Christians raised in our monogamy-only culture enter into wedding covenants or vows in which the husband promises to be faithful to his wife and to forsake all others. What if he then discovers the truth about biblical marriage? Are those vows still valid? Or is he freed from them?
There are two schools of thought in Christian polygamy - one is true and the other is false. One says that a man cannot unilaterally break a monogamy-only marriage vow, and the other says he can. Let us see what the Bible teaches on the subject.
"And even as they did not like to retain Eloah (God) in their knowledge, Eloah (God) gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of Eloah (God), despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgement of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them" (Rom.1:28-32, KJV).
Unfortunately, the Greek word asunthétos ('covenant-breaker') has been diluted in most modern English versions in such a way as to obscure the actual meaning. Thus the NASB and NKJV use 'untrustworthy', the NIV 'faithless', etc., which - whilst certainly not 'wrong' nevertheless do not convey the true meaning because these words can have alternative meanings. The fact of the matter is we cannot just break vows or covenants when we want to. There are some exceptions so let's carefully look at these.
The first is the rash or careless oath which can :
"... if a person thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil -- in any matter one might carelessly swear about -- even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it he will be guilty. 'When anyone is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned ..." (Lev.5:4-5, NIV).
Under the Old Covenant a person could be released from such an oath with the appropriate sacrifice. A marriage covenant or vow can hardly be considered to be 'careless' or 'rash' though doubtless some may consider some to be. I was admin- istering to a woman who was in love with a young man, and he with her, and they had a big row. To 'punish' her the young man went and married another woman whom he did not really love. The result was that everyone was miserable. Nevertheless that man entered marriage vows which the second woman received in good faith. He was stupid - very, very stupid. But did he have the right to renounce those vows?
"You ask, "Why?" It is because Yahweh is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not [Yahweh] made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth" (Mal.2:14-15, NIV).
Marriage vows, once entered into - even if they are monogamy-only ones - are binding, and neither of the parties has the right to change them without the agreement of the other. This applies equally to the men (as in Malachi above) as to the woman "who forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her Elohim (God)" (Prov.2:17, NKJV).
A marriage covenant is an agreement between three persons: husband, wife and Yahweh. If either the husband or wife break it unilaterally they are "worthy of death". It is no small matter. However, if the nature of their covenant is found to contain a clause such as "forsaking all others" which is unbiblical, binding the man to a monogamy-only contract, husband and wife may together renegotiate the marriage covenant to make it polygamy-inclusive because such is biblical and in harmony with Yahweh's will.
But a warning must here be given: when a couple enter bona fide marriage covenants they must BOTH be willing. Yahweh does not recognise marriage covenants made by force any more than He recognises conversions to the faith by force. Throughout Europe a millennium ago or shortly thereafterwards millions of people were forced on pain of death to become Catholics or Eastern Orthodox. Performing a rite against one's will does not make one a 'Christian' any more than forcing someone into a marriage contract makes them 'married'. Both following Yahweh and getting married must be based on a freewill choice.
Thus no matter how scripturally wrong a monogamy-only vow may be it is legitimate in Yahweh's eyes and takes precedence. However, a woman opposing such a contract when confronted with the Biblical truth of plural marriage, must be prepared to receive a judgement at the hands of the Almighty if she resists the truth. The husband at the same time does not have the right to 'pressure' her into his taking extra wives: his only obligation as head of the family and its teacher is to point out the truth of what the Bible teaches and leave his wife to wrestle with her conscience whilst in the meantime deeply loving her as Christ loves the Church (Messianic Community). He is not to withdraw his love from her!
Marriage vows are deadly serious - literally - and no man or woman dare ever lightly treat them. We all may regret some promises we have made but as Christians we are obliged to keep our word (Jas.5:12). Such are honourable and trustworthy men and women.