Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Doctrine of the Trinity

The True Tale of a Boy, a Girl, and a Heresy

Phil was a typical country boy.  Hailing from Iowa, he lived in a tiny town where the corn grew high and everyone knew each other’s names.  Phil was even more well-known than most in town.  While still a high school student, he dappled in politics and was quite the impressive business man, owning and managing restaurants before I even held a driver’s license.

When we initially met on a blind date my sophomore year of high school, his 6’4” lanky frame and wiry glasses were the features that I noticed at the outset.  In the first five minutes, it was clear that our personalities and interests made us a terrible match.  But for the next five years we dated each other, due more to my inability to say “no” and his excitement of traveling to the “city” to visit a girl than to any innate interest.  In dating him, I found someone who considered me beautiful during my most awkward years and secured a date to every high school event that I would not have been asked to otherwise.  In dating me, he embarked on exciting adventures of big city exploration that resulted in stories to tell to the neighbors of Country Town, USA.

Not surprisingly, our faith was yet another area in which we found ourselves to be incompatible.  Phil claimed Christ as his Savior and attended the small Baptist church in town, but his faith was mostly a vague concept that had been preached to him by a God-fearing mother and not a heart-transforming, life-defining intimate relationship with the God of the universe.  He was easily swayed by emotional experiences at church, and the charismatic movement became increasingly of interest to him.  During the course of our dating, he transitioned from his irrelevant and lifeless Baptist church to a dynamic and charismatic Oneness Pentecostal church.

Prior to dating Phil, I had never encountered this branch of Pentecostalism and I was not aware of their denominational distinctions.  It didn’t take long before I discovered that among other heretical teachings, Oneness Pentecostals deny Trinitarian theology.  This led us to engage in long, sometimes heated conversations about faith issues.

Phil’s primary argument was that the Trinity is not mentioned in Scripture.  In some respects, Phil was correct.  Leaf through the pages of Scripture or search your favorite translation on Bible Gateway, and you will discover that the word “Trinity” is never used.  And yet, Phil was also very wrong.  While the word “Trinity” might not be in Scripture, the concept is very much present.

Meaning of the Trinity

During my high school years, my favorite Bible teacher advised us to remember three statements that would keep us faithful to Scripture and steer us away from error concerning Trinitarian doctrine: (1) There is one God.  (2) God is three persons.  (3) Each person is fully God.  Author, pastor, and theologian Kevin DeYoung expands this to seven statements: “(1) There is only one God.  (2) The Father is God.  (3) The Son is God.  (4) The Holy Spirit is God.  (5) The Father is not the Son.  (6) The Son is not the Holy Spirit.  (7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father.” [1]  In other words, each person of the Trinity is God.  The Father is not more “God” than the Son, nor the Son more “God” than the Holy Spirit.  They are equal in their divinity.  At the same time, we are not polytheists; we serve one God, not three.

If you’re scratching your head at this point thinking that this is a logical inconsistency, you’re not alone!  To the human mind, the doctrine of the Trinity is perplexing.  But just because we cannot understand a doctrine in our finite minds, does not mean that the doctrine is untrue.  We cannot comprehend God.  (And frankly, I wouldn’t want to serve a Being whom I could comprehend, for then He would not be the ultimate Wisdom and He would not be God.)  Yet, while we cannot understand the doctrine fully, we can and must come to a deeper understanding of God as three-in-one.  This doctrine is central to Christianity; we cannot gloss over it.  The Trinity informs our understanding of the very nature of God, and the divinity of Christ is wrapped up in this doctrine.  Augustine, an early Christian theologian, stated, “…in no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.” [2]

There is One God

Let’s explore in more detail the three statements ingrained in my mind by my high school Bible teacher.  First, there is one God.  The Hebrew faith was deeply monotheistic (one God) as opposed to the polytheistic beliefs (many gods) of surrounding cultures.  The Genesis account opens, “In the beginning, God,” not gods.  Deuteronomy 6:4 reads, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  The oneness of God is affirmed in the New Testament as well.  In 1 Corinthians 8:4, Paul writes to the Corinthian church about idols: “Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’”  He continues, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor. 8:6).

