Friday, September 4, 2009

Was Polygyny Among Abraham's People Immoral?

Alice C. Linsley

Before reading this post, I recommend reading Abraham's Complaint.

Question number 7 of the Nine Meaty Questions is: "If marriage is between one man and one woman, as Gen. 2 seems to be saying....what is all this about men having two wives one North and one South? Is this disobedience or part of God's design, and if so, why doesn't Christianity accept polygamy now?"

Answer: Marriage, as we know it in the West, is not instituted in Genesis 2. Or, to express this a different way, Genesis 2 is about the order of creation, not about the institution of marriage.

It is also important to note that the practice of having 2 wives pertained only to ruler-priests. The context is more African than Asian. In traditional African societies, rulers are expected to have more than one wife. Were Henry VIII to have followed this practice, he would have had his male heir and spared the lives of his wives (we can hope). So we see the practicality of the custom.

The actual term for the kinship pattern of these ruler-priests is "polygyny," that is, multiple wives. Noble women did not take multiple husbands, at least not legally. In fact, were a priest's daughter found in a sexual relationship outside of marriage, the law required that she be burned alive. This is why Judah ordered that Tamar should be burned. Tamar was the daughter of a priest.

The placement of wives on a north-south axis is both practical and religious. It is practical because the wives' settlements marked the northern and southern boundaries of the ruler's territory. These households were guarded by trained soldiers who intercepted all who crossed through the ruler's territory. Between the 2 settlements were the grazing lands for the ruler's herds. The herds drank at major water systems that were about halfway between the wives.

This arrangement is found in the cases of Cain, Seth, and Na'hor the Elder, and characterized the the Horites of living between Mt. Hor (northeast of Kadesh-barnea) and Mt. Harun (in Jordan).

We recognize the religious significance of the placement of the wives when we remember that the Sun was a symbol of the Creator for Abraham's Horite people. The Sun appears to make a circuit from east to west. They perceived of this as the Creator making a daily inspection of His territory. So the Creator's territory stretched from east to west. Out of reverance for the Creator, the ruler-priests placed their wives on a north-south axis. Only the braggert Lamech, who set himself up as God, placed his wives on an east-west axis. (Adah means dawn and Zillah means dusk.)

I believe that this was part of God's plan as it speaks to us about the Kingdom of God. Ruler-priests had two wives who lived in separate households yet belonged to and shared jointly in the same Kingdom. Likewise, the Kingdom of God consists of the Bride of Christ (New Covenant) and the Beloved of God (Old Covenant). Together these bear witness to the Truth: Jesus Christ, the only Begotten Son of the Father, came into the world to save sinners (such as me).

Christianity stresses the humility, simplicity and servanthood of Christ. Multiple wives are a status symbol, as only rulers had more than wife. Christian men don't pattern themselves after such worldly pursuits. They are content to be the husband of one wife or to be celibate.

From the beginning of Christianity none who came to faith in Christ Jesus was required to follow any custom other than to "abstain from food offered to idols, from blood and from sexual immorality" (Acts 15:29). As priests during the time of Jesus had multiple wives, that clearly was not regarded as immoral.

Related reading: The Marriage and Ascendancy Pattern of Abraham's People; Sent-Away Sons


Anonymous said...

Hi Alice! I was wondering where more information about marriage practices of priests in the time of Acts could be found? I had not heard this before, though, it would make sense that the time-honored traditions of the father of the Jewish people would not have died out.


Norman Voss said...


Again some interesting insights and they make sense of the typology found in the OT.

It seems that the wife of Adam (Eve) represented the OT covenant while the Church (Body of Christ) represented the NT wife. Paul says that the existing wife (faithful) would have a new husband when the old one died. (Rom 7:1-4) This is represented by Christ coming as a Perfect embodiment of the old covenant Adam (Jew) and dying and thus put Adam’s representation to Death through sacrifice on the Cross. Adam as the first covenant husband was dead through Christ resurrection. Thus the faithful Jewish remnant were free to take the new 2nd Spiritual Adam as their new husband while the Gentiles who never had a covenant husband were considered by Paul as chaste virgins (2 Cor 11:2) were presented to Christ as well. We have then the two wives being united into one wife at the marriage consummation. This is illustrated in Ephesians discussing the two peoples being formed as one.

Eph 2:13-19 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (14) For he himself is our peace, who HAS MADE US BOTH ONE … that he might create in himself one new man IN PLACE OF THE TWO, so making peace, (16) and might RECONCILE US BOTH TO GOD IN ONE BODY through the cross, … For through him WE BOTH have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Eph 5:29-32 … just as Christ does the church, (30) because we are members of his body. (31) "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH." (32) This mystery is profound, and I am saying that IT REFERS TO CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.

This is further illustrated in Revelation where the symbolic 144,000 consisting of faithful Israel stands together with the Gentile faithful.

Rev 7:4 And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: …. 9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, FROM EVERY NATION, FROM ALL TRIBES AND PEOPLES AND LANGUAGES, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, CLOTHED IN WHITE ROBES, with palm branches in their hands,

Rev 19:7-8 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for THE MARRIAGE OF THE LAMB has come, and HIS BRIDE has made herself ready; (8) it was granted her to CLOTHE HERSELF WITH FINE LINEN, bright and pure"-- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

I think your observation of the two wives could then be expressed in Covenant Judaism representing the wife of the South and non covenant Gentiles representing the scattered northern tribes of Israel who essentially became de facto Gentiles through the earlier dispersions. This meant that Christ was the husband of the Southern and Northern Wives again.

Hos 1:10-11 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, "YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE," it shall be said to them, "Children of the living God." (11) And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head.

Just some thoughts that your article reminded me of.

Norm Voss

Alice C. Linsley said...

Hi, Karen. Tradition holds that Joseph had 2 wives. The brothers of Jesus mentioned in Scripture are his half-brothers, our Lord being Mary's only child.

You might find this essay interesting: