This page contains an introduction to common arguments circulating in Christian communities to object to polygamy, followed by a brief presentation of each one, and then a Bible-based answer to it. The objections dealt with are listed under each heading. The objections are given names for ease of reference, and these names follow the style of Professor Anthony Flew’s “Thinking about Thinking”, where he gives names to unreasonable arguments. They are listed here for convenience under the titles of the original pages they formed part of when they were first written in 1996.
|COMMON CHRISTIAN OBJECTIONS||MORE OBJECTIONS||EVEN MORE OBJECTIONS|
|1. The Adam and Eve Defence2. The “One Flesh” Gambit3. The Bad Effects Fallacy4. The “Not the Ideal” Diversion5. The “Against the Law” Misunderstanding||6. The “Mormon Heresy” Distraction7. The Adultery Confusion8. The Modernisation Myth9. The Dispensational Division10. The Sex-Mad Story||11. The Bad Witness Conundrum12. The Snowed-Under Dilemma13. The Cash Consideration14. The Law’s Limitation15. The Commands Conflict|
These pages contain an introduction to common objections some Christians have to polygamy, followed by a brief presentation of each one, and then a Bible-based answer to it. The objections are given (hopefully) humourous names for ease of reference. Not everyone likes the names or the humour, but it is generally held to be appropriate to name fallacies, and so that is done here.
Many Christians read about polygamy in the Bible, but have a gut feeling that it is wrong. They often think that it must be banned somewhere in the Bible, and perhaps recall sermons when Christian leaders either directly condemned it or hinted that it was sinful. But they also know that we cannot rely on other people to do our Christianity for us, and so we can’t simply take someone else’s word about what the Bible says – as that means trusting a fallible man, rather than an infallible God. Perhaps you are reading these words because you have experienced a common problem involving the Bible and polygamy. Perhaps you have read the Bible and discovered examples of polygamy in it. It seems strange that many men of God were polygamists but that the popular teaching in Christendom today is that marriage means monogamy. Perhaps you have read through each book, and not only seen examples of polygamy, but failed to find anywhere that it was condemned. When you talk to people about why they hold to the teaching of monogamy, they may not know the reasons but may repeat the ones they have heard, which can seem to be poor and ill-founded. You may be aware of the danger that we have been taught monogamy from our culture, or from other Christians who believe it because of their culture, rather than because of the Bible. If we really believe that our morality should depend on what the Bible says, then we cannot ignore what it says about polygamy, and so we need to consider the issue thoroughly so that we can resolve it. To help you do this without wasting much time I have collected together all the objections I have heard, so that you can examine them and my response to them. It is useful to consider whether there would be sufficient evidence for each of these objections to polygamy to stand as proven in a court of law. After all, if someone was saying that your marriage was sinful, you would probably ask them to prove it.
And now…the objections! Each one is named, and the use of the names reflects the fact that debates about polygamy are sometimes like games of chess. A person may start off using a particular “gambit” or series of moves, and the other side responds. Sadly this means that instead of serious consideration of what the Bible teaches, the debate is reduced to being little more than a game. None of these arguments stand up to close examination, but because there are so many of them, people can often switch from one to the other so that a debate generates much heat and little light. The names are there to help you spot when this is happening. If you read the material on this site and still believe that the Bible teaches that polygamy is a sin, consider telling us why you believe that. What objection has not been answered properly, or what new objection has been missed? There’s a lot of people who would really like to know.
1) The ‘Adam and Eve’ Defence
Adam was given Eve as his wife. He was given one wife, not two or three or four. One wife was enough for Adam. One wife was what God intended. Marriage today should be “as it was in the beginning”. If God had wanted Adam to be a polygamist he’d have given him more wives.
This is now examined on an internet video presentation that lasts less than 5 minutes. Here are the links for YouTube and the HD version on Vimeo. If you like them, don’t forget to tell your friends/social networks, and it will encourage us to produce more.
Here is the Vimeo HD version embedded:-
2) The ‘One Flesh’ Gambit
3) The Bad Effects Fallacy
Polygamy in the Bible is associated with bad things happening, jealousy, murder and immorality. Whilst it is not condemned outright, we can tell it is bad because of the things associated with it and the bad consequences it has.
This argument has about three different forms.
1) Bad thing happen to polygamists, so polygamy must be bad.
This argument has a surface appeal to it because often things go wrong for bible polygamists, but examination shows that it is not because they were polygamists that things went wrong. Things also go wrong for monogamists and celibates, and it is not due to their respective lifestyles. For example, Solomon was not criticised for having so many wives, but he was punished for allowing them to lead him into idolatry. It is pretty poor to attack polygamy by highlighting the troubles of polygamists when even a righteous man like Job had troubles.
