Polygamy and Homosexual Marriage – What does the Bible teach?

I’ve put off writing on homosexual “marriage” for many years. My good friend and ministry colleague, Eric Holmberg, has been producing a series on the homosexual political movement for several years. I’ve shared these thoughts with Eric and he’s encouraged me to write this article. To be clear, although I agree with the Bible that homosexuality is a serious sin, an “abomination” — I don’t hate homosexuals. As a teacher in central Florida, I have an above average ratio of homosexual and bisexual students in my classroom. I treat them with the love and respect they deserve.

Among my own family and friends, I’ve seen the destructive outcome of adultery, sexual promiscuity and homosexuality. These are facets of the same problem, the rebellion to God’s law concerning sex with marriage. A good friend of mine recently began sending me articles from an Internet blog defending polygamy from a biblical perspective. Soon it became known that he had fathered a child with a woman other than his wife.

The great tragedy here is not that there is sin, for we are all sinners. The tragedy is that each of these people is from a Christian background. At one point in their lives, they would have strongly condemned the behavior that they now practice.

The “judge not” objection is one of the most widely abused scriptures in the Bible. To hold a moral position is to make a judgment. It is true, however, that God commands us to extend mercy to sinners and treat all people with compassion. In the video below, Eric Holmberg exposes the fallacy of the “judge not” argument.

Video: Polygamy and Homosexual Marriage - What does the Bible teach?
Polygamy and Homosexual Marriage - What does the Bible teach?
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So it is impossible not to make value judgments, including the judgment of Christians who stand against sexual sin in our culture.

I have recently become convicted that I’ve held off in part in writing on the sanctity of marriage out of the “fear of man” and not wanting to offend certain people who are close to me. But I can no longer afford to be ensnared by feelings. These situations and related situations are coming at the church like a freight train. Our culture’s fallen view of marriage as anything other than the God-ordained union of one man and one woman will affect every Christian in coming months and years. It will eventually separate the true from the false within the church. In fact, it is already happening.

Recently, Pastor Rob Bell, who made headlines last year for disputing the biblical doctrine of an eternal hell, was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. He made the statement that Christians can no longer cling to portions of the Bible that are outdated and that the majority of the church is close to accepting homosexual “marriage.”

Is Marriage a Civil or Church Institution?

Most of my discussions with Eric have had to do with marriage from a pagan/civil perspective vs. marriage from a biblical/church perspective. My argument is that both views of marriage are exactly the same except that in the Bible we find there is a mystery revealed. Paul writes in Ephesians that marriage was ordained to reflect the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church.

For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:30-32).

Unlike many Christians, I don’t find in scripture that there is such a thing as a “covenant marriage” or a “sacramental marriage” that is any more valid or binding in God’s eyes than a civil marriage.

When I married my wife, the pastor performing the ceremony pointed out that marriage is the one “sacrament” that was ordained by God before there was sin. I thought that if we call marriage a “sacrament” it is not the same as baptism or communion. God gave the institution of marriage prior to the fall of Adam and Eve. Therefore, marriage and the resulting mandate to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion” (Genesis 1:28) is given by God to all people for all time.

That being stated, it is true that with the coming of Christ, He in effect reinstituted marriage and the institution now takes on a role in sanctifying the earth through Christian families and children. It is also a “mystery” revealed, which is the literal meaning of the Greek word, mysterion, from which we get the word “sacrament” — or holy rite (Latin: sacrāmentum).

In pagan/civil systems we find marriage between one man and one woman for the following reasons.

  1. It protects women from being abandoned by men once they are impregnated and left with children they would then have to support all by themselves.
  2. It protects the children from being left poor and destitute.
  3. It protects lines of inheritance and property rights of families.

All of the above reasons show why marriage is not solely in the domain of the church. The biblical truth of “covenantal inheritance” for the church and the Christian is also reflected in marriage. The biblical reason for marriage is that it reflects the relationship between Christ and the church. All of the above civil reasons are exactly the same, but when we see marriage through a spiritual lens, we see God’s eternal purposes as well.