God is Three Persons

Second, God is three persons.  There are scores of verses where God is described as three persons, eternally existing as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  One example is in the account of Jesus’ baptism.  Mark 1:10-11 reads, “10 And when he [Jesus] came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”  Here we have all three persons of the Trinity present: Jesus the Son is baptized as the Holy Spirit descends on the Son like a dove and the Father affirms Jesus’ sonship and express divine favor.  All three persons of the Trinity are distinct.  As Matt Perman writes, “since the Father sent the Son into the world (John 3:16), He cannot be the same person as the Son.  Likewise, after the Son returned to the Father (John 16:10), the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into the world (John 14:26; Acts 2:33).  Therefore, the Holy Spirit must be distinct from the Father and the Son.” [3]  In our understanding of the Trinity, therefore, we must remember that the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Father or Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son.  Each person is distinct.

Each Person is Fully God

Third, each person is fully God.  The deity of the Father is widely accepted.  In His teaching, Jesus references “your heavenly Father,” and equates the Father to God (Mt. 5:48; 6:14, 26, 32; 18:35; Lk. 11:13).  Christianity rests on the truth that Jesus is God.  Jesus said, “…I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).  In Colossians, Paul affirms that in Christ “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9).  Jesus asserted that “…before Abraham was, I am,” attesting to His eternality (Jn. 8:58).  The writer of Hebrews does not mince words when it comes to the deity of Christ, writing, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Heb. 1:3).  Likewise, in the book of Titus, Paul talks about the “appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Ti. 2:13).  When Jesus asked the disciples who He was, Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16).  Jesus did not rebuke him.  On the contrary, “Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven’” (Mt. 16:17).  Jesus accepted the worship of the multitude, exercised the authority to forgive sin, and was charged with blasphemy because He claimed power that only belonged to God (Lk. 24:52; Mk. 2:1-12).

The deity of the Holy Spirit is affirmed in Scripture as well.  Hebrews 9:14 refers to the Holy Spirit as the “eternal Spirit.”  In Acts 5:3-4, Ananias is accused of lying to the Holy Spirit, and Peter declares, “You have not lied to man but to God.”  In 1 Corinthians, our bodies are described as God’s temple in which His Spirit dwells (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19).  The Holy Spirit is fully God.

Each person of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is not one-third God, only totaling “one hundred percent God” when combined.  Instead, each person of the Trinity is one hundred percent divine; each is fully God.

Is Trinitarian Doctrine Contradictory?

At this point, you may be thinking, “That sounds like a contradiction!  How can God be one in essence (being) and yet exist in three persons?”  Matt Perman explains this well:

In order for something to be contradictory, it must violate the law of noncontradiction.  This law states that A cannot be both A (what it is) and non-A (what it is not) at the same time and in the same relationship.  In other words, you have contradicted yourself if you affirm and deny the same statement.  For example, if I say that the moon is made entirely of cheese but then also say that the moon is not made entirely of cheese, I have contradicted myself.

Other statements may at first seem contradictory but are really not.  Theologian R.C. Sproul cites as an example Dickens’ famous line, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’  Obviously this is a contradiction if Dickens means that it was the best of times in the same way that it was the worst of times. But he avoids contradiction with this statement because he means that in one sense it was the best of times, but in another sense it was the worst of times.

Carrying this concept over to the Trinity, it is not a contradiction for God to be both three and one because He is not three and one in the same way.  He is three in a different way than He is one.  Thus, we are not speaking with a forked tongue-we are not saying that God is one and then denying that He is one by saying that He is three.  This is very important: God is one and three at the same time, but not in the same way.

How is God one? He is one in essence. How is God three? He is three in Person. Essence and person are not the same thing. God is one in a certain way (essence) and three in a different way (person). Since God is one in a different way than He is three, the Trinity is not a contradiction. There would only be a contradiction if we said that God is three in the same way that He is one. [4]  [For a further explanation on the definition of “essence” and “person”, continue reading Perman’s article on the Trinity here.

