Those who portray the Bible as a book that makes monogamy mandatory occasionally fall back to a romantic ideal. They say that monogamy was the rule before the fall of man. (The objections pages on this site show that this is not the case.) They say that Christ is the second Adam, and that his marriage to the church is, like Adam’s marriage to Eve, monogamous. They teach that earthly marriage is a shadow of this heavenly union, and that the heavenly union provides the rule for the earth.
So can we ignore all the polygamists in the Bible, just because Christ married just one church?
The first point to note about this romantic ideal is that it is not what the Bible teaches – it is a gloss from Biblical teaching. It is a case of telling a partial truth and then drawing a false inference from it – like when people say that God is King (true) and that you would probably dress up smartly if you had to see the King (maybe you would) – so you should dress up smartly when you see God, by which they mean when you go to church. This entirely ignores important parts of the rest of the truth – such as the fact that believers are children of God, and that you don’t need to dress up smartly to go and see your father.
Essentially the Bible teaches that Christ is married to the church. It specifically says that husbands should love their wives as Christ loves the church. It doesn’t even mention monogamy, or draw any other rules from Christ’s union with the church.
In fact, the danger of equating the two marriages can be seen in the differences between the two Adams and their brides. The first Adam was created perfect but brings sin into the world, and made us all into sinners. The second Adam (Christ) was perfect above creation and his obedience means that many will be made righteous. Eve was created perfect but was deceived, and rebelled and led her husband into sin. The Church is made up of individuals who were sinners and who were made righteous by the sacrifice of Christ, and who ultimately will not be able to sin, because of obedience to the leadership of Christ. It is clear that these two marriages are as different as chalk and cheese – so it is silly to suggest that they both teach the same thing, i.e. monogamy.
This means that it is unsafe to draw inferences from the marriage of Christ and the Church unless the Bible draws those inferences itself. No teaching can be based on inferences from a type because of the danger that one person infers one thing, and another person infers something different, and soon all is confusion. God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.
So, the use of Christ and the Church to show that polygamy is wrong simply does not follow. The teaching is doomed to fail.
But God has kindly made it even more obvious than this. It would be enough that polygamy was not banned in Scripture – but God kindly filled the Bible with mentions of it, examples of it, requirements for it and his blessing of it so that it becomes embarassing to monogamists.
In the same way, God has not simply let the argument about the marriage of Christ and the Church become a simple failure. He has included sufficient references in scripture to destroy it.
Put simply, the Bible does not portray the marriage of Christ and the Church as a monogamous union. It is by its very nature a polygamous union.
There are four ways of showing this:-
1) The “Church” is an “assembly” or “gathering”
The word “church” is an English word which conveys a sense of a single monolithic structure, perhaps a church building, and which has been very happily used by many popes to describe a human organisation. Many of us know that the church is the people and not the building, but often we talk and behave the opposite way. In fact, if we translate the word “church” rather than just give it its English label we will see that plurality is its essence. A church after all is “where two or three of you are gathered together in my name”. “Church” (greek: ekklesia) means “assembly” or “gathering”. So the Bride of Christ is an “assembly” – a group of people. It can be seen as one big group, the universal assembly of God which comprises all saints, or as several small groups, local assemblies comprised of their individual members. If you want a comparative term which acts in the same way and which refers to marriage then the nearest idea is that of a “harem”. A “harem” is a singular term for a plurality of wives. The Church, or “assembly” or “gathering” is a corporate bride – a bride made up of many individuals. The idea is essentially polygamous.
2) In the Bible, the Apostle Paul taught that the unity of the Spirit is polygamous.
1 Corinthians 6 vv 15-17 says that “he that is joined to an harlot is one body” and compares this with “he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit”. The passage also talks of how it is bad to take the “members of Christ” and make them “members of an harlot”.
It is clear that a harlot (a prostitute) is one body with more than one man, and it is clear that the Lord is one spirit with more than one Christian. That is therefore a polygamous union. It is clear that the Bible talks of Christians as the “members of Christ”. This is plural. In our unity we are still individual members, in the same way that a man and woman may experience physical union but remain as individuals.
3) In the Bible, the Apostle Paul taught that our marriage to Christ is polygamous.
In Romans 7 v 4 Paul tells the Christians “ye also are become dead to the Law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”
Here the old English of the King James Version shows a vital difference in the Greek original that is lost in many translations. In modern English we use the word “you” both when we are referring to just one other person and when we are referring to two or more other people. Old English, like New Testament Greek, used one word when it was just one person (“thou”) and another word when it was two or more people (“ye”). So when Paul says “that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead” he is talking about plural marriage – many believers being married to their one Lord.
This is an example of the union between Christ and believers being represented polygamously. The union between Christ and the Church is not simply a monogamous union. It is a union with each and every believer. Paul does not here talk of one bride, but of many individuals being married to Christ. This is the truth of the assembly as the Bride of Christ. It is a corporate bride – a group of people being united with Christ. Therefore it is capable of being described both as a marriage of one man to one bride (the assembly) and as one man to many (individual believers), and both forms are found in the New Testament, sometimes even in the same verse (see 2 Corinthians 11 v 2).
This point should not be underestimated. People often invent a demand that we should have a New Testament example of polygamy to add to all those in the Old Testament, before we say it can be practiced. This is a request made of no other teaching, and an invalid one. We never ask that God gives specific permission for an action – if he does not prohibit it that is enough. But again, God is gracious, and has here given not only a New Testament example of plural marriage but the best example that polygamists could hope for. In using the example of believers being married to Christ he shows that there is no force in the idea that the marriage of Christ and the church is monogamous, for it is in fact an example of polygamy – one man united with many believers. And if it was alright for the Apostle Paul to describe Christ as being married to a number of people at the same time, how could it be a sin to be married in that way? Would Paul ascribe sin to Christ? God forbid! So, in representing Christ as a polygamist, Paul echoed the Old Testament approval given to polygamy when God described himself in Ezekiel and Jeremiah as being married to two wives at the same time. (Ezekiel 23 and Jeremiah 3 vv 6-10 and 31 vv 31-32).
4) The above teaching was echoed by Christ in the parable of the ten virgins.
In Matthew 25 we read the parable of the ten virgins, all waiting for a bridegroom. When he comes, only five were ready and went into the marriage. The other five, it is revealed, were never known by him.
The Catholic church teaches that the parable is simply about bridesmaids, but the Bible does not call them that. It simply calls them virgins, and as such they were eligible to marry. In fact, who is going to marry the bridegroom, if not these women?
Monogamists are forced into the strange situation of talking about a wedding without a bride, a wedding where the point of interest is not the bride, but some bridesmaids. This is simply ridiculous. Given Paul’s teaching that we individually marry Christ, it is clear that the five wise virgins represent believers who are watching and waiting for Christ, and that the five foolish virgins represent those in what we call “Christendom”, who take the name of Christian, but who do not have the living faith through which they could become Christ’s – and so, as elsewhere in the Bible with such false professors, Christ tells them that he does not know them (Matt. 7 vv 21-23).