Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Polygamy and the Bible

As many of you no doubt know, the State of New York recently legalized gay marriage and, significantly, did so in the absence of judicial fiat (as in Connecticut, Iowa, & Massachusetts) or ultimatums (as in Vermont) but through the normal legislative process (as happened in New Hampshire). New York is the largest state by far to have instituted gay marriage, and its passage there has been the occasion of a lot of commentary from both left and right about the nature of marriage itself. More and more, people on both sides of the political aisle are finding it difficult to conclude that marriage necessarily means one man and one woman. As a result, that biblically based concept is increasingly under fire, and now is seen as the last refuge of the bigot.

Indeed, one of the more common attacks against it is the idea that there is simply no such thing as "biblical marriage" as equivalent to one man, one woman given the polygamy of some of the patriarchs and kings of the Old Testament. Thus, the reasoning goes, if God does not condemn polygamy, how can monogamous, albeit homosexual, "marriages" be worthy of condemnation? They are, in this, partially correct. It is true that God nowhere explicitly (more on that in a moment) condemns polygamy anywhere in the Old Testament and it is true that some of the patriarchs and kings were polygamous and yet blessed by God. So how can this be if it is true that God's plan was always monogamy? But they conveniently choose to leave out the following facts:

Genesis 1 tells us that God, in making humanity "in his image" created one man and one woman in a relationship (marriage) designed for fruitfulness and mutual blessing. There are no indicators that any other kind of relationship was ever part of God's original design.

Genesis 2 speaks of God creating and then bringing the woman to the man as his perfectly suited companion. Again there is no indication that multiple women, or indeed, multiples or singles of anything or anyone other than a woman would be the ideally suited companion to complete the man.

In Genesis 4, we meet Cain, who is not only the first murderer, but also the one who sets up a civilization opposed to God. One of Cain's descendants (Lamech) not only doubles down on Cain's murdering, he is also the first polygamist. Say what you will, this is hardly a recommendation for the concept.

Or, if you want to get actually into the details, consider the four major figures who were polygamous in the Old Testament. All were blessed by God, but it must have been in spite of their polygamy, because their polygamous families are all presented in their respective narratives as a mess you wouldn't want any part of. Consider first Abraham: Abraham married Sarah, Hagar the Egyptian, and Keturah. He had Isaac through Sarah, Ishmael through Hagar, and six sons through Keturah. Hagar and Sarah were at war when they lived in the same household and Hagar was eventually "sent away" (i.e., divorced). Her son, along with the sons of Keturah, formed the Arab and Bedouin tribesmen that were at war with Israel (the sons of Abram's grandson Jacob) from 1500 BC to the present day. So that worked out well.

Now consider Jacob: He had two wives, Rachel and Leah, along with two concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah. There was unrelenting competition among the legit wives, who each gave their handmaiden to Jacob as an additional wife. The whole sordid story, including Leah "renting" Jacob from Rachel in exchange for some of Reuben's mandrake roots, the selling into slavery of Joseph, the firstborn of Rachel, and so on makes one wonder "How can God be using these people to redeem the world?" but it never makes you think, "If only I had some more wives, because this looks like a good plan that God blesses."

How about David? Well, one of his sons (Amnon) raped his half-sister Tamar, in recompense for which he was murdered by his half-brother Absalom. Absalom then, after a complicated series of events, led a rebellion against his father David and took the kingdom for a time. This rebellion was due, at least in part, to the fact that David was not going to give the kingdom to him, but to the son David had with Bathsheba, whom David had gained as a wife through seduction and murder. That son, Solomon, had his half-brother (Abijah) executed because Abijah was scheming for the throne as Solomon's older brother by a (more) legitimate wife. So again, this seems like a pattern worth replicating, no?

Solomon, the all time biblical polygamy champ, was "led astray" from the Lord by his many wives, who introduced explicit idolatry into Israel again. He is in fact the living embodiment of the reason for God's command in Deuteronomy 17:17 that the king "must not take many wives for himself, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold." Moreover, because of Solomon's violations of these very commands, his foolish son Reheboam lost the northern half of the kingdom to a former general who set up idolatry, continuing the worship that had been imported along with Solomon's wives. The spread of idolatry, which grew to prominence in precisely this way was in fact the reason for the eventual exile from the land of both northern and southern kingdoms.

