes hopes to accomplish with his dramatic gesture. He apparently opposes the ban and seems to want to take some of the steam away from those who champion the so-called biblical view of marriage. If that’s what he is thinking, he must know that his ploy is doomed for failure.

For one thing, it is beyond dispute that the depiction of marriage in the Bible is heterosexual. The conservative culture of the ancient Hebrews would not have condoned any other approach. Even if God had told them that same sex relationships were permitted they would not have believed him. Biblical marriage was between a man and a woman–and sometimes between a man and several women, but always male and female.

If Rep. Holmes wants to make a case that same-sex unions are permissible, trying to force the Bible to say what it does not say is not the way to go.

If he feels he must take on the Bible he might argue that some views in the Bible no longer apply. For instance, in spite of a biblical injunction prohibiting it, we do enjoy a plate of fried catfish now and then.

Rep. Holmes might even argue that sometimes certain biblical principles trump other biblical principles. That is partly how slavery was defeated. The institution of slavery, upheld in Scripture, is now universally abhorred by people of genuine faith. We did not get to that place by finding in the Bible a statement that slavery is wrong. The spirit of Scripture condemned slavery even as the letter of Scripture condoned it.

Of course even better would be for Rep. Holmes to tell his colleagues in Montgomery that biblical marriage cannot be legislated. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t have laws that govern property issues and child welfare and such. But marriage as marriage is beyond the reach of law.

Marriage is a promise made between two people with God as witness. It is something that takes place in the soul. The state may have some contribution to make to marriage as a legal contract, but the state has nothing to contribute to marriage as a covenant. Simply because a piece of paper is on file at the court house does not mean that two people have a marriage.

Unfortunately, none of this is really about marriage anyway—it’s all about distraction. Debating homosexual marriage is a way of not doing anything about the things that really affect families. For instance, one of the main reasons marriages fail is because of finances. If legislators want to do something to help married people then address our state income tax that kicks in for a family of four at $4,600.

If I had $5,000 to give away I would be tempted to offer it to anyone who can tell me why in a state where so many people love the Bible and Jesus we tolerate so much poverty. For as certain as I am that marriage in the Bible is between a man and a woman, I am equally certain that leaving only crumbs for the poor is an abomination in the sight of God.

James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.

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