The Problem of Polygamy

marriage, polygamy No Comments

The practice of polygamy is ancient.  The first polygamist in the Bible is Lamech (Gen. 4:19).  Lamech took two wives: Adah and Zillah.  Lamech was a descendent of Cain.  Cain, you will recall, was the first murderer recorded in the Bible.  This family exhibits disobedience to God in various ways.  Polygamy is one of them.  Polygamy is the marriage of one man to two or more women at the same time.  This is a form of fornication  and is condemned by God.  Polygamy developed historically not because God approved it or authorized it, but because of the sinful dominance of women by men who were stronger and more powerful.  This is why polyandry (a woman married to more than one man at the same time) is almost never heard of.
Did God approve of polygamy in the Old Testament?  Some argue that God approved of polygamy in the Old Testament because men such as Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon seem to go uncensored even though they had more than one wife. Consider the following information.
1.  In Gen. 2:18-25, God made one woman as a help meet (suitable) for the man.  The two became one flesh.  Jesus appeals to this creative design in Matthew 19:1-9 and shows that it was always God’s divine intent for marriage to be between one man and one woman for life.  This clearly defines marriage as a monogamous relationship between one man and one woman (both of whom are scripturally qualified to marry).  This definition of marriage is indisputable.
2.  Romans 7:1-3.  Paul states that if a woman married another man while her husband lived, she would be called an adulteress.  The result of this arrangement would be called bigamy.  If bigamy is condemned by God, so would polygamy.  Bigamy and polygamy are forms of fornication.
3.  I Cor. 7:2.  “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own (emphatic) wife, and let every woman have her own (emphatic) husband.”  Marriage is restricted to one man and one woman.
4.  Abraham and Sarah ran ahead of God in the matter of Hagar, the Egyptian.  Their lack of faith in God only complicated matters (Gen. 16:1-2).  God did not approve of their lack of faith in Him which resulted in the birth of Ishmael by Hagar and Abraham.  Abraham stumbled in his faith on more than one occasion.  God divinely intervened when Abraham lied to Pharaoh and Abimelech (Gen. 12:14-20 and Gen. 20 respectively).  Does God approve of lying?  No, no more than He does of bigamy or polygamy.
5.  David and Solomon.  David and Solomon multiplied to themselves wives in direct disobedience to God’s command.  In Deut. 17:17, Moses writes, “Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away:…”  Moses spoke of the restrictions God placed upon the king of Israel.  God did not approve of the polygamy of these kings.  They violated God’s original marriage law (Gen. 2; Matt. 19).
6.  Monogamy is taught in the Bible by precept (I Cor. 7:2; I Tim. 3:2, Matt. 19:3-4; and Rom. 7:1-3).  Monogamy is taught in the Bible by precedent (Gen. 2:24; Gen. 1:27–God gave Adam only one wife).  Polygamy was never established by God for any people by precept or by precedent.
7.  Polygamy would violate most marriage vows.  It would violate the law of love between a man and his wife.  It is not possible for a man to love two women equally at the same time.  It is the nature of marital love to be exclusive to one spouse.
8.  Monogamy is taught by the figure of the relationship between Christ and His church (Eph. 5:23-32).  God is a jealous God and will not permit rivals (II Cor. 11:2).
9.  Every polygamist in the Bible suffered for his sins.  This includes David and Solomon.  David had rivalry, jealousy, and hatred in his own family and his family was torn apart by these sinful forces.  Solomon’s wives led him into idolatry and apostasy.  I Chron. 14:3. II Kings 11:4-10).
Some Excerpts from John L. Edwards’ book, An In Depth Study of Marriage & Divorce need to be considered in light of the aforementioned Biblical truths.
1.  Edwards affirms that polygamy is never spoken of as adultery, but marriage (p. 82).
2.  “If polygamy is marriage in scripture, it seems that God would not want to break a polygamist marriage anymore than he would want to break up a monogamist marriage” (p. 84).
3.  “However, it is also certain that God condoned polygamy as a marriage relationship.   If God changed his mind about this, he has never revealed it to us” (p. 83).
4.  “The only scriptures in the Bible that could be construed to teach that polygamy is adultery are the scriptures where Jesus spoke about marriage and divorce.  In this case, the present indicative of the Greek would have to be continuous action and apply to the relationship of the second wife.  We have disproved that theory in this book.  There is not a single scripture that teaches that polygamy is adultery” (p. 84).
5.  “On the other hand, polygamous marriages are recognized as an honorable relationship throughout the Bible” (p. 86).
6.  “It is important that we teach people to keep their vows when they come into the church, so long as those vows are not evil within themselves” (p. 86).
7.  “It is important that we understand these principles when dealing with societies that practice polygamy, so that we can be consistent in our teaching about keeping vows that we have made” (p. 86).
Edwards teaches that polygamy is acceptable to God.  He further states that we would have no right to tell a polygamist that he must separate from any of his wives.  Basically, he endorses polygamy.  The reason that he does this is to be consistent (point 7 above) in keeping the vows we have made in marriage.  Edwards changes the meaning of “adultery” in Matthew 19:9 to “covenant breaking.”  He changes the function of the present indicative in Matthew 19:9 by changing the kind of action represented by the present tense to an aoristic present (denoting point action) from a progressive present (the ordinary use of the present tense denoting continuous action in present time).  These changes are made (one of defintion and another of grammar)  in order to make adultery a one-time act (the act of covenant breaking or divorcing).  The adultery committed is the act of putting away denoted by the realtive clause.  The result of these changes is that a person who has divorced for any reason can now remarry after repenting of the act of covenant breaking and continue in a new marriage relationship without sin.  When Edwards makes these changes, he is forced to endorse polygamy in order to be consistent.
Problems with this interpretation of Matthew 19:9.
1.  The primary meaning of the word adultery is in reference to a sexual sin not a sin of putting away or divorcing.  The primary meaning of a word is to be used in giving the sense of a passage of scripture unless there is some compelling reason to go to a secondary sense or some other definition.
2.  “Committeth adultery” is a present active indicative verb form.  The present active indicative is the common form of the present tense and refers to continuous action in present time.  Why would Jesus use a rare and uncommon form of the present tense in Matthew 19:9?  It is evident by the reaction of  His disciples that He did not because they understood what He had said as a difficult saying to receive.  Not difficult to understand, but difficult to apply.
3.  The relative clause, “whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another” describes action that is antecedent (comes before) to the action of the main verb, committeth adultery.  It is not simultaneous with the action of the main verb as Edwards makes it to be.
4.  Edwards’ manipulation of the definition of adultery, changes in the Greek grammar in Matthew 19:9,  and attempt to make the adultery a one-time event are wrong.
Any doctrine that implies a false doctrine is itself a false doctrine!  Edwards’ doctrine regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage implies that polygamy is permitted by God.  This is false and must be rejected.
The use of Edwards’ arguments concerning marriage, divorce and remarriage forces one to endorse polygamy in order to be consistent.  How many churches with their elderships have accepted Edwards’ teaching without considering that they must now endorse polygamy?

