23 December 2009

preaching and beer

Some church growth methods should be avoided...

"It happened to Ambrosius. He was once told by his parishioners, after they had been admonished to hear the Word and the sermon: The truth is, dear pastor, that if you were to tap a keg of beer in the church and call us to enjoy it, we would be glad to come."

--Martin Luther

19 November 2009

truer words about evangelism were never spoken...

When I was Minister to Youth at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana, Bishop Robert Hargrove, at his annual visitation, was speaking to us about evangelism. "The Bible tells us that we are to be fishers of men. In the Episcopal Church, we think evangelism means hanging a sign out front that says, 'Fish Wanted.'"

c.s. lewis on devotional books and doctrinal books

"For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that 'nothing happens' when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand."

From his Introduction to On the Incarnation

09 November 2009

vatican releases "anglicanorum coetibus"

A few weeks ago, the news came out that Pope Benedict XVI would be releasing an "Apostolic Constitution" (the highest level of declaration from the Holy Father) concerning the acceptance of Anglican bodies into full communion with Rome. The actual document is now available at the Vatican website.

Read the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus here.

As Bishop Iker stated last weekend at Diocesan Convention, we Anglicans who are truly concerned with the unity of Christ's Church must seek reconciliation with both Rome and the Orthodox tradition. From the bishop's speech:

'[I]f we are to work and pray for the unity of Christ’s Church throughout the world, it must involve all three bodies – Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholics. These are the three great churches of the catholic tradition, East and West, who though divided for centuries, have maintained the historic faith and order of the Church as expressed in the Holy Scriptures, the apostolic succession of ordained ministry, the sacraments and the creeds. When the New Testament speaks of the need for unity and truth among believers, it is for all members of the Body of Christ. When Jesus prays for the unity of his disciples, it is “that they all may be one.”'

04 November 2009

the unchurched prefer cathedrals to modern buildings

"People who don’t go to church may be turned off by a recent trend toward more utilitarian church buildings. By a nearly 2-to-1 ratio over any other option, unchurched Americans prefer churches that look more like a medieval cathedral than what most think of as a more contemporary church building."

This is from a study by Lifeway, the Christian Education folks for the Southern Baptist Convention. My favorite part of the article is a quote from church planting expert Ed Stetzer: "Quite honestly, this research surprised us. We expected they’d choose the more contemporary options, but they were clearly more drawn to the aesthetics of the Gothic building than the run-of-the-mill, modern church building."

I hope and pray that the modern church building craze will fade away. Many with far more aesthetic sense than I have noted that the more modern a building's architecture, the more quickly it become out-of-date. Classical architecture for churches is always timely, and I believe does a better job of pointing us to God rather than drawing attention to itself (as the trendy always does). It is indeed telling that the unchurched, yearning for God, or at least for something bigger than themselves, find more fulfillment in spires than in the latest architectural fashions.

Read the whole article here.

Thanks to my friend Andy Stoddard (twitter @atstod) for pointing me to this study

27 October 2009

st augustine on the *task* of being a bishop

"In the life of action...what is to be treasured is not a place of honor or power in this life, since 'everything under the sun is vanity' but the task itself is to be achieved by means of that place of honor and that power--if that achievement is right and helpful, that is, if it serves to promote the well-being of the common people...

That is why the Apostle says: 'Anyone who aspires to the episcopate aspires to an honorable "task."' He wanted to explain what episcopate means: it is the name of a task, not an honor...Bishops who have their heart set on a position of eminence rather than an opportunity for service should realize they are no bishops."

Amen, St Augustine--and may I suggest that the principle holds for all in Christian leadership. The moment we forget that our calling to ministry is first and foremost about the task of ministering, rather than the honor of being a minister, we are not ministers.

Preaching to myself this morning...

26 October 2009

miroslav volf on forgiveness

Hillcrest Medical Center holds an annual clergy seminar, and this year they brought in a big gun: Miroslav Volf, a theology professor at Yale. The topic was "Forgiveness." A few of my notes from the day:

+ Our culture has three modes of existence: Taking, Trading and Giving. These correlate to Revenge, Retributive Justice and Forgiveness.

