Part 1 (SBSK)
There are in the New Testament a pair of passages, and in particular, a common word to both, which is proving to be a stumbling block to Christians/Messianics embracing the practice of biblical polygyny wholeheartedly. Many a battle has raged over it, and many a scripture has been twisted because of it, and many have fallen out of grace on account of it. And yet, upon a very carefule examination we shall see that Yahweh, whose mind is so much greater than our own, has left an indisputable logic for all of those who would honestly search the matter out.
I will freely admit that this single word has stumped me on more than one occasion, and since I am not a Greek scholar, I have had to rely to a very large extent on the expertese of others. But I am surely learning as I go along.
Now this Greek word is not a very conspicuous one - only three letters, in fact - but a great deal hangs on it FOR CERTAIN PEOPLE, though for the rest who can see quite plainly what the Bible teaches on the issue of polygyny OVERALL, there is no issue at all. This is the stumbling block, which I have turned into gold, because it is a precious escape route for the weak of spirit:
And before I start analyzing it in depth I want to 'translate' it myself as an acronym meaning:
MISUNDERSTANDING - INACCURACY - ACCUSATION
Although I have dealt with this issue from a linguistic point of view I want principally today to look at it from a LOGICAL stance. The issues are not that complex, but as I have experienced so often in other areas of doctrinal controversty, when people don't WANT to know a truth, they errect all kinds of illogical stumbling blocks in their own minds, develop their own private theologies, and walk away into a kind of fool's paradise.
What Exactly Did Paul Mean?
The 'Monogamist-Only' camp (rather like the King James Version-Only cult) are determined to force a meaning into this little word that defies all reason. They have, moreover, an agenda, that is so broad and conspiratorial in nature, that I will deal with it in a separate article. For behind the false translation of mia (mia) there lies a hidden agenda - so deeply embedded in the Western subconscious by centuries of tradition and oppression that most Westerners don't understand it properly. That secret agenda, the cornerstone that has propped up centuries of coveted western civilisation, will struggle to hold onto its false misconceptions as strongly as the Romans clung on to their thousand-year old Empire, before allowing the forces of evil to reshape it into the monster that to this very day almost controls the whole world and which will indeed attain its objective in the not too very distant future.
This unconscious conspiracy has rendered two New Testament passages - 1 Timothy 3:2,12 and Titus 1:6 - in such a way as to leave the indellible impression that polygyny is absolutely FORBIDDEN to Bishops, Pastors (Messianic Rabbis), Elders (zaqenim) and Deacons (shammashim) - in short, Christian Church/Messianic Kehilah leadership - that only the plebians (Church laity) may, if they wish, practice it, yet with the powerful hint that even they had better not do so, but rather follow the example of their monogamist leaders. This wicked distortion, imposed by Western intellectuals, philosophers and theologians, has created a stigma out of a godly principle, making a holy subject taboo for all but the brave. It is time now to strip this lie naked and to restore to its place of honour a holy practice.
Part 2 (MH)
by Truth Bearer
(with some added remarks about the NIV by SBSK)
SO what exactly did Paul mean when he inserted that mischievous word mia into his text? I'm going to relate the two passages in question leaving this pesky Greek word untranslated:
(I have dropped the word "but" from the NIV translation because it isn't there in the Greek).
"Now the overseer [bishop, pastor] must be above approach, the husband of mia wife...A deacon must be the husband of mia wife..." (1 Tim.3:2,12, NIV)
"An elder must be blameless, the husband of mia wife..." (Titus 1:6, NIV).
Now it has been suggested that had Paul wanted to convey the sense of "first wife" that he would have used the Greek word protos, as a dear friend once pointed out in her attempted refutation of our position (see The Miā Problem: What are the Issues?). Let us, for the sake of argument, agree with the 'one wifers' that this translations is a possibility. By the same reasoning, however, there is nothing definite that would require us to use protos if Paul's meaning is 'first wife'. The fact of the matter is, Paul could have used either miā or protos if he had the concept of 'first wife' in the back of his mind.
We can prove this even if we are not Greek scholars by seeing how the apostle used the word miā elsewhere. And what do we find? We find that he uses miā in the sense of 'first' many, many times:
We are not dealing with speculative theological matters, moreover, but with fact. For except for the very last passage, all of these are about "the first (miā) day of the week".
- Acts 20:7
- Matthew 28:1,
- Mark 16:2,
- Luke 24:1,
- John 20:1
- John 20:19,
- Acts 20:7,
- 1 Corinthians 16:2,
- Titus 3:10
And in Titus 3:10 there is not a shadow of a doubt that MIĀ has been correctly translated as "first":
So whilst we may all be perfectly agreed about the Greek language, the use of feminines, and the like, the indisputable fact remains that MIĀ can be, and is, translated as FIRST. Will anyone deny the plain fact?
