DRAFT DOCUMENT – For Internal Discussion Only
Please do not share without permission.
- Draft 1a (2009.11.04) – Original scripture analysis
- Draft 1b (2009.12.12) – Updated scripture analysis, added commentary
- Draft 1c (2010.01.15) – Numerous updates. Moved ‘New Wine, Old Skins and Old Beelzebub’ and ‘Satan-Raising The Bar’ to new document.
- Draft 2b (2021.07.06) – Added section on Biology/Neurobiology
NOTE: This document is not pro-polygyny nor pro-polygamy nor does it endorse these. This is purely a discussion on what God is saying to us. Similarly, that I’m aware of there is nothing in scripture that in any way mandates polygyny nor rewards it. If anything, according to Paul, God may well prefer that we remain single rather than marry at all.
The conclusions from the following discussions run quite contrary to our contemporary christian culture. It’s critical that we ask ourselves if we should base our beliefs and culture on what God says or base what we think God says on our beliefs, culture or what we want to believe.
Like most posts on Crusty Logic, this should be considered a work in progress – incomplete with some very raw thoughts, observations and non-conclusions. Posts on Crusty Logic are for exploration, discussion and learning and should not necessarily be taken as conclusive or even accurate. If you’ve stumbled upon this, do not take it as any kind of gospel, talk to your pastor, theology professor or someone else whose judgement on scripture you trust. Or all three.
All scripture references NASB 1995 unless otherwise noted.
Part II – The Rest Of The Story.
In 2008, after the state of Texas raided the Yearning for Zion ranch and removed over 400 children from their homes and parents, I was asked to do an article looking at why, even though the polygyny practiced by this group of fundamentalist Mormons was wrong, the government’s actions and resulting harm to the children was worse.
There was a problem though. I couldn’t find where in God’s Word that polygyny is wrong, or monogamy (or specifically male monogamy) mandated. Not a single reference I could use in the article. Quite the opposite in fact.
This was at the height of the one-man-one-woman movement that included the mantra that allowing homosexual marriage would lead to the worse sin of polygyny. Worse sin? I was beginning to wonder if it was a sin at all. And by their reasoning, if polygyny isn’t a sin then homosexuality is less of a sin. Really? Perhaps King David and others should have had some catamites to go along with their wives and concubines.
Questioning male monogamy seems totally nutty to me though. It’s a core tenant of christianity in the U.S. Effectively treated as more important than almost anything else, including marriage, and pretty much equal with belief in God. Any man who does not live a perfectly monogamous sex life isn’t worthy of being a husband, father, pastor, elder, teacher or anything. I’d be cutting off one leg of a three legged stool.
That I have so far been able to find however, there is no definitive statement anywhere in God’s Word mandating male monogamy. It would I think be much easier to justify alcohol or women cutting their hair being sins than to justify polygyny being a sin or male monogamy being mandated. Lacking any kind of definitive statements we appear to be left with weighted conjecture. If so, that’s a difficult knob to hang our definitively monogamous hat on.
There is further an issue of equality/egalitarianism that this raises. If I’m reading scripture correctly, and contrary to what I’ve believed for all of my life (and what my rather egalitarian self wants to believe), God has totally different expectations for men and women regarding sex and marriage. (Edit: Since originally writing this, my thoughts have been flipped upside down by what we’ve learned from medical science about the differences in women and men with regard to Oxytocin induced pair-bonds and the life-altering effects of them. More on this below).
Similar to God having different expectations for leaders, he may also have different expectations for women who will be mothers (vs those who will not). And we’re now learning how different he made women vs men to match with these different expectations. Theology and Science don’t get much better than that! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
Are our christian beliefs, teachings and actions about sex, marriage, virginity, monogamy and divorce in line with God’s Word? Does it matter?
God and The Bible
For a foundation let’s start with this. Some years ago while in uni I went on a somewhat extensive ‘what’s the meaning of life and is there a god?’ search. One thing I came away with was that there’s one massive difference between the Bible and every other religious text – all religious texts I studied, except the Bible, are quite obviously written by humans with all of the flaws of human creation.
