A Response to “Christian Objectivity: Polygyny”
Last week, my fellow blogger Staples offered up an argument in defense of polygyny. To say it more correctly, he offered an argument against the idea that monogamy is a practice that can be defended strongly from the Bible. It is my intention to push back on some of his ideas, and maybe end up with another response from him. I guess only time will tell.
I’ll start by saying that I think Staples hits strongly on something that is probably true; he argues that because forms of polygyny were commanded in the Old Testament (specifically the law dictating a brother impregnate his sister-in-law, should her husband die, apparently regardless of his own relationship status), that the practice of polygyny must not be wrong at all times or in all places. He is probably right on this point. Likewise, it seems true that killing is not always wrong, because God commands the Israelites to slaughter whole towns and even commands individuals to kill at various points in the Old Testament. I’m actually willing to grant this point (and the included example of violence and killing was not used sarcastically, for the record).
But even holding that particular belief, I do actually still believe that monogyny is the structure of marriage God wants us to partake in, if we partake in marriage at all (after all, celibacy is a path of life too). My argument for this objectively is twofold, and I will conclude with an argument for practice in American Christianity.
Firstly, I think Staples mistakenly writes off the story of Genesis and the creation of Adam and Eve. I’m not sure if he writes this off as anecdotal or typological as the paragraph is a bit unclear, but either seems to be a bit hasty. The tale is far from anecdotal; this is the story of the first man and the first woman, living in paradise. If they represent a culture, it seems that they represent a culture inspired and directly affirmed by God, who walked with them. But what strikes me most about the story, in regards to this particular issue, is that Moses describes the union (woman having come from man, and then they reunite) as ‘two becoming one flesh.’ In fact, he goes so far as to say “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This image does not leave room for polygyny, since it is always a two becoming one. Once you are ‘one’ with another, how can you be a part of a ‘two’ with someone else that becomes a new ‘one’? (This reference is repeated by Jesus himself, though he is admittedly primarily speaking about divorce there.)
This leads nicely into my second point, which is one about typology. I also feel that Staples throws out typology rather quickly. While our theological convictions should be “substantiated by the clear teachings of Scripture and only backed up or illustrated by anecdotes or typology”, I actually believe that some typological teachings fall into the category of ‘clear teachings of Scripture.’ An example of this would be the ‘sign of Jonah,’ to which Jesus himself alludes. Jesus speaks of Jonah as a typological story of his own suffering, and theologians have agreed with this.
So when Paul says in relation to the quote from Genesis that “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church,” I think he is setting up a typological understanding that needs to be translated in reality. This is what Paul is saying that marriage is for. This is no longer an issue of culture, but rather an outward expression of a spiritual reality. Regardless of what we do with marriage from a moral standpoint (intrinsic moral value of an act or thing, that is), it seems clear that Paul is teaching that because Christ has but one Bride, we too should have but one spouse.
The obvious push-back there is that the Church is composed of many, and Christ is married to all of those people. I honestly feel the response to be a little cheeky (though I’m open to hearing it if someone thinks it holds weight), primarily because it is pretty clear to me from Paul’s connection to Adam and Eve that the idea is a ‘two become one’ idea, and not a ‘many become one.’ There is but one agent marrying Christ, though in reality that agent is made up of many.
Those constitute my current arguments for an objective and biblically based stance on monogyny. I do want to make one final argument, though it will be brief. It should be noted that this last argument is not against Staples, but rather a general “Just in case someone takes Staples’ arguments and pushes them even farther” statement.
Let us assume for a moment that you do not buy my arguments. You find yourself disgareeing with some point or another and decide to stand with Staples. I would still argue that, if you were raised in a culture strongly against polygyny, you ought to act within the confines of monogyny. If the Bible does not prescribe either explicitly or clearly, it seems best to act as well as we can within the confines of our own cultural norms. Partially this is to avoid sinning against your own conscience (you may have strong convictions about this issue), partially to avoid breaking the law (if you are in America, that is), and partially to avoid damaging your witness to all of the people around you. This issue is not like drinking, which Christians and American culture have varied views on.
I hope my thoughts have been clear and that I have showed an appropriate level of respect for Staples. I hope this never appears as a personal attack. His post was thought-provoking, and made me consider my own stance more strongly than I had before.