Of course what women happened to do at any time in history establishes
no ethical norm. But neither should doctrine be based on demonstrably
false 'historical' claims: like that, in antiquity, only prostitutes wore
make-up. Where the Bible is silent, man should not make haste to legislate.
"Furthermore, because of the display of all these evils on television,
we disapprove of any of our people having television sets in their homes."
(UPCI Articles of Faith).
One can find everything on TV nowadays, from hard-core pornography to the
Weather Channel. One can find everything on the internet nowadays, from
hard-core pornography to...'Oneness' Pentecostal ministries. In both cases,
the choice of which 'programs' to tune into remains in the viewer's hands.
Yet one is allowed, the other prohibited.
Straining at Gnats
One common behavior pattern associated with legalism is
making much of little things, while letting really big things sail on through.
An example of this familiar to observers of 'Oneness' Pentecostalism is
the phenemenon of divorced and remarried pastors, often thought by
fundamentalist churches to be ruled out by Paul:
"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one
wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt
to teach. . ." (1 Timothy 3:2).
"Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling
their children and their own houses well." (1 Timothy 3:12).
"If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having
faithful children not accused of riot or unruly." (Titus 1:6).
According to some, these verses have nothing to do with divorce and
remarriage, but only with assuring pastors are not active polygamists.
According to these people, polygamy was very common in the Roman
Empire, and in no way proscribed for the laity; it was preferred,
however, that the clergy be pure from this very common practice. Or so they say. In
reality, for a very long time before the New Testament, a male citizen
in Athens could only register as a citizen son the offspring of a
marriage with one free-born woman, his lawful wife. Children born under any
other circumstance did not enjoy civil rights, unfortunately. Polygamy was not
only not practiced in Greece and Rome, but the man who did practice it
might find himself accused of bigamy. Divorce was allowed, and common, but
concurrent plural marriage was neither.
Rome was justly proud of her laws. In some regions of her empire,
Roman law held sway, in other parts, such as Israel prior to her
destruction, she allowed the natives to retain their own law system.
But in all cases there was pressure, subtle or intense, to conform to
Roman mores. Consider, for example, the case of Jesus and the
woman taken in adultery. His questioners sought to lay a trap for Him,
because the Jews were allowed to enforce their own law, but not in
capital cases: "The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for
us to put any man to death. . ." (John 18:31). Here is the trap: the
Messiah must execute the law. The law lays down capital punishment for
adultery. But capital jurisdiction belonged to the Roman overrulers,
whose own law did not prescribe death for adultery. Adultery, though
common, was a criminal offense in Rome during this period; the emperor
Augustus' own immoral daughter Julia was banished to an island through
the exercise of this law. But adultery was not a capital crime; the
Romans would have thought stoning her inhumane, as would we. So going to the
Romans, hat in hand, would not result in Moses' law being executed, but
following Moses' law to the letter without consulting the civil
authorities would be an extra-judicial lynching, for which there might
be consequences. Jesus surprises them and evades the trap. In fact Jesus'
own teaching allows neither polygamy nor capital punishment.
In an empire in which polygamy was not endorsed by the ruling authority, it cannot
have been common. Maintaining polygamy requires diligent attention from
the rulers. In the Munster Commune, polygamy was made mandatory, but
quarreling was soon thereafter made a capital offense. Given polygamy's
inevitable unpopularity with one half the human race, maintaining the system required the
suppression of female quarreling. So the assumption that the
Greek-speaking churches were filled with active polygamists, under no
legal pressure from a civil law which only recognized monogamy, nor under any
pressure to conform their behavior to Jesus' marriage teaching, who
were however barred from leadership roles owing to Paul's innovative
teaching, is fantasy.
Women called 'univirae' played an important role in the Roman marriage ceremony. These 'one-man women' were not
women who were not at that moment practicing the (unknown) custom of
polyandry, but women whose cumulative total of marriages was one. Paul
is universalizing a familiar concept: while people in the Roman empire
thought it a shame for women to be divorced and remarried, they did not
think even open adultery and debauchery disgraced a man. Paul evens the
score. While polygamy existed in the world, in the Near East outside
the Roman empire, in various barbarous lands, and even in Israel, it is
not likely that Paul's Gentile churches included practicing polygamists. Paul would
rather pastors not be divorced and remarried. Some
people would rather invent novelties to concern themselves with, rather
than share the Bible's concerns.