The Bible on the other hand is humanly impossible. There is no way that any one person could have written it nor any group of people working together. It is too extensive with too much detail that is all internally consistent. It had to have been written or at least guided by a being with abilities beyond earthly human abilities. We can then layer on top of this that it appears to have been written by multiple people from multiple cultures across multiple time periods. And for extra measure, nothing in it has ever been proven wrong by science. In fact, the more we learn about science the more accurate we find biblical stuff written thousands of years before humans had the requisite knowledge (this is also why I’m baffled by christians fearing science which in effect is the study of God’s creation and thus ultimately God).
There is also an issue of what human or group of humans could have thought up such an arc of a story?
For this reason I have complete confidence that what the Bible says, at least the original texts, is from God and because of this I know that God exists. When I have doubts, realize I’ve been deceived or lied to by a christian teacher or I don’t like something in the bible – I think on this. Many people criticize me for some bit of my ‘faith’ being based on something so non faith based. Oh well.
One final point. I have found that what God says is truly practical. He doesn’t command or recommend that we do or not do something for no good reason. These are things that benefit us. When we go against these things that God has said, we are ourselves the ones hurt. This goes as well for what God does not command. There are good practical reasons he does not call something a sin. We should heed this. This should also provide some basis for understanding scripture – is how we’re understanding it practical and scientifically accurate?
Christians today, at least those in North America, are extremely pro-monogamy (and pro-marriage so don’t dare consider following Paul’s admonition about remaining single) and very strongly against any form of polygyny. And more so than in years past. Not being perfectly monogamous, according to the reactions of most U.S. christians today, is much worse than anything, including divorce. Even just questioning this is worse. Monogamy is sacrosanct …and placed appropriately high on a pedestal.
What then is God’s expectation regarding who men and women have or don’t have sex with?
Numerous men of God had multiple wives and yet God never spoke against them on this saying that they should instead be monogamous.
But it goes farther. Rather than outlaw polygyny or concubines or even recommend against them, God provided guidance for these relationships.
Exo 21:10 “If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her (current wife’s) food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights.
Deu 21:15 “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him sons, if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved,
Deu 21:16 then it shall be in the day he wills what he has to his sons, he cannot make the son of the loved the firstborn before the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn.
Deu 21:17 “But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstborn.
Rather than say a king should have only one wife, God says that a king should not have excess – too many wives.
Deu 17:16 “Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never again return that way.’
Deu 17:17 “He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself.
This is something that we see throughout God’s Word – moderation and even a bit of well articulated ambiguity rather than a hard line in the sand legalism. And this would not be the only time that we humans have been dissatisfied with God’s moderation and tried to create sins defined more to our own black and white judgmental liking – alcohol one of the better recent examples. This is not to say that it may not be best for someone to have only one wife or to never marry or to totally abstain from alcohol or to follow any other prohibition they desire or believe beneficial …for themselves.
Or, rather than simply say one wife only, God carves out some very specific exceptions such as don’t marry sisters. And even then perhaps only IF they will be rivals to each other.
Lev 18:18 ‘You shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness.
Unlike us, God appears to have been quite surgical with his prohibitions. If conjoined twin sisters, who are not rivals, want to marry someone – can they?
And a step farther… Did God give David multiple wives? And do so with love and joy?
2Sa 12:8 ‘I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!
For many people these passages and others like them are uncomfortable I’d-rather-not-talk-about-them bits. Yet there they are. We can say ‘that was just the custom then’, Autres temps, autres moeurs, but there were numerous customs that God spoke out against – he has never seemed very reticent about speaking his mind. Does God need us to speak for him because he is too weak to do so himself? And if that was just the custom then, is homosexuality and casual pre-marital sex, including among students at christian uni’s, just the custom now?
While there are numerous passages clearly stating God’s desire, will, recommendation or command that women remain virgins outside of marriage and monogamous within, it’s more difficult to find these for men.
Perhaps the most oft used passage for men is I Cor 7. We should also look at Gen 2:24 and references back to it as well as I Tim 3:2.
First though let’s deal with a couple of often misunderstood definitions; Virgin and Adultery.
Virgin – All forms and uses of the english term ‘virgin’, Hebrew and Greek, refer specifically to females. This also according to Strong’s, Thayers and others. No form is ever used to refer to males nor am I aware of any other passage that attempts to apply it to males.
