Dr. De Haan
Dr. M. R. De Haan (March 23, 1891 – December 13, 1965) was the founder of the popular “Radio Bible Class” talk show. He authored a book, The Days of Noah…and Their Prophetic Message for Today (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963),1 that has been in my personal library for many years, probably given to me by my parents when I was a teenager (but I honestly do not remember exactly when or how it came into my possession). His discussion of divorce and polygamy is a great springboard to critique something that seems to be very common among monogamy-only advocates, both past and present.
Like most modern evangelical Christian monogamy-only advocates, De Haan has much to say that is in perfect agreement with the Bible. But also like those same modern monogamy-only advocates, he confuses divorce and polygamy, using the obvious evils that result from divorce to claim that all polygamy is evil. Like most, if not all, modern monogamy-only advocates, he uses the term “polygamy” rather than the more correct term “polygyny,” effectively (but improperly) redefining the issue on which we disagree. We who advocate biblical marriage do not claim that all polygamy is allowed, because polyandry, which is another form of polygamy, is condemned as adultery in Romans 7:2-3.2 Polygyny is a man having more than one wife, and is never called “sin” in the Bible; polyandry is a woman having more than one husband, and as noted, is called “adultery” by Paul. Biblical marriage includes polygyny, but not any other form of polygamy.
After discussing city-building, mentioned in Genesis 4:17 as something Cain did, he turns his attention to the breakdown of the family: “In the wake of city building came the evil of divorce and polygamy and the breakdown of the home.”3 Note that he refers to divorce and polygamy as only one evil – “the evil”—not two separate evils, again effectively, but improperly, redefining the issue about which we disagree. He then launches into a discussion of the destructive results and prevalence of divorce in modern society. (Modern as of 1963, when the book was published; it is much worse now, in 2015.) What he says about divorce in correct, but he seems to confuse divorce with “polygamy.” (As already noted, some polygamy is evil, but polygyny is a form of polygamy that is not called sin in the Bible.) Just like modern monogamy-only advocates, he makes the dubious intellectual leap from the fact that God created only one wife for Adam to the supposed truth that monogamy is God’s perfect plan for the family, completely ignoring the many biblical passages, from both the Old and New Testaments, that clearly authorize polygyny, and in some Old Testament passages, actually require a man to have more than one wife under certain specific sets of circumstances. (More on this in a future post.)
Talking about divorce and polygyny is actually talking about two things that are functionally opposite. If Jack gives Jill, his one-and-only wife, a bill of divorcement (see Deuteronomy 24:1) and then marries only one new wife, Jane, does he now have two wives (Jill and Jane), or only one (Jane)?4 So why do monogamy-only advocates (both those from the past, such as De Haan, and those from the present) use Scripture passages that talk about how God hates divorce to say that polygyny is a sin?
My Challenge to Evangelical Christian Monogamy-only Advocates
God is not shy about telling us what He considers to be sin. He does not require us to infer from some reference to a certain action taken by a sinful character in a biblical narrative that the action under consideration is sin, He tells us in no uncertain terms. For example, the Decalogue clearly calls various things sin, saying, “Thou shalt not…” Where does the Bible tell us, in language that is as plain and clear as the Ten Commandments, that it is a sin for a man to have more than one wife? So far, all that you have been able to show me is some passage of Scripture taken out of context and twisted to fit your preconceived ideas of what biblical marriage is or is not. But what does God’s Inerrant, Inspired, Infallible Word actually say, you who, like me, claim that the Bible is our only authority (some of you might say “final” rather than “only”) for matters of doctrine and Christian living? You who, like me, believe that the Bible must be interpreted as literally as the context allows? You who, like me, believe that the Bible must be interpreted in light of the historical-grammatical context of the audience to whom it was originally written?
Please show me where the Bible clearly calls polygyny “sin” so that I can change my mind on this issue without violating my conscience, and thereby stop being persecuted by Christians who believe Pope Benedict VIII rather than believing what the Bible says when it tells us that David, a man with at least eight wives and ten concubines,5 was a man after God’s own heart (see Acts 13:22). Benedict VIII is the Pope who, in AD 1018, declared polygyny to be a sin, adopting secular Roman law about marriage. Secular Roman marriage law was based on the pagan goddess-worshiping Greco-Roman cults’ doctrines and beliefs, not on the Bible.
1 The Days of Noah is out of print, but can be found used on Amazon’s website.
2 Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the King James Version.
3 M. R. De Haan, MD, The Days of Noah…and Their Prophetic Message for Today (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963), 43.
4 My apologies to anyone named Jack, Jill, or Jane who might be reading this.
5 David and his wives and concubines will be the topic of a future blog post.
De Haan, M. R. The Days of Noah…and Their Prophetic Message for Today. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963.