Chapter 2. Objections Answered
#1 - The Creation Ordinance
It has long been argued that polygamy is unlawful according to Godís creative purpose. God permitted it subsequent to the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden, but under the restoration of the creation in Christ, there is no longer any excuse for it. The argument says that polygamy for Christians is a step backward into carnality and the "old nature". Monogamy is more spiritual (and for some, celibacy is more spiritual than monogamy). This exaltation of monogamy over polygamy, as I see it, is based upon a false view of lust. Lust is seen as evil; so the desire for polygamy is seen as excessive lust. Such an assumption ignores the procreative purpose of sex, which we shall speak of later.
The creative purpose of God for marriage is stated in Genesis 2:24, "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh."
The logic says that since God gave Adam one wife, then His intent was that man should have only one. A faithful Christianity will seek to know Godís intent and to obey the "spirit" of the law and not just its letter. God intended monogamy at the beginning. Christ reaffirmed it. And Christian ethics must follow. So it is assumed.
This objection, which is the most formidable one to polygamy, can be answered by three arguments:
First, it cannot be demonstrated from the text that its purpose is to teach monogamy. A false hermeneutic is being used here. The very next verse (25) says the man and woman were naked. Are we to assume it is teaching us the moral superiority of nudity? Is it too difficult to imagine that clothing would not have been invented were it not for the Fall? What about polygamy?
I do not believe we can find here any more of a moral law against polygamy than we can a moral law against wearing clothes. Clothing is used for purposes other than covering genitals. Our first parents would have observed, no doubt, the heavy fur coverings of other mammals (some mammals also are polygamous). They would have discovered the usefulness of coverings to protect themselves from the dew of the morning and to reduce the abrasion of manual labor. Digging and planting would have required shoes of some kind. Climbing trees would have been simplified by at least a loin cloth. Eve would have appreciated its ornamental value and Adam its usefulness in conveying distinctions of vocation and status. Nakedness is normal. So is wearing clothes.
In a pre-Fall world, polygamy may have been chosen, on occasion, as a personal preference. Polygamy is normal. So is monogamy.
The Creation Ordinance does teach monogamy, but only as an inference. Monogamy is normal. Using this Scripture to prohibit polygamy, however, is an unwarranted extrapolation, just as is the prohibition of clothes because Adam and Eve were naked.
Second, the primary teaching of this passage, as it is also used by our Lord (Mark 10:6-9), is the bisexuality of mankind. Just like the other mammals, man is male and female. Man is not unisex. He cannot be fruitful and multiply in a homosexual or androgynous manner. Mankind finds its social and sexual fulfillment in a sexual counterpart. What we see here is the foundation for marriage in general. The Creator intended procreation, and the coming together of the two sexes in a permanent union was necessary.
Third, polygamy was not a consequence of the Fall, but would have arisen in a perfect world anyway. God instructed the animals He created to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:22). This expression means to "have lots of sex and offspring". God gave the same command to the human species, except He added the aspect of dominion to manís task. That is why the sexual union of animals may not be permanent, but it is for man. Marriage establishes a government.
Man faced the responsibility to engage in sexual intercourse and to "multiply". What are the demographic consequences of this fertility? In a perfect world, mankind would double every biological generation, at least. What would happen if we conservatively estimate a biological generation at twenty years?
If we accept the biological fact that females mature faster than males by two or three years, and mature psychologically by four or five. If we accept the premise that the average male does not have the economic independence necessary to support a family until he reaches his Biblical age of majority (20 years - Numbers 1:3; Leviticus 27:3), we can easily provide a 5-10 year age gap (or more) between males and females at marriage (in Bible days the spread was much greater). If males and females married at their earliest possible ages of maturity - 20 for the male and 13 for the female (or any age as long as there is an average spread of 7.5 years) - then there would be a male/female ratio of 1 to almost 1.4 among marriageable persons. That is an excess of females over males by 30%. We may conclude that in a perfect society, the ages of maturation and the pressures of population growth would require that a third of the households be bigamous. This estimate also assumes an equal birth rate for both sexes.
The above assumptions are not far-fetched. Biological differences between the sexes have not been affected by the Fall of Man. Rather, they have been intensified (Genesis 3:16-20). Theologian Meredith G. Kline describes the pre-Fall world:
The above scenario is the only one which can explain the polygamy of the Israelites in captivity. There were no conquests and the taking of war brides. The infanticide of Israelite males, commanded by Pharaoh, was unsuccessful (Exodus 1). Men exchanged daughters. Young men spent their early manhood in a celibate condition, learning self-control and laboring in their dominion task.
"The Bible does not require us, therefore, to think of the character and working of manís natural environment before the Fall as radically different than is presently the case.