2) Polygamy creates an opportunity for jealousy. Because it creates an environment in which sin can happen, it is bad. Marriage creates an opportunity for adultery. Driving a car create an opportunity to break the traffic laws. Waking up in the morning allows you to do all kinds of evil. God created both Adam and Satan. Do any of these facts mean that the thing which created the opportunity was evil? No – The Bible teaches us that we are responsible for our own actions, even when others tempt us or when situations mean that sin seems to be the easy way out. The Bible also teaches that these experiences test us and train us to be better. When we do anything in life which is worthwhile but difficult, we learn by persevering and we build our character this way. This site does not teach that polygamy is an easy lifestyle. Simply by being uncommon and unfamiliar it can have its own set of difficulties. But this does not mean that it is wrong.
3) Polygamist men did bad things. This shows that polygamy was just another of the bad things they were doing. It is true that polygamists often did bad things. David, “a man after God’s own heart”, committed adultery with Uriah’s wife; Solomon gave way to idolatry; Lamech killed a man; but Adam brought sin into the world when he was a monogamist, and many other monogamists and celibates sin, not because of the number of their wives, but because they are sinners. We all sin, irrespective of who, or how many we marry, and this says nothing about marriage, or our other decisions.
4) The ‘Not the Ideal’ Diversion
Polygamy may not be outlawed by God but he does show it’s not the ideal by limiting it in the Old Testament and by stopping polygamists from having positions of responsibility in the Christian Church. He doesn’t really like it, even if he didn’t say so, and we shouldn’t do it because we should be trying to please him.
The problem here is that God seems to tell us when he doesn’t like things. God’s people always stood out as different from the nations around them when they did what he asked. God is not “politically correct”, and is not afraid to express his wishes. He created us and made us free, and if he didn’t want us to do something then he told us not to do it. That’s why the Ten Commandments sound negative with their “Thou shalt not”‘s, because God has given freedom outside the law, and then tells people what laws he wants them to follow. Paul says in Romans 5 v 13 “sin is not imputed when there is no law” – so, with no law against polygamy, it is not sinful.
Some people claim a precedent in saying that God tolerated unjustified divorce, even though he did not like it, but this is deeply misleading. God showed in the law and the rest of the Bible that he did not like men putting their wives away treacherously. Christ stated it quite clearly and explicitly when he fulfilled that law, and his teaching is entirely in line with what the law taught. Throughout the Bible, and certainly by the time the Bible closes, God has quite clearly stated his position. But the Bible has closed without polygamy ever being condemned. And the law that Christ fulfilled was complete without any condemnation of polygamy. To say that polygamy is sinful is to accuse Christ of not completing and fulfilling the law. But it is true to say that realising the truth of what the Bible teaches about polygamy may cause Christians to reexamine their beliefs about divorce.
It is simply fanciful to suggest that God is hiding his disapproval from us. It is just as logical to take any other activity allowed by the Bible and to suggest God doesn’t actually approve. This is a recipe not just for legalism but for the rule of man, rather than God, because any man can then add his prejudices to what God has said. Such an attitude would allow someone to say that sport is sinful, or reading books, or drinking milk, and that God just hadn’t bothered to tell us – and it would be just as valid as any prohibition of polygamy. How bizarre! There are even some who believe that because they can find no explicit reference to music in the New Testament that it is sinful for churches to have music. If you think that is strange, ask yourself how it is different from someone who says that polygamy is wrong because they can’t find it in the New Testament (by the way, polygamy actually is in the New Testament – see *The Marriage of Christ and The Church* and *Polygamy in the Bible*).
And besides all this, polygamy means that “putting away” of wives need not be an option. Polygamy therefore reduces the thing that God has said he dislikes. When it is said that polygamy is not the ideal we should ask “ideal for whom”? Christ indicated that some are born to be celibate (Matthew 19 v 12) – it is not ideal for them to marry. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 that it is better to marry than to burn. If you face a life of continual temptation without marriage, it is not ideal to stay celibate. In this area there are different ideals for different people.
Also, whilst Hebrew Kings were forbidden from multiplying wives unto themselves (Deuteronomy 17 vv 14-20), the Bible does not define multiplying, and shows God multiplying wives to David when he gives his dead master’s wives “into his bosom” (2 Samuel 12 vv 7&8). Read that again, and check the passage to see if it’s true – God gave plural wives to David, yet people say polygamy is sinful. Can God sin or be an accessory to sin? The limitation on the Kings of Israel is not then so much a statement of an ideal, but more of a constitutional limitation on power – God could give them more wives, but they couldn’t multiply them unto themselves. In fact, the rest of the passage reads like a constitutional document, limiting the choice of the King to God, the nationality of the King to Israel, and prescribing some things he could not do and other things that he had to do as King. So, God seems to have encouraged David’s polygamy and any restrictions on it may be constitutional limitations on power, which makes sense when you consider the historical role of marriages and polygamy in the forming of political alliances.
