"Yeshua has become a surety of a better covenant"
As I read all the debates between Messianics and Protestant Christians I am struck at once by all the misunderstandings people have over the Old and New Covenants. From certain evangelicals who seem to think the Torah was evil, to certain Messianics who sometimes give the impression that the Torah is greater than Yeshua Himself, we are left with much confusion as to how believers are supposed to view the two parts of their Bibles. The current debate on the validity (or not) of Christian polygamy has highlighted the need to find a resolution to the seemingly moral and ethical paradoxes created by the juxtaposition of two different covenantal arrangements.
This site examines biblical concepts of marriage not in the terms used by the antagonistic view of the Messianics and Evangelicals who posit, respectively, that Torah has been brought to completion in Christ, or that it has been completely abolished, but through a third perspective which underlines the thinking of the writer of the Book of Hebrews that the New Covenant is a better Covenant than the Old One.
If you have two pupils, one of whom scores 9 out of 10, and the other 10, you don't say that the pupil with the lower score was 'wrong' and the one with full marks was 'right' but that the latter scored 'better' than the former. Were I that pupil scoring 9/10 being told that my work was useless and worthy of being scrubbed out or abolished, I think I would be heart-broken. A good teacher would say, 'Well done, try harder and do better next time'.
The scriptures tell us that Yeshua was the "Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises" (Heb.8:6, NKJV). The corollary of this, of course, is that the Old Covenent was "worse" than the New Covenant and founded on "worse" promises, or in other words, it offered us "worse" terms than the New one.
I remember the days of black-and-white TV. When TV first came out, we all thought it was wonderful. And then came color TV and we were ecstatic. After that nobody wanted to look at black-and-white TV again. And why should they? Color was a lot better. This didn't make the older monochrome TV 'bad' or 'useless' because we all understood it to be a stage in the betterment of audio-visual technology. The notion that somehow monochrome TVs had been 'abolished' never crossed our minds - it would have been a non-sensical thought anyway. The basic technology remained - all that changed was the cathode ray tube (CRT) which now enabled us to see color.
It's worth bearing this analogy in mind when we start making comparisons between Old and New Covenant morals and ethics. The Law of Moses was a fantastic step forward but it was not the final revelation of God. If the Mosaic Covenant was a Mark I Gospel, then an improved Mark II version was waiting in the wings. Just as color TV required an inventor with the inspiration to design a color CRT, so the Old Covenant needed a Redeemer to bring it in line with what YHWH (Yahweh) orginally intended. And that Redeemer was Yeshua (Jesus, Yah'shua).
Marriage Throughout the Ages
The very first revelation on marriage was given in the Garden of Eden to our first parents. YHWH created the union declaring that they would become one flesh (Ge.2:24). Until the time of Moses, no other marriage laws are recorded in the Bible, but what we do find is that some people had more than one wife. And it can't be an accident that the first recorded incident of polygamy was of an unrighteous man, Lamech (Ge.4:19) to be followed by the riotous polygamy of the fallen angels or "sons of God" (Ge.6:2). When the Noachide Laws were given to Noah, nothing was mentioned of marriage. So that by the time we come to the Exodus from Egypt and the creation of Torah, we find a status quo in which some men had one wife and others had more.
This polygamy-accepting status quo is not challenged by YHWH's law - rather, provision is made to protect women in polygamous marriage. But this is not the only institution that YHWH protected in His Law. The Torah accepts slavery in a limited form as well though elevates the existing practice of the nation by giving slaves certain rights. Taking women captives as wives from foreign nations in war is also legislated for.
Looking back at this time we can see why polygamy might be a beneficial system to meet a local need: "The Israelites multiplied greatly and became extremely numerous, so that the land was filled with them" (Ex.1:7). Both before and after the Exodus this multiplication through polygamy and concubinage would have enabled them to have the numerical strength to found and establish a new nation large enough to ward off potential enemies. Similarly, by countenancing slavery of captive women would have the same desirable effect.
It is interesting that those who defend polygamy under the New Covenant do not defend the parallel laws of slavery in the New. Why? If YHWH legislated in favor of polygamy in the Torah, and this was just and holy, then why not slavery too? Indeed, do we not find slavery accepted in the New Covenant? Of the two practices - polygamy and slavery - slavery is better supported in the New Testament than polygamy.
