Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Missions Questions with No Easy Answers

We talked about a thorny issue in my seminary missions class today. What would you do if a new convert on the field was married to multiple wives? Do you tell him to divorce all but the first one or maintain the status quo? Or is there another option?

My initial instinct was that only the first marriage was biblically valid because God created marriage to be one man and one woman; therefore, subsequent marriages were not actual marriages in God's eyes and divorce would be appropriate and not really divorce at all. Then it occurred to me that the OT seems to recognize polygamous marriages as genuine marriages even if they arose outside God's intent, so perhaps the marriages should remain intact.

If that's not tough enough, the answer and the reasoning also has implications for how we address the problem of homosexual marriage. If we do concede that polygamous marriages can be valid in God's eyes even if they are outside His creative intent, then how can we use the argument that "marriage is one man and one woman" to repudiate homosexual marriage? Both polygamous marriages and homosexual marriages are contrary to this divine intent, but we cannot use that argument to say homosexual marriages are invalid if we concede that polygamous marriages are valid (but wrong).

Of course, that does not mean that there is no other way to make the case that homosexual marriage is invalid, but it does take away a common argument. I don't have the answers, so as Ross Perot used to say, "I'm all ears."


Don said...

I seem to recall hearing missionaries in such countries as requiring men married to multiple wives to live faithfully with the first one alone, but to maintain his contractual responsibilities to the rest (while forsaking marital relations with them). I suppose that this might be difficult in practice, but a genuinely repentant heart should be enabled to live it out.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Pittsley said...

In order to explain those passages in the OT which seem to recognize polygamy (e.g. 2 Sam 12:8), I have wondered if God has a sphere of permission in which he regulates practices which stray from the ideal. Polygamy, divorce, and slavery would fit into this category in my mind.

However homosexuality, adultery, and kidnapping belong far outside this sphere of permission. These are not regulated; they are explicitly prohibited. They do not simply stray from the ideal; they violate the essence of what human relationships are suppose to be.

What think ye?

Ben said...


I've heard the same thing, and it was more or less my knee-jerk reaction until I remembered that the OT refers to all the women in polygamous marriages as "wives." That seems like an affirmation that the marriages are at least valid and binding. If we start advocating forsaking marital relations, we are implying that they are not valid, or else we bump into commands against abstinence in 1 Corinthians 7.


I think I agree with you. You're articulating a line of reasoning that supplements the "one man/one woman" argument in a way that precludes homosexual marriage without ignoring the issues regarding polygamous marriage.

I don't know anything though. I'm just figuring out what the questions are. Thanks for your thoughts, guys.

Unk said...

I'm not so sure that polygamy is affirmed in the OT. I haven't gone through every text carefully, but I did go carefully through the two bits on Hagar recently and was struck by how her relationship with Abram/Abraham is treated. Isaac is the legitimate issue. That is clear and obvious to God. Ishmael is a son of Abraham, but not his son by Sarah, so not the legitimate heir, even though firstborn. I came away with the idea that polygamy is very much NOT God's view. Even though Hagar is called Abram's woman/wife, God doesn't seem to care too for how Abram or Sarah thinks of this second "marriage." He doesn't treat it as a marriage.

Ben said...

Your point on Hagar is well taken. On the other hand, the English text seems pretty clear that David and Solomon's polygamous relationships were marriages, especially in distinguishing between wives and concubines.

Perhaps God watched over Hannah because she was Elkanah's first wife. Or perhaps it is more instructive that the text doesn't give any indication of which was first and merely refers to Hannah and Peninnah as Elkanah's "two wives."

Unk said...

This is a good point.