Before proceeding, let me offer a brief account of my conceptual growth on this subject.
Early in my Christian walk, while yet a child, I became an enthusiastic student of the Holy Scriptures. And I suppose, like most readers of the Sacred Writ, I wondered how it was that some men of the Bible had more than one wife. Questioning my mother, she satisfied my curiosity with dispensational arguments: "the men of the Old Testament lived under a carnal understanding of Divine things, so God Ďwinkedí at their sometimes fleshly ways. But now, God expects more of us."
My next encounter with the subject of polygamy occurred while reading a book of my grandmotherís, written by the esteemed author on world missions - Roland Allen. In The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church (p.67), he argues for a tolerance toward the polygamy of newly converted pagans:
My first surprise in reading these words, as I was able to confirm later from other sources, was that there are women in the world who consider monogamy as something "to be hated and dreaded". It was many years before I was able to solve that mystery.
"Polygamists might have been on the right side rather than on the wrong. If their wives had not been made the objects of the missionary attack; if, when they learned to believe in Christ, they had been accepted as Christians; the ideal [monogamy] would have been before them not as something inimical, to be hated and dreaded, and resisted, not as a monstrous and tyrannical imposition but as an ideal at which they might safely and wisely look.
"But this quiet growth we have declined in order to obtain a present immediate victory. [referring to the Anglican policy to break-up polygamous households]"
My greatest surprise with Allenís arguments, although clearly on the side of monogamy, is that he takes polygamy out of the realm of morals and puts it into the realm of values. By this, I mean, polygamy is merely a bad custom which growth in sanctification will eventually remedy. It is not a moral crime on the level of murder, theft or adultery. The question is not a matter of good or evil, but poor, better, and best. While Allen would no doubt be uncomfortable with such an interpretation of his statements, the deduction is unavoidable. For if polygamy were really a moral evil on the level of murder or adultery, we cannot imagine any Christian insisting on anything less than complete and immediate repentance.
Allenís position is typical of many Protestant theologians. My first serious study of the subject was R.J.Rushdoonyís Institutes of Biblical Law (p.362-368), a Reformed theologian. He vigorously defends monogamy against polygamy, but as a preference of values, not as a moral issue:
Following this statement, Rushdoony launches out into a long denigration of polygamy using sociological arguments. Again, we see here that it is a conflict of values and not morals.
"It is thus apparent that the law [of Moses, JS] tolerated polygamy while establishing monogamy as the standard. The reason for this tolerance was the fact that the polygamous family was still a family, a lower form of family life, but a tolerable one. . . Biblical law thus protects the family and does not tolerate adultery, which threatens and destroys the family."
There are other Protestant theologians which can be cited, but their approach is basically the same: polygamy is to be tolerated in primitive cultures. Newly converted pagans cannot be expected to rise quickly to the enlightened status of Western Christians. Breaking up polygamous families would be cruel. Polygamy is inferior to monogamy, but still superior to adultery, and other sexual sins.
It was not until I read Martin Luther that my prejudice against polygamy was disarmed. Not only did Luther defend polygamy as a remedy for fornication, but it was preferable to divorce (see The Babylonian Captivity of the Christian Church, and Heinrich BŲhmerís Luther in the Light of Recent Research). Luther did not stand alone in these opinions, but was supported by Melancthon and the Lutheran clergy in general (including his Catholic adversary, Cardinal Cajetan). In the words of church historian, Roland Bainton:
"His own solution on occasion was bigamy. This he had suggested in the affair of Henry VIII on the ground that it had been practiced by the Old Testament patriarchs with divine approval and never expressly repudiated in the New Testament" (The Reformation of the 16th Century, p.259).
This we have from the man who is responsible for the Protestant Reformation!
Following this discovery, I pursued an extensive study of the Scriptures to rethink all of the references pertaining to this subject. When it was completed, I was forced to conclude that polygamy was not morally evil nor was it inferior to monogamy. Like the celibate, each one has his vocation and gift. There is a Christian calling fitted for the life of polygamy: the ministry of the patriarch (discussed later). While most men will prefer to be monogamous and some will be celibate, others, however, are called to be polygamous.
As Providence would have it, while I was struggling with the isolation these conclusions would impose upon me, I found an old book in a used bookstore which added a completely new dimension onto this subject (The History and Philosophy of Marriage: or Polygamy and Monogamy Compared, E.N.Jecks, Boston: James Campbell, 1869). The author demonstrates himself to be an Evangelical Christian, a theonomist and a believer in the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. His thesis can be summarized thusly:
The remainder of the book is spent comparing societies which have permitted polygamy as a legitimate form of marriage with societies which permit only monogamy. He identifies enforced monogamy as a pagan custom inherited from the Roman Catholic Church - which incidentally, views concupiscence as Original Sin. The Roman Church inherited monogamy from pagan Rome. And Rome, in turn, inherited the custom from decadent Greece. Monogamy is an impossible custom in any culture. Pagans, which have no scruples about lust, openly practice prostitution while legally practicing monogamy. Christian nations, viewing sex as depravity or at least unhealthy unless greatly restricted, pretend to practice monogamy, but abound in secret prostitution, vicarious concubinage, and sins of uncleanness.
- 1) Sexual passion is a gift from God to induce procreation and create the bond of marital kinship. In itself, it is not evil but good.
- 2) Sexual passion arises from our physical, not our moral nature.
- 3) Sexual passion is a physical need, which if neglected, leads to a diseased mind and body.
- 4) Sexual passion, when fulfilled, leads to wholeness and well-being.
- 5) Sexual passion can be abused and indulged to excess, as can any other good thing that God has made.
- 6) Sexual abuse cannot be left to human reason or tradition to define, but must be defined by Godís written Word.
- 7) Some people vary in sexual needs due to capacity, just as they vary in other areas of physical need.
- 8) Godís Word provides for such needs.
- 9) Promiscuity and uncleanness are never godly remedies for sexual passion.
- 10) Marriage is Godís remedy for sexual passion; polygamy is Godís remedy for inordinate sexual passion.
Jecks declares that men, if denied the opportunity of polygamy, will turn to a perverted and decadent sex. He also predicted the specter of abortion and the destruction of family life in the United States if polygamy was not legalized. His warning was scorned, and a century later, we had the sexual revolution and the legalization of abortion.
First created on 4 April 2000
Updated on 18 June 2016
Copyright ©1991 J.W.Stivers, Library of Congress #TX-3-189-734
Stivers Publications, P.O. Box 8701, Moscow, Idaho 83843, USA
Reproduced by permission and with thanks by HEM, 2000
Endorsement of this book by HEM does not necesserily mean
endorsement of the author's other publications or views.