This at once creates a moral dilemma, does it not? I know of almost no Christians who support slavery whether amongst monogamists or polygamists. It also creates an exegetical contradiction for they must oppose slavery and support polygamy from the same Old Covenant matrix.
Now if you believe slavery is wrong and need to justify Paul's support of it, what are you going to do? There is only one answer: Paul knew it was wrong from the point-of-view of the Gospel of liberty but since the Torah did not condemn it, and as this was something that was still "passing away", why make waves in a society that sanctioned it? After all, the more important truth was to get out the message of spiritual salvation. Believers lived and were saved and are now in heaven whilst suffering under Roman military dictatorship.
This, and parallel New Testament passages, teaches us that there is always a transition between the old and the new, between the shadow and the fullness. Old habits and ways take time to change. It took the Christian world 1,700 years to get rid of slavery from the time of the apostles. It did not happen overnight. It can be argued that it took Christianity 600 years to get rid of polygamy, and Judaism 1,000 (from the time of the apostles). Sometimes we move into the light of truth gradually.
"Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining" (1 John 2:8, NKJV).
By the time Yeshua came to the earth polygamy was not widespread in Judea. In fact, it was largely confined to the ruling and rich merchant classes. And whilst poverty may have precluded the other classes from practicing it, in truth polygamy was already strongly in decline from about the time of the return of the Baylonian exiles.
If polygamy was not a second-rate form of marriage, tolerated and protected in the Torah as slavery and other practices were, why was no reaffirmation of it ever given in the New Testament? True, one can find one or two cases where polygamy may have been practiced in then local Christian congregation, but then such would be consistent with the concept of a gradual moving forward into a new Christian paradigm. Yes, there is a case where a woman who deserts a marriage has the right to return as a plural wife if the husband remarries, but this is remedial rather than normative. Yes, there is the case of a man committing adultery with one of his father's wives, but this family would in all likelihood have been converted to the faith, that is, polygamous before becoming Christian. Consistent with the Gospel of love and with the background of Torah, it would have been wrong to break it up.
It is sometimes pointed out that YHWH was allegorically married to Samaria (Israel) and Jerusalem (Judah) and that this is a justification for polygamy. But is it? To make that claim is to admit to an abnormal practice. And it certainly wasn't in YHWH's will. The division of Judah and Israel (Ephraim) was by no means natural, and was the product of sin. The 12 tribes should never have split up in the first place. And the Bible makes it perfectly plain that these two houses of Israel will one day be restored into One House, thus ending the abnormality. What we therefore learn from this allegory is that YHWH tolerates polygamy until the true order of monogamy is restored.
This is not to say that polygamy is a 'sin', any more than the pupil who got 9/10 was 'wrong'. Polygamy must be true marriage or else Abraham and other patriarchs were nothing more than fornicators and adulterers. The children of the patriarchs would then be bastards. According to Deuteronomy 23:2 - "A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of YHWH; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of YWHW" — such a bastard is excluded from God's congregation. The texts used to condemn polygamy are few and misapplied, while numerous texts justify polygamy. But that doesn't mean to say that polygamy is a valid form of marriage in all dispensations any more than slavery is.
Much ado is made of the allegorical marriage of Christ to the Church which, it is rightly pointed out, consists of millions of believers, and is therefore polygamous. However, if you look carefully at the allegory, the entire emphasis is on a single monogamous Bride. If YHWH had wanted to either justify or underline polygamy in the New Covenant He could just as easily have spoken of Christ and His Brides. The allegory is monogamous, not polygamous, because the focus is entirely on the oneness of the Bride, even if that singular Bride in reality consists of many.
That there can be no allusion to polygamy is proven by the fact that the symbolic Bride is female whereas the actual constituent members are both male and female. If we are to look at this allegory as a justification of polygamy when we are forced to admit that the model is of a bisexual man married to both men and women.
