«A response to AnswersinGenesis.org and their Monogamy only position. In a recent debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, Ken Ham affirmed his belief ...»
A response to AnswersinGenesis.org and their Monogamy only position.
In a recent debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, Ken Ham affirmed his belief that Genesis
insists upon one man and one woman.
Previously available on Ken’s website, Answers in Genesis.org, the following question was
submitted and a response posted by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati
Does the Bible clearly teach monogamy?
This question and Dr Sarfati’s response doesn’t seem to be available on the AIG website, however, it is included at the top of this response.
We did find this article by Roger Patterson on AIG, here;
http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2011/05/24/polygamy-in-the-bible While this response addresses the points made by Dr Sarfati, the new article by Roger Patterson varies little to it and so most of the important points are rebutted in our response.
Mr. Andrew Amelang wrote this refutation to a friend whose mother had used the AnswersinGenesis article of Dr Sarfati to oppose polygyny. We have edited the article to make it less personal.
2 November 2005 The original Q&A from AnswersinGenesis.org Does the Bible clearly teach monogamy?
by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati
‘Ken Ham often says that Genesis shows that “God intended one man for one woman.” While I agree with monogamy, the Bible has many examples of men with more than one wife, and appears not to condemn this. Could you please explain how Genesis clearly teaches monogamy as Ken says.’
The clearest evidence that monogamy is God’s ideal is from Christ’s teaching on marriage in Matt. 19:3–6. In this passage, He cited the Genesis creation account, in particular Gen. 1:27 and 2:24, saying ‘the two will become one flesh’, not more than two.
Another important biblical teaching is the parallel of husband and wife with Christ and the Church in Eph. 5:22–33, which makes sense only with monogamy — Jesus will not have multiple brides.
The 10th Commandment ‘… You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife [singular] …’ (Exodus 20:17) also presupposes the ideal that there is only one wife. Polygamy is expressly forbidden for church elders (1 Tim. 3:2). And this is not just for elders, because Paul also wrote: ‘each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.’ Paul goes on to explain marital duties in terms that make sense only with one husband to one wife.
The example of godly people is also important. Isaac and Rebekah were monogamous — they are often used as a model in Jewish weddings today. Other examples were Joseph and Asenath, and Moses and Zipporah. And the only survivors of the Flood were four monogamous couples.
Polygamy’s origins and consequences A very important point to remember is that not everything recorded in the Bible is approved in the Bible. Consider where polygamy originated — first in the line of the murderer Cain, not the godly line of Seth. The first recorded polygamist was the murderer Lamech (Gen. 4:23–24). Then Esau, who despised his birthright, also caused much grief to his parents by marrying two pagan wives (Gen. 26:34).
God also forbade the kings of Israel to be polygamous (Deut. 17:17). Look at the trouble when they disobeyed, including deadly sibling rivalry between David’s sons from his different wives;
and Solomon’s hundreds of wives helped lead Solomon to idolatry (1 Kings 11:1–3). Also, Hannah, Samuel’s mother, was humiliated by her husband Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah (1 Sam.
What about godly men who were polygamous?
Abraham and Sarah would have been monogamous apart from a low point in their faith when Hagar became a second wife — note how much strife this caused later. Jacob only wanted Rachel, but was tricked into marrying her older sister Leah, and later he took their slave girls at the sisters’ urging, due to the rivalry between the sisters. Jacob was hardly at a spiritual high point at those times, and neither was David when he added Abigail and Ahinoam (1 Sam. 25:42–43).
Why did God seem to allow it, then?
It is more like the case of divorce, which God tolerated for a while under certain conditions because of the hardness of their hearts, but was not the way it was intended from the beginning (Matt. 19:8). But whenever the Mosaic law had provisions for polygamy, it was always the conditional ‘If he takes another wife to himself …’ (Ex.21:10), never an encouragement. God put a number of obligations of the husband towards the additional wives which would discourage polygamy. It is no wonder that polygamy was unknown among the Jews after the Babylonian exile, and monogamy was the rule even among the Greeks and Romans by New Testament times.
Geisler, Norman L., Christian Ethics: Options and Issues, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, pp. 280–281, 1989.
Archer, Gleason L., Jr., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, pp.
Available online at:
http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/4074.asp COPYRIGHT © 2005 Answers in Genesis
Response to AnswwersinGenesis’s stand on monogamy only.
The AnswersinGenesis response to polygyny is what I call “the usual stuff”, by which I mean that it is the conventional approach in Western churches to discussing the subject of polygamy. The tradition of legally enforced monogamy is so entrenched in the West (that is, basically all the cultures influenced by the Roman Empire and Roman Church) that typically not much attention is given to the argument, so typically some fairly lightweight inferences and analogies are thrown out there with a “that settles it” attitude, and that’s pretty much the end of the conversation!
And really, for most of the people you’ll ever meet, why bother with building or refuting a well researched and thoroughly thought out argument? There just aren’t that many polygamous families in our culture, and not that many more that want to be, so it just isn’t a real hot item for most people. What passes for discussion in most church circles is merely two people who already thought polygamy was wrong reassuring each other that it really is wrong, so it doesn’t take much convincing. Hence the lackadaisical approach to the subject and the sloppy arguments.
The only things that make this a hot topic for anyone, then, are either (a) for whatever reason starting to think that maybe plural marriage is or should be a reasonable lifestyle for one’s family, or (b) meeting an actual polygamous family, which is so outrageous and such a curiosity in our culture that it causes people to re-examine their beliefs about marriage and the sources or foundations of those beliefs.
