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Husbands, Love Your Wives…

November 20, 2012

“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” (Col 3:19, NIV)

How would you read this verse if you were a polygamist?

In our American cultural context, the first meaning we get out of this verse is that each husband should love his wife and not be harsh with her. Singular. One husband, one wife. (And, since the first meaning we get out of the verse makes sense to us linguistically and culturally, we tend to stop looking for other possible meanings.)

However, in many African contexts, polygamy is more common and more accepted than it is in America. And even though most Africans who could understand English would read this verse with the same meaning as most Americans, there are many Africans who might look “deeper” and try – successfully – to find Biblical justification for their polygamous lifestyle.

Couldn’t this verse also mean, “Each husband should love his wives and not be harsh with them”? Is there a grammatical necessity to have only one wife for each husband?

Our Nsenga translators didn’t think so. They were afraid that this verse might be mis-interpreted by someone who was trying to justify a polygamous lifestyle, so they rendered Colossians 3:19 this way:

“Mwanalume aliyense awotemwa mkazi wake osamuvuta.” – “Each husband should love his wife and not treat her badly.”

Ah, the things we take for granted…

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