But to even think in terms of physical marriage is in any case to entirely miss the point. That is not the goal. Indeed, our goal should be away from marriage (not completely, for then the human race would end) but towards the heavenly model of a purely spiritual, mystical marriage with Christ. Paul says:
This, and the passage that follows, makes polygamists squirm. And why? Because it is moving Christians in the very opposite direction in which they are going. Whereas polygamists, in order to justify their polygamy, are forced to look backwards to Torah, Christians are supposed to be moving into a monogamy mindframe with the ultimate goal of moving out of literal marriage altogether. Yeshua Himself confirms this when, His resurrection discourse on the Law of Levirate, says:
"For the form of this world is passing away. But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord--how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world--how he may please his wife" (1 Cor.7:31-34, NKJV)
The historical pattern is clear. YHWH establishes monogamy and in the progess of time polygamy appears. He establishes a preparatory covenant protecting polygamists and (you will note) with an emphasis on the rights of the wives and not the men. Exacly the same provision is made for slaves. Under the New Covenant of the Messiah, a move is made back towards polygamy and the abolition of slavery which takes several centuries. It is a process YHWH is willing to invest time in. We see this gradual move or evolution in the various controversies of the New Testament Church. Even after Yeshua has risen from the dead and abolished the need for Temple attendance, the first believers continue to attend the Temple. Then there is the controversy of the Judaisers as a struggle takes place between Jews who want to continue some of the ceremonial law and Paul who say these things are not necessary anymore. Paul is so insistent that this error not be permitted to destroy the Church that he even sarcastically says the Jews should go all the way an emasculate themselves!
"You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven" (Mt.22:29-31, NKJV)
The return to the moral and ethical Torah, which the Roman Church attempted to destroy, is, of course, correct. I am myself a Sabbatarian and commandment-observer. However, this does not mandate a return to polygamy any more than it does to slavery. Polygamy violates the supreme goal of echad or oneness painted in the picture of the allegorical marriage of Christ to a monogamous Bride, an allegory reflected in Messiah's High Priestly prayer which highlights the allegorical marriage-type oneness between the Father and the Son.
Elders and Deacons: the MIA Red Herring
That YHWH intended the Church to move in the direction of monogamy is made no more abundantly clear than in the very early injunction given by Paul definitely limiting Elders and Deacons to one wife only. He writes:
Polygamists have waxed eloquent in trying to show that "one wife" should actually be translated "first wife". One polygamist writer states:
"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one [Gk. mia] wife ... Let deacons be the husbands of one [Gk. mia] wife ... appoint elders in every city as I commanded you-- if a man is blameless, the husband of one [Gk. mia] wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination ..." (1 Tim 3:2,12; Titus 1:5-6, NKJV)
In refuting this obvious error, Christian apologist Glenn Miller writes:
"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 teacher cannot know Greek at all!
This is IMMEDIATELY apparent from the bizarre assertion that mia is not heis ... they are the SAME EXACT word in the Greek ('one') ... mia is the FEMININE form of the numeral heis. For example, in the lexicons, words with variable gender endings are always listed in the Masculine, Feminine, and Neuter forms (e.g, heis, mia, hen).
And, as for his first point, it is confused as well:
Accordingly, the linguistic data is decisively against this teacher's argument from the Greek words.
1. The normal word for 'first' is protos, not heis. Out of 343 occurrences in the NT, heis is only translated as 'first' eight times (almost all dealing with calendar time--see below). Protos, on the other hand, is translated 'first' 54 times out of 60.
2. If you wanted to say 'first' in the Greek NT, you would use protos. Examples:
3. Eis means 'one' NOT 'first', but it is translated as 'first' only in cases of time (i.e., first day of the week), because of the Hebrew idiom underlying that phrase.
