Question #1: I thank God for leading me to this site which set me free from following a cult. I believe you have a revelation. I almost challenged by your scholarly and scriptural approach. A question for you though. In my culture polygamy has been the norm. When I got saved I was taught that God forbids polygamy. I have since tried to get scriptural support of this view but have failed. What does the Bible teach on Polygamy?
I am so very pleased to hear that these materials have been helpful to
you and have contributed to your spiritual safety. May God protect you
and continue to lead you forward in the truth of His Word and in the
service of Jesus Christ our Lord! As to any revelation I might have, I
am pleased to say that it is the same revelation that is available to
all the children of God, the Word of God as revealed in His holy
scriptures and made clear and powerfully meaningful to all believers
through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I do appreciate very much your
enthusiasm and kind comments, and hope that these materials will
continue to help you as you grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord
and Savior Jesus Christ.
As to your specific question about polygamy, there is no specific scriptural prohibition against it, and it is also true that in the Old Testament, many famous believers had more than one wife (e.g., Jacob, David, Solomon). However, just because something is not specifically prohibited in the Bible does not mean that it is definitely not sinful, or that God smiles on it, or that it is a good idea. For example, taking drugs is not specifically prohibited (although witchcraft involving drug use is), and abortion is never forbidden by name in scripture either. But there are few believers with good hearts who are led by the Spirit and who are deeply committed to the study of the Word of God who would for that reason endorse drug use or abortion. Clearly, some things are so obviously counter to the essence of the truth that they should be scrupulously avoided by believers even though the Bible may not directly address them (please see the link: Bible Basics 3B: Hamartiology, section II.6 "The Distinction between Expressly Prohibited and Non-Expressly Prohibited Sin").
In the case of polygamy, this certainly seems to be one of those areas where we as believers ought to steer clear and not give the possibility of its permissibility any further thought. Take the three Old Testament believers mentioned above, for example, and you will see what I mean. Jacob had troubles all his life long because of his multiple wives. Leah and Rachel were adversaries and he was caught in the middle, and later his sons were jealous of one another for that very reason, a situation which culminated in Joseph being sold into captivity. Now of course God worked everything together for good in the end – He always does so for those who love Him in spite of our failures, weaving even our worst mistakes into a tapestry of grace and deliverance in His perfect plan (Rom.8:28; cf. Gen.50:20) – but the pain of heart Jacob felt over Joseph's loss was profound and lasted quite a long time. David's bevy of wives and confused litter of children bred a situation which contributed in no small measure to the rape of Tamar, the murder of Amnon, and the revolt and death of Absalom. Now it is certainly true that the underlying cause was David's murder of Uriah and adultery with Bathsheba, but the mind-set that produced that offense was one of polygamy, and God certainly used the polygamous situation as part of the judgment. Finally we know that in the case of Solomon it was the contingent of "foreign wives (n.b. the plural)" that led him away from the Lord (1Ki.11:4). On top of all of this, we should also notice that the vast majority of great Old Testament believers were not polygamous.
So while certain things were tolerated in the Old Testament
and even regulated (like slavery and polygamy), and while the same such
things are not strictly prohibited in the New Testament (like slavery
and polygamy), we as prudent, God-fearing believers in Jesus Christ
should recognize that there is a difference between things which may be
permitted but are very bad for us on the one hand, and God smiling upon
such actions as we indulge ourselves in them on the other. Just as I
would never advise another believer to be a party to slavery, so I would
never advise a believer to be a party to polygamy. In fact, I would
strenuously advise all believers to stay as far as possible away from
both of these ancient "institutions", because no good could ever come
from either of them, and, on the other hand, much evil is sure to come
to anyone involved in either of them.
