What Polygamy Can Teach Us About Marriage

In his 4-19-16 blog post “What Polygamy Can Teach Us About Marriage,” Douglas Wilson writes:

“My topic here has to do with the potential lawfulness of remarriage after divorce, and secondarily, if a remarriage after divorce happens in fact to be unlawful in the eyes of God, what kind of unlawful it is. As I set out my premises, I am doing so simply to review what I have argued for elsewhere.”

The view of the so-called “early church” was that ALL remarriage after divorce while the original spouse was living was, without exception, considered adultery until Erasmus invented “the exception clause” (cf. Heth & Wenham, Jesus and Divorce, p.73). This creative figment gave the “innocent party” the alleged freedom to remarry. And yet, Jesus says that the innocent party (Matthew 19:9), apart from a matter of fornication, is CAUSED to commit adultery (see Matthew 5:32). Also see Marc D. Carpenter’s The Law of Marriage.

Douglas Wilson, setting out his premises:

“First, marriage takes place when two conditions are fulfilled. The first is when there is a recognized covenant, and the second is when the union is sexually consummated. Marriage is defined in Scripture as a covenant union relating to a one-flesh union.”

Wilson posits two conditions. Some people posit more than two. The Bible posits only one — sex alone. Sex alone IS the recognized covenant. Marriage is defined in Scripture as a covenant union resulting in a one-flesh union. This covenant union that inevitably results in a one-flesh union is created or formed by “cleaving” (Genesis 2:24). So, in the specific context of what constitutes or creates a marriage, what does the Scripture mean by “cleaving”?

“Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Genesis 2:24 states that this covenantal-cleaving necessarily results in a one-flesh union. From Matthew 19:6 and context, being “joined to his wife” is synonymous with “cleave to his wife” in Genesis 2:24. Jesus Christ says the result of this “joining” is that “the two shall become one flesh”:

“And the Pharisees came near to Him, tempting Him, and saying to Him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every reason? But answering, He said to them, Have you not read that He who created [them] from the beginning created them male and female? And He said, For this reason a man shall leave father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate. They said to Him, Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce, and to put her away? He said to them, In view of your hardheartedness, Moses allowed you to put away your wives. But from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, Whoever shall put away his wife, if not for fornication, and shall marry another, [that one] commits adultery. And the one who marries her [who was] put away commits adultery” (Matthew 19:3-9).

Previously I had asked what the Scripture meant by “cleaving” in Genesis 2:24. This cleaving to a wife is synonymous with being joined to a wife (Matthew 19:5). Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:16, tells us exactly what is meant by “cleaving” or being “joined to”:

“Or do you not know that he being joined to a harlot is one body? For He says, The two [shall be] into one flesh” (1 Corinthians 6:16).

Paul teaches here that this joining NECESSARILY/INEVITABLY results in a one-flesh union. The two [shall be] into one flesh. Paul clearly references Genesis 2:24. A few questions.

(a) Have the harlot and the one being joined to the harlot become one body, one flesh?

(b) Has the cleaving made them one flesh?

(c) Is the cleaving and becoming one flesh a marriage to a wife?

(d) If the answer to (c) is “no,” then why did Paul use Genesis 2:24 to prove his point?

“… Jehovah has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously; and she [is] your companion and your covenant wife. And has He not made [you] one? Yet the vestige of the Spirit [is in] him. And what [of] the one? He was seeking a seed of God. Then guard your spirit, and do not deal treacherously with the wife of your youth. Jehovah, the God of Israel, says, He hates sending away, and to cover [with] violence on his garment, says Jehovah of Hosts. Then guard your spirit and do not act treacherously” (Malachi 2:14-16).

Jehovah made the man and “the wife of [his] youth” — his “covenant wife” — one. And what of the one? He was seeking a seed of God. The two have have become “one” because a covenant has been established (e.g., “your covenant wife”). How is the Malachi 2:14 marriage-covenant created or established?

We know this covenant in Malachi 2:14 is established, created, or formed by sex alone — that is, it is formed by “cleaving” or being “joined to” (1 Corinthians 6:16).  It is by means of sex alone that the covenant between the man and the woman is established. While sex is only one of the many components or elements within an ideal marriage, sex alone creates, commences, and begins the state of marriage.

