Normative Versus Descriptive

Oriental womanAs I continue my blessed journey through all 66 books in the Bible, I ran into what I thought could be a humorous example of why you want to make sure whether what you are reading is normative or descriptive.

What is normative? Per my Mac’s dictionary:

normative |ˈnôrmətiv|
adjective formal
establishing, relating to, or deriving from a standard or norm, esp. of behavior: negative sanctions to enforce normative behavior.

How about descriptive? Same dictionary:

descriptive |diˈskriptiv|

2 describing or classifying without expressing feelings or judging.

The Bible is literature in many forms (e.g. poetry, narrative); sometimes its message is telling us what to do (normative)…and sometimes it’s just describing what someone did (descriptive).  (Normative versus descriptive or prescriptive versus descriptive.)

Keeping that in mind, can you imagine how putting this in the wrong category would lead to a heap ‘o trouble?: 🙂

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” Then she said, “Here is my servant Bilhah; go in to her, so that she may give birth on my behalf, that even I may have children through her.” So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her. And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son.” Therefore she called his name Dan. Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” So she called his name Naphtali.

When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Then Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. And Leah said, “Good fortune has come!” so she called his name Gad. Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. And Leah said, “Happy am I! For women have called me happy.” So she called his name Asher (Genesis 30:1-13, English Standard Version).

If those verses are normative, then “barren” women should furnish someone (preferably cute) to provide children in their place, right? (Somehow I can’t imagine my wife Michelle buying that.) The Bible is just describing Rachel, Jacob, Bilhah, Leah, and Zilpah’s behavior…it is not telling us to emulate it. For that matter, we aren’t even supposed to follow their example by recreating the original polygamous state (Jacob having both Leah and Rachel as wives).

But, I will admit, I did think of having a little fun with Michelle and suggesting that if she was a Bible-believing woman she should…err…

It would have been worth the well-deserved slap. 🙂

P.S. Bonus video…Tim Hawkin’s “Things You Don’t Say to Your Wife”:


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