Polygamy in the Bible: A sordid tale

I saw an excellent interview on Australia’s Channel 7 Sunrise program recently. Christian leaders were being asked about their opposition to proposals to redefine marriage, and were discussing the Bible’s view of marriage. At one point, the interviewer asked a question which is often brought up in these contexts: Doesn’t the Old Testament condone polygamy? There was, of course, a question behind the question: Since the Old Testament says polygamy is OK, why should we listen to it on any moral issue?

Why did this interviewer think the Old Testament condones polygamy? Clearly he’s expressing a common point of view. Where has it come from? I reckon it stems from the fact that a lot of people in our world don’t really know what the Bible is about. A large number of people (maybe as a result of ineffectual communication by Christian teachers) think the Bible–and especially the Old Testament–is just a list of moral commandments, along with some stories to give us examples of how to be good. So when they do get around to reading the Old Testament, they read it with this moralistic framework in mind. And they find quite a few stories where the lead character is a polygamist. Furthermore, they don’t find any explicit commands that say “Thou shalt not commit polygamy”. So, since they are assuming that the Old Testament is just a book of moral commandments and morality tales, they conclude that the Bible says polygamy is OK.

The problem, of course, is that the Bible–even the Old Testament–is not really a book of commandments and morality tales. The Bible does of course contain commandments, and lots of narratives. But hardly any of the narratives are about morally upright heroes who keep God’s commandments. Most of the narratives are about God’s actions and plans to save immoral human beings. Most of the human characters in Bible stories (even some of the most faithful ones) are morally dubious at best; in fact, many of their activities are downright sordid. You’re not supposed to read these stories as direct examples for your own life; you’re meant to read them to understand God’s actions in the midst of a tragic human history.

It is true that the stories will also teach us something about God’s moral order. But we don’t usually discover this moral order simply by reading the stories as if they were straightforward examples to emulate today. Like many good stories, the Bible’s stories can communicate deep moral truths without needing to resort to explicit commandments. Indeed, stories are often more morally powerful when there is no explicit moralising. Think of a movie like Schindler’s List, a powerful story telling us about one of the darkest moments in Western history. Now imagine, at the end of the movie, as you’ve been hit with the human horror of the holocaust, just before the credits, a commandment comes up on the screen: “The director would like to point out (in case you missed it) that you should not be racist.” Not only would this be unnecessary, it would destroy the power of the story.

Something similar happens when it comes to the Bible and polygamy. Sure, the narrators never pause to say, “Oh by the way, please, don’t be a polygamist.” But why should they? The stories make the point all by themselves. As Peter Jensen–one of the interviewees in the TV segment I linked to above–pointed out, stories about polygamy in the Bible, time after time, result in disaster. Off the top of my head, here are some of the stories about polygamy in the Bible:

  • The first polygamist, Lamech, calls a family conference so he can boast about his inordinate vengeful violence. He’s clearly not a nice man (Gen 4:19-24).
  • Jacob has two wives and two concubines, a situation which creates family heartbreak, envy and, ultimately, attempted murder (Gen 29-37).
  • Gideon has many wives and many sons (Judges 8:30). This results in civil war and wholesale slaughter in Israel (Judges 9).
  • David has a seemingly insatiable appetite for women. He has many wives (2 Sam 5:13), and in the end steals another man’s wife and murders him (2 Sam 11-12). The resulting, big family was not a happy one: they ended up committing incestuous rape (2 Sam 13) and rebellion which almost destroyed David’s kingdom (2 Sam 14ff).
  • Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. They led his heart away from the Lord, and led to the break-up of his kingdom (1 Kings 11:3-4).

The stories tell the story all by themselves, don’t they? Polygamy, according to the Bible, is a disaster.

Furthermore, there are other pretty clear indications in the Bible that polygamy is wrong. The Bible begins with an explicit affirmation that marriage is between one man and one woman (Gen 1-2), an affirmation which is later confirmed by Jesus himself (Matt 19:4-6). There are, furthermore, laws limiting some of the worst effects of polygamy (Deut 21:15-17). And then, in the New Testament, Paul’s command to Timothy that church leaders must be, alongside exemplars of other moral virtues, “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2, 12; cf. 1 Tim 5:9) implies that polygamy is not a desirable thing.