Finally, we can also say that in general terms the Bible counsels those who are single in Christ to remain that way if at all possible (1Cor.7:1; 7:26-28). So if it is better "not to marry" if one has the requisite self-control to stay single without being pulled into sexual sin as a result, how much more is it not true that marrying two or more spouses would be an even worse idea? Additionally, we can say that wherever the subject of Christian marriage is addressed in the New Testament, the premise is that there is one wife for one husband (1Cor.7; Eph.5:22-33; Col.3:18-19). Indeed, the only place where there is even a hint of the possibility of polygamy is by way of prohibition for deacons and elders – no one with more than one wife should be allowed to serve in either office, clearly indicating that being polygamous at a minimum hampers one's ability to serve Christ (1Tim.3:2; 3:12). So while I cannot give you a verse that says "absolutely it is a sin to do it", it seems clear to me from the above discussion that there are few ideas worse for a Christian than becoming involved in a polygamous relationship. As believers, we need to turn away from many things that the rest of the world may do or permit, and it is a sure bet that if we are truly walking with Jesus that our consciences, directed by the Holy Spirit and informed by what the Word of God does say, will give us plenty of indication and guidance with regard to things we should stay away from. As I read scripture, polygamy most definitely seems to be one of those things that, while perhaps not specifically prohibited, is certainly something capable of ruining our spiritual lives and thus something to be avoided at all costs.
Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be made subject to the authority of anything (i.e., let any behavior compromise spiritual growth).
1st Corinthians 6:12
Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me, but not everything edifies (i.e., contributes to spiritual growth).
1st Corinthians 10:23
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Hi Dr. Luginbill:
How do you translate Leviticus 18:7? "...the nakedness of your father *or* the nakedness of your mother...", "...the nakedness of your father *and* the nakedness of your mother...", "...the nakedness of your father *that is* the nakedness of your mother"...? I have seen it translated all three of these ways.
Thank you in advance.
The two instances of
"nakedness" are connected by the common Hebrew conjunction waw.
It may be translated as "and", "but", or sometimes "or". So I believe
that the first two translations are self-explanatory. The third instance
takes the waw here as meaning essentially "even", which is also a
possibility. The translators who went this last way probably did so in
order to have the second half of the verse become more clear as an
explanation of the first half (which it certainly is under any
translation). I believe that the essential idea is that, since the man
is the authority figure based upon Genesis chapter three, by violating
one's father's wife one is violating him. This is –
prohibition that applies to incest only, but we may understand from the
example of Reuben, and from Paul's discussion of a similar situation in 1st
Corinthians chapter five that the prohibition applies to any wife,
consort, or concubine of one's father, not just one's birth-mother.
In our Lord Jesus,
Thank you again for
The third translation concerns me because it would seem to me that the "your mother's nakedness is your father's nakedness" translation would indicate that your mother and father are one flesh, regardless of whether or not they were ever "married" to one another. Must one's mother necessarily be under the authority of one's father? ... even if she was not his wife? It would further reinforce the notion that procreative sex with someone automatically makes you one flesh, or married. If the first two translations are correct, it would seem to be a different situation from the next verse which more clearly indicates a one flesh relationship.
I do see what you are driving at here, but I really think that the key is the individual to whom this prohibition is addressed. This prohibition only applies to a son vis-à-vis his mother. The reasoning behind the prohibition given here is that such a relationship defiles the authority or "shame" (nakedness) of one's father. Since there could be no offspring in the first place without a father as well as a mother, this prohibition applies regardless of the marriage relationship – not because the two were or are "one flesh", but because incest of this sort necessarily confuses the entire principle of authority. So I would put this verse in a whole different category since without an offspring it has no applicability. It stands to reason from the fifth commandment and elsewhere that all children must respect their parents and their authority in accordance with what the Bible teaches about this. Leviticus 18:7 is a special extension of this principle – one that we might think needs no expression – but which has been codified for emphasis (possibly because, as I mentioned before, it applies by extension to all of one's father's wives, whether or not they are technically the son's birth mother). So I don't see a general principle here that makes all sexual activity a marriage, especially not from the standpoint of all parties (what it does do is make one's father's wife one's "mother" in regard to this prohibition, regardless of later developments). I disagree with the notion that any sex act constitutes a marriage for at least two important reasons: 1) first and foremost is the fact that "a marriage is a marriage", and requires some formal acknowledgment of a legal bonding between the husband and the wife; and 2) if it were true that all sex "married" the people involved, then technically speaking there would at least in practical terms be no such thing as adultery since one would be automatically marrying the other person through the sex act every time. But as we know, sexual sin comes in for special reproof in scripture. My essential view of the "one flesh" issue has been and remains that our Lord was condemning people who are violating the prohibition against sexual activity outside of marriage by making use of an illustration whereby He makes it clear that they are behaving as if they were married when they are not.
