Polygamy: a new trend for Christians?

Polygamy is back! From highly-rated reality TV shows to guest appearances on Oprah, polygamy has become almost fashionable.

And while the very idea of polygamy seems to run directly against the foundational understanding of Christian marriage, I foresee a trend toward polygamist normalization among a most unlikely sector: Bible-believing Christians.

I’ve already heard mutterings about “Biblically” justified polygamy among certain Christian groups and I think evangelical Christians are going to have a difficult fight on their hands when it comes to decrying polygamy.

My guess is that the justification for polygamy will be that it cannot be deemed sinful on the basis of Scripture alone. The oft-heralded Protestant method for weighing the “Biblicality” of cultural trends is the belief in “sola Scriptura”–or, the Bible alone as the Christian’s sole authority. To the dismay of many Bible-only Christians, their very belief in “sola Scriptura” will be used against them in the defense of polygamy.

To my mind, condoning polygamy is simply what happens when you take “sola Scriptura” to its logical end.

I mean, even Martin Luther–the great Protestant Reformer–”concluded that monogamy was no necessary part of the Christian revelation and that polygamy was a legitimate practice for a Christian.” (Shea, By What Authority? p. 101)

Here are Luther’s own words:

I confess I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the word of God.
De Wette, II, 459
(quoted in
By What Authority? p.101)

So, according to Martin Luther, the only test required of a Christian man desiring to marry more than one wife was….that the man had a clear conscience about it!

And yet, most Christians would resoundingly disagree. The ban on polygamy has always been a non-negotiable part of Christian thought and practice–even when Christianity was surrounded by dominantly polygamous cultures.

But I think Luther has a point and it’s the same point that will be used by “sola Scriptura” Christians in defense of polygamy: it does not contradict Scripture.

As Mark Shea insightfully enumerates in his book, “By What Authority?: an Evangelical discovers Catholic Tradition“, all the verses in Scripture that pertain to sin in marriage have to do with taking another person’s spouse, abandoning the wife of one’s youth, marrying outside the Faith, polygamy by a woman, divorcing a wife and thereby leaving her few options (in 1st century culture). But ‘nowhere is a man forbidden to take more than one wife at a time‘ with the exception of overseers/bishops. (p.104)

So why have Christians historically and consistently rejected polygamy?

Because rejecting polygamy was the orthodox Christian teaching BEFORE “sola Scriptura” was embraced by Protestant reformers.

In other words, long before the Protestant split from Catholicism–and its subsequent subdivisions and never-ending sub-sub-divisions–the teaching of the apostles and the practice of early Christians definitively eschewed the practice of polygamy.

Before the canon of Scripture was canonized, this was the tradition of the early Church handed down orally and through the epistles by the apostles.

All of which to say, if “sola Scriptura” Christians are going to try and decry the issue polygamy, they might find themselves reluctantly relying on the ancient Christian understanding: Scripture held hand-in-hand with apostolic tradition.

Or, as Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” (emphasis mine)

If more Bible-only Christians start searching out the apostolic tradition, I’m thinking we’ll see a mass movement of evangelicals back to mainline denominations–perhaps many going all the way back (like I did)…to Catholicism.

Now, that would be an interesting trend.

[my debt of thanks to Mark P. Shea whose excellent book “By What Authority?” inspired this post]

  • cindykay

    I have wondered about this, because you could almost make a case FOR polygamy from scripture. Look at all the examples: Jacob, Esau, Solomon, David…!

    • Margaret

      Seems to me those are all accounts of history, rather than condemnation.

      And if those are our examples of polygamy, nobody should like the idea, ’cause they were trouble. :p

      • Margaret

        sorry, I meant to write “commendation”. Ha, changes the whole meaning of that sentence.

        An account =/= commendation.

    • http://theheartofmary.blogspot.com Mary R.

      But the polygamy in the Bible was NEVER portrayed in a good light — it was always shown as the ruin of family life.

    • http://www.vivalabuenavida.blogspot.com Meredith

      Cindy-I disagree that you could make cases FOR polygamy through the examples of Jacob, Esau, Solomon, and David. Especially in terms of the Kings, polygamy was explicitly forbidden by God (Deut 17:14-20).

      Did they practice polygamy anyway? Yes. But they also see dire consequences from it (Jacob in Gen 35:22; 37:18-28, David in 2 Samuel 13 & 15, and Solomon in 1 Kings 11: 1-3).

      So no, I don’t think that the fact that Jacob, Esau, Solomon, and David practiced polygamy is an argument for polygamy in and of itself.

  • Courtney B

    I hear you completely on this. I am a reformed Protestant Christian and believe in Sola Scriptura. One thing that we believe (my husband and I and I am sure many protestants also) is that tradition is good and useful but it is not equal to scripture. In the Catholic belief (from what I understand and we have researched thoroughly) church tradition and scripture are equal and sometimes tradition is above scripture. Which we do not agree with. So while church history and tradition is helpful and very beneficial, the Bible is our final authority. Thank you for discussing this interesting topic, I am curious to see how the Church (universal) will handle this issue.

    • http://bodytheologic.wordpress.com Joshua Michael

      Courtney: Just wanted to offer a small correction. The teaching of the Catholic Church is not that Tradition is “higher” than Scripture, but that “Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church.”

      If you’d like to learn more about the way that the Catholic Church understands the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, I recommend taking a look at Chapter II of the document Dei Verbum. Lots of Scripture citations there so you can see the biblical background to Catholic teaching. :-)

  • http://www.sustainablemommy.wordpress.com Naomi

    Your suggestion sounds so incredibly off the wall, but after becoming familiar with the dogma of some American polygamists and Protestant fundamentalists, I think it may be an unavoidable train wreck. Their views of women’s roles and purposes for existence are heartbreakingly congruent.

