If Polygamy Is Wrong, Why Does God Commend It?

image-2-22-17-at-6-18-pmNot only does God condone polygamy, the story goes, but he actively promotes it.

Exhibit A: The Lord’s words to King David in 2 Samuel 12.

7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8 And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’ (2Sm. 12:7-11).

Many of Israel’s rulers were polygamists–most in rebellion against God. Discrediting their marital choices, then, is not difficult. If the kings couldn’t figure out a stump was not celestial, surely they aren’t models of matrimony.

But there are three apparent exceptions. Solomon, Joash, and David were good kings– the latter being a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14).  Continue reading

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Is Polygamy Adultery?

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The first wife looks the least happy.

Groucho Marx once said: “I find television very educational. Every time someone turns it on, I go in the other room and read a book.”

When it comes to polygamy, I resonate with Marx. Every time someone talks about this matter, it forces me to dig into books, namely my Bible.

Phil Hunt is a friend and fellow missionary church planter up in Zambia. Recently he forwarded me a doctoral dissertation by Honoré Afolabi on polygamy. Having written a similar paper on the subject, I was anxious to read Afolabi’s work. I was not disappointed. The paper was excellent.

Afolabi took the majority of his time to show that polygamy is sinful and contrary to God’s plan. With this I wholeheartedly agree. We differ, however, on two basic questions: (1) Is polygamy adultery and (2) should active, converted polygamists be barred from church membership? Afolabi denies both; I affirm both. Here, I would like to address only the former. Continue reading

Why the Old Testament Doesn’t Rebuke Polygamy

One of the arguments people use to minimize the sinfulness of modern-day polygamy—especially in Africa—is the apparent blind eye God has towards it in the Old Testament. John Reisinger writes: “There is no instance in the Old Testament Scripture that suggests, in any way, that polygamy was a sin. This does not prove that polygamy was not a sin, but it does prove that God never treated it as a sin.” John Mbiti is even more direct:

Christians who uphold monogamy as the only acceptable form of marriage before God, tell us that this is what the Bible teaches. They go on to tell us that polygamy is a sin. I have searched the Bible carefully and one of the staggering things concerning marriage is that the Bible does not treat marriage in terms of either monogamy or polygamy.

Whether or not Scripture explicitly forbids polygamy is fodder for another day’s war. The issue here is whether God’s relative silence about the patriarch’s polygamy implies tacit approval. I say no. Here are some sins in Genesis by righteous people.

1)    Noah gets drunk (Gen. 9:21) – No rebuke from God.

2)    Abraham lies (12:10-20) – No rebuke. In fact, God punishes Pharaoh.

3)    Lot impregnates his daughters (19:30-38) – No rebuke

4)    Abraham lies again (20) – Abraham not rebuked…but Abimelech is!

5)    Jacob deceives his brother (25:31-33) – No rebuke

6)    Isaac lies (26:6-11) – No rebuke, but more blessings! (12)

7)    Jacob deceives father (27) – No rebuke, just more blessing (23)

8)    Jacob tricks Laban (31:20) – No rebuke

Assuming no one would use these stories to support drunkenness, incest, or dishonesty, why then polygamy? Surveying the other 38 books in the OT would bring endless more examples. The point is that God’s disapproval of polygamy in the OT is clear. It shouts at us, but not in propositional form. Rather, the narrative paints for us the ugly picture of family squabbles, marital tension, painful neglect, discarded children, broken promises and unquenched jealousy.

After all, we are never explicitly told that the prodigal son was wrong for squandering his wealth. Just look at the consequences.

The Polygamy Problem in Tsonga Culture

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President Zuma of South Africa has numerous wives in his harem

The South African Constitutional Court has recently decided that a Tsonga man who wants to take an additional bride must first receive permission from his first wife. This follows a lengthy court battle whereby the first widow of a polygamist wanted to void the marriage of the second widow because the first widow had never given her consent. Both marriages were finally recognized after the matter went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Since consent is the grid by which South Africa determines morality, government officials were tripping over themselves as they tried to explain the Supreme Court’s ruling. “If Ron can marry consenting Jim, then how can you allow this marriage if Ruth does not consent to July joining the harem? This line of argumentation proved too much for the powers that be, so they decided to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision.

We’re planting churches among the Tsonga people and there are scores of polygamists in our village, so I thought it would be helpful to do a series of posts regarding the biblical position on polygamy and how a minister should pastor polygamists.

There may be exceptions that allow for polygamy, something we will soon discuss, but without a doubt monogamy is God’s design for the human race. It took just over fifty verses before the author of Genesis began defining for us the meaning of marriage, and it is this passage to which we will turn next.