In the New Testament, the King James translation of the Bible does state twice for elders and once for deacons that they should be “husbands of one wife”. Note that it does not phrase it in the negative (i.e. that they should not be the husband of more than one wife), and so it may not even be a prohibition for this group. It is talking about what they should be, rather than about what they should not be. If they have married one wife then they are qualified, but that doesn’t mean they cannot marry two. There are varying interpretations of what the original greek is actually claiming. Some say the idea of faithfulness is being conveyed – “a one woman man”, and therefore that this bans adulterers and polygamists, but would allow for a single man. Others say it is a limit on polygamy, therefore accepting its lawfulness for the rest of the church.
Analysis of the Greek shows that the word for husband is usually translated man, and therefore the man’s married status is being highlighted when mentioned here, and later on when the desirability of him being a father is established. The fact that he is a married man is important, for it allows him to understand how Christ loves the Church which he, as an elder, is seeking to love. The fact that he is a parent is important, for he must first have successfully exercised a father’s loving authority over his children, before he does the same over the family of God. The Greek word for “one” is also interesting as it can mean “a” and “first”. This allows for the emphasis to be on the fact that he is a married man, or on the fact that he has not repudiated his first wife. Many men put away their first wife to take on a second and this is especially common today. It is pretty clear that it is not acceptable, and it could be that the passages which talk about elders and deacons are talking about this.
It may seem strange that this emphasis is needed, but the other rules about elders and deacons include statements that they shouldn’t be greedy, drunken or “brawlers”. These things may have seemed obvious, but in an early church emerging from Jewish law and immoral Roman culture, with few fragments of God’s Word in circulation, they needed to be stated. Hence the idea that an elder is being required to have at least one wife, and not to put her away when he took other wives, does have some credibility. Comments are particularly welcome in this area.
Anyway, the least that can be said is that there is considerable doubt that elders were required to be monogamous and that, even if they were, there is an implicit suggestion that polygamy was acceptable for the remainder of the church, and that what was ideal for elders was not necessarily the ideal for other christians. Christ is our ideal, yet he was celibate, and Christians are free to marry. It follows therefore that ideals do not limit Christian men with regard to the number of wives they may have.
5) The “Against the Law” misunderstanding
Polygamy might be lawful as far as God is concerned, but it is illegal as far as the state is concerned, and as Christians we have to respect the government. As we have to obey their laws against polygamy it would be sinful to be a polygamist, and it is pointless to discuss something it would be illegal for us to do.
When the Laws of man and God conflict we follow the laws of God. However, when man regulates our behaviour it is right that we should obey him, for Romans 13 tells us to respect the higher authorities. They cannot require us to break God’s law, but they can add their own requirements to it. Governments have complicated laws on taxation, that give detail behind what the Bible says, namely “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s…”, and so we have to obey the civil authorities. However, for the Christian, life is more complex than that simple statement.
1 Corinthians 6 indicates that Christians should not go to law against other Christians, but should settle their disputes within the church. This and 1 Peter indicate that it is better to suffer for the wrongdoing of another, such as a Christian who breaks this rule, than to break it yourself. It is possible for a Christian to suffer because a court overrules or ignores the decision of a church, but it is to his credit if he accepts that suffering. This all sounds very theoretical, until one considers the large incidence of divorce and the legal status of marriage. A Christian can be divorced by his wife under civil law despite his resistance and for reasons which would mean nothing under the laws of God. The laws of man are therefore faulty.
The idea of marriage a Christian signs up to under the laws of the state is incomplete and indeed wrong in several respects. Yet at the same time modern Western States such as the USA and the UK allow people to live together and even treat them as married when, according to the law of that state, they are not. For example, in Britain, for social security reasons, the government treats as married those people who live together as if they were married. The idea of marriages not being registered but formed under Common Law ceased to be legally recognised 200 years ago in Britain, but the term “common law wife” is still in widespread use, and certain legal scholars believe that such marriages are still possible. In Scotland it is possible to become married ‘by custom and repute’. We need to understand that the state has tried to regulate marriage and has been successful to varying degrees. But it only usually views as criminal those who try to contract more than one legally recognised marriage. If Christians do not register their marriages and conduct their own ceremony or cohabit with the Biblical view of marriage, then the state does not often view them as criminal. They have broken no laws, just refused to accept the state’s ideas about marriage.