Rev 14:4 refers to a sort of male chastity (G3933). In context this appears to be referring to idolatry and is the closest we come to male virginity. Thayer’s in reference to this verse for G3933 mentions “a man who has abstained from all uncleanness and whoredom attendant on idolatry, and so has kept his chastity”. The researchers included the specific ‘attendant on idolatry’ which in historical context likely narrows this down to a rather specific ‘sex with temple prostitutes’ (and is in agreement with what God seems to say throughout the Bible regarding idolatry and temple prostitutes). This is also specific to the 144,000 which raises other issues. A full discourse on this is beyond this current discussion but is certainly worthwhile in the future. In any case, this would certainly make for a difficult passage to hang our male virginity hat on.
Adultery – According to Strong’s, Thayer’s and others, the words we’ve translated to ‘adultery’ refer explicitly to sexual relations with another man’s wife. As far as I’ve been able to determine this was indeed the common understanding of these terms when the passages were written. God and these writers could easily have expanded that definition but that I’ve so far been able to find made no effort to do so.
Today our contemporary culture has, quite recently, broadened it considerably from sex with another’s wife to any sex outside of marriage. That however does not appear to be how the original words were used in scripture.
Related to this, the only reason given for biblically lawful divorce is her immorality – her adultery. There is no such mention regarding men. A man commits adultery not when he has sex with someone other than his wife but only when he has sex with another man’s wife (or perhaps with a temple prostitute and this specifically with temple prostitutes and not common prosititutes which is another longer discussion on how defilement of the temple is an act of adultery).
And this not only by definition but also when expounded upon in scripture.
Lev 20:10 ‘If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
Every mention of adultery in the Bible is either specific to a married woman or is likely referring to a married woman.
It is popular in Christian culture, at least in the U.S., to apply both of these, virgin and adultery, equally to male and female but that does not appear to be the case with God. God certainly could have applied these to men and women equally but he appears to have quite specifically chosen not to and he has sometimes gone to great pains to not do so.
Further, the above appears to align with what we are learning about men and women from a physiological and neurobiological standpoint and in particular the oxytocin induced pair-bonds that she appears to form and that he appears not to. These may lend considerable practical weight to the importance for her to live a virgin+monogamous life lest she suffer the consequences of conflicting pair-bonds. For him neither appear important. The parallels here between how God appears to have designed us (physiology & neurobiology) and his expectations of us in his Word is striking.
If God made the choices that he did, who are we to re-write them? And what problems might we introduce in doing so?
That said, I want to again point out that this is not a pro-polygyny document nor is it saying that guys can have sex with whomever they want. This is only a discussion on what scripture says.
With that let’s look at the three passages.
Gen 2:24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
And a later more expansive bit on this in Mathew.
Mat 19:3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”
Mat 19:4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE,
Mat 19:5 and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’?
Mat 19:6 “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Mat 19:7 They *said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?”
Mat 19:8 He *said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.
Mat 19:9 “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Mat 19:10 The disciples *said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.”
Mat 19:11 But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.
Mat 19:12 “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”
Also similarly Mat 5, Mark 10 and Ephesians 5.
These say to do something – be joined to his wife and become one flesh. And, …stay with her, do not ever divorce her or leave her, she is now part of your own flesh.
With the exception of his having divorced his wife for other than her immorality this does not place any limits on doing so multiple times, nor does it limit taking a concubine (which was quite common then) nor does it say or even imply that he is prohibited from having sex with others. These things often ascribed to this verse are simply not there no matter how much we wish they were.
There is perhaps also an issue of chronology if this passage in Genesis is to imply male monogamy. What does God’s Word say just a bit later? Possibly by the hand of this very same writer? A writer who himself may have or likely did have multiple wives and concubines? This comes prior to God giving his stamp of approval in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy on men having multiple wives and concubines. This would be a problem if this verse in Genesis were written by someone other than the author of pro polygyny verses but is more of a problem if written by that same person.
God was pro monogamy before he was against it? If this statement contained any sentiment of any kind of expectation of male monogamy then we may have a much bigger issue.
Second, if one man one woman, male virginity and male monogamy was the intention of these various writers or at all important then would they not likely have said so? Adding something such as ‘and have no other wives’? Yet not one of these writers did so, here nor anywhere else. (Nor could they have because that would have created contradictions with other bits of God’s Word?) Who are we then to put words in their mouths?
