The Missionary Position Paper on Polygamy
by Brad Scott
I knew that sooner or later I would have to address the subject of polygamy, bigamy, and or otherwise, plural wives. I can always count on the observable fact that when there is a considerable stretch of reticence and routine in the Messianic world that soon someone will break the lull with the latest titillating, nobody ever thought of this before, resurrected truth. Before we even get a chance to get the last revelation out to more than fifty people, here comes another one. Personally, I am still working on getting out the message of the return to the laws and commandments of our Father. In my experience, we still have a ways to go with multitudes of people who still are not aware that Jesus was a Jew. I don't know. Are we just bored to death? Even if we suppose that this teaching is the Father's will, is now the time to fall all over ourselves to get that message out to the masses? Not only has this issue produced another divisive monkey wrench to complicate our lives, but I especially feel a deep sorrow for the children who are products of these unions who are doomed to go broke buying Mother's Day cards.
Most of you know how I feel about the end being revealed out of the beginning. My first response to an e-mail I received concerning this subject, was, "but from the beginning it was not so". Since then, I have perused the internet, read "The Position Paper", and have tallied up the various defenses of this teaching. The general premise? God never told us that it was a sin. If it was good enough for Jacob, it is good enough for me. The more I researched, the more I was drawn to the apologetic of this practice. I soon found myself staring out the window pondering such a thing. Their inductive and deductive reasoning was soon overwhelming and I found myself mentally adding to their premise. I was soon speaking out verses that they had not thought of. My testosterone levels began to rise as I yelled out "Yes! Yes! if it was good enough for David, it is good enough for me!" Then Carol walked into the room.
I understand that this is a very serious issue to some. Is it God's will that righteous men on this earth have more than one wife? All of the treatises of this issue that I have seen readily confess that there is no commandment from our Father and Teacher to take upon yourself more than one wife. The issue does indeed seem to be that God has left it as optional. Men may or may not have more than one wife depending on their own personal ability to be able to support and nourish multiple wives. Is this what the Scriptures teach? Let me begin by addressing an important part of this issue that also should be considered and applied to other similar controversial topics. There is a significant difference between description and prescription/proscription. All of the Bible is descriptive, but not all of what takes place is prescriptive or proscriptive. Prescriptive means a laying down of a law or an order. Proscriptive means the condemning of some one or some thing. Because the Scriptures are completely open, forthright and many times transparent in describing the lives of godly men, does not mean they are always prescribing their behavior or lifestyle. This is especially true of someone like David, who, although he is described as a man after God's own heart, has a life filled with everything from feigning lunacy to arranging someone's murder. I am already guilty of the former. The Scriptures describes all of David's actions but does not prescribe all of his actions.
Here are some of the most oft quoted passages that are supposed to be the proof texts for plural wives, other than the recounting of the lives of Abraham, Jacob, David or Solomon. By the way, most of you are probably aware of the fact that I live in Utah. So this is not my first rodeo with respect to this subject.
Shemot (Exodus) 21:1-10Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them. If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever. And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.
Vayiqera (Leviticus) 18:18Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.
Shemu’el Bet (2 Samuel) 12:7-8And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith YHVH ’Elohiym of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master's house, and they master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.
Devariym (Deuteronomy) 21:15If a man have two wives, one beloved and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn:
These are some of the examples of texts that are used by those who espouse (pun intended) this teaching. The text of Shemot 21 begins with the judgments that YHVH has set before the children of Israel. The word specifically used here is shoftiym and translated as judgments. This word is used, as opposed to mitzvot (commandments), chuqqiym (ordinances, statutes), or torot (laws), for a particular reason. Just after Israel, as an homogeneous group of people, are established at Mt. Sinai, YHVH knows that there will now be a plethora of judicial possibilities given to such a large group of people. Up to this point, YHVH has been focusing on the individual families of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Judgments are the result of those things that go awry and are brought before a judge or magistrate. There will be disputes over boundaries, cows that have gotten out of their pastures, men and women who will bash each other over the head with empty Egyptian beer bottles, daughters gored by an ox, rebellious sons, and other general problems in the hood. All kinds of matters will now open up and be presented before Moses and the elders. Many of these matters are preceded by the words kiy or 'im, which are translated as for or if. It appears that these words are used to express the fact that some things have already gone south, and here is my judgment. The same thought process holds true for Devariym 21:15, as well. Quite frankly, I am surprised that one of these judgments does not begin with "If a man has twelve mothers-in-law..."
