Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Beginning of Monogamy as Marriage? Matthew 19

It is primarily the misinterpretation of Matthew 19, and Christ's words about divorce, that has led to the error of portraying monogamy as the equivalent to marriage.

That, and probably the fact that Christianity grew up in an officially monogamous culture, the Roman Empire. Early on, culturally polluted Christians began to look for ways to justify what it is they did as a matter of cultural conditioning, inside of their belief. That's normal. We all do it. The task of Christians is to become more like Christ, to live more as Christians first, than as Romans, or part of the vast cultural known as "the West" that grew out of Rome.

Let's look at Matthew 19, and how it pertains to the idea of Monogamy as Marriage.
"And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, 'Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?' He answered, 'Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh?" So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.' They said to him, 'Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?' He said to them, 'Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.' The disciples said to him, 'If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.' But he said to them, 'Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.' "
Score one for the home team right away. Jesus does debate the issue with the Pharisees, which is a good sign. He chastens those whom he loves. When dealing with the Sadducees Jesus backhands them as essentially ignorant of the word. Whatever a Pharisee is, it is the Pharisees that are included among the roles of the early Church, we never hear from the Sadducees again.

What is this passage about? Well, divorce primarily and not as it is frequently said to be, about monogamy. This comes from the frequent cultural coloration of the passage that monogamy is marriage, so when the two become one, it's a monogamy and that's obvious, isn't it? No, it's circular.

When Jesus says "but from the beginning, it was not so," he refers to divorce. What has changed since the fall? The advent of divorce Christ says. What was marriage like in the beginning? It was permanent for our lifetimes. Absent the influence of sin there would be no divorce.

I have remarked before that great truths are discovered in the sidebars of scripture. Like many before him, Pastor Marty Braemer asserted that the sidebar here was "only the two become one" and that this was a sort of reaction like nuclear fusion, where two hydrogen atoms are altered into helium, and no other reaction is possible. Single atoms of hydrogen are highly reactive and can form bonds. Helium is a noble gas, bonding with nothing.

This is a strong point, that I understand, but it doesn't conform with the rest of scripture. Either Christ restarts the marriage contract here, or condemns marriage modifications that have occurred in the interim. Let's focus though on what Christ says about Genesis 2:24, which he quotes and then pronounces that whatever that passage meant, it simply does not change.

I contend Genesis 2:24 becomes ammunition for the pro polygyny side of the argument. You must keep in mind always that while the order of these events takes place over a long period of time, the final compilation or chronicling of the events of Genesis occurs contemporaneously with those of Exodus. Please be aware that I by no means attack the veracity of the Holy Scriptures in observing this, but the LORD in his infinite wisdom chooses the same moments in time to share with us his Holy Law and record the events of the other four books of the Pentateuch or "Torah" as he does Genesis. I assume as most Reformed people do, that Moses penned "Genesis" (the final edition) and did so with God's watchful blessing. It is inspired. It is correct, but it is contemporary to the other scriptures of the early Bible.

With this tucked away in the back of our minds we should realize that it is entirely possible that Moses wrote Deuteronomy for instance, before he wrote or completed Genesis. Certainly that would be more true for books like Exodus than it would be for Deuteronomy or Numbers or Leviticus. They could have been written concurrently. They could have been written in various non chronological orders. Is the "First Book of Moses" the First written or is the "First Book of Moses" (Genesis) the first book in the Chronicle of God and his people and that is why it is referred to as the "First Book?"

Whatever order they come in, they are written in Moses voice, with his understanding of Hebrew and inspired and commissioned at the same point in the Covenant of God with his people, which brings us to this. The utterance of the words in Genesis 2:24 are NOT words spoken in the Garden of Eden. They are an analysis by Moses, inspired by God in Sinai, as Moses is receiving and transcribing the law, and possibly afterward, in the light of the law he has just received. It is Moses whose face, shining with that light pronounces those words over the first marriage. It is Christ who then repeats those words in Matthew 19 and draws a plumb line taught over the law, and drops it straight across the law and pronounces that it does not change. Undeviating. Straight. Unchanged. Unchangeable. Whatever therefore is contained in the law, that is descriptive of marriage, was contained, at least as a potential, in the first definition of marriage.

