Sunday, January 17, 2010

Confronting the Church on Marriage, Part V

The following is cross posted at "Vermont Polygamy." When we last left off, I promised to take up this discussion, interacting with Hebrew Language professor Stewart "Woody" Lauer on the topic of "Elder Monogamy," and his surprise admission. That was last year, then several stories I had been following blew up, and dominated my time.
Sorry about that, it is hard for me at least, to maintain burning intensity of interest on several fronts at once, I don't know about you, but that's me.

I had written the following for public consumption about 6 years ago, and had sent it to the session of my church in April of last year, who then sent it along to Dr. Lauer. It is the argument based on the supposed argument that Elders are to be monogamous. It's a sort of "AHA!!" contention that is offered to polygyny proponents by monogamy only proponents. I lay aside the contention of some that the Greek word "mia" is mistranslated for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that calls our translations into so much disrepute that we would have to all go learn Greek and Hebrew to continue the discussion. I'll accept, at least for the sake of discussion with the OPC, Dr. Lauer, and the COPC session that it means "Husband of One Wife."
"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 striven 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?
Remember this is a talking point, designed to get the conversation going. There is a great deal more to talk about on the polygyny side of the argument, and perhaps we will get to those other points. The most significant contention I make here, is conceded outright:
Dr. Lauer - "I agree with the last two sentences, above."
I've highlighted what he agrees with. First some housekeeping. I hadn't noticed in 6 years that I said something incredibly silly that NO ONE has ever picked up on. "Polygynous couples?" That should be families, not couples but the concept of the adult component of family being a "couple" is so deeply embedded in our culture, that I said it, repeated it, didn't pick up on it, and no one did for all that period of time where I have used that form of the argument as a "foot in the door" when discussing polygyny.

Dr. Lauer concedes without a fight that one of the major contentions of many "monogamy only proponents," that "polygyny is not mentioned in the New Testament and not present in the early church" is completely false. They were there, that's it, and from my point of view at least, the practice was so unremarkable that it's only mentioned in passing. Indeed, if you were to ask of a Disciple why they never mention polygyny as part of a claim they didn't, because they were downgrading the practice, you'd get a really weird look, like "we didn't mentioned beards either, dummy."

All of what I am doing here, has now come to light in my church over the issue of membership. After months of stonewalling me on membership, I went to the congregation and said "they won't let me join" and the church responded with an email in which they said the following:
"(Our refusal to allow Hugh to join) involves (him) both believing and publicly advocating, especially via the internet, a position that that is so seriously sinful that no church throughout all of Christendom accepts it."
Which makes you wonder if they even read the response they contracted with Dr. Lauer, to write.

The position was "so seriously sinful" that Paul, the apostle, whose writings are the ones on which we base doctrine and church governance, didn't think it was even important enough, to mention. He doesn't mention it in the face of SPEAKING to congregations in which he looks out over the church, identifies and sees (and knows) men who are in church, with several of their wives in tow.

In the past a friend (now deceased), of mine and I had remarked to one another, if we ever got past the first rung of church elders, and reached the "intelligentsia" round, very quickly many of the arguments routinely raised and fervently held to, would be dropped. That drop was audible. Dr. Don Dean and I have had discussions with prominent theologians who admit in one way or another, privately, that our arguments are not unsound, they just won't sell in the church. In Dr. Lauer's response through the session of COPC a number of such concessions occur. This is one of them.

It is in fact powerfully convincing that polygyny is an acceptable practice when it's going on right in front of Jesus, his disciples and the growing church in the New Faith. It's going on, and the disciples and apostles say NOTHING whatsoever about it except that Paul seems to be saying "If you have a polygynous man in church, don't make him an elder."

Woody goes on to say that it indicates disfavor, but that is frankly impossible. Again now the first part of my contention comes back into play.
Dr. Lauer - "(I)t is clear that the apostles (representing Jesus officially; 1 Cor 14:36) viewed it with disfavor, disqualifying the man from office. This official, negative attitude toward the practice on the part of the Lord’s apostles cannot be dismissed so lightly."
There are some, who employ the phrase "it is clear" because it is precisely the opposite, it's not clear.

Dr. Lauer is easily refuted. If those disqualified from the office of Elder are viewed with "disfavor," then he is saying women are viewed with disfavor. (Elders as husbands unpacked, means among other things, elders are to be men.) Any other man that qualifies for office on marital status can be disqualified also because they are not "apt to teach." Paul himself says that teaching is a gift:
"Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?" - 1st Corinthians 12:29 (ESV)
This is extremely simple logic. Some of the qualfiers for office of Elder in the church have to do with morals, and indeed, on the face of it, it could very well be that being polygynous is being morally compromised, or at least "morally not quite the best thing." Elders are not to be drunks for instance, but Paul mixes up his list naming things that are merely things Elders should and should not be, but otherwise acceptable, and things that no one should be, particularly elders. A man not gifted by God to teach is not to be an Elder. A woman, no matter how she is gifted, is not to be an elder. Neither are viewed with disfavor, it does not logically follow that a polygynous man is viewed with disfavor. We know from other passages of scripture that drunkenness is a bad thing, there is no such corresponding scripture for a much married man.

Though the this post is short, and Woody's answer is short, it is what you do when you're trying to avoid an uncomfortable truth. Unless you change your position on the subject, you give it a short shrift and blow past it. This is what Woody does, but not before showing us a very important fact.

Polygyny is mentioned in the New Testament. It is NOT commented on, in that context, as a negative. The most important theologians in the church, Christ, and his immediate Apostles say nothing whatsoever about polygyny being wrong or substandard, even though polygyny is right in front of all them, among the believers. The most that seems to be said is; "Don't make them, and women, and people who can't teach, Elders."