Heresies and the Shortcoming of Analogies

There are four errors that we need guard against when we think about and try to articulate the Trinity.  First, dynamic monarchianism is a heresy that developed in the second century A.D.  It teaches that God is only one person: the Father.  According to this view, Jesus was born as a morally upright, ordinary human who was not pre-existent with God.  At His baptism, the Spirit descended on Jesus and He was able to perform miraculous works.  “God was dynamically present in the life of the man Jesus.  There was a working or force of God upon or in or through the man Jesus, but there was no real presence of God within him.” [5]

Related to dynamic monarchianism is modalistic monarchianism.  Modalism is a pervasive teaching, and when we consider errors in our thinking about the Trinity, most likely we are adopting a modalistic view.  Modalism rightly acknowledges the oneness of the Trinity and preserves the deity of all three.  This belief system errs, however, when it teaches that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three names for the same God, who acts in different roles or modes.  The famous “water, vapor, ice” analogy is an example of modalism.  The analogy states that just as H2O can take the forms of water, vapor, or ice, so God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The problem is that the same molecule of H2O cannot be water, vapor, and ice at the same time.  In a pot over a hot fire it will take one form; in a freezer it will take quite another.  The biblical, orthodox view of the Trinity points to the error of modalism and this analogy by highlighting passages such as the aforementioned baptism scene, where all three persons of the Trinity were present at one time.  (As an aside, modalism is the heresy believed by the Oneness Pentecostal church of which Phil was a part.  Whenever I raised the example of all three persons of the Trinity being present at the baptism of Jesus, he became quite uncomfortable and defensive!)

A third heresy is Arianism, which denies the total deity of Christ.  Arius (AD 250-336) believed that the pre-incarnate Jesus was a created being, and therefore inferior to the Father.  In this view, Jesus was the first and greatest of all creation, and still to be worshipped as God.  Ironically, however, in asserting that Jesus was both a created being and that He was to be worshipped, they were advocating idolatry.

The fourth heresy is tritheism, which teaches that the Godhead is three separate gods.  Other religions, especially those that are wholly monotheistic (such as Islam) often accuse Christians for being tritheists, failing to understand our Trinitarian view.  Mormonism is a tritheist/polytheist religion.  Matt Slick writes, “Mormonism teaches that there are many gods in the universe but they serve and worship only one of them.  The godhead for earth is to them really three separate gods: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  The Father used to be a man on another world who brought one of his wives with him to this world - they both have bodies of flesh and bones.  The son is a second god who was literally begotten between god the father and his goddess wife.  The holy ghost is a third god.  Therefore, in reality, Mormonism is polytheistic with a tritheistic emphasis.” [6]

These heresies are the reason why any analogies we create to attempt to explain the Trinity fall hopelessly short.  As previously mentioned, the “water, vapor, ice” analogy is modalistic, while the common analogy of the egg (consisting of yolk, white, and shell) or the three-leaf clover (three leafs, one clover) has tritheistic overtones.  The illustrations people use to attempt to describe the Trinity are endless!  I’ve even read illustrations using 3-in-1 shampoo and a pair of pants – singular at the top and plural at the bottom!  What illustrations have you heard?  Thinking through those illustrations with the lens of the heresies listed above, how do the illustrations you’ve heard fall short in describing the Trinity?

Why It Matters

So far, this has been a very academic blog post.  If you’re like me, you appreciate the practical.  You may be thinking, “Why is all of this so important anyway?”

I encourage you to read the three reasons Kevin DeYoung lists at the end of his blog here.  But perhaps the most important reason has to do with our understanding of God’s nature and how this relates to our redemption.  If God the Father had not sent His Son to this earth to die in our place and bear the righteous wrath of the Father, and if Jesus the Son had not been fully God and fully man, and if the Holy Spirit did not awaken our conscience to our spiritual state apart from Christ and convict us of sin, then we would be lost in our sins forever.  Do you realize the weight of that truth?  Our salvation rests on the character and redemptive work of our Triune God!  Praise God that my limited understanding and my propensity to unknowingly walk dangerously close to the edge of heresy from time to time does not diminish the fact that there is one God, God is three persons, and each person is fully God!  We can anchor our theological roots in this truth that we will never fully comprehend, but that gives us a glimpse into the beauty and complexity of our great God.

