I was having a little Facebook discussion about homosexuality and, typically for me, pushing back against some folks’ notion of a completely inerrant, universally applicable Bible that unequivocally condemns homosexuality as we know it today. If by now you haven’t figured out I don’t think the Bible is inerrant as evangelicals use the term, nor do I think all parts of it are universally applicable (and neither does anyone else, even if they say they do), nor do I think we can so easily draw a straight line from “homosexuality” as used in the Bible and the kind practiced and debated today.
Nevertheless, over the course of the discussion, someone threw out the template argument. I would call it the third leg of the stool used to support Christian opposition to same-sex intimacy (I try to avoid using the “h-word” in this context because some Christians, after all, have moderated on scientific grounds to allow for people being gay and celibate, which means they are not opposed to homosexuality as an orientation, just acting on those same-sex attractions).
These are the three legs:
- Leviticus – Yes, this is still used as an argument despite its obvious weaknesses.
- Romans – A much stronger argument, though in my opinion the passage is heavily culturally conditioned, evidenced by Paul’s Stoic-influenced appeal to the “natural” and “unnatural” and the fact that homosexual behavior is not the sin he’s condemning but rather the consequence of the true sin of idolatry.
- The Template – This is the argument that the creation story of Genesis 2:4b-3 serves as a template for God’s ideal relationship. Its arguers then use Jesus’ citation of it in a completely different context to counter the notion that he never said anything about same-sex relationships.
You could add the vice lists to these arguments, but they seem to fall in the same area as No. 2, only with less detail or certainty as to what Paul is actually discussing.
Here’s the thing, though. As weak as they are regard, none of these arguments even applies to polygamy. Let’s look at those legs again:
- No one argues the Law does not condemn at least some form of same-sex relationship (it actually doesn’t say anything about lesbianism), whereas the Law expressly allows the taking of multiple wives (Exodus 21:10, Deut. 21:15).
- Whereas there are the handful of New Testament verses that condemn homosexuality in some form or fashion, there is not a single one that mentions polygamy at all.
- The basic template argument of Adam and Eve would still apply, but this runs into trouble because Adam and Eve aren’t the only pre-Law characters viewed as a template. Paul views Abraham as the father of both the Jews and the Gentiles because of his justification before the delivery of the Law, yet Abraham, already married to Sarah, married Hagar in order to have a son (Genesis 16). Was Abraham admonished for keeping two wives? No, he was admonished because he did not have faith in God’s promise that Sarah would have a son; the act of marrying Hagar itself is not criticized in either testament. Further, Genesis 25 notes without comment that Abraham also had concubines.
Or how about Jacob, the father of Israel? He serves as a template for the entire nation from whom the Messiah comes – his 12 sons become the 12 tribes, after all. Of course, those 12 sons came from four different mothers, two of whom were Jacob’s wives.
Likewise, David is the kingly forerunner of Jesus, and the Bible lists no fewer than six wives for him, along with numerous concubines. Solomon famously had 700 wives, and the text seems to look down on this, but is it because he was a polygamist? No, it’s because the wives were foreign, and they led him into idolatry.
And then there are simply the dozens whose polygamy is noted but left uncondemned – many of them later considered heroes of the Bible: Lamech, Esau, Gideon and numerous kings of Israel. Sometimes it seems clear that polygamy leads to infighting and jealousy, especially where children are concerned (Jacob and Rachel/Leah, Elkanah and Hannah/Peninnah), but again: Polygamy is never condemned in the Old Testament despite many, many opportunities to do so. To the extent that a template paradigm is in effect (a sketchy use of the text, at best), polygamy clearly fits into it.
Fast forward the 400 years to the New Testament, and the broader culture has largely abandoned polygamy, which is probably why we don’t see much mention of it. But it did still exist, particularly in conservative Jewish circles, yet neither Jesus nor Paul (nor anyone else, for that matter) condemns it or criticizes it or says anything about it at all.
So it seems if conservative Christians are going to continue using the same biblically based arguments to justify their opposition to otherwise moral relationships between men and women of the same sex, they should reconsider their opposition to polygamy. And if that seems untenable, then perhaps they should reconsider the way they use the Bible to approach issues of modern sexuality.