When people put forth arguments against the polygyny laws of the Old Testament, one of them is that if there are laws on the books that make polygyny illegal, then even if it’s legal in the Old Testament, it’s not legal in the present day, and the secular law is the controlling authority and should be obeyed.
Let’s look at perhaps the most commonly cited scripture in Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.Romans 13:1-7
First, we read that government authority comes from God. He is the One who established that authority. We see this initial establishment in Genesis immediately after the Flood, when God outlined to Noah and his sons what the parameters of law and justice would be henceforth.
Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.
“Whoever sheds man’s blood,Genesis 9:5-6
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made man.
When God set up the cornerstone of government, He chose to focus on murder and the punishment of murder, a life for a life. Note should be taken here that He made no decree about marriage at this time.
Returning to Paul’s advice in Romans 13:7 as quoted above, he describes rulers as servants of God, and should be given what is due to them (taxes, custom, fear, and honor). This should not be glossed over or quickly read. Paul is talking about taxes that are due to them (the rulers), and where have we heard that before? There was a controversy between Yeshua and the Pharisees over paying taxes to Caesar.
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. 16 And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. 17 Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.Matthew 22:15-22
Yeshua should be considered the controlling authority here as He is the true and rightful King of Israel. Whatever Paul said to the Romans has to be considered in light of Yeshua’s pronouncement, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”. Outside of the Sinai covenant, which the Lord God made with Israel with Himself as the King and Israel the vassal, when has the Lord God given human government any say in marriage?
But, unfortunately, human rulers have arrogated to themselves the authority to make decrees and laws regarding marriage that exceed what was incorporated into the Sinai Covenant made with Israel in Exodus 20-24. Humanity being the broken and inconsistent creatures that they are (Jude 1:13), laws are enacted and repealed, modified and thrown out as unconstitutional in the modern United States of America. What may be legal yesterday may be illegal today. The converse also holds true, what may be illegal today, is legal tomorrow, given either a legislative statute or court ruling. In such an environment, how can believers really say that secular government the servant of God and should be obeyed when it contradicts the statutes of the Sinai Covenant?
Given the constantly changing legal environment, the Sinai Covenant and the King of Israel provide an enduring bedrock within which to enter into marriage and abide therein.