*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 28th of June 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Last week we attempted to help Sarah from Illinois with a question about the history of Polygamy in the Christian Church. For my answer, I looked to Africa where this is still an issue in some places on account of it being only a small issue in the modern American church.
And then Dale from Meridian Mississippi asks,
“Thanks for your answer to the questions about Polygamy in the church. But didn’t Martin Luther allow someone to take a second wife? I haven’t read about it in a long time but thought this might be something you can answer in conjunction with the question from this past week”
Yes! Ok… this is one of Martin Luther's stories that doesn’t make the children’s storybook or church pageant. And Luther is full of these stories because he was a lot more punk rock than he is painted by many in the establishment that took his name.
Here’s the quick rundown:
Phillip of Hesse is one of the first Protestant Nobles and early supporters of Martin Luther.
He was also married to Christina, the daughter of Duke George of Saxony. It’s tricky because he could be an ally. But Phillip was a lady’s man and was taking up with at least one other lady, Margaret Von Der Saal. Margaret’s mom was unsure if all this was cool and so she asked Phillip to get approval from Prince John Frederick.
Phillip is now in full offensive mode. He is asking his friend Bucer to get a letter to Luther, he is imploring his first wife to write the prince to admit she’s a lousy wife (?!).
The question has been: what did Luther say?
A few things- all of this happened in the context of the Henry VIII situation. Luther told the English Reformer Robert Barnes that he should quietly take the new wife but not divorce the first.
With regards to the situation with Phillip, there exist discrepancies in manuscripts and both Lutheran defenders and Catholic opponents wanted to spin this story to their benefit.
Here’s a decent consensus on what Luther did write:
- We can’t make a new law allowing for this, marriage is meant for 2.
- However, in the Old Testament, we see God granting dispensations for the weak.
- The Gospels don’t specifically condemn polygamy, but be careful because our enemies could have a field day with this.
- DO NOT use this as an excuse for adultery or indiscriminate intimate relations.
- If you use this as an excuse to live in continual states of extra-marital relations you are doing it wrong.
It was particular, pastoral, and taking into account a situation that was already broken.
Luther used the examples of the Patriarchs but not exclusively.
Luther did not seek to create a “new law” to bind Phillip.
Luther suggested that Philip follow his conscience a la Romans 14.
Luther warned against using any gospel good news as a pretense for sin.
So, Dale in Meridian, I hope that helps a bit.
And with that, I will not be answering any more questions about marriage. I’m kidding, but please send me some about sports or music… CHA@1517.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, @almanacpodcast on Twitter. Smoke signals, pigeons, telepathy… whatever.
The last word for today comes from Romans 14, a good word about our freedom in Christ and how to use it to build up the church:
Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of June 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by the husband of one wife, Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis who recommends looking up the story of Ervil LeBaron. It doesn’t fit this question or pod, but it is about polygamy and Mormons and murder in Mexico…
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.