[1] DeYoung, Kevin. “The Doctrine of the Trinity: No Christianity Without It.” The Gospel Coalition. 28 Sept. 2011. Web. 3 Mar. 2014.
[2] Augustine De Trinitate 1.3.5
[3] Perman, Matt. “What is the Doctrine of the Trinity.” Desiring God. 23 Jan. 2006. Web. 8 Mar. 2014.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Erickson, Millard J. Introducing Christian Doctrine. Ed. L. Arnold Hustad. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001. Print.
[6] Slick, Matt. “Tritheism.” Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2014.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Limits of Satan

*Author’s note: There were two topics that kept ruminating in my mind after our God Talks discussion last week.  The first was on the influence of media in our lives and how we should react as believers.  There is an excellent blog post about the topic here, and if you grapple with this issue as I do, I recommend this article by Trevin Wax.  The other topic was on the power and limit of Satan and his demons, specifically as it relates to reading our minds.  This topic is discussed in detail below.

Ducktales.  Looney Tunes.  Garfield and Friends.  The Smurfs.  My Little Pony.  Care Bears.  Talespin.  These are the classic cartoons of my childhood that served as a welcome reprieve from after-school homework, entertained me early Saturday mornings, and served as the inspiration for every McDonalds Happy Meal toy imaginable in the 1980s.  All of these cartoons were unique in their plot lines, characterization, and themes, but I remember a common writing technique that popped up in several episodes across cartoons: the angel and devil on the shoulder.

When a character faced a conflict between good and evil, script writers often illustrated this conflict by having an angel sit on one shoulder of the character, while a devil would sit on the other.  Both would whisper ideas into the minds of conflicted characters: the angel pleading with him to choose the pure path and the devil tempting him to give in to his natural instincts.  After much agonizing, the character would make a choice and POOF!  One supernatural being would disappear while the other one would congratulate the character on making a choice—whether for good or ill.

In the world or cartoons, the conflict is entertaining. But at God Talks last Tuesday evening, we asked a more serious question: Can Satan read our minds?  Do his demons whisper temptations into our ears to lead us astray?

The Bible does not exhaustively list all of the attributes of Satan, and for good reason!  Scripture is all about Jesus and His authority over all.  The image that most people have of Satan is that he is just as powerful in his evilness as God is in His goodness.  They view God and Satan as equal authorities on an even playing field—two supernatural beings with unlimited power battling it out for who wins in the end.  But this simply is not true.  Satan is not God.

What we do know about Satan we know in light of this truth.  For instance, the devil is a created being.  He is finite; unlike God who is infinite, Satan has a beginning and an end.  He is not divine.  He is not omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), or omnipresent (all-present).  His power is defined by the limits that God placed on him when he was created by God; it is not defined by his evil nature.

So we know that Satan is not God and is limited in his power.  But can he (or his demons, since Satan can only be in one place at one time) know what we are thinking?   The Bible does not explicitly state the answer to this question one way or another, but we are given clues and glimpses in Scripture that might help us to settle on an answer.

The book of Daniel records King Nebuchadnezzar’s troubling dreams.  Sleep evaded him and he sought out an answer to the meaning of his dream from the magicians, enchanters, and sorcerers.  All of these sources could appeal to the demonic kingdom for an answer for the king.  But none of them were able to tell the king the content of his dream, let alone interpret it.  Daniel gives the reason to the king: “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days” (Daniel 2:27-28).

While Satan and his minions cannot read our minds, Satan certainly can tempt us.  Second Corinthians 10:4-5 reads, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”  Ephesians 6:11 commands us to “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

At this point, it is crucial to note that the devil does not force us to sin.  Our sin is a result of our disobedience, and you and I alone are held responsible to God for our sinful actions.  For 1 Corinthians 10:13 encourages us that, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