"God gives his angels charge over the one who stands in his favor lest he should dash his foot against a stone (Ps.91:12). Blessing consists not in the absence of the potentially harmful stone, but in the presence of Godís providential care over the foot. Adamís world before the Fall was not a world without stones, thorns, dark watery depths, or death. But it was a world where the angels of God were given a charge over man to protect his every step and to prosper all the labor of his hand" (Quoted by Gary North in Is The World Running Down? p.124).
Later, having accumulated necessary capital to support a family and provide a dowry, they married. They married many wives - but not all at once. A slow process of family growth through polygamy is possible for the man; for he has a much longer reproductive life than the woman.
Polygamy is not possible in a static society or one of declining population. Outside the cataclysms of war, which greatly reduces the male population and creates an occasion for polygamy, polygamy requires an expanding economic base and a growing population. In other words, conditions approximating the pre-Fall world are ideal for the custom of polygamy.
With such arguments, I cannot see how the Creation Ordinance, even in a perfect world, could be used to prohibit polygamy.
#2 - The Sin of Lamech (Genesis 4)
Lamech was a seventh generation Cainite who killed a man and apparently took his wife. This is the first recorded instance of polygamy in the Scriptures.
From this episode, it has been argued that polygamy was the invention of a wicked race. And it is true that the wickedness of man has greatly increased the need for polygamy. War, sickness, and calamity take a far heavier toll on the male sex than on the female.
But we cannot argue from this instance that polygamy is evil. Murder is evil and that is what is taught in the text. Again it is bad hermeneutics to say that because Lamech was a bad man, then polygamy is also bad.
Lamechís sons were also distinguished as inventors of tents, animal husbandmen, musicians and makers of musical instruments, and workers in metallurgy. Must we abandon these practices simply because they are the inventions of an evil race? I think not.
#3 - Domestic Discord
It has been argued that polygamy is evil in its influence upon spouses and children. The domestic discomforts suffered by the Patriarchs are presented as the fault of polygamy. Upon closer examination, however, such is not the case (see the book of Genesis for these accounts).
Much has been made of the rivalry between Leah and Rachel, sisters who were both married to Jacob. Whose fault was it? Rachelís barrenness was the source of bitterness. And her barrenness was a sovereign act of God. God favored Leah because Jacob could not find the grace within himself to love Leah as he did Rachel. Jacobís favoritism for Rachel and her son Joseph was the source of discord.
It is never mentioned in the text that a rivalry existed among the rest of Jacobís wives: Leahís handmaid Zilpah and Rachelís handmaid Bilhah. Nor was there a rivalry among the sons of the respective wives. They all got along with Leah and her sons. Rachel and Jacobís weakness for her and Joseph - this was the thorn of contention. Jacobís intemperate and discriminate love was at fault.
Excepting Rachel, Jacob's wives illustrate what researchers typically find among women of polygamous households: they establish sisterhoods. Polygamous women are gifted with the social skills at working together. Their division of domestic labor provides them with sufficient leisure time for personal pursuits. I find it curious that women in monogamous cultures crop their hair short, while polygamous women grow their hair long, and spend much time on it. The monogamous womanís "harried" lifestyle (even with all the technological wizardry), still leaves her hair a nuisance. So she cuts it off.
Abrahamís and Sarahís bitter experience with Hagar and her son Ishmael is well known. But again, there is no hint in Scripture that bigamy itself was at fault. Hagarís insubordination and contempt for Sarah, to the point of persecution, is what made the relationship unworkable (Proverbs 30:23).
We can explain Davidís misfortunes to his murder of Uriah and his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, not his polygamy. Indeed, up to that unfortunate incident, we find all light. Following, "the sword shall not depart out of thy house" became a reality (2 Samuel 12:7-12). Davidís crimes are not unique to polygamous cultures.
Solomon's apostasy toward the end of his life was not the result of having many wives, but for having foreign wives. These were women who brought with them their pagan beliefs and practices (1 Kings 11:1-8).
While we can demonstrate other explanations for the domestic discord in households which happened to be polygamous, it should be added that there is ample proof of discord among monogamous households in the Bible, as well. The rivalry of Cain and Abel, and Esau and Jacob come immediately to mind. All of these were children of monogamists. Domestic discord is a consequence of sin and is remedied by Godís grace, not by some unique form of marriage.
#4 - Old Testament Laws
The above passage is relied upon heavily by some commentators in prohibiting polygamy. This is because a case can be made for a translation rendered thus: "you shall not take one wife to another". Others see it as a prohibition of sister bigamy only.
"And you shall not take to wife a sister of your wife, to distress her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time" (Leviticus 18:18).
Neither interpretation seems possible. In all the Prophets, it is never singled out for rebuke. We cannot imagine that bigamy never occurred. If it was a violation of Mosaic Law, its extensive practice surely would have been noted. It is never mentioned.
