Is the Old Testament Full of Bad Ethics?

Bible

In my interactions with atheists, I typically do not mention Bible verses in my argumentation.  I do not appeal to the circular reasoning (“the Bible is true because it says it is”) that is often used to caricaturize Christian apologetics.  In fact, I’m not sure that I know any Christians who actually appeal to that line of thinking.  But even though I don’t typically mention Bible verses, the Bible is almost always brought into the conversation, by the atheist.

For many, the teachings of the Bible are seen as socially and ethically regressive, not only untenable but unconscionable for the contemporary Westerner.  God’s Word, especially the Old Testament, is branded as promoting polygamy, slavery, rape, homophobia, and male chauvinism.  As Christians, we may not even know how to respond to these claims.

What is so tragic about this view of the Bible is that it is indeed so easily supported by scripture when a holistic approach to interpretation is not taken.  Verses can be picked and chosen without being qualified by the context of the Bible as a whole.  If you are the cynic that I described above, I want you to know that I understand why you would come to the conclusions that you have.  I also want to ask you to consider what I have to say in response with an open mind.

A) Christians are not under the Old Covenant.

The first half of the Bible contains a history of God’s chosen people and includes the law which He gave to them to establish their earthly government.  This portion of the Bible is commonly called the Old Testament, and contains what is usually called the Old Law or the Old Covenant.

Christians are NOT required to live according to the Old Law.  Jesus “ended the system of law with its commandments and regulations.” (Ephesians 2:15.)  The Old Law was nailed to His cross and is no longer binding on us (Colossians 2:14.)  In fact, to make this point especially clear, God commanded Peter to rise, and kill and eat as food animals which were not permitted under the Old Law (Acts 10:12-15.)

It is important to understand that anything written as a commandment in the Old Law cannot be applied to Christians today unless it is repeated in the New Testament.  But here’s a hint, there is no written law code in the New Testament.  There are indeed a few commandments, but the heart of the New Testament is a message of love which overarches all of our actions.

B) The Bible actually teaches against polygamy, cruel forms of slavery, rape, homophobia, and male chauvinism.

I’d like to briefly address each of these issues.

1) A full treatment of the polygamy issue is given here.  The basis of the argument is that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman even from its initial institution (Genesis 2:24,) and that the Bible’s portrayal of polygamy is of a practice overflowing with problems such as jealousy, trickery, and disputes.  If God supported polygamy, why would he paint such a nasty picture of it?

2) The Bible warned those who owned slaves in the 1st century Roman empire to treat their slaves with respect and sincerity of heart, also commanding them “do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him” (Ephesians 6:9.)  In other words, masters, God is your master and He is taking note of how you treat your servants.

3) Jesus not only condemned rape, but even the look of lust that could eventually lead to it (Matthew 5:28.)  The Old Law as well commanded the Hebrew not covet that which was not his, and this explicitly extended to human beings (Exodus 20:17.)

4) There is no denying that the Bible teaches that engaging in the sexual practice of homosexuality is wrong.  But before we claim that the Bible teaches homophobia, we need to realize that the concept of “being homosexual” is an extremely new concept.  What the Bible condemns is not the experience of same sex attraction, but the actual physical practice of homosexuality.  Do a word study on any of the verses condemning it.

Also, the Bible NEVER teaches that we should not love someone because of who they are or what they do.  Actions may be condemned, but the person should be loved regardless (Romans 5:8.)

5) As for male chauvinism, examine Paul’s instructions to husbands in Ephesians 5.  “Love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”  The love that Christ demonstrated was one that was willing to suffer and die for the good of another, even when wronged.  That is the love that the Bible commands men to have for women, and God warns those who fail to treat their wives with understanding or show them honor that He will not even hear their prayers (1 Peter 3:7.)

To say that the Bible teaches us to mistreat women, hate homosexuals, or practice injustice in general is to ignore a great deal of Biblical teaching to the contrary in order to falsely represent a few select passages.

I know what you are thinking.  Sure, the Bible speaks out against these practices, mostly in the New Testament, but God clearly supports the same practices in His law!  The Bible contradicts itself and therefore can be used to teach whatever anyone wants.  This is what brings us to the crux of the matter.

C) It is a false assumption that when God makes provisions for a behavior in His law, He supports those behaviors.  Here are three examples that clearly demonstrate that this is not the case:

1) God made provisions in the law for divorce for almost any reason (Deuteronomy 24:1-4,) but Jesus taught that God made these provisions because of the hardness of their hearts, “but from the beginning it has not been this way.” (Matthew 19:8.)

