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    FAQ 18

    The Mi Problem:
    What are the Issues?

    Q. Concerning Titus 1:6 and 1 Timothy 3:2, on the FICP site, you write: "Titus 1:6 and 1 Timothy 3:2,12 --- "One wife" --- mia is the Greek word (for the word, one, in those passages) which is actually used for first as in "first day of the week" in Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-2, and Acts 20:7. Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 5:9, a widow's "one man" is not mia but the Greek word heis, meaning the numeral-one, and not meaning "first"." This is incorrect. Mia is the feminine form of the word heis (the neutral form being hen). They are the same word and they both mean exactly what the NIV says they mean: one. Heis appears 343 times in the NT and it is only translated to mean "first" 8 times, and almost all of those cases deal with time ("first day of the week"). If you wanted to say "first", you would use protos, translated to mean "first" 54 times out of 60. Heis can mean "first" only in cases of time. The NT data is overwhelmingly against your interpretation of the passage.

    Jeffrey White (of Zullûwth, a former Pentecostal ministry supportative of polygamy), in a personal reply to me regarding this matter, wrote:

    As far as the meaning of proper meaning 'mia' is concerned, the person who wrote you is mostly correct, because it does literally mean the numeral 1. What the emailer may not realize is that the usage of 'mia' in Titus 1:6 and 1 Timothy 3:2,12 is very likely that of an indefinite article. My own personal opinion is that it is used as an indefinite article in these verses. However, given the grammatical differences between Biblical Greek and modern English, I am not certain that the 'first wife' principle that you and others have written about is necessarily wrong. Certainly, we do have the 'first wife' principle to draw upon in Moses. In my article, I relate Titus 1:6 and 1 Timothy 3:2,12 to the High Priest being required to marry. In any case, I do not favor translating 'mia' as the numeral 1 because that would amount to a circumscription of polygyny. My biggest objection to translating it as 'first' is purely grammatical.

    My other concern, which I don't usually voice, is that those who oppose Christian polygyny may use the inaccurate translation of 'mia' as 'first' as a means of branding Christian polygamists as being liars. This would be quite unfortunate, to give them something to use against the truth. You might want to look at the Mosaic principle of the High Priest taking a wife and check the Hebrew text to see what's there.

    Of course, you might point out to your emailer that the NIV and other translations include words which do not appear in the Greek NT text in these verses. For example, the NIV says "of but one wife" in all three verses, but the Greek word for 'but' does not appear in any of them. So, even if it should really be translated as 'one wife', it is not saying "of only one wife" as the NIV suggests. We could just as easily assume that Paul meant something like "at least one wife" without mistranslating any more that the NIV does. Of course, if he really meant to set the limitation on bishops, elders, and deacons to one wife, then that would exclude the celibate as well as polygamist from these specific posts....

    As far as 'heis' meaning 'first' in relating to time, the Greek idiom used was evidently something like "the 1 of the sabbaths" or "the 1 of the week". What this shows is that the NT writers used the numeral 1 to represent what we would represent in English with the ordinal 'first'. This does prove that 'heis' means 'first' - all it demonstrates is that the two languages express the same thing slightly differently. On the other hand, to say "the 1 of the week" in English is awkward sounding, so rendering it as 'first' in these instances is accurate, though not literal in the strictest sense.

    Even if the NIV translation were correct it would leave enormous theological dilemmas because polygamy would then be set in the light of being a 'permissive' practice for the laity but not for the clergy. Since such a division does not exist in New Testament Christianity we must reject this model. In any case, either a marriage practice is right for all or for none - we do not say, for example, that lay members can be homosexuals but not Church leaders. It is either a sin for all or a sin for none. For we must judge polygamy as the Bible judges all sexual matters, which is with the utmost strictness. The picture we are painted of marriage in the Bible is that it is not something to mess around with - Yahweh is particular about protecting and sanctifying the marriage estate.