    • mjteston

      train wreck is absolutely the word we’re looking for here. It is amazing to me how much energy and time is spent rationalizing behavior that is ridiculous.

  • http://stmonicasbridge.wordpress.com Kristen @ St Monica’s Bridge

    It is disgusting how polygamy has become “en vogue” thanks to pop culture. I think it is the true disintegration of our culture when I see women on websites like People.com in the comment sections for articles about shows like Sister Wives say they would love a sister-wife to help with their kids and cleaning etc. It shows that to a lot of people in our world marriage has no value and our spouses are disposable. And I have always had the argument with evangelicals and other Protestants to show me the proof where in the Bible it says polygamy is wrong, mainly because there are a lot of Protestants out there who claim to live by the law of the Bible. Well, there sure are cases for polygamy in there…
    Me, personally, I don’t share my husband with another woman under any circumstances. Call me selfish, but it’s me and God and my kids for him and that’s it.

    • rachieannie

      Kristen,

      I think you are definitely onto something! Marriage isn’t valued. All they see is someone else to do the dishes, but when in reality they would have to share their bed and their hearts with the same man.

      I can’t even imagine and it breaks my heart that they do not see the beauty in what marriage truly is. My husband just called me on his lunch break so we could chat for a couple of minutes and it makes me sick to think that he would have to go so he could check in with his other wife. How does that even sound appealing??

      • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

        YES! This is such a good point! Thank you!

  • Amanda

    Come on now, really? One needs only to look to Genesis to see God’s design for marriage. Jesus backs it up in the NT (Matthew 19:4-5) and Paul in Ephesians (5:31). Scripture is sufficient.

    • http://www.virginiaisformothers.com VA Is For Mothers

      Thanks, Amanda…I was shaking my head and thinking the exact same thing.

    • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

      The issue I’m examining here is not so much “What is God’s Design For Marriage?” but rather “What is Explicitly Forbidden?” And that latter question is the one that will be asked.

      • http://www.virginiaisformothers.com VA Is For Mothers

        Yeah, I understood your point and I wouldn’t be surprised if that argument comes up…I guess what I’m not understanding is why it’s not acceptable to look at God’s design for marriage as a Sola Scriptura approach for eliminating the acceptance of polygamy. Why must something explicitly say, “Thou shalt not…” in order for us to decide, “ok, I guess God doesn’t like that”? Looking for a Scripture like that for every activity and every choice is just an excuse to get away with as much as we can.

        • brooke

          Right … it doesn’t take rocket science to know that good ol’ “thou shalt not” is not necessary to interpret Scripture correctly. Language is a bit more fluid than that. :) And Scripture is clear on the matter, just as has been said. If you were to only take the requirement for overseers, it would be extremely clear that such behavior is expected of all believers, but only those who have attained it may be overseers. Without even speaking of the value of tradition or not, I think the argument is more than a bit of a stretch.

    • http://www.madamerubies.com Heather

      So, how come many of the great patriarchs were allowed more than one wife?

      I agree that polygamy is wrong, but I also agree that you will be hard-pressed to PROVE it with the Bible. Kings were told not to take many wives because it would distract them from the one God, but they did it anyway. Deacons were to be the husbands of only one wife. But, where does Jesus say that ALL men should adhere to this? I wish He had. I also wish He had stated outright that “Sex before marriage is a sin” because it is so much easier when He just tells me what is right and wrong. However, He doesn’t always do that. He gave us brains and spirits. Not to mention the Holy Spirit within us.

      I would love to see your scripture references that prove that all polygamy is sinful. Not to prove I am right (that those verses do not exist) but because if they really do exist, it would be awesome.

      • Karen

        Well, I think the lesson we can take from the Old Testament is that Nobody Is Perfect. Yes, God has a plan for everybody. Abraham was told by God that he would become a father of all nations. After ten years, Abraham and his wife started wondering where the kids were, since they had had no children! Sarah proposed Abraham sleep with Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar, and she bore him Ishmael.

        Was this God’s plan? No. Abraham and Sarah were impatient and doubtful. The consequences of their decision–that they knew how to bring about God’s plan better than God Himself–created strife between Sarah and Hagar, and a lot of bitterness.

      • http://www.blessed-quiver.com Michelle

        Well he did say that sex before marriage was wrong, in many places:

        Do not awaken love until is so desires (in song of songs)

        Do not commit adultery (Deuteronomy)

        Let us behave decently…without sexual immorality (Romans)

        The body is not meant for sexual immorality but for God. (2 Corinthians, I think…sorry on that one.)

        • QEdlin

          Michelle… sex before marriage is not adultery. It is a substatute under the fornication statute.

          Sexual adultery – at least defined by the Bible – ALWAYS involves a married woman. It is never between a married man and an unmarried woman. I’ll take my hits for this one… but what God requires of men and women – in terms of gender roles – have never been the same thing, regardless of what the feminist movement says. The laws of God regarding sexual behavior are set forth with gender specific commands, and therefore by induction, then deduction, it is very easy to see that a man’s obligations in a marriage and woman’s obligations in a marriage are not the same. This is not grounds for a man to be guilty of committing whoredom himself by fornicating with other non-married women, but it does not constitute adulterey and therefore, under the kingdom law, it is not considered a crime of non-restitution. All of the laws on adultery have to do – at the basic core – with property rights. The wife is the property of the man, not vice-versa. Although this will get some flames and torches hot, it is Biblical. Regardless of what modern mainstream culture teaches, this is the way God saw it then, and the way He sees it now, since He never changes.

