***It is with much fear and trepidation that I post something I have been working on for weeks, as this post will prove to be a very challenging post. Some topics are so ingrained in our traditional understanding of Scripture that they can become ‘third rail’ topics. In other words, touching them can lead to big trouble. This is one of those topics, and frankly, I’ve never shied away from the hard stuff! So, take a deep breath and let’s take a slow stroll through some recent studies I’ve had… i.e., this post is nowhere near final or exhaustive, merely sharing some thoughts and throwing things out there for discussion.
John 6:60 Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?
John 6:66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
May we seek truth, no matter how hard the topic, or where it leads…
Thanksgiving dinner at our table was the normal mix of banter and topics which included the ever present weekly Torah Portion. That week, as you may recall, we had the story of Rachel and Leah. Our discussion meandered through the story but turned interesting as we pondered various aspects of the proper Biblical perspective on marriage. Foremost, we realized that what we learned in the church and through Western culture may have some errors. This led me to further reading and thinking, and of course, my paradigms have again been challenged!
We must remember from the outset that the entire Word of Yehovah is true and unchanging. We must also remember that it is not a letter written to us, but rather, His Word was given to a particular people in a particular time/culture/context. We therefore should seek to understand it in that context and apply it accordingly in our lives.
So, here goes…
Christendom readily agrees that, as an institution, marriage began in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were ‘put together’ by the Original Matchmaker. Scripture tells us that they became ‘one flesh’ and we would understand that to mean ‘husband and wife.’
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. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
The first interesting thought here is, where was the preacher/priest/rabbi to pronounce them? In fact, ‘by the power vested in me (by the state of whatchamawhoozit), I now pronounce you man and wife’ is nowhere found in Scripture. The only Authority in view is the Living God. Here we see a great example of the state and/or church assuming to itself a power (the power to declare marriage) they do not own and have no authority over. Interesting.
Secondly, we see that the becoming ‘one flesh’ is the act of physical unity. Or, more graphically, sexual union IS marriage! I Corinthians 6:16 warns against joining oneself with another, even for a moment’s pleasure because it is ‘union.’
Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”
Even more precise is Exodus 22:16,
16 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife.
More verses express this same understanding.
This simple fact alone should give immediate pause to any young people who want to put the cart before the horse. Physical union is marriage in the eyes of Yehovah. No preacher, priest or rabbi necessary.
This also helps spell out why the Sin of Peor (Numbers 25) was so utterly repugnant to the Father. Further, this explains why the Greek word ‘porneia,’ is used so much in the Apostolic writings as we are warned away from misusing the marriage bed for personal gratification.
A final point from this first passage in Genesis that is taught, but may be on tenuous footing, is the ‘one man-one woman’ understanding. Generally, the defense for monogamous relationships goes back to the first couple in Genesis. Before we can settle on that definition however, there are some serious hurdles that must be overcome.
I have already stated that ALL of Yehovah’s Word is true, unchanging and applicable. I would add that Yehovah does not command anything that He defines as sin. So, here is a major wrench for ‘one man-one woman:’
5 “When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall [a]assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.
Clearly, here God commands that in certain circumstances a potentially married brother is to take a second woman as wife for the purpose of fathering and raising up a brother’s progeny. Further, not only is she ‘wife,’ but the fact that ‘first-born’ assumes a ‘second-born’ evidencing that the marriage relationship was more than a one-time event. Now, I know most point to the cultural context and time, but the situation is equally possible today… We must ask, ‘Does God command us to do something that is sin?’ I think NOT!
Even if we write this off as potentially unlikely and highly unusual, there is another passage still harder to dodge:
10 If he (a man, see v.7) takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her [a]food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. 11 If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.
Essentially, this demonstrates that a second wife could be taken for whatever reason as long as the needs (food, shelter and conjugal) of his first wife are met.
For most raised in Western culture and/or a Christian paradigm, that last paragraph is troubling. We see multiple patriarchs and heroes of the faith with multiple wives and it is easy to write off as purely cultural. However, confronted with the fact that it is nowhere in Scripture EVER defined as sin, but rather is allowed by Yehovah with certain guidelines, we can get pretty squeamish! I did!