"A man  that is an heretick  after  the first (miā)  and
 second  admonition  reject
 (5737);" (Titus 3:10)
Will anyone please refute the plain logic of this?
No, it cannot be refuted. So let us record it:
MIĀ can be translated as FIRST
Let us move on.
This being an established fact, it is not then logically true to say one CANNOT INSIST that the Greek word "protos" (as it is indeed translated as "first" several times in other verses), is the ONLY word which could have been used if to convey the meaning of "first"?
Yes, it is logically true what I have said. If miā may be translated as "first" (as we have proven), then it is also logically true to say that protos is NOT the only word which could have been employed by Paul to convey the sense of "first".
Will anyone please refute the plain logic of this?
No, it cannot be refuted. So let us record it:
PROTOS is not the only word that can be translated as FIRST
We may, taking these two irrefutable statements of fact, make this third statement:
exclude MIĀ from being translated as "first" by insisting that ONLY
protos is the word which would have been used if the meaning of "first"
was that which was being conveyed.
If this statement is not true, then the eight verses I cited above CANNOT BE TRANSLATED SENSIBLY. This also is an irrefutable fact. To deny this plain statement of truth you are forced to render "first day of the week" as "one day of the week", and if you are a biased NIV translator adding in words that aren't in the original Greek, you could even go as far as saying "but one day of the week". Thus, following the NIV logic, and indeed the whole concensus of biased and bigotted anti-polygynist Western Bible translators, we could change, "Very early on the first day of the week..." to the absurd rendering, "Very early on the [but] one day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb..." (Mark 16:2, NIV) and so utterly mutilate the PLAIN SENSE of scripture.
Now, friends, this is the issue, really, isn't it? PLAIN SENSE. I'm going to show to you now that not only are the claims of the translators that theirs is the only (or even best) was to render miā, but that in employing their biased choice, they turn the whole principle of marriage and congregational leadership on their heads.
From Dogma to Possibility
In the simple exercise we have carried out above we have demonished the dogma that miā HAS to be translated as "one" in "one wife" and we have arrived at the 50:50 position, namely, that miā COULD be translated as EITHER "one" or "first". There's a 50% chance that either the monogamy-only or the either-polygamy-or-monogamy positions are right. Thus we are left with a pair of 'could be's' with no definitive resolution. Thus purely from a linguistic point-of-view, not taking other matters into consideration, how one translates the passages concerned in 1 Timothy and Titus is therefore purely a matter of human bias.
Please note this carefully:
How one translates the passages concerned in 1 Timothy and Titus is therefore purely a matter of human bias.
I am not, you will notice, trying to insist that miā HAS to be translated as "first" to the exclusion of "only", only that EITHER TRANSLATION IS POSSIBLE using the rules of Greek grammar.
At this point, then the monogamist-only and the polygamist camps must agree that the scriptures as they stand may be used to defend either position.
If our mongamist-only friends refuse to agree, then it is only because they are willfully blind. They just don't want to know.
Now that we see that the plain truth is, let us consider a typical defence made by a 'monogamy-only' person so that we can quite clearly see the biases of these people:
I must thank our monogamist-only friend because he has proved my point for he has here identified WHY Paul wrote these three passages! And why did he write them? He wrote them to exclude from leadership positions (bishop, pastor, elder, deacon) any man who has put away his wife. They are strong statements against DIVORCE. Thus the monogamist-only apologist has just dismantled his own dogma and come to understand that miā MOST PROBABLY DOES mean "first".
Titus 1:6 and I Timothy 3:2,12 -- There is a reason the translators chose
the word "one" instead of "first," if the Greek forms do truly mean such
a thing. If you use the word "first" in those passages, they make little sense except in the case that a man that has been divorced from his wife and then remarried cannot be considered for the position of elder or deacon.
So now we move out of the issues of grammar and into the realm of CONTEXT. What was the apostle talking about? What was the issue he was raising? He was not, as the monogamist-only translators are forced to invent, saying that a qualification of leadership is to be a monogamist, but that leaders may not be DIVORCED. And IF this is what his message is - as will become more and more apparent now as we examine this issue in depth - then what Paul is demanding is that leaders set a good example of faithfulness by being true to their FIRST (MIĀ) WIFE - they are not to dispose of a first wife and get another one, for this is setting a bad example to the congregation and indeed destroying the prophetic typology of the Church/Messianic Community, which Yahweh wishes to be pure, whole and faitful.
