Saturday, September 09, 2006

Polygamy Is Condemned By Scripture

Zac Taylor at Debunking Christianity writes:

"While I think the Bible does seem to condemn homosexuality, I do not think it specifically condemns polygamy. So, Christians are in a bind here - they seem so confident to defend the 'biblical framework of the Christian family,' as the Pro-Family Network states, but what is that according to the Bible? I don't think it's as clear cut as Christians and Christian politicians would have us believe."

Christians differ on the extent to which scripture discourages polygamy. Some would argue, for example, that it was allowed in the Old Testament era, but not since then. Others would argue that it's still allowed, but isn't the best option. And some would argue, and I'm one of them, that polygamy has always been unacceptable.

There are a lot of disagreements among Christians on a lot of issues. The same is true of atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.

I'll explain why I think that polygamy has always been unacceptable. But I'll begin with the early post-Biblical sources and work my way backward.

I don't know of a single church father who advocated the acceptability of polygamy. I know of many who condemn it. Most relevantly, I can think of six different fathers from the second century alone who condemn it (Justin Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, Athenagoras, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian). These men lived in a large variety of locations, and they represent a large variety of mindsets, personal circumstances, and theologies. They not only condemn polygamy, but even do so with much force, in multiple contexts, and with the names of specific individuals or groups they're responding to. I want to quote Justin Martyr:

"If, then, the teaching of the prophets and of Himself moves you, it is better for you [followers of Judaism] to follow God than your imprudent and blind masters, who even till this time permit each man to have four or five wives; and if any one see a beautiful woman and desire to have her, they quote the doings of Jacob called Israel, and of the other patriarchs, and maintain that it is not wrong to do such things; for they are miserably ignorant in this matter." (Dialogue With Trypho, 134)

When Justin uses phrases like "blind" and "miserably ignorant", it seems that he not only considered polygamy wrong, but also considered it to be obviously so and to a significant degree. Later in the same work, Justin comments that the followers of Judaism advocate and engage in polygamy "over all the earth, wherever they sojourn" (141). Notice not only that polygamy is an issue that Justin has to interact with as a Christian, but also that he expects other Christians to sometimes come into contact with it in other parts of the world. And although Justin obviously isn't claiming that every adherent of Judaism is a polygamist, and we know that some Jewish teachers condemned polygamy (and the large majority didn't practice it), Justin's comments do suggest that polygamy was an ongoing issue for the highly Jewish religion of Christianity. Thus, when the New Testament presents us with a monogamous view of marriage, it's doing so in a context in which polygamy was a factor. It's not as if the New Testament is monogamous only because polygamy wasn't on people's minds.

Justin attributes his comments (in a debate with the Jew Trypho) to the 130s, just a few decades after the close of the apostolic age. Later in the second century, Irenaeus condemns some heretics for trying to "introduce" polygamy into the church (Against Heresies, 1:28:2). In the mind of Irenaeus, then, there was no polygamy in the church of the apostles, and heretics are to be criticized for trying to introduce it. Tertullian attributes the condemnation of polygamy to the apostles (To His Wife, 1:2). Eusebius mentions Christians who avoid polygamy even when living in polygamous regions ("neither in Parthia do the Christians, Parthians though they are, practise polygamy", Preparation For The Gospel, 6:10). Eusebius is quoting a man named Bardesanes, who lived in the second and third centuries. It ought to be noted that the early Christians avoided polygamy even when they lived in parts of the world where it was considered acceptable.

I could multiply such comments from the patristic era. The church fathers gave a variety of explanations for the polygamy that existed during the Old Testament era, but it seems that they universally condemned its practice during this New Testament era.

Polygamy was rare in the early centuries of church history, but it did exist:

"Some peoples on the periphery of the empire reportedly practiced polygamy, including Thracians, Numidians and Moors (Sallust Iug. 80.6; Sextus Empiricus Pyr. 3.213; cf. Diodorus Siculus Bib. Hist. 1.80.3 on Egypt)...a few Greek philosophers supported group marriage (Diogenes Laertius Vit. 6.2.72; 7.1.131; 8.1.33)...Although the practice was not common, early Palestinian Judaism allowed polygamy (m. Sanh. 2:4), and it was practiced at least by some wealthy kings (Josephus J.W. 1.28.4 &562)." (Craig Keener, in Craig Evans and Stanley Porter, editors, Dictionary Of New Testament Background [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000], p. 683)

That last sentence is significant in that it illustrates an important distinction we should make. The issue here isn't just how widely polygamy was practiced. The issue is also how widely it was plausible, how widely it was considered acceptable or advocated in theory. As the church fathers illustrate, the fact that most of the New Testament world practiced monogamous marriage doesn't change the fact that polygamy was still an aspect of that world and one that was often encountered, particularly in theory, though not as much in practice. And part of that theoretical realm is the Old Testament. To say that the Corinthian Christians, for example, would only have rarely encountered the practice of polygamy doesn't change the fact that they would have encountered the concept of polygamy frequently when reading the Old Testament, when interacting with some Jewish sources, etc. Even if practicing polygamy wasn't a plausible option for many of the Christians the New Testament authors were addressing, it would have been a plausible option for some, and the theoretical possibility would surely be something any author would take into account when discussing the nature of marriage. Thus, when a passage like 1 Corinthians 7 speaks in monogamous terms, we shouldn't assume that the monogamous framework is merely the result of a social context.

And polygamy in New Testament and early patristic times wasn't limited to the rich:

"It had generally been assumed that only the very rich practiced polygamy, but one set of family documents that has survived from the second century C.E. shows a middle-class example of polygamy. The rabbinic writings assume that polygamy occurs and contain much legislation concerning it, but many people were unhappy with the practice." (David Instone-Brewer, Divorce And Remarriage In The Bible [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2002], pp. 60-61)

Some examples of polygamy during the time of Jesus and the apostles, examples the early Christians would have been familiar with, were Herod Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Caiaphas. Though some Jews opposed polygamy, Josephus, a contemporary of the apostles, wrote that "it is the ancient practice among us to have many wives at the same time" (Antiquities Of The Jews, 17:1:2).