Consider for a moment that Leviticus 18:18 is followed in the next verse (19) by a condemnation of a different sort of sexual sin: intercourse with a menstruating woman. This is a form of fornication possible with ones own wife! Yet in the Prophet Ezekiel's covenant lawsuit, he condemns Israel for this sin and never mentions bigamy (or sister bigamy for that matter - Ezekiel 18:5-9). Does it not seem incongruous that Ezekiel would indict Israel for a secret sin, when a public one (bigamy) was being practiced before his very eyes? Indeed, the Aramaic text for Ezekiel 22:10 reads: "in you have they uncovered the nakedness of their fathers' concubines; in you have they lain with menstrous women." Here, the integrity of plural marriage is defended by the Prophet!
The above passage was not meant to prohibit bigamy or sister bigamy. The qualifying clause is "to distress her" - referring to the first wife. It is speaking against the man who marries a second wife to displace the first wife (Proverbs 30:23). We have Old Testament examples of this: Abraham and Hagar; Jacob and Rachel; Elkanah and Hannah. In each case, it was the intention of the man to show favorites or for the second wife to be preťminent. God sees this as persecution and judges it with barrenness (e.g. 1 Samuel 1).
The case of Elkanah and Hannah is useful in illustrating this point. Hannah was undoubtedly the second wife; for had she been the first, Elkanah would not have married another, in spite of her barrenness. He told her she was worth ten sons to him. Elkanah married Hannah, not for children, but for love. However, it was not a marriage his first wife approved, because it involved an alienation of his affections. Consequently, the LORD made Hannah barren.
What is prohibited here is not polygamy, but polygamy without the counsel and consent of the first wife. This principle is reinforced by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:4. In marriage, the man surrenders sovereignty over his sexuality and shares it jointly with his wife. Therefore, for him to belligerently engage in polygamy, it is a trespass against his wife's claims upon the marriage and the covenant he made with her before God (see Malachi 2:14-16, although referring to divorce, does have bearing upon this point).
#5 - The New Testament Prohibits Polygamy
It is true that there are no New Testament examples of polygamy. Nor is polygamy openly taught. However, while it is not visible, one errs to say the New Testament prohibits it. The New Testament openly and vigorously condemns adultery, divorce, and fornication; but in the long chronicles of human depravity, not one mention is made of polygamy (e.g. Romans 1).
In every detail, the New Testament is entirely consistent with the Old Testament. Three references, however, have been construed by commentators to condemn polygamy.
The first is Matthew 19:9 - "But I say to you, Whoever leaves his wife without a charge of adultery and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries a woman thus separated commits adultery."
It is really not appropriate to use this passage to prohibit polygamy. For the previous verse (8) tells us that the topic of discussion is divorce. Divorce is not polygamy. Nevertheless, commentators have used the language to teach against polygamy, because they suppose a man marrying a second time was considered an adulterer by our Lord. This hermeneutic is used by some religious groups to condemn as bigamy the marriages of widowers.
The obvious answer is that in this text, the man must leave his first wife to marry the second. That is what happens in divorce, but not polygamy. In polygamy the one flesh - cleaving - relationship is preserved with all the wives. Divorce requires the breaking of one relationship in order to establish a new one. It is that practice which is condemned by our Lord.
The second New Testament passage used against polygamy is 1 Corinthians 7:2 (with repetitions in Ephesians 5:22,24; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1,5). It reads,
"Nevertheless, because of the danger of immorality, let every man hold to his own wife, and let every woman hold to her own husband."
Commentators reason from this passage, that a woman cannot have her "own" husband in a polygamous marriage. She shares her husband with other women. Thus, these Scriptures are used to support monogamy.
On its face, such reasoning seems a bit stretched. If the Apostle favored monogamy, why did he not come out and say so? He did not, and for a very good reason. It is because closer examination of these passages reveal the opposite to be true: Paul and Peter went out of their way not to implicate polygamy. Observe the Greek used here. In every case in which the man is the subject, the word is heauton. When the woman is the subject, idios is used (see Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words - Nelson, p. 455).
The above reference is rendered thus by The Expositor's Greek Testament (Vol.2, Eerdmans, p. 822):
The word "own" for the man does not mean the same thing as "own" for the woman. Two different terms are used. Without going into a long word study, it is sufficient to point out that Biblical doctrine does indeed teach that a wife belongs to her husband exclusively in a sexual sense. But such is not the case with the husband. He does not necessarily belong exclusively to his wife.
"Let each (man) have his own (heauton) wife, and each (woman) her proper (ideos) husband."
To support this assertion, note that Titus 2:5 speaks of wives being "obedient to their own (idios) husbands". This is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 7:2. It is also used in Titus 2:9, four verses later, where Paul says "Exhort servants to be obedient to their own (idios) masters". We know that a master owns his servants exclusively, but servants share their master with other servants. Additionally, 1 Peter 3:1,5 says that the Old Testament women had their "own" husbands. The next verse (6) refers to Sarah, who we know shared her husband with other women. From this evidence, we may safely conclude that the Apostles did not intend to enforce monogamy in these passages.
