Al Salamu 'Alaykum.
Poly-Positive – Polygamy as a Christian Doctrine
Poly-Positive is a term that refers to an attitude that having more than one wife is not inherently wrong.
As such it is a term that is particularly appropriate to describe the worldview contained in the Judeo-Christian Bible. Many of the articles on this site defend this view from institutional criticism of it. This article seeks to build the positive case that the Biblical texts are tolerant of plural marriage, and that intolerance of plural marriage is unscriptural.
See below for the Bible’s positive case for acceptance of plural marriage:
It is fairly easy to establish that the Bible does not in any way condemn polygamy. What is not widely known is that the Bible is thoroughly positive about polygamy, and so people sometimes claim that the Bible is simply silent about the morality of plural marriage. Yet according to the Bible, plural marriages are good. Much of the time polygamists and those who are actively tolerant of polygamy are on the defensive. This is natural, given that any expression of polygamist views is likely to be met with condemnation. People who are ordinarily liberal and forgiving sorts sometimes appear angry and restrictive when the topic of polygamy enters a conversation. They seem to step out of character, which is unsurprising given that the culture in which we live has spent the best part of two thousand years trying, and largely succeeding, in overturning the Biblical worldview on this subject. Hence when you begin to consider polygamy you often have to defend it against attacks from friends, family, society and indeed your own prejudices. That is why a lot of polygamist thought centers on countering the attacks of anti-polygamists. That is why much of the rest of this site has that tone.
However there are many reasons to be thoroughly POSITIVE ABOUT POLYGAMY. The Bible provides many of those reasons directly, and there are many other good things to be observed which result from the practice of this Biblical way of living. This page will examine the POLY-POSITIVE teachings of the Bible, and in particular the teachings of Christ and the Spirit in the New Testament.
Christ was Poly-Positive:
It is because of the teachings of Christ that all Christians should accept the moral and lawful nature of polygamy, and should be prepared to allow people the freedom to practice plural marriage if they so wish. The teachings of Christ himself lay down the intellectual and moral basis which makes polygamy a Christian issue.
Christ and the Law:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5 vv 17-20
Jesus said he came to fulfil the law, not to destroy it. God’s law contains details of how the practice of polygamy was to be regulated by the Israelites. Christ said he had not come to destroy this law. With parts of the law he shows how the practical effects are changed, but the law itself is left untouched, including the law on polygamy. As the law allowed, organised and in some cases commanded polygamy, and as it is unchanged, it is clear that Christ provides the principles of polygamy within the law. Indeed, as will be seen later, the principles of polygamy are fulfilled in Christ.
The law, which Christ did not destroy, allowed and regulated polygamy. A wife was owed duties of food, clothing and marital rights, and this protection was still to be provided if her husband took a second wife (Exodus 21 v 10). The law prevented her husband from marrying her mother, or from marrying another of her sisters, to be a rival wife, while she was still alive. (Leviticus 20 v 14 and Leviticus 18 v 17). The law ensured that a firstborn child maintained his superior rights of inheritance, even if his father preferred another of his wives to the child’s mother (Deuteronomy 21 vv 15-17). The law limited the power of the King so that he couldn’t “multiply wives to himself” (Deuteronomy 17 v 17). As can be seen elsewhere on this site, that law allows polygamy, but prevents constitutional abuse.
In addition to allowing polygamy, the law which Christ fulfilled actually commanded it in certain circumstances. If a man died without children then his brother was obliged to marry the widow. (Deuteronomy 25 vv 7-10). There is nothing to suggest that this was limited to unmarried brothers, and it is important that it applies to those already married, for the story of the kinsman-redeemer in Ruth establishes the biblical idea of redemption. Christ can redeem a sinner’s debt, and this involves union with Christ, even though he has already redeemed someone else’s debt and been united to them.
As well as this, the Bible also provides protection to unmarried women. If a man seduced an unmarried virgin, the law forced him to marry her, and therefore to provide the food, clothes and marital rights mentioned before. And he couldn’t divorce her, so the protection was guaranteed for life. (Deuteronomy 22 vv 28-29). Again there is nothing in the Bible to indicate that there was any difference made by the man being married. So, if he was married, and he had an affair with a single woman, then the law demanded he become a polygamist. Imagine the effect this would have today – promises to marry would have to be kept, and so deceit in relationships would necessarily be reduced.
Part II to follow.
Wa Salamu 'Alaykum.