THE MONOGAMY-POLYGAMY CONTROVERSY
The Position of the New Covenant Church of God
Few subjects generate as much passionate debate in the Christian world as the question of polygamy (more accurately called polygyny). The official position of the New Covenant Church of God in this controversy, as in all others, is what the Bible, and therefore God, says. Traditions and cultural biases are of no interest to us because we are ultimately judged not on these but on God's Word. This is a large and complex subject which requires extensive treatment to do it justice. Our purpose here will simply be to outline the more important biblical truths and leave a more detailed discussion to furture issues of this journal.
There are many who believe that this subject is one that belongs to the past and therefore is not relevent in a world where monogamy is the norm. Apart from the fact that 80% of the world's cultures accept polygamy as the norm making the Western tradition a minority one, not only is polygamy as a practice growing fast in the West (with over 100,000 living this marriage style in the United States and at least 1,000,000 in Paris, France alone, making its practice in Europe somewhere in the order of 3-4 million, a number corresponding to the entire population of Norway), but biblical revelation makes it clear that polygamy is very much a part of the Christian future. This being so, then Western (European and North American) Christians will, if they do not confront this question now, possibly find themselves in an everlasting Kingdom established by God where their cherished exclusivist monogamously-biased ideals are not only exposed as being false but that their prejudices and hostility to a God-sanctified practice places them outside that Kingdom. Our very real concern must therefore be to establish God's teaching on this practice and, once determined, allign our thinking and feelings to it for the sake of the welfare of our immortal souls.
What the Bible Teaches
Solomon had 300 concubines, besides 700 wives, which was an abomination in the eyes of God (1 Ki.11:3): he did not take the counsel of the Lord (Dt.17: 17). Polygamy, not lived according to the Lord’s strict ways, brings trouble, and often results in sin. If not lived righteously in a spirit of true love family jealosies arise from it, as with Elkanah’s two wives, one of whom is an adversary to the other (1 Sam.1:6; cp. Lev.18:18).
Unlike Islam which limits the number of wives to four in a polygamous household, the Bible makes no such restrictions beyond warning kings not to go to excess (Dt.17:17), for the obvious reasons already given. Barring his sin against Uriah and Bathsheba, King David set a good example in not only keeping the number of his wives within a sensible limit (believed to be seven without Bathsheba) but in having the principle and practice confirmed by Nathan the prophet as a ‘gift from God’ to the King. He also said that if that had not been enough, the Lord would have given him more (2 Sam.12:7-8).
Obviously if polygamy is a gift from God it cannot be sinful. It follows logically that if Christ claimed that He had come to fulfil not only the law, but also the prophets (Mt.5:17-20), that Christ endorsed the practice also. The same does not seem to have been said for concubinage, though, which expires in the New Covenant according to a revelation received by the Church (NC&C 194):
THE LAW OF CONUBINAGE IS ABOLISHED
1. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that concubinage is a form of slavery, on which [subject] I, the Lord, have already spoken (NC&C 145; 186). 2. And men at sundry times have sought out concubines to satisfy their lusts and unredeemed passions, for which they were cursed as pertaining to spirituality and a heavenly inheritance. 3. Much of the marriage of the world is concubinage for the world seeketh after the flesh and its appetites and marrieth in order to cloak its sin with a mantle of respectability.
4. But I, the Lord, see the hearts of all men and women everywhere, and the lusts and depravities thereof. 5. But the man whose heart is pure I shall justify, for he seeketh to love, and build-up, and cherish and protect.
6. My servant Abraham purchased concubines according to the custom of his day; 7. But he, being redeemed through faith [in Me] and by a knowledge of My Gospel, made his concubines free, and all sought to remain with him as his wives, because they loved him.
David and Solomon
8. My servant Solomon took many concubines and in this he did sin, saith the Lord, because his heart wwas led astray (Dt.17:17).
Love Your Wife
9. Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and not in part; 10. Have I, the Lord, ever commanded a man to only half love his wife? 11. Ye cannot love anything that ye have taken by force; 12. Nor will that person who hath been taken by force be able to love in return.
Concubinage Abolished by the New Covenant
13. Concubinage is contrary to the New Covenant Law of Light and is a snare unto the vanity and carnality of man. 14. It breaketh the hearts of the tender-hearted, whose sobbings ascend unto the heavens. 15. I am a God of wholeness, and I desire your complete loyalty, and not a part thereof. 16. Likewise husbands and wives should give each other their full loyalty, not stooping to concubinage which standeth as a testimony against the inability of the sons of men to love and take responsibility like unto true sons of God. Amen." (NC&C 194)
Polygamy, which is sanctioned in the Bible and blessed by God, will be widespread in the Millennium, if for no other reason than there will be an imballance of men and women: the average family will consist of seven wives to one man (Is.4:1). Clearly, then, such a principle cannot be ‘brushed under the carpet’ or simply condemned out of fear as it has been by the European Church as it has been since the 6th century AD when it was outlawed by the Catholic Church.
Inasmuch as the Christian is enjoined to be prepared for the return of the Lord every day then it follows he must be prepared to see the principle instituted at any time, and, if necessary, live it. Even if he is not called to live it he should at least be theoretically prepared for it and seek to overcome whatever prejudices and aversions he may have towards it caused by centuries of Catholic and Protestant gnostic propaganda.
The New Covenant Church of God has already received revelation for its regulation in the Millennial Zion as well as for those families already living it in the modern world. In the Millennial Kingdom the Deacons (Zadokites) will be limited to four wives, the Enochites (Elders) to seven (the average), and the Patriarchs (those 11,000+ men of the ‘144,000’) to twelve, as a general rule.
Objection to this has been raised by citations from 1 Tim.3:2,12 and Tit.1:6 which in English translations appear to limit the number of wives to Elders and Deacons (but not, incidentally, to non-Priesthood officers) to one only -- “the husband of one wife”.
“But if polygamy had been adulterous then it would have been forbidden to all, and not just to Church leadership. So even the faulty English translations demonstrate that polygamy is not sin or adultery. But we should look more closely at the Gk.. 1 Tim.3:2,12 and Tit.1:6 both say the same thing: “husband of one (Gk. mia: Strongs #3391, ‘one of first’) wife” (in Gk., literally ‘of one or first wife, husband’ = ‘of the first wife the husband’). Mia is translated as either ‘one’ or ‘first’, depending on the context. Where the context does not directly indicate, the translator must choose between the two possible meanings -- thus giving opportunity for personal or cultural bias to distort the translation. Mia is used as first of a series as in “first day of the week” (Mt.28:1; Mk.16:2; Jn.20:1,19; Ac.20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).
"In Titus the word mia is used only twice: “If anyone is causing divisions among you, he should be given a first (mia) and a second warning" (Tit.3:10, LB; cp. 1:6). In Titus mia means ‘first’. Weight of Scripture, rather than personal opinion or cultural bias, should dictate the correct meaning of Tit.1:6 (and the identical phrase in 1 Tim.3: 2,12) as ‘FIRST wife’. The phrase should literally read “of the first wife husband”. The Overseer/Pastor/Bishop should be a man known for keeping his commitments, “blameless” -- not open to the charge of having put away his first wife, “the wife of his youth” (Mal.2:14-15). This is soundly based on God’s already stated requirements against unscriptural divorce -- not making some new rule with no precedent anywhere else in Scripture.
"This rule makes good sense when we consider that we are talking about older men to function as Elders in the Church. These men would be of an age that might suggest the possibility of more than one wife. Therefore, a requirement to treat the first wife honourably would be in order, meaning that if they took an additional wife or wives the first wife would be also retained. Had it not been for the fact that Roman culture opposed polygamy (yet was predictably promiscuous, like all pagan cultures) the question of polygamy would never have become a NT or modern Church issue” (S.John Butt, An Answer to Critics, Broken Shackles Inc. Website, 1996, with some additions and modifications).
The summum bonum of biblical teachings about marriage is that both mongamy and polygamy are sanctioned and blessed by God with celibacy an alternative for those who thus choose to live. And whilst monogamy was decreed the norm for the vast bulk of humanity polygamy never was adultery or sin. It was, and is, however, strictly regulated in the New Covenant. It is, furthermore, a sobering thought when one realises that the Millennial world, and therefore presumably heaven, may for the most part be populated by women, or at least in the highest heavens where those of the first resurrection dwell (see The Olive Branch, Heaven (fn380-p415) Also see Plural Marriage, in Isaiah (fn39-p61f), erroneous Mormon ideas (fn110-p109f), biblical teachings about (fn295-p310f).
This page was created on 5 February 1999
Last updated on 5 February 1999
Copyright © 1987-2007 NCCG - All Rights Reserved