Adam and Eve had no state and no church to recognise their marriage, just the witness of God, and so it continued for millennia, until comparitively recently when the government began to expand into this area. If you use Caesar’s currency then you pay it to him in taxes. If you sign up to Caesar’s view of marriage then you will be bound by Caesar’s rules. If however, you recognise that marriage is God’s, and your understanding with your wife, or wives, is that you offer a marriage conducted under God’s rules, then you must “render unto God the things that are God’s”. This means that the marriage may not be recognised by the government, and so the state is providig a service you choose not to use because of your Christian beliefs, just like you choose not to use the courts to sue a Christian who offends against you. It means you will lose any legal rights enforced by the state, and put yourself at risk should your marriage partner forsake you and their faith, and seek to use the power of the state against you. But if you have to suffer in this way, doing right and persevering will be to your credit.
However, while you can build your own marriage that is not recognised by the state, you can do it without breaking any of the laws of the state. It is therefore something you can do with a clear conscience, as you are doing it and respecting the authorities at the same time. You are bound to obey their laws, but you do not have to accept their beliefs, including their beliefs about marriage. Hence a Christian can practice polygamy and still be a good citizen.
It should already be apparent that if these objections can be answered effectively from the Bible then they aren’t really Christian objections at all. However they are objections that many Christians, me included, have had in our minds when we considered these things. The objections emanate from sources who are Christian, often as they struggle to fight against a belief in polygamy. It must be understood that they often arise because we want to defend the culture we were born into, and the society in which we live, rather than base our lives on the very different rules of the Bible.
6) The ‘Mormon heresy’ Distraction
Surely this is just Mormonism and should be objected to on that basis. It’s more to do with the Book of Mormon than the Bible.
Sorry guys, but I can’t conform to the stereotype here. I’m not a Mormon and have never been one. However, any Mormons or ex-Mormons who are reading this page are very welcome. Like you, I can read, and it isn’t in reading the Book of Mormon but in the Bible that I find all this stuff about polygamy. Trying to pigeon-hole this as a Mormon issue will not work, because it affects anyone who claims to believe what the Bible says, and anyone who has bothered to read it.
I think it’s interesting that Mormons originally accepted polygamy, and that the “official” Mormon organisation has since claimed a new revelation that considerably restricts its practice. This coincides with the Mormon organisation now being recognised rather than persecuted in the United States, and it coincides with Utah actually having statehood. It appears that the adjustments to the teachings of the organisation, and the fact that no-one on earth today is authorised by the largest Mormon donomination to be polygamous, are part of a deal. The teaching and the freedom to practice is sacrificed in order to obtain political recognition.
Joseph Smith was right to see the polygamy in the Bible – he could read too – and well within his rights to show the hypocrisy of those who claim to follow the Bible but abandon the inconvenient bits. Because the Mormon organisation took the freedom of polygamy that is found in the Bible and threw it away, I think that gives us grounds to question the teachings of that organisation, and any organisation that claims to be a church but doesn’t follow the Word of God when it becomes too difficult. In any case,this site is not talking about Mormon polygamy, but about any polygamy. Mormon polygamy was a requirement for Mormon salvation, and linked to the doctrine of celestial marriages that were supposed to last after death. This site is more concerned with allowing than requiring polygamy, and only in this life, not the next.
7) The Adultery Confusion
Polygamy is wrong because it necessarily involves adultery. That is why it is not specifically banned anywhere – because it is covered by the laws that deal with adultery. If you have sex with someone other than your wife then it is adultery, and simply going through a ceremony, even if it is legally valid, cannot make that second woman into a wife in the eyes of God.
It is always difficult translating the words of one writer so that someone else can read them in another language. A word in one language does not always have an exact equivalent in another language. Some meaning may be lost and some may be added in the process of translation. Sometimes people who speak the same language use words in quite different ways and experience difficulties in understanding each other. Imagine then how easy it is for us to make mistakes when we compare twentieth century English with the first century koine Greek or the ancient Hebrew in which the Bible was written.
Our culture defines adultery in relation to its own marital norm, namely one man and one woman. In Bible times however, this was not the norm, and consequently the words used for adultery do not carry the same definitions with them. We need to ask ourselves just what it is that the Bible was condemning when the words we translate as “Thou shalt not commit adultery” were first written down.
E-sword gives na’aph (Strongs 05003) as the word used for adultery, in fact the only word used for adultery in the Old Testament. In Exodus 20 v 14 where the above commandment is given, this word is used according to the Qal verb pattern (getting technical, isn’t it?). This means, according to the Hebrew Lexicon, “adultery, usually of man, always with the wife of another, of women”. It is also translated “women who break wedlock”. John Gill, in his exposition of the Bible, although he does not support polygamy, has to concede of the word that “strictly speaking [it] is only that sin which is committed with another man’s wife”. Hence the idea conveyed by scripture is that the act which is condemned is sexual intercourse with another man’s wife. The marital status of the male adulterer is not an issue. It is the marital status of the woman that is most important.