I’m going to take this essay apart piece by piece and show you the difference between how I and others like me look at this and how this guy and others like him look at it. This really is one of those “which end of the telescope are you looking through?” deals, where the way you choose to look at things has a way of determining what you will see. However, I think you’ll agree with me at the end that there’s one way of looking through the telescope that works and one way that doesn’t work too well.
I’m a lawyer and teacher by training, so I have a particular approach to ethics, logic, and hermeneutics (the rules that govern our study and interpretation of the Bible). I stick to what the text says, and I am not all that interested in analogies, metaphors, and inferences. Those things can be interesting, but they can also be extended in all kinds of ways that may or may not have anything to do with the original text or the rest of scripture. Better to stick to the straight up stuff.
With that in mind, let’s get going!
1. Language: Note the way the language of the piece is loaded.
The title of the piece suggests and it is flatly asserted later on in the piece that the bible “clearly teaches monogamy” (meaning, I guess, that the author thinks that the bible clearly teaches that having more than one wife is SIN). It’s not as clear as our author thinks it is; it is only clear to him because he is not taking the other side seriously. I think you’ll see what I mean by the time we’re finished here.
The opening question (that section that kicks off the piece) says that “the Bible … appears not to condemn this”. That’s a weird way to put it, isn’t it? It “appears” not to condemn it because in fact it does not condemn it. There is no prohibition of polygamy in the scriptures, and no condemnation by God of any polygamist or of polygamy per se. It’s good to keep that in mind while we go through all these inferences that get thrown up in support of the monogamy–only argument.
One of the headings in the article says “why did God seem to allow it?” Can you guess what I’m going to say? He “seemed” to allow it because He did in fact allow it. As I just said, there is no verse in the scriptures wherein God states a negative opinion of polygamy or polygamists. Everything you’re ever going to hear against it is based on inferences drawn from examples, not from any negative statements by God himself or any apostle or prophet.
Are you getting a feel for this yet? Sticking to the plain text of the scriptures would give you one impression on this subject, but you are being told that God “appears” not to condemn it, and the He only “seemed” to allow it, and that in fact the scriptures “clearly” teach what they do not actually teach at all!
This is an important point, because many teachers want you to believe that things in the Bible “seem” or “appear” to be one way, but they are really another way altogether. (I guess you have to go to seminary to be taught what the scriptures “really” mean….) My contention (and believe me, I’m not the only one that thinks this) is that the scriptures mean what they say, and once we get past our cultural prejudices, it’s not that hard to figure stuff like this out.
Again, just be advised that Dr Sarfati is doing a pre-emptive strike on any kind of rational discussion of scripture, because anything I point to in scripture is going to be said to just “seem” or “appear” to be the case. Oh, well. Let’s soldier on, anyway.
2. “One flesh” – Matthew 19:3-6 Okay, he says this is “the clearest evidence” he’s got, so it had better be good, right? He’s taking his best shot first, right? You tell me….
The Pharisees also came unto him [Jesus, that is], tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
So let’s notice first that this has nothing directly to do with polygamy at all. The context is a conversation about divorce (and later, remarriage), not polygamy. Jesus’s point is that married people become one flesh, so we shouldn’t rip that one flesh apart. It’s not exactly clear here (or anywhere else in the Bible, for that matter) what “one flesh” means, but Jesus says whatever it is, we shouldn’t mess with it. God puts married people together, and we shouldn’t split them up.
Okay, so there’s the text: Jesus is asked a question about divorce, and he says, “Don’t do it, it is separating what God has joined”. Simple, right? So what does our author want to make of this? He says that two become one flesh, “not more than two”.
First, there is no textual support for that either way; he is simply making an unsubstantiated assertion, and assuming that we will follow him. He is assuming, not discussing or teaching, what the significance of “one flesh” is, and based on that assumption, he infers that “one fleshness” (whatever that is) is only available to two people.
Now, there’s a school of teaching in polygamous circles that says that the “oneness” of marriage applies to three or four or however many people are in the family. I think they call it “echad” polygamy (“unity” polygamy). I don’t subscribe to that myself, and as far as I know most polygamists don’t.
The thing is, though, there’s nothing about “one flesh” that says that it can’t apply to each marriage relationship. Jacob was “one flesh” with Leah, and he was “one flesh” with Rachel, and he was “one flesh” with Bilhah, and he was “one flesh” with Zilpah.
In fact, apparently a man is one flesh with any woman he sleeps with, whether they’re married to each other or not. In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul is discussing sexual immorality, and he says, “Or do you not know that he being joined to a harlot is one body? For He says, The two shall be one flesh.” (1 Cor 6:16) Apparently Paul thinks that any sexual relationship can be described by the term “one flesh”, even if a married guy is sleeping with someone else, so whatever we think “one flesh” means, we have to take that into account.
To sum it up, there’s nothing the Bible teaches about what it means to be “one flesh” that requires that a person can only be “one flesh” with one other person. “One flesh” is obviously a consequence of sexual activity, and not as obviously but a serious position taken by many commentators and teachers over the years is that it has to do with children, where the mix of DNA from the father and mother really does, in fact, produce “one flesh” out of the two.
So on analysis, our author’s “clearest evidence” is really just a trick, a kind of sleight of hand like magicians use to focus your attention on one thing while they’re doing something else.