Sunday, April 05, 2009

A Blast from the Past, Dr. Don Dean and I, on Polygyny

Many people will say the advocacy of Polygyny is frivolous as few peace seeking Christians would flaunt the laws of the land by taking other wives. I have several things to say in that area.
One, in those nations promoting monogamy through law, there is still divorce, and the pattern of polygynous marriage leads to a better understanding of that unfortunate human necessity born of our sinful natures. The other is, you can get on a computer in Afghanistan or Iran or any other nation in the world, and you can access this forum and others like it. It shows serious myopia to think that we in the west own this discussion.

Polygyny is:
"The condition or practice of having more than one wife at one time."
Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright© 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
It is my declaration that the practice of Polygyny is just as valid today as it was when it was practiced in the Old Testament. There are a couple of tired arguments against it that I would like to discourage up front. In that I am addressing these arguments up front, the simple repetition of them would be to engage in one of the most ancient fallacies known as "argumentum ad nauseam." Since I have made the argument already, repeating it is now a fallacy since the argument is answered and that answer must now be replied to.

"It's only allowed (with regret) by God, we shouldn't do it" This is a simple "non sequitur" This argument is based on the absolutely inexplicable connection most people have in their minds between this subject and Christ's statements on divorce. Somehow because Christ says divorce is reluctantly permitted, it is also true that Polygyny is reluctantly permitted. This is an extremely pervasive belief but no proof is ever offered for the connection. There is a secondary connection between this topic and divorce but it has nothing to do with whether or not God merely permits Polygyny in a grudging fashion. Please don't bring it up unless you find the verse that states it. This verse has proved completely hidden to me though I read scripture daily and have for years, cover to cover, front to back, over and over again, version after version. It's probably not there.

"One Flesh" Supposedly this is a devastating argument against polygyny. It assumes a definition of the phrase "one flesh" and thus "begs the question" or is a "circular argument." The reasoning is based on the unfounded notion that One Flesh is made of two components only, and that the function closes after that. No evidence in scripture exists to support that notion, but it's advanced anyway. God is three in one, Christ unifies with the church, which is his bride, and is many many people. The notion that the two become one and nothing else can ever happen after that is a subjective notion, not a scriptural one.

"Cleaving" This is a use of the word in a "Colored" way (Emotive Language). Cleave conjures up certain images and preferred definitions but cleave has definitions that are near polar opposites. , one meaning to cut or divide, the other to cling to. You'd need a philologist to know why. There are many gradations of meaning between those two poles. Context dictates the meaning you select and the context doesn't support the notion of a bilateral exclusiveness. If you're going to go there, you're going to have to prove to me that cleave means only what you want it to mean. This argument could also be termed "Idiosyncratic Language."

"It's Adam & Eve, not Adam & Eve & Amber & Crystal" which is a variation of the "Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve" argument against homosexual "marriage." This is a "Faulty" or "Hasty Generalization." Neither argument holds water. This is not to say I condone Adam & Steve, I don't. There are other reasons why Adam and Steve should stay away from one another, but they aren't spoken to in the creation story. Using the Adam and Eve monogamy example assumes the story in all it's details, before the fall, to be an archetype for all marriage that we must follow without deviation. It is not possible to argue monogamy from their example unless you embrace all parts of the example. Unless you got married buck naked, I urge you not to go there. There are other ways this supposed archetype get strained as well. You're probably not named Adam, or Eve, you aren't made from a rib or you're not missing one. The list goes on. Adam and Eve's marriage is an archetype ONLY in ways stated elsewhere in scripture to be an archetype or ideal.

"It's bad to divide love" To which I reply it is thus wrong to even have your first child, much less two or more. There's no arguing this, really, but I know some of you will try. This is essentially a use of a "False Dilemma."

"It leads to Strife" An example of "non causa pro causa." This is the human condition. It's also a deceptive argument when appealing to scripture, very few of the patriarchs in scripture can be demonstrated to have been monogamous. Thus all family strife can be conveniently placed at the feet of their polygyny. Never mind that Isaac and Rebecca were monogamous, wow, what problems they had in their family.

"Solomons problems are traced to Polygyny" This is a "red herring." His problems are actually traced to his foreign marriage alliances, in which he took wives that had not renounced their various religions. This was the warning and purpose of the Law against it, and it was what happened to Solomon.

"Deuteronomy 17:17" No, read verse 16. Having read verse 16 it is obvious that you must "Equivocate" to reach the conclusion that a King must be monogamous. Take a deep breath. You're arguing that a King could only possess one horse. The admonition is against many wives, not more than one. The only open ended question in this verse is this: How much is many? Also unless you're a King, it doesn't apply. To make it apply to most people you must engage in "dicto simpliciter." You're ignoring the context of the rule and applying it to a specific situation, namely one that it isn't said to apply to.

"Elders are to be husbands of one wife" Again, "dicto simpliciter." This is a condition of office, not a rant against polygyny. Again, take a deep breath. The argument using this verse employs the notion that it is an ideal to be strived for. Credible, until you realize you've just said women are sub creatures. Besides it's virtual proof that there were polygynous couples in the early church. Otherwise why say anything about it?