    There is one other possible explanation, and that this was a LOCAL commandments adapted to the Church's mission within a Gentile world: since this Hebrew Church (Messianic Community) found itself in a monogamous culture the apostle Paul deemed it prudent, for the sake of getting the message of salvation out, to limit polygamy so as not to provide a distraction from the message of Yah'shua (Jesus) for a hostile gentile world. This, however, not only smacks of liberalism but is contrary to the whole moral, ethical, and theological thrust of the New Testament which speaks of ONE Lord, ONE faith, and ONE baptism.

    Interestingly enough an inspired revision given to the Chavurat Bekorot of 1 Timothy 3:1-13 (OB 324) says only that the Presiding Elder must be "above reproach, be faithful to his first wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectful, hospitable, able to teach" (v.2). This revision does not claim to be a literal translation of the passage in question but highlights the original concept of the author, which was marital felicity. It probably wasn't about monogamy/polygamy at all.

    This is the only pair of passages that anti-polygamists are able to martial and even then they do not condemn the practice of polygamy by those who are not bishops, elders or deacons. As it stands in modern translations it presents a moral and theological dilemma - does a lay member who has two wives suddenly become a sinner if he assumes the office of Deacon - must he discard a wife to be right with Yahweh? What is the reason for the distinction between clergy and laity? Such a passage, as it stands, creates more problems than it solves.

    We must also be very careful not to pit a single or a pair of scriptures which might be saying 'Y' against hundreds of others that say 'X', for this is something done all too often by cults. The Bible, we must remember, is undeniably polygamous from cover to cover.

    That the principle of polygamy is not more directly affirmed in the New Testament is offered by anti-polygamists as prime evidence that it has passed away, or was at that time passing away, as slavery now has. However, what was accepted as a normal way of life by the Hebrews, and indeed by the majority of cultures still in the world, would not expect any special coverage in the New Testament. The latter does not, for instance, go to any great lengths to prove the existence of Elohim (God) for everybody believed in Elohim (God) or a god at that time, even though, as it was to the Athenians, such might have been an "unknown Elohim (God)" (Acts 17:23) to them. The polygamous relationship of the Church to God (Assembly of Yahweh) to Christ, mirroring the same polygamous relationship of Israel to Yahweh, is a dominant theme in the scriptures, underlying the spiritual veracity of polygamy and the importance of such a relationship for a proper understanding of the Gospel. The burden of scriptural proof really lies with the anti-polygamists who have little more than a long-standing gentile tradition, lacking any biblical support, to fall back on. As the end-times wind up we shall be seeing conflicts similar to these, as tradition vies with truth, and those who choose the truth gather out from amongst the traditions of the world.

    At the time of writing (1999), more and more Christian/Messianic polygamy sites are appearing as the Ruach (Spirit) works upon the souls of those who love the Word more than than the traditions of men. I do not say that we shall get a 100% satisfactory resolution to the wording of Titus 1:6 and 1 Timothy 3:2, but I do say that taken as a whole the Bible leaves Christian/Messianic polygamy built on an immovable rock. This, and other sites - and more importantly, the increasing numbers of Christian/Messianic men and women entering this spiritually liberating principle -- are a witness of this spiritual move.

    For deeper analysis of this issue and from different angles, please see the Further Reading section below, and especially [3] which demonstrates that what is really at issue here is the correct understanding of an ancient figure of speech.

    Further Reading

    [1] Mi Revisited: Disposing of a Stumbling Block (Part 1)
    [2] Mamma Mi! More Insights on Mi Gune (Part 2)
    [3] The Husband of But One Wife in the book, The Truth About Biblical Marriage
    [4] See Hlne Holtz's study of polygamy in the New Testament in my Polygamy Trilogy, Bouquet of Roses, in Vol.1, Chapter 7, Hell is One Word

    Author: SBSK

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    First created on 21 September 1999
    Updated on 14 April 2016

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