To the contrary, such carefulness in the use of words can only be explained by an effort to accommodate polygamy. Husbands do not share their wives with other men. But women may share their husbands with other wives.
The last passage used to prohibit polygamy is 1 Timothy 3:2, 12 (also Titus 1:6), which reads:
I must admit my curiosity as to why this Scripture has been used as a standard argument against polygamy. On its face, it is clear evidence that polygamy was being practiced by New Testament Christians, although as extra-biblical sources tell us, it was practiced by the Jewish and Persian Christians, not the Greek and Roman ones. Greek and Roman law legitimized monogamy, not polygamy.
"He who becomes an elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife . . . Let the deacons be appointed from those who have not been polygamous. . ." (Ancient Eastern Text)
This Scripture is really a restriction, not a prohibition. Church officers were not allowed to be polygamous; laymen were. Commentators sometimes concede that point, but quickly add that this Scripture sets polygamy in a bad light in terms of its moral status. They lump polygamy with the other vices which disqualify men from the ministry: drunkenness, pride, greed, and so on. If these vices are bad for laymen, so is polygamy.
In reply, it should be pointed out that not all qualifications for deacon and elder are moral. The elder must be "apt at teaching" and "given to hospitality". These are not strictly moral. That a layman is not a scholar or an eloquent speaker does not disqualify him as a good Christian. If he is too poor to invite guests into his home, that is no reflection upon his status as a believer. So, we cannot necessarily make polygamy a moral issue here.
If polygamy be not immoral, then why were church officers prohibited from practicing it? There is a very good reason: nepotism. Nepotism is the granting of public favors by a government official to his blood relatives. This practice has been considered a misuse of a public trust in all societies influenced by the Bible. Unlike pagan cultures, the Bible presents public officers as ministers to the good of all. Their positions are not meant for personal gain. In the context of polygamy, a man who used his power as a public servant to establish a harem and a dynasty would create an enormous concentration of power into the hands of a single, dominating family. The opportunity of aristocratic tyranny is awesome.
That is why the Old Testament forbade kings large harems (a law Solomon did violate), private armies, direct taxation, and so on. Obviously, these privileges pervert the civil power and create despotism (Deuteronomy 17:17; 1 Kings 12:1-5; 1 Samuel 8).
Since under the New Covenant the church is the training ground for civil magistrates and public dominion, its officers are not allowed to concentrate power in themselves by keeping a disproportionate share of the church monies or possessing an exceptionally large family through polygamy.
A public trust is a stewardship responsibility, and it is also a unique concentration of collective power. That power can be easily abused, so must be guarded by careful restrictions. The prohibition of polygamy is one of them. Upon this principle, we may safely assert that polygamy is a right left only to the layman and private citizen. It is off-limits to the public officer, enfranchised individual, or any other person enjoying corporate privileges.
Addendum by Stanisław Krůlewiec
At the time this book was written, the author was not aware of the mi‚ issue. I wrote a letter explaining this to him. Both my letter and his response are given below:
(1) Chapter 2. The Nepotism issue and exegesis of 1 Tim.3:2,12 & Tit.1:6. What is
your view of the "mi‚" question addressed in such articles I have written? See:
Whilst I agree that nepotism COULD be a problem it need not be so in the
CHURCH. See my article:
I know a good number of Pastors who have an unmistakable witness to being called
into polygyny as well as continuing their pastoral ministry.
One could argue that nepotism is a problem in a monogamously married Pastor and
indeed I know of churches where this is the case. Then there is the problem of the
"authority" which a pastor's wife sometimes exercise over a congregation without any
sort of calling or divine mandate to do so. By the same logic, should we insist that
Pastors (and Deacons) be celibate? For this is, surely, just another level of nepotism.
But really the issue is one of spirituality. There is always a potential abuse of EVERY
true principle when sin enters a ministry. My own conclusion is that Pastors and
Deacons are the MOST suitable candidates for polygamy! See:
Could it be that you are perhaps focussing on the sexual and political repercussions of
an abuse of polygamy rather than the spiritual principles that emminently qualify Pastors
and Deacons for plural marriage?....
Your study on the word "mia" in the Pastoral Epistles is very good and an approach I have
never considered before. I do think that your argument has made it possible for church
officers to be polygamous without being immoral or violating the Scriptures, in particular
those in 1 Timothy and Titus.
My treatment of those passages occurred while operating within the institutional paradigm
for church government. In a veiled sense, I was arguing for a different paradigm for the
church, one which reflects the patriarchal, familial model which you have taught and
practiced. Operating within the institutional structure, a polygamous pastor would be
wrong. Operating within the familial structure, a polygamous pastor would be a necessity.
Having said that, I do think that there ought to be guards set up against nepotism.
