A Very Concise Book Defending Biblical Polygyny

The other day I went shopping for a different book on Amazon and noted that this book was recommended. It was only $10 and I thought, why not?

The title is “In Defense of Biblical Polygyny (Multiple Wives). The author is Elijah J. Israel. It was published in 2021. The link is: https://www.amazon.com/Defense-Biblical-Polygyny-Multiple-Wives/dp/B0849VLT6B/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=In+Defense+of+Biblical+polygyny&qid=1623721352&sr=8-1

Israel doesn’t waste time and gets right to his subject material. He opens with an introduction to his topic and says what his thesis or focus is with the book. He is addressing the “bible believers [who] condemn polygyny because they view the text with a Western lens” (Israel, page 2.)

There are five chapters in this book.

  • What is polygamy
  • The emergence of Christian Monogamy
  • Prevalence of polygyny among the ancient Israelites
  • Fallacious biblical arguments against polygyny
  • Polygyny as a remedy for social ills

In each chapter, typically consisting of a few pages, Israel is very concise and makes his points very well. In the first chapter, Israel goes over the definitions of each form of polygamy. A very, very brief survey of the first few centuries of the Christian era with respect to the promotion of monogamy is the focus of the second chapter. Another survey of biblical men who had plural wives in Ancient Israel is the topic of the third chapter. Israel takes on six arguments against polygamy and offers short rebuttals to each in chapter four. Finally, for societies where marriageable women outnumber marriageable men as in the African-American community, Israel says that polygyny definitely should be an option; that is promoted in chpater five. Footnotes and a bibliography are provided.

If I have to quibble about something with Israel, it would be his statements on page 4 that India and China have more women than men due to female infanticide. I suspect that he got that backwards and meant to say more men than women in these two countries. Perhaps he might correct this in a future edition.

At 51 pages, this book is very readable, packed with the basic information and at $10 essentially an expanded pamphlet that polygyny advocates can distribute. This would serve very well as a concise introduction to the subject, and then the interested reader can move to more advanced and more exhaustive treatments already available on the subject.

Result of Pope Nicholas I’s Campaign Against Polygamy

I was wondering why “R. Geshom ben Judah, known as the Meor Hagolah, light of the exile, issued a, takana, ordinance prohibiting bigamy” (B. Hooper, 2007) and found this blog post discussing different scholars’ attempts to precisely identify the motivating factors for the ban, or kherem.

During Hooper’s discussion, he mentioned one scholar’s attempt to tie the ban to the activity of the Roman Catholic Church in the two centuries prior to the ban. Either Hooper or the scholar Zeev Flak (or both) didn’t make the very likely connection between cause and effect as shown in the quote below.

Another approach to isolating the stimulus which necessitated Rabbenu Gershom to issue his ban against polygamous marriage is to look towards the Christian society which surrounded the Jews of Germany. This line of thinking is reflected in Zeev Flak’s work Jewish Matrimonial Law in the Middle Ages. In his work Falk goes to great length to provide the context for Rabbenu Gershom’s ban, starting in the mid ninth century when Pope Nicholas I (858-67) campaigned against polygamy in the Catholic Church. By the tenth century bigamy was not longer a problem among Christians, however, the Church attempted to curb concubinage and divorce among its devotees. 

Benji Hooper

Pope Nicholas I’s campaign was successful. But then the Church saw the rates of concubinage and divorce increase to the point where it required the attention of the Church!

It’s really hard not to see a direct cause and effect here!

Ban polygamy and concubinage and divorce increases! Mandatory monogamy does not bear good fruit.

Marriage Laws: How many wives can a king have?

In the the Mishnah’s fourth book of Damages, Tractate Sanhedrin, there is an interesting short discussion of how many wives a king may have.

But first, what is the Mishnah?

The Mishnah is a six-part code of descriptive rules formulated toward the end of the second century A.D. by a small number of Jewish sages and put forth as the constitution of Judaism under the sponsorship of Judah the Patriarch, the head of the Jewish community of Palestine at the end of that century.

Jacob Neusner

The discussion is located in the second chapter of Sanhedrin, fourth section, clauses E-I.

2:4 E. He shall not multiply many wives to himself (Dt. 17:17) — only eighteen.

2:4 F R. Judah says, “He may have as many wives as he wants, so long as they do not entice him [to abandon the Lord (Dt. 7:4)]

2:4 G R. Simeon says, “Even if there is only one who entices him [to abandon the Lord] — lo this one should not marry her.”

2:4 H If so, why is it said, He should not multiply wives to himself?