If Satan and his demons cannot read our minds, how are they able to tempt us so effectively?  Simply stated, they observe our actions.  S. Michael Houdmann writes, “Angels gain knowledge through long observation of human activities.  Unlike humans, angels do not have to study the past; they have experienced it.  Therefore, they know how others have acted and reacted in situations and can predict with a greater degree of accuracy how we may act in similar circumstances.”[1]  Remember that demons, and Satan himself, are fallen angels.  Joe Carter writes, “Imagine that [demons] can see not only the content of the e-mails you type, but also what you wrote and erased before hitting the send button.  Imagine they took notes on what websites you visited, how long you stayed on a page, and the facial expressions you made while reading the content.  Imagine also they listened to your cell phone conversations and overheard you gossiping to your spouse about a co-worker.  What sort of profile could…[a demon]…build by just watching you for a day?  How much could they know if they had been observing you since birth, tirelessly taking meticulous notes?  Imagine if the demon network had collected more information on you than could be contained in Google’s servers.”[2]

Lest we fear their power, below are a few verses that should combat our fear and fill us with faith in our God who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient.

1 John 4:4

“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

Colossians 2:15

“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

1 John 3:8b

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

James 4:7-8a

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

We end with the words from Martin Luther’s great hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God:

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing,
Our helper he amid the flood/of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe/doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.[3]

Rejoice, ladies!  That one little word is Jesus.  And He had victory over Satan on the cross!

[1] Houdmann, S. Michael. “What Does the Bible Say About Angels?” Got Questions.  n.d. Web. 5 Feb. 2014.
[2] Carter, Joe. “How Demons are Like the NSA.” The Gospel Coalition Blog. The Gospel Coalition, 23 Jul. 2013. Web. 5 Feb. 2014.
[3] Luther, Martin. (1529). A Mighty Fortress is Our God [translated from German to English by Frederic H. Hedge]. (1853).

Monday, February 3, 2014

Responding to Polygamy

In an attempt to keep my cable bill low and my budget happy, I have to forgo some of my favorite television networks.  Sadly, one channel that had to be sacrificed to my “limited basic” subscription is TLC.

I love TLC.  True confession: I’m a sucker for girly reality shows.  When I watch Say Yes to the Dress, I imagine the type of wedding dress I would wear when I waltz down the aisle toward my joyful, tear-filled groom.  And I find myself longing for the day when I can share in that dress-buying experience.  But then the show 19 Kids and Counting follows, and when I watch Michelle (the mom) change diapers, cook for, and clean after nineteen children (and three grandchildren), I suddenly feel a bit of contentment wash over me that I get to enjoy another night in – just me and the cat.  What Not to Wear makes me think twice about the outfit I laid out for work the next morning while DC Cupcakes and Cake Boss make me feel that I can perfectly adorn my pastries, even if my wardrobe falls miserable short.

Despite the fact that TLC-oholics Anonymous might be an appropriate support group for me, there is one show that I refuse to watch because it makes my blood boil and my stomach churn.  As of 9:27 p.m. on February 3, 2014, this show boasts an impressive 326,876 “likes” on Facebook with its main actor hitting over 53,000 followers on Twitter.  Sister Wives showcases the life of a polygamist family (multiple spouses), or to be more accurate, a polygyny family (man with multiple wives), comprised of a man, his four wives, and their combined 17 children.  I always figured that a man being married to multiple wives, especially in 21st century American culture, was more consumed with his sexual appetite than anything else, though patriarch Kody Brown claims, “If it were all about sex there’s just other easier venues, way easier.”  So somehow in his twisted way of thinking, Kody Brown has actually convinced himself (and four wives along with him) that polygyny is an acceptable lifestyle—perhaps even favorable to marriage between one man and one woman.

As believers, we are quick to recognize the sin of this lifestyle.  But what happens when the issue of polygamy hits a little closer home and makes us squirm a bit in our chairs?  How do we respond when polygamous relationships seem to pepper the pages of the Old Testament?

One thing that I love about the Bible is how honest, raw, and transparent it is, replete with stories of really sinful people who engage in really sinful actions.  The Bible doesn’t try to sugarcoat the sinful nature of man, but exposes our sin in all of its destructive power.  There are stories of murder, rape, incest, adultery, genocide, slavery, torture, paganism, infanticide, and other sordid tales that highlight the sheer devastation that was unraveled after the first sin was committed in the Garden of Eden.

Before the fall, we see a beautiful picture of the perfect world which God created.  God placed one man in the Garden, and from his rib created woman.  God revealed the pattern of marriage when He established that a man would leave his father and mother and “hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:18-25).  This is marriage as God intended: one man, married to one woman, for life.