+ Our culture has been stripped of grace--we don't know how to give or forgive well -- forgiving is an art. Forgiveness is a power that one has over another, and it is necessary to set that power aside in true forgiveness. When we forgive, are we actually using it as a tool to blame and condemn the offender, to hold the offense over him or her?

+ Two essential elements of forgiveness: 1) name the wrongdoing and condemn it; and 2) don't count the wrongdoing against the offender -- separate the person from the act.

+ At two different points during the seminar he said, "A consistent feature of sin is that it doesn't want to be sin." True on many levels--I take it primarily in the sense that sin wants to be accepted as it is, as holy. But I think there is almost a wistfulness to sin: while on one level it wants to be accepted as it is, on another level it wishes to be undone, cleansed and remade into holiness.

21 October 2009

rome sweet home (well, for some)

The big Anglican news this week is that the Roman Catholic Church has made it easier for large groups of Anglican Christians to reunite with the Bishop of Rome, a relationship officially severed by Henry VIII in 1534. Rome has established Personal Ordinariates, where groups of Anglicans (presumably a diocese or province) could come into full communion with the Pope. It allows married and celibate Anglican priests of that group to be ordained as Roman Catholic priests.

Many elements of this announcement are not new. Anglicans have always been invited to “convert” to Rome. Pope John Paul II created a “Pastoral Provision” in 1980, which allowed individual married Episcopal priests who convert to become Roman Catholic priests. It also allowed “Anglican Use” parishes, Roman Catholic parishes that retain Anglican distinctives in worship, vestments, etc.

The key difference in this announcement relate to Ordinaries. An ordinary, in this ecclesiastical context, is the man who has jurisdiction over a territory or group. Usually this person is a bishop. An Anglican bishop may be married, but Rome retains, with the East, the celibacy of bishops. Were a married Anglican bishop to convert, he would not be allowed to be ordained as a bishop in a Personal Ordinariate (an unmarried Anglican bishop could be made a Roman Catholic bishop). He could still have an administrative leadership role with that group as a priest, and be the Ordinary in that manner. However, he would not be able to carry out the sacramental duties of the bishop; a bishop would have to be brought in for ordinations, etc.

This news brings a new area of consideration for a number of Anglicans worldwide. The downward spiral of the Anglican Communion and the lack of strong, decisive leadership from the Archbishop of Canterbury make this option desirable for many. On the ground here in Tulsa, this announcement changes nothing—we are not now a Roman Catholic parish, nor are we now part of a Roman Catholic diocese. We maintain our utmost love and respect for our elder brothers in the Roman Catholic Church. We strive for the unity of Christ’s Church. Yet we also believe and trust that we are a part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, fractured and broken though it might be.

Links of interest:
+ The actual announcement from the Vatican
+ A response from Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church in North America
+ A response from Bishop Jack Iker of the Diocese of Fort Worth
+ A brief reflection on what this announcement says about the current state of Anglicanism, by Diocese of South Carolina Canon Theologian Fr. Kendall Harmon
+ The perspective of a former evangelical Anglican priest, now Roman Catholic priest, on some challenges presented by this news
+ Picture above is from an Anglican Use parish, Our Lady of the Atonement, in San Antonio, Texas

19 October 2009

a figural reading of “david and goliath”

All of Holy Scripture points to Jesus Christ. I’ve thought for some time that an interesting way to teach a 1-year Bible introduction would be to start with the Gospels and move outwards from there. The Old Testament looks forward to Christ. The New Testament looks backward to Christ.

While the Old Testament’s witness to Christ is primarily seen in the prophecies of Jesus’ birth, suffering, death and resurrection, the Church has historically also seen in the OT a secondary, more narrative witness to Christ, a witness typological or figural in nature.

For example, Numbers 21 has the story of the people of Israel being bitten and killed by snakes. Yahweh instructed Moses to create a bronze snake and raise it on a pole. Any Israelite who had been bitten by a serpent could look up at the snake and live.

The Church has understood this story on one interpretive level as a foreshadowing, or prefiguring, of Christ and his work on the Cross. St Augustine wrote, “As then formerly he who looked to the serpent that was lifted up, was healed of its poison, and saved from death; so now he who is conformed to the likeness of Christ's death by faith and the grace of baptism, is delivered both from sin by justification, and from death by the resurrection: as He Himself said; That whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. What need then is there that the child should be conformed by baptism to the death of Christ, if he be not altogether tainted by the poisonous bite of the serpent?” (quoted in St Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea)

Note that this very patristic hermeneutic is focused on Christ, not on contemporary concerns. Many exegetes today will look to the Old Testament primarily for transferable principles, such as “the Lord helped Moses and he’ll help you.” While that method is certainly legitimate, figural interpretation explores another layer in the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, looking for pictures of our Lord and his life on Earth.

Here, I want to pursue a figural reading of the story of David and Goliath. Elements of my exegesis are reflected in various patristic writers, but I have yet to find a systematic figural interpretation of 1 Samuel 16 & 17 such as I offer here.

I begin with the actual battle of David and Goliath, then move to the secondary characters of David’s brothers and King Saul, and conclude with a “practical application” that moves beyond an exercise in exegesis to good news for the modern follower of Jesus Christ.

David & Goliath
The primary opponents of 1 Samuel 17, David and Goliath, foreshadow the true opponents of the Gospels: Jesus and Satan.

David is the preeminent Old Testament character associated with Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is of the line of David (Matthew 1:1). The Gospel of Matthew includes no less than nine references to Jesus as “Son of David.” David can easily be seen as prefiguring Jesus Christ.

Goliath is the enemy of Israel, bent on terrorizing, defeating and ultimately enslaving the people of God. While these qualities do not make him unique in the Old Testament, he is certainly the epitome of evil in this story. Goliath prefigures the Adversary.

David attacks and defeats Goliath with two weapons: a sling, and Goliath’s sword. As David approaches Goliath in the field of battle, 1 Samuel 17:40 tells that he put “five smooth stones” into his pouch for use with his sling. There is nothing in the immediate context to indicate why the writer gives this unusual detail of the number of stones.

From a Hebraic numerological perspective, the five stones could represent the five books of the Law. Other Old Testament parallels of five include the number of several materials used in the building of the Tabernacle (e.g. Exodus 36:10, 16, 31-22, etc.). More closely might be the few times in the historical books where groups of five kings opposed to Israel are mentioned, such as five kings of Midian (Numbers 31), or five Amorite kings (Joshua 10), both groups of which were eventually executed. Each of these possibilities has potential hermeneutical value in a non-Christological interpretation of the “David and Goliath” story.

For this essay, viewing the Old Testament through the lens of the Gospels, let us look to the life of Christ, more specifically, the five wounds suffered at his crucifixion: two in the hands, two in the feet and one in the side. The wounds of Christ, signifying his death, were certainly the means by which Christ defeated Satan on the Cross. As five smooth stones were gathered by David to conquer Goliath, so five wounds were suffered by Jesus as he defeated Satan.

The second element of David’s victory over Goliath was Goliath’s own sword, which David uses to cut off Goliath’s head. The prefiguring continues: just as David used Goliath’s own weapon to completely defeat, so Christ used Satan’s own weapon to completely defeat him: by death he destroyed death.

David and his brothers
1 Samuel 16:1-13 opens with God instructing the prophet Samuel to go to Jesse of Bethlehem, to anoint one of his sons as king of Israel. Each of David’s brothers is rejected by the Lord, despite their appearance of being perfect candidates. Finally Jesse calls David, who is away tending sheep. Yahweh instructs Samuel to anoint David king, which he does, in front of his brothers.

In 1 Samuel 17, the three oldest brothers are part of the army of Israel facing Goliath and the Philistines. They react with anger at David’s appearance at the battle (1 Samuel 17:28), even though David is only there following the bidding of his father, bringing them gifts of food (Caesarius of Arles sees in Jesse a type of God the Father sending his Son).

Let us consider David’s brothers as prefiguring the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They would have been considered the presumptive favorites for leading Israel, just as David’s brothers. Just as David’s brothers saw themselves rejected in the anointing of David as king, so the Pharisees would have seen themselves passed over at the baptism of Jesus (for which they were present, and which clearly signified God's favor upon Jesus). The Pharisees and Sadducees then respond in anger and jealousy to the Son who had simply been bringing them gifts from the Father. David’s brothers, in their presence, rejection and anger and jealousy, prefigure the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day.