          Incidentally, the Israelites were also not to adulterate their racial heritage through miscegenation – and that is also called “adultery” — because the Israelites were the wife (property) of God. Spiritual adultery is known as idolatry. Adultery can also be the pollution and destruction of the environment. When we do not keep the laws of God on agriculture, environmental safety, etc… this is a form of adulterating the creator’s property (“the earth is mine, saith the Lord”). People wonder why the food we’re eating is poisoning us, and giving us cancer. Adultery can also be done against one’s physical body… and this is the consumption of things not authorized by the Biblical health codes. Of course, modern churches say all that has been done away with. I don’t think God or His creation changes and therefore, I don’t think Christians should consume pork, shellfish, etc. Okay, enough commentary.

  • Katy-Anne

    I think the “sola Scriptura” thing is something I see mostly around those who believe reformed (Calvinist) theology.

    For me, I’ve come to see two separate and distinct religions in the Bible. There’s a reason the “Old” Testament and the “New” Testament are two different things and are divided. The Old Testament is God’s dealings with Israel, and the Jewish religion. The New Testament is God’s dealings with the church, and the Christian religion. The two are very different. They did allow for polygamy in the Jewish religion, but I don’t see anywhere in the Christian religion (if you read your Bible with those two distinctions in mind).

    I have seen the idea of polygamy gaining much popularity in some uber conservative sects, and it bothers me. It’s part of the denigration of women that I see in conservative Christianity too.

    • Anonymous

      Good points, Katy-Anne. The challenge with the bible-the OT especially, is that God regulates practices that don’t appear to be His first choice for humans. He warned people that kings would not be desirable, but when they clamored, He gave them kings. He regulates the treatment of slaves, etc., though I don’t see anywhere the explicit commendation of having slaves.

      The bible also describes things without necessarily endorsing them.

      I agree…it would be nice if He had just set His foot down about these matters, but I am sure there would be other unpleasant things involved if He were to do so-things having to do with free will somehow.

      EE, I, too have seen a couple of blogs and articles by conservative so-called Christians that supported polygamy. I think it is disgusting but they used OT practices to justify their behaviors. I think you are right-we will see a growth in this practice among conservative fundie sorts.

    • Anonymous Person

      Katy-Anne… I quote from Dr. Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser, who wrote, “This is not an uncommon impression and one finds it sometimes among Jews as well as Christians – that Judaism is the religion of the Hebrew Bible. It is, of course, a fallacious impression. Judaism is not the religion of the (Old Testament) Bible” (Judaism and the Christian Predicament, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967, p. 59).

      The old testament religion is not called Judaism. It is called Hebraism or Mosaism. Judaism is the corruption of the ancient religion of Hebraism and Mosaism which began when the southern two tribes, the Judahites and Benjaminites (aka, the Jewish part of Israel) went to Babylon for 70 years. Their religion began to become more in line with eastern thinking and the orient. It adopted a lot of things which bled over for the five centuries between the return to Jerusalem and the time of Jesus. And this is why Jesus condemned the Pharisees. He said, “By your traditions, you invalidate the commandment (law) of God.” — He was speaking about their religion (commonly called by Talmudism or Judaism today), which had lost its Godly ethic through rabbinical re-interpretation of the law of Moses and the rules of Kingdom living laid down in the pentateuch. They were good at keeping the temple worship, even though that was perverted too, and that’s about it. They had a non-Kingdom (law and order) seeking religion.

      The Old Testament religion is the veiled shadow of the New Testament reality. Besides blood sacrifices and a Levitical priesthood (the ceremonial and priestly ordinances), less changed than most people realize today in the antinomian crowd from the OT to the NT. After all, Paul the apostle says that the doers of the law, and not the hearers, will be justified before God (Romans 2:13). He certainly wasn’t talking about the priestly (religious ordinances)… but he was talking about the moral commandments, statutes, and judgments… i.e. rules of Godly conduct. If you use only the New Testament for the so-called “new law” that preachers talk about – and btw, the words neo & nomos never appear together in the Greek NT – how in the world can we condemn the sin of beastiality based on NT scriptures alone? The NT never mentions it. Just a thought.

  • http://alwaysquestfortruth.blogspot.com/ Lyssa

    I agree with Courtney B. Tradition is important, as common sense and wisdom combine throughout the ages to prescribe a “best way” for handling certain issues that the Bible may not speak to directly, but Scripture must still be valued above any other words of men. Sola Scriptura does not mean that we as Christians are meant to abandon our logical reasoning or be blinded by cultural/ethnic traditions. Just like polygamy, slavery is never absolutely forbidden in the Bible, but if one reads the Word of God with open eyes, clear thinking, and a heart set on following the will of Christ, then it is very hard to find any passage condoning those practices; in fact, I would say that the Bible presents the moral foundation necessary to establish a Biblical worldview which condemns sinful behaviors not specifically mentioned in its pages. The Bereans in the book of Acts were commended for questioning Paul’s teaching about Christ and searching the Scriptures to see if what he preached was true. I believe their example is one that we would do well to follow.

    • http://www.lifesunnysideup.com Michelle

      You are so right. We can see that although God still considered the fathers of the faith righteous in spite of the fact that they had multiple wives, He still allowed us through His Word to see the trials that resulted because of it…which should convince most people not to do it!