In our Lord Jesus,
Since aborted or miscarried fetuses and embryos were living souls, what bodily form will/do they have in heaven?
The word "soul" is of
Germanic derivation and is not a true biblical term. It is often used in
the versions (although never consistently so) to translate the Greek
word psyche and the Hebrew word nephesh. These two words,
when discussing the human being, refer to our composite selves, often
stressing our inner selves, but always with the meaning of the entire
person. As God's creations, we are composed of a physical body derived
through procreation and a human spirit given directly and immediately by
God at birth. Until God breaths in the "breath of life", there is no
true human life.
However, I do take the point of your question. There are no doubt some instances in which during a miscarriage or a partial birth abortion God does indeed breathe in the spirit before the young one expires. In a sense, this is the opposite of a question that is also often pondered about the end of life. Scripture is short on details about the life to come, probably deliberately. If we had a detailed understanding about how wonderful our future life with Jesus will be, we would find it hard to concentrate on anything else, and we all have our work to do for Him here in this world (cf. 2Cor.12:4). What we do know is that at the resurrection we are promised a body like that of our Lord (1Jn.3:2), so that it stands to reason just as His body is unchangeable as it was at His prime, so ours will reflect an ideal prime as well, and that would be true of the very old and the very young too, even in the case of those whose birth was shrouded in death. The apostle Paul makes quite a point of the fact that the differences between the heavenly body and this problematic earthly one will be pronounced (1Cor.15:35-49), so that while we do have some information about the resurrected body of our Lord from His post-resurrection appearances, we cannot really know what it will be like to experience incorruption until it happens, especially in the glorified state which He now and we then will enjoy.
As to the present situation of those about whom you ask, I would say that this too is the same as that of every believer who has passed on to be with Jesus, that is, the interim state now enjoyed by all those who have died in the Lord (including all who by reason of youth or mental incompetency were never able to reject Him). These are all now enjoying a heavenly "tent" which is in every way ideal (only short of the glory and delight of the future resurrection). Just as Adam and Eve were created as adults in their prime, so every indication we have from scripture suggests that all of us who will walk with Jesus forever will enjoy that status – forever. Please see the following link:
Our Heavenly, Pre-Resurrection, Interim State.
For more on the composition of man as created by God, please see:
The Dichotomy of Man (in Bible Basics 3A: Anthropology)
Is the nature of man dichotomous or trichotomous?
For more on the resurrection body, please see:
The Resurrection (in Peter #20)
Aspects of the Resurrection
In the Name of Him who
is the resurrection and the life, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In John 4, when Jesus tells the Samaritan woman to go and get her husband, how does the earliest text actually read? I am not a scholar, but I have read that Greek indicates emphasis upon certain words by placing such words at the beginning of a sentence. I read, then, that the woman says, "I do not have a man.", and Jesus replies, "You speak the truth when you say, 'A man I don't have...'". If this is the Greek, would Jesus be saying, "You speak the truth when you say you don't have *A* man, for you have had five men..."? Is he placing emphasis upon the fact that she doesn't just have a (one) man, but five men? Is the Greek for "have had", as in "have had five men", a different tense than "have", as in, "don't have a man" and "now have is not your man". Also, is the word "your" in "not your man" emphasized so that Jesus is saying she has someone else's man? A wordy, complicated and perhaps "nit-picky" question for your consideration.
Thank you. I send this with my prayers for your well being.
You are certainly correct in your overall approach here: such questions
are not "nit-picky". Everything boils down to "what does God really
say?", and the only way to be 100% sure is to know exactly what
scripture says, something that in turn requires a perfect understanding
of true theology (something no one has, since it would take a perfect
understanding of all of scripture to get there), a perfect understanding
of the history and culture of biblical times (this is not even
possible), and a perfect understanding of the Greek text (also a very
difficult nigh on impossible thing to achieve). But while we can't be
perfect, we can strive to come as close to the truth as possible, and,
God helping us and empowering us through His Spirit, we will glean much
from our studies in the Word, but only if we approach them in a decent
and orderly way. Your concentration on what the text actually says
manifests the proper point of view, and I appreciate it.