Saul’s importance to the story comes in 16:31. He has heard that David is questioning why Israel allows Goliath to speak about Israel the way he does, and sends for him. When he finally allows David to go fight Goliath, he clothes him in his own armor, which David cannot use. David instead needs to fight Goliath on his own terms, not as an armored warrior, but as a shepherd. The people of Israel try to clothe Jesus in their own conception of what a Messiah should look like, seen especially in the disciples’ numerous queries about when Jesus will restore Israel, as well as the shouts of Hosanna to the Son of David at the Lord’s entrance to Jerusalem. Saul, the King of Israel representing the people of Israel, also prefigures the people of Israel in the time of Jesus.

So let’s say you buy it. The question now: so what? Surely it is an interesting hermeneutical exercise, but is there nothing more? At least two applications come to mind.

On one level, it is encouraging for the Christian to gain perspective on Christ’s victory over sin and death. Any time that we reflect on what Jesus did for us on the Cross, we can grow in our love for the Lord and our commitment to obedience to his will for our lives. That ought to be enough for any faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

However, there is another interesting applicative layer, for which we go to the verses of 1 Samuel 17 immediately following the slaying of Goliath—the decapitation does not end the story. The Philistines see that Goliath is dead, they flee, and the Israelites, with a shout, take chase and pursue the Philistines as far as Gath and Ekron.

Here is where the believer can take great courage today. It is clear in the New Testament that Israel prefigures the Church. Just as the battle with the Philistines was won by David conquering Goliath, so the battle with sin, evil and death was won by Jesus conquering Satan and the grave in the Crucifixion and Resurrection. We, the Church, are like Israel routing the Philistines—we’re in the mop-up of the battle against evil. Let us never retreat from a defeated foe; let us remember that the battle has been won, the victory has been secured by Christ’s victory on the Cross.

13 October 2009

stop karen armstrong!

Researching Islam the last year or so, one of the books I've read is Karen Armstrong's Islam: A Short History. I wasn't expecting much, but the book was worse than I thought it would be.

In the (short, thank God) book, rather than actually detailing the promised "history" of Islam, Armstrong instead seems more motivated to demonstrate that Islam is actually the progenitor of human rights in the West, a model for all to follow in religious and cultural tolerance.

The entire book was more of an op-ed piece for modern religiosity than an actual account of the historical development of Islam.

Unfortunately, Armstrong's religious writing goes far beyond deconstruction of Islam only, but covers much of the face of contemporary religious thought. Her influence is both widespread and unfortunate.

"Stop Karen Armstrong!" is a brief, enjoyable article penned by one of my favorite contemporary preachers, Fleming Rutledge:

'Karen Armstrong and others like her are "religious" without a clue as to the Subject of theology. If she really understands the Church Fathers at any level, one seeks evidence in vain. If she has ever heard of the Reformation she does not indicate it. If she has ever had any serious dialogue with any major Protestant theologian her writing does not show it. If she has ever heard of the doctrine of revelation she shows no sign of it. She is a walking, talking, writing exhibit for Freud's basic thesis: God is what we have made up out of our own wishes and needs.'

Read the whole article,"Stop Karen Armstrong!", at generousorthodoxy.org

12 October 2009

prayer as product of the church

"Even if [the Christian] does not use a traditional formula like the Lord's prayer or the 'Glory be to the Father', he prays within a whole framework of Christian ideas received from others. When his prayer is most spontaneous and from his own heart, the belief according to which he prays, the general type of his prayer and much--probably most--of his actual phrasing are actually drawn from what he has learned from others--his teachers, Christian services he has attended in the past, his mother, his Bible, many different sources. Ultimately it all comes to him, even the use of his Bible, from the tradition of prayer evolved in the worshipping church."

-Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy

28 September 2009

the pastor as physician of souls

From the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, from no later than the 4th century:

"You are to be like a compassionate physician: heal all that have sinned. Make use of all available saving methods of cure: not only cutting and searing, or using corrosives, but binding up, and putting the patient in a safe place, and using gentle healing medicines, and sprinkling comfortable words. If it be a hollow wound, or great gash, nourish it with a suitable salve, that it may be again knitted together and become smooth with the rest of the surrounding flesh. If it be foul, cleanse it with corrosive powder, that is, with words of correction. If the wound is due to the swelling up of proud flesh, cauterize it down with a sharp plaister [sic]--the threat of judgment. If it spreads further, sear it, and excise the decaying cells--with fasting end the plague...You must not be overly ready or hasty to do radical surgery. Do not quickly have recourse to the saw, with its many teeth. First use a lancet to lay open the wound, that the inward cause from which the pain is derived may be drawn out."