What this patristic and other extra-Biblical evidence suggests is that the monogamist tendencies of the New Testament, which some people attribute to societal context rather than the unacceptability of polygamy, are more naturally read as mandating monogamy. The New Testament authors describe marriage as monogamous because it's monogamous by its nature, not because it's monogamous only in the societal context they're addressing.

Jesus seems to have been siding with the anti-polygamists of His day in Matthew 19. David Instone-Brewer writes:

"A move towards monogamy started very early, as evidenced by a gloss in the Septuagint and other early versions at Genesis 2:24, which read 'and they two shall become one flesh.' The word 'two' is not present in the Masoretic text, but it is found very widely in ancient versions. This gloss was included in the text when Jesus and Paul cited it. Although this gloss was widespread, it did not cause the Hebrew text to be changed. Even at Qumran, when they were amassing arguments against polygamy (see below), the text was not quoted in this form, and there is no example of the Hebrew text being quoted with the word 'two' in it. It appears that this gloss was a very common addition to the text, and that it was recognized as a comment on the text rather than a variant of it. This means that the purpose of the addition must have been obvious to the reader. The gloss affirmed that a marriage is made between only two individuals, and thus polygamy is an abberation....The significant point, as far as the Gospel text [Matthew 19] is concerned, is that this variant text is used very self-consciously, with the additional comment [Matthew 19:5] 'So they are no longer two but one' emphasizing the presence of the word 'two.'...Both [the gospel of] Mark and the Damascus Document [a document critical of polygamy] cite exactly the same portion of Genesis 1:27, and they both precede the quotation with a very similar phrase. Mark refers to 'the beginning of creation'...while the Damascus Document used the phrase 'the foundation of creation'...they are semantically identical....Jesus was making the point very strongly. He was saying not only that polygamy was immoral but that it was illegal. He gave scriptural proofs that polygamy was against God's will. This meant that the man's second marriage was invalid, and thus he was cohabiting with an unmarried woman." (Divorce And Remarriage In The Bible [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2002], pp. 61, 137-138, 151)

I see at least a few indications here that Jesus was siding with the anti-polygamists of His day:

1. He cites Genesis 1:27 with Genesis 2:24 (Matthew 19:4-5), a common anti-polygamist combination of scripture.

2. He quotes the anti-polygamist paraphrase of Genesis 2:24 (Matthew 19:5), not the original Hebrew, which has a history of use by anti-polygamists.

3. He emphasizes the word "two" by mentioning it again in Matthew 19:6.

4. He uses the phrase "from the beginning" (Matthew 19:8), which is known to have been used in anti-polygamist argumentation.

It should be noted that Paul also repeatedly uses the anti-polygamist rendering of Genesis 2:24 (1 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 5:31). Ephesians 5 is inherently anti-polygamist. Paul tells us that there's only one Christ and only one church (Ephesians 4:4-5), then he makes that relationship the model for the marriage relationship. He also uses the head/body imagery (Ephesians 5:23), and there can be only one head and one body. Paul goes on to cite Genesis 2:24 (Ephesians 5:31). I think that the most natural way to read Ephesians 5 is as a New Testament expansion of Genesis 2. In other words, Ephesians 5 is about the nature of all marriage, not just some marriages (monogamous marriages). To argue that Ephesians 5 doesn't apply to polygamists would be like arguing that Genesis 2 doesn't either. If polygamists aren't going to get their model for marriage from Genesis 2 or Ephesians 5, then where are they going to get it?

Romans 7:3 seems to be contrary to polygamy as well. Douglas Moo writes:

"he [Paul] certainly uses the word ['law'] in 6:14, 15 and in most of chap. 7 with reference to the Mosaic law...It is almost certain, then, that Paul here refers to the Mosaic law...Since Paul does not mention divorce, we can assume that the remarriage of the woman has taken place without a divorce of any kind; and any such remarriage is, of course, adulterous. Further, any body of law that Paul may be citing - Roman or OT (cf. Deut. 25:1-4) - allows for remarriage on grounds other than the death of the spouse." (The Epistle To The Romans [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1996], pp. 411-412, n. 24 on p. 413)

Some of the most explicit passages that can be cited against polygamy are from the Old Testament, such as Genesis 2 and Proverbs 5. In Proverbs 5, we aren't told to be satisfied with our wife if she's all God allows us to have. It isn't suggested that we could seek other women if we want to. Rather, we're told to be satisfied with her throughout our life. Solomon's answer to sexual temptation is monogamy with the wife of your youth, not polygamy. Bruce Waltke cites Proverbs 5 as an illustration of 1 Corinthians 7:4-5 and writes that "Marriage is here thought of as strongly monogamous." (The Book Of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004], pp. 317, 321) Proverbs 5:17 refers to your wife being yours alone, which can only be monogamy, and the wife is referred to as satisfying the husband's sexual thirst, which is, again, monogamy. The woman is to meet the man's sexual desires "at all times" and "always" (Proverbs 5:19), which, again, can only be monogamy. Solomon is referring to sexual relations, so he can't be saying that a husband is to be always satisfied with his first wife, even as he's having sex with his second, third, and fourth wives. Similarly, Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 9:9 about how one wife is the reward a man is given, as if he should be satisfied with her alone.

I think there are plausible alternative interpretations to the Old Testament passages people often cite in support of polygamy. See, for example, Walter Kaiser's comments in Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1991). However, even if we were to conclude that polygamy was allowed in Old Testament times, the evidence against it in the New Testament era doesn't allow us to consider polygamy acceptable today.

17 comments:

  1. Oh no! Another bloody non-believer wrote a posting over at Debunking Christianity! Quick, Jason to the rescue! Damage control! Damage control!