There is even a prophecy that seems to speak to the potential for just this circumstance in the future:
4 For seven women will take hold of one man in that day, saying, “We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes, only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach!”
So, reading and research led me to consider other cultures and further define terms.
I thought as I began this study that the term for multiple wives was ‘polygamy.’ Actually, that is an ‘umbrella term’ that includes several more specific words:
- Polygyny: One man with multiple simultaneous wives.
- Polyandry: One woman with multiple simultaneous husbands
- Group marriage: Undefined group with multiple men and women.
- Bigamy: A person legally married, in the eyes of the state, to more than one person.
Interestingly, “in the global context, acceptance of polygamy is common. According to the Ethnographic Atlas, of 1,231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous; 453 had occasional polygyny; 588 had more frequent polygyny; and 4 had polyandry. At the same time, even within societies that allow polygyny, the actual practice of polygyny occurs unevenly.” (Wiki: Polygamy)
Scripture seems very clear that polyandry and group marriage are perversions, however, polygyny is acceptable, even if not the norm. Christendom might immediately condemn the practice, however it is fascinating to find David, ‘a man after God’s own heart’ with eight wives. Or, Moses with two. Or Jacob/Israel, four. Caleb, four. Gideon, many. Elkannah, two. Joash, two. And, a couple dozen more Biblical characters specifically mentioned as having more than one wife.
The point is this: Whether we like it or not, the Western, Christian/cultural stance on monogamy may not be so solid a case when compared to Scripture, particularly when compared to verses wherein God commands the taking of a second wife, if only for Levirate marriage. In fact, one article I read was so brazen as to say, (paraphrasing) ‘If you are debating against polygyny, you better not use the Bible as your proof-text or you’ll surely lose.’
All of that led me to a very interesting adjustment in understanding ‘adultery.’
Modern Christendom, Western culture and American Jurisprudence seem to agree that adultery is a married person being involved with a person with whom they are not married. I.e., a married man involved with any woman other than his wife would, in the eyes of Christianity, culture and American law, be committing adultery.
Scripture, however, tells a decidedly different story. If you look back at the clues already laid out, you may have arrived at the correct answer. An unmarried woman, and the married man involved with her, cannot, by definition, commit adultery! Rather, if they are involved sexually, according to Scripture, she has become his wife. He may owe a dowry, but he has not committed adultery.
Scripture defines adultery as a married woman breaking her marriage covenant (one flesh) by being involved with a man who is not her husband. Both she and the man she is involved with are adulterous. Some verses:
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. 11 If there is a man who lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death, their bloodguiltiness is upon them. 12 If there is a man who lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed [a]incest, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.
Some older theological dictionaries do define adultery in these terms, however a simple search of modern thought reveals the wrong understanding that any married person having relations with any person they are not married to is adultery.
This was forbidden in the ten commandments; but neither there nor anywhere else is the sin defined. It seems clear, that as far as the man was concerned, if he had intercourse with a woman unless it was with a married woman, he would not be charged with adultery, though he himself might be married; indeed how could he be when he was allowed more wives than one, as well as concubines and slaves? If he committed adultery with a married woman or with one betrothed, both were to be put to death. Deuteronomy 22:22-24 . With the woman it was stricter, she must have no intercourse with any man but her husband. If a man was jealous of his wife there was the ordeal of the bitter waters provided to test her innocence. Numbers 5:11-31 ….
A married woman cohabiting with a man not her husband. The prevalent polygamy in patriarchal times rendered it impossible to stigmatize as adultery the cohabitation of a married man with another besides his wife. But as Jesus saith, “from the beginning it was not so,” for “He which made male and female said, They twain shall be one flesh.” …. (I’ll deal with the errant understanding of Matthew 19: in a minute)
Sexual intercourse of a married woman with any man other than her husband. The crime can be committed only by and with a married woman for the unlawful intercourse of a married man with an unmarried woman is not technically Adultery in the Jewish law….
Now, here is something that is fascinating. It would appear that even in some ancient secular cultures the law was in agreement with the Torah definition.
