Polygamy

(Is Polygamy a Sin?)

The Bible speaks of a number of men who took to themselves more than one wife. God doesn’t seem to criticize their choice, or comment directly on it. So, does that mean the Lord approves?

No. We need to take the whole of God’s revelation into account to see what the Bible teaches on the subject. God’s Word faithfully reports cases of polygamy, but that does not mean He condones it, or views it as acceptable.

In ancient times, I suppose it could be rationalized as a protection for the women involved. There was a great mortality rate in warfare, leaving a high ratio of women to men in a community. And in a patriarchal society it was difficult for a woman to provide for herself. Unmarried women could fall prey to prostitution or slavery. But even though it was common in the culture of the day, there is evidence in God's Word that polygamy is not His desire for families.

1) One Wife for Adam
In the beginning, "God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Surely this includes His design for the first family. If polygamy were the ideal, the Lord could easily have provided several wives for Adam in Eden, but He didn’t. God made only one wife for Adam, setting one-husband-one-wife as the pattern, right at the beginning. "A man shall...be joined to his wife," not wives (Gen. 2:23-24).

2) Others Had Only One Wife
As far as we can tell from the record, it seems that Noah had only one wife, Job had only one wife, Isaac had only one wife. So did Joseph and others. These were all godly men. So this at least suggests that polygamy wasn’t the expected thing.

3) First Polygamy by a Worldly Man
Some Bible interpreters refer to what's called "the law of first mention." It seems to be the case quite often that the first mention of something includes important information about it. Multiple marriages are first mentioned in Scripture in connection with the worldly Cainite civilization, and an arrogant and violent man named Lamech (Gen. 4:19, 23-24). That is surely significant.

4) A Warning to Kings
God specifically forbade the kings of Israel from multiplying wives (Deut. 17:17). Those who disobeyed suffered the consequences. For example, Solomon's many wives led him into idolatry (I Kgs. 11:1, 3-4).

5) King’s Wives Given to the Next King
A seeming contradiction to the last point is that the Bible says God gave King Saul’s wives to David when he took the throne (II Sam. 12:8). What’s going on there?

It was actually a precaution to preserve the monarchy. If the wife of the dead king married someone else, there could be a serious dispute about who should inherit the throne. This was the reason Solomon reacted to the possibility of Adonijah marrying Abishag, the late King David’s youngest wife. He saw it as a plot to steal the throne (I Kgs. 2:22).

6) Negative Effects of Polygamy
There was frequently jealousy and rivalry between and among the wives in a polygamous situation–for example, between Jacob's wives Leah and Rachel (Gen. 29:30-32), and Elkanah's wives Peninnah and Hannah (I Sam. 1:4-6). Polygamy is often connected in Scripture with backsliding and unbelief (as in Solomon’s case).

Abraham's taking Hagar as his wife (or concubine) resulted from a failure to trust God's promise of a son through Sarah (Gen. 16:1-4). That folly has caused the people of Israel no end of trouble since, through the descendants of Ishmael.

7) The Teaching of Jesus
The pattern set in the beginning was later confirmed by the Lord Jesus. He reminded His listeners that one wife for one husband was the plan of God, that "the two shall become one flesh" (Matt. 19:4-6, 9; cf. Gen. 2:24).

8) Christ and His Church
The monogamous pattern is also supported by the words of Ephesians 5:23, "The husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church." There’s only one true church, the spiritual body of Christ, of which He is the Head. Further, the entire passage (vs. 22-33) deals with the husband-wife relationship, and it is always two people who are in view, a single husband and a single wife.

9) Church Leadership
<br>An elder was to be "the husband of one wife" (Tit. 1:5-6). It is possible that this means he should not be a divorcee. But it’s also conceivable that it is a rejection of anyone who is polygamous. A literal rendering of the phrase "the husband of one wife" is a one-woman man, and there is no way this would allow for multiple marriages.

10) A Result of Hard Hearts
It seems that, like divorce (which God "hates," Mal. 2:16), polygamy was tolerated for a time because of man’s ignorance and hardness of heart (cf. Matt. 19:8). Notice the "if" (not "when") in Exodus 21:10. God gave a law to protect the second wife, but that is not the same as approving of the practice. It was not what He desired for families among His people.

From the time of the Jews’ return from captivity in Babylon, there’s no reference to polygamy among them. It is not so much that God cancelled something He’d allowed before, but rather that, with the returned captives, they went back to His original plan for marriage.

11) Not a Sexual SinI disagree with those who claim that polygamy involves adultery. Marrying a second wife is not the same as committing adultery. It doesn’t require taking another man’s wife. As indicated in Exodus 21:10, each of a man’s wives was to be exclusively his, and equally well cared for. The wrong of polygamy is different from adultery, but it is still wrong. It violates God’s design for marriage and the family.

12) The Law of the Land
As far as I know, polygamy is against the law in North America, and in many other countries. Christians are to obey the law of the land (Rom. 13:1-7), unless what we are asked to do by the governing authorities directly violates God’s Word (cf. Acts 5:29). Those cultists, sometimes in the news, that flaunt their multiple wives, are breaking the law.


On Another Subject: Some recent experiences, and choices made by families I know, have once more stirred my concern as to our attitude toward, the practice of cremation. Is the burning of the bodies of loved ones after death compatible with Christian beliefs? I encourage you to read my extended article on the subject.