And that’s why, in most modern Western societies (which still draw much of their moral understanding from biblical principles) polygamy is illegal. Christians might, with sadness, admit that polygamy exists in certain parts of the world. We might even, at times, seek to help those in polygamous relationships to make the best of a bad thing, to limit the suffering. But we don’t condone polygamy. In this, we’re following the Bible’s teaching. Sure, the Bible accepts that polygamy (like divorce) is one of the realities of a sinful world, and seeks to regulate it to some extent. But that all needs to be understood within the bigger picture of the Bible’s story: God’s salvation of a sinful humanity through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus. Within this story, polygamy isn’t an example to be emulated. Rather, it’s an example of the many bad things Jesus rescues us from.

45 thoughts on “Polygamy in the Bible: A sordid tale

  1. Brilliantly constructed article.
    Might give this some exposure on my website if you don’t mind?
    Polygamy is one of the many smokes screens thrown up by the activist.


    Cameron Spink

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  3. Pingback: Does the Old Testament Condone Polygamy? (Lionel Windsor) « Pastor Brett Maragni

  4. This is without a doubt the best treatment of this subject I’ve ever seen. Thank you so much! I’ve never been here before (found you through Challies) but am going to link to it straight away – superb.

  5. May I ask what your opinions are about the 2 Samuel 12 passage where God says he “gave” King David his many wives?

    Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.

    I am a Christian in the anabaptist tradition, but one who believes that marriage is a good thing, gay or straight.

    I think the “polygamy argument” comes up not to say that God approves of polygamy, but to demonstrate that some may be approaching biblical exegesis in a wrong manner – treating information about ancient practices as if they were models for today.

    You are absolutely right, in my opinion, that polygamy often led to bad results in the Bible and we can learn from the mistakes of those cultures.

    The point that marriage equity folk would be making is that we can’t simply look at OT rules and say, “Oh, look, that appears to say that God approved (disapproved) of that behavior…” We can look to the stories to learn of general truths, but not specific rules (ie, the rules and mores found in ancient texts are not a one-for-one universal set of rules/mores for all times and peoples).

    What say ye, friend?

    • Hi Dan,

      Some thoughtful comments, thanks.

      On 2 Samuel 12, I think you’ve got to read the verse in light of the point that God (through Nathan) is making, and that you can’t push a single word to make theological or ethical points beyond what that context can bear. The narrative here is primarily presenting us with a contrast between God’s “giving” David his wives (v. 8), and David’s “taking for himself” (v. 9) Uriah’s wife (as well as taking Uriah’s very life!). The point is that David’s wives were technically David’s legitimate wives, and thus can be spoken about as the result of God’s providence; whereas adultery and murder is a clear act of aggression, in which David is unequivocally taking what does not belong to him, and thus clearly rejecting God’s provision. The word “give” in this context, then, can only be taken as a point about God’s providence towards David in these particular circumstances; it doesn’t necessarily make the whole situation morally OK. God’s sovereign purposes in bringing about certain cicumstances doesn’t condone every human action or arrangement within those circumstances. This general principle is spelt out explicitly in places like Isa 10:5-12.

      As for your final paragraph, I don’t like either of the alternatives you’ve presented. We don’t read the OT stories either to get “specific rules” or to get “general truths”. We read them as stories, within a bigger story. That means that ultimately, we read them in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. One part of the overarching gospel-centred story of the Bible involves a story about marriage–marriage between a man and a woman; marriage which is created by God as a very good thing, yet disordered by sin, nevertheless affirmed by Jesus and ultimately fulfilled in the (complementary!) relationship between Christ and the church. The various stories and rules in the Old Testament present us with positive and negative facets of this story of marriage. Neither the overall story, nor the individual stories or rules, give us any reason to think that same sex marriage can be affirmed as a good thing.

  6. If the Bible does not condone polygamy, it at least condones infidelity. Mary cheated on Joseph with God to make Jesus.

  7. Thanks for a well-argued case, Lionel.
    I was wondering if you had any thoughts on why the Bible *doesn’t* have a “thou shalt not take more than one wife (or husband)” general command.

    It comes close for Kings, in Deuteronomy 17. Though intrigingly (and frustratingly?) it only prohibits “many” wives (suggesting that a more limited number might be ok) and the reason given is for theological fidelity (rather than for purity of the marriage bed, per se).

    The arguments we raise against polygamy in the Old Testament seem largely consequentialist, which isn’t as strong an argument as we might like it to be. A simple command would have made things much easier (for them, and for us!), in understanding God’s plan for marriage.