The text of Vayiqera 18:18 is very closely related to the if and then statements, and concerns a man marrying his wife's sister while his wife is still alive. I am quite aware that none of the commentaries I have researched on this issue state that God commands us to have more than one wife. The apologetic concerns their view that YHVH never condemns it or calls it a sin. I would agree that reading the text just on the surface, the practice is not called a sin. However, what deeply troubles me is the kind of logic that concludes that this is an ordained, viable option. Most of the plural wives web sites state that the idea of monogamous (one man, one wife) marriage is a western concept and not a biblical teaching. They also teach that these monogamous relationships are the cause of the downfall of western cultures. But I thought that plural marriage was optional in God's eyes? Did the right hand forget what the left hand was teaching? Did some cultures select the wrong viable option?
I thought it might behoove us to take Yeshua‘’s suggestion in matters similar to this and go back to the beginning where it was not so. One of the apologetics I researched stated that the Hebrew word for the woman in the beginning should actually be translated as strength and not woman. As you can imagine, it was the mention of the word Hebrew that caught my attention. This individual was attempting to teach that the pattern for man, according to the Hebrew word ishshah translated as woman, which he admits is in the singular, is that the man is to marry a woman and cling to her, marry another woman and cling to her, marry another woman and cling to her, ad nauseum, infinitum. All these wives (plural) are collectively his strength (singular). Hmmmmm. Please allow me to segue (quickly leap to a related subject) here for just a moment. I have recently come to believe that I may be partially responsible for some of the absurd extrapolations of word meanings occasionally found in the Hebrew roots movement, or whatever we are calling ourselves today. Believe it nor not, sometimes I am accused of being a kabbalist. Yes, really. Now is not the time to dive into the details, but none the less, I am accused of this now and then. One of the demonstrative attributes of Kabbalism is the ability to take a simple, concrete statement of relatable, empirically verifiable facts and turn it into esoteric psycho-babble. In other words, contrary to what Paul reveals to us, they say that that which comes first is spiritual, then that which is natural. The dynamics of the absolute, perfect design of ancient Hebrew takes the unseen and puts it back into it's natural, creative setting so that we can relate to the unseen, so we can understand how we are to live and serve each other in a fallen world. I would ask some of these Bible expositors, using their interpretive methods, if the Creator wanted us to comprehend that in the beginning He created one man and one woman for each other, how is He supposed to get that across other than saying one man and one woman? Just in case the possibility existed that God really really did want to express marriage as one man and one woman, what other way could He have said it other than one man and one woman? Not only is ishshah in the singular, but everything else is in concord with the singular woman, as well. Rib is in the singular. Helpmate is in the singular. Now if the Father meant singular, how else could He have expressed it so it would be understood in the beginning to be in the singular other that putting them in the singular? And perhaps more importantly, when Yeshua‘ quotes from the beginning, He also keeps it in the singular.
Mattityahu (Matthew) 19:4And He answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female?
Not too long ago, I received an e-mail concerning this very section of Scripture. I was being told that I was taking the verse out of context and that the teaching was actually verifying God's will for plural wives. I was told that Yeshua‘ was teaching that it was wrong to put away these wives and he quoted Mattityahu 19 to me as the context.
Mattityahu 19:8He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
Now this is another classic example of forcing an agenda into the text rather than simply listening to the text. Yeshua‘ is speaking to them the men and following in the grammatical structure using the word wives to refer to the helpmates of all the men. To conclude that this passage is teaching plural wives for each man is simply silly. The Scriptures, from the beginning, with respect to prescription, have been consistent. The will of God from the beginning is still the two shall become one. The contrast of two and one is clear. In Mark 10:7 we are told that a man leaves his mother and his father and cleaves to his wife. The model of one man and one wife in the beginning will become the foundation for one bride and one bridegroom in the end. Ultimately, my concern is for the thousands of precious people I meet and talk to inside and outside of this country. People who have been afforded the opportunity to hear, sometimes for the very first time, that their Savior did not die on a tree to free them from the laws and commandments of their God. People who had never even heard that the Biblical Sabbath is not Sunday and had yet to really come to terms with the fact that their Messiah is Jewish, spoke Hebrew, observed Passover and Sukkot and ate the very foods that He created to be eaten. This short article was for the purpose of making it very clear where this ministry stands on this subject. We believe that polygamy is a reality of life in a fallen world. A reality our Father handled with righteous justice and compassion. And finally that the will of our Father and Master is for a Scriptural marriage to be between one man who loves his ONE wife with all his heart.
Shalom Alecheim! ◊