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In the case of polygamy, has there really been a change in the definition of marriage?

While I could see someone today wanting to define marriage as one-man-and-multiple-women, I don’t think that’s how people viewed it in the past. That is, they didn’t see their situation as one big marriage where everybody was married to everybody else. Rather, marriage was still simply one man and one woman. It’s just that the man was allowed to have more than one marriage.

Marriage was defined, even in the days of polygamy, as one-man-one-woman. A man didn’t marry all the wives at the same time in a single transaction. Each marriage was its own transaction between husband and wife. When a husband divorced one wife, he didn’t divorce all of his wives. Their marriages remained intact, only the one woman’s marriage was dissolved.

We haven’t changed the definition of marriage, we’ve only limited the number of concurrent marriages a person can have. If polygamy operates under the same definition of marriage as we have today, then what’s wrong with polygamy?

Initial post by Amy Hall, adapted with responses.
Stand to Reason Blog

Harry Ironside was approached by a young man on one occasion who came to confess a fault. He told the preacher that he felt he was loving his wife too much. “In fact, I’ve put her on such a high plane, I fear it’s sinful,” lamented the young husband.

“Do you think you love your wife more than Christ loved the church?” inquired Ironside. He didn’t dare say he did. “Well, that’s the limit to which we must go,” he continued.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it (Ephesians 5:25).

Harry Ironside (1876-1951)
Cited in An Appeal To Husbands, by Don Currin
The Awakener (Vol. 9, No. 1)

The Jews were polygamist like many other Oriental peoples. Men of wealth and nobility married several wives and this custom was also followed by men of the poorer classes. In some cases the Jewish law made it mandatory. For instance, if a brother should die before leaving a wife and no posterity, his brother must mate her and bring a child to his deceased brother. Thus, even those who were content with one wife were often forced by circumstances to take another.

The family unity of Easterners is centered in the father. The mother’s side is unimportant. In a family there is only one father, many mothers and the children of all the mothers. In every case, in biblical genealogies, the name of the mother in polygamous families is given with that of her son. This fact explains why the name of the mother is often mentioned in connection with the kings of Israel and Judah. Even today in many Eastern countries where polygamy is still practiced, whenever a son is mentioned, reference is made to his mother as the one who gave birth to him, to distinguish her from other mothers of the family.

There is no doubt that Joseph had other wives. Matthew traces the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to Joseph. The reference to Mary is to show that Jesus was born of her and not one of the other wives of Joseph. The brothers and sisters of Jesus who are mentioned in the Gospels were not Mary’s children, but children of Joseph by other wives. If they had been the children of Mary, Jesus being the eldest son would have asked them to take care of her. Instead, Jesus placed His mother in the care of John.

George M. Lamsa,
Ethnologist, Aramaic Language Expert
Gospel Light: Comments on the Teachings of Jesus
(compiled and adapted from pages 5, 6, 97, 98, 129)
A.J. Holman, Bible Publishers, 1939

I think condemnation of polygamy is mostly the work of the Christian extremists needing to claim their moral high ground. Reading the Bible shows that your all-star prophets of God were immensely polygamists. The only reason why Christianity tries to say it’s so wrong is to work as they do in claiming they’re more righteous than Mormons or Muslims, or the rest of the world … I think they’re being a bunch of jerks, many of whom are hypocrites with close intimate mistresses.

As for the law, decriminalize it: the laws against polygamy prohibit cohabitation, something that is a little backward according to American/Western morals nowadays. If all that it takes to punish a cohabitating couple is the fact that they claim a marriage, that’s ridiculous logic. It only makes sense to criminalize polygamy when you are trying to criminalize all people who go without a marriage license, or all people who have plural mistresses, or who cheat on their spouses, because otherwise, it becomes a picking and choosing game of figuring out who is thought a criminal (a.k.a. polygamist) when plenty of people do equal things …

Concerning the specific practice of Polygamy, it’s not as uncommon as folks like to believe it is. We know of several couples that have an exclusive relationship with another woman … The average polygamist family are just like the rest of us, they just have a greater capacity for love and openness. The rejects from the shallow end of the gene pool that use woman like cattle are just as disgusting to them as to you, but don’t toss them all in the same bucket. It’s … just NOT the same thing.

Yahooh Answers
Society & Culture

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August 2011
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