Adultery is like theft from the true husband, and it is committed by his wife as well as by his rival. If the woman concerned is not married to anybody, this is treated differently. In the Old Testament if you committed adultery you got the death penalty. For the lesser offence of sex with an unmarried woman you got life (!), meaning of course that you were forced to marry the woman concerned and could never divorce her (see Deuteronomy 22v28). So if a married man had an affair with a married woman they would both be put to death. If he had an affair with an unmarried woman he had to marry her – God’s law required him to become a polygamist. Check it out for yourself in Deuteronomy.
How different our society would be if we followed these rules. Notice that it protects the man from his wife being defiled, and it protects the woman from being left without a husband. If he obtained her agreement by promising marriage he would be forced to keep his promises. Simply put, the Bible’s rules on adultery are different from the ideas that many Christians have about them. They place different restrictions on men than on women, as the Bible does in other places, and they ensure that if the rules are broken, then both parties are guilty of the same offence and receive the same punishment.
The rules are what we would expect to find if God allowed polygamy and if it was legitimate behaviour. They are not what we would expect if the strict monogamous viewpoint had any credibility. Adultery happens when a woman breaks her marriage contract. This does not happen when a man takes a second wife, for that wife is then honouring her marriage contract. The second woman is truly a wife in the eyes of God, because it is God’s law that required men to take second wives in these and other circumstances. Christ fulfilled the law when he added that a man who put away his wife and took another was himself guilty of adultery. He would then have broken his wife’s marriage contract by depriving her of her rights and her position, and often, due perhaps to the economics of the time, the woman was forced to find another man in order to survive, without even the required certificate of divorce, causing her to commit adultery. The Bible is therefore very clear about adultery. The Biblical view of adultery supports polygamy and even requires it in certain circumstances.
8. The Modernisation Myth
Okay, so polygamy was acceptable in Bible times, but things have moved on. We know better now than they did then. Women have been liberated, and in modern times we can now see that polygamy is just wrong.
The idea of something being wrong is not something that really fits in the modern mind, for people are reluctant to judge what is right and what is wrong by reference to some greater authority, namely God. And if they do accept God, then we know that the Bible states he is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13 v 8). He does not change as he does not need to. If you accept him and his will, then you have to accept his law that says certain things are not to be done, and his liberty which allows us freedom to choose about anything else. If it was wrong, he would have told us.
The Bible contains many things in it which seemed unusual in the light of their day, but the usefulness of those rules is becoming more clear as time goes on and as we find out more about the world. The Bible talked of the earth being round and suspended in space long before man found out that this was the case. Women have not in fact been liberated by “feminism”. Women, like men, were created perfect by God according to his purpose and are truly free when they are fulfilling that purpose. Christ said “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” It is the truth of the Bible and God’s will for men and women that hold the promise of freedom, not the lies of “feminism” which has only succeeded in bringing about the deaths of millions of unborn children, and in devaluing every traditional role which gave women satisfaction and fulfillment.
Christ promised the disciples that the Spirit would teach them all things (John 14 v 26), yet the Bible closes with no mention of polygamy being wrong. The only explanation is that any views we hold now that condemn polygamy, are not based on how things have improved since Bible times, but are based on a move away from the teachings of the Word.
9) The Dispensational Division
Polygamy may have been acceptable once, but God shows himself differently at different times, called dispensations, and just as we now are not under the Law but under Grace, so patriarchs could be polygamists but we cannot.
Sometimes it appears that there are differences in how God deals with people at different times. For example, Peter had a vision which removed the distinction between clean and unclean animals that had been observed by the law. But these differences of application are always announced and made clear. Paul, in 1 Timothy 3 v 16, says that all scripture is God-breathed. If we are to say that any part no longer applies in the way that it once did, we had better be prepared to back it up with a part of scripture that says so. We cannot throw away all of it just because one part has been fulfilled, otherwise we would not be able to learn anything from Moses, David, Solomon or any of the prophets. Also, the general trend shown in the move from Law to Grace was one of restrictions being removed, not of new restrictions being added.
We can still learn from the Law, and God still requires our obedience to most of the rules given to ancient Israel, but there is not one word of scripture to indicate that the rules about polygamy were being reversed. There is nothing to indicate that the meaning of marriage and the definition of adultery have changed. If the rules have changed then the burden of proof is on the monogamist to prove it, and it cannot be proven for there is no evidence.
This objection rests on the mistaken belief that polygamy was something done under the law, and that polygamists rely on this to justify their lifestyle. In fact, it would not matter if polygamy had never been mentioned in the Bible. If God had not banned it anywhere (and he hasn’t) then it is not sinful. The fact that polygamy is mentioned throughout the Bible is a bonus. It shows not only that polygamy is not wrong, but that it is right – openly approved by God. (for New Testament references see *The Marriage of Christ and The Church* and *Polygamy in the Bible*) If we say that the rules are different in a new dispensation we must show where we can find out what the rules are. Otherwise it is open to anyone to invent whatever rules they like, and with no justification. As, even in the New Testament, there is no law against polygamy, any ban must rest on personal opinion, and not on the Bible. If we do not find someone’s opinion to be enough for any other doctrine, why would we suddenly accept it here – would we not lose the right to say that we followed God, and not man?