This passage is perhaps somewhat akin to telling someone who is hungry ‘well, then go buy a loaf of bread to eat’. It does not say that they cannot buy two loaves or that in buying a loaf today they are prevented from buying a second and perhaps different variety tomorrow.
Regarding marrying other or multiple women, the writer of Mathew did not make any kind of broad open-ended declaration here but a very narrow specific case of not to do so if you’ve previously divorced your wife for other than her immorality (the writer of Mark omitted the most restrictive element of her immorality). A man who divorces his wife (or any of his wives), for anything other than her immorality has shown himself to be an unworthy husband, not a good steward and so unworthy of having other wives. God doesn’t want other women saddled with this guys irresponsibility. This is a concept we’ve seen before in God’s Word so isn’t surprising.
Finally, it’s interesting to note that the word ‘moichaō’ (G3429) which we have translated to the english word ‘adultery’ in verse 9 is only ever used in this one specific reference regarding divorce. This for all six times we see it. It is never used otherwise nor is any other word ever used for this purpose but always this one. Perhaps that word does not mean what we think it means. This certainly raises a question about translating this word broadly as the english word adultery. This has no bearing on our discussion here either way but is certainly worth further exploration.
I Tim 3:2
It’s interesting that 1 Tim 3:2 is not used very often to support male monogamy. I think likely because it, like related verses in 1 Tim and Titus, is specifically aimed at overseer’s which, somewhat rightly, makes it easy to dismiss for this purpose – application to all men. It also says that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone nor expected of everyone which creates a problem for people using it to promote male monogamy as a general rule for all.
At the same time however it suggests that while this may not be for everyone nor attainable by everyone nor expected of everyone nor even by very many, perhaps we should all aim for these things as they are good.
1Ti 3:1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.
1Ti 3:2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
1Ti 3:3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.
1Ti 3:4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity
1Ti 3:5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?),
1Ti 3:6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.
1Ti 3:7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
What did the author mean by ‘husband of μία wife’? There are seven or eight potential meanings but three that most people seem to agree are the most likely.
First is that it means what many believe it does – ‘one’ wife, no more. A man who has two or more wives may not be an overseer. Food for thought – this would eliminate Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, likely Moses and many others as overseers. Interestingly, there is no mention here of concubines. Is an overseer allowed as many mistresses as he’d like?
Second is that it means that an overseer must have ‘a’ wife – he must be married. There is evidence that marriage was required of members of the Sanhedrin so this would not have been an unusual requirement from a cultural standpoint. Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin so for this and other reasons it is believed that he was likely married prior to his ministry. This also would not place a limit on the number of wives, only that he must have at least one.
Third is husband of ‘first’ wife which may mean that he must not have divorced his wife. This is apparently just as possible as the others though I’d wonder why the author didn’t simply say that he must not be divorced as that would seem to me better phrasing (and is where my limited greek runs aground). We also know that God did have very strong views regarding divorce so from that aspect this wouldn’t be surprising.
Finally, it may not mean one/a/first at all and as some translate it mean faithful husband or faithful man which would not imply any kind of monogamy.
Even if this were stating one wife monogamy it also clearly states that this is not for all men nor all Christ followers but only a very few leaders. If male monogamy were a thing for God then why not apply it to all men as contemporary christianity has?
This would also be a quite dramatic change from what God has been saying throughout history. God goes from giving David multiple wives to saying that these men must have no more than one? If he were indeed making such a dramatic change would he not have made a clear statement to that effect? And maybe mentioned why?
Any way you look at it there is a lot more research needed on this passage, at least from my limited perspective. From what we have it does not support any kind command for male monogamy and in fact may state quite the opposite.
1 Cor 7
1Co 7:1 Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.
1Co 7:2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.
1Co 7:3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.
1Co 7:4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
1Co 7:5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
1Co 7:6 But this I say by way of concession, not of command.
1Co 7:7 Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.
1Co 7:8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.
1Co 7:9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
1Co 7:10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband
1Co 7:11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
1Co 7:28 But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.
1Co 7:39 A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
1Co 7:40 But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.
There’s quite a lot here. Only for the sake of brevity and this not becoming the 50 page thesis that it easily could am I picking verses.