However, marriage is not described as exclusively “Christian” in the Bible itself. Nowhere in scripture is marriage a ritual, ceremony or sacrament mandated as part of the duties of a minister. In Ruth 4, marriage is described as the domain of civil elders. In the Gospel of John 2, the marriage ceremony is described as a covenant feast between a betrothed couple. The families had previously made a civil covenant with some type of dowry, payment or token in the presence of witnesses. The marriage took place when the man took the woman into his household. There was no ceremony or ritual beyond a feast of celebration. Marriage became the domain of the church in the late ancient period when Constantine gave the role of cleric and judge to the priests and bishops of the church. However, there is no record in the first three centuries of church history of a marriage being performed by an church officer.

In fact, the Dutch Reformed and later the Pilgrims and Puritans in America viewed the marriage contract as a civil affair. William Bradford wrote in his work, Of Plymouth Plantation, that in 1621, he performed the first marriage in New England as the civil magistrate.

May 12 was the first marriage in this place, which, according to the laudable custom of the Low-Countries, in which they had lived, was thought most requisite to be performed by the magistrate, as being a civil thing, upon which many questions about inheritances do depend, with other things most proper to their cognizance, and most consonant to the scriptures (Ruth 4) and no where found in the Gospel to be laid on ministers as a part of their office. “This decree or law about marriage was published by the States of the Low-Countries Ano: 1590. That those of any religion, after lawful and open publication, coming before the magistrates, in the Town or State-house, were to be orderly (by them) married one to another.” Petets [123] Hist, fol: 1029. And this practice has continued amongst, not only them, but has been followed by all the famous churches of Christ in these parts to this time (William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1646).

It is fitting to have a pastor or elder preside as a witness to a marriage because the marriage is between the individuals and the church is acting as a witness. Thus the spiritual nature of marriage is emphasized among Christians. I have no doubt that a Christian marriage has a deeper meaning than that between two non-believers. However, the civilly binding nature of the covenant is retained through a record signed by witnesses.

Thus there is no real difference between a sacramental marriage and civil union from a practical legal perspective.

Should the state get out of the marriage business?

To defend against homosexual “marriage,” being enforced on the states by federal courts, some have proposed to get the civil state out of the marriage business and let churches recognize those marriages they want to recognize. This is a defensive posture meant to protect churches from being forced eventually by the state to recognize something as “holy matrimony” that God calls an “abomination” in scripture. However, getting the state out of the marriage business does not protect individuals from fraud. If a man marries a woman and simply wants to move on — let’s say he drains the couples’ bank account and shacks up with another woman — then the woman, possibly left with young children or with less financial resources than the man, has no recourse except to go to the civil courts to sue. In a marriage, there is relief from fraud or theft. Divorce court is also civil court, but a divorce must include some type of financial settlement. In many states, it is assumed that a married couple shares property by law. This is not the same as an arrangement between roommates or an unmarried couple.

While it is true that churches can adjudicate and enforce church discipline, they do not have the power of punishment that the state wields. At most they can excommunicate, and then unfaithful spouse would be free to do as he pleases. In short, civil marriage keeps men in check. It keeps men from acting like NBA stars and dropping litters of children with multiple sex partners. Pagan/civil marriage does not explicitly reflect the covenant of Christ and the church, but at least it elevates us from the level of beasts.

What should be the view of the church on same sex “marriage”

The view of the church on homosexual “marriage” must first be that it is the “mark of the beast.” It is the state changing the age old view of marriage and then forcing Christians to recognize these unholy unions. Rather than a man and a woman signifying the the eternal bond between Christ and the church, we have instead two men or two women signifying the union of mankind with the serpent in the Garden of Eden. It signifies man’s fallen nature, rather than his redemption. The ultimate goal of the homosexual movement is to “destroy the image of God” in marriage. In this way, it is almost as insidious as abortion in that it hates and seeks to destroy the image of God in mankind. The ultimate goal of homosexual marriage, short of destroying God, is to destroy the church’s witness in the earth and therefore destroy the church. If homosexuals can force churches to accept the mark of the beast, then the church itself becomes a harlot and participates in the abomination of calling an unholy union “holy.” This is nothing new. The ancient Israelites engaged in this when they allowed the pagan practice of male temple prostitution (cf. Deuteronomy 23:17; 1 Kings 14:24) into their culture. It was not called “marriage,” but effectively it was meant to profane the holy place of God. So sanctified homosexual unions have always been meant as an attack on God’s holy Temple, the church.

From a civil perspective, there has never been a reason until recently for homosexual marriage to exist. The three reasons that pagan cultures instituted civil marriage have no bearing on homosexual unions. Only with the advent of modern socialism and egalitarian humanism do we see this movement toward same sex “marriage.”

