The following article is published with permission of the author, Steven Butt. The article originally aappeared as a post on the bfree listserve. This is an email discussion group maintained by Steve and his family, and covers many subjects. Many contributors to the listserve discussion write from a Christian perspective which is described as Patriarchal (positive about polygamy and biblical ideas of headship), and this makes for interesting debate on a variety of subjects.
I have something of profound importance to share. What would you think if I told you I don’t believe in polygamy? Now that I’ve got your attention please bear with me as we consider a few verses.
He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Matt. 19:4, 5)
This verse is often used by mono-only forces to prohibit plural marriages on the premis that marriage was intended from the beginning to include only “the two” as “one flesh.”
We have discussed this in detail before and will not repeat past arguments here. However, I would like to include an additional thought for your consideration. That thought is this:
In a certain sense every marriage is “monogamous”, even in a plural family. What I mean to say is that each marriage of one man and one woman is a marriage unto itself, making the two “one flesh” together. That God permits men to have more than one such marriage while prohibiting multiple marriages to women [because of their need for one and only one head] does not change the fundamental make-up of marriage as involving one man and one woman. The wives in a plural family ARE NOT in the same relationship with one another as they are with their husband. They ARE NOT married to each other – not “one flesh” with each other. They are in a family relationship by virtue of their sharing the same head. However, should he die they are each free to marry different husbands elsewhere, proving that they ARE NOT one flesh or in any sense married to one another. Their “one flesh” marriage relationship is with their husband alone who has a separate marriage with each of them.
The essence of what I am explaining here is the reason that the “one flesh” statement of Genesis (part of the Torah of Moses) was never seen by Israel as conflicting with the multiple marriages also allowed under the Law. The fact is, there is no Hebrew word for “polygamy.” Both what we moderns call monogamy and polygamy came under the one term “marriage” without the artificial distinctions later introduced by a Roman world view. The Bible is right – there is no distinction other than an artificial distinction brought about by cultural misconceptions. In God’s eyes there is marriage and there is singleness – that is all there is so far as the Scriptures are concerned.
As the Bible’s primary example of this consider the Song of Songs. This Bible book is the only Bible book exclusively written as a love story and as such is a unique Biblical statement defining the joys of marital love. In the Christian world the book is seen as a representation of Christ’s love marriage to the Church. Of course, traditional Christians thus see the book through a decidedly monogamous lense. In terms of the relationship between Solomon and the Shulamite who are the principles of the story this is superficially justifiable. Their statements to and about each other reveal a deep and passionate union that most modern Christians would see as the Christian monogamy ideal.
Yet, we all know that Solomon had multiple wives – and did during the time of the relationship with the Shulamite as celebrated within the book that he wrote. In fact, within the book Solomon includes reference to his already many “queens” and “concubines” as part of the love story, saying:
“There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number. My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her. The daughters saw her, and blessed her; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her.” Songs 6:8, 9
Thus, Songs sees no conflict whatsoever between the integrity of Solomon’s marriage to the Shulamite and his other existing marriages. In fact, the praise of the existing wives for the new bride is so easily brought into the story without disruption to the general theme of the love story between Solomon and his new bride that it is almost breathtaking when viewed from the modern perspective. Here no “polygamy conflict” is in view. It is just marriage brought into focus as viewed within Solomon’s larger family.
This is a picture of Christ and His Bride. But not the simplistic “monogamy only” picture Romanized Christianity would like to push on us. Instead, it is the picture of a Lord with so much love to give that he can fully and uniquely love “threescore queens, and fourscore concubines” while fully and completely loving the newest addition to His family as well. Further, the existing wives, without jealousy, competition or strife “bless” and “praise” the new wife! Amazingly, this is the Bible’s portrayal of the ideal marriage – even more ideal that that of Adam and Eve. This is the marriage of the Lord and His beloved family!
Having completed our thought let us return to our fundamental point about the Biblical view of marriage. As exemplified in the Song of Songs – there is no distinction in Biblical marriage between monogamy and polygamy. There is only marriage. Marriage is a union of one man and one woman with the man, as lord, who is allowed multiple marriages so as to give all that is in him to give. He may have only one marriage or several – but each is a marriage unto itself and the same in that respect as any other marriage.