Moving to the New Testament, Jesus emphasized repeatedly that "At the beginning of creation, God 'made them male and female.' 'For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one." (Mark 10:6-8). Note that Jesus goes back to Genesis 1 and 2, emphasizes the original pattern given by God as equivalent to God's plan for marriage. Also note the following: 1) male and female; 2) "wife," not "wives"; and 3) the repeated use of "two" as the number denoting a proper marriage. Jesus doesn't support the polygamous idea as anything other than a corruption of God's ideal.

Further, in the list of requirements for church leaders (elders and deacons) in the Pastoral Epistles, the Greek term mias gynaikos andra (literally, "one woman man") is used to indicate that the proper number of wives for a Christian leader is one.

Thus, there is simply no evidence for the claim that biblical marriage has a wider definition than that of the one-flesh union of one man and one woman. Not that I think this will convince anyone not already inclined to accept the Bible as authoritative and true. That is, I don't believe that anybody making this argument is doing so as anything other than as a way to tell Bible believing Christian to shut their collective pie holes already. But at least you can point them to what the Bible actually teaches on the subject rather than what they seem to think that it does.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sun, Sand, and Celebration

As many you already know, Karen and I went to Florida to celebrate our 15-year anniversary. We left on June 2nd and returned home yesterday. It was a nice, long break, made even nicer by the fact that we didn't have to break the bank to go and by the fact that we were able to go just the two of us. We haven't had that sort of extended getaway in a long time, probably since before we had children. So it was nice to have time to really relax in an environment we love. We ate out, talked uninterrupted, watched American Choppers and Pawn Stars, shopped at Bass Pro and Bath and Body Works, walked for miles and miles in the surf, slept until we woke up (does 7:30 still count as "sleeping in"?), drank coffee, put shrimp in our salads, cooked frozen skillet meals, ate fresh mangoes and papayas, swam in the pool, did our devotions in a beach chair, read, napped, took a glass-bottomed boat ride over a reef, and in general reminded ourselves of all the reasons we got married in the first place. We simply love being together and can't imagine life apart. Life is hectic and harried sometimes, so it's good to go the beach to celebrate the other part.

We also spent all day going exploring in the Everglades and Big Cypress National Parks. And if anyone tells you that alligators are "endangered," don't you believe it. There were alligators in every pool and canal, lying in every culvert and under every bush. We saw over a hundred just in the little places that we walked through. Babies, adults, and great big monsters of the water. Gators were everywhere! I was amazed that the alligators would let me get as close as I did to them, and even more amazed that there aren't more rules, park rangers, and fences preventing such foolishness. We also saw hundreds of fish of every shape and size, turtles (including one immense snapping turtle), plus four varieties of herons, egrets, massive eagle nests, anhingas, black vultures, purple gallinules, giant grasshoppers, gumbo limbo and strangler fig trees, orchids, bromeliads, mango and papaya orchards (we stopped for a fresh papaya milkshake), and more gators. Overall, the area was much different than I expected. I was thinking giant live oaks and cypress trees, not mangrove swamps and oceans of sawgrass. But it was amazing, nonetheless. Oh, and in case you needed any reminders not to ever hang your feet off a dock in Florida, I hope you enjoy this photo.

We missed our kids like crazy by the week's end, so it was great to know that they weren't missing us overly much. They were too busy living it up at Grandma and Grandpa's house. They spent their days making banana splits, watching movies on a giant "screen" outside under the stars (with full surround sound, no less!), holding the various members of a new litter of puppies, swimming in the pond, having enough Nutella to affect the stock price, playing in the playhouse, riding the Mule (a 4x4 golf cart), and in general running amok. Still, when we got back, they remembered that they missed us, and were all happy to be headed home. At least, all except Ashley, who is happily spending "just a few more days" by herself at Chez Horn. (We agreed to let her do this because we are aware that in a family like ours, time for "just me" to do something is a rare occurrence. Nathan got his turn last summer. This is Ashley's year. Hopefully, we'll be able to do the same for Sara and John in years to come.)

So to sum up: We had a blast. We felt incredibly blessed. We are glad to have gone and glad to be home.