2) Deuteronomy 17 is full of commandments concerning the future time when Israel would have a king, yet when they did ask for a king, God said that they were rejecting Him in the process (1 Samuel 8:7.)

3) Even as the Old Law permitted polygamy, God specified that in His New Testament church, He wanted the leaders to be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2.)

The principle is clear: just because God makes provisions for a practice in His law does NOT mean that He wants it to happen.  The law was simply a “guardian” or “tutor” to watch over God’s chosen people until the Messiah came (Galatians 3:24.)  It was not capable of eradicating sin, nor was it intended to do so (Romans 8:3.)  I suspect in fact that if God had indeed outlawed everything that was a sin, we would call Him a dictator.

In closing, I also want to point out that the entire Old Law rested on the two greatest commandments, found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, to love God with all of your hearts and to love your neighbor as yourself.  Upon these two commandments hung the implementation of everything else (Matthew 22:36-40.)

Key to this discussion is that not only can the Old Testament not be honestly used by Christians to support immoral practices under the New Covenant, but even when a practice was provided for under the Old Law, informed theology makes it clear that this did not indicate God’s support of that practice.

Advertisements

Thoughts on the Problem of Evil

world hunger

There seems to be a general consensus in contemporary academia that there is no bigger problem for the Christian apologist than the problem of evil.

It is a problem often presented, unlike most questions in which an objective answer is important, in extremely emotional terms.  This is indeed unusual.  Contemporary psychology indicates that negative emotions in particular cloud our judgment, activating primal circuits in our brains rather than those necessary for higher order thinking.  For this reason, emotions are often purposefully left out of objective discussion.

I will not go so far as to say that an answer to the problem of evil can be satisfying even without providing some degree of emotional comfort, so long as it is logically consistent.  But in light of this psychological principle, I will encourage the questioner to consider, and seek to diminish, any inhibiting effect his emotions might have on his ability to reason as we go forward.

The common version of the problem of evil (or suffering) goes like this:

“If God were real, He would not allow this kind of evil and suffering to exist in the world.  Therefore, there is no God.”

This argument may be emotionally moving, but it is objectively speaking, an unsophisticated argument.

The cynic here is clearly appealing to a universally accessible standard of morality by which to judge good and evil.  If allowing innocent people to suffer is not objectively wrong, then the entire argument is a mere opinion.  If allowing innocent people to suffer is objectively wrong, then the questioner must explain where he gets his objective standard from, a task that is impossible without an appeal to the existence of the supernatural, the very thing he was trying to disprove.

The fact of the matter is that our unshakeable internal sense of morality betrays God’s existence to us.  Without even realizing this, the cynic appeals to that internal belief in an objective morality even in his very arguments against the God who gave it to him.

There is however, a more sophisticated way of stating the question:

“A belief system which states that God is all knowing, all powerful, and all loving, and which also acknowledges that innocent people do suffer according to an objective moral standard, is logically inconsistent and therefore erroneous.”

In the previous argument, the cynic betrays himself by revealing his own hidden belief in the objective supernatural.  In this argument, however, the cynic merely points out an understood inconsistency in the believer’s worldview without making any contradictions of his own.

After all, believer’s are the ones who insist on a universal morality.  If they want to keep both their morality and their God, they need to explain this apparent contradiction.

The obvious hidden assumption in this latter argument is that God’s failure to intervene in situations of the earthly suffering of innocent people violates the morality that He himself establishes.  It is obvious that God is indeed remaining inactive in the prevention of the suffering of innocent people.  But is it possible that this does not violate the morality that He has established?

Remember that in order to refute this argument, we need only to demonstrate that there are no contradictions in our faith.

And there certainly are not.  Christianity clearly ensures that in the end, all will be made right.  Justice will be served, and the wicked will suffer for their heinous crimes against the innocent (Romans 12:19).  And indeed, the righteous will be rewarded to such a degree that the suffering we experienced on earth will not even compare with the glory that is then revealed to those who deserve it (Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 5:10).

Only if we look at death as the end, as atheists are accustomed to doing, is there an apparent contradiction in the believer’s worldview.  But since death is not the end for the believer, and ultimate justice is guaranteed in his belief system, there is no contradiction present in the argument that we are addressing.  The cynic may dismiss such a belief system as silly, but he cannot rightfully claim that it is logically inconsistent and therefore erroneous.  His argument is in shambles.

Christianity actually offers a response to what we see around us.  It has an answer for the rage and despair that we feel in the face of evil.