Sphere: Related Content


jay c said...

Very good point. It should be a powerful argument to anyone who is able to get past their cultural conditioning. Unfortunately, that's a very difficult thing for most people to do.

Personally, I lean toward the "a" or "first" camps, but I completely agree with you that it makes no material difference as to whether polygyny is sinful or not. It's not sinful to be a poor teacher or to have poorly behaved children, but both disqualify a man from eldership by Paul's standards.

I also don't believe that Paul was issuing a general command to all believers in all times or even to Timothy and Titus. He was giving advice. That's all. Sometimes a divorced or polygynous or unproven man is the only man available for the job. Sometimes he's the best man despite his flaws. Many of today's churches wouldn't let Samuel or David or Hosea be an usher, let alone an elder or pastor.

Some of my own thoughts on elders: Elders should be able men who fear God.

The Pharisee said...

The biggest part of the pro polygyny argument Jay, should be that if the Qualifications for Office of Elder are in fact a requirement for the Elder to be monogamous, then "so what?"

Unless you can class all the items on that list of qualifications for office of Elder as "Morally superior" then it just means Elders are to be monogamous. I have a few other takes on the discussion that argue against the idea that this is a monogamy requirement, none of which turn on interpreting the Greek word "mia" any differently. The point is simple. "So this is a requirement for Elders to be monogamous....and..??" It doesn't ask the "pro monogamy only" proponent to move much. It just says he shouldn't make women, men who aren't "gifted" by God to teach and men with more than one wife, an elder. End of message. Stop. Nothing whatsoever is indicated beyond that message.

To say otherwise is to say women are sub creatures and that a child, deaf and mute and down's syndrome from birth, are in a condition of some sort of moral deficit when compared to the rest of us.

cheese said...

Unless your interpretation is flawed or somebody "changed" the book sometime over the years to appease "the law" or "public policy" at the time. The proper interpretation could be that in order to be an "Elder" in the church then you must be the husband of "at least one wife".

The Pharisee said...


That is an entirely valid way of looking at it. I'm glad you pointed it out.

This would make Paul's recommendation about staying single, a recommendation that he made to itinerant church planters, like himself.

He wanted his elders, to be married.

The various interpretations are the most popular one in today's church which is "Only one wife" (but married nonetheless) making the elder a monogamous man. I stress that there is no such word in either the Greek or Hebrew, we have no evidence beyond the view of this passage that Hebrew/Jewish writers thought of marriage as monogamy or polygyny.

There is "up to one wife," which is clearly the interpretation of my individual church as one of the elders is not married and to my knowledge, never has been.

"Never divorced" which fits with the "up to one" or "Married to one" interpretations.

There is, as you point out, the interpretation that it means "married." This could make a polygynous man elder material, but a single man, not elder material.

"Monogamous Man" gains traction from the fact that Roman citizens could not be married to more than one woman. Paul would then be recommending that elders in the Roman empire, where most of the early church was, could also be Roman citizens. This would be a benefit to the church to have their leaders able to enjoy the full protections of Roman law.

My point is that you can accept any view, and it does not assail polygyny as wrong, or even substandard, it would just mean that elders conform to a standard regarding marriage. As we can see, the standards can be varied.

Monogamy for an elder also gains traction from there being no record that I know of, of a polygynous elder in the early church. This would also give credence to the monogamy view since there are no records of men interpreting Paul's admonition as making polygynous men eligible for that office.


During and since Roman times, most polygyny was serial polygyny due to widowhood or divorce (yes the Romans did divorce). Only high ranking officials could afford to be polygynist concurrently with multiple women. Also the Church did not admit the polygynist and remarried divorcees to communion from the earliest times. Therefore, St Paul was referring to men who needed another wife when their first wife had died. Obviously anyone who is so desperate is not a good choice to be a priest who would give spiritual advice to both men and women, since that might lead to a near occasion of sin.

BTW, if you wish to attend the Divine Liturgy (AKA Mass), we won't throw you out unless you make a disturbance or try to take communion before you have been prepared properly. You can't be any worse than Ms. Pelosi and her pro-abort crowd.


It might be helpful to have a good literal translation of the two verses:
1 Timothy 3:2: δει<1163>(V-PAI-3S) ουν<3767>(CONJ) τον<3588>(T-ASM) επισκοπον<1985>(N-ASM) ανεπιλημπτον<423>(A-ASM) ειναι,<1510>(V-PAN) μιας<1520>(A-GSF) γυναικος<1135>(N-GSF) ανδρα,<435>(N-ASM) νηφαλιον,<3524>(N-ASM) σωφρονα,<4998>(A-ASM) κοσμιον,<2887>(A-ASM) φιλοξενον,<5382>(A-ASM) διδακτικον,<1317>(A-ASM)
It binds, therefore, the bishop blameless, to be one woman's man [== one wife's husband], sober, self-controlled, well-behaved, hospitable, educative.
I Timothy 3:12: διακονοι<1249>(N-NPM) εστωσαν<1510>(V-PAM-3P) μιας<1520>(A-GSF) γυναικος<1135>(N-GSF) ανδρες,<435>(N-NPM) τεκνων<5043>(N-GPN) καλως<2573>(ADV) προισταμενοι<4291>(V-PMP-NPM) και<2532>(CONJ) των<3588>(T-GPM) ιδιων<2398>(A-GPM) οικων·<3624>(N-GPM)
Deacons shall be one woman's men, with their own houses' well ruled children.
Obviously if that one woman is Christ's bride, the Church, it's even better. The problem with most translations I find is that the genitive in Greek is translated with the preposition "of" instead of the English genitive or possessive. That is a style thing that doesn't always render the translation as well as it could have.