Comments/Questions from Readers

Question #21: It seems that throughout the Bible, it is not clearly mentioned whether God specifically condemns, allows, or even commands his people to have one wife, or multiple wives. This seems to be true in the case of slavery as well. There are no passages in the Bible that I know of that outright condemn or approve slavery.

I would like to put forth the idea that perhaps polygyny is simply an institution that was in some ways necessary in ancient times, and that God simply gave his people several rules pertaining to polygyny if they chose to engage in it. In that way, God was neither commanding nor condemning his people to have more than one wife, but leaving the option open to them. In this way I believe that God allowed the institutions of slavery and polygyny, but that he completely intended to slowly replace them as society advanced, and as mankind was better able to survive without such institutions. Today it would seem difficult to argue for the benefits of slavery, whether God allows it or not. In the same way it may be difficult to argue for the benefits of polygyny in our current day.

Permit me, if I may, to transpose the term "polygyny" for the term "marriage", as the number of wives a man may marry does not change the fact that we are still talking about marriage.

Both marriage and slavery have one constant that many believers still struggle with: AUTHORITY. Children are under the authority of their father, wives are under the authority of their husband, and slaves are under the authority of their master. Marriage delegates authority of the wives to the husband in the same way that slavery delegates authority of the slaves to the master. A daughter was the "property" of her father until she was GIVEN in marriage to the husband, at which time she became the "property" of her husband. Because we dislike the concept of "ownership" or "slavery", we tend to disregard or attempt to explain away these important New Testament verses which speak to this authority relationship between man and woman.

1 Corinthians 11:8-9: "For man is not from woman, but woman from man. For man was also not created for the woman, but woman for the man."

1 Peter 3:1: "In the same way, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that if any are disobedient to the Word, they, without a word, might be won by the behavior of their wives."

1 Corinthians 11:3: "And I wish you to know that the head of every man is Messiah, and the head of woman is the man, and the head of Messiah is Elohim."

Ephesians 5:22: "Wives, subject yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Master."

1 Corinthians 11:7: "For a man indeed should not cover his head, since he is the likeness and esteem of Elohim, but woman is the esteem of man."

1 Timothy 2:12: "But I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, rather, to be in silence."

Ephesians 5:23: "Because the husband is head of the wife, so also the Messiah is head of the assembly, and He is Saviour of the body."

1 Corinthians 14:34-35: "Let your women be silent in the assemblies, for they are not allowed to speak, but let them subject themselves, as the Torah also says. And if they wish to learn whatever, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in an assembly."

Ephesians 5:24: "But as the assembly is subject to Messiah, so also let the wives be to their husbands in every respect."

There are many other verses, in both the Old and New Testaments, that clearly demonstrate a subordinate role for the woman in relation to the man placed in authority over her. We don't have to like it to understand what it says. The fact is that Scripture is quite clear that men and women are equal in VALUE but not in ROLES. God made men and women to be different and when we reject our God-given roles in life, we rebel against our Creator.

Slavery, in and of itself, is not sinful (either in being a slave or in owning slaves), but it certainly has been abused by evil men who gave little thought to their slaves. With great power comes great responsibility, and like a husband married to a wife, the master is to care for his slaves in a similar manner. Marriage is actually a form of slavery-by-choice when you get right down to it, because the wife is submitting herself to remain under the husband's authority of her own free will. It would be much like when men and women would sell themselves into slavery. You and I are slaves to our Creator and we are His by choice. The New Testament even uses the example of marriage of the wife to the husband in relating the assembly to Messiah. I believe that without a proper understanding of Biblical marriage and authority, we cannot correctly understand our relationship to our Savior.

There weren't two "forms" of marriage described in Scripture, there was simply marriage. Monogyny and polygyny are cultural terms we have created to distinguish between single and plural wives, but Scripture makes no such distinction. When we refer to a father, we don't automatically assume he has only one child. His title of "father" simply means he has one or more children, but the exact number of children is not the issue. Likewise, when we refer to a slavemaster, we don't automatically assume he has only one slave. This is also true of a husband in Scripture. A person can be in authority over plural subjects but can only truly submit to being under a singular authority. A child cannot have two fathers. A slave cannot have two masters. A wife cannot have two husbands. This "one head/many members" principle is found throughout Scripture whenever authority is demonstrated.

I don't see any Biblical way to separate monogynous and polygynous marriage. If God intended to do away with polygyny, He would have to be intending to do away with marriage altogether, at least how He defined it. After all, patriarchy was instituted prior to the fall and the natural conclusions of patriarchy requires the possibility of polygynous marriage. It is very much like the comparison of slavery that you mentioned. Is there really any difference between a master owning one slave versus owning two or more slaves? How does monoslavery compare with polyslavery? Is there any difference between a father having one child and having multiple children? Whether the issue is slavery, parenting or marriage, it's all or nothing. Either God intended marriage or He didn't. He defined marrage in His Word and He confirmed it in every New Testament passage that speaks to marriage and authority. Anything we say to a man with one wife would apply to a man with two wives and vice versa. Marriage is marriage.

Now with regards to slavery, I submit that if we recognize the correlation between slavery and marriage, then anything we say for or against one would naturally apply to the other. If slavery is sinful, then so is marriage. If slavery can be abused, then so can marriage. If evil men can be slavemasters, then evil men can be husbands. If the idea of people being "property" is offensive, then so is Biblical marriage and even Biblical parenting. You and I are the property of God. Should we be offended here as well? My wife and children understand that they are my property; entrusted for me to take care of by God. I am the husband and father and provide a covering for my entire family, no matter how many wives, sons or daughters I may have.

Consider for a moment the story of God telling Abraham to take Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him. Most believers don't even consider for a moment what God was asking him to do. We all know how the story ends, so we don't really think about how serious this instruction was. We rationalize that since God intended to stop Abraham anyway, it doesn't really matter if God was essentially asking Abraham to commit murder. Would God have asked Abraham to lay with another man's wife and commit adultery, just to test him? Surely God would have stepped in to intervene before Abraham could commit such a sin, but seriously, would God have even asked him to do such a thing? Of course not! God would never command someone to commit sin. So then how do we explain God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son?

It's really very simple when we understand Biblical patriarchy. The father "owns" his children. They are his PROPERTY. Abraham was the only person on earth that God COULD have asked to sacrifice Isaac, because Isaac was Abraham's son and therefore his LAWFUL property. Murder is the UNLAWFUL taking of another person's life. Here are a few verses in Exodus that really help demonstrate this:

Exodus 21:15: "And he who smites his father or his mother shall certainly be put to death."

Exodus 21:17: "And he who curses his father or his mother shall certainly be put to death."

Exodus 21:20-21: "And when a man smites his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall certainly be punished. But if he remains alive a day or two, he is not punished, for he is his property."

I'm certainly not saying that any of these laws apply today, but rather that they demonstrate the principles of authority that were clearly understood at that time. Authority and ownership are not popular concepts in our culture, but the fact remains that God is the author of authority just as He is the author of marriage.




"...In essentials we maintain unity, in opinions liberty, and in all things love..."

Your comments are welcome!