P1) Sex alone results in a one-flesh union (1 Corinthians 6:16).
P2) A one flesh-union is the covenant-union (Matthew 19:6; Genesis 2:24).
C1) Therefore, sex alone is the covenant-union.

Wilson:

“Second, I want to make a distinction between adultery as crime and adultery as sin. Adultery as crime is a punishable violation of marriage vows, such that the guilty parties face a civil consequence. But are there instances of adultery that are sinful, but not actionable at law? Yes, there are several instances of this in Scripture. One would be lust. Jesus says that to lust after a woman is tantamount to adultery in God’s sight, but the lusts of the heart are not something the civil courts are competent to deal with. The Tenth Commandment has no penalties attached. Another form of adultery that is sinful but not criminal is when a hard-hearted man divorces his wife and marries another. Jesus expressly says that this is not criminal, and explains why God did not make it criminal.”

Wilson continues:

“Third, the difference between those who say that remarriage after divorce is not a genuine marriage at all, but is rather adultery, and those who say that a second marriage after a divorce (even when unlawfully done) constitutes a genuine marriage, is a difference over the very nature of marriage.”

I don’t know who Wilson is referring to here, but certainly remarriage after divorce while the previous spouse is still living, IS a REAL marriage (see Romans 7:2-3). Of course, this real marriage is ALSO adultery as Paul says in Romans 7:2-3. Thus, the adulterous marriage in Romans 7:2-3 constitutes a genuine adulterous marriage. Having cleared that up, Wilson is correct regarding the “difference over the very nature of marriage.” FOR if the woman who divorces and marries another man while her husband lives is NOT called an adulteress, then yes, there is indeed a difference over the very nature of marriage (cf. Isaiah 5:20).

More from Wilson:

“On one view, marriage is metaphysical marriage (MM) and on the other view it it covenant marriage (CM). A metaphysical union is indissoluble and a covenant union is not. Covenants have terms, and thus can be broken. A metaphysical union just is. Thus a man who divorced his wife for no good reason, married another, and was then converted to Christ ten years later, could recognize that his current marriage was adulterously formed back then, and yet remains a genuine marriage now. But if he divorced his second wife to make amends, he is trying to unscramble the egg by breaking another egg.”

I surmise that by “metaphysical marriage,” Wilson refers to the supposed mere physical act of sexual intercourse Paul set forth in 1 Corinthians 6:16. Presumably Wilson believes that this “metaphysical marriage” is both physical AND spiritual. Apparently Wilson wishes to separate what God has joined together — namely, the inseparable and inextricable connection between the “metaphysical marriage” and the “covenant marriage.” By separating them out like this, Wilson is taking the commitment OUT OF sex. Genesis 2:24, Malachi 2:14, Matthew 19:3-9, and 1 Corinthians 6:16 set forth the truth that sex alone constitutes marriage, and that this marriage is BOTH metaphysical and covenantal.

Please note how Wilson advises an adulterous situation similar to that of Romans 7:2-3: Since the current adulterous marriage is genuine and real, then to recognize and genuinely repent of it as a necessary fruit of conversion to Jesus Christ is a futile attempt to “unscramble the egg by breaking another egg.” Did you get that? To actually, truly, and genuinely repent of the wickedness of adultery is to “unscramble the egg by breaking another egg.” John Piper enunciates similar sinister sentiments, here.

Wilson:

“Fourth, the fact that we can learn some things about the nature of marriage from polygamous marriages in no way constitutes an approval of polygamous unions. God created one man and one woman in the beginning. Christ has one bride, the Christian Church. Christian leaders are required to be one-woman men. God’s pattern is clearly monogamy, and so polygamous unions are substandard unions, not reflecting God’s creation design. But polygamous marriages are still recognizable marriages, in the same way that a badly drawn triangle can be a recognizable triangle. Homosexual ‘marriages’ are like a circular triangle, a contradiction in terms. It is the difference between a deficient marriage and an un-marriage. That said, we can learn things about monogamous marriage from what God required in polygamous settings. For example, when an Israelite man took a second wife, he was prohibited from robbing his first wife of her due, and he he owed her was full closets, full cupboards, and full arms (Ex. 21:10). Thus a husband who has no intention of ever taking a second wife can learn something of his responsibilities to his one and only wife.