But sin entered into the equation, and it did not take long before we see an unraveling of the perfect world that God created.  The first instance of polygamy is found in Genesis 4 when Cain’s descendent Lamech takes for himself two wives.  As the biblical narrative continues, there are multiple examples of men taking on multiple wives and concubines, most notably Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon.  Yet there are no passages in Scripture that explicitly state, “A man should not marry more than one woman.”  In fact, the Mosaic Law accommodated polygyny, including for captured prisoners from foreign lands (Deut. 21:1-17).  The only command in the Old Testament in direct opposition to polygyny is Deuteronomy 17:17, stating that a king “…shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away….”

When no explicit command is given against a behavior in Scripture, such as the example of polygamy in the Old Testament, we must look at the overall context of Scripture and infer whether a given behavior seems to be condoned or condemned by God.  When we look at polygamy, we learn that an activity can be regulated without being commended; the action can be described, without being prescribed.  For a period of time, God tolerates polygamy, not because He accepts the behavior, but because of man’s “hardness of heart” (see example of divorce in Mt. 19:1-12).  Jesus affirms the creation order—“that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female and therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?  So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mt. 19:5-6).  Jesus continues to warn the Pharisees that “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”  Why would it be less severe for a man married to more than one woman at one time?

Returning to the Old Testament, whenever we see an instance of polygamy, it is wrought with strife.  Lamech, the first man to enter into a polygamous relationship, was a godless murderer.  Abraham’s marriage to Hagar in addition to Sarah led to deep-seated tension between the women and the birth of Ishmael—the “wild donkey of a man” who would dwell over and against all of his kinsmen (Gen. 16:11-12).  To this day, the Arab nations, of which Ishmael is the patriarch, are in hostility with Jews and Christians.  Jacob married Rachel and Leah, and the hatred and jealousy between the two women is obvious.  David and Solomon both broke the Deuteronomy commandment not to acquire many wives, and Scripture explicitly states that “when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God….” (1 Kgs. 11:4).

In the New Testament, church leaders such as elders and deacons were to be the man of one woman only, and the elders were to serve as the pattern for Christian families in the church (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Ti. 1:6).  And ultimately, the purpose of marriage is to reflect the relationship between Christ and His Church—a covenant of faithfulness toward one Lover.  Just as we enter into a union of faithfulness to one spouse when we say “I do,” we are to remain faithful to one God when we enter into relationship with Him.  Geoff Ashley writes, “Like all other sexual sin, polygamy perverts this picture and thus obscures our view of the nature and character of God.” [1]

Finally, and this is a point that God is challenging me on personally as of late, we need to be mindful of the way that we read Scripture.  Lionel Windsor writes, “…the Bible—even the Old Testament—is not really a book of commandments and morality tales.  The Bible does of course contain commandments, and lots of narratives.  But hardly any of the narratives are about morally upright heroes who keep God’s commandments.  Most of the narratives are about God’s actions and plans to save immoral human beings.  Most of the human characters in the bible stories (even some of the most faithful ones) are morally dubious at best; in fact, many of their activities are downright sordid.  You’re not supposed to read these stories as direct examples for your own life; you’re meant to read them to understand God’s actions in the midst of a tragic human history.” [2]

God is the only hero of Scripture.  And He sent His Son Jesus Christ to rescue us from all of our sin, including the sin of polygamy.

[1] Ashley, Geoff. “Did God Condone Polygamy in the Old Testament?” The Village Church. The Village Church, 21 Jan. 2011. Web. 3 Feb. 2014.
[2] Windsor, Lionel. “Polygamy in the Bible: A Sordid Tale.” The Briefing. Matthias Media, 13 Jun. 2012. Web. 3 Feb. 2014.

Welcome to the God Talks Blog!

Welcome to the new God Talks Blog, created especially for the women of God Talks to continue our conversations about the intersection of faith and life, and the glory of our great God!

If you're a part of God Talks, I invite you to read the entries, post comments, and suggest content.  Looking forward to continuing our journey together in the blogosphere as we seek after the heart of God!