10) The “sex-mad” story
Polygamists should be happy with just one wife. What’s wrong with them? They must be sex-mad or something?
Sadly, once the polygamist case has been established, there are always those who will run from reason and scripture, and rely only on abuse. Polygamists believe in the freedom to marry more than one woman. They do not preach free love or easy sexual lifestyles. Polygamy is a lot more restrictive and difficult than modern life, because it says that a sexual relationship must be within marriage, and that you can’t have one without the responsibilities and duties that come with it. It is therefore anything but sex-mad. It is, however, enthusiastic about marriage. It believes in family values enough to make a serious attempt at extending families. It is a bit worrying if people criticise polygamists for being sex-mad, for it means the critic is equating sex and marriage. Sex is only allowed within marriage, but marriage is about a lot more than just sex. There’s companionship, children, survival, the teaching of God’s word and the practice of his love. All these should be in marriages, whether they be with one wife, or two, or three. Polygamists are responsible and realistic about sex. Some of their critics are perhaps obsessed with it.
The objection is useful in that it may reveal more about those who make the objection than it does about the polygamists. For centuries so-called churches have banned polygamy, prevented priests from marrying, prevented men from marrying after their first wife had died, frowned on those who enjoyed sex within marriage, and ignored social evils just because of some hang-ups about sex which originate in the works of certain so-called “Church Fathers” and which run contrary to what the Bible teaches. Understanding what the Bible says in allowing polygamy may be their first step towards getting over it.
Even More Objections
11) The ‘Bad witness’ conundrum
Even if taking on a second wife informally (ie not seeking a second civil marriage) is not itself immoral or illegal, shouldn’t a Christian person be concerned with the impact on her or his witness to persons who will not understand.
The answer is of course, yes. A Christian should be concerned with the impact of all their actions, especially when innocent actions are likely to cause weak Christians to stumble or when those actions would damage their witness to unbelievers. However these two considerations must be viewed sensibly and realistically, and the methods of dealing with them should be explored. The general teaching of Scripture is that a Christian should not cause another Christian to stumble in their faith. However, it should be noted that this is not to be regarded as authority for any Christian to place unscriptural requirements on another.
The difficulty, as I understand it, (and I may be wrong) is that a new Christian is in danger if he sees a Christian doing something which the new Christian considers sinful. The danger is that the new Christian may conclude then that it is acceptable to sin, which is a wrong conclusion. Liberty is not licence. We do not sin more so that grace may abound. The correct approach here is not to give in to the hang-ups of the weak, but instead to concentrate on making a weak Christian into a strong Christian. That involves teaching them, from the Word, the lawful nature of polygamy and the headship that exists in marriage. Let them appreciate and grow in their knowledge of Christ. Let them see how the Law of Christ is superior to the laws of man. In this way polygamy is no stumbling block.
Monogamy, however, and more particularly the unscriptural ban on polygamy pronounced by many Christians, can be a stumbling block. As there is such an imbalance between the numbers of men and women able and willing to marry, it follows that there is a significant surplus of women who desire marriage. They may just want a husband, or they may want a good husband who will lead them on into the things of God (a rare thing indeed these days). They may want children, and to be honest about it, they may want to have sex. These desires are not unnatural, they are how God made us. The important thing is that God established the institution of marriage where a woman can have all these desires met.
Paul in writing to Timothy condemns those who “forbid to marry”, and in his first letter to the Corinthians establishes that these desires should be met by Christian marriages being allowed, so that Christians will not be drawn into sexual immorality. Combining these points together it can be seen that strict monogamy forbids the marriage of many Christian women and that the remedy of marriage that God gave them to stop immorality is often denied them by fellow Christians. We ought not to be surprised then if Christian women stumble into fornication, adultery, and marriages with the ungodly. Such stumbling is their own responsibility, but it is also the direct consequence of unscripturally forbidding polygyny.
Hence, a Christian practicing the Apostles’ teaching must allow polygamy or live in danger of causing other Christians to stumble. Many of these arguments still hold true for the unbeliever. The unbeliever should be shown the benefits of Christian polygamy. The availability of this state and the benefits which follow from its practice, such as a decline in prostitution, divorce, fornication and adultery, are good testimonies for the Christian faith.