11 September 2009

you troubler of israel

Yesterday's Morning Prayer OT reading brought to my mind the current state of the American Anglican/Episcopal disaster:

When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, "Is it you, you troubler of Israel?" And he answered, "I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father's house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals..." (1 Kings 18:17-18, ESV)

Enough of the Episcopal Left accusing the orthodox of splitting the church.

20 August 2009

the sacramentality of creation

"If in baptism water can become a 'laver of regeneration,' if our earthly food-bread and wine-can be transformed into partaking of the body and blood of Christ, if with oil we are granted the anointment of the Holy Spirit, if, to put it briefly, everything in the world can be identified, manifested and understood as a gift of God and participation in the new life, it is because all of creation was originally summoned and destined for the fulfilment of the divine economy-'then God will be all in all.'"

-Alexander Schmemann

15 August 2009

john wesley on the law and the gospel

"There is, therefore, the closest connexion that can be conceived between the law and the gospel. On the one hand, the law continually makes way for, and points us to the gospel; on the other, the gospel continually leads us to a more exact fulfilling of the law. The law, for instance, requires us to love God, to love our neighbour, to be meek, humble, or holy. We feel that we are not sufficient for these things; yea, that 'with man this is impossible:' But we see a promise of God, to give us that love, and to make us humble, meek, and holy: We lay hold of this gospel, of these glad tidings; it is done unto us according to our faith; and 'the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us,' through faith which is in Christ Jesus."

05 June 2009

biblical illiteracy

Another poll from The Living Church: "How would you rate the level of Biblical literacy in your parish? Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor or Awful."

This website caters to Anglicans/Episcopalians, so I didn't have high hopes. Sure enough: of 65 votes cast (as of Fri eve.) 63% responded "Poor" or "Awful." Equally scary: no one chose "Excellent."

UPDATE: 6/9, 8am, 100 people have now responded, and three of them have selected "Excellent." 54% marked "Poor" or "Awful."

10 April 2009

good friday

"By allowing himself to be taken captive, he overpowered his opponent. By submitting, he overcame him. By his own execution, he penalized his enemy, and by dying he opened the door to the conquest of death for his whole flock. And so the good Shepherd lost none of his sheep when he laid down his life for them. He did not desert them but kept them safe. He did not abandon them but called them to follow him, leading them by the way of death through the lowlands of this passing world to the pastures of life."

--Peter Chrysologus

17 March 2009

john wesley & unconditional election

“With regard to…Unconditional Election, I believe, That God, before the foundation of the world, did unconditionally elect certain persons to do certain works, as Paul to preach the gospel: that He has unconditionally elected some nations to receive peculiar privileges, the Jewish nation in particular: that He has unconditionally elected some nations to hear the gospel…that He has unconditionally elected some persons to peculiar advantages, both with regard to temporal and spiritual things: And I do not deny (though I cannot prove that it is so), that He has unconditionally elected some persons [thence eminently styled ‘the Elect’] to eternal glory. But I cannot believe, That all those who are not thus elected to glory must perish everlastingly; or That there is one soul on earth who has not, [nor] ever had a possibility of escaping eternal damnation.”

From a 1743 exchange with George Whitefield, as quoted in John Wesley's Scriptural Christianity, by Thomas C. Oden

13 March 2009

tulsa islamic adventures

In my Humanities I class at TCC, we spend a week covering Islam (we also go over Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity), and today we spent two hours at the Islamic Society of Tulsa, with a tour of the mosque, a Powerpoint presentation and lots of questions and answers. They were very gracious, even bringing in pizza and drinks (we met at 11am). When I asked the woman guiding us about recommending a good translation of the Qur'an with commentary, she disappeared into the back and brought me out a 2000+ page hardback Qur'an with the Arabic, English translation, and explanatory notes, and gave it to me-wow.