First, Paul perhaps makes a point that the first part, the first 9 verses, is from him and not necessarily the Lord. As a Greek speaking Pharisee and citizen of Rome he comes from a stricter and more legalistic background than his audience and perhaps one with a heavier reliance on tradition vs God’s Word and this is something that he seems quite proud of. Similar to us, he likely viewed polygyny and concubines as unacceptable based on his legalistic cultural and polis upbringing and perhaps struggled with God’s apparent approval of both. Perhaps particularly if he’d been brought up to believe that in practicing monogamy he was better than others who did not. This wouldn’t invalidate any of what is written but is something to keep in mind as we study it as Paul did think it important enough to point out more than once (I Cor 7:25, etc.)
First, 7:1 may or likely does not mean what we think. Paul may simply be quoting the Corinthians back to themselves, not making a pronouncement. He is saying “you wrote that it is good for a man to not have sex with a woman”. He then responds and kind of repudiates that statement.
Grammatically 7:2, similar to Gen 2:24, is recommending to do something – get married. This appears to be Paul’s recommended option to avoid the temptations of immoralities. So far, so good. All we need to do now is determine what these immoralities are. Many 21st century christians will say that a man having multiple sex partners or multiple wives or concubines or sex with common (vs temple) prostitutes or any sex outside of marriage is sexual immorality. There doesn’t appear to be any scriptural support for these however. Lev 18 & 20 provide a good start on what sexual immorality is yet in neither of those nor elsewhere does there appear to be anything even implying that multiple wives or concubines is a sin, or sexual immorality.
Are we applying our cultural lens to scripture and perhaps should not?
Perhaps more important, in 7:2 Paul specifically uses two very different terms for His Own and Her Own, neither of which appears gender specific, required for gender reference nor otherwise required. There is some bit of evidence that the first, His Own or ἑαυτοῦ, is exclusive/possessive (grammatically) similar to His Finger – these belong to him and no other. The second, Her Own or ἴδιος, is non-exclusive/possessive, similar to being a member of, such as Her City or Her Father, or as in 1Co 7:7 ‘his own’ gift. If so, Paul may be explicitly recognizing that men may have more than one wife and women one single husband.
On this latter, we may not like it. It may go against our own egalitarian beliefs. What’s important here is to first understand what God is saying and then to wrestle with what that is versus our current beliefs.
In his writings Paul customarily references both men and women specifically when something applies to both as he does in 1Co 7:15. A question then is if v9 applies to both men and women or just women. In v8 he mentions widows but not widowers (possibly because there is no concept of widower in God’s Word?). In v10 he’s speaking specifically about wives, not husbands.
Does ‘unmarried’ in v8 then refer to men and women or just women? It could technically be both as in I Cor 7:32 it appears to apply to men while in v11 and v34 it is specific to women.
If Paul intended it to apply to both then given his custom we’d expect him to have said so specifically – ‘unmarried men and women’. Personally I’m not a strong proponent of relying on such expectations alone, though this is important to keep in mind.
Verse 39 further down is specific to women however and rather explicitly leaves men out indicating that men are perhaps ‘not bound’ and so may marry freely even if they are already married (it would not imply that he may divorce his wife to marry another however).
Verse 7 is saying something very similar and appears specific to men so possibly implying that v8 and v9 then are the corollary for women.
If on the other hand it does refer to both men and women then this may be the only reference in the entirety of God’s Word implying an expectation of men living a life of virginity and monogamy and it comes with a blatant statement from the author that it is not necessarily from God.
Regarding male virginity, vv2-3 at least allude to sex only within marriage for both men and women. It can be argued that similar to Gen 2:24 this states what to do and not what not to do and therefore is not prohibiting sex outside of marriage. I’m not sure it’s so cut and dried though.
A macro bit – if God was for Male Monogamy (let’s assume Gen 2 says ‘and no other wives’) before he was against it (Lev, Ex, Deu, 2Sam, etc.) before he was for it again (assume I Cor is anti-polygyny) – is God wishy washy? Can’t make up his mind?
One final thought. Paul twice says quite clearly that it is best for us to be like him which presumably means single. Yet we don’t promote that part of this passage (and personally I think that we should promote singleness as a good and valid choice).
Lev 18 & 20
Bonus Passage. This is sometimes considered the all inclusive great list of sexual sins (it’s not, there are more). These passages do provide us with a lot of detail for what sexual immorality is including no marriage or sex with; another man’s wife, a blood relative (mother, father’s wives, any of their descendants, aunt), daughter-in-law, brother’s wife (while he is still alive), another guy (male<>male homosexuality), or animals. The first five verses of 20 may also be a warning against temple prostitutes.