Perhaps, your discipleship program has already dealt with that danger. The kings of Israel
were restricted from excessive polygamy to prevent nepotism. There ought to be a special
process of ordination for a polygamous pastor...
With best regards,
James Wesley Stivers
#6 - Polygamy Violates God's Types
Some commentators, finding precious little evidence against polygamy, fall back upon symbolic theology. Specifically they argue that polygamy violates the Son/Bride imagery of Christ and the Church. Since a man represents Christ, and his wife the Church, he can have only one wife. Christ, his example, has one wife - one Church (Ephesians 5:21-33).
Further, it is argued that man, being made in God's image, should seek to continually reflect that image in his life. Since God is depicted as monogamous, so should man be.
To answer such arguments, it should be said first that symbolic theology is descriptive theology, not dogma. There is much value in it pedagogically - that is, it teaches doctrine so as to make its applications understandable. Like mathematics, it uses symbols to make the laws of reality - abstractions - visual to the mind. Mathematics does not invent physical laws; it describes them. Likewise symbolic theology does not create morals and dogma, it explains them. Therefore, it requires a revelation to work from; it cannot act as one in itself.
Second, without the boundaries of the doctrinal and preceptive statements in Scripture, symbolic theology can be used to prove anything. It becomes a theological form of quantum physics. I can use Biblical symbolism to prove polygamy.
For instance, in Ezekiel 23, God is depicted as a bigamist, even a sister bigamist. In Ezekiel's allegory, Yahweh is depicted as being married to two sisters, Ahlibah and Ahlah (Samaria and Jerusalem). We know God is not a man that He would have sex and wives (as the Mormon heretics would say). Yet, we cannot imagine God depicting Himself in the Sacred Writ as a murderer or a thief, or other wicked person. (Jesus said He would come "as a thief in the night", not that He was a thief in the night.)
If a bigamist (or sister bigamist) is so evil, how is it that God could present Himself as one? Surely, a different allegory would have sufficed. The reason He could use such symbolism is because polygamy is not evil. Indeed, were symbolism all we had to go on, we could prove the validity of sister bigamy from this Divine example alone.
"So, God is a polygamist in the Old Testament. But the New Testament is the purer revelation. Christ is a monogamist there." Oh, really? If we follow the notion that the Church is the Bride, we must qualify it and say there are seven Brides; for there are seven churches (Revelation 1-3). Christ is also a polygamist!
My point is this: it is not appropriate to use symbolic theology to settle this issue, or any other moral issue, for that matter.
Finally, polygamy is not inconsistent with symbolic theology. The Trinitarian imagery of the Bible has precedence over the Son/Bride imagery anyway. The ontological Trinity is the very foundation of reality. Man, and collective man (the family), reflects that image first. A man belongs to a family before he takes a bride to form a new one. Trinitarian symbolism comes first in the Scriptures.
Polygamy does not violate Trinitarian symbolism. The offices of father (ruler), son (successor), and Holy Spirit (helper) are still reflected in the polygamous household. While there can be only one father/husband, there can be many sons (heirs) and many helpers (tutors/mothers). The Bible teaches one Spirit, yet also a seven-fold Spirit (Ephesians 2:18; Revelation 5:6). Likewise in the polygamous family, there is one marriage covenant, but more than one woman who jointly fill the office of wife/mother (see my book on relational theology, Restoring the Foundations and The Mother Heart of God).
#7 - Polygamy is Evidence of Wicked Lust
This objection to polygamy results from a Gnostic view of lust which pervades Classical Christianity. The following reply is an adaptation from an article I published in The Family Spokesman, December, 1988. It answers the question adequately. I should add one supporting statement: Marriage is God's remedy for lust (1 Corinthians 7:2,5,9) and polygamy is God's remedy for great lust (2 Samuel 12:8). Celibacy and abstinence are never presented as long term remedies for lust. Such practices feed it to the point of uncleanness.
THE LUST OF THE FLESH
Just about every commentator I have ever read has misinterpreted and misapplied the above Scripture. And again, part of the confusion is based upon the translation. In the Greek and Hebrew languages, there are no separate words to distinguish a married woman from an unmarried woman (unless it is the word virgin, or the word widow). In all cases the Greek word is gune' which is translated "woman" or "wife". There is no way for the translator to know which way to translate it except by looking at the context. Sometimes, the context is not clear, so the translation is arbitrary. But in the above instance, the context is quite clear:
"But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:28).
Jesus is talking about lusting after married women, because according to Hebrew ethics, a man cannot commit adultery except with a married woman.
Sexual relations with an unmarried woman is the sin of fornication, not the sin of adultery. It is entirely proper and necessary for a man to lust after his wife. It is entirely proper for a young man to lust for the woman he intends to marry. That may sound crude, but it is an obvious fact that the desire for sexual relations is the normal motive for men to marry. Were it not for sex, most men would not marry. And this is the reason why it is difficult to get men to marry today: the availability of sex outside of marriage is abundant. Why bother with marriage?