We know that Paul was “all things to all men” in order to win them for Christ, but there is nothing to say this made him change his marital status. Similarly then, a person is free to practice polygamy, remaining capable of meeting all men according to their own culture. Polygamy is good Christian witness. Where the law recognises polygamy this point could be no objection to it. Where the law does not recognise it we often find that the societies do. Our modern Western societies are heavily polygamous, but this is done through promiscuity, divorce and remarriage. Here Christian polygamy is at its strongest, showing God’s values, and Christian responsibilities and commitments against the backdrop of ungodly immorality.
Polygamy then is not a problem for witness – it only tends to annoy Christians who read the Bible selectively and those who object to Christianity for other reasons. Polygamy, as with other Christian practices, is an instrument of witness, for it shows the truth of God’s order against the background of a world which has rejected him.
12) The ‘snowed-under’ dilemma
Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, says that he prefers a man not to marry so that he is not taken up with the cares of this life and is better able to serve God. Surely if a man marries many times he will be snowed-under with cares and unable to serve God at all.
Here it is necessary to deal firstly with Paul’s recommendation and secondly with the concept of economies of scale. Paul advises celibacy. It allows for a man to make decisions solely on the effects they will have on him, and therefore to sacrifice himself to God. A married man has to think of his family, and this may limit his options. However, marriage remains good, just as celibacy is good, and Paul recognises that not all men are as he is. However, it is an unfair treatment of what Paul is saying to imagine that the cares of life multiply as wives are added to the family. A married man can’t think just for himself, he has to consider his family. This applies whether he is a monogamist or a polygamist. Once a man has given up the freedom of celibacy he cannot give it up again – it has gone. If he is not suited to celibacy then the question of whether or not to limit his freedom is not really his concern, for he should get married to prevent sexual immorality. So a man who has married, has already decided or conceded that he is giving up a measure of his freedom. He does not give up that freedom again on becoming a polygamist, as it has already gone.
Now it may be said that a polygamist will have more cares than a monogamist. This could be true, but it is not axiomatic. A man with many children may have just as many or more problems as a man with many wives. And it should be noticed that, just as having two or more wives has its own potential problems, so does the situation where one wife has a monopoly over her husband. Indeed, the possibility of polygamy goes some way towards reducing the dangers that exist in an actually monogamous marriage. A good wife is more to be desired than rubies. How much more two good wives?
The arguments raised in the following section on Cash will also assist in burying the Snowed-Under Dilemma. For now it will suffice to state that an extra wife may not be an extra burden, but may assist in bearing the burden that one already has. Hence a polygamist may share his responsibilities between his wives, and have more time for God than his monogamist friend.
13) The Cash Consideration
Wives are expensive. With modern standards of living it is inconceivable that any more than a very small minority of men could ever afford more than one wife. Nice idea in theory, but not much chance in practice.
If certain historical works are to be believed it would appear that this objection has carried some force with it in the past. That it has this force must surely be to the excessive materialism shown by many and in particular the “love of money”. We are told in Scripture that “he who finds a wife finds a good thing” and, as mentioned above, that a good wife is worth more than rubies. The wife mentioned in Proverbs 31 was a good home-maker at least partly because she was economically active. A wife is an asset to a family. A plurality of wives is a plurality of assets. Any costs brought by one wife, due to economies of scale, are less with each successive wife (it may cost a lot for one house for two people, but it doesn’t cost that much again for a house for three). An extra wife can bring an extra income, and two wives can share domestic and financial activities. Childcare expenses are not a problem if the wives share the childcare, and you have the benefit of knowing who your children are with. Having three or more adults in a family allows for sufficient variety of income to allow for greater protection against redundancy, illness and death than provided by a traditional monogamist structure. If anything, the family is capable of a much improved financial situation.
A Christian polygamous family may choose therefore to forego some income in order to give more time to God, and to the children. They may use it to reduce the stress that modern civilisation puts on fathers and on mothers, often lumbering them with two jobs instead of one. Polygamy might allow some men and women to get a life when monogamy would deny them this.
But supposing the assumptions of the objectors are correct and making a family polygamous does cost more than it generates, what should we say then? Firstly, perhaps we can learn to abandon our excessive dependence on luxury. Secondly, perhaps we will believe what Christ told us about the flowers of the field, the birds in the air and the heavenly Father who is looking after us. Thirdly, perhaps if we are content with less we will learn like the Apostle Paul that “godliness with contentment is great gain”. It is often said that a man should marry only when he could afford it, yet the Bible only requires that a man provide his wife with food, clothing and conjugal rights (sex and intimacy). Paul says (in 1 Timothy 6) “having food and clothing, with these we shall be content”. It is difficult to believe that a polygamous family will often be worse off than under monogamy, but even if they are, they can still trust their heavenly Father and still be content in their lack of riches. And with social security, christian charity, and the fact that the poorest Westerner is a rich man on the world scene, perhaps the power of the cash consideration should be seen as no more than that of a paper tiger. The argument that polygamy means unliveable poverty is itself something that looks good in theory, but falls down in practice.
