Twice Married Always Married
TL,DR: Polygyny is the lesser of evils when compared to adultery. Polygyny is not promoted anywhere in the Scripture, but neither is it condemned. It is presented here only as an alternative to divorce apologetics.
Sometimes I get asked, 'What about this situation or that situation?' And rather than present a list of hypothetical remarriage scenarios, I would like to try to answer the questions with the examples recorded in the Scripture. In the Bible we find a variety of situations that differ according to gender, nationality, position and Grace. Christians who are already involved in remarriage need to have good information, and so I would like to approach this subject not as an endorsement of second marriage or polygyny, but to address the concerns I am sometimes confronted with.
As a generalization, Twice Married Always Married doesn't work as well as Once married always married. There are a couple of reasons for this:
- Because it could only apply to some men. [i.e. victims of no fault divorce]
- Because some/many of the examples in the Bible only have the status of concubine not wife, and these poor women don't fare so well, compare Sara and Hagar.
Having said that I believe that some second marriages are just as valid as first marriages, and in that context Twice Married Always Married does work. And these marriages require the same level of commitment as any other marriage. If only death can break the marriage covenant then some remarried men are polygynists whether they believe it or not. Call it polygyny, or call it remarriage there is some of it in the lineage of Christ. And while it isn't endorsed anywhere in the Scripture, nor is it recorded as a sin per se.
I realize that in many western countries polygyny is illegal, and as Christians we must uphold the laws of our country. This alone is reason enough to forbid polygyny. But it is not my intention to endorse or forbid polygyny, rather to examine what the Scripture says and how this bears on some second marriages. Any study of divorce and remarriage should address the topic because it does play a part in forming a biblical understanding of the subject.
It becomes necessary at this point to reveal some of my theological bias, I believe that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. And furthermore I believe that if it were possible for the Lord to save a polygynist in the Old Testament, I believe that it is possible to save a polygynist in the New Testament. I am well aware of the "one wife" stance that the apostle Paul established and I agree wholeheartedly with it, but it doesn't exclude polygynists from salvation, only from holding church office. No doubt many would disagree with my thinking here but please let me explain. It is important to give the benefit of the doubt to the marriage wherever possible, and when a man has married more than once I would assume he has more than one wife. Unless he divorced his first wife to remarry his second wife.
Polygyny or remarriage
One observation I would like to make is that the champions of divorce and remarriage nearly always forbid polygyny, preferring to whitewash adultery rather than even consider the fact that some men might have more than one wife. They just don't want to go there. They often wheel-out feeble arguments against it and don't even bother pursuing the subject. Both schools of thought [Calvinist and Dispensationalist] dismiss polygyny for different reasons:
- Dispensationalists tend to fall back on the old argument; 'what-God-permitted-in-the-Old-Testament-[polygyny],-He-has-now-forbidden-in-the-New-Testament'. And then fail to present a convincing argument to support their position. Ignoring the 'Same yesterday today and forever' argument that the Calvinists so dearly love.
- And the Calvinists tend to avoid the topic, perhaps because it will create an obvious hole in Chapter 24 of the Westminster Confession. John Murray didn't address the subject in his book 'Divorce', and yet I believe it is impossible to do justice to the subject without dealing with the examples of polygyny recorded in the Scriptures. Jay Adams deals with polygyny in the context of remarriage, but doesn't explain the differences between the two.
Which begs the question, 'What is the difference between polygyny and remarriage?' And the answer is defined by various factors:
- The difference between men and women. It's possible that a man can have more than one wife and still be saved, but a woman cannot.
- Divorce. The examples in Scripture of polygyny show that men didn't divorce one wife to marry another, rather they accumulated wives and maintained them all. This is not permitted in most western countries these days, for good reasons.
- Sometimes there isn't a difference, in other words polygyny is remarriage in some cases. If only death can break the marriage covenant then some second marriages equate to polygyny even though a divorce may have occurred. Under these circumstances polygyny is called remarriage. But this tends to cause confusion between good remarriage and evil remarriage, and some folks like to condemn all remarriage.
The first mention of polygyny in the Bible is Lamech, and it is worth noting that he is a descendant of Cain. The context here is about all we have to go on in regard to this practice, and it ain't good. Just the fact that it is mentioned in the lineage of Cain is an indicator that it is associated with the children-of-a-lesser-god, not synonymous with damnation, but certainly not the practice of the godly either. It is worth mentioning that Lamech didn't divorce one wife to marry another, rather he just had two wives. So Lamech does get 'first mention' status, and casts the practice in a shadow. Contrast this with the example of Adam and Eve as God's model and it looks even worse.