    You really showed 'em, Jason!

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  2. Note that the "Scripture never explicitly condemns polygamy" meme is also often used by Catholic writers to make the argument "... therefore, so much for Sola Scriptura".

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  3. Ted, you know very well, since you read this blog all the time, that they have explicitly intended to respond to DC. Steve gives his reasons here:

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/07/why-debunk-debunkers.html

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  4. Jason,

    Did you know that when Jesus returns he will allow polygamy? Here's the explanation, There will be so many men killed during the tribulation that the ratio of women to men will be 7:1. They will be killed because they will come against Israel and Jesus himself. Every one who takes the mark of the beast will die. You won't be able to join an army unless you have the mark. Consequently it is mainly men who will die.
    Read Isaiah 3:25 to 4:3 very carefully, and answer these questions when you are done;

    Who is initiating this polygamous system? (The men, the Lord, or the Women?)

    Who is the beneficiary of this system? (The men or the women?)

    Who is the Branch?

    In verse 4:3 who are those identified as holy?

    Are these the same men who have seven wives in verse 1?

    Is this passage related to Daniel 11:37 and the desire of women?

    If God had said that polygamy was wrong then how could he bless it during the millennium? Wouldn't he be accused of being inconsistent? Hypocritical?

    In verse 2 does the phrase "in that day" indicate that the events of verse 2 are simultaneous with the events of verse 1? Doesn't that same phrase in verse 1 indicate that the events of that verse are a direct result of the previous verses?

    Here it is;
    "Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war.
    26 And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.
    4:1 And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.
    2 In that day shall the branch of the LORD be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.
    3 And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem:

    Did you know that Jeremiah 3 indicates that the Lord considers himself a polygamist? Go read it yourself. He is married to two sisters, Israel and Judah. Today he is betrothed to a third wife, the church!

    Those who say polygamy is immoral are leaning on their own understanding and not on the word of God.

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  5. Help me out here, aside from not knowing any "early church father" who is in favor of polygamy, when exactly is it that the first "early church father" makes an overt statement against it, and of course, WHO makes that statement.

    If you have more than one of course, that would be helpful. It would be my contention that the farther away you get from a living apostle and an active teaching against polygamy, the weaker the case gets.

    Ideally you would have two or more of them saying they learned this doctrine FROM an apostle or at least someone who knew an apostle teaching actively against it.

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  6. Daniel,

    You've ignored the evidence I've cited and have tried to turn our attention to a dubious reading of Isaiah 3-4 and Jeremiah 3 instead. If you want us to accept your reading of those two passages, then tell us how you reconcile that reading with the evidence I've cited.

    In Isaiah 3-4, the women being discussed are an illustration of how Israel will suffer for its sins. Read the surrounding context. It's something bad, not something good, for seven women to have only one man to care for them after a devastating war (Isaiah 3:25-26). Their situation is so bad that they even offer to provide their own food and clothing, which is contrary to the expected provision of the man. Their situation is desperate and shameful, not some sort of ideal. The text tells us what the women will do, but it doesn't tell us that what they're doing is acceptable or that the man will accept the offer. You've pointed to the phrase "in that day" in Isaiah 4:1 and 4:2, but that phrase can refer to any future time period, such as the eschatological Day of the Lord, not necessarily a twenty-four-hour period of time. A long series of events is associated with the eschatological Day of the Lord, for example, even though the term "day" is sometimes associated with a twenty-four-hour period. Even if all of the events in question would occur within twenty-four hours, it doesn't follow that the women of Isaiah 4:1 are acting in accordance with the holiness described in Isaiah 4:2-3. As verse 4 tells us, there will be a purification that occurs. How do you supposedly know that the actions of the women in verse 1 represent how women will behave after the purification has occurred?

    Jeremiah 3 is addressing Israel after the division of the kingdom. Sometimes Israel as a whole is referred to as the wife of God. Other times the father-child image is used (Jeremiah 3:4, Hosea 11:1). Once Israel was divided, as a result of sin, there would be multiple entities who could be called God's wife or child in some sense. Thus, the imagery might be adjusted in some way. Or even without the involvement of sin, it would sometimes be useful to differentiate between different segments of Israel. Sometimes they acted differently than one another, or there would be some other reason to distinguish among them. The resulting implication of multiple wives, if the implication is intended, would be a result of sin in this context. Using the passage to justify polygamy would be similar to using the comparison between Christ's return and the coming of a thief in the night as some sort of endorsement of theft. God can be similar to a man with multiple wives in some sense without an endorsement of polygamy being intended. Scripture often compares God to something sinful or deficient in some other way as an illustration, as we see sometimes in Jesus' parables, for example. Ezekiel 23, a passage similar to Jeremiah 3, has God married to two sisters, which would violate Leviticus 18:18. Neither Jeremiah 3 nor Ezekiel 23 is intended to describe an ideal or even something acceptable for anybody to practice. Rather, God is being compared to a man in a particular marriage situation, even if the situation is problematic. Neither passage is meant to endorse the practice of entering into such a situation. As Daniel Block puts it, "The present image is artificially created in accordance with the requirements of the allegory." (The Book Of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1997], p. 736) Some other allegory could have been chosen, but sometimes an allegory that could have unwanted negative implications is chosen anyway, perhaps because other aspects of the allegory (its shock value or the ease with which people could identify with it, for example) outweigh its drawbacks.

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  7. The Pharisee wrote:

    "Help me out here, aside from not knowing any 'early church father' who is in favor of polygamy, when exactly is it that the first 'early church father' makes an overt statement against it, and of course, WHO makes that statement. If you have more than one of course, that would be helpful. It would be my contention that the farther away you get from a living apostle and an active teaching against polygamy, the weaker the case gets. Ideally you would have two or more of them saying they learned this doctrine FROM an apostle or at least someone who knew an apostle teaching actively against it."