In ancient times, even in cultures where homosexuality was tolerated or even accepted, there was no homosexual marriage as a legal institution. Even among the Greek culture where philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle commended pederasty — sex between an adult male and a boy — there was no idea of a civilly binding marriage between two men. In fact, “homosexuality” as an orientation is a modern idea. In ancient times, it was considered either a perverse form of lust — or it was accepted as a valid expression same-sex attraction.

Now in modern times, we have the socialist state. With the graduated income tax, exemptions, health care benefits and other social programs that benefit families, homosexuality has become an “equality” issue. It assumes the idea of achieving a greater equality among social and economic standing. The answer of the church ought to be to work to cut these government mandated entitlements. The problem is that the “entitlement mentality” has become so ingrained among the poor and minorities that even though most are socially conservative, they tend to vote for politicians who are socially liberal hoping to gain greater benefits. The church can become more outspoken against these entitlements, including the graduated income tax, and work to eliminate the IRS altogether. We must once again become the salt and light that we are called to be.

That being said, acceptance of homosexuality did not come into our culture solely because of socialism. Sexual perversion became “normal” due to relaxed morality concerning fornication and adultery that arose in the 1950s and ’60s. In reality, we can trace the roots of this permissive attitude to the Enlightenment in the 1700s and the “free love” movement among the Romantics of the early 1800s. The sexual revolution is the crack that opened the door, and once the door was flung open, we began to see socialist egalitarian arguments in favor of the alternative forms of marriage — and even the abolition of marriage. The state is now being brought into the controversy to be the “fist” that will punish those who stand against “equality.”

The “Death Scream” of Western Humanism?

Egalitarian humanism has now replaced Christianity as the “civil religion” of most of the west. We are now seeing the beginning of an all out war on the church as the last bastion that ought to be opposing statist tyranny. Unfortunately, few in the church understand the history and theology or marriage or the nature of the battle we are facing.

The homosexual “equality” movement will ultimately fail because the socialist apparatus necessary to support it is a house of cards that is already collapsing. The requirement to support homosexual marriage will be mandated in an increasing number of social programs that Americans will be required to participate in. Not wanting to be responsible for their own health and welfare, many Americans are buying into wholesale government control of healthcare, education and numerous other social welfare programs. At the same time, radical Islam is a being raised up by God to punish the west as a scourge against our sexual immorality. America is seen as the “Great Satan” in that we export pornography, abortion and permissive sexual attitudes to Third World countries.

First, western humanism will collapse under the weight of its own sin. The pattern of history is that God always uses His enemies to judge His people, then He judges His enemies. Second, Islam will begin to be subsumed by the numerous Christian revivals taking place in Africa, the Middle East and the South Pacific Islands.

The Coming (Albeit Brief) Acceptance of Polygamy

A growing number of “Christians” who are being duped by the lies of the homosexual activist movement will soon begin to endorse polygamy. They will have no argument to oppose both homosexual marriage and polygamy. This is inevitable. This will come first among lawsuits by Muslim citizens who have immigrated to the United States, then among Mormon cultists, and then by application to anyone. Their arguments go like this:

  1. Didn’t God tolerate polygamy in the Old Testament?
  2. Were there not polygamists among the Jews and even some New Testament Christians during the time of Paul?
  3. Haven’t missionaries often accepted pagan polygamists into the church when they are converted?
  4. If God condemns homosexuality in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and yet He tolerated polygamy, then why do modern Christians condemn polygamy?
  5. If Christian condemn homosexuality as an Old Testament law, shouldn’t they accept polygamy — especially among non-Christians?
  6. If Christians don’t accept the lax attitude of God toward polygamists and prostitution in the Old Testament, then why are we so quick to use the Old Testament to condemn homosexuals?

The only Christian worldview that has valid counterargument to these lies is that which holds in high regard biblical laws on sexuality — such as, theonomy, presuppositional apologetics and related views. Those who do not understand the relationship between law and grace (well over 90 percent of evangelicals) will be steamrolled by the political agenda of those who want to destroy the biblical view of marriage in America. We are beginning to see this already.

I will here use a biblical law or “theonomic and presuppositional” approach to explain why polygamy was never part of God’s plan, but was only tolerated to a degree in Israel due to the hardness of their hearts.