Let me start by answering your questions directly by way of overview (and I'll then provide a more detailed explanation below):
Is he placing emphasis upon the fact that she doesn't just have a (one) man, but five men?
No. Rather Jesus is placing emphasis on the fact that this current
fellow is not even married to her (see below).
Is the Greek for "have had", as in "have had five men", a different tense than "have", as in, "don't have a man" and "now have is not your man".
Yes, the tense is different, but the first one is not present perfect as
the English translation you provide suggests (see below).
Also, is the word "your" in "not your man" emphasized so that Jesus is saying she has someone else's man?
No. It does provide, emphasis, but to show that he really doesn't belong
to her, not that he
belongs to someone else.
Here is a "word-for-word" translation (you'll see immediately why we
can't stop there, but it'll be somewhat
John 4:16: He says to her: "Go, call your man/husband and come [back] here".
John 4:17a: The woman replied and said, " I am not in possession of [a] man/husband."
John 4:17b-18: Jesus says to her, "You said well that '[a] man/husband I am not in possession of'. (18) For you acquired five men/husbands and now the one whom you are in possession of is not your man/husband. This thing you have spoken [is a] true thing."
The Greek of the gospel of John is some of the simplest Greek in the New Testament, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't present interpretative problems. One thing we can say for certain here about the woman's current status is that "the five" are past not present history. The word for "have" is the same in all the instance above, but with reference to the five, Jesus uses the past [aorist] tense of the verb echo. And, though it is a little appreciated point among New Testament scholars generally, this verb is usually ingressive in the aorist tense. What that means in plain English is that it would be more accurate to translate "You acquired five husbands". The logic here of "the five" is thus plain: 1) the five are in the past; 2) because the focus is upon her act of marrying these five men (i.e., "you acquired"), there are only two ways this could have happened, that is, if she married them all at the same time (and nothing in Jewish law or history or the context suggests so much as a parallel), or married them one at a time (precisely the impression that the Greek reader would receive without having to give this passage any terribly deep thought). We can easily conclude, therefore, that this woman had five prior marriages which ended either in the death of her previous spouses or in divorce. But the fact that in verse 29 she says that Jesus told her "everything I did" strongly suggests to me that what we have here is more likely a case of multiple divorces followed by remarriage.
On the other hand, in the present tense echo expresses present possession only, so that "whom you have now" rules out multiple possession since the relative pronoun "whom" here in Greek is singular, not plural. Furthermore, Jesus tells her that she has spoken "well" by saying "I am not in possession of a husband". It is hard to understand how our Lord could say these words if in His opinion she were still technically married to any of the previous five. Rather He would have found fault with her supposition that by divorcing them (or being divorced by them) these prior marriages had come to an end. But He does not. Instead, He agrees with her that she is unmarried. Where He finds present fault with her – and without rubbing it in – is in her present situation of living together with a man to whom she is not married.
It is also unlikely that the situation as described here could admit of the possibility of this woman living together with a man married to someone else, for that would seem to call for further comment on the one hand (it is most definitely not suggested by anything in the text, specifically the word "your", however strongly emphasized), and would also seem to contradict the meaning established by the context for the word "have/be in possession of" (since the current "man" would in that case be technically "in the possession of" the other woman). So it would be a very long, and I would say impossibly long stretch to assume that Jesus is suggesting that by divorcing five men she has not ended those marriages since under this [false] assumption marriage can only end in death, whereas the interpretation suggested in this e-mail flows naturally and seamlessly throughout the passage: her previous marriages ended most likely in divorce, and now she is not married at all, although she is living with someone.
As to the word order of "man/husband", Jesus does indeed switch it to place emphasis on the word man/husband in His reply. But, given what He says in the very next verse, "and now whom you are having is not your man/husband", I would argue that the context suggests that is where we are to find the intended contrast, not in some actual or "functional" polygamy, but in the fact of being married (and divorced) five times in the past, and now not even bothering to be married at all.
Honestly, the only way I can see this passage making sense is if we posit what seems to be the case prima facie, namely, that this woman had been a "serial spouse", and had now decided to forgo any pretense of marriage whatsoever. One might think – especially anyone who is overly judgmental on issues of marriage and divorce – that because this woman had been living a sinful life Jesus should have nothing to do with her. Instead, of course, she is not only considered by Him worthy of salvation, but also becomes a conduit for the salvation of an entire Samaritan town, and has her responsiveness to the Lord and her work in carefully evangelizing her fellow citizens immortalized in the Word of God forever!