    See my comments on the church fathers, as well as the sources I've cited who comment on the fathers, above. I agree that the situation you describe, with historical sources telling us that they received their view of polygamy from an apostle, is better than a situation in which a historical source gives us his view without saying that he received that view in the manner you've described. And we can think of even better scenarios. But the issue here isn't what would be ideal. Rather, the issue is what the historical evidence we have suggests, regardless of whether the evidence is what we'd like it to be. The evidence suggests that the Old Testament, Jesus, and the apostles opposed polygamy, for reasons I've explained above. I don't recall reading any passage in the fathers, or reading of one, in which they make comments along the lines of what you describe above. They rarely do that on any issue. But the evidence doesn't have to meet up to your ideal in order for it to be sufficient to make my point. And the comments of sources like Justin Martyr and Irenaeus suggest that there was widespread opposition to polygamy in their day and earlier, which puts us back to the time when disciples of the apostles were still alive.

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  8. Jason,

    Justin Martyr (Flavius Iustinus) (100–165)
    Theophilus of Antioch, deceased approximately 183-185
    Athenagoras of Athens (133-190)
    Saint Irenaeus (2nd century AD - c. 202)
    Saint Clement of Alexandria (Flavius Clemens) (150-211/216)
    Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, (Tertullian) (160–220)

    And you say:

    "I agree that the situation you describe, with historical sources telling us that they received their view of polygamy from an apostle, is better than a situation in which a historical source gives us his view without saying that he received that view in the manner you've described."

    The problem is that it's not just better, it is not allowed. None of these men received their doctrine in a way that is acceptable testimony. If for instance Flavius Iustinus says, "I spoke to thus and so witness, and then again, this witness and that witness, who knew John, and they testify that John decried polygyny" then we have the beginning of a very strong case. Instead we have no such witness, and so what we do in fact have, is a witness to early heresy, if it can in fact be shown, that polygyny was viewed as being in some way, acceptable. And you agree that it existed in the early church. I am thankful you do not accept the Pollyanna view that many embrace, that because it's not mentioned, it didn't exist. That puts the entire New Testament in a polygnous backdrop, despite the fact that you contend it was infrequent. I would remind you that those occupying the office of elder probably represented an "infrequent" occurrence as well.

    And you say;

    "The evidence suggests that the Old Testament, Jesus, and the apostles opposed polygamy, for reasons I've explained above."

    And;

    "The significant point, as far as the Gospel text [Matthew 19] is concerned, is that this variant text is used very self-consciously, with the additional comment [Matthew 19:5] 'So they are no longer two but one' emphasizing the presence of the word 'two.'...Both [the gospel of] Mark and the Damascus Document [a document critical of polygamy] cite exactly the same portion of Genesis 1:27, and they both precede the quotation with a very similar phrase."

    There are a few other things you touch on. I deal with Matthew 19.

    I assume we both accept that the human author of Genesis was Moses, though we agree he was witness to none of the events in Genesis. Deuteronomy may have been written before Genesis, but are definitely written in the same narrow time frame.

    This sets up an interesting situation. Genesis 2:24 is written by divine inspiration bestowed on Moses. Much of what Moses wrote was not just divine inspiration, it was direct transcription.

    So we have the same time period of writing.

    The same human author, Moses.

    The same dispensation (if any) because of the time frame.

    We don’t even know which book was written first. There is excellent reason to believe that Moses may even have authored Genesis, already having the revelation of Deuteronomy in the form of dictation from God.

    In this context, instructions are given to those getting married in the present, at least from Moses’ perspective. Genesis 2:24 is not so much written as a description of Adam and Eve as it is instructions to the sinful now marrying. Evidence? Adam does not leave father and mother.

    So, same word, same time frame, same source, same author. The word ish·shä’ (אשה) is used and it is declared that a man is (not might be, or ought to be or most often is) “one flesh” with his ish·shä’ (אשה).

    So we then go to Deuteronomy 21:15 which is The LORD speaking. Not that I would ever say scripture contains mistakes, but this is about as certain as you can get. The LORD speaks directly to his witness/author/transcriptionist Moses, who is like Christ according to scripture, Christ and Moses being prophets of the same sort.

    The LORD says this “If a man has two ish·shä’ (אשה).”

    This is the word, in its context and usage. The conclusion is iron clad and logical.

    There is simply no doubt about it. You are “one flesh” with your ish·shä’ (אשה). You can, according to the LORD himself, have two ish·shä’ (אשה) at the very same time.

    Since there is utterly no doubt that a one flesh condition exists if you have an ish·shä’ (אשה), you of necessity, have to be one flesh, with both of them, at the same time. This originalist meaning is fixed.

    Christ quotes Genesis 2:24 and says “From the beginning” indicating that at that time, through Deuteronomy, and up until the time of Christ, it meant exactly the same thing all the time. The LORD could not have uttered the words he uttered in Deuteronomy, if polygyny is despised or taught against in the Old Testament, because the meaning never changes. Jesus drags a plumb line from Genesis, through Deuteronomy to Matthew 19.

    How could you have two ish·shä’ (אשה) in Deuteronomy 21, which are words out of The LORD’s own mouth, if nothing changes? Answer? Nothing changed. If marriage and monogamy are one in the same per Genesis 2:24 (and thus Matthew 19), then The LORD lies in Deuteronomy 21:15.

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  9. I said: "The problem is that it's not just better, it is not allowed.." and should have put it this way. "It's not just better to have the testimony I suggest, it is not allowed to take hearsay."

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  10. The Pharisee wrote:

    "It's not just better to have the testimony I suggest, it is not allowed to take hearsay."

    That's an assertion, not an argument. Marriage is a subject Jesus and the apostles discussed, and polygamy existed in the context of their day, both in theory and practice. Marriage is a common occurrence. If Jesus and the apostles advocated or allowed polygamy, it's likely that we would see that fact not only reflected in the historical record, but also reflected explicitly and often. But it isn't. Instead, polygamy is widely condemned. If you want to argue that those who condemned it were departing from apostolic teaching, then you can argue for that position, but it doesn't make sense to deny that the widespread condemnation of polygamy among the early patristic sources adds weight to the conclusion that the apostles didn't support the practice of polygamy.