2.4 I Even though they should be like Abigail [I Sam. 25:3]

In the Same Way – Understanding I Peter 2:13 – 3:7

Here at 113Restoration.com, our guiding principle is I Corinthians 11:3. The word picture we use to represent this verse is shown below. Hierarchy is represented by the superior positioned on the left side of the arrow with his subordinate on the right side of the arrow.

God the Father (YHVH) <- God the Son (Yeshua) <- Man <- Woman

In his letter to the exiled descendants of the ten tribes who were at that time living in and around Asia Minor (see I Peter 1:1-2), Peter was both explaining some fundamentals of the faith that they needed to know and giving excellent advice for walking in their public and private lives. My purpose here is not to expound on the entire letter, but to demonstrate that in the section 2:13 – 3:7 he was teaching the exiles the importance of respecting one’s superior in the hierarchy and loving one’s subordinate, in particular one’s wife. Let’s begin by considering I Peter 2:13-17.

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God, that by doing right you silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Act as free people, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-servants of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

I Peter 2:13-17

Peter tells us to submit ourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. From the context, it looks like he specifically means the political rulers. He is saying that kings and governors are sent by Him, the Lord, as his agents for punishing evildoers and praising the righteous. That means if these rulers are sent by Yeshua, then we as Yeshua’s subordinates fear God and honor the king. I also want to point out that while we can act as free people, we should use our freedom, not to cover evil, but by behaving as bond-servants for God (see Romans 6:22 and I Corinthians 7:22 for Paul’s thoughts on this.)

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are harsh. 

I Peter 2:18

Peter now turns from free men honoring the king to the relationship between master and servant. He tells servants to be subject to their masters with all respect. Subordinates respect their superiors.

Moving from the general case of servants being subject to their masters, Peter now addresses the specific instance of Jesus Christ as the Master, and redeemed men as his servants.

21 For you have been called for this purpose, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you would follow in His steps, 22 He who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being abusively insulted, He did not insult in return; while suffering, He did not threaten, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself brought our sins in His body up on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

I Peter 2:21-25

What is the purpose that Peter is referencing here? The purpose is for each redeemed man to imitate Yeshua as He walked here on the Earth. Yeshua is our Example. Peter gives examples of how Yeshua humbly walked but what I really want to highlight is that Yeshua kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously (see Genesis 18:22-33). This Righteous Judge is none other than YHVH Himself. We were sinners and straying like sheep, but now we have returned to the Shepherd through his suffering, death and resurrection.

Yeshua looked to His Father and acted in love towards us. This is His example. I can represent this with another word picture.

God the Father <- entrust/respect – Yeshua the Son – love -> redeemed sheep

In the same way, you wives, be subject to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won over without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your pure and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely the external—braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or putting on apparel; but it should be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way the holy women of former times, who hoped in God, also used to adorn themselves, being subject to their own husbands, just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; and you have proved to be her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

I Peter 3:1-6

“In the same way”, as servants respect their masters with all respect (2:18), so are wives to be subject to their husbands. Peter is saying that unredeemed men can be won over by their wives’ respectful behavior. Yes, wives must place their husbands above themselves in the patriarchal hierarchy, but that willing and respectful submission is so powerful it can win men for Christ!!!

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

I Peter 3:7

“In the same way” as Yeshua the Messiah/Jesus Christ enables His redeemed men to die to their sin and live for righteousness, so do husbands enable their wives to die to their sin and live for righteousness. Outside of the equality they share in salvation, the husband must regard his wife as a subordinate and helpmeet.

The English phrase in an “understanding way” does not, in my opinion, adequately translate the Greek word ‘gnosis’ (G#1108). In Greek, ‘gnosis’ means the following:

  1. knowledge signifies in general intelligence, understanding
    1. the general knowledge of Christian religion
    2. the deeper more perfect and enlarged knowledge of this religion, such as belongs to the more advanced
    3. esp. of things lawful and unlawful for Christians
    4. moral wisdom, such as is seen in right living

The redeemed husband dwells with his wife and brings her into a deeper and more perfect knowledge, and teaches her to know what is lawful and not lawful (what agrees with Torah and what doesn’t, what is holy and profane, what is clean and unclean). He understands what she lacks and supplies it so she is elevated in her understanding and walk. This isn’t about letting the wife continue in sinful behavior because she’s “weaker” and her husband needs to “understand” her.

As Yeshua trains and elevates the husband, so also does the husband train and elevate his wife.

The husband respects Yeshua and obeys Him. The wife respects her husband and obeys him.