Yet there is nothing here regarding multiple sex partners, wives or concubines. The author actually goes to great pains to list some quite specific acts as sins rather than employ a blanket no-more-than-one-sex-partner-or-wife statement which would more clearly and easily cover all of these.
Then Lev 18:7-8 talks about the reader’s mother married to his father in verse 7, and in 8 his father’s wife, possibly or apparently not the readers mother, separately indicating an expectation that his father may well have wives in addition to the reader’s mother.
Other verses say no to a woman and her daughter (sorry Einstein) as well as a woman and her sister as rivals. These could much more easily have been covered with a blanket command against multiple wives, concubines or sex partners yet the author chose to list only these very specific incidences.
Rom 7:2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.
Rom 7:3 So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.
Similar to I Cor 7:39 there is no male counterpart to this. As I mentioned earlier, that is not something to hang our hat on but it does add additional weight.
On balance I cannot find support for male monogamy in God’s Word. Perhaps I’ve missed something or there are other passages that should be considered but these are the ones I’ve seen most often cited to support these beliefs.
Similar to drinking alcohol or marrying your 7th cousin being sins as they have been at various times, this appears to be a case of man-made sin, not anything from God.
One final thought… Yes, there are numerous incidents of trouble in the houses of men with multiple wives and concubines. Is this limited to men with multiple wives and concubines though? Or is there trouble regardless? And again the question – why then did God never speak out clearly against men having multiple wives, mistresses or sex partners? He certainly could have. That I know of he has never been shy or bashful about speaking out for or against anything and doing so quite clearly.
Does God need us to take a stand for something that he’s afraid to verbalize?
Our knowledge of Biology and Neurobiology have increased dramatically over the past ten years. Specific to this discussion is significant new knowledge about Oxytocin and Pair-Bonds.
Often called the cuddle drug, Oxytocin is one of the four ‘feel-good’ hormones. It appears to function quite differently in women and men however.
For her a release of Oxytocin results in temporarily warm good feelings in general along with a temporary lessening of symptoms of depression and anxiety. A release of Oxytocin causes the creation of a friend bond when triggered by friend activities, or from any kind of sexual activity, a much stronger pair-bond that helps to cement affection, empathy and trust with the person who triggered the release.
The pair bond that oxytocin initiates appears to be a quite strong relationship supporting and strengthening system when she’s had only one partner of any sexual activity and thus one pair-bond, but appears the opposite if she’s ever done anything with others resulting in multiple conflicting pair-bonds. This latter can result in psychological problems and weakens rather than strengthens her relationship(s) and commitment ability.
There does not appear to be a corollary for men. While men do have Oxytocin, it functions quite differently in them. It may sometimes create a temporary and mild friend bond but often no bond at all. Multiple sexual partners, from a neurobiological standpoint, does not appear to be the issue for men that it is for women.
She will often experience increasing depression, confusion and anxiety in her daily life from multiple conflicting Oxytocin induced pair bonds, he will not. She will carry Oxytocin induced pair bonds with her past sexual partners (pair bonds appear to last for many years and decline slowly) in to her marriage with her. He will have no pair bonds to take with him. Her ability to develop a strong bond and commitment to her husband appears to be compromised by conflicting pair bonds (and his commitment, dependent on her bond, may then be compromised). Neither of their commitment appears compromised by his having any other sexual partners.
We can see this statistically. There is quite high correlation between her sexual history and marital stability (below) while there appears no such correlation for men.
The solid portions of each bar are the actual divorce rates after 5 years of marriage based on data from CDC’s The National Survey of Family Growth. The transparent portion is the predicted lifetime divorce rate (we know with some certainty how many divorces happen in each year of marriage). Women with other partners labeled None includes those who did not engage in any sexual activity prior to marriage (6% divorce rate) and Spouse Only those who did but only with their future husband (11%). Tech Virgin are those who engaged in non-intercourse (PIV/PIA) activities (mutual masturbation, oral, etc.) with anyone other than their future husband.