Having set this out, the outline of my argument is straightforward. MM is a view that could only develop after the monogamous view of marriage had largely prevailed in Western culture. If we try to place MM in the context of the Old Testament, we find ourselves defending absurdities. But of course, if MM is correct, it would have to function equally well in polygamous societies as in monogamous. But it doesn’t.”

The “metaphysical marriage” (MM) IS the “covenant marriage” (CM) since, as I showed above, the covenant-commitment is in the sexual act. Sex equals marriage because sex IS the covenant-commitment.

Wilson continues his argument:

“Many examples could be multiplied. But here is one:

‘And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife’ (Gen. 16:3).

Now Hagar was a wife with fewer rights, a concubine in effect, but she was nevertheless Abram’s wife. The word used here is ishah, the word used earlier in Genesis to describe Eve when given to Adam. Sarai, Abram’s ishah, took her handmaid Hagar, and gave her to Abram to be his ishah. Whatever Sarai was, Hagar was also.”

Whatever Sarai was, Hagar was also. Correct. But where are Wilson’s extra conditions for what constitutes a marriage here? Where are the public witnesses, the vows, the marriage certificate, the marriage ceremony, the minister, or anything else?

Wilson:

“The question before us is this. Can a man have two wives? (Again, I am not asking if he should. I am asking if he can.) In the Old Testament, he was certainly capable of having two wives simultaneously, and the Bible describes second wives as wives. Not as mistresses, or fornication partners, but as wives. But in our current debates, the MM position is forced by definition to say that a man cannot have two wives serially — the second one is considered to be no true wife at all. The first union formed is the only marriage union that can be formed, and all other unions are perpetually illegitimate.”

Douglas Wilson says “in our current debates,” etc. So, Wilson does not appear to be debating a correctly understood Biblical position on the constitution of marriage. Thus, my primary purpose in this post is to judge and condemn Wilson’s adulterous view of marriage, divorce, and remarriage.

According to the Biblical view of the constitution of marriage, the second wife is a true adulterous wife. The first union formed is obviously and clearly NOT the only marriage union that can be formed — otherwise, WHY do you think Paul would label a second marriage unlawfully adulterous while the original spouse is still living (Romans 7:2-3)?

Wilson, again:

“But this means that the position is forced to argue that a polygamist is not an adulterer, and that a man married to a second wife today is an adulterer.

Thus if Bob marries Suzy, and then later adds Sally, he is not committing adultery. But if Bob marries Suzy, later puts her away, and then marries Sally, according to the position he is committing adultery, and must divorce Sally to get out of the adultery. But as the logic-rot of Obergefell continues to work its way through our culture, we are not that far away from polygamy becoming fully legal. When that happens, could Bob get out of the adultery simply by marrying Suzy again?

If an advocate of MM wants to avoid such absurdities, he has to say that taking a second wife, even in the time of the Old Testament, was adulterous. But the problem with that is how the Bible describes such women as wives. But if MM is true, how could they be wives? And if they are wives, how are second wives (in our day) not wives equally?”

Okay, whatever this MM is (or what Wilson believes it is), it is certainly NOT the Biblical view that we hold. What I hope was understood here is that Douglas Wilson’s views on marriage are unscriptural.

Last paragraph from Wilson:

“In short, God takes us from where we are, and not from where we should have been. If there have been broken covenants in our past, we must repent and receive forgiveness for what we have done. But having received that forgiveness, we are not to compound the problems our sin caused by trying to fix them on a false principle.”

A particular person is NOT to “compound the problems our sin caused by trying to fix them on a false principle.” But let us not get distracted here.

Douglas Wilson, John Piper, The Wicked Westminster Confession of Faith, and Gordon J. Wenham & William E. Heth reason and argue from various premises, and in various ways. But at the end of the day, their conclusion is essentially the same: That people should continue in the sin of adultery.

These men, and that revered confession of faith, are guilty of tolerating, endorsing, and encouraging adultery, based on their own unscriptural justifications of it. Thus many “churches” (i.e., whore churches) reek of adultery, being filled with the putrid stench of adulterers and adulteresses that reaches the Holy nostrils of God, who says that adulterers will be judged and will not inherit His kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Hebrews 13:4).

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