The next polygynist of note would have to be Abraham. And what a contrast to Lamech. The Scritpure records the names of three of Abraham's wives, Sara, Hagar, and Keturah, Abe also had concubines: Gen 25:6 But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son… Saints don't get much godlier than Abraham, but consider how much grief was the result of Abraham and Hagar's polygynous union. Not only did the child of the flesh 'wild-man-Ishmael' make problems for Isaac, and later Israel, but even today much of the antagonism between Arabs and Jews can be explained by the overtly anti-Jewish propaganda coming out of Islam. This is not a glowing testimony for polygyny, nor does it damn Abraham.
Esau and Jacob are the next examples of polygyny and they are both interesting and ironic for the following reasons:
- Consider that polygyny in this family has become generational. What begun with Abraham is now common amongst his descendants.
- Esau was an enthusiastic polygynist [Gen.26:34], and it seemed to be to spite his parent's desires. Gen.28:8-9
- Jacob was given a charge not to marry a local Hittite girl, but to get a wife from his mother's family in Padan-aram, only to return with two wives and two concubines! I realize that Isaac & Rebekah's objection was not with polygyny, but rather the habits of the local girls, but both Esau & Jacob became polygynists for very different reasons. Esau, because he was evil. And Jacob, because he was tricked into polygyny by his father in law. Every parent wants the best for their children, and I'm sure that Isaac and Rebekah wanted their boys to have good marriages. Instead Esau was womanizer, and Jacob inadvertently had four wives.
It is with the example of Jacob and Esau that we can see one of the main reasons why polygyny is not the practice of Godly people. Esau was a man of unbridled passions, it seems that he denied himself nothing when it come to women. And so he indulged himself at the expense of others around him. I'm sure his wives hated the practice, it was obvious that his parents hated the practice, and I sure that even he didn't like the problems it created for him. But he was a slave to his lust and it showed itself in his polygynous relationships.
Heb 12:16 Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. In this context we can see what is politely called 'polygyny', is really just Esau's lust. Paul uses Jacob and Esau to represent election and reprobation in Romans chapter 9. Their characters are here reflected in their reasons for their choice of women, Jacob only wanted one wife not four. And Esau was both profane and disobedient to the wishes of his parents.
Some say that Moses was a polygynist, but the case for this is weak. Who is the Ethiopian woman whom he had married ? [Numbers12:1] It is difficult to say for sure, it could be Zipporah, or it could be her predecessor, or it could be a second wife. But the Scripture doesn't say with any certainty. And I ain't sticking my neck out on this one. But Moses did have some interesting things to say concerning the subject, not the least of which would be:
Deu 17:17 Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
This verse places restriction upon future kings concerning polygyny and money. I doesn't forbid multiple wives for the general populous but it does restrict the practice, Solomon ignored this command and the result speaks for itself. Moses also gave other regulations concerning polygyny:
Deu 21:15-17 Suppose a man has two wives and loves one more than the other. The first son of either wife is the man's first-born son, even if the boy's mother is the wife the man doesn't love. Later, when the man is near death and is dividing up his property, he must give a double share to his first-born son, simply because he was the first to be born. (Contemporary English Version)
I realize that this passage of Scripture is dealing with the 'right of the firstborn', but it is interesting to note that one wife is preferred to the other. I can almost hear the feminists shrieking in horror at the very thought of such a situation, but this is typical of what we find in any polygynous relationship. Consider that Jacob loved Rachel, not his other wives. And it is to be expected that any man with more than one wife will have a preference between them. And this shows another reason why polygyny is not the practice of Godly people. And I think this is the main objection to polygyny in both the world and the Church. In the world, because it is politically correct to forbid such arrangements, and in the Church, because 'serial monogamy' [read adultery] is much easier to peddle than polygyny.
This thing gets worse in the marriage of Elkanah to Peninnah and Hannah [1st Samuel chapter 1]. Not only did Elkanah prefer Hannah, but Peninnah mocked Hannah because she had no children! I suppose it was jealousy that made her do it, but what a miserable situation for poor Hannah, hardly anybody's concept of marriage. It makes you wonder why women would get involved in such a marriage, perhaps they had no choice back in those days? But Samuel was the child born of that marriage, and what a blessing he was to Israel. Perhaps it is worth mentioning that God used Hannah's miserable situation to do a great work in Hannah and Israel.
