Now I have a bit of more time to respond, as some have expected me to. I will get to the point of correcting Reno’s misinterpretation of the texts he cited, but let’s get these bigger issues cleared first. I write for serious readers, so, please try to read to the end.
BIGGER ISSUES TO UNDERSTAND…
First, Reno, typical of someone who is only proof-texting (a mark of poor theology and biblical interpretation) rather than taking the entire Scripture and the nature of God in view when interpreting, he unsurprisingly depends mostly on examples of polygamy within the period after the fall and before the restoration in Christ. If you want to know God’s original and eternal plan and purpose for marriage and creation generally, see what happened before the fall. And there, it says “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Only two people are involved here. This is what God calls good. Any kind of marriage after the fall and before the restoration of Christ is not good in the perfect sense in which God called Adam and Eve’s union “good.”
WHAT ABOUT ABRAHAM, DAVID, etc.
If Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, etc. who were polygamous were perfect examples of God’s original intention for marriage as between one man and one woman, Jesus would not have reiterated what God’s original intention from the beginning was. Everything that happened after the fall in Genesis 3 up to the restoration of the order in Christ was more of “damage control” and God’s “permissive will” rather than His perfect will and plan. This is why, even regarding divorce, Jesus said Moses permitted it only because of their hardness of heart, and Jesus clearly said, “but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:3-9). By the way, do you remember that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:1-3). I say mek I remind una
In this same Matthew 19:5, Jesus repeated the original plan, that “the two shall become one flesh.” Three or more marriage partners is not in God’s original plan, neither is it in Christ’s restored plan. Polygamy does not reflect the mutual “two-shall-become-one” kind of faithfulness and absolute self-donation to each other that Christian marriage and the relationship between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31-32) represent.
In a nutshell, Old Testament figures like Abraham were within the realm of the fall without yet God’s perfect gift of restoration made effective in Christ. They themselves tried to live by God’s perfect will but kept failing, despite the commandments and stringent punishments, which is why God promised, through Ezekiel and Jeremiah, etc., to give us a new heart and a new spirit, putting His Spirit in us to move us to obey his decrees (Ezek. 36:26-27; Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10). The moral failings of the Old Testament prophets and their people and the promise of restoration is the reason why they admired us in advance who would serve God after the restoration had been accomplished in Christ (1 Peter 1:10-12; Heb. 12:39-40).
Does this mean we should discard the Old Testament prophets and heroes of faith and only read the New Testament? No. They got some things right, at least the persistent quest to serve God despite moral failings, which could be good examples to us, but we are not to follow their lifestyle in the aspects that they did not reflect God’s original plan as it was from the beginning and as we now see it clearer in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in us (which they did not have in the same way we do).
CORRECTING RENO OMOKRI’s MISINTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE
Secondly, let’s correct Reno’s misinterpretation of Scripture. 2 Sam. 12:8 is not in the context of God deciding, because of its goodness, to give David many wives. That was a statement about God giving victory to David over his master. Along with that victory is David having access to the houses as well as wives of his master Saul. So, it is wrong to single out that God gave David many wives without putting it in context to specify that what God primarily gave David was victory over Saul, then David, typical of conquerors in that period, could plunder the possessions of the conquered, in this case, houses and wives. Remember, this was still within the period of the fall, before the restoration in Christ, so, the explanation in point one above applies.
Coming to the New Testament, specifically by saying that “Polygamy is only forbidden for Bishops, overseers and elders in the church” in 1 Tim. 3:2 is such a biblical interpretation blunder that even a first-year theology student shouldn’t make. The church in Ephesus and the church in Crete, where Timothy and Titus were serving as young Pastors, respectively, under Paul’s remote supervision, were filled with mostly new believers in Christ, who had their ways of life before conversion and were now trying to change their ways of life to a Christian standard. Polygamy was one of the ways of life they knew before conversion, and now many of them needed to be monogamous, which was the Christian lifestyle they were taught. While they were sorting that out, anyone among them who was still polygamous would not be a good example for the new lifestyle that followers of Christ ought to live. Hence, Paul instructed Timothy to not let anyone who was still polygamous to be a leader in the church, so that monogamous leaders would serve as good example for other men to be monogamous. There is no different Christian moral standard only for church leaders. It is the same standard for every believer in Christ, but those who will model those standards are the ones to be leaders.
IS CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE VOW UNSCRIPTURAL? Nah…
Reno then makes an interesting point about the marriage vow being unscriptural. No Sir, it is not unscriptural, if by scriptural you understand it to be the message and essence of it rather than the actual wordings of it verbatim. Everything in the marriage vow is a statement of commitment, and that commitment is a clear expression of “leaving,” “clinging,” “becoming one flesh” and “not putting asunder” (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5-6; Mark 10:9). However we choose to change the marriage vows, the wordings are not the main point, but the depth, message, essence, and spirit behind the vows, and there is no way we can express commitment to leave, cling, become one flesh, and not put asunder without the seriousness with which the current Christian marital vows represent. What aspect of the marriage vow does Reno say is unscriptural? I would like to know.