This means that polygyny was envisioned by God at the beginning, and decided by God to be a form of marriage. The alternate possibility is that yes, marriage is a monogamy but then a man is not limited to the number of monogamies he enters into, but a woman is. Yes, each marriage is a oneness, but similar to your children having only one father, or one mother, a wife can only have one husband, but a parent can have many children. Either way you conceive of it, it was a planned inclusion because no sooner than the LORD has spoken of adultery in Exodus 20, he provides for mulitple wives in Exodus 21. He regulates them in numerous places in the Law HE gave to Moses (Leviticus 18 being most prominent). Christ, the Son, is present for all of these things as part of the Godhead.

There is also the issue of the Hebrew word for woman or wife not even having a plural or singular form, it is like the English word "Sheep." You have one sheep, or many sheep or two sheep. It's all the same.

God himself says that he "wives" or "marries" or joins many curtains and parts of the temple together, as one.

It's hard to get a concept of monogamy from a word that doesn't have a singular form and it is hard to get an endorsement of monogamy as an exclusive form of marriage from a God who is on the one hand thundering against adultery and no sooner than he has done that, he is regulating the practice of marriages to one man, without a breath of sin or condemnation pronounced in that regulation.

It's hard to think that while God is slaying his own people in multiples of thousands for their various sins and interactions with pagan cultures, that while his wandering people spend 40 years being purified and having the "Egypt" beaten out of them, that the LORD makes concessions to those very cultures and their practices that he is in the process of stamping out and stamping out of his people. The simplest explanation is that God is regulating polygyny as he does monogamy without negative comment, because neither are wrong, in the slightest.

The other alternative? As alleged by many, Christ changes the definition of marriage, and it's practice, all while saying it doesn't change, and hasn't, since the beginning. That's ridiculous.

With this post I begin the writing of a short book or pamphlet on marriage forms as presented in God's word. I invite comments. If I left out something, let me know. Any who wish to debate the topic also are invited to offer their view, as Iron does indeed, sharpen Iron. Expect there to be modifications of this post. If a comment prompts that, I shall acknowledge the change in comments.

I also go before prominent men in my church Sunday, God willing, to discuss this topic. Your prayers are welcome for our mutual edification.

In that a Gay "Marriage" bill is before the Vermont house, and soon to be passed, I would note that the next step is merely the removal of the word "Two" from the description of marriage in Vermont, and then polygamy would be legal.

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Todd said...

So just to ask an honest question, Are you hoping that the same-sex marriage bill does pass so that eventually polygamy will be legalized in Vermont also?

The Pharisee said...

Half of me does Todd, but I am indeed torn. I have no desire to encourage sinful behavior of any kind and homosexuality is an abomination for which there is no cure, save Jesus Christ through repentance and salvation.

Nevertheless, what do we expect of them? Will hell, to be blunt about it, burn any less hot because they were heterosexual unbelievers that opposed gay "Marriage?" Is Christ any less effective for the homosexual than for any other kind of unbeliever? I would expect that salvation would drive from most the unholy desire for the same sex over time as Christ continues to sanctify me in this life from the things I did formerly, that I do either less of, or not at all. I would return to all the sins I did formerly if grace were withdrawn from me.

It is my opinion that we should have used this legislative opportunity to carve out protections for our visions of marriage as God has outlined them in scripture. We will not stop gays from doing what they do. We cannot stop them from referring to themselves as married though that is impossible. I know of no examples of Paul or an Apostle railing against sinful sexual practices among the Romans that were not part of the church. They only chided those that were in the church.

Those outside the church God judges.

Benjamin said...


Would you add verse references to the following two sections? It would help me to know exactly which verse(s) you have in mind.

"he provides for mulitple wives in Exodus 21"


"He regulates them in numerous places in the Law HE gave to Moses (Leviticus 18 being most prominent)."

The verses I think you had in mind are Exodus 21:10-11 and Leviticus 18:18, as both contemplate a man having more than one wife. In the first case, the man cannot deprive a first wife of her marital rights just because he takes a second wife. In the second case, the taking of a rival (second) wife is forbidden if the second is sister to the first and the first is still alive. This rival wife is not apparently forbidden anywhere else in the chapter under diferent circumstances.

If you meant to drive the truly curious into the Word, your references, included and/or excluded, were successful. If you don't want your reader to have to fill in the blanks to follow, I would recommend at least adding the verse references so the reader is sure of the reference you had in mind.

Todd said...

" I know of no examples of Paul or an Apostle railing against sinful sexual practices among the Romans that were not part of the church. They only chided those that were in the church.

Those outside the church God judges."

Very Good Point!

John said...

Your post and response to Todd's comment are quite insightful and encouraging. I genuinely appreciate your position and the manner in which you present it. Charge on!