Four Views on Polygamy

There are essentially four views on polygamy throughout church history.

  1. Polygamy, although practiced by Israel and to a certain degree tolerated, has always been condemned by God. (This is my view.)
  2. Polygamy was allowed for a time by God, but now this has changed under the New Covenant.
  3. Polygamy is allowed under certain circumstances in the New Covenant, such as when a tribal chief is converted. These marriages are valid for social reasons, but the husband ought to be celibate with the secondary wives.
  4. There is no commandment against polygamy in scripture, although for practical reasons, it should not be encouraged.

I won’t go into exhaustive detail and outline the four views here. Others have written on it. However, I’ll make a few of points. The understanding of the church fathers in the early centuries was universally that God condemned polygamy throughout scripture. The reasons why it seemed to be tolerated were varied. But none of the church fathers wrote in favor of polygamy at any time in history. This was an issue because — although rare — polygamy was practiced, especially in the east among both Jews and pagans. Christians living in these cultures were taught in no uncertain terms that polygamy was forbidden by God. It was viewed as tantamount to adultery.

This is important because there were Jews who both condemned and practiced polygamy in the early centuries of the church. Those few Jews who accepted the practice pointed to the Patriarchs who had multiple wives. Those who claim the church fathers were “anti-semitic” (an anachronistic understanding of the term) — or more accurately, “anti-Jewish” — should understand that there were many valid reasons for condemning the religion of the Jews. Jesus himself condemned the false religion of Pharisaism both because of the “gnat” of legalism and the “camel” of ignoring the heart of God in the Law (Matthew 23:24). After the final destruction of the Temple in the time of Bar Kokhba in 135 AD, the religion of the Pharisees became the de facto Jewish religion.

Once we begin to examine the view of Christian scholars in the Middle Ages, it gets far more complicated. Christian Emperors such as Charlemagne had multiple wives. That is, Charlemagne had five wives in sequence, numerous concubines and 18 children. As Christianity expanded into the Holy Roman Empire’s newly conquered pagan lands in northern Europe and the east, polygamous practices and variations were tolerated. Still polygamy was rare because one had to wealthy to afford to keep more than one wife. It was the purview of royalty. As a consequence, there were notable Christian theologians (hirelings in my opinion) who wrote treatises in favor of polygamy.

Shockingly, even some of the Reformed scholars wrote that there were no commands in the Bible condemning polygamy. In the 16th century there was a Christian re-examination of plural marriages. The founder of the Protestant Reformation,Martin Luther wrote:

I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter.

It’s important to note that Luther was speaking of an instance in which a man with a sick wife who could not have sexual intercourse wished to take another wife without dissolving or annulling the first marriage. Later, Luther in part recanted, but the weakness of his response and his willingness to consider exceptions is astonishing.

It is my earnest warning and counsel that Christians especially shall have no more than one wife, not only because it is a scandal, which a Christian should avoid most diligently, but also because there is no word of God here to show that God approves it in Christians…. I must oppose it, especially in Christians, unless there be need, as for instance if the wife be a leper, or be taken away from the husband in some other way.

It was probably more scandalous in the Catholic world at that time that Luther wrote against sacerdotal celibacy than in favor of polygamy. Few at the time even noted the outrage.

The heretical anabaptists (that is, the primitivists and anarchists among this group) were far more austere in their “advocacy of polygamy, appealing to the patriarchal order of society in justification of their position” (Polygamy in Christianity).

The Biblical View on Polygamy

The argument for a biblical position condemning polygamy is very similar to that of abortion. Yes, child sacrifice was practiced in the Old Testament, even among kings such as Solomon. But killing a child on a pagan altar is universally condemned in scripture. And no, abortion is never explicitly mentioned in scripture as being condemned. Although the Bible speaks of the payment of restitution for the miscarriage of an unborn “child,” abortion is never listed as a punishable crime. Does this mean that God allows for abortion? No, other scriptures indicate that a baby is a living soul from the moment of conception in the womb. The laws of homicide and murder must apply here.

Likewise, although ancient Israel practiced polygamy, Jesus’ explanation of marriage and forbidding divorce and remarriage as a form of serial adultery must also apply to polygamy. Note that Jesus said Moses allowed it due to the “hardness of your hearts” (Matthew 19:8). He does not ever say that God tolerated it.