    • http://arewomenhuman.wordpress.com Grace

      Except for the fact that lots of 18th and 19th century Christians who are still cited today as role models on other issues saw the Bible as resoundingly approving of slavery.

      • http://www.lifesunnysideup.com Michelle

        You can be right in one area and completely deceived in another….

        • http://arewomenhuman.wordpress.com Grace

          But when a church group has a history of being completely deceived in their readings of the Bible, particularly on really important issues like the suffering and oppression of minority groups, it kind of makes it difficult for some of us to take that group’s position on other social justice issues terribly seriously. What’s the magical formula for knowing when someone is right and someone is deceived in their reading of the Bible? There is none (apart from looking at the effects of their theology on actual people).

  • http://frombitterwaterstosweet.blogspot.com/ Mara

    Another thing to keep in mind for men who want to argue for the right to have mulitple wives.
    If he is willing to let his wives have multiple husbands, then we’ll talk. Because the Golden Rule is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If a man feels it’s okay to take multiple wives and does this to his first wife, he cannot deny any of his wives to take multiple husbands. If he prefers that his wife has only one husband, him, then he should refrain from trying to argue for polygamy because he’s breaking the Golden Rule which has as much weight as any and all laws in the OT.

    • http://www.madamerubies.com Heather

      Ah, I agree, but then again, scripture is clear that a woman can only have ONE husband. But not clear on a man having only one wife.

      Sort of how old testament law mentions men not being with other men sexually but does not mention women doing this (that comes later, in the NT).

      • http://frombitterwaterstosweet.blogspot.com/ Mara

        And Jesus is clear that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. It’s funny how sometimes men don’t apply that to their wives, even with the extra instructions to do so in Ephesians.

        I know, this is about sola scripta or whatever.
        But after years of watching people beat the crappola out of each other with the Bible (which I still love even though it has been so terribly used) I decide that there was something more important than the outer fences and the b0undaries that scripture makes, real or imagined or implied or confused.

        What is the heart of the matter. Or, as it is mentioned several places in this thread, what is the heart of God concerning this matter.

        Jesus told men that God gave them the right to divorce because of the hardness of their hearts. But it was not so from the beginning (heart/source). Polygamy is another one of those things God permitted because of the hardness of men’s hearts. Because when you search for the heart of the matter you see, as other mention, Adam and Eve (as opposed to Adam and Eve and Elvira and Electra and Evita) and the restrictions on Eldership etc.

        (I know you weren’t disagreeing with me, Heather. I was just making conversation.)

        • Anonymous

          So funny!!!!! Eve and Elvira and Electra and Evita….

  • http://theincorrigiblegingers.blogspot.com Rachel

    Eh, I suppose I’m a Protestant, and I don’t actually have a huge problem with polygamy. Sketch, I know. Do I want to to happen in my marriage? HECK NO. But not because I think it’s a “sin”. My common sense tells me it’s less than ideal. However, many cultures still practice polygamy, and I think asking a new convert to Christianity to divorce one of his wives (or her husbands) is at least as unethical, especially in a society where women have difficulty supporting themselves.

    I see enough blatant sin everywhere that a polygamous relationship that doesn’t involve coercion, underage sex, or abuse would barely register on my “sin radar.”

    • http://arewomenhuman.wordpress.com Grace

      The issue of how to advise men in polygamous marriages who convert to Christianity is a pretty hairy one in parts of the world where polygamy is more frequently practiced. Some pastors or priests make pastoral allowances for converts to stay married to multiple wives because otherwise the wives and children who are abandoned would be left in a very vulnerable situation. It’s a tricky one.

      • brooke

        Yes, it goes back to the verse about remaining as you are (speaking specifically about slavery). I have a friend who is a very loving and biblically sound man who had to advise just this scenario in a third-world setting where he taught the Bible.

  • http://heldts.blogspot.com Brianna

    YES! This is for sure a logical end of the Sola Scriptura argument. Why not, right? Polygamy isn’t explicitly forbidden (just like various other things). Such a slippery slope. “If it’s not spelled out in black and white, it must not matter.”

    It is incredibly ironic that the “Scriptura” was given to us and decided upon at a council of…the Catholic Church. :) Thus if we can’t trust Tradition, how can we trust the Bible?

    I also read Shea’s “By What Authority” and LOVED it. It has been a crazy journey these past few years towards the Catholic Church, and I still have questions, but what a blessing it has been.

    • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

      Yep. Sometimes you don’t realize you’re viewing an issue through a certain lens until you take the lens off and examine it. That’s when I realized I much of what I believed was reliant upon the foundation built by the CC. I was relying on Tradition without even knowing it!

      • brooke

        :) It is so interesting to read our history. I tend to look less at labels throughout the history of the church and more at the information passed down/protected/discussed/… as time goes on. It’s not “me against Catholics” … but I know a lot of Protestants see it that way. I mean, clearly all groups surrounding Jesus have had errors over time. But … I’ll leave a discussion of error for another time. :)

  • http://www.madamerubies.com Heather

    I have thought about this too. On the one hand, men having multiple wives in scripture explains to me why women do not necessarily have as high a sex drive as men. They only needed to be available when called upon, not nightly. ;) But, could I share? No. If my husband took a 2nd wife, I would call it adultery and get my divorce.

    But, you are right, the Bible says flee from sexual immorality but fails to give us a list of each and every sexually immoral act. It lists quite a few, but polygamy does not make the list. Neither does pre-marital sex. Both are accepted as wrong by tradition.

    • http://www.lifesunnysideup.com Michelle

      Actually, premarital sex is called fornication in the Bible and if you do a search on it in a commentary you will see it is prohibited while polygamy is not. ..just sayin’.