    The New Testament does speak more strongly/clearly in favour of monogamy, though even there, it is only leaders who are explicitly called on to be the husband of one wife.
    Perhaps that is speaking into a context where polygamy existed as a brute fact, and so you can’t easily call on a husband to divorce the wives he already has (but can keep him out of leadership in the church).
    This raises further questions in our context about whether Western nations should accept polygamous (or gay) marriages that have already been solemnised overseas.

    In short, while the Old Testament doesn’t ‘condone’ polygamous relationships (and even if it did, there would still be a further logical jump to gay marriage, regardless), doesn’t God’s reticence to speak ‘definitionally’ against non-monogamous options possibly suggest that we may be over-simplifying the biblical picture to keep it simple and neat?

    • Hi Ben,

      You’ve made some worthwhile points. Here’s my thoughts.

      There’s a few possible reasons I can think of as to why there’s no explicit command against polygamy in the Bible to make life easier for us:

      1. The pattern of one man and one woman is set out pretty clearly at the beginning of Genesis, rendering the need for a negative commandment less pressing.

      2. As humans move away from God’s marriage ideal, some behaviour is seen as worse than others. In Deuteronomy, for example, the prospect of the king of Israel being unfaithful to God is more of an issue than the number of wives he has. Or, as the story of David shows, adultery is more of an issue than polygamy. This doesn’t make polygamy right; it just makes it a lower item in the agenda of the stories.

      3. As I’ve argued above, the Bible isn’t ultimately a book of commandments to make life easier for us.

      I don’t think that the way of reading the Bible that I’ve advocated is really “consequentialist”; rather, it’s a recognition that narratives can employ consequences to make deeper, and quite powerful, moral points.

      I agree with you that it’s not all “simple and neat”! In fact, in my article I was trying to counter simplistic / moralistic readings of the Old Testament, and at the same time to demonstrate that complex Old Testament narratives can be morally coherent without requiring us to employ such simplistic readings.

      Your comments about the New Testament, and about the law in Western nations, are certainly worth considering. I think decisions in this regard fall under the category of what Michael Hill (The How and Why of Love, pp. 132-134) calls a “retrieval ethic”:

      Where Christians cannot bring the perspectives of the Kingdom and mutual love relationships into play, the ethic seems just to be “do good”. The goal will be to retrieve as much good as one can in the situation, and limit as much harm as is possible.

      Where sin has spoiled the scene and limited the possibilities, then some goods might have to be abandoned and others taken up.

      As for the specifics of what you suggest, I’m not sure that Western nations “accepting” polygamous marriages that have already been solemnised overseas would be a workable solution (in fact, a little reflection and we can see that it would create a legal nightmare!). But I can certainly envisage that there may be other kinds of workable retrieval ethics available in this kind of situation, aimed at providing legal protection for “extra” wives who may be in a vulnerable position without such protection.

      PS It would help if you gave your full name (as per site policy, which appears whenever you make a comment). To be slightly cheeky: By responding to your comment, I’m not condoning the breaking of the general site policy set out in the beginning; I’m simply applying a retrieval ethic to this particular situation. I’m seeking to retrieve as much good as I can from circumstances in which the general pattern, which was decreed for the good of all, has been contravened ;)

  8. A polite reminder to commenters that our site policy is that you should supply your full name. My own approach generally is not to interact with more than the first comment from a person who does not follow this approach.

  9. There is one case in which the OT Law did command polygamy (Deut 25): if a man died without any children, his brother (if he lived on the same property) had to marry his wife and the first son they had would be considered the dead man’s son. And that law has no question about whether or not the brother is married.

    Ben, perhaps that’s one reason why it can’t be ruled out entirely?

    • Hi Dannii, thanks for your comment. This is probably another example of a “retrieval ethic” (see above). In ancient Israel, the continuation of the family line is a very high priority. Theologically, it ensures that there is “seed” to maintain God’s “inheritance”. There’s also the practical matter of making sure the woman is not abandoned as a childless widow. Thus Levirite marriage is a way to retrive “good” out of the situation where a man dies childless. In the Bible’s overall story, the “seed” ultimately ends up being Jesus, and Christians enter God’s inheritance through faith in him. Thus the theological reasons for Levirite marriage don’t apply to us.