And if his understanding of what is “scriptural” is only what is directly quoted from scripture word for word, then he needs a basic class in theology rather than a response. For a hint, what is scriptural to us today is more of the principles outlaid in Scripture, which reflect the character and will of God for all eternity, rather than what is written word for word in Scripture, because most of it emanated from a specific context in a specific time that is different from ours. Scripture was written for us, not to us, hence the message more than the literal wordings.
DOES POLYGAMY SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF HIGH RATE OF ADULTERY?
Did I hear Reno say that not permitting polygamy “is the reason we have such a high rate of what we call cheating in our society?” And did I hear him insinuate that the rate of cheating in Europe and America compared to Saudi Arabia and Jordan is higher because polygamy is prohibited in Europe and America but permitted in Saudi Arabia and Jordan? No, that’s too low for a widely travelled and exposed person like him. Polygamy does not cure lust, let that sink! Some of the most adulterous people are polygamous, while some of the most faithful couples are monogamous. Polygamy or monogamy is a bigger issue of the heart and sinful nature of people, from the fall of man into sin, rather than a mere number of one’s sexual partners. The argument comparing the rate of cheating in Europe and Saudi Arabia seems lame to me, indicating that Reno does not seem to understand the complexities and differences between open and close societies. Just thinking about the nature of the societies compared is enough to solve the seeming puzzle.
ARE AFRICAN CHRISTIANS MORE TOLERANT OF HOMOSEXUALITY THAN POLYGAMY?
No, African Christians are not more tolerant of homosexuality than polygamy. That is some baseless and sweeping generalization. As Christians in Africa, specifically in Nigeria, as far as I know, we still have polygamous people in our churches, but a slight hint of a homosexual person in many churches would attract expulsion, if not even physical threat to life. To say African Christians are becoming more tolerant of homosexuality than polygamy is to try to score a cheap point.
IS POLYGAMY BETTER THAN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?
Now let me go beyond Reno a bit to some arguments I have seen folks presenting on social media. E.g., that “polygamy is better than domestic violence.” One then wonders if they have a myopic understanding of “violence” to be only physical? Is there no mental, emotional, psychological, economic, and even social abuse, damage or danger to the first wife that result from the betrayal of love and mutual commitment in polygamy? Is that not a form of violence? In a nutshell, violence is not only physical. At many times, other non-physical forms of violence could be more damaging.
WHAT DO WE DO WITH THE ISSUE OF MANY WOMEN BUT FEWER MEN…?
Now that brings us to the next issue, which people have often claimed that if we don’t go polygamous, many women will remain unmarried, as there are more women than men. To me, this is a way of finding simplistic solution to complex problems. Why does it seem that there are more women than men? The reasons are not far-fetched, and they are mostly man-made: wars, transport accidents and the like involve more men than women, because men are more out-going in many of our cultures than women. Which means, if we work more towards peaceful co-existence and improved infrastructural, economic, and healthcare standards, we would have less men dying, therefore somehow balancing the equation. Should we then not channel our energies towards those bigger issues for the common good rather than just wait for more men to die so we could marry more wives, their (potential) wives? Nah, that’s not a long-term solution, except if men just want to marry many wives without faithfully fulfilling all the responsibilities (economic, physical, etc.) of a husband to wife.
ARE MEN READY TO ALSO ACCEPT POLYNDRY, IN THE INTEREST OF EQUAL HUMAN DIGNITY?
Let me conclude with a probe on men who are advocating for polygamy, whether they are ready to equally accept polyandry. Are men also ready to accept polyandry marriage? Same way you think “one woman is not enough,” same way it is for some women, “one man is not enough.” There’s no one monolithic African culture. Some pre-Christian and pre-Islamic African cultures practiced polyandry marriage too. By the way, granted, polygamy was widespread in pre-Christian and pre-Islamic Africa, but that does not mean monogamy was odd. Monogamy was also a valid family setting, and there were many monogamous couples.
In the present scheme of civilization, men lose the right to polygamy except if they are fully ready to equally accept polyandry with their wives. Culture is naturally dynamic, changing over time due to several factors. So, with or without Christianity and Islam coming to Africa, what we call “African culture” would still have evolved due to several other factors, and we would have still arrived at either abolishing polygamy or equally approving polyandry, in the interest of justice and fairness to all humanity. Hence, any attempt to promote polygamy as normal without a commensurate attempt to promote polyandry as normal is an attempt to return people to an era where women were more of properties of men than fellow humans with equal dignity, and that’s retrogressive, not progressive. You can’t have one without the other and still be a just and fair society where human dignity is upheld. If two or more adults mutually agree to be polygamous or polyndrous under a different system, that’s their choice. But we should not try to drag the Bible into approving polygamy or invalidating Christian marriage for other reasons. The Bible is clear on this…
Lastly, let celebrities not be our standard for what is right or wrong, but the word of God. From my 11 years experience, Christian monogamous marriage that is lived in God’s will is still the most beautiful and fulfilling kind of marriage regardless of what the culture and celebs say or do. Let no one deceive you…
Dogara Ishaya Manomi (PhD) – I just want to make common Christian sense.