    What's your definition of "hearsay"? Why would a patristic claim to have heard something from a disciple of an apostle be acceptable testimony, but the widespread rejection of polygamy by people who claimed to be interested in preserving apostolic testimony isn't acceptable? Why would somebody like Irenaeus have to say that he received his rejection of polygamy from Polycarp or some other disciple of the apostles? Why can't we conclude that the widespread rejection of polygamy is better explained by an apostolic rejection of polygamy than an apostolic acceptance of the practice? Yes, it would be better evidence if people like Irenaeus claimed to get their view of the issue from a disciple of the apostles, but their testimony is evidence for my position either way. As I said before, my evidence doesn't have to meet your ideal standard in order to qualify as evidence. Men like Justin and Irenaeus lived at a time when disciples of the apostles were still alive. Which position, mine or yours, better accounts for the rejection of polygamy among such sources? Mine does. If neither of us has the sort of ideal evidence you're asking for, then we should ask who has the next best thing. I do.

    You write:

    "I am thankful you do not accept the Pollyanna view that many embrace, that because it's not mentioned, it didn't exist. That puts the entire New Testament in a polygnous backdrop, despite the fact that you contend it was infrequent."

    I don't know what significance you're attaching to the existence of polygamy in New Testament and patristic times. For reasons I've explained above, the existence of polygamy during those times makes it more difficult, not less difficult, to argue for the acceptability of the practice. When Jesus and the apostles advocated marriage consisting of only two people, they didn't do so just because they were living in a societal context that had no polygamy. Rather, they advocated two-person marriage in a context in which polygamy was widely discussed and sometimes practiced.

    You write:

    "How could you have two ish·shä’ (אשה) in Deuteronomy 21, which are words out of The LORD’s own mouth, if nothing changes? Answer? Nothing changed. If marriage and monogamy are one in the same per Genesis 2:24 (and thus Matthew 19), then The LORD lies in Deuteronomy 21:15."

    Walter Kaiser addresses Deuteronomy 21 and other passages often cited in favor of polygamy in his book that I cited above. Kaiser presents evidence that the passage you're citing is referring to a man who has had two wives consecutively, not at the same time.

    But the Mosaic law makes provision for many situations that result from sin. Kaiser cites the example of money used to pay for a prostitute (Deuteronomy 23:18). The fact that such a situation is addressed doesn't mean that it's condoned.

    Even if it was condoned, the fact that polygamy was allowed at that time wouldn't change the fact that the evidence suggests that Jesus and the apostles didn't allow it. Whether something related to marriage can change over time - the marriage ceremony, who can participate in a marriage, when divorce can occur, or something else - is something that has to be judged case-by-case. We don't just assume that because Jesus refers to some continuity in Matthew 19, then He must have been saying that everything related to marriage will always be the same. Jesus was referring to continuity in a particular context. You can't transfer His comments to other contexts He wasn't addressing directly or by any logical implication. As I explained above, what Jesus seems to be referring to as existing from the beginning is two-person marriage. To argue that polygamy must always be acceptable, then, since it's mentioned in Deuteronomy 21, doesn't make sense. In fact, you're standing the passage on its head. Jesus argues for two-person marriage, placing emphasis on the word "two", and you're making it out to be a reference to the ongoing legitimacy of polygamy. That's unreasonable.

    And I don't know why you kept emphasizing the concept of one flesh when discussing Genesis 2 and Matthew 19. I mentioned a few reasons why Jesus seems to be siding with the anti-polygamists of His day in Matthew 19. The one flesh concept wasn't one of those reasons.

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  11. Jason,

    Not taking hearsay is an assertion of scripture. "One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established." (Deuteronomy 19:15) It is repeated in Matthew 18:16: "But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established." If Justin Martyr decries polygyny and does so asserting it to be a doctrine learned from an apostle, he must do so with two or three witnesses, so that every word may be established. I do the "monogamy only" doctrine a favor to call it hearsay, since I don't believe the claim to be made by Justin actually.

    Without the writings of an apostle or the claimed witness of a doctrine of an apostle, I must consider the doctrine heresy actually. A well established heresy, by heresy nonetheless. You acknowledge polygyny to be an extant practice. An extant practice with no chastening is an acceptable practice, particularly in view of it's long history. We know from Paul's writings that heresies crept in to the churches immediately. He was stamping them out from the moment he left a church. If this is the case, why do we revere this doctrine because it is "widespread" as a true doctrine? The failure to enunciate it as a doctrine more or less condemns the later adoption of a monogamy preference as the creep of heresy. This is not surprising in view of the fact that culturally, Romans already believed in monogamy, since you had to be monogamous (or single) to be a citizen.

    You said:

    "Walter Kaiser addresses Deuteronomy 21 and other passages often cited in favor of polygamy in his book that I cited above. Kaiser presents evidence that the passage you're citing is referring to a man who has had two wives consecutively, not at the same time."

    This is a dodge. Why does the LORD offer us other such scenarios forbidding the marriage of a man to both daughter and mother (ever) and sisters at the same time? Why does the LORD while still in the same breath from giving the Ten Commandments turn and regulate the "duty of marriage" to a concubine, giving her a right to it in the presence of other wives? Clearly throughout the Old Testament there is an acceptance of polygyny as a practice so much so that the LORD sees fit to regulate it on several occasions. God tells David through Nathan that he gave him wives, and would have given him more. Jehoiada gives two wives to Joash and Joash is said to "do right" all the days of Jehoiada. In the sort of universally applicable language of the law which would clearly have applied more in the case of polygyny than in serial marriage, you assert that the LORD says this specifically as a law to govern sequential marriage? I think both you and Walter Kaiser seriously overstep. The LORD takes particular care to describe marrying sisters only when one is living, and not the other, and takes care to forbid marrying mother and daughter regardless of whether one lives or not. This is grasping. I would personally be more worried about what calamity such lawyering would bring you in regards to speaking for God, than I would be about the allowances this makes for polygyny. You go where you ought not go and speak for God, who speaks for himself.

    Telling a people not to take the hire of a whore hardly endorses whoredom. I am astounded that you elevate yourself above a man, Jehoaiada, who reads the original language of the Law, who has the tablets of stone on which they are written, who is a champion of the faith, who in that intimate knowledge of the law, chooses to give two wives to Joash. I must tell you that I find that to be a casual arrogance. There is always the matter of Lamech, who though you may disparage him, is said to have two concurrent wives. Does the WORD of God lie? Jacob and his wives cross the Jabbok, does the WORD of God lie? Esau does not take "wives?" Abraham has concurrent wives, this is proved because his wife and "concubines" are described as wives in at least one passage. Kaiser drifts far out of the context and clear allowance of this law to deal with concurrent wives, to arrive at the conclusion he is not permitted to draw, that two wives are sinful at the time of Moses, and that Moses (who had two wives or more) doesn't get that after facing God and that the law he pens at God's dictation meant "two wives" (but only sequentially). Do I get to lawyer this into favoring the son of the loved if I end up with THREE wives during my lifetime?

    Furthermore, I cannot understand how in speaking of making the "two, one" that Christ excludes becoming "One" out of another two later. You may prefer to think that the "one" that the "two" became" is something of a new person that then can't perform the same operation again, but I don't see how that is a logical conclusion. You essentially have two blobs of mercury merging to one, and then say that can't happen again. You depend on "one flesh" equaling "monogamy" and it simply doesn't.

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  12. Jason,

    To do your argument justice, I spent a considerable time in study that was in fact very illuminating.

    This is what I found. Moses uses shen·ah'·yim (שנים) ish·shä'(אשה) in Deuteronomy 21:15 as opposed to shā·nē'(שני) which means "second, again, or another, other" or something as distinct from something else. The term shen·ah'·yim (שנים) is used quite a few times in scripture, but I could not find an instance of it's use in Torah where it was meant to describe two persons in sequence. It was always two persons or animals or objects, together. It seems to mean "both and/or together" as in "two of something in one place."

    It is interesting that there is a specific Hebrew word shā·nē'(שני) to denote something that occurs in sequence, and Moses and God both, do not use it. Had the passage in Deuteronomy 21:15 been meant to denote two things happening one after the other, there was a word for that, and that word was not used. It is significant which word was chosen two describe two wives, a word that is often translated to mean both together or with or at the same time.

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  13. The Pharisee said:

    "If Justin Martyr decries polygyny and does so asserting it to be a doctrine learned from an apostle, he must do so with two or three witnesses, so that every word may be established."

    How are you getting from the passages in Deuteronomy and Matthew that you cited, regarding legal standards in ancient Israel and church discipline, to what's permitted in a consideration of evidence in a discussion in an online forum? Do you want us to believe that you never accept any claim that doesn't come from an original source or an eyewitness to that original source? Do you only believe that Matthew wrote the gospel you're citing, for example, if two or more disciples of the apostles say so in extant writings? Do you realize how many historical claims you accept that don't meet such a standard?

    Here's what you said earlier:

    "If you have more than one of course, that would be helpful. It would be my contention that the farther away you get from a living apostle and an active teaching against polygamy, the weaker the case gets. Ideally you would have two or more of them saying they learned this doctrine FROM an apostle or at least someone who knew an apostle teaching actively against it."

    You said earlier that more than one such source would be "helpful", whereas you now say that it's required. You said that the case would get "weaker" as we move further from the time of the apostles. You didn't say that any source who didn't know the apostles would be valueless. Rather, you suggested that their testimony would be of lesser value. If Polycarp can provide evidence of John's views, why can't Irenaeus provide evidence of Polycarp's views? I agree with the general principle that such testimony loses value with the passing of time, but it doesn't make sense to claim that the testimony of somebody like Irenaeus has no value.

    For reasons I explained earlier, it's probable that polygamy was an issue that came up in many contexts in apostolic times and among the earliest patristic Christians. Somebody like Justin Martyr or Irenaeus doesn't have to be a disciple of the apostles in order to have been aware of what the disciples of the apostles and apostolic churches were teaching and practicing concerning polygamy.

    And it's not as though you're citing disciples of the apostles in support of your position. Not only do you not have that sort of evidence, but you also don't have anything comparable to the other types of evidence I've cited. I cited evidence from Jesus and the apostles, and I cited widespread patristic evidence. You've cited nothing from either of those categories, in addition to your failure to cite any disciples of the apostles. Objecting that I haven't cited disciples of the apostles doesn't make sense. Complaining that I don't have more evidence doesn't change the fact that I have more evidence than you have.

    You write:

    "I do the 'monogamy only' doctrine a favor to call it hearsay, since I don't believe the claim to be made by Justin actually."

    Are you saying that you don't think that Justin actually said what I attributed to him? If so, where's your evidence? If not, then what are you saying?

    You write:

    "Without the writings of an apostle or the claimed witness of a doctrine of an apostle, I must consider the doctrine heresy actually."

    I did cite apostolic writings. But even if I hadn't, how does it follow that the position in question must be "heresy"? The apostles didn't teach that Trajan was a Roman emperor. Does it follow that it's heresy to believe that Trajan was a Roman emperor?

    You write:

    "An extant practice with no chastening is an acceptable practice, particularly in view of it's long history."

    I've documented that the practice is condemned by Old Testament authors, Jesus, the apostles, and patristic sources. How does that not qualify as "chastening"? And where's the chastening of those who opposed polygamy?

