What to do if husband has 2 or more wives when converting to Christ?

Discussion in 'Family Forum' started by monoergon, Feb 10, 2018.

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  1. monoergon

    monoergon Puritan Board Freshman

    I curious to know what must a newly converted husband do if he has two or more wives— due to his ex-religion or tradition, such as Islam or native Indian tribes.

    Or, perhaps I can restate the question like this:
    What must a husband do before he converts to Christ if he has two or more wives— due to his ex-religion or tradition, such as Islam or native Indian tribes?

    - Should he only remain married to the wife he married first and divorce all his other wives?

    - Should he only remain married to the wife who converts to Christ (along with him) and, therefore, divorce all his other wives who may not want to convert to Christ?
  2. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Are you asking if the problem must be solved before conversion? I think the first way you stated the question is better. The wind blows where it wishes. But still, you are asking a good question.
  3. Jeff Low

    Jeff Low Puritan Board Freshman

    If we have to do something (repentance included) before we convert to Christ, we’ve lost the plot and gone off the deep end.

    It might be more helpful to ask how one should deal with this situation upon/after conversion.

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  4. monoergon

    monoergon Puritan Board Freshman

    Yes, correct. Initially, I was thinking in terms of the husband considering how his life would be different in light of the Bible. There are times when people hear the Gospel message for the first time, but it can take days, months or years before that person may actually come to Christ.
  5. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritanboard Softy

    Here's my opinion, and it is only an opinion: God is the god of polygamists, too. Even if one acknowledges that polygamy is not God's original intention, the fact is that it was permitted in the OT and was not an automatic disqualifier from being considered "righteous" (at least by OT standards!), though it would be a disqualifier from service as an elder per 1 Tim 3:2.

    That said, God's original intent was one man and one woman for life, and that's what we should advocate for and what we should expect as normative. But in terms of what to make of people who come to the faith with multiple wives, I believe that Paul's instruction in 1 Cor 7:17-24 has great applicability here, and I believe that application of that passage would be for him to love his wives faithfully, fulfilling the obligations and granting the rights due them as his wives. I would not advocate for divorce. However, it could very well be that one (or more!) of the wives would not want to stay with him due to his conversion. In that case, I'd suggest that 1 Cor 7:12-15 applies.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2018
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  6. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior


    I think that it's a bit more complicated than you present.

    Regeneration makes one more loving and responsible, not less (cf. Luke 19 and Zacchaeus). I don't think that it would be loving and responsible for a newly converted man to kick to the curb his "other" wives and children (all except the first, though some would counsel a version of that; certainly not to the one who "converts to Christ," v. I Cor. 7).

    The following answer to that question on the OPC website's Q and A is, I think, helpful: https://www.opc.org/qa.html?question_id=419. At the very least, there needs to be provision for all the women and all the children are his legitimate children.

    Missionaries have long had to address this, and I think that this answer provides a reasonable model for this thorny problem.

  7. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritanboard Softy

    I agree with the answer in the Q/A and see it as being essentially consistent with my own view.
  8. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    God would overlook this before conversion, but once the person was born again, would he not expect them to now be the Husband of one wife?
    Likewise, if a Lesbian/Homosexual couple married, and one was then saved, would not God demand that to be null and void?
  9. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior


    Did you read what I linked in my post, above? That would answer your question: regeneration is not a "redo" button. One cannot simply pretend as if these marriages, with all accompanying them, did not occur. It's neither loving nor responsible to address this as if one's personal, private welfare were the only thing at issue: a polygamist has many ongoing responsibilities that Christianity doesn't erase but makes him all the more want to do right by all concerned. The consequence of sin is not dealt with by pretending it didn't happen.

    A same-sex union was never in any proper sense a marriage and can have no offspring produced by such. This does not mean, however, that the converted party may have no obligation whatsoever to the other party: if the converted party, for instance, was the source of insurance/healthcare for the unconverted party and that unconverted party has pre-existing condition(s), the converted party should not throw the other to the curb.

    That may seem shocking to some people, but Christianity calls us to love God and neighbor as never before, even those with whom we should not have been in relationship but were, and have some obligation to them, even now that we're converted and they're not.

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  10. ZackF

    ZackF Puritan Board Senior

    Pastor, I'm glad you addressed this. Jurisprudence shows every sign of wanting to keep up with the sexual revolution. People are now and will in greater numbers be converted who have been in SS relationships, 'married' or otherwise, for years and decades. Some of these people will have natural and adopted children. I think we are also going to see legalized polygamy. Flatfooted ways of handling these situations are not going to work.
  11. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    The answer already given—that the man should remain faithful to all his wives if they will remain with him, but may not hold church office—has generally been the position taken by Bible-minded missionaries. It does no good to add another sin on top of the original error by making the man cast off a woman to whom he has pledged faithfulness.

    Paul's instruction that an elder must be the husband of one wife suggests this was his answer. It sounds as if there were men in the church who retained their multiple wives and were still regarded as believers in good standing. Else why might they be considered for eldership in the first place?