Atheism does not.  The only answer we have is that all of this suffering is meaningless, happening for no reason, never to be avenged or made right unless some human manages to take his own personal vengeance, or somehow erase the past before he lays down and dies forever.

It is an inescapable conclusion that if our existence is the product of mere chance, then senseless crimes are as reasonable as any other outcome.  English journalist Steve Turner put it so powerfully:

If chance be the Father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky, and when you hear “State of Emergency! Sniper Kills Ten! Troops on Rampage! Whites go Looting! Bomb Blasts School!” it is but the sound of man worshipping his maker.

We can choose to believe God when He tells us that all will be made right in the end, or we can choose to believe “science” that our suffering is senseless, never to be made right.  But we cannot appeal to an objective moral law in our insistence that the moral lawgiver does not exist, nor can someone who properly understands the Christian worldview claim that it is inconsistent.

The Media: What Effect is it Having on our Minds?

Media

The contemporary world is one absolutely saturated with media.  If you are reading this article then you are in fact currently consuming public media.  It seems that in almost every pocket, living room, bedroom, bar, and classroom in the modern world there is a piece of technology that connects us to the media.  By “the media” I mean simply the public broadcast of rhetorical or entertaining material.

There is really no historical precedent for this level of media saturation.  Historical peoples have had circuses, gladiators, theater, the opera.  But these pastimes were not available 24/7, on demand, on private devices.  More recent generations had the newspaper, then then the awe-inspiring radio.  But even these were not attended to for hours each day, in living color, or produced as part of an enormous, multi-billion dollar industry.

I’d like to give a scientific, a philosophical, and a Biblical principle to help us understand how to feel about these strange times.

Science: Mirror Neurons

Mirror neurons were not discovered until the early 1990’s, but they have incredible implications concerning our social behavior.  Scientists have discovered that when we observe behavior performed by someone else, our own brain activity mirrors that of the actual participant.

This is what can make video-based media so engrossing.  When we see someone smile, our own brains behave as though we were smiling.  When we see someone using a hammer, our own brains behave as though we were using a hammer.

When we see television or movie characters performing sexual acts…  You guessed it, our brains behave as though we were having sex.  When we see acts of graphic violence and revenge, the same principle applies.

Now couple this principle with the fact that our brains go into a low alpha brain wave state when we stare at a screen.  This means that we become considerably more suggestible because the parts of our brains that evaluate and criticize are being turned off.

What you get is a superhighway of ideas that pour into your brain and effect it as though it were having real experiences of… whatever you choose to watch, be it pornography, graphic violence, etc.

In light of these principles, recent mass-murder sprees and their correlation with the technology saturated world, are not surprising.

If you wouldn’t do it, think twice before you watch it.

Philosophy: Distortion of Perspective

Søren Kierkegaard lived in a time before television, but his analysis of the media was very telling:

“On the whole the evil in the daily press consists in its being calculated to make, if possible, the passing moment a thousand or ten thousand times more inflated and important than it really is. But all moral elevation consists first and foremost in being weaned from the momentary.”

Malcom Muggeridge put it this way:

“Now can this really be, as the media continually insists, what life is about–this worldwide soap opera going on from century to century, from era to era, whose old discarded sets litter the world?”

Both men are pointing out a basic principle.  The media tells us what to view as important.  It tells us that everyone else, “the public,” is very concerned or interested or entertained by exhibit A, and that we should be, too.

In this way, it inflates the importance of subjects that only distract us from our own personal talents, responsibilities, and the great themes of human existence that aren’t directly involved with the violent shooting last night, the latest celebrity gossip, etc.

Bible: Intentions of the Heart

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 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.  If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  

Jesus is pointing out for us that something as simple as visual stimuli is capable of opening the door to very damaging mental processes.

He goes on to tell us later in the sermon that “the eye is the lamp of the body.”  Jesus knew what contemporary psychology and neuroscience is telling us, that what we see has a profound impact on us.

I urge Christian readers, consider the motives behind your consumption of media.  Consider the effects that television and movies may be having on your values.  And I urge us all to meditate on great themes and do great things in this world.  Do not sacrifice your mind to the media.

Is the Bible a Reliable Source of History?

greek_text

1) We know with surprising accuracy what the books of the Bible originally said.

It amazes me that I still hear people claiming “the Bible has been retranslated and rewritten so many times, we can’t really know what it originally said.”  The example of a game of “telephone” is given, as if the Bible was translated from Greek to Latin to German to French to English in a series of translations that each may have substantially altered the meaning.  Those who make this argument reveal their ignorance.

