On things that we think the Bible says

I'll say this right up front, this is the time of year for churches to have their synods (or whatever they choose to call them). And the issues comes around.

Polygamy hasn't (although a few years ago the denomination I was a part of made a decision that they would no longer call polygamy a sin - this was because in areas where polygamy is legal and/or common, they didn't want to tell a new convert he had to divorce a wife). The other two issues are very much around.

"Drinking alcohol is a sin".

Those who claim this (the new SBC resolution says not only the consumption of alcohol is sin, but also the manufacture and distribution).

These people would not only have kicked Christ out of the wedding at Canna, they would have forbid Him from performing His first miracle. I think that is somewhat of a quote that came to me from somewhere that I can't find now but the link was here.

"All divorce is sin."

God paints a "word picture" of Himself as a man who is divorced describes Himeself as being divorced. (Jeremiah 3)

"Polygamy is a sin."

God paints a "word picture" of Himself as a man describes Himself as having a covenant relationship with two wives, demonstrating the relationship between God, Israel, Judah.

There is a vast difference between how things originally were and what humans have made things to be.

Use of alcohol makes a heart merry. Abuse of alcohol destroys families.

Biblical use of divorce is unfortunate, but it is Biblical. And even an unbiblical divorce is not an unforgivable sin. Abuse of divorce leads to a nonchalant view of the marriage covenant.

Use of polygamy can (in certain circumstances) be used to solve population problems and work problems. Abuse of polygamy leads to abuse of women, jealously and strife.

We should be careful not to call "sin" what the Bible does not call sin.

We should also be careful to understand that even if the Bible doesn't call something "sin", what humans have done with it can be (and many times is) sin.

It is important to know the difference

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2 thoughts on “On things that we think the Bible says

  1. Hi Ellen,
    I found your blog through BHT--I'm enjoying your writing, especially since I grew up in the same denomination you've been in.

    I'm wondering what reference you have for the idea that God portrays himself as a man with 2 wives. I'm not remembering that.

    And while the Bible doesn't come out and say, "Polygamy is a sin," I think you can make a really good solid case against it, first by looking at the original design for marriage, second by looking at how it is portrayed when it is mentioned (ain't nobody happy in that arrangement!) and last by looking at the qualifications for elders (i.e. in a culture where polygamy was not unusual, Paul specifically mandated that elders needed to be men who only had 1 wife.)

    I think the Bible doesn't have a specific pronouncement on polygamy (and this is purely my theory, not a well-supported Biblical argument) because if there was a verbatim "Don't have more than 1 wife" statement, those cultures that practised polygamy, which were then redeemed, would have to negotiate some kind of deal where the extra wives were put away, which would be detrimental to the women.

    I think you could make some analogous arguments about the Bible's lack of concrete anti-slavery pronouncements. Lots of people have argued that God must not have any problems with slavery, since He doesn't explicity say it's bad. But if you look at His design and purpose for mankind, slavery doesn't fit very well. But again, in a culture that is comprised of many slaves, if their owners all came to Jesus and suddenly set their slaves adrift, the results would be disastrous for the slaves. But you do see in Philemon that Paul is subtly advocating for Onesimus's freedom and equality.

    Anyway, thanks for this post--it's always valuable to evaluate if cultural truisms are in fact true. Lotsa stuff has been attributed to the Bible that just isn't in there.


  2. Jeremiah 3: the wives were sisters, Judah and Israel.

    I thought that you could form a clear doctrine against polygamy, but God doesn't seem to have a problem with it.

    In 2 Samuel 12:8, God tells David that if Saul's wives were not enough for him, God would have given him more!

    And I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.

    And the Levirite Law, one of God's comandments, does not make an exception for an already-married man. In the case of an already-married older brother, God would have been commanding the marriage to a second wife - his brother's widow.

    Consider the number of second-wives that the line of Christ passes through. Rachel was a second wife, as was Hannah.

    As far as slavery, God does not regulate or command sin, He condemns it. Slavery was regulated and at times even commanded.

    What human beings have made slavery into is very sinful. In God's plan, at many times, "slavery" seemed to be a way of paying off debt, whether financial or criminal.

    Using God's Law in the Old Testament as a model, if a criminal were to be in bondage to the person they had stolen from, there would be a lot fewer people in jail, insurance costs would plummet and there might be a great deterent factor.

    If a person stole my car and wrecked it, instead of spending 6 months in jail, getting out of probation and my insurance company (and you all) picking up the tab - what if the thief's labor "belonged" to me until the debt was paid off?

    That is very different than the "slavery" that we know today - which is sin.

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