ADULTERY (from Lat. adulterium ), the sexual intercourse of a married person with another than the offender’s husband or wife. Among the Greeks, and in the earlier period of Roman law, it was not adultery unless a married woman was the offender. The foundation of the later Roman law with regard to adultery was the lex Julia de adulteriis coercendis passed by Augustus about 17 B.C. (See Dig. 48. 5; Paull. Rec. Sent. ii. 26; Brisson, Ad Leg. Jul. de Adult. )…..
So, to recap,
- An UNmarried man commits adultery only if he is involved with a married woman.
- A married man commits adultery only if he is involved with a married woman.
- An UNmarried woman cannot, by definition commit adultery, though relations equal marriage and she immediately switches categories.
- A married woman commits adultery if she is involved with anyone other than her husband.
Some are asking, ‘but what about the New Testament?’ And, indeed there are a few verses that need to be addressed, but first we have to again be reminded of the ground rules.
- The Bible is One Book, not two.
- The Word of God, like the Giver, is unchanging and everlasting.
- Yeshua and Rav Sha’ul (Paul) only taught Torah and in no way overturned anything.
γυνή v. παρθένος (gunē v parthenos)
28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Growing up, I was taught that looking at any woman with lust was tantamount to committing adultery. This was the proof-text verse. Only, with our new understanding of the definition of adultery from the Torah (married woman…) we need to go back and consider if Yeshua is changing His Instructions, or if we have misunderstood His teaching.
Greek has multiple words to describe a female at various stages of her life.
- κοράσιον (korasion) : girl, damsel, maiden (Matt. 9:24)
- θυγάτηρ (thugatēr) : daughter, female descendant or figuratively, daughter of God (Matt. 9:18 & 22)
- γυνή (gunē) : woman, wife, betrothed (Matt. 9:20)
- παρθένος (parthenos) : virgin, marriageable maiden who is pure (Matt. 1:23, 25:1)
In our above quoted verse, Yeshua specifically uses the word γυνή (gunē : woman, wife, betrothed) instead of other cited options. Strong’s Concordance is specific that this word means ‘married woman, wife,’ while Thayers Greek Lexicon broadens the meaning considerably to be ‘a woman of any age, whether a virgin, or married, or a widow.’ Their considerable hurdle in this particular use is that Exodus 22:16 in the LXX specifically uses παρθένος (parthenos) and a penalty that is markedly less than the stoning that adultery demanded. Yeshua cannot overturn the Law without violating the Deuteronomy 13 test. Essentially, Yeshua, who we see in the Matthew 9 passage understanding and using the various Greek words for daughter/maid/woman, was being specific to lusting after married women when He warned against look(ing) at a woman (γυνή / gunē) with lust. He said, ‘γυνή (gunē)’ and meant, as the Torah teaches, ‘married woman.’
μία (mia) : ‘one’ or ‘first?’
2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
Does Paul mean ‘one,’ as in, ‘singular?’ That has always been my understanding, but, is that understanding in line with Torah, Yehovah’s everlasting Word? And, if not, what might Paul actually be saying?
David was a king/overseer who was married to eight… You get the point.
It is interesting to note that Paul says,
the husband of one (μία : mia) wife,
While generally translated as ‘one,’ μία (mia), according to Strong’s Concordance, can mean ‘first.’
G3391 μία : mia : mee’-ah
Irregular feminine of G1520; one or first: – a (certain), + agree, first, one, X other.
Thayer’s, considered to be the better Greek Lexicon, says,
G3391 μία : mia
Thayer Definition: 1) only one, someone
Thayer does not like ‘first,’ as Strong’s cites, but theologians don’t like to back off of that as it damages their understanding of the ‘first day of the week’ passages, which we have dealt with before. The result is theologians choosing lexicons based on their paradigm. Even if they choose Thayer’s for the ‘mia’ use in this verse, they still have to argue past ‘someone’ to get to ‘only one.’
Here’s the point: If Paul was keeping and teaching Torah, it makes perfect sense that he advocated for teachers and leaders to still be married to their ‘first (mia) wife’ precisely because that is what Torah teaches (and, as we shall see, is what Yeshua taught). This in no way precludes a second wife, allowed by Torah, and indicated by his further instruction that the overseer’s home is to be orderly.