The truth is that all of our newest translations, and the vast majority of translations throughout history, have been translated directly from manuscripts in the original language.  For the Old Testament, this is predominantly Hebrew with some sections of Aramaic.  For the New Testament, this is Koine Greek.

I’ve had the privilege of  learning enough Koine to personally translate portions of the New Testament.  Our translations are produced by large teams of linguists and scholars from various backgrounds and accurately convey the ideas of the original authors.  The Bible has been put through no game of “telephone.”

In fact, our manuscript attestation for the New Testament is far better than that of any other work of antiquity.  Here is a table to illustrate.

Biblical Manuscript Evidence

To throw out the Bible and remain consistent we must throw out… every historian and piece of literature in antiquity.  If you have been using this argument against the Bible, please reconsider.  If you hear this argument being used, please kindly correct the confused cynic.

2) The Bible is consistent and historically accurate.

There are countless examples given of alleged inconsistencies or inaccuracies in the Bible.  To address them all would be impossible.  Rather I will give several examples in order to illustrate various principles to bear in mind when considering these allegations.

Many supposed inconsistencies that were once concerning have been debunked by emerging historical knowledge.  

Take for example the discrepancy between Daniel 1:1, which states that Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon in the 3rd year of Jehoiakim  king of Judah, and Jeremiah 25:1, that states that it was the 4th year.

Much was made of this problem until scholar R. Thiele highlighted two different systems for counting reigns in the Ancient Near East: (a) the accession year system and (b) the non-accession year system. Jeremiah counts the accession year, Daniel doesn’t.

Take for another example the existence of the Hittites.  Though mentioned more than 50 times in the Bible, there was no archaeological evidence of their civilization until a series of discoveries beginning in 1876.  Until that time, their inclusion in the Biblical narrative was used as proof of the fabrication of much of the historical narrative of the Israelites.  We now know that the Hittites were a prominent Near Eastern civilization in the 15th and 16th centuries B.C.

Those purporting these kinds of inaccuracies ought at least have the courtesy to admit that we don’t always know enough to authoritatively invalidate the text.

Many claims about inconsistencies are the result of narrow minded thinking.

Googling “Inconsistencies in the Bible” reveals embarrassing results.  These lists are comprised by people who have no desire to actually understand what the Bible is saying or use simple logic to reconcile passages.

Here are just a few examples:

Matthew 27:5 says that after betraying Jesus, Judas hanged himself.  Acts 1:18 says that he fell headlong, his middle burst open and his entrails gushed out.  Under what kind of circumstances does someone’s middle burst open and entrails gush out?  Randomly?  Or after they hang themselves and decay?

When a woman anoints Jesus with precious ointment:
In Matthew 26:8 the disciples reproach her.
In Mark 14:4 “some” reproach her.
In John 12:4-5 Judas Iscariot reproaches her.

If the disciples reproached her, was that not “some” of those present, and was Judas not among them?  Perhaps Judas was the most vehement and thus received a highlight in John’s account.  What would be concerning is if all of the gospel accounts matched word for word.  The fact that they describes such events with details that don’t contradict but do highlight different aspects lends credence to their individual, non-collaborated work.

Many claims about inconsistencies are a result of incomplete Bible knowledge.

Take two examples:

In Luke 22:17 Jesus supposedly gives the Lord’s supper in the opposite order (wine, then bread) of the other accounts, but if simply read until verse 20 we see that He didn’t actually pass the cup around until after the meal.

In Luke 12:4 Jesus says not to fear men.  In several passages he hides, escapes, or goes away secretly.  But is it not revealed in scripture that rather than being afraid of what is going to happen to Him, Jesus knows that He must wait until the appropriate time to face His execution boldly?

I’d also like to point out as a general principle that some inaccuracies are purported because no other work of ancient history validates what the Bible is saying by restating it.  But do we require other ancient histories to be repeated in other places in order to be validated?  If the content of the Bible were not so emotionally charged, I doubt its historical value would be questioned so adamantly.

The massive lists of “inconsistencies” in the Bible are the result of narrow mindedness and lack of basic knowledge about ancient historiography and Biblical teaching.

Speaking With Authority About Origins

demolition

In an ingenious slam poetry performance, Taylor Mali addresses the trend in intellectualism for the past several decades of doing the easy work of tearing down ideas without doing the hard work of building cohesive new ones.  The last line of his humorous performance suddenly takes a turn for the serious as he pronounces:

“Contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker, it is not enough these days just to question authority, you gotta speak with it, too.”

