Monday, June 10, 2013

Does the Bible Support Polygamy?

Responding to arguments against Biblical sexuality. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Claim: The Bible defines marriage as one-man-many-women, one man many wives and concubines, a rapist and his victim, and conquering soldier & female prisoner of war.

The argument made here is that the claim that marriage consists in a union of one man and one woman is false according to the Bible, because the Old Testament had different types of marriages displayed, such as polygamous marriage. Thus, marriage and Scripture is somewhat arbitrary. I would argue against this claim, that there is an ideal form of marriage described in Scripture as a creational institution, which does indeed involve one man and one woman. To gain a picture of what marriage is, one must go back to he first chapters of Genesis, which show marriage in the pre-fall state of humankind, and thus shows marriage's ideal form:

"Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.' Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

'This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.'
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." (Genesis 2:18-24)

This narrative shows that marriage existed even before the fall. It is thus even more foundational than government and other human institutions, as government was instituted only as a result of sin. Marriage is the very foundation of human culture, and thus must be guarded closely. There is no hint in this text of anything like either polygamous or homosexual marriage, but marriage is simply the union of one man and one woman. Together they would work together to raise a family and take care of the earth. Jesus affirms this creational order in Matthew 19:

"And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, 'Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, 'Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.' They said to him, 'Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?' He said to them, 'Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.'" (Matthew 19:3-12)

Contrary to the popular belief that Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality, Jesus did in fact reaffirm the creational order of one and one woman as explained in the book of Genesis. Another important thing to note in this text is that Jesus distinguishes between what is right and good in marriage, and what was allowed due to the sinfulness of the people. Moses allowed for divorce as a result of human sin; this was not the ideal situation for the people to be in, and it did not ultimately excuse the sin of divorce and adultery. This demonstrates that there is not an exact equation between what God's people did in the Old Testament, and what God actually desired them to do. Yes, there was rampant polygamy in the ancient world, even in Israel. This was especially true in the kingly office. This is, however, contrary to the command in Deuteronomy that "he [the king] should not acquire many wives for himself." (Deuteronomy 17:17) That fact that kings, such as Solomon who acquired many wives and concubines, doesn't say anything about God's will for marriage, but only about the abuse of this institution by sinful human creatures.

There is also a continual refrain in the New Testament, regarding leaders in the church, that men should the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2 for example), disallowing polygamous marriage. Though this text is specifically referring to the leadership of the church, it defines that which ultimately should be the ideal state for every Christian.

The claim made here that Scripture does not define marriage as one man and one woman in a loving relationship is simply false. All that can be demonstrated is that humans have distorted God's institution of marriage, even since the Old Testament. Rather than showing that we can further corrupt marriage, this should cause us to be even more careful not to fall into false views of the divine institution.

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