Note: Divorce rates have declined since the 1980’s. This is seemingly good until we begin looking deeper. Marriage has declined as well and those not getting married are largely those who historically would be most likely to have gotten divorced and likewise those still getting married are those who are most likely to have a stable marriage. We also know that cohab relationships with children are less stable than marital relationships with children. It would perhaps be better to measure how many children go through a parent transition or still live with both of their biological parents which would do a better job of encompassing marriage, cohabitation and other parent arrangements.)
“My parents are trying it apart.” is a too oft heard phrase from U.S. children.
How many divorces above would not have happened had she remained chaste, at least until ‘the one’? Given the high correlation and what we know about related cause and effect it is likely that many or most of those marriages would have survived. We must also keep in mind however that there are other correlated factors and lifestyle choices that both underly her sexual activity and contribute to the likelihood of divorce separate of her past sex partners. More research is needed here.
What about infidelity? Financial struggles? Other causes of divorce? Those are indeed issues but what we are looking at here is much deeper and more important to marriage survival. This is a foundational thing, not a surface thing. Marriages in the two light blue single-partner categories faced many of the same difficulties except they had a stronger bond, a stronger foundation, to help them through – he had 100% of her bond rather than a weaker bond shared with other men.
Pair bonds do appear to decline faster in the absence of any oxytocin releases so it would not be unreasonable to assume that many or most of the marriages that survived are those where there was a significant gap, likely several years, between her prior partners and any sexual activity with her life partner or husband resulting in her having a stronger bond with him and less conflict with older bonds.
How does this relate to scripture?
While it is popular to try to separate physical sexual activity from other parts of our being, this does not appear to actually be possible for her. They are very tightly connected and she has no control over that. This would certainly lend some strong support to God’s recommendations and warnings about her remaining a virgin until marriage. Perhaps God had some insight in to how her pair-bonds worked before we did.
This does raise questions of why women and men are designed so differently. If one-man one-woman equal sexual expectations for both was God’s intention then would God not have designed men with a similar endocrine/oxytocin/pair-bond system to women? One that bonds him monogamously to one woman for life as oxytocin appears designed to do in women? Why would he not? Why did God make men and women so extremely different in this area?
The worst harms from her having multiple sex partners will involve her children. Both for her in likely being a single mom which makes for a tough road and for her children who will have a more difficult life than if they’d grown up in a stable home with two biological parents. There is also a negative impact on society – in supporting a single mom and the higher negative impacts of children who grow up in broken homes.
If she will never have children then is it OK for her to have multiple sex partners? Possibly and certainly there’s much less downside so long as she’s OK with the likelihood of not having any kind of stable long-term relationship. I’m not sure that God addressed this in his Word though.
From a physiology and neurobiology standpoint we now know that when a guy and gal engage in any sexual activities with multiple partners they are playing two very different games by very different rules for very different outcomes. And the outcome is never in her favor, always in his. Did God warn us about this? And we watered it down?
As we’ve seen prior and as we’d expect to always see, science will never contradict what God has said, he is the author of both. That something written thousands of years ago can withstand scientific discovery and scrutiny today is quite amazing.
For more on Oxytocin and Pair-Bonds: Oxytocin – The Cuddle Drug.
Semper Reformanda (Why Is This Important)
Few topics result in such virulent reactions from christians as saying that God may be OK with polygyny (legalizing pot or prostitution come close). Or that he does not expect men to be monogamous. Why even consider this? Why study it? What benefit is there in studying this? Why not just leave well enough alone? We are quite happy with our christianity and traditions the way they are.
It is always important to understand what God says in his Word. Whether we, our christianity or our christian tradition agree with it or not. There is no topic that is not worth being explored and re-explored and questioned, nor should not be explored and questioned from a Biblical standpoint.
No part of the Bible should be ignored, dismissed or feared. Every word and passage is valuable to us.
If God is not for male monogamy, if he has not spoken up for male monogamy as he perhaps has for female monogamy, then should we not presume that there is a reason? And want to know what that reason is?
Or imagine that God says A is a sin but B and C are not. But we’ve decided that B and C are sins. And then use anyone’s violation of B or C to justify doing A.
Now imagine A is divorce, B is polygyny and C is sex outside of a monogamous marriage.
One thing I’ve learned is that God’s Word is obscenely practical. It’s not always fun nor appealing (and sometimes kind of seems to really suck) to follow God’s word and it can sometimes be quite difficult but it does result in overall a much better and happier life.