Again both of these examples Deut 21:15 & 1Sam 1:4-6 highlight some of the problems that occur with polygyny, the natural preference of husband and the subsequent problems this causes. How sour was Abraham's household when Sara and Hagar were fighting? When you consider these problems will always arise in such situations it is no wonder that most countries have laws forbidding polygyny. How many women would put up with the suffering Hannah endured? God blessed her for her faith and perseverance but she is the exception-not-the-rule. Many men would fancy the thought of a harem but it comes with other costs that are much less appealing to say the least. I realize that this point has little or no bearing on second marriages in the context of this study, but it does help form a basic understanding of what goes on in any polygynous relationship.
The next polygynist of note would be David, he had multiple wives and his eye for women certainly got him into much trouble. He seemed to be ok until he got involved with Bathsheba. What began in adultery ended in a polygynous marriage, David was able to marry Bethsheba because her husband was dead. David had him killed. He would have fared much better if he had never gotten involved with her, but Solomon was the child born from that marriage and God used Solomon like none other. However once again we find like-father-like-son, and if David had an eye for women, Solomon had eyes bigger than his stomach.
1Kings 11:3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.
Wow! One thousand women! It is the most blatant disregard of the warning that Moses gave that could be imagined, and it comes as no surprise that this arrangement caused much problems for king Solomon. I suspect that Solomon had this many wives only for the sake of prestige and or lust, what kind of life would these poor women have had? The sad result speaks for itself.
But it would seem that not all children born of polygynous marriages repeat the practice. As far as I can tell Samuel only had one wife and he was the son of a polygynist. Joseph had only one wife even though his father had two wives and two concubines.
"The Husband Of One Wife"
The Apostle Paul often used the term, "the husband of one wife" (1Tim. 3:2, 1Tim. 3:12, Titus 1:6). We are told that because of these verses the New Testament forbids polygyny, I would contend that these verses forbid remarriage and polygyny for those men holding Church office. But for those men not holding Church office there is no specific prohibition against polygyny [except perhaps common sense]. I hasten to add that God's original model for humanity is one Eve for one Adam. I am not advocating polygyny but I believe that what Paul intended was that anyone holding an office in the Church must not be divorced and remarried. But nowadays we find that, "the husband of one wife" has been reduced to serial monogamy, or one wife at a time, i.e. remarriage is ok, just don't have two together. Hardly a high standard for a Bishop or a Deacon, in fact that is the same standard that most secular governments require of their citizens! [This point is best illustrated by J. Carl Laney in his book 'The Divorce Myth' page 96]
From this study we find at least three reasons why polygyny is not endorsed anywhere in the Scripture [in no particular order]:
- People like Esau indulge their lust using polygyny as a veil, this problem is largely hidden today with the arrival of serial monogamy.
- The natural preference of the husband and the resulting problems this causes in the relationships, ie miserable marriage.
- The bad example it sets for all, and particularly for the children born from such practice, these children are likely to follow in the footsteps of their parents.
It's no wonder that polygyny has never been accepted as a practice in the Christian Church. Remarriage has gained wide acceptance but polygyny remains a strange enigma that some saints of old got away with, like biblical bandits the testimony of these men adds a dimension of complexity to this topic that is only rivaled [reflected] by human sexuality itself.
One caveat. To those men who are the victims of no fault divorce and would consider remarriage or who already are remarried I would say this:
1stly) Original marriage vows must be kept, if the first marriage vows forbid remarriage then don’t remarry. Carrying the cross in these circumstances means living celibate. If you're not sure what your original marriage vows were, then ask the church or state representative that married you, they keep records.
Deut. 23:23 That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the LORD thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth.
2ndly) If you live in a country that has no fault divorce [almost all of the western world does] then I would encourage you not to remarry.
There is no endorsement for polygyny in the Bible, in fact those who had multiple wives usually suffered for it. It seems that it was the unwilling polygynists who came out most unscathed from the practice. Jacob never intended to have more that one wife, and David got involved in remarriage as an indirect result of Saul's stupidity. And no doubt that is precisely why some polygynists managed the practice well and others didn't. This type of complexity makes polygyny even less appealing particularly when attempting to formulate doctrine. And I suspect this topic is often left undone because it does get somewhat 'messy' when approached from a puritan point of view, however I believe it is less messy than what is commonly presented as divorce and remarriage apologetics.
When attempting to write this summary I realized that the way it is presented in the New Testament is probably the best was to address this difficult subject.
Luke 16:18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.
Mark 10:12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.
To those inquiring Christians who are involved in a second marriage, I would encourage you to consider prayerfully your situation against the examples above. This makes it clear that God hates divorce, and especially when it is done for the reason of remarriage. To those men who are the victims of this crime [divorce] I would encourage you to take heart from the fact that God hasn't ruled out all remarriage in the Bible. If history repeats then there will be circumstances similar to what happened to Jacob and David.