4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?),
Matthew 19:4-6 is often quoted as a rationale for ‘one man, one woman.’ After all, it is Yeshua speaking….
4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 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’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
The real challenge, though, is that Yeshua is not talking about marriage. In fact, He has been asked to give a specific ruling about divorce and His topic has to do with the impossibility of rending, by divorce, two who have become ‘one flesh.’ Here is the broader context,
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?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 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’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 7 They *said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 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. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Yeshua isn’t asked His position about marriage, nor can He even give an opinion contrary to the Torah. (See the previously established practice in the Torah.) Rather, He is specifically tested about His opinion/thoughts on divorce, and, in keeping with the Torah, He affirms that a man cannot put his wife away except for the grounds of immorality (adultery?). Do note that by divorcing her, he commits adultery precisely because he forces her to break her marriage covenant. Again, it is the married woman who holds the key.
Here are a few closing random related items before a final conclusion.
- It is very interesting that in at least two passages, Yehovah is portrayed as having two brides. Ezekiel 23 is the most obvious with Oholah and Oholibah, but also, the entire book of Hosea portrays the wayward House of Israel as an adulterous wife in the image of Oholah. In both cases, the direction Yehovah seems to be pointing is the gathering of the two together into one family that walks in covenant with Him. Think, Jeremiah 31:31-34.
- There is no test for a jealous wife in Scripture. Numbers 5:11-31 clearly articulates the test of the jealous husband, but no such test exists for the wife. Very interesting. It again points to the husband being able to take a second wife, while the wife does not have that option.
- Solomon, often pointed to as an extremely bad example, did indeed break Torah. Deuteronomy 17:14-20 definitively states that a king is not to multiply wives. While David was seriously pushing the envelope at 18, eight wives and ten concubines, Solomon’s 300 wives and 900 concubines is beyond the pale. And, predictably, his heart was turned.
- Generally, Judaism rejects polygyny, however, it is my understanding that Karite Judaism allows a second wife with the consent of the first. And, while rare, there are cases of a shared husband among the Karites. (And, it is no surprise that the Karites do practice this to some degree as they seem to be most Torah centric in their praxis.)
For some other day, I need to study out the differences between ‘fornication’ and ‘adultery’ from an Hebraic perspective.
In conclusion, as I studied out this most challenging topic, I could find zero Scripture to support the several errors we see in Christian/cultural/Western Jurisprudence.
- Marriage requires no legal authority of the state.
- Marriage occurs at the moment of first sexual intercourse between a man and an eligible woman.
- The sin of adultery can only occur by a married woman and the non-husband partner she is involved with.
- Biblically, marriage can be more than ‘one man, one woman.’ I.e., One man, more than one wife.
I believe polygyny was less than common in ancient Biblical times, but it was never denigrated or regarded as ‘sin.’ Rather, it was something the Father allowed, or in certain circumstances encouraged. Certainly, we see Levirate marriage, but among other circumstances, may have been a great way that a widow with no son could be cared for. (Paul seems to hint at that in 2 Corinthians if I recall. Further, on a closer look, Boaz may well have been married when he took Ruth as his wife. Everything in that passage points to Levirate marriage. And, a deep loving concern for her well-being.)
Our Thanksgiving conversation touched on parts of what the research for this post confirmed. The bottom line that we came to was, “In some cases, it may not be wise to have more than one wife, but it certainly isn’t sin.” Frankly, that is a less than popular opinion in today’s Christendom, Western culture or jurisprudence, but such is the pursuit of truth. ‘What does scripture say’ and then, ‘am I willing to believe it?’
I know that this topic has totally challenged me as another paradigm has been broken. What does it all means in today’s environment? I have no idea. But it is satisfying to wrestle with scripture and seek the truth, even when it radically conflicts with what I have been inculcated with. I pray this doesn’t stir too many waters, but rather feeds our desire to wrestle with the tougher subjects for the sake of truth.
So… Don’t shoot the messenger… What does Scripture say?
Shalom and blessings.