Do you see now why the NT doesn’t directly comment on polygamy as such? Because there is no such thing! In the Bible there is only marriage and that continues the same in the NT as in the OT. In fact, the OT picture of Christ is actually lived out in the NT Scriptures as multiple believers EACH become one with Him. This makes them one with each other in a secondary way as part of His family [though NOT one flesh with each other] – as brothers and sisters together. In other words, their oneness within His family is of a secondary nature to the oneness each experiences with Him alone and, in fact, arises from it. Oneness with Him as Lord and Head is unique on a personal level with each individual relationship. Each one is “one flesh” with Him:
“For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Eph 5:30-32
See here how each believer is “one flesh” with Him (married to Him) with each being a functioning member of His body, of His flesh? [His flesh was pierced as our new life was then drawn from His own wounded body, making each of us one flesh with Him.] A mystery of God is being revealed here regarding Christ and His Church consistent with the revelation of Biblical marriage throughout the Scriptures. This is the same “great mystery” revealed in the Song of Songs as explained above.
Biblical marriage in its full implications is a great and profound mystery in Christ and His Church. It is a mystery to the world but is revealed to us who are intimate with the King. It is a foundational truth that has been lost and must now be restored. Biblical marriage must be our view of marriage if we would see and live marriage as God sees it. What this requires is a fundamental change in our thinking if we would truly have the mind of God. While we may use words like ‘monogamy,’ ‘polygamy’ and ‘polygyny’ for ease of communication within the cultural setting in which we find ourselves we must realize that these words represent an artificial distinction that the Scriptures do not make. These terms are of the world, not of God or from the Word of God. There is only marriage so far as the Word of God is concerned and that integrated view of marriage – Biblical Marriage – Patriarchal Marriage – is the holy view of marriage a Christian rightly needs to have.
This is important, not only as it pertains to marriage in our own lives. But even moreso because our marriages are meant to be a reflection and representation of Christ and His Church. That the Lord is calling us to a truer, holier and higher view and practice of marriage can only mean he intends a corresponding higher level of glory for His Church in this hour. How blessed we are to be called of God to help initiate that higher glory in the midst of His people!
In His Name, Brother Steve
Additional comments from polygamypage.info
Thank you, Steve, for putting into words what many of us know to be true.
I have recently read a thesis on polygamy and the Bible, which is available on the Internet (at http://www.polygamy.net ) and which defends polygamists – but, despite this it had a real problem. The real failing in the thesis is that it perpetuates the myth that the Bible talks of two types of marriage.
The Bible only talks of marriage – and it doesn’t seem to care about counting how many wives a man has. Trying to think of two systems of marriage is a sure way of getting confused!
A follow on from this is that when we use the phrases “polygamy” or “monogamy” we are often referring to the doctrines -not the practices. Many critics of polygamy try to reinforce their position by claiming that just about everybody everywhere ever is or was monogamous. But this is a clear abuse of the language. If someone lives in a culture where he can take two wives, believes it is acceptable to take two wives, and happily accepts polygamy as part of life, but only actually has one wife himself, then it is really taking a bit of a liberty to call him a monogamous person.
In fact. the vast majority of cultures have been like the Biblical culture in this regard – marriage was marriage – no matter how many wives were involved.
Another consequence of biblical teaching is that we shouldn’t really be deciding whether we are going to be polygamous – all of us, single or married, should be deciding whether or not to marry specific people – not setting out to be polygamists, but making a decision in each case as to what is the appropriate and wise course of action. If this means that we have two or three wives at the end of it – so be it. But let’s not see this as the goal from the start.
The good thing about “polygamy” is that when we accept that a man is allowed more than one wife by God, and that a woman is not allowed more than one husband, we are forced into examining what God would teach us about how men and women are different, and we can examine God’s order of creation, whether we choose to call it patriarchy or headship. We can then see that God has set up authority within the family, a different sort of authority in the church, and a different sort of authority in the government – if you like, a trinity of authorities, which co-exist.