      • http://www.madamerubies.com Heather

        Is it? Can you point that out to me? I have been rereading the laws and I see a lot about extra-marital sex but not pre. I have seen where if a man sleeps with a woman he is not engaged to, he should then pay her bride price.

        • http://recoveringpessimist.blogspot.com Genevieve

          Extra-marital sex would be any sex that falls outside the marriage relationship. Pre-marital sex would be included under that umbrella I would think…

        • http://arewomenhuman.wordpress.com Grace

          Yep, this. It wasn’t uncommon for Jews who were betrothed to have sex with each other. The big sexual sin was adultery, especially sleeping with another man’s wife. Sleeping with (or raping!) an unmarried woman meant paying the bride price for her and/or marrying her.

          • brooke

            lol … not hardly.

      • Jack

        The word that most English Bibles translate as “fornication” is PORNEIA in Greek, which originally meant “prostitution”, though doubtless it could be extended to what is morally on the level of prostitution.

  • http://www.lifesunnysideup.com Michelle

    I believe God knew that polygamy would cause strife in our relationships so it wasn’t His first choice for us, but He does allow it because the picture it shows the world is still in line with His original intent for marriage…which was to show the relationship between Christ and the Church.
    In the New Testament, the apostle Paul tells us that marriage between a man and a woman is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His Church (also called The Bride.) Understand; the man represents Christ…of which there is only one… and the woman represents the church…which is made up of many members.
    Again, I don’t believe it is what God desires for us, but I believe He permits it for this reason.

    • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

      So, God’s original intent for marriage was to show Christ as the polygamist husband to His many wives, the Church? WOW! That is QUITE the interpretation! :O

      • http://www.lifesunnysideup.com Michelle

        How do you interpret what Paul said?

        • http://www.lifesunnysideup.com Michelle

          and that’s not quite what I was saying, BTW.

        • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

          Here’s the thing: I don’t interpret. I don’t trust my fallible self to do that. I’m really OK letting the Church interpret for me (aaaaaugggghhhh!). Yes, I search things out like a good Berean. But ultimately, I’m not prepared to place my personal opinion/interpretation above what the Church has taught and practiced for 2,000 years. Make sense? Or did I just confuse things further? :)

    • KatR

      Many members do make up the Church, which is refered to as a singular entity. I don’t recall anywhere in the Bible where women in polygamous marriages were referred to as “The Wife”. Its always (as far as I know) “so and so and his wives”.

    • Margaret

      er, the church is The Bride, not brides.

      There is one Groom–Christ, and one Bride–The church. It is absolutely not representative of polygamy.

  • http://www.theoutdoorwife.com Nish

    I can’t help it. I love the show “Big Love.”

    And, I think you’re right on with the Sola Scriptura argument.

    Personally, I find the practice fascinating. Definitely not for me and definitely not within any remote realm of my faith lived out, but… fascinating, nonetheless.

    • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

      Yep, I watched “Big Love,” too–couldn’t NOT watch it. Disastrous human relationships are always fascinating, I think.

  • http://silly-bear.com Sarah@From Tolstoy to Tinkerbell

    I asked my husband once if he would ever want another wife–completely in jest. His answer was one woman was all he could handle.

    When I frame polygamy and its relationship to Scripture, I think it is important to differentiate between direct command and narrative actions. Is it acceptable to make a “commandment” out of how biblical characters chose to live their lives? Of course, we have Paul’s references to leaders having one wife, but no “Thou Shalt Not…” statement. But I think the question is: do we really want a long list rules to govern our lives, or are we best making discerning the situation sans biblical command? I prefer the art of discerning over the list of rules.

  • http://www.seeprestonblog.com Preston Yancey

    You know I’m not one to play fast and lose with rejecting Tradition outright for the sake of rejecting it, but I would add that you don’t have to go back only to early apostolic teaching in order to find the reasoning, but that it is present in Jewish thought as well. The Talmud refers to certain issues of marriage much as we would look at, even with sola scriptura, the Israelites asking God for a king. It wasn’t His original intent, He didn’t want to do it, but they pressed Him and He consented. It seems that the rabbis constructing the Talmud had a similar understanding of polygamy, that in Genesis there has yet to be an intervention of God on the matter because it wasn’t the most important issue relating to the covenant at that point, but that after the Law, it was the expected practice. But then deviations (the Law is lost, the people take false gods and synchrotize them, etc.) occur that defy the Scripture of the day and the Tradition of understanding it and then all the mess starts. But since there are more pressing matters at hand, God doesn’t address them directly. It occurs much later, with Jesus, who doesn’t let the Law be a bunch of rules to wiggle around, but who rubs salt in the wounds by making the Law much more expanded and more encompassing.
    … That’s just a long way of saying that our Faith has relied on Tradition for a really long time; since the beginning. I value the centrality of Scripture first and foremost, but I value the legacy of it in the upmost. For what if all the Bibles were suddenly gone? Would God suddenly be gone too? I think not. And I think Tradition, the Tradition that is earlier than Roman Catholicism, that is from those things hidden since the foundation of the earth, saves us from silly (and awful! evil! vile!) things like polygamy.

  • http://faithandfood.morizot.net/ Scott Morizot

    Hmmm. I’ve never known any Christian polygamists (to the best of my knowledge), but I have had non-Christian friends in plural or polyamorous relationships that they considered ‘marriages’. (Multiple men and women, usually.) And when I was young, it wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch for my life to have taken that path rather than the one I did actually take.