Is there risk in adorning christianity with man-created stuff? Even stuff that we think is good? But that’s not from God?
When Did God Change His Mind?
“We think that the modern nuclear monogamous marriage is the norm but it’s not.
– One of my favorite obstetricians and bible scholars.
There seems little doubt that God, at one time anyway, openly allowed and fully supported polygyny as well as concubines. When did he change his mind?
With polygyny so prevalent and socially acceptable and God’s past open support of men having multiple wives, wouldn’t God have made a much stronger, more clear and more direct statement than Paul’s supposed statement in I Cor 7 if he were changing his mind on this or wanted to clarify any possible misunderstandings? This change would have been a pretty big deal.
God did not change his mind on divorce yet even so came out with further clarifications to make it very clear what he was saying then and now. He’s left no doubt how much he hates divorce and that his allowing divorce was and is a very specific concession allowed in very specific circumstances and even then by no means his preference.
Why would he not do the same with multiple sex partners if that is important? And especially if it is a such a major change from what he’d said previously?
God makes it exceptionally clear that his very strong desire is for strong stable marriages and families, and that people never divorce for any reason. Yet he allowed, in an extremely narrow, specific enumerated circumstance, a very clearly stated concession. On the other hand he has never said anything at all against men having multiple wives or sex partners, much less anything approaching his clearly expressed disdain for divorce. And yet we place anti-polygyny massively higher on a pedestal than the divorce that we know God hates so much.
More recently, in his letter to Chancellor Gregory Bruck, Martin Luther said “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.” Luther did not promote polygyny for all but did say that it was not only scriptural but fully appropriate.
In our own time Karl Barth said ‘we can hardly point with certainty to a single text in which polygamy is expressly forbidden or monogamy universally decreed’. Possibly self-serving given his own fairly open polygynous non-monogamous life but Biblically accurate nonetheless?
If we dive in to studying scripture with a neutral mind and without any traditional beliefs baggage tagging along to cloud our judgement – I’m not sure that anyone would come away with any concept of monogamy for men much less an absolute of monogamy for all men. That I can see it’s not there. We only see it there because we’ve been told over and over for our entire lives that it is. As Adolph Hitler and Joseph Goebbels said ‘Repeat something often enough and it becomes true’.
Are we trying to apply human sociology colored by the lens of our own culture to God’s design?
Sex, Divorce and Tradition
Is there any doubt that God has an extremely strong dislike of divorce – for any reason? Including adultery in any form? [God’s views on divorce include perhaps the only bit in the Bible where I would consider God unreasonable – if he truly says that a woman who is unjustly divorced by her husband cannot remarry.] God really really really hates divorce. And for good reason.
Christianity’s view of divorce then is interesting. While God quite clearly and frequently states how much he hates divorce, we seemingly do our best to minimize what God says and figure out ways around it. Culture demands it? Christianity will fail if we don’t give in to societies whims?
On the other hand, if male monogamy is indeed not a thing for God, then we’ve placed something that God at best doesn’t care about on a high pedestal and made it more important than divorce and family stability – something that God clearly cares very much about.
Are we making our christianity more important than God and his word?
Perhaps worse, we use men’s failing to live up to human christianity’s expectations of idealistic male monogamy as an excuse for the very divorce and destruction of marriages and families that God hates. We seem to be quite backwards from God who doesn’t seem to care, at least enough to make a clear statement, how many sex partners men have but very clearly hates divorce with passion. And we use the very verses that talk about how much God hates divorce and that say nothing against multiple sex partners …to justify divorce because of multiple sex partners. But hey – tradition.
God says to go ahead and have sex with whomever but whatever you do, do not get divorced and destroy your family. We say if you have sex with whomever then get divorced and destroy your family.
In part II we can look at some possible reasons for these differences along with some potential harms of creating our own beliefs that conflict with what God says.
For more read; Mark Regnerus’ ‘Cheap Sex’, Ashley McGuire’s ‘Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female’, and David Barash & Judith Lipton’s ‘Gender Gap’.
Sometime an analysis of Joshua Harris’ ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ and the fallout from it might be interesting. Did he invent sins? Raise the bar too high? Higher than God intended?
2023.07 – Added comment on 1 Cor 7:1