    Missionaries actually tend to struggle more with the office-holding part of this rule. In many cultures, the men who had multiple wives when converted are also the men who seem most responsible and held leadership roles before they heard the gospel. It can be hard to explain why such men are unqualified for leadership in the church, especially when they were unaware at the time of their marriages that polygamy is not God's design.
  12. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    So if the person was a Mormon with multiply wives who was saved, and some wives decided to stay in the marriage, he is under obligation to fulfill his vows to them, but if they choose to live him as no longer Mormon, that is acceptable also?
  13. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    In the case of most Mormons who might find themselves in this situation, I suspect the latter marriages would not be legally recognized, which adds a wrinkle to the case. Hard cases make bad law, as they say. The principle to act out of love and fulfill financial commitments certainly applies, but I wonder how one might negotiate the situation if some marriages were deemed illegal by the state. Perhaps someone else here has heard of an actual case where a church dealt with this.
  14. monoergon

    monoergon Puritan Board Freshman

    These are great answers.

    Does anyone know if great reformed theologians has written about this issue of polygamy, such as Calvin, Turretin, Bavinck, Berkhof, Charles Hodge, the Puritans etc?
  15. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    Yes, Nathan, in that these, along with those of the ancient and medieval church, often commented that I Timothy 3:2 and elsewhere forbade polygamists as office-bearers.

    In so commenting, they would often note (Calvin especially comes to mind here) that while polygamists may become Christians, they cannot be office-bearers (noting that "mias gunaikos andra," meaning "one-woman man," whatever else it may mean, certainly prohibits polygamists). Tertullian, in his work on monogamy, after becoming a Montanist, took it to mean one wife in a lifetime (for all Christians)!

    It is something that would be worth looking into more narrowly respecting the missionary situation.

  16. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    We work in a tribal context and this happens sometimes. We just baptized a polygynous man last October.

    The man knows he cannot hold church office, nor should he add further wives. He must treat his current wives in love and remain faithful to them and fulfill all of his obligations to them. There is no adultery and all of his children are legitimate. He has promised to teach both wives the gospel and to feed and supply both with needs.

    Missionaries should never encourage divorce for these cases, as has been done by some Fundy groups like WEC in Africa. This creates illegitimate children and poverty-stricken women in an instant.

    God bore patiently with polygamists for generations in the Old Testament. We can surely bear with it 1 or 2 generations among tribal societies until it dies a natural death on its own.
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  17. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    I was hoping, Trevor, that someone like you (actually I was hoping you would!) would chime in from the mission field and tell us how you were lovingly and responsibly addressing this.

    Thanks so much for doing so!

  18. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    I think that you are comparing apples and oranges. While polygamy falls short of God's standards, homosexual "marriage" is a revolt against nature and such relations can never be legitimate nor are they ever tolerable.
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  19. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    There is no such thing as "homosexual marriage" but there is such a thing as polygamous marriages. The Bible treats these as true marriages instead of the perverted charade of homo unions, and multiple wives are still called wives.

    Apples and oranges for sure.

    The irony is that the West tolerates homosexual marriage but polygamy is still illegal. The slide downward into sin is sometimes inconsistent.
  20. monoergon

    monoergon Puritan Board Freshman

  21. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    No. Keep all wives but he is forbidden from becoming a church officer.
  22. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Indeed, and he wrote letters to widows almost warning them not to remarry.
  23. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I know Hodge has a lot to say on how close one can marry regarding sanguinuity (in other words, can you marry your deceased brother's wife, or some equivalent). But the others were writing from the benefit of Western civilization (at the risk of triggering the Gospel Coalition) and they likely never had to face this issue in a real sense.
  24. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    As Jack noted, they aren't legal marriages by US (or mainline LDS) law. Only fringe Mormon cults stay true to Mormon teaching.
  25. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    I was going to say that Frame is not a "Dr." and does not represent himself as such but I see on his RTS profile that he does. His doctorate, as far as I know, is honorary and thus he is not entitled to the appellation (despite his substantial corpus of academic work). Not that it's material to the discussion at hand, but it's surprising to see RTS flouting academic convention like that. Frame does not use the title in his published work that I've seen, at least.
  26. monoergon

    monoergon Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you all for clarifying this issue for me. I have learned a lot.

    If there are any free Reformed online articles on this issue, please share them here.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2018
  27. Cymro

    Cymro Puritan Board Junior

    Nathan, I have just read Turretin on polygamy. See Vol 2:15-16 and page 122.
  28. monoergon

    monoergon Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you Jeff. Currently I don't own that work, but I'm sure someone in my church has it.
  29. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    So this would be the case where God would permit something that was against His revealed will regarding marriage relationship due to the parties involved being in the dark so to speak regarding the truth of God, and now saved, God would see the upheaval from breaking the stable and working arrangement to be far worse than letting it stay statas Quo?
    And Missionaries should also still reinforce that God tolerated this before, but now since the light of God has come, going forward, needs to be as God commanded?
  30. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    You make sense here, as while God for a time permitted many wives in the OT, He never OK at all same sex marriages, period.
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