    Many of the things modern Christians say about sex and marriage simply don’t make sense. That’s my first impression. Agree or disagree with them, Catholics and Orthodox at least usually make sense. Lauren Winner’s Real Sex and Rob Bell’s Sex God also made sense to me on something deeper than an intellectual level. A lot of the rest that’s out there? Not so much.

  • http://beatencopperlamp.blogspot.com Sarah @BeatenCopperLamp

    Great point about taking sola scriptura too far. Whenever my roomie and I are watch Sister Wives we end up discussing what God says about marriage and how there was polygamy in the OT. It’s interesting how the family on that show are constantly saying how polygamy makes you a better person and challenges you to deal with your faults; they make it seem like a great spiritual exercise. Of course, they are part of a church that has a whole extra book of scripture to interpret and highly values their preaching tradition, so they have more material to back it up with.

    • Anonymous

      I also think it is interesting that the husband (of Sister Wives), when asked by his first wife, said he would not like any of his wives to have multiple husbands. He acknowledged the hypocrisy of this, which was at least honest. I think this shows that there really isn’t a good deep spiritual thing going on here. The wives have expressed feelings of jealousy. The husband has expressed an unwillingness to let his wives practice the way he does (do unto others?). So, I see nothing but people trying to cope within a system they weren’t designed for. It is so disgusting to me, and brings up feelings that are synonymous to those I felt in the fundie church I was in for a while-feelings that result when men try to /’get to’ dominate women. It makes me want to throw up.

      • http://www.virginiaisformothers.com VA Is For Mothers

        I read a review of “Sister Wives” in World magazine yesterday which pointed out how often they are whisked away from real situations where real emotions break out to explain away what was really going on. They do spend an awful lot of time trying to convince the audience that everything is the “way it’s supposed to be”.

        Even though I disagree with polygamy, I can’t help but watch it…I just find the dynamics so interesting.

        • http://beatencopperlamp.blogspot.com Sarah@BeatenCopperLamp

          Oh yeah, the dynamics are the most interesting part. It was very poignant when Meri, the first wife, confronted Kody about her jealousy. When he said “I get that,” she scoffed at him. How can he know what she is going through?

  • http://conthis.blogspot.com Joe Sewell

    Wow, these are some interesting comments.

    Allow me, first, to offer a couple of links from two of what I consider to be highly reliable sources on the web. The first is gotquestions.org, and the other is Hank Hanegraff’s equip.org. It’s interesting to note that the former agrees with your comment about “no prohibition,” while the latter claims prohibition is inferred from various passages.

    1 Corinthians 7:1-5 infers to me that polygamy is a “no-no” because of the usage of the singular “husband” and “wife.” Verses 32-35 add to that the encouragement of remaining single, as being married distracts one from the things of God (according to Paul, who admits this is his own wisdom here).

    As for the greater subject of sola Scriptura … well, I’ve forgotten much of my Latin, and I never was a Catholic, nor have I really been interested in discussing what Luther thought vs. what Calvin taught vs. what Arminius believed vs. what sense Wesley tried to make out of the whole mess. Where this Protestant who wasn’t “raised in church” falls is in a more simplistic area, since the Good News cannot be restricted to the scholars, the theologians, and the like. Hearing God speak to you through the Scripture is vital, and the Bible without the Holy Spirit is little more than a confusing history/philosophy text. That’s not to say that everyone’s interpretation of a passage applies to everybody, nor does it validate any single interpretation. As long as we’re here to learn, though, we can find more and more in Scripture.

    Tradition may have its place, but tradition that runs counter to Scripture should be thrown away. Tradition that is not supported solidly by Scripture needs to be recognized as “negotiable” at best. Tradition also needs to be viewed in the light of the societal norms upon which it was formed.

    Then again, Scripture, too, needs to be viewed through the eyes & mindset of its contemporaries to correctly deduce or infer truth that is not spelled out therein.

    Scripture only? How about GOD ONLY?

    • Lacinda

      Well said, Joe.

    • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

      I can empathize with you, Joe, but understand that when you insist on “God only” that still leaves it up to personal interpretation. All kinds of things have been justified by believers who claimed God “spoke to them” through Scripture. And on a matter as serious as polygamy, I’m not about to leave that up to the individual conscience of every believer. I definitely need something more solid than that.

      • http://frombitterwaterstosweet.blogspot.com/ Mara

        Yes, EE. I get nervous with legalistic scripture bashing. And coming from a Spirit-filled back ground I get nervous with the “God told me” bunch.
        (Watched a flds polygamy documentary and the husband said God told him to take a second wife but he didn’t want to. He was just obeying God. {whatfreakingever}. Also Joseph Smith tried to use a “Thus sayeth the Lord” to get his wife to accept polygamy.)
        This is why I push for gaining an overview of scripture and locating the things within scripture that seem to be of most importance to God.
        This can be done when one isn’t looking to prove a point but rather just studying the Bible to find God.
        I wrote a post a couple years back dealing with this.
        http://frombitterwaterstosweet.blogspot.com/2009/05/big-picture.html

    • http://vox-nova.com/ Radical Catholic Mom

      Actually, the Church has that. It is called Tradition with a big T and tradition with a little t. There are some traditions–for instance, priestly celibacy–that can be changed. There are other Traditions–like Eucharist–that cannot.

  • KatR

    I don’t doubt we’ll see polygamy start creeping it’s way into some Christian groups. I mean, if one wife having 15 kids is godly, then two wives have 30 kids must be superduper godly.

    Can’t wait for “19 Wives and Counting” on TLC.