It seems that one thing they are very interested in is combating mass media coverage of Islam, and they answer all the Jihad and terrorism questions with a bit of a smile. In fact, my favorite story from today is that one of my students came in 30 minutes late--he had apparently got lost in the neighborhood, finally found the Center, but went into the school connected to the mosque (a Muslim school, Peace Academy). When he asked about our group, the man responded that he would take him to the building where they were holding us hostage!

An 8th century critique of Islam, by St John of Damascus.

07 March 2009

russian media teases clinton over "reset" button

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian media has been poking fun at US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after she gave her Russian counterpart a "reset" button with an ironic misspelling.

Clinton's gift to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at their meeting in Geneva on Friday evening was meant to underscore the Obama administration's readiness to "to press the reset button" in ties with Moscow.

But instead of the Russian word for "reset" (perezagruzka) it featured a slightly different word meaning "overload" or "overcharged" (peregruzka)...


03 March 2009

st athanasius

"[I]t was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us."

--On the Incarnation

19 February 2009

11 February 2009

thomas l. friedman: the open-door bailout

Leave it to a brainy Indian to come up with the cheapest and surest way to stimulate our economy: immigration.

“All you need to do is grant visas to two million Indians, Chinese and Koreans,” said Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express newspaper. “We will buy up all the subprime homes. We will work 18 hours a day to pay for them. We will immediately improve your savings rate — no Indian bank today has more than 2 percent nonperforming loans because not paying your mortgage is considered shameful here. And we will start new companies to create our own jobs and jobs for more Americans.”

While his tongue was slightly in cheek, Gupta and many other Indian business people I spoke to this week were trying to make a point that sometimes non-Americans can make best: “Dear America, please remember how you got to be the wealthiest country in history. It wasn’t through protectionism, or state-owned banks or fearing free trade. No, the formula was very simple: build this really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat.”

Read it all at the New York Times.

Thanks to titusonenine.

14 January 2009

st hilary of poitiers on evangelical conversion

Through the relationship with his flesh, access to Christ is open to all, on condition that they divest themselves of their former self (cf. Eph 4: 22), nailing it to the Cross (cf. Col 2: 14); provided we give up our former way of life and convert in order to be buried with him in his baptism, in view of life (cf. Col 1: 12; Rom 6: 4).

-St Hilary of Poitiers, as quoted by His Holiness Benedict XVI

07 January 2009

reflections on polygamy in genesis

(artwork is Lamech and his Two Wives, by William Blake)

For a number of years, I assumed that polygamy, while not condoned in the Old Testament, was at least considered relatively normative by the OT writers. A number of men in the history of Israel had multiple wives (e.g. Jacob, David, Solomon, etc.).

A recent study of Genesis has changed my mind concerning just how normative polygamy was seen to be by the writer(s) (not interested in an authorship debate here!). I believe that Genesis, long before the giving of the Law, spells out that polygamy is an unnatural state of affairs, and sets a tone of dissonance for polygamy in the rest of the OT.

To begin, Adam and Eve. It seems rather facile to start here, but it’s important to note that God did not create a second wife for Adam (extra-biblical legends of Lilith not withstanding). One can assume, I believe, that God’s pattern for creation can be seen as a Scriptural standard.

The first mention in Genesis of a man taking more than one wife is 4:19: “And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah” (ESV). Because Genesis does not normally name the woman in these early genealogies, this naming of the two wives is unique, and therefore, important. Lamech himself is not a shining example of humanity. First of all, he is a descendant of Cain. Secondly, he seems to have a capricious, violent temper: “Lamech said to his wives: ‘Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold’” (4:23-24, ESV). Lamech is the first of Cain’s descendants that Genesis tells any details about, and to include in these details that he had two wives does not seem intended to mollify the reader.

It is relevant that Noah and his sons each had only one wife. Gen. 7:1 notes God’s command that Noah and his entire household are to go into the ark. V. 13 says, “On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark.” Four men, each with one wife, the household of the righteous Noah. Had there been other wives, would they not have been included in the “entire household”?

Abram is where it gets interesting. It is clear that he marries Sarai as his only wife. Genesis 11:29 reads, “And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah” (ESV). It appears that Hagar is taken as a wife, but only at Sarai’s insistence, where the Scriptures tell us that she gave Hagar to Abram “as a wife” (16:3, ESV), for the purposes of childbearing. However, Hagar is never again mentioned as a wife of Abram. Whenever she is given a title, it is “servant of Sarai/Sarah” (16:8; 25:12). It seems significant that 16:3 uses the phrase, “as a wife,” perhaps indicating that Hagar was given to fulfill the role of a wife in childbearing, but nothing else. I am not an OT scholar, so I would hate to make that claim, but it seems worth exploring.