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  14. Very helpful insights. There is another side to this. A friend of mine who ministers in poor areas in South Africa tells about men who come to faith in Christ who have multiple wives. To ask them to immediately choose one to fit the Biblical ideal is to ask them to abandon the care of the others. Sometimes pervasive poverty is behind polygamy — complicated matter. But this is a pervasively fallen world and the whole project is operating under divine concession. Even the Bible is God’s will in a context of concession. Many parts of the Old Testament will be misunderstood if we miss this point about concession. The Old Testament reflects many concessions related to life in Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) cultures with their fallen social structures and hardened hearts (see: Matthew 19:3-9). The Old Testament law itself is often concessionary to ANE social structures and realities. It doesn’t always reflect God’s perfect will but His will in the context of concession. The Old Testament was never meant to be a final guide for human beings. It testifies to its own insufficiency by pointing to the coming of a New Covenant (see: Jeremiah 31; Ez. 36, Hebrews; Matthew 5:17-20).
    If interested, I recently posted on this subject here: http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/addition-to-tim-kellers-thoughts-about-the-bible/

    • Hi Steve; thanks for this perspective. I think the idea of “concession” is a helpful one, and is, as you point out, a concept that Jesus himself made use of.

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  16. Thanks for all of your comments! Just to let everyone know that I’m about to head off for the weekend (to a wedding, as it so happens!) and so won’t be commenting any further on this thread.

  17. Polygamy in the Bible is a subject I’ve been wrestling with for a while. I think that this concept of the Bible as having a grand storyline is very helpful and the best place to start; however, it does not satisfy the need for clear statements on the issue from the Bible. My thoughts on this subject are unfinished. I’m still wrestling with it. However, let me start by making a few observations. (1) Israel was constantly at war and if not for some men having multiple wives the race might have faced extinction, and, more importantly, the geneology of Christ would be shattered. This may have one reason been why God allowed it and never commanded against it. And perhaps by the time Jesus came, the population had risen to a point where polygamy is no longer necessary 2) We see clearly in Genesis 1 and Song of Songs that monogamy is what God intends for the human race. In 1 Corinthians 7 it describes “each man having his own wife and each wife her own husband.” Both of them singular. In Ephesians 5 it likened husband and wife to Christ and the Church. Monogamous marriage is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. This picture is lost in polygamy, a man’s sacrifice of life divided between wives. (3) The key passage of my concern is the same as Ben’s in 2 Samuel 12. It is not clear in that passage whether polygamy is wrong or right. God speaking of giving David wives as he gave him riches does not seem to portray it in a bad manner at first reading. “Divine Providence” does not prove a satisfying answer to me. God just declaring that He providentially allowed David to have lots of wives in the same way that he providentially gave him riches doesn’t exactly seem to fit the Biblical character of God. In more blatant terms, it would mean that God told David that He let him sin so that he could find pleasure in that sin. The exception comes perhaps, when there is a specific context of that action that makes it not sin. Observation 1 is the best answer I’ve heard for this exception; however, as in observation 2, any polygamy takes away this beautiful picture of the Gospel.

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  19. I enjoyed all your points but there is a crucial one missing. Just like divorce and polygamy, slavery was practiced and regulated. Anyone wanting to make a “biblical” argument for the practice of polygamy in today’s society had better be prepared to make the same argument for slavery. They can’t. Slavery is abuse, and so is polygamy.

    • How recently have you read the laws in the Old Testament for slavery? Most slaves became slaves in order to pay a debt, something they were forgiven of after seven years regardless of how much they had left. And considering that any slave who ran away could not be mistreated or even returned to their former masters (Deut 23:15-16) I don’t think Biblical slavery is abusive at all.

      I’d prefer Biblical slavery to today’s debt crisis and prison system!

      • Working off a debt is not the same as slavery. Women, blacks, and any other group considered inferior or less than human have been owned and used like objects since the beginning of time. It’s all wrong, in any degree.

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  21. Sorry it’s been a while, I’ve been on vacation but was wanting to respond to something Lionel said earlier…

    We don’t read the OT stories either to get “specific rules” or to get “general truths”. We read them as stories, within a bigger story. That means that ultimately, we read them in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    I love this line of thinking, Lionel, and agree wholeheartedly! My point was simply that some of us tend to try to find OT (and even NT) “rules” and make them a one-size-fits-all, true yesterday, today and tomorrow kind of rule and fails to take into account the over-arching story of Grace that is the Bible’s point.

    The Pharisees thought they had God nailed down and all you had to do was follow a certain understanding of rules (ie, the Pharisees’ understanding of God’s rules) and in so doing, they missed the point. We aren’t saved by rule-following but by God’s grace.

