Our question for this issue is both historical and doctrinal: "I have read that prominent reformers such as Luther, Bucer and Melancthon approved of a polygamous marriage by Philip, Landgrave of Hesse. And I have come across an internet page that argues it is wrong for Christian missionaries to ban polygamy. Why do so many Christians teach that polygamy is wrong if Luther thought it was allowed? Is there any proof in the Bible one way or the other?"
First, the matter of Luther and Philip of Hesse. To say that the three Reformers named approved of polygamy is not entirely correct. They did advise Philip to take a second wife in secret rather than to divorce and remarry. When this advice became public knowledge, all of Christendom was scandalized and Melancthon, who had originally approved, was so overcome with remorse that he became dangerously ill.
No excuse can be made for such behavior in the part of these leaders. All the Reformers, Calvin included, had unbiblical views of marriage, divorce and remarriage. Their views on divorce and remarriage are not the subject of this article, but are the reason why they could go so far astray as these three did in their advice to Philip.
As far as bigamy or polygamy is concerned, there can be no doubt that it is condemned by Scripture. This is the universal testimony of the church, and Luther, Melancthon and Bucher's attempts at secrecy in the matter of Philip of Hesse indicate that they knew better than they advised.
The clearest evidence in Scripture against polygamy is to be found in Matthew 19:5-6 which not only teaches that marriage is one man and one woman for life, but teaches also that it was so from the beginning. This passage leaves no doubt, therefore, that polygamy was wrong even in the Old Testament.
That it was wrong also in the Old Testament is evident, not from any explicit command forbidding it, but from the several facts: (1) that it was introduced by godless Lamech (Gen. 4:19); and (2) that those of God's people who committed the sin suffered the consequences of it, sometimes all their lives. Witness the brotherly strife that nearly destroyed the families of Jacob and David, and the idolatry of Solomon.
Other New Testament passages also condemn the practice. Most commentators agree that I Timothy 3:2 has to do with polygamy. It forbids the ordination of men who have been involved in such a practice, and important principle of foreign missions. Nor, we should add, does the fact that it is specifically forbidden of elders mean that it is permitted to others. Finally, all the passages which speak of marriage, speak always of one husband or wife, not many (Rom. 7:1-3; I Cor. 7:10-16; Eph. 5:22-33).
Most conclusive, however, is the fact that marriage is meant to be a picture of Christ and His church (Eph. 5:32). If this is the case, then it ought to be evident to us that our behavior in marriage is always to be patterned on Christ's behavior in relation to the church. In this case, the rule is that Christ has only one bride-one church.
Knowing by grace something of that relationship between Christ and His beloved church, we have even less excuse in these New Testament times for abusing marriage, and especially for such gross abuse as taking more than one wife or approving of such actions. Let us follow Christ's great example in every aspect of marriage.
- Volume: 8
- Issue: 3
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
Address13823 Clear Lake Rd.
State or ProvinceWA