While it is true that adultery is condemned as a capital crime deserving the death penalty, we never see this applied to polygamists in the Bible. At most, Paul says that elders must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2). However, assuming that this validates polygamy is an argument from silence.

We also don’t see a single historical instance of a person being held accountable for the crime of adultery, homosexuality or bestialism in the Old Testament histories. We do see several instances of Judah’s kings using banishment as a lesser punishment for the male temple prostitutes (cf. 1 Kings 15:12).

However, this does not mean these capital punishments were never carried out. At most, it means it was probably rare or that Israel failed to enforce the fullest extent of the sanctions of the Law in the death penalty, although God commanded it as a fitting punishment.

This is most likely what Jesus was referring to when He spoke of Moses allowing divorce for the “hardness of your hearts.” It was not God’s tolerance, but the unwillingness of men to punish the crime of adultery.

Winning the War

Jesus Christ entered the world as fully human and fully God. He took on the form of a man made in the image of God even though He was from the beginning co-equal, co-eternal and one in substance with God. Human beings take on this same image of God when the union of two gamete cells results in a Person that immediately begins to divide and multiply. This is both the image of Christ and the image of the Bride of Christ, the Church. It is the image of marriage and the mystery of Christ in us. The image of conception also reflects the Dominion Mandate — to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). The explosive growth of the embryo and then fetus is also the image of the Great Commission given to the Church — to fill the earth with the Good News of Christ and subdue all of life under God’s sovereignty (Matthew 28:18-20).

Likewise, the reason homosexual marriage is wrong because it violates a creation ordinance. “In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Geneis 1:27). God created one man and one woman in His image to be a reflection of Christ and the Church. This reflects our relationship to God in salvation. The union of a man and a woman demonstrates the purpose of God that through pro-creation the planet could be filled and subdued to reflect God’s glory. That is what marriage is. It’s a reflection of our creation in the image of God.

This is what separates humans from animals, even though animals also mate and procreate. It is what separates us from angels, even though angels are called “sons of God” and are called “persons” or “men” in scripture. Angels cannot marry and procreate. Only human beings are mandated with filling the earth with our progeny to the glory of God.

Only human beings are made in the image of God. The marriage of a man and a woman then is an image of creation and redemption. Homosexual unions don’t bear that image. Polygamous unions don’t bear that image. They bear only the mark of man’s rebellion toward God. This is not the mark of Christ, but the mark of antichrist. No judge’s perverse, vacuous interpretation of the 14th amendment can overturn a creation ordinance or turn rebellion into freedom.

Sadly, even many Christians believe this battle is over and we have lost both on the life and marriage front. Nothing could be further from the truth. God’s ordinances are eternal. Nations who rebel against God’s laws are always judged. Equilibrium must always return because these laws are hard-wired into nature itself. Trying to ascend above these laws is a futile waste of time and effort.

Suppose we think of a man made of water in an infinitely extended and bottomless ocean of water. Desiring to get out of water, he makes a ladder of water. He sets this ladder upon the water and against the water and then attempts to climb out of the water. So hopeless and senseless a picture must be drawn of the natural man’s methodology based as it is upon the assumption that time or chance is ultimate. On his assumption his own rationality is a product of chance. On his assumption even the laws of logic which he employs are products of chance. The rationality and purpose that he may be searching for are still bound to be products of chance (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (P&R, 1972), p.102).

Equilibrium must always return. The only foundation for human reason is the destiny and purpose authored in our beings by an eternal God. This is the imago Dei — the image of God in us. Even the idea of “rights” based purely on human reason is nonsense. The founders understood this and rightly appealed to “God,” our “Creator,” “the Supreme Judge” and “Divine Providence” as the source of human dignity and civil rights. This is necessary, since asserting human rights above God’s Law, like a “ladder of water,” must always return to equilibrium. In the long term, we will win the war. However, to win this battle in the short term, we must do two things.

  1. Be biblical presuppositionalists — that is, not afraid to reason using the plain meaning of the God’s Law and Truth, which is eternal.
  2. Be resolute and persistent enough to challenge the false reasoning of judicial tyranny through to the end in order to expose it for how nonsensical and diabolical it really is.

We have fallen this far because Christians have cooperated in attempting to build “ladders of water.” We have been inconsistent on our stand for Law and Truth. We have been afraid to venture boldly into the civil debate and point out the foolishness of man’s rebellion against God.

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