    You write:

    "We know from Paul's writings that heresies crept in to the churches immediately. He was stamping them out from the moment he left a church. If this is the case, why do we revere this doctrine because it is 'widespread' as a true doctrine?"

    I didn't say that a doctrine is true just because it's widespread. But the widespread nature of the doctrine is one line of evidence among others. The possibility that all of these sources were departing from apostolic teaching doesn't make such a scenario the best explanation of the data. A possibility isn't a probability. The post-apostolic sources I cited are early, geographically diverse, theologically diverse, diverse in their backgrounds, diverse in their personalities, etc. And I didn't just cite post-apostolic sources. I also cited Old Testament authors, Jesus, and the apostles.

    You write:

    "This is not surprising in view of the fact that culturally, Romans already believed in monogamy, since you had to be monogamous (or single) to be a citizen."

    You're ignoring my documentation of the existence of polygamy in theory and in practice in apostolic times. We have early evidence of Christian rejection of polygamy in areas where polygamy was considered socially acceptable and was practiced. You keep ignoring evidence I've already presented.

    You write:

    "Why does the LORD offer us other such scenarios forbidding the marriage of a man to both daughter and mother (ever) and sisters at the same time?"

    How is that relevant?

    You write:

    "God tells David through Nathan that he gave him wives, and would have given him more."

    As I said with regard to Deuteronomy 21, even if we accepted your reading of the passage, it wouldn't change the evidence against polygamy in the New Testament era. But your reading of 2 Samuel 12 needs to be argued, not just asserted. Verse 8 is referring to possessions in general, not just wives. The "I would have added to you many more" is a reference to possessions taken as a category, not a reference to each item within the larger category. Some of the items, such as "the house of Israel and Judah" couldn't possibly be multiplied. Given Deuteronomy 17:17, your suggestion that God was saying that He would have given "many more" wives is dubious. The wives mentioned in 2 Samuel 12:8 are given into David's care along with other possessions passed on from one monarch to another. They're a reflection of David's status. We aren't told whether God intended David to treat them as his wives or only to care for them as part of what was passed on to him from Saul. One of Saul's wives was the mother of Michal, a wife of David (1 Samuel 18:27). If David took a wife's mother as another wife, it would be a violation of Leviticus 18:17. 2 Samuel 12 makes more sense as merely a reference to women who passed from the household of Saul to the household of David. They reflect David's status, but they don't represent a Divine approval of polygamy.

    You write:

    "Jehoiada gives two wives to Joash and Joash is said to 'do right' all the days of Jehoiada."

    Similar comments are made about other men known to have sinned (Asa, 2 Chronicles 14:2, 16:10-12, 20:32-33; Jotham, 2 Kings 15:34-35; etc.). It's a description of the bent, the general direction, of a life, not a reference to sinlessness. After the statement about "doing right" in 2 Kings 12:2, verse 3 refers to an exception. And the 2 Chronicles 24 account doesn't tell us whether the wives were given consecutively or at the same time.

    You write:

    "In the sort of universally applicable language of the law which would clearly have applied more in the case of polygyny than in serial marriage, you assert that the LORD says this specifically as a law to govern sequential marriage?"

    How would it "apply more in the case of polygamy", and how do you know that Deuteronomy must be addressing a situation to which it would "apply more"? And I said more about that passage in Deuteronomy than what you're addressing. You keep responding to some portions of what I've said while ignoring other portions. Your approach toward this issue is far too selective to be convincing.

    You write:

    "The LORD takes particular care to describe marrying sisters only when one is living, and not the other, and takes care to forbid marrying mother and daughter regardless of whether one lives or not."

    You need to cite the passages you have in mind, so that we can judge whether you're representing them accurately. And what's the relevance of these passages you're referring to above? Explain your reasoning in more detail. I don't see where you're going with this.

    You write:

    "You go where you ought not go and speak for God, who speaks for himself."

    If I'm improperly "speaking for God" by arguing for my interpretations of scripture, then why shouldn't we conclude that you're doing the same?

    You write:

    "Telling a people not to take the hire of a whore hardly endorses whoredom."

    And telling people how to handle the consequences of polygamy hardly endorses polygamy.

    You write:

    "I am astounded that you elevate yourself above a man, Jehoaiada, who reads the original language of the Law, who has the tablets of stone on which they are written, who is a champion of the faith, who in that intimate knowledge of the law, chooses to give two wives to Joash. I must tell you that I find that to be a casual arrogance."

    I find your disregard for the evidence I've cited, much of which you've ignored or dismissed as a widespread heresy of the early Christians, more arrogant than anything I've said.

    You write:

    "There is always the matter of Lamech, who though you may disparage him, is said to have two concurrent wives."

    I know where the passage is, but you need to give passage references, so that the readers will more easily be able to evaluate your claims. Lamech is referred to as a man from the line of Cain who meets a fate similar to Cain's (Genesis 4:23-24). He's portrayed in a negative manner. Why should we conclude that his polygamy is acceptable?

    You write:

    "Jacob and his wives cross the Jabbok, does the WORD of God lie? Esau does not take 'wives?' Abraham has concurrent wives, this is proved because his wife and 'concubines' are described as wives in at least one passage."

    I never suggested that polygamy didn't sometimes occur. The patriarchs also lied sometimes, for example. They were sinners. Nehemiah 8:13-17 refers to a neglect of the Mosaic law that occurred for hundreds of years, even among the most godly Israelites. There aren't many cases of polygamy relative to the number of people discussed during the Old Testament era, and the cases of polygamy that are discussed are frequently associated with problems related to that polygamy. More significantly, there are many Old Testament, New Testament, and patristic passages that condemn polygamy, which you've largely ignored or dismissed without much of an argument.

    You write:

    "Furthermore, I cannot understand how in speaking of making the 'two, one' that Christ excludes becoming 'One' out of another two later."