Christians try to spiritualize the conjugal act because they view the word lust as a dirty, four-letter word. Biblically, that is a false perspective. The word "lust" comes from the Greek epithumiŰ, meaning "strong feeling". It is translated as lust in many places, in others as "desire" (1 Timothy 3:1), "yearn" (Matthew 13:17), and "covet" (Romans 7:7). A simple word study reveals that "lust" is a neutral word in the Biblical context. One may "lust" or "strongly desire" good things or bad things.
What Jesus was saying in the above passage is that a man should not desire a woman he cannot lawfully have. Jesus, as always, was simply reaffirming the Law, and the Tenth Commandment in particular: Thou shalt not covet . . . thy neighbor's wife. To interpret it any differently is to impose a false standard of morality upon Christians.
That an unmarried couple desire to have sexual relations with each other, and that they intend to marry for that reason is a perfectly Biblical motive. The Apostle Paul affirms its validity in 1 Corinthians 7:1-2. Those who view it as a concession (v.9) by Paul, overlook the fact that he refers to sexual desire as a gift from God (v.7), just as he does the desire for celibacy. To view marriage as morally inferior to celibacy is to misread Scripture, and to misread it radically. Just as the absence of sexual desire is the proper motive for celibacy, so is the presence of sexual desire the proper motive for marriage. And just as the presence of sexual desire is an improper motive for celibacy (asceticism), so also is the absence of sexual desire an inadequate motive for marriage. This is what Paul was teaching.
This cuts to the heart of the issue in what is wrong with much Christian theology. It reeks of Gnostic heresy.
[I use the term 'gnostic' as a general term to include all theological compromises with Platonic, Manichean, and all pagan philosophy with similar teachings.]
Christians have fallen for a false dualism in the Bible (e.g. law v. grace, spirit v. flesh, faith v. works, and so on). There are no absolute dualisms in the Bible. God is not at war with Himself. The same God who gave the Law, also gives the grace to keep the Law and to be forgiven when we fail. The same Cod who created spirit, also created flesh - and redeemed both. The same God who requires faith, also requires works. To pit the Scriptures against each other is not a Christian practice but a Gnostic one.
Yet for many Christians, it would be better to translate Galatians 5: 19-21 in this fashion:
How many people feel guilty for being human! "Yeah, but brother Jim, weíre not saying that sleeping is wrong, only too much sleeping is wrong." You can replace the word "sleeping" in that previous statement with anything else humans do and you get a picture of where evangelical morality is at.
"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: sleeping, eating, having sex, making nice things, going fishing, of which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (New Fangled Gnostic Version).
Alright. How much sleep is too much? Eight hours? How about ten? What if Iíve worked hard today? Do I get an extra hour? Or does that make me a sinful sluggard?
How much sex is too much sex? Who decides that? If I want it every night, and my wife doesnít, does that make me a lecher? Where are the rules?
"You should be out witnessing, instead of sporting your wife, brother Jim." "Why did you buy that pizza? You could have had lentils instead and sent the money to missions." The list could go on and on.
Believe me, I was a legalist at one time. Legalism was a good value system for me. It taught me self-discipline. But there is a difference between values and morals. Morals have to do with sin and salvation. Values have to do with rewards and success formulas. It took me a long time to learn that difference.
One person decides to marry; another chooses celibacy. Yet another chooses polygamy. They are all holy and spiritual. Evangelicals, like Catholics, have created their own yardstick of spirituality - and it makes God sick. They indulge different vices. An Evangelical may never think of looking at a Playboy centerfold, yet not hesitate at eating like a horse. There is no problem with picking and choosing - having preferences is how we create our unique value systems. The problem appears when we try to force everyone else into our value system. Human values, however meritorious, are not universally binding as are the moral laws of the Bible.
The New Testament provides moral categories, like the ones in Galatians 5:19-25. But it does not provide the content to those moral categories. Uncleanness is a sin; but what is uncleanness? What is idolatry? What is love, joy and peace? The New Testament is sketchy at best on moral questions. The New Testament writers assume their readers know what they are talking about. How do the readers know? The Old Testament. The Torah tells us what uncleanness is. It defines idolatry. It gives flesh-and-blood examples of the spiritual virtues.
There are only two sources to supply the moral and metaphysical content to New Testament terms:
That is why Church tradition and Canon Law are not reliable guides after about 190 AD: Christian theology became infected with the Gnostic heresy; and it has never been the same since. Our attitude toward Jesusí words quoted at the beginning of this article is one example among many.
- 1) either the Law, Precept, and Precedent of the Hebrew Scriptures; or
- 2) human reason based upon a mixture of philosophy and Christian traditions.