14) The Law’s Limitation
Jesus taught that one who divorces his wife for any reason other than adultery and marries another, commits adultery. It seems that this leaves very little room for polygamy.
It is very interesting how Christ phrased this particular rule. Instead of saying that marrying another wife involves adultery, he restricted it to an instance where the first wife had been displaced, and there are reasons for believing that this was “putting away” without a divorce certificate, rather than all divorce. As long as the first wife is not displaced, there is no breach of the rule, and no reason to believe it is adultery. Therefore it appears that if a wife leaves or divorces a man, he has not committed adultery and remains free to have a second wife.
15) The Commands Conflict
What about in the several States in the United States where taking a second wife informally (ie fornicating in the eyes of the law) is a crime. Recently, in fact, a State’s Attorney General’s office has publically warned that it might soon revive prosecutions for fornication. Does a Christian then have the duty under Scripture to “submit to the governing authority.”
This one raises a number of issues that are normally considered distinctly. The first point to make is that this is quite far from a principled objection to polygamy. It is instead a matter of practicality, jurisdiction, and particular circumstances of time and geography. Secondly, there is the general principal that a Christian ought not to break the law of man (that is, commit a criminal act), but ought to respect authority. The only exception to this is where the commands of God and man conflict, for man cannot require you to sin against God. The apostles showed this in their early actions, and it is the clear teaching of the Bible. So for a man in a place where the law prevents even informal, biblical, marriage, he encounters a difficulty. Consequently, one would have to consider the nature of the law of man and the law that God has for a particular man in this situation. We must ask if the stated law, as it appears, is in fact the law. The law changes, and sometimes decays. Respect for authorities, as mentioned in the Bible, in Romans 13, is referring to someone with a responsibility for punishing those who do wrong. People who are dead do not have such responsibilities. One may wish to locate the authority in an office which passes from person to person, but it would seem fair to suggest that it is the individual that God holds responsible. Hence if a law is unclear, or a decision rests on an old piece of legislation or judicial decision, which has remained unused by the current authorities, it may not be disrespectful to current authorities to treat it as if it were not the law. It may not actually be the law, just the practice of authorities long dead.
The writer understands the role of a state or county attorney not to be that of an authority. He prosecutes, juries and judges decide. So, we would need to be led by the actual decisions of the highest courts in this matter. In the United States for instance, this would of course include the justices of the Supreme Court, who would rule on whether such rules were Constitutional, and a modern ruling to this effect is long overdue. Another part of this site contains a link to an analysis of the Supreme Court rulings on polygamy, which may be of particular relevance in this area.
However, while that may be the current context of the problem, and may deny it any practical effect on an intending polygamist, the problem remains in theory at least. What if the law was clear and current? What if the taking of an informal second wife is illegal? In that case we return to the requirements of God over-riding the requirements of man. Polygamy is not generally required by God, and so could in theory be limited by an earthly power. But those powers are limited in duration and jurisdiction. If it is illegal in your state and you still want to be a polygamist, then you could always move to a more favourable area. However, this may not always be necessary. Sometimes, it may be seen that God’s law requires that which is illegal. For instance, if one is already married informally to a second wife, then scripturally one has marital duties towards her. This may be defined by the law as “fornication”, but that does not matter. God’s law requires the performance of illegal acts in that situation, and God’s law beats man’s law every time. Secondly, if one understands the directions of the Apostle Paul to the Church at Corinth (in chapter 7 of his first letter), as a command that each man and woman are to be allowed to be married, and there is in fact no single Christian man for a particular woman to marry, then following that direction would involve polygamy, and may be justifiable as another instance of God’s rule being superior to man’s.
It is therefore submitted that most jurisdictions will not have this problem today, and that those who do may rely on laws which may not have been repealed or over-ruled, but which have fallen into such disuse that they may be considered dead. In those rare events when the law is definitely in conflict with polygamy, even in informal marriage, then the law can legitimately limit or prevent it. But those already married must continue to fulfil their marital duties to their wives, even if illegal. Should the situation arise where no single Christian man is available for a particular woman, then polygamy, though illegal, may be required. This would appear to be very rare. The importance of the requirements of 1 Corinthians 7 with respect to polygamy is not that it actually happens in real life, but that were it to happen, polygamy would be required for any excess women, and therefore is theoretically required by New Testament teaching.
Of course, in the situation where a Christian woman can only find a married Christian to become her husband, it does not mean that he must marry her. The law of God, if it commands anything in this area, commands a freedom to marry, not the marriage itself. So, in the unlikely event of this happening, no man is forced to marry, but no man may prevent such a marriage. Put simply, the criminal law can limit polygamy, even in its informal manifestation, but this rarely happens today, and in certain circumstances such a law would still be over-ruled by the law of God.