How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

“Marriage is to be between one man and one woman”. You couldn’t look for a clearer and crisper definition of marriage than this. It comes from the Westminster Confession of Faith. This in turn, faithfully echoes Scripture. It is a truth that cannot be changed.

The Confession follows this definition by outlining in a helpful way the threefold purpose of marriage. Marriage was ordained for: (a) “the mutual help of husband and wife”; (b) “the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue and of the Church with an holy seed; and (c) “for preventing of uncleanness”. Needless to say, these purposes also exclude attempts to redefine the institution of marriage.

Many now wonder out loud whether group marriage could be the next gay marriage. Politically correct politicians, law professors and lawyers are among them. Surely this is only one more tweak after completely redefining marriage? If society was obliged to create “same-sex marriage” to recognise bonds of adult affection can they deny the case for polygamy? Will there be a move from tolerating such cohabiting arrangements to legally recognising them? This has happened in some countries who have legalised same-sex marriage.  In the process, the institution of marriage becomes meaningless.

Perhaps it is time to reflect on why we must reject polygamy. The Westminster Confession again offers a concise statement. “neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband; at the same time”. But do we know why polygamy is wrong? How would you argue against it? If we only use pragmatic rather than biblical arguments we will paint ourselves into a corner. The Confession points to Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5-6 and Proverbs 2:17. In his Commentary on the Confession called Truth’s Victory over Error, David Dickson draws out further the understanding behind this.

1. Having two wives or many wives is contrary to the first institution of marriage. The Lord gave Adam only one wife (Genesis 2:24).

2. The Law of God explicitly forbids bigamy (having two wives) (Leviticus 18:18).

3. The Lord sharply finds fault with polygamy, or many wives (Malachi 2:14-15).

4. Christ says that he who divorces his wife and marries another (except in the case of adultery) commits adultery (Matthew 19:9). If it was lawful to have more than one wife at one time he would not be guilty of adultery in marrying another, whether or not he divorced his first wife.

5. Bigamy and polygamy take away the true peace of a wedded life. This is evident from the examples of Jacob (Genesis 30) and Elkanah (1 Samuel 1:6).

6 Bigamy was invented by a wicked man i.e. Lamech (Genesis 4:19).

Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a professor of theology whose writings are both plain and concise. He wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture.

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Second Reformation Author: David Dickson

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