Lusts of the flesh are desires to do the works of the flesh. In the Biblical context, my desire to relieve my bladder is not a "work of the flesh". The works of the flesh are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, strife, jealousies, wrath, factions, divisions, heresies, envyings murders, drunkenness, reveling, and so on (Galatians 5:19-21). In other words, the works of the flesh are transgressions of the Law - the Torah. Obviously, Paul is not referring to the biological and psychological needs of our humanity. "The flesh" is a disposition to do evil with our bodies. "The spirit" is a disposition to do good with our bodies.
The dualism of flesh v. spirit in Paul's theology has nothing to do with an ontological dichotomy of two opposing substances, personalities, or natures in our being. It is an ethical dichotomy. Paul's statement, "they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:8), makes no sense whatever if he is literally referring to our physical bodies as the source of evil. If that were the case, even Jesus did not please God because He too was in the flesh. You can see why many Gnostics denied the Incarnation - in their soteriology, Jesus could not have been our Savior if He were in the flesh; the flesh was innately evil.
Paul's subsequent statement (v.9) would have been illogical also ("But ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit"), if he meant literal flesh and blood. Were the Roman believers now phantoms since becoming Christians? The bottom line is that the Bible's use of the terms "flesh", "the lust of the flesh", and "the works of the flesh", are all theological expressions to describe a moral condition: obedience or disobedience to God's Law. Paul says, "the mind of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." (Romans 8:7). "For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am fleshly, sold under sin." (Romans 7:15). Need I go on?
#8 - Polygamy is Oppressive to Women
This is a subjective assertion; for it is nowhere intimated in the Bible that polygamy is oppressive to women. Nowhere. Some women may find polygamy oppressive, and their feelings should be respected. Others do not find it oppressive. What shall we do with those women who find polygamy to be good for them? Are we going to cast them off as immoral or inferior to the monogamous women?
Women are commanded in 1 Peter 3:6 to emulate Sarah, a great woman of God. Are we audacious enough to insist otherwise? She was the matron in a polygamous household. Was she an inferior wife because of that fact?
Everywhere in Scripture, the hope of a home and a family with children is presented as the greatest joy and achievement for all women who have not lost their "natural affection". Polygamy guarantees these to the woman who wants them, while monogamy does not. Monogamy finds that there are more women who want marriage than men. Thus, it teaches women to repress their desires and turn them elsewhere. Is this not oppressive to women? Polygamy guarantees a woman the right to be a woman.
#9 - Polygamy Leads to Male Domination
Christianity is a male-dominated religion. This is God's world, but men have been given the headship of all earthly authority. "Thy desire shall be toward thine husband" was God's command to the first woman.
The notion of a functional equality between the sexes is a feminist myth. Either the man or the woman must be in charge. If a family operates as a democracy, how can you get a majority vote between two people who disagree? Someone must be in charge. The Bible posits that responsibility in the man. Polygamy does not threaten that, while monogamy does. As we shall show later, monogamy leads to a female-dominated society.
#10 - Demographic Realities
"Since the birth ratio between the sexes is 50/50, for some men to have more than one wife would require that some men have none. God's will manifested in demographics supports monogamy."
This argument assumes that love and marriage can be decided by mathematical calculations. Here, we have morality according to statistics, a practice Christians criticize humanists for.
The sex of a child is completely a sovereign act of God. Our statistics are based upon censuses taken in America and Europe. We do not know if a fifty/fifty ratio occurs in all cultures in all generations. And we do not know if God changes the ratio at different times in history. The bottom line is that this argument proves too much. The fact is there are far more marriageable men in America than marriageable women - in a monogamous society. Since there are not enough women to go around, are we to conclude that God's will is polyandry or homosexuality? We cannot defend monogamy on the grounds of statistics. Anything can be supported by statistics. Such a personal matter as marriage can be judged by the immediate environment and needs of the persons involved in a far better manner than some altruistic and abstract concept of justice.
#11 - The Doctrine of Henosis Supports Monogamy
This is a spin-off argument from the Creation Ordinance. This objection says that the "one flesh" experience can only occur monogamously. A "one flesh" experience is not possible with multiple partners.
Paul contradicts this notion in 1 Corinthians 6:16, where he explains that a one-time liaison with a prostitute establishes a "one flesh" relationship. Some interpreters treat the henosis like some magical event. It really is not. Although full of symbolic mystery, henosis is the giving and receiving of seed. It is, on the creaturely level, a sacramental act of giving the members of the man to the woman.
Clearly, this doctrine in no way is diminished by polygamy.
#12 - Church Tradition Opposes Polygamy
The opposition of the early Church to polygamy can be explained by the early infection of the Gnostic heresy. The same Church Councils which condemned polygamy, also condemned marriage altogether for priests. Church Tradition, while not to be dismissed lightly, nevertheless, was errant at times.