Atheism claims that there is no reason to believe in God anymore because we do not need Him to explain the existence of the world around us.  In science, we are told, we do not assume that something exists unless its existence is necessitated by the evidence.  The burden of proof is placed on the believer.

It really is so much easier to tear down an idea than to build one up.  To place the burden of proof on your opponent.  To point out all of the things that we can’t know.  This is really the essence of the argument against God.

In light of this principle I would like to address the use of the studies of physics and macroevolution by the atheistic movement.

In my limited understanding and exposure to the world of contemporary physics, I find it to be a substantial, respectable field.  Much of it is speculative, but much of it is also well documented and speaks with authority in describing the world around us.

I’ve got my own problems with the theory of evolution.  I don’t think it holds water.  But I will say in its favor that the theory of evolution speaks with authority about something.  It isn’t about shifting the burden of proof onto someone else.  It isn’t about pointing out all of the things that we can’t know or can’t prove.  

I don’t believe in the theory of macroevolution, but I can respect the fact that it seeks to explain, rather than to tear down.  What I can’t respect is the arrogance with which atheism takes these theories and others and uses them to tear down the idea of God.  Let me explain why.

Concerning macroevolution:

To claim that because we have a plausible theory (which I would claim is actually very weak) about how life could have evolved from a single cell into man, has little to do with the incredible questions of the universe’s existence or order.  It even leaves the question of the origin of life unanswered.

Concerning contemporary physics:

I said earlier that science claims not to need God to explain the existence and order in the cosmos.  But science has not explained why the universe exists or why it is the way it is.

The general vague idea is that the laws and constants that govern our universe are eternal and that they called the universe into existence.  For starters, this does’t explain where the laws themselves came from.  Secondly, it doesn’t explain why they happen to be so beautifully and incredibly fine-tuned.  And thirdly, this is a very primitive and unsubstantiated view of natural laws.

As philosopher and author Jim Holt points out, “physical laws are actually generalized descriptions of patterns and regularities in the world.  They don’t exist outside the world… they can’t call a world into existence out of nothingness.”  He points out that even Stephen Hawking asks what breathes fire into the equations and gives them a universe to describe.

Why does something exist instead of nothing?  Physics, which merely explains the behavior of our universe, has no answer.

Why is there so much fine tuning in the universe?  The best atheistic answer is that there are an infinite number of universes and that we happen to live in an amazingly orderly one.  So let’s see, the chances of that are about… 1 in infinity.

Where did the first life come from?  Investigate the atheistic theories for yourself.  Panspermia simply dodges the question, and all other proposals are embarrassing and contrived.

Where does consciousness come from?  The best atheistic answer is that it is a fundamental constant of reality.  Which borders on and honestly encroaches on the existence of the supernatural in its implications.

In conclusion:

Macroevolution makes pronouncements and theories about the way things are.  Physics describes our universe with elegance and precision.  But atheism wrongly uses these studies to tear down ideas which it has no ability to replace.  It questions authority without the ability to speak with it.

If you want authoritative, substantial answers, consider a Biblical worldview.

Do Scientific Dating Methods Support Macroevolution?

jungle

Christians believe that God’s creation of the universe ended just 6,000 years ago.  Thus, human history goes back only 6,000 years, to a real man named Adam and a real woman named Eve, and macroevolution has not occurred.  How can this be true?  Does this view not contradict good science?

First, remember that Einsteins demonstration that time and space are a part of the same fabric.  In light of this, it is logical that when God stretched out the space in the universe, he was stretching out time with it.  Thus, in a very literal sense, there could be 14 billion years of the dimension that we call time between us and that event, just as there appears also to be a great deal of the spacial dimensions between us and that event as well.

This view would allow for astrophysicists and cosmologists to see evidence for a universe that was, technically speaking, billions of years old.  The material in our earth would also be very old in a technical sense.  But there would be no evidence for life existing on earth more than about 6,000 years ago.  So, is this view even possible, or is it absolute nonsense?

It is time for a basic review of scientific dating methods.  There are two types of dating methods: relative, and absolute.  

Relative dating means we take objects that we already know the age of, and use them to evaluate the ages of other objects that we know came before or after them, or were contemporaneous of them.  So basically, if we find a fossil in a rock that we believe to be 2 billion years old, the fossil is assumed to be 2 billion years old.  Or, if we find a fossil that we believe to be 2 billion years old in a rock, we will assume the rock to be that age as well.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this kind of dating will spread inaccurate dates like wildfire through the scientific community if incorrect assumptions are made about the ages of objects that we do know.  This illustrates the great importance of the second kind of dating method, the absolute, which according to the UK’s Natural History Museum, gives us an item’s “exact age.”