  • http://supernalquest supernalquest

    KatR- You’ve summed it up concisely. Watching an interview with Mormon fundamentalists, “It’s a godly life” was a prominent excuse for how they lived. Now that some Christian sects look like Mormon Fundamentalists, it’s only a matter of time before they act like it too.

  • http://www.themcginnismessage.blogspot.com Jawan

    I think a sovereign God could allow [it] but still hate [it]….much like divorce.

  • http://soullibertyfaith.com Sisterlisa

    I can’t help but to chuckle a bit reading all these comments. Elizabeth, I can sense your humorous sarcasm and I love it.

    Can we not see the clear animosity between Sarah and Hagar, or Leah and Rachel? I think these are too examples of how detrimental this lifestyle can be on a marriage..not to mention the children. Paul told Timothy an elder was to be a husband of one wife..it could be because other men had multiple wives. But I think that’s stretching it.

    I echo the comment made earlier about a woman having more than one husband. teeheehee Especially if she’s high maintenance. KIDDING!

    Do we really need the Bible or man’s interpretation to justify decisions like this? What does Jesus in your heart tell you? The Living Word dwells within us..we don’t need to try to justify ourselves by the Bible. Lets think logically! How would we feel about a husband even suggesting this? Not in my marriage, I tell ya! There’s no way I could be content if my husband was shared, him giving her the flirty eye at 6pm and giving the same eye to me at 9pm. No thank you!

    But I am not going to dictate to others how they live their lives. I just think we need to think for ourselves. What happens when one woman wants a divorce, or realizes he’s getting to be a bit cult like and dangerous, now how does she get out? I think it has far too many potential consequences.

    • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

      LOL! The flirty eye at 6pm for one wife and the flirty eye at 9pm for me? Yeah. NO THANKS. lolol. I’ll take a lifetime of celibacy before there will be ANY sharing around here, thank you VERY much! :)

  • Lacinda

    God created marriage to symbolize Christ and the Church. Although, the Church is made up of many people, Christ has only one “Bride.”
    Old Testsment polygamy has always bothered me, but I think that by looking at Scripture regarding Christ and His commitment to His Bride as well as the fact that God first created only one man and one woman for marriage, Christians have a sound argument for monogomous marriages.

  • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

    It’s already here. Has been for awhile:
    http://www.christianpolygamy.com/

    • Anonymous

      Christian, I had not seen this site but visited. Despicable beyond belief. I cannot spend much time in these places nor watch the shows. It brings back dark feelings that accompanied my time in a strict fundy church.

      I think someone should start a blog for Christian women who want multiple husbands. I say this tongue-in-cheek, of course, but it would be interesting to see what the response was…by the multiple-wives crowd mainly.

    • Margaret

      Ew. There is a very squicky sexual undertone to that site. barf.

      However, while it’s “here”, I have travelled in all sorts of Christian circles, and never met anyone, including fundamentalists of various brands, who wouldn’t find that site and what it promotes ugly and detestable. The very conservative Protestant denom in my husband’s country requires men to renounce polygamy to become full members (nad thuse eligible for leadership) in the church. They are still required to provide for any other wives and children that they had pre-conversion, but they must live only with their first wife and stop sleeping with the others.

  • Margaret

    Polygamy disgusts me.

    And I a Protestant. :p

    But there are some of us for whom church tradition and early church teaching holds great weight. ;) Although, if you’re going to object to things based on that, birth control goes out the window.

  • Margaret

    Also, don’t think this is limited to Mormons and possibly spilling into fundamentalism. The multiple partner household is gaining ground as an “alternative lifestyle” among people who want nothing to do with religion. And while sometimes it’s equal numbers of men and women (like, two couples merging marriage), I can’t help but notice that there are more cases where it’s one man and several women than the other way around.

  • Bill Colburn

    We’ve practiced ‘serial polygamy’ for decades.

    • http://theheartofmary.blogspot.com Mary R.

      Unfortunately, Bill, that is the truth. And it is no better than regular polygamy.

  • http://boptheology.posterous.com Paul

    Great post.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I believe it will happen sooner rather than later. I wonder if this happens will it help those fighting for same sex marriage rights? The argument against same sex marriage is usually one man and one woman.

    Should be an interesting read indeed.

    • http://beatencopperlamp.blogspot.com Sarah@BeatenCopperLamp

      I absolutely agree that the two lifestyles are in a very similar campaign for legal acceptance. Both argue that the government should not regulate couplings and family structure.

  • http://larryshallenberger.com Larry Shallenberger

    Two thoughts in no order:

    1) I don’t have enough mojo to be a polygamist. Took me to my late 20′s to find one wife.

    2) The book “Is God a Moral Monster” points out the while the Bible doesn’t explicitly forbid polygamy that a) The creation account espouses monogamy; and that b) the narrative of every recorded polygamist is tragic and complicated. There’s an implicit rejection of polygamy (although, yes, its an interpretation of the text. But one, I think, that is simply and obvious.)

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Young Mom

    Polygamy isn’t really that much a of a stretch from the fundamentalist patriarchal mindset. Women exist to serve man and have children, so it makes sense to add a few more to the marriage to build up that man and produce more children. I love the show Big Love, but I have to space out how much I watch it. Because even though I didn’t grow up FLDS or polygamist, the mentality is so close to my upbringing that it gives me the creeps.

  • http://theheartofmary.blogspot.com Mary R.

    Polygamy in the Bible was never shown in a good light — rather, it was always shown, if you read the whole narrative of the people involved, as the ruin of family life. In the beginning, there was Adam and Eve, two people, male and female, free, and serving God.