Genesis 25 tells that Abraham took another wife, Keturah, after the death of Sarah. It also notes that Abraham had sons from concubines; at least one whom we can probably assume was Hagar. It is interesting that 1 Chronicles 1 lists Keturah as a concubine, rather than a wife. It could be argued from the context of Gen. 25 that “concubines” includes Keturah, in that vs. 4-6 is a discussion of Abraham’s children, separating Isaac from all other offspring. It seems that there are enough data to avoid naming Abraham a polygamist, at least a polygamist in the same sense as those before him.

Esau is the next true polygamist in Genesis, and once again there is a strong negative: “When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (26:34-35, ESV). While it seems that perhaps part of the bitterness for Rebekah seems to be that these women are Hittites (27:46), Genesis doesn’t seem to have the negative view of Hittites seen elsewhere in the OT. Up until this point in Genesis, the Hittites have been favorable to Abraham and his family, and Esau’s wives are the first Hittites mentioned unfavorably, so from an authorial perspective it does not seem that the distaste is simply because the women are Hittites.

Jacob seems to be the first true polygamist mentioned sympathetically in Genesis, though of course his situation was one where he was tricked into marrying Leah when he sought after Rachel. Jacob also had two concubines, Zilpah and Bilhah, but these were given to him by their mistresses when they were unable to have children (Leah thought she could have no more and Rachel was barren), giving birth on behalf of Leah and Rachel (for example, Rachel calls Bilhah’s son Dan her own in 30:5, though the lists of ch. 46 name Zilpah and Bilhah as mother of their children by Jacob). This situation parallels that of Sarai giving Hagar to Abram for the express purpose of bearing children. Rachel does seem to have pride of place as a wife (for instance, she and Joseph are last to meet Esau upon Jacob’s reconciliation to his brother in 33:2, placed by Jacob after Leah and her children). There is no record in Genesis that Jacob took another wife when Rachel died in childbirth (35:19), which means that Leah remained as his only wife (interestingly, it is Leah, not Rachel, who is buried with Jacob at Machpelah (49:31) with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah).

The taking of more than one wife by a man is not explicitly forbidden in Genesis. Yet Genesis seems, at the very least, to discourage it. Moreover, Genesis seems to indicate that polygamy was not a natural way of life, even in the earliest days of history. The pattern is given at Creation: the male is given one female as a helper. Noah and his sons each have one wife to start the world again. Lamech, the first named polygamist in Genesis, is an evil man, the first of Cain’s descendants about whom we are given any details. Esau brings bitterness to his mother in marrying two women (and he goes on to marry a third). No indication is given with Lamech or Esau as to why they take multiple wives, as far as justification in the light of childbearing.

Abram and Jacob seem to be different instances of men taking more than one wife, in which Abram takes Hagar as a wife, but Genesis does not record Hagar fulfilling “wifely duties” again to Abraham after Ishmael is born. Jacob is tricked into marrying Leah, intending to marry Rachel. Jacob does have a number of children through Zilpah and Bilhah, servants of Leah and Rachel, respectively. Scripture does not indicate that he had children with them other than when it was believed that their respective mistresses could not bear children.
The commission to Adam and Eve, and Noah and his wife and Noah’s sons and their wives, was to be fruitful and multiply (1:21; 9:1,7), yet each had only one wife. If the purpose of God’s command was simply to reproduce, isn’t it more logical for each man to have more than one wife. This contrasts to when Abram and Jacob “go in” to women other than their wives in order to have children.

· How significant is it that Adam, Noah, and Noah’s three sons (Creation and the “new” Earth of the Noahic covenant), each have only one wife?
· How significant is it that the two named outright polygamists in Genesis are evil men?
· How significant is it that Sarai gives Hagar to Abram as a wife for the purposes of childbearing, and that Genesis never again mentions Hagar as Abram’s wife?
· How significant is it that Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah, and had two wives against his will, and that he also “went in” to his wives servants solely for the purpose of childbearing?