Yah'shua (Jesus) was perfectly clear in His teachings about divorce, for you will recall that He tightened up the laxity of the leaders of His day who were divorcing their wives without a just cause. Paul is merely re-stating Christ's teaching about marrital faithfulness and underlining the importance of being true to one's first wife - the wife of one's youth. Now THIS makes far better sense than an obscure translation which would overturn something that Elohim (God) has declared to be holy (polygyny) which is nowhere criticised in the Bible except in the heads of Western translators.
Now think about it: if these three passages had been translated "first" instead of "one" or "but one" in the very beginning, where could the monogamy-only camp have turned for justification of their unbiblical position? Nowhere, because the Bible, far from even hinting at hostility towards the principle, is thoroughly positive about it throughout, with Elohim (God) even claiming to be the polygamist husband of Israel and Judah.
Now there is only one way that the translators could have missed these things - such simple things, really - and fallen on faulty logic - and that is they were BROUGHT UP and INDOCTRINATED in the monogamy-only mindframe. There is no other explanation. And I think mosty of my readers know where the monogamy-only dogma came from: Roman Catholic aestheticsm, which in truth would do away with monogamy as well if it could find another way of propagating the species.
It is clear. If you are a 'monogamy-only', then you will automatically dismiss out of hand translating miā as "first" without respect to logic. It's called prejudice. And prejudice is born out of false culture. Polygamy isn't the only issue, mind you, for our distorted Western culture has also invented apartheid, fascism, communism, and a whole range of other '-isms' that found no natural soil in non-Western thinking.
No, a translator from a 'monogamy-only' culture and/or church wouldn't even DREAM of considering the possibility that miā could mean "first". Besides, his career might depend on sustaining the status quo of established church/synagogue tradition. Read the introductions to modern translations and you'll see what I mean. I quote from the preface of my NIV:
One can only smile reading "helped safeguard the translation from sectarian bias" from a list of churches who are ALL fiercely monogamy-only! Would one of these churches have ever countenanced miā being translated as "first" and so open the door to polygamy? NEVER!
"...(the) participants (in the translation)...were from many denominations - including Anglican, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Brethren, Christian Reformed Church, Evangelical Free, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Wesleyan and other churches - helped safeguard the translation from sectarian bias" (p. xi, Preface, NIV: 1987).
And yet the facts still remain. And people like myself are telling the Christian/Messianic world to WAKE UP and to cast of prejudice, superstition and tradition and to let the Bible SPEAK FOR ITSELF.
What the Apostle Actually Meant
Freed to render miā as "first", a whole new vista opens up before us and the original meaning of Paul becames SO MUCH CLEARER. We can now answer the baffling question, "Why would Paul ban polygamy amomgst the leadership and yet petmit the laity to practice it?" by dismissing the question altogether. For now we have a wholly NEW and MEANINGFUL perspective.
We see for the first time, perhaps, that Paul is actually ESTABLISHING the principle of polygamy as a prophetic model of the relationship between Yah'shua (Jesus) and His Church/Messianic Community. Not only is Paul saying that Bishops, Pastors, Elders and Deacons must NOT put away their first wives but he is actually giving them permission to have MORE THAN ONE WIFE.
But why? Why the emphasis on polygamy to the LEADERSHIP (notice how the correct rendition totally turns the Western translations upside down)? Well, ask yourself this question: Who would be better qualified to live polygyny - mature, experienced leaders faithful to their first wives, or the laity who are probably fresh out of paganism with all its attendant immorality and evil?
You will, with this perspective, find yourself asking many other questions, and because "first wife" is the true translation, it will open up many new spiritual truths to you. The "but one wife" rendition just creates confusion.
In my next article I will be anserwing a far more subtle criticism of polygamy from not the monogamy-only camp but for the next logical step (once polygamy has been accepted as non-sinful and biblical) but a wholly new species of objector: the MONOGAMY-BEST position.
I think you'll find it very interesting!
A special thanks to Truth Bearer for the information cited above.
Part 3 (SBSK)
An Alternative View
(5 January 2003)
Since the writing of this article, quite sophisticated critiques have been made of the MIĀ issue. I have cited the best I know of in a self-critique in my Son of Houdini page and have subsequently prepared what I now believe is a better view of the MIĀ passages in my own self-rebuttal. That is not to say that the original MIĀ thesis advanced by TruthBearer and others is not valid but I feel, having studied the subject in far greater depth over the years, that what Paul is specifically addressing is not monogamy/polygamy but marriage itself, viz. that Church/Assembly leaders like Pastors, Elders and Deacons should necessarily be married in order for them be in a position to minister to - as ministers must - married believers (monogamous and polygamous).
For a concise biblical exegesis of the polygamy question, see my book, The Truth About Biblical Marriage and especially the chapter, The Husband of But One Wife.
Continued in Part 2
Authors: SBSK & MH