"Why can't women have more than one husband?" Because Sarah called Abraham Lord, no one can serve two masters, and man is to woman as God is to man. If you don't recognize where I source these things, you don't belong in this thread. "Faulty generalization," 'red herring & "dicto simpliciter."

"It's Adultery!" This depends on "word magic", "begging the question" and "subjectivism" No, it's not, if you can marry 20 women you can have sex with all of them and it's not adultery, the marriage bed is undefiled. First you must prove that it's wrong to marry more than one woman at a time, then you might have a case. Don't mention this until you can prove polygyny is wrong.

"Lamech was the first Polygynist" The logical fallacy engaged in here is "cum hoc ergo propter hoc" which asserts that because two things occur together, they are related. Lamech is the first Polygynist mentioned in scripture. Nothing is ever said about his Polygyny other than he engaged in it. The argument is that Lamech was a bad dude (which might be implied but not stated in scripture), and he's the "First Polygynist", therefore Polygyny is bad.

"It's against the Law" This speaks to an issue related fallacy known as "Impossible Condition." Those raising this argument don't want to debate the subject until the law changes, thereby postponing the argument they are answering, instead of dealing with its merits. On top of that, it's actually debatable that Polygyny is against the law. It is also important to deal with it because it may not be against the law soon.

"It's against the Vows of Marriage" Again, a "faulty generalization" because not everyone takes these vows. If you did then you have a promise you need to keep, it doesn't make Polygyny wrong, it makes it wrong for whoever took that vow. Besides, those vows are not from scripture anyway.

Up until this point, I've made the milder of the arguments with regard to the practice of polygyny. It is in fact signifigant when you have ALL the written revelation that God intended us to have, that God has not condemned the practice and he has chosen to do so in the face of numerous examples. We're not examining an infinite universe and claiming we haven't SEEN the proof yet, we're examining a finite universe for which I can look at all the proofs that exist. We know the rules of the game, we have the entire book of rules. There ARE NO OTHER RULES. Then there is this, 1st Corinthians 4:6,(NASB)
"Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other."
That we do not exceed what is written? Part of Romans 14 is dedicated to not imposing restrictions, though mostly to with regard to food. Several places in scripture warn against changing the scripture through subtraction, AND addition, so to say that it is not forbidden, refering to scripture, is a COMPELLING argument. Deuteronomy 4:2,(NASB)
"You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you."
Just to be sure, in case we missed it, Deuteronomy 12:32,(NASB)
"Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it."
But the we're not done yet. Let's stop off in the middle of the scriptures, Proverbs 30:5 & 6,(NASB)
"Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar."
Ouch, that's strong stuff. As a parting shot, in this continuing theme, though it is about the book of Revelation, we can see that God is sensitive about his word getting changed, because he continues with Revelation 22:18 & 19,(NASB)
"I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book."
Yikes.

The logic is this. God meant to say everything he was going to say in terms of law. He emphasizes this by forbidding additions and subtractions. Thus if he has not banned something, he forbids you, as Christians, from doing so. In discussing the popular arguments against Polygyny I have always been doing it as a courtesy to the people who think they have valid objections. The first part of this post deals with the various arguments people raise against polygyny and their initial refutations. There is of course the possiblity that these arguments can be advanced and an intial refutation does not mean that they could not be advanced. This has in fact been done on occasion and I have modified my argument to deal with those insights.

The last part of this post deals with the roadblock of God's own word when it comes to adding conditions. We can argue about the first part, and of course it is my position that I have trumped everyone's arguments there. This could be proved false someday by a good analysis of the scriptures, but then we would still have to deal with the total absence of condemnation by God in the face of numerous examples of the practice by God's people.

In summation I can say that the second part of the argument, dealing with no condemnation is an Iron Clad proof. It cannot be said that this would be like God never saying "Don't Smoke Marijuana" since no example of pot usage exists in scripture and pot is for intoxication which is forbidden. Many examples of polygyny in every walk of Hebrew life exist. Priests practiced it, common people practiced it and Kings practiced it. Zero condemnation.


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2 comments:

benjaminbeckley said...

A convincingly written post, Sir. I've been wondering about that whole "Elders are to be husbands of one wife" section in the NT. Do you have any (current thoughts or) past work that looks at why Elders were singled out for such a stipulation?

The Pharisee said...

There are cautions in scripture against elevating rich men to positions of prominence in the congregation, polygyny was more prevalent among the well off.

We are told that a man with a wife is concerned for things of this world, how "he might please his wife." It would makes sense that this is a greater concern, perhaps exponentially, if a man has more than one wife.

There is also the Roman Empire, which restricted it's citizenry to monogamy. You could be polygynous, but could not be at the same time, a Roman Citizen. Paul may have wanted his elders to have standing in the community, or at least, to be able to have such standing.

The first two reasons I give are based in scripture, the third, citizenship, is based outside scripture. When there is more than one explanation that scripture provides, then one has to admit one cannot prefer one explanation over another, unless scripture so directs.

The monogamy "is best" explanation, is in fact an explanation from outside scripture. It would only be a mandate of scripture if in fact there were no other explanation that could be applied to the text. Since there are several, the "monogamy is better" explanation is in fact excluded unless upheld by some other passage.