"The first one married and died without leaving any children" (Mt.12.20)
"but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first" (John 20.4)
"I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia" (Acts 20.18)
"because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now" (Php.1.5)
"I am the First and the Last" (Rev.1.17)
"The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox" (Rev.4.7)
4. It is difficult to make eis even mean 'first' in most cases. Consider some of these, substituting 'first' for the words in bold:
a. Biblical Hebrew did not have ordinal numbers (i.e., first, second, third, etc.) it only had cardinal numbers (i.e., one, two, three). When it needed to say 'the first day of the week' it would have to say 'week, day one'. When this was translated into Greek, they preserved the idiom and said "day one of the week" -- meaning first, but actually saying 'one'!
b. This is the way this usage is described in the standard Greek Grammar textbooks.
c. And prote is even used once for this itself! (Mark 16.9)
"Hebraistic is its use w. expressions denoting time instead of the ordinal number: the first (eis mian sabbaton) on the first day of the week Mt.28:1; cf. Lk.24:1; Mk.16:2; J.20:1,19; Ac.20:7... 1 Cor.16:2. (BAG, s.v. 'eis')
"The first day of the month or week is designated in the NT as in the LXX, not by prote, but by mia...The model was Hebraic where all the days of the month are designated by cardinals." (Blass/Debrunner/Funk, topic 247, 'syntax of numerals").
5. There are two exceptions where heis is sometimes translated as 'first' instead of 'one' (Rev.6.1 and 9.12), but this is for readability only--'one' makes the same sense, but sounds more 'wooden'. (So, NIV does this, but not NAS and NRSV in both cases).
"These men who were hired last worked only one hour." (Mt.20.12)
"'He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?'" (Mk.2.7)
"He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all" (Mr.12.6)
"On a Sabbath Yeshua was teaching in one of the synagogues" (Lk.13.10)
"So he called in each one of his master's debtors" (Lk.16.5)
"since there is only one God, who will justify..." (Rom.3.30)
[6. One minor point: what would 'first' mean in the elder-qualification lists under this scenario: "the husband of a first wife"? (Or more accurately, "a first-wife kind of man"?] Would this require elders to be polygamous?]
We are forced from the evidence to conclude that monogamy was the original ideal in Eden and is the Christian ideal also. Left to their own devices, men instituted polygamy for various reasons, and YHWH permitted this practice to continue under the Mosaic Covenant in order to establish the Israelite nation and the messianic blood line. Protection of polygamous wives was placed in the Torah to prevent abuses.
The clear model of the New Covenant is monogamous but like slavery and aspects of Mosaic observance was allowed to be gradually phased out over time. That this was the original divine intent is proven by YHWH commanding Elders and Deacons, the Church leaders, to be monogamous and to set an example for the lay Christians to imitate.
Finally, the New Testament teaches us to set our eyes on heavenly things and to even move away from monogamy towards celibacy if, like Paul, we can manage to do that. Otherwise we are to marry monogamously.
Over a period of six centuries polygamy disappeared in Christianity and became the norm for over a thousand years. Only in recent times has there been a move by some Messianic Jews and Protestant Christians to 'restore', as they suppose, polygamy. And whilst polygamy cannot be classfied as a 'sin', this move is, however, a step backwards and away from the great goal of all believers - a celibate, allegorical union with the Messiah in heaven where, as Yeshua Himself teaches, there is no marrying or giving in marriage, for we shall be single like the angels. If being single is the great goal of mankind, then why move in the opposite direction towards multiple marriage?
Although it is true monogamy is having serious problems in the Western world today, this is not the fault of monogamy but of our liberal permissive society. I cannot help but observe the tremendous failure rate in so-called Christian polygamous marriages. Few polygamous marriages succeed in retaining the original first (monogamous) wife, resulting in divorce and family break-ups. Almost all the polygamists I have met have experienced at least one divorce. With all the casualties in polygamous marriage, the record is not good.
Shouldn't this be sending a clear message to us? If the restoration of polygamy is on YHWH's agenda, then would we not expect to see a higher success rate? Though polygamous families boast happiness, few can deny it has not been at some terrible cost to first wives and their children, and sometimes to other wives. If the Roman monogamy-only system is so wicked, why are the casualty rates in Christian polygamous families almost as high as in Roman-Christian monogamous ones? Even Christian polygamist leaders admit that polygamy isn't for 'everyone', yet they are failing to stem the flood of polygamy hopefulls who are rushing into a lifestyle they are obviously ill-equipped to live. And to be truthful, what is to stop them? Who is to say who is ready to live polygamy and who is not? Polygamists do not have answers to this question.