Thank you for your prayers - they are very much appreciated.
Yours in our Lord Jesus,
Hi Dr. L.,
Could the solution Ezra implemented to address the intermarriage between Israelites and foreign women have been wrong?
1. Though he had set his heart to learn and follow God's law, Ezra evidently didn't come up with this idea on his own (Ezra 10:2-4).
2. Intermarriage with some of the foreign nations listed in Ezra 9:1 was not specifically prohibited in the law... at least not that I can find.
3. Ezra 10:15 speaks of only a few men being "employed" in this matter. Some versions of the Bible translate the word "amad" as "stood against", perhaps meaning that these men were opposed to such a solution.
It seems that many proponents of breaking up second, third, etc. marriages use the argument that this event sets Biblical precedent for such action. That may be true, but it is also true that the Bible records many events as being historical without comment about how God viewed them.
I am interested in reading your thoughts on this.
You have some very,
very good points here: 1) it is true that the idea was not all Ezra's
initially, and also true that it did not come directly from God through
prophecy or other direct communication; 2) it is true that some of the
nations listed at Ezra 9:1 do not seem to merit automatic
"excommunication"; Ruth, after all, who is in the line of our Lord
Jesus, was a Moabitess; 3) and it is also true that not everyone agreed
with this course of action. Finally, your statement that "the Bible
records many events as being historical without comment about how God
viewed them" is true and a very important caveat for anyone interpreting
the Bible and making use of material which is historical and descriptive
rather than purely doctrinal and prescriptive (the Book of Acts comes to
So what do we do with this passage? I have said in the past that from my point of view this passage is an indication that under some circumstances remarriage is acceptable. Your points above do show that we should be careful about trying to take this passage as doctrine – which it most clearly is not. I would say that Ezra's actions are certainly presented as noble and God-fearing, and that the sequel, the agreement of the people (Ezra 10:12) and conclusion of the book with no stricture upon Ezra's actions but instead a listing of those who had intermarried presented in a most negative light, do suggest that if Ezra was not entirely right, he wasn't entirely wrong either. It is often the case in the course of "real life" that because of sin and prior violations of divine will we find ourselves in situations where there really is "no good solution". David's deceptive protestations before Abimelech prior to the battle of Mt. Gilboa is a famous case in point. David put himself into a situation where lying was his only choice. That does not mean that God condones lying, but "telling the truth", if we can even call it that in such an instance, risked (and perhaps even guaranteed) that the men who had followed him loyally would have been put to death through no fault of their own – and that would have been a far graver sin.
Ideally, we are never going to be in a situation where through our own fault and folly we face the "lesser or greater of two evils", but it often does happen because we are flesh, because we are weak, and because even for the most spiritually mature among us it takes time to get to the point where we really "get it" and fear God sufficiently to stay away from evil consistently and completely enough to avoid such situations entirely. In the vast majority of cases, most Christians find themselves in the "Ezra situation" sooner or later. Ezra's dilemma was to allow the situation to continue and risk the rapid dissolution of the Jewish race (they were only a handful in the midst of many enemies, and their new wives and children didn't even speak Hebrew) or dissolve these foreign marriages instead. Neither choice was pure, but for Ezra and for most of the people, the choice between dissolving some marriages or having the entire nation of Israel dissolve was a clear if not an easy one to make.
On this difficult issue of divorce and re-marriage I have always maintained what I see as the biblical position:
1) Are you single? Stay single if you can, but if you marry, you haven't sinned.
2) Are you married? Stay married, but if you must separate for whatever reason, stay single thereafter.
3) Have you remarried? I do not defend remarriage, but in my view it falls into the category of what we have discussed above. People do remarry, and, given the human libido, it would be imprudent of me to suggest that in each and every case staying single would be the best way to avoid sin.