    You keep misrepresenting the arguments you're responding to. If the anti-polygamists of Jesus' day cited the number two as one of their arguments, the fact that you disagree with their reasoning doesn't change the fact that it was an anti-polygamist argument. Do you want us to believe that Jesus was using an anti-polygamist rendering of Genesis without an intention of siding with the anti-polygamists? That's not the more natural way of interpreting the passage.

    And why would a polygamist use the number two? Polygamy could take place between two people at a time, but it could also take place with three, four, etc. The number two is better explained by monogamy, especially when the citation of the number two when discussing that passage in Genesis was being used by anti-polygamists at the time.

    You write:

    "The term shen·ah'·yim (שנים) is used quite a few times in scripture, but I could not find an instance of it's use in Torah where it was meant to describe two persons in sequence. It was always two persons or animals or objects, together. It seems to mean 'both and/or together' as in 'two of something in one place.'"

    You're going to need to do more than cite your own undocumented analysis. I trust a source like Walter Kaiser more than I trust you.

    The term you're referring to is used in Exodus 4:9 to refer to consecutive signs, not simultaneous ones. Deuteronomy 10:1 refers to the two tablets Moses made. I doubt that he made both at the same time. Deuteronomy 17:6 refers to two witnesses. I doubt that they had to be witnesses at the same time or testify at the same time. If one witness began seeing an event two seconds after another, would they not qualify as two witnesses? Or would they need to testify at the same time, so that those listening to their testimony would have to listen to both speaking simultaneously?

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  14. The words from men seem to be all but endless. Perhaps it is time to consider the words of our Lord and Savior Yeshua Messiah himself, or the lack thereof.

    I find it VERY interesting that there is a mountain of evidence that polygyny was widely practiced when Jesus walked the face of the earth among us. Yet not once did He even address the situation, much less criticize or condemn it.

    Justin Martyr (103-165 AD) in his Dialogue with Trypho commented that the followers of Judaism advocate and engage in polygamy "over all the earth, wherever they sojourn".

    Wouldn't you think that the "hideous sin" of polygyny would have been addressed by the Lord Himself?

    Matthew 8:11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,

    1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

    So Abraham and Jacob are in the kingdom, yet the sexually immoral and adulterers are not…hmmm

    The Christian and Catholic monogamy doctrine is nothing less than a doctrine of demons. Satan is the father of all lies, and the monogamy only doctrine IS obviously a lie. Polygyny has never been a sin or sinful, and it is not a sin or sinful to this very day.

    Polygyny (pol-ij-in-e) (from neo-Greek: πολύ poly - "many", and γυνή gyny - "woman or wife")[1] is a form of marriage in which a man has two or more wives at the same time.

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  15. Scarecrow,

    Apparently, you either didn't read all of the posts before yours in this thread or you chose to ignore what you had read. I gave examples of how Jesus and other Biblical figures addressed and condemned polygamy. I also cited more from Justin Martyr and other patristic sources than you have. The patristic evidence is a major problem for your position.

    Your citation of the presence of the patriarchs in Heaven, despite their polygamy, is a bad argument. The patriarchs, as well as later men like David, were involved in other types of behavior that you presumably would agree are sinful, like lying, adultery, and murder. Passages like 1 Corinthians 6 are addressing general behavioral tendencies. They aren't saying that anybody who ever commits any of those sins won't go to Heaven. A passage like 1 Corinthians 6 assumes that no mitigating factors are involved. But we know that there were mitigating factors with somebody like Abraham. His involvement in various sins was accompanied by faith in God and a general lifestyle of repentance and sanctification.

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  16. Jason,

    Like most "Monogamy only" proponents, you ignore counter arguments and return with the ones usually dealt with, and assert them again.

    Jesus simply doesn't condemn Polygyny, Justin Martyr in my book is simply an old idiot. There was error in the early churches as early as the day Paul hit the road to plant another. Simply citing and Old Fool doesn't do anything to bolster your position. What it does do is document that polygyny as a practiced survived in the church through the period that Paul planted them and was extant when Justin Martyr was around.

    David was NEVER chided for his Polygamy. Simply saying that David committed the "Sin of Murder" doesn't equate to David committing the "Sin of Polygamy."

    1st Corinthians 6 says NOTHING about Polygamy or Polygyny. I departed this thread a while ago because it was like beating my head against the wall.

    There remains no condemnation whatsoever of polygyny anywhere in scripture, and there are at least two commands in the Law of God as given to Moses that occasionally compelled it.

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  17. The Pharisee wrote:

    "Like most 'Monogamy only' proponents, you ignore counter arguments and return with the ones usually dealt with, and assert them again."

    Anybody can scroll the screen up to see who did the ignoring.

    You write:

    "Jesus simply doesn't condemn Polygyny, Justin Martyr in my book is simply an old idiot. There was error in the early churches as early as the day Paul hit the road to plant another. Simply citing and Old Fool doesn't do anything to bolster your position. What it does do is document that polygyny as a practiced survived in the church through the period that Paul planted them and was extant when Justin Martyr was around."

    You haven't demonstrated that my arguments concerning Jesus' view are wrong. Your assertion that Justin Martyr is "an old idiot" doesn't give us any reason to agree with your assessment. And Justin was addressing polygamy in Judaism, not polygamy in the church. Apparently, you don't have much familiarity with the passage you're commenting on. Furthermore, I cited more patristic evidence than the material in Justin Martyr. And the patristic evidence is more significant than you're suggesting. We use it to discern who wrote the New Testament documents and to establish many other conclusions about ancient history. Dismissing a source like Justin as "an old idiot", without any accompanying argument, is an absurd approach to take.

    You write:

    "Simply saying that David committed the 'Sin of Murder' doesn't equate to David committing the 'Sin of Polygamy.'"

    You've misrepresented my argument. I wasn't addressing whether David's sin of murder proves that his polygamy was sinful. Rather, I was addressing whether the condemnation of the sexually immoral in 1 Corinthians 6 proves that David's polygamy wasn't immoral. You should go back and reread my argument and its context.

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