    Today, too many Christians fall into the trap of the Pharisees. They were, after all, good-hearted God-followers who only wished to keep Israel holy and separate from their Roman oppressors and they thought the way to do that was to heed strictly to their understanding of God’s rules. Just as many Christians today too often think.

    As a result, we have Christians standing in judgment of other Christian’s not because they are rejecting God’s grace, but because they disagree with them over an interpretation of a rule (and a rule that is coming from their understanding of a millenia-old-story, not from God saying, “follow this rule…”). It’s something to watch out for, lest we miss the point of these great, great stories.

    And my other point was that the reason some of us bring up polygamy is not to suggest that polygamy (or slavery) are moral goods – God forbid! – but to point to the problem of trying to make our understanding of these rules equivalent to God’s Word.

  22. One final point, addressing this comment…

    How recently have you read the laws in the Old Testament for slavery? Most slaves became slaves in order to pay a debt, something they were forgiven of after seven years

    I hear this pointed out frequently and I think it may be a bit off in understanding. If I may respectfully point out: There were at least two broad types of slavery in the OT world:

    1. a slavery equivalent to indentured servitude (where someone gets so desperate to survive, they resort to selling off their children or themselves into temporary servitude). For Israelis, they were to release their fellow Israelis after seven years. No such rule existed for non-Israeli slaves/servants. In either case, this is hardly commendable. It may have been more acceptable as a lesser evil at that time in history, but selling off our children – even temporarily – is hardly anything we would call “moral” in the slightest today, I’d hope we could agree.

    2. a slavery more like the slavery in the American South, where captured enemies were abducted from their countries and enslaved. This sort of slavery was for life. It also included the “marriage” of the orphaned virgins of the enemy, which today we would certainly be universally appalled at, I would hope.

    My point is in no way to denigrate the Bible, which I love, but to recognize it for what it is: A series of stories telling of ancient ideals of God. These stories included the sometimes horrible (at least by modern standards) practices of ancient peoples. Now, I am not one that believes we ought to reasonably measure ancient practices based on modern mores, but neither do I think God wants or the Bible teaches we ought to practice ancient traditions simply because they appear in the Bible, even when they appear to be endorsed by God (as polygamy and slavery appear to be, at least at times).

    The Bible is not that sort of book, it seems to me.

    What do you think?

    • The easiest and most tempting thing to do in these issues is to call upon our culture’s use and experience of a certain thing and try to equate that with Israel’s use and experience of those things; however, I think you and I both know that context matters! I believe, judging by your comment, that you’ve already made this distinction, but it is worth noting for my points. Don’t get me wrong, many European and American slave masters were incredibly cruel, and even some Israeli ones; however, there are many things about slavery that many people believe are wrong because they are culturally tied to our experience. Things such as the buying of human beings sound horrible at first, but if you replace our experience with the experience of the Israelis (coming out of a cruel slavery), then you’ll see that the law was, in actuality, commanding the People of God to treat the slaves with much respect. Slaves for the Israelites were generally of the first type you mentioned; however, it was not always a family selling their sons and daughters because of poverty. Many times it was criminals and debtors, but when it was the family selling sons and daughters they usually weren’t selling them to horrible conditions. Also, when God specified the Hebrew servant be set free after seven years, it was at a time when they only had Hebrew servants, after they had just come out of Egypt. This is important to note.

      We can look at things like slavery, polygamy, and arranged marriage and call them “the ancient ideals of God.” But I would prefer that we look at the law as part of God’s Word, because it is. Paul wrote to Timothy that “All Scripture is God-inspired and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.” He was referring to the OT, because, as you probably know, the NT didn’t exist back then, not in a compiled form, at least. So, I do believe that there is substance to be gained from looking at the law, because it was a set of rules. I suspect that Lionel, here, (I don’t know for sure, I’ll let him speak for himself if I’m wrong) is arguing against the arguments along the lines of “Abraham did it and he was a righteous man according to the Bible, so the Bible must condone it.” Not that the law is negated by means of cultural advancement. We’ve learned in Romans that we are no longer under the condemnation of the law. But as Paul adds in 3:31, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” He is not saying that we uphold all cultural practices such as slavery, polygamy, and arranged marriage (though I imagine the latter of the three would greatly diminish our divorce rates!), but that we find the underlying principles of the laws that were contextual, and follow them, (which mostly brings us back to the Ten Commandments). In some cases, specifically the Ten Commandments and other laws, the crime in inward and cannot possibly be negated by social “progress,” unless you scrap the authority of Scripture.

      The third and final point