In any case, I am not shy about suggesting that for most people who have remarried, divorcing again out of guilt over remarriage at least has the potential of being a far worse evil than the evil it purports to cure. For once we have undertaken solemn responsibilities to others which any marriage inevitably entails, we cannot just go out and dissolve them willy-nilly without spiritual consequences. The difficulties encountered in Ezra are, I am sure, only the surface of the pain and suffering, material and emotional, that these divorces entailed, and it was only in the context of national and racial survival that these drastic steps were taken. So I am also confident that such extreme measures would never have been undertaken except that the consequences of inaction for the entire Jewish race were so severe. We don't have that excuse today, and it is worth noting that people who have gotten remarried in spite of prior, painful divorces, must have had needs, emotional as well as physical, that single status could not endure. Therefore if out of this sort of guilt-pressure they are led to divorce – again – what is the realistic likelihood that they will not find themselves in exactly the same situation – again – and in very short order be pressured to re-marry yet again? So while I am sympathetic to the position that counsels believers not to remarry after divorce, for those who have remarried my advice is always the same: being married again now, point #2 above again applies (i.e., "stay married"), even if that course of action does bring with it a certain amount of trouble and guilt that would not be present if all parties had scrupulously obeyed the Word of God in the first place.
From my observation and personal experience, it is a blessing beyond expression that God forgives us and blesses us in spite of our failures and weaknesses, that He heals and comforts us and continues to use us in spite of our past sins. For who among us can truthfully say that they have never found themselves in the position of having to make "Ezra's choice" in any matter at any time? No one who is being honest.
Thanks for your e-mail and for your very perceptive analysis of scripture.
In our Lord who understands all of our needs and who forgives all of our sins, our Savior Jesus Christ.
I have read lately that some scholars believe that the term "played the harlot against him" in Judges 19:2 (the passage about the Levite's concubine) really means that they fought constantly and she became angry and left him to go home to her father's house. These scholars (Josephus included, if that is worth anything) comment that the Levite pursuing her to make up with her if she had committed adultery would have been contrary to the Law of Moses. Do you have any thoughts on this?
I should tell you up
front that I have a pretty low opinion of Josephus as an interpreter of
the Bible. His interpretations are often bizarre, highly speculative,
and seldom if ever correct.
The Hebrew word zana', translated "played the harlot" by many in Judges 19:2, is a very well attested verb and verbal root in the Old Testament, and a very straightforward one too. When used of relations between the sexes, it invariably means just what the translations reflect here, namely, physical infidelity. When used vis-à-vis man and God, it refers to spiritual infidelity, but that is clearly a deliberate attempt by authors who employ the verb in that sense to show that apostasy where God is concerned is equivalent to adultery where human beings are concerned.
I think that the argument that actual adultery could not be in view here because then the Levite's actions would go against the Mosaic Law is a very weak one. For one thing, the entire context shows all sorts of horrendous deviation not just from Moses but from any sort of "law" anchored in what we know of right and wrong from scripture – and that is the theme of Judges after all: without a king, people generally did whatever they liked (Judg.17:6; 21:25; cf. 19:1).
Secondly, it is always a very dangerous thing (and almost always a wrong thing) when one is interpreting scripture to suggest that what the text seems to state clearly happened could not have happened in that seemingly clear way because it violates one's construct about what would or would not be possible for some reason or other. This is in essence to assume that one understands everything about God and scripture to such a perfect degree that what scripture actually seems to say is weaker evidence than what someone "knows" is possible independent of the text.
Bottom line: it is inconceivable to me that those who first read this passage in Hebrew or those who read it now in Hebrew would be likely to understand the concubine's actions as anything but unfaithfulness. That is especially true given that there is nothing in the context here to indicate that fighting was the "real reason" for her departure.
Finally, as to the issue of the Law, lest we forget, the Lord actually ordered Hosea to "take a wife of harlotry", 'eshet zenuniym – key word here from the same root as zana' (Hos.1:2), and was later commanded to reconcile with her in spite of further adultery (Hos.3:1ff). Therefore reconciliation after unfaithfulness is not impossible according to the Law, even though said unfaithfulness constitutes a valid grounds for divorce. If it were impossible, then no human being could ever be saved. For we are as human beings sinful to our very core, and it is the great and wonderful news of the gospel of Jesus Christ that we have been offered salvation in spite of all our unfaithfulness – through the death of our Lord on the cross, washing away all of our sins with His blood.
In our ever-faithful Lord Jesus Christ who died that we might live.