There are a handful of categories that absolute dating methods can further be divided into, but the most widely used and trusted are radiometric dating methods.  Most objects in nature contain radioactive isotopes.  In very basic terms, these are elements that decay into different elements, or different isotopes of the same elements.  Since they decay at a steady rate (or at least they have since we started paying attention,) if we know the amount of an isotope in something when is was formed (or in the case of a living thing, when it died,) we can determined its age based on the amount of the products of its decay in our sample.

But the problem, as many have pointed out, is that in the case of non-living objects such as rocks, there is so much room for contamination during the time between the objects creation and our sampling of it.  To make matters worse, we can only speculate about the amount of isotopes in the original.  Perhaps this is why samples of fresh lava from Mt. St. Helens were dated to between 340,000 and 2.8 Million years old only a few years after its creation.

But with living things the method is much more reliable, right?  Not in all cases.  Not unless living mollusks died 2,300 years ago (“Radiocarbon Dating: Fictitious Results With Mollusk Shells,” Science , Vol. 141, p. 634).  We are making too many assumptions about initial quantities of isotopes, constant rates of decay, lack of contamination, and precision of measurement.

I’m skeptical of the dates that the scientific community is putting on fossils.  If rocks are being dated to be extravagantly older than they really are, and we are then using relative dating to determine the age of the fossils in those rocks, then our entire timescale for living things on earth is reduced to rubble.

Even scientists admit that carbon-14 dating is “not generally reliable for finds that are more than 40,000 years old,” and the rampant use of relative dating leaves the door open for widespread error.  Evolution does indeed need millions and billions of years between the appearance of the first living organisms and the appearance of man, and we simply have no reliable way of validating those kinds of numbers.

Does the Bible Condone Polygamy?

polygamy

Entertainer and Atheist Penn Jillette claims that nothing will make you an atheist faster than reading the Bible.  I have read through the entire Bible cover to cover multiple times, and my faith has grown through the experience.

How can this be?  Rationally thinking adults reading through the same book and coming to drastically different conclusions?  We certainly both have our own biases, and those play an important role.  But I want to challenge one of the misunderstandings that those outside the faith often have about the Bible.  It does not condone polygamy.

First of all, the Bible makes it clear that the pattern for marriage is a union between one man and one woman.

When marriage is instituted by God, Adam is given just one wife, Eve.  In Genesis 2:24 we are told that “a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This idea is repeated in Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7, and Ephesians 5:31.  The pronouncement says “wife” and not “wives.”  Furthermore, a man can only leave his father and mother once (unless he goes back to them again, thus leaving his first wife.)

I would also suggest that a man can only experience the true union of two into one in a marriage to one and only one woman.  Thus the requirement that an overseer be the “husband of one wife” (literally: a one woman man) in 1 Timothy 3:2.

So maybe the pattern was for one man and one woman, but isn’t the Old Testament full of polygamy that God supports?  Actually, I think that Timothy Keller – summarizing the work of Berkeley Jewish scholar Robert Alter – sums up nicely how the Bible portrays polygamy: “In every generation polygamy wreaks havoc. Having multiple wives is an absolute disaster—socially, culturally, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and relationally.”

God tolerated polygamy, but He was also very strait forward in his recording of its terrible results.

In Genesis 30, tension between sister-wives Rachel and Leah reaches the boiling point over an argument about some mandrakes that turns into an argument about who gets to sleep with their husband.  Centuries later, Solomon’s many wives turn him away from God and an entire family dynasty is brought to a screeching halt.  At every turn in fact, polygamy is causing rivalry and distress among participants.  If God supported polygamy, you would think His book would hold it up as beautiful, not portray it as a train wreck.

So when those like Penn Jillette read through the Bible, they see that God condones polygamy.  When I read through the Bible, I see His beautiful plan for one man and one woman, as well as the freedom that He gives His people to deviate from that plan, and the painful results that follow.

What implications could this principle have for us today?  For those determined to undermine the Bible, it is a reminder to read with an open mind instead of a hidden agenda.  For those who put their faith in the Bible, it is a reminder that a voice may not come out of the clouds and rebuke all of Christendom anytime someone deviates from God’s original plan.

It is not enough to assume that our lives are in line with His will simply because He has not spoken to us from a cloud.  We must go back to His patterns and invest in understanding the theology of the Word.