Yeshua loves the husband. The husband loves the wife. Doing this honors his wife and he shares with her the joy and grace of salvation for in this, they are equals. Significantly, as the husband lives in an understanding way with his wife, his prayers are not hindered!!

Nevertheless, as for you individually, each husband is to love his own wife the same as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

Ephesians 5:33

If a husband does not teach his wife and elevate her as Yeshua has taught and elevated him from being an unredeemed wandering sheep, he is not behaving righteously and his prayers will be hindered. Perhaps that’s a tactful way of saying “ignored”? If a husband listens to his wife more than he listens to Yeshua, as Adam did Eve, would Yeshua be disrespected? Wouldn’t that husband’s prayers get hindered (ignored)?

Marrying Young – Good Idea or Bad?

Lori Alexander over at her blog, the Transformed Wife, wrote an article questioning why the Christian church at large does not seem to support young adults marrying early.

She questions why Christian parents seem to prefer sending their children to college to learn instead of encouraging them to marry young. Mrs. Alexander quotes someone on Twitter with whom she agrees:

“I would love to see: 1) Parents take more of an active role in their children’s courtships; 2) No more long engagements; 3) Teens/Young Adults chasing Christ under teaching parents, pastors, and family worship and a full dismissal of the statement ‘don’t get married till after college.’ If it be the will of the Lord for your lives: Chase Christ. Get married. Have kids. Grow. Grow. Grow. Grow. #make18adultagain”

@AdamPage85 on Twitter

She says she agrees with him 100%. I only partially agree with the gentleman.

His first point is that parents should take more of an active role in their children’s courtship. According to Scripture, that is the father’s responsibility, not both parents.

Mr. Page’s second point is an either/or proposition in that there are good points on both sides. A long engagement allows for time for the young couple to see each other in good and bad situations. On the other hand, a short engagement period means it’s less likely, but by no means guaranteed, that premarital sex would take place. There are other pros and cons.

As to Mr. Page’s third point about teens and young adults should be chasing Christ under teaching parents, pastors and family worship, I would strike the “pastors” from the sentence. Fathers are the primary teachers in the family. The husband teaches the wife and they together teach their children in family worship. Pastors and rabbis are Yeshua’s servants to train the fathers, however, Yeshua remains the father’s Master.

Getting rid of the notion of “don’t get married until after college” is another either/or proposition. It is true that there are professions that require advanced education. A college degree does add greater potential to earn more money throughout a working lifetime. If a young man meets a young woman in college and they decide to marry, that will put a great deal of stress on a fledgling marriage. College requires a great deal of time and effort and for the money involved, the student should give 100%. It is also true there are ways to earn a living and provide for a family that don’t require college degrees.

I think the big problem with Mrs. Alexander and Mr Page’s position is that they are treating young men and women equally. The men are responsible to provide for their household, and the women are to assist their husbands and be home for their children.

If women are focused on building their careers, they are not focused on helping their husbands nor on raising their children. For this reason, I have no problem with young women not going to college and marrying young. This way, they don’t exit college saddled with student debt. Neither are their minds and spirits poisoned by carefully crafted appeals to their emotions. They will more readily depend on and respect their husbands.

Young men on the other hand should indeed have a close relationship with Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). If they are not ready to follow Yeshua, teach their wives, and be able to provide for young families, they need to delay marriage. Being tested in a hostile environment that today’s colleges and universities have become is a good way for the young men to become experienced in spiritual combat and practice applying the lessons they learned from their fathers. On the other hand, a young man who hasn’t been given a strong foundation can fall to the manifold deceptions on campus. Therefore, I can argue that a somewhat older, godly and financially secure man is a better choice for a young girl.

All of the above said, what I teach my sons is “jobs, marriage, babies” in that order.

Reassessing Lamech as the First Recorded Polygynist

Lamech is the first recorded man to have more than one wife in the Bible. He’s denigrated as a murderer, and thus a poor example of a man to have more than one wife. Anti-polygynists use Lamech to argue against polygyny.

Let’s examine the Biblical record to see for ourselves just what was going on with Lamech.

Continue reading “Reassessing Lamech as the First Recorded Polygynist”

Every man a knight

It is the duty of every man to uphold the dignity of every woman.

John Paul II, as quoted in https://www.goalcast.com/2017/12/08/25-pope-john-paul-ii-quotes/

John Paul II was a highly educated man, and I’m sure he was aware of the rich feudal history of chivalry in the Middle Ages. In the picture above, a maiden is tying her favor on the arm of her chosen knight who is preparing to joust in her honor.