In the words of Martin Luther,
[Luther's many favorable references to bigamy should be tempered by the knowledge that he defined "bigamy" as any second marriage, whether simultaneous or successive. It was not until later in life that he adopted a friendly view toward the polygamy we are discussing here and as evidenced by the reference quoted above. I say this for the benefit of scholars who may be confused when they verify my sources.]
"Suppose that the dear fathers' opinion and teaching about a bigamist was such [as described above: JS] - what does it matter to us? It does not obligate us to hold and to teach that view. We must found our salvation on the words and works of man as little as we build our houses of hay and straw" (Luther's Works, vol. 41,p.16l).
Tertullian's rejection of polygamy was based solely upon his rejection of the Cultural Mandate (The Anti-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4, p.53). He is typical of that era among the "orthodox".
Monogamy was the rule among Western Christians because Roman civil law was monogamous - the law of pagan Rome. Among the "barbaric" Christians of northern Europe, polygamy was permitted during the early years, even up to the reign of Charlamagne, the Frankish king who had four wives. The Popes appear to have made frequent exceptions to the rule of monogamy.
Christians in the East, beyond the Byzantine frontiers (often called the "Nestorian Church", which was the largest body of Christians for a millennium, spreading into China and India) has always permitted polygamy, even to this day (see the works of Aramaic scholar, George Lamsa, Harper & Row).
Among Protestants, few seem to realize that, at one time, a man could be a polygamist and a good Lutheran at the same time. In fact, polygamy was one of the rights fought for by the German Lutherans during the Thirty Years War. After the Peace of Westphalia in 1650, the Frankish Kreistag at Nuremburg permitted bigamy perpetually (see Kostlin's, Martin Luther, ii, 475 sqq. as quoted in The History of Human Marriage by Edward Westermark, Allerton Book Co., N.Y., 1922, vol. 3, p. 51).
Why these abortive attempts at polygamy? It probably has much to do with the tenacious hold Roman civil law has upon our legal traditions.
#13 - Polygamy is Absent in the New Testament
Considering that the New Testament is little more than a fourth of the entire Bible, it should not surprise us that it should omit discussion on many subjects important in the Old Testament. Since the New Testament is primarily concerned with the revelation of Jesus Christ and matters pertaining to personal salvation, we must not expect a new discussion on a topic we consider important, when it is adequately dealt with in the Old Testament. The orthodox maxim still applies in favor of the unity of Scripture: everything in the Old Testament still stands unless amended by the New Testament.
However, it is not true to say that the New Testament is silent on polygamy. While we cannot point to any specific incident, we know it was practiced among the laymen, else the restriction upon church officers discussed earlier would have been redundant. Also, while there is no plain doctrinal statement openly advocating polygamy (there is no doctrine proving the existence of God, either), there is ample support to be found in the New Testament. We shall address that subject later.
#14 - The Civil Authorities Forbid Polygamy
Since it is against the law in the United States to be polygamous, a case has been made that it would be wrong for Christians to attempt it. We are commanded in the Scriptures to be obedient "to the higher powers".
In our promiscuous and adulterous generation, this hardly seems to be an argument. Polygamy laws are no longer enforced, except in cases of fraud or public danger from fanatics. Polygamy is a significant and viable custom in the United States, although practiced unobtrusively (see Harem, the World Behind the Veil, by Alev Croutier, Abbeville Press, 1989.)
The 19th century statutes against polygamy have lost virtually all support in the judiciary during the last fifty years (Mormon Polygamy, A History, Richard Van Wagoner, Signature Books, 1989, p. 211-212). And our racial and constitutional heritage is not antagonistic: "Bigamy was not a crime at common law, but was considered as an offense of ecclesiastical cognizance exclusively and not punishable by an ordinary common-law tribunal" (Corpus Juris Secundum, Vol. 10, ß2, p. 36O).
Enforced monogamy violates the heritage of Christian Anglo-Saxons (Doomsday Book, Alfred the Great, 900 A.D.). Any return to that heritage will restore the legitimacy of polygamy as a social custom. Considering that laws against fornication and adultery will not be enforced in the United States, it is a moot issue to argue against polygamy because it is against statutory law.
#15 - Polygamy will Offend the Weaker Brother
Paul taught that vegetarianism was preferable to emboldening a young Christian to eat meat offered to idols. While the above Scripture is an eternal principle of love, its applications cannot be expected to be permanent, else we all would be vegetarians to this day. What has made the difference? Over the process of time, the Christian world has been enlightened.
"But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak" (1 Corinthians 8:9 ).
Paul was not teaching a permanent bondage to the weakest link in the Church. Rather, he admonished the strong not to enjoy liberties without first offering patient instruction to the doubtful. In regards to polygamy, no Christian should pursue it without proper explanation. This booklet is an attempt to be accountable to the larger Body of Christ.
However, as we shall show later, it is not polygamy which is the stumbling block. Rather, it is monogamy. Enforced monogamy is a positive evil, which only polygamy can remedy.
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.