Normalizing Evil

polygamy, repentance No Comments

     In Christianity Today, July, 2009 p. 17 an article appeared titled, “What To Do About Polygamy.”  Jacob Zuma was recently elected as South Africa’s fourth president.  He is a polygamist.  He has three wives.  The question that captivated observers has been which of the Zulu traditionalist’s wives would be first lady?  Polygamy, traditionally the practice of men with the land and money to support a large family, is now practiced by middle-class and poor men.  The African church is not united on what should be required when polygamists convert.  Earlier Western missionaries felt a need to confront polygamy at the point of conversion.  Many African church leaders today feel that  treating polygamous marriages as invalid raises a number of serious problems:  what to do about the children; the economic plight of the women involved, and demanding divorce.  
     What is wrong with normalizing polygamy?  What is wrong with normalizing any sin? (gambling, homosexuality, fornication, adultery, etc.).  I think that these questions can be answered by asking three questions:  What is truth?  What is sin?  and What is repentance?
     What is truth?   Whenever we normalize evil we pervert the truth.  Isa. 5:20, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”  Whenever we call evil good, we prevert the truth and distort reality.  Truth is that which conforms to reality as God defines it.  In order to normalize evil, we must prevert the truth and, consequently, we no longer have a correct view of reality.  When we make decisions based upon a distorted view of reality, we are destined to destruction.
     What is sin?  The only intrinsic evil is sin.  Sin is a transgression of the law of God (I John 3:4; 5:17).  “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.”  Jesus clearly teaches God’s will concerning marriage is that one man and one woman come together in covenant relationship for life (Matt. 19:1-9).  Jesus teaches monogamy not polygamy.  Polygamy is a form of fornication (I Cor. 6:9,10).  Polygamy is a sin.
     What is repentance?  In Acts 17:30,31, the apostle Paul declared, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.  Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”  Repentance is a change of heart that affects a change of life.  Repentance means to turn away from sin and to turn to God.  Repentance involves the intent of stopping sin and starting to live righteously and godly before God.  The Gospel call involves a call to holiness (I Thess. 4:7).  We must purpose to cease sinning and begin living according to God’s Will.  Once we become a Christian, we do not continue in sin (Rom. 6:1-2).  We are dead to sin and alive unto Christ!  Repentance demands that sin be confronted at the time of our conversion.  We are saved from sin not in our sins!  (see I Thess. 1:9 for an example). 
     All sin must be confronted at the point of conversion.  A knowledge of the truth, of sin, and of repentance demands it.