Comments/Questions from Readers

Question #27: If polygyny was not a sin in Biblical days; when and where did it "become a sin" in our western culture. Can a practice or behavior that was allowed by God at one time in history be redefined by God later in history as sinful? Would God "flip-flop" like that? I can't see God doing that--it sounds more like something a politician would do. It even goes against the scripture that says that God is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

It doesn't seem logical to believe that something could be acceptable to or tolerated by God and then at some point in the future be redefined by God as sinful. How could something that God accepted ever become "sinful". God has no part in sin--period.

Short answer: Catholicism and pagan Rome. Plain and simple.

In reality, marriage never became a sin. It wasn't a sin thousands of years ago and it still isn't a sin today. I deliberately use the word "marriage" rather than "polygyny", because we have been taught an artificial distinction between singular and plural wives which does not exist in Scripture. The truth is that there are NO BIBLICAL GROUNDS for disallowing polygyny. However, to answer your question in more detail, we need to look to history.

We know that early Christians, as well as non-Christian Jews, continued taking multiple wives for several centuries after Messiah, based on the writings of Josephus in the first century, of Justin Martyr in the second century, and even a Roman law passed in 212 AD to "tolerate" Jewish polygyny. So let's start by looking at what St. Augustine wrote regarding polygyny in The Good of Marriage. In chapter 15, he said that although it "was lawful among the ancient fathers: whether it be lawful now also, I would not hastily pronounce. For there is not now necessity of begetting children, as there then was, when, even when wives bear children, it was allowed, in order to a more numerous posterity, to marry other wives in addition, which now is certainly not lawful." He definitely recognized the lawfulness of polygyny for Israel but isn't so sure for Rome. Let's take a look at some more quotes from St. Augustine:

"For by a secret law of nature, things that stand chief love to be singular; but things that are subject are set under, not only one under one, but, if the system of nature or society allow, even several under one, not without becoming beauty. For neither hath one slave so several masters, in the same way that several slaves have one master. Thus we read not that any of the holy women served two or more living husbands; but we read that many females served one husband, when the social state of the nation allowed it, and the purpose of time persuaded it: for neither is it contrary to the nature of marriage. For several females can conceive from one man: but one female cannot from several men (such is the power of things principal) as many souls are rightly made subject to one God." - St. Augustine (from "A Selected Library of Nicene and Post-Nicine Fathers of the Christian Church", Philip Schaff, Vol III, pg. 407-408)

"Jacob, the son of Isaac is charged with having committed a great crime because he had four wives. But there is no ground for a criminal accusation: for a plurality of wives was no crime when it was the custom; and it is a crime now because it is no longer the custom. There are sins against nature, and sins against custom, and sins against the laws. In which, then, of these senses did Jacob sin in having a plurality of wives?...The only reason of its being a crime now to do this is because custom and the laws forbid it." - St. Augustine (from "A Selected Library of Nicene and Post-Nicine Fathers of the Christian Church", Philip Schaff, Vol III, pg. 289)

"Now indeed in our time, and in keeping with Roman custom, it is no longer allowed to take another wife, so as to have more than one wife living" - St. Augustine (from "A Selected Library of Nicene and Post-Nicine Fathers of the Christian Church", Philip Schaff, Vol III, pg. 428)

These quotes make it quite clear that Roman custom, not Scripture, was the reason polygyny was "made" a sin. In fact, the official Roman Catholic position regarding polygyny is clearly defined in the Catholic Cathechism, para. 2387, on the Vatican's own website:

"The predicament of a man who, desiring to convert to the Gospel, is obliged to repudiate one or more wives with whom he has shared years of conjugal life, is understandable. However polygamy is not in accord with the moral law. [Conjugal] communion is radically contradicted by polygamy; this, in fact, directly negates the plan of God which was revealed from the beginning, because it is contrary to the equal personal dignity of men and women who in matrimony give themselves with a love that is total and therefore unique and exclusive."

Did you catch the not-so-subtle rejection of patriarchy and the husband's authority over his wife? Unfortunately, this is also the normal position among Protestant Churches, so the mainstream Christian position is to reject both patriarchy and polygyny in principle. Even churches that teach the headship of the man turn right around and say that marriage is a "partnership". It seems the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree.

There is a tremendous amount of information available on the history of the Roman Catholic Church if you wish to study the matter further. Here are a few more facts which demonstrate how monogyny was made the cultural standard it is today:

In 726 AD, Pope Gregory II advised a missionary that if a man had an infirm wife, he could be allowed to marry again if he could not contain himself.

In 1022 AD, Pope Benedict VIII banned all marriages and mistresses for priests.

In 1139 AD, Pope Innocent II voided all marriages of priests and all new priests had to divorce their wives.

In 1563 AD, the Roman Catholic Council of Trent said that "If anyone says that it is lawful for Christians to have several wives at the same time, and that it is not forbidden by any divine law, let him be anathema."

In 1571 AD, Pope Pius V said of a polygynous husband, after all his marriages were miraculously "annulled" by Rome upon his conversion to Christianity, that in the event he couldn't remember which of his wives was the first one he married, he should just remarry any of them, since even if he was mistaken, it really didn't matter since his marriages were legally dissolved by the Roman Catholic Church.

Few Christian leaders today even question the cultural changes made to marriage over time. Fortunately, there have been Christian reform movements that have aimed at rebuilding Christian doctrine based on Scripture alone which have accepted polygyny as a Biblical practice. For example, during the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther determined that polygyny was perfectly acceptable, noting that the patriarchs of the Old Testament had had more than one wife. In 1524, Luther wrote a letter to the Saxon Chancellor Gregor Bruck in which he stated that he could not "forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict Scripture." Then in 1539, Luther permitted Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse, to take a second wife. The second marriage was to be done in secret however, to avoid a public scandal.

In 1650, after so many men were killed during the Thirty Years' War, the parliament at Nurnberg decreed that the churches could not admit any man under the age of 60 into a monastery for the next ten years. In addition, the decree stated that priests and ministers not bound to a monastery were allowed to marry during this time, and that every man was allowed to marry up to ten women, though they were to behave honorably and provide for their wives properly.

The simple fact of the matter is that polygyny is either right or wrong. If it is wrong, it is contrary to the will of God. If it is contrary to the will of God now, then it always has been, ever since the fall of man; for God has not changed, human nature has not changed, and the mutual relation of the sexes has not changed. If it is contrary to the divine will, God most certainly would have said so in His Word and denounced those who practiced it. Instead, it was expressly sanctioned in the Mosaic Law, and even expressly commanded under certain circumstances. If polygyny was now a vice and a sin, like adultery or lying or stealing, then it always was and always will be a sin, and God would never have approved or commanded it as He did.




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

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