    Bill above is right, we practice serial polygamy — and it is no better than regular polygamy.

    In the New Testament, Paul mandates that an elder be the “husband of one wife.” People no doubt were added to the church back then who were in polygamous relationships, but the men in those relationships were not permitted to be elders (rulers of the church), but rather to be the examples of God’s perfect plan for marriage as shown in the Garden of Eden — one husband/one wife.

  • http://theheartofmary.blogspot.com Mary R.

    Things like polygamy, or divorce in some instances, were permitted due to the hardness of peoples’ hearts, or because they existed in the prevailing culture, but limitations were put on them (not to have two sisters for wives, for example). In the New Testament, Christians were encouraged to go back to the Garden of Eden for the example of marriage (Jesus was always saying, “In the beginning…it was not so.”)

  • http://quiverfullmyblog.wordpress.com/ Lisa

    I have long seen parallels to the FLDS [as have many people]. The same “goals” for women, starting boys to work at such a young age, making girls serve an endless “apprenticeship” as nanny, go-fer, cook, you-name-it, the “charity” of helping others in their “orbit” [such as the way the Bates home was built recently]. Not to mention the rumors that on Jim-Bob Duggars’ book shelves in their first tv special there were supposedly materials from the “United Effort Plan” of the FLDS. That their are Quiverfull folks so eage to take dominion that they want to breed even more doesn’t shock me. It’s just more messed up thinking and more ways to keep everyone miserable!! Another comparison would be with the later days of the 3rd Reich when Hitler tried to “breed” more Aryans………

    • Margaret

      Is it standard practice to judge people based on rumors and “supposedly”?

      This is curious to me.

  • Lacinda

    I really don’t think it’s fair to compare a couple who wants many children to a man who wants many wives.

    • Margaret

      Yes, thank you.

      My experience with QF people and rejecting birth control myself does *not* match up with the attitudes it’s being claimed they/we have about women or marriage.

      It’s like there are these bogyman fundies out there. They’re *there* apparently, but I never get to lay eyes on one of ‘em.

      Met some cultists, yes, but they were a completely different brand, anabaptist with ultra-left politics. :/

      • Margaret

        The icky/scary fundy evangelicals I have met tend to look askance at QF and call it legalism.

        I seriously can’t win, in the church. :p

  • http://www.blackcoffeereflections.com Tim

    Elizabeth, excellent post, interesting and fun.
    Not sure who RT’d your post but it’s my first time on our blog.

    Polygamy reflects the patriarchal culture of the ancient near east. And I’m sure you know, but then polygamy was actually helpful for women (and so was the “divorce certificate”). Because the male-dominated society was so unfair to women, polygamy demanded that the husband/father provide for wives/children.

    It’s not really comparable today. Now I know this is not your point and I am laughing with you at the Sola Scriptura deal. (But I’ve spent 15 mins. here and wanted to say something :)

    But just to go further, polygamy in the OT is very similar to slavery in the New Testament. It’s part of culture. So when Paul tells slaves to be obedient and slave-owners (like Philemon) to be kind, he’s actually being counter-cultural. It’s very difficult for our present day, modern minds to see this but it’s the context.

  • http://jeremythompson.ws Jeremy

    As an Old Testament instructor at a seminary, I get to use issues like this to prod my students into a discussion sometimes, which is fun. What many people don’t realize is that the Old Testament doesn’t just open up the possibility of polygamy based on scripture alone, but could actually ensure it. The law of levirate marriage (Deut 25:5-6) would ensure polygamy in certain cases. For example, the “next-of-kin” in Ruth 4 doesn’t want to follow through on the law of levirate marriage because it will hurt his inheritance (i.e. for the children he already has).

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  • http://www.amberpeace.com Amber-Lee

    Of course, this is all from our American point of view.
    I asked my friend Phillip (who is a priest in the Anglican Church of Kenya) what their biggest hot topic right now is for ordination. His reply? Polygamy. It had never crossed my mind! But it’s part of their culture in Kenya. It really splits the church over there.

  • http://jamesbrett.wordpress.com JamesBrett

    as a missionary and development worker in tanzania, we deal with polygamy every day. [or to be more exact, polygyny, which is one husband with multiples wives. i think it's odd that we like so much to use the word polygamy, when rarely are there multiple husbands involved.]

    but it’s important to note that in many cultures, taking more wives is done so out of love. we want to frown on the savages of the dark continent, because all they want is to rule a household with an iron fist and have sex with a different woman every night. “don’t they understand what love is?!” we ask.

    and they look at our american culture and ask how in the world all these men with so much money and such large houses could leave women in their society unprotected and not cared for — especially those women who have children to raise. how dare we be so selfish as to not take care of these who are in need. we don’t even have the decency to take our deceased brothers’ wives as our own. “don’t we understand what love is?!” they question.

    all of us would be wise to broaden our worldviews. and consider that it’s at least possible that other cultures are also acting out of love.

    • Nate

      Thank you, James – finally a non-Romanized (Western) voice of compassion. Who are the “widows and orphans” we are to be providing for? Which is more typical of a loving God: selfish sole possession, or sharing to consider and meet the needs of those going without the love and headship they so desperately need and want in a culture lacking in Real Men.

    • http://new-conversazione.blogspot.com/ Chris Nystrom

      Beautiful James Brett. Thanks for posting a bit of rational and compassionate thought into this conversation. God’s view is indeed very different from our own, but I suspect very much like yours.

  • steve

    finally, a voice of reason. ;)