According to one site the “Song of Roland” contained a version of the Code of Chivalry.

  • Fear God and His Church
  • Serve the liege lord in valor and faith
  • Protect the weak and defenseless
  • Live by honor and for glory
  • Respect the honor of women

Combining the third and fifth elements in this list results in a knight upholding the dignity of a woman, as John Paul II succinctly says.

What might be the dignity of a woman? Well, in general, women do not possess the same physical attributes of strength and physical capacity to do hard labor, nor do they usually possess the aggressiveness of the male half of mankind. The sexual crime of rape combines aggressiveness and physical overpowering of the weaker victim. Certainly, a knight or any honorable man should protect a woman from sexual assault.

Another way a man can protect the dignity of a woman is for a father to not allow his daughter to become a prostitute.

None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute

Deuteronomy 23:17a

One of the consequences of widowhood, especially for the aged, is that the woman is often at the mercy of con artists or easily becomes deceived by fraudsters. Here, protecting the widow is certainly a high calling for any man, a modern-day knight. YHVH Himself has said that He is a Judge for the widow and orphan.

A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.

Psalm 68:5

Today, we have elite soldiers who operate in one of several branches of the Special Forces instead of knights. They swear to defend the United States Constitution. But that doesn’t mean that every man who serves YHVH cannot follow much the same code of chivalry. I could rewrite the Code contained in the Song of Roland to one more appropriate of a 21st century Hebrew man among the hosts of YHVH.

  • Fear YHVH and honor His Name
  • Serve your master or employer in faithfulness and truth
  • Protect the weak and defenseless
  • Live by honor and for His Glory
  • Respect the honor of women

Marriage Laws – Council of Trent on Matrimony

By Laurom – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8465486

When Martin Luther nailed his list of 95 theses to a church door in Germany in 1517, he ignited a debate that led to the Protestant Reformation. Reading over the list of 95 theses, nothing there was said about marriage.

Yet, the Protestant Reformation over the next 30 years generated enough theological pressure that the Roman Catholic prelates convened the Council of Trent to create the Catholic Counter-Reformation. This Council met from 1545 to 1563 over 25 sessions.

In the 24th session, in the year 1563, the prelates considered matrimony. The text is available at this location: Council of Trent, 1563, Session XXIV. I quote from the preamble and the first three canons issued by this session below.

Continue reading “Marriage Laws – Council of Trent on Matrimony”

Martin Madan Explains Ruth 4:6

When the Reverend Martin Madan wrote the first volume of his seminal work, Thelypthora, he took the time to consider the case of Boaz and the kinsman who was nearer to Ruth than he was. This is recorded in Ruth chapter four. He offers a succinct and common-sense analysis of why the kinsman refused. Let’s read Ruth 4:1-12 (NASB).

Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, so he said, “Turn aside, friend, sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. He took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. Then he said to the closest relative, “Naomi, who has come back from the land of Moab, has to sell the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech. So I thought to inform you, saying, ‘Buy it before those who are sitting here, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if not, tell me that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am after you.’” And he said, “I will redeem it.” Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance.” The closest relative said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, because I would jeopardize my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself; you may have my right of redemption, for I cannot redeem it.” Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemption and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another; and this was the manner of attestation in Israel. So the closest relative said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself.” And he removed his sandal. Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. 10 Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today.” 11 All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. 12 Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the Lord will give you by this young woman.”

Ruth 4:1-12 NASB
Continue reading “Martin Madan Explains Ruth 4:6”

The “Thlibo” Path of Polygyny Marriage as a Positive

A common objection thrown up by those who argue against Biblical polygyny is the fact that in Biblical polygynous families, we see a lot of family difficulties and sometimes, outright pain. Setting aside the equally common rebuttal that in monogamous families, we see the same kind of pain, there’s something about the difficulties that polygynous families experience that naysayers are not considering, and quite possibly that’s due to a monogamy-only translator bias, as well as the all-too-human reflexive avoidance of pain.

Before we go into the weeds with the Greek-to-English translations, I want to note that a recent story broke about when a Tanzanian miner became an overnight millionaire when he sold two of the largest chunks of Tanzanite ever found in that African country. The BBC article that reported the find also mentioned that the miner had 4 wives and 30 children. The Fox News article that reported the same story linked to the same BBC article mentioned the 30 children but was silent on the 4 wives. This is an excellent current example of how discomfort with polygyny will lead to suppression of relevant facts.

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Matthew 7:13-14 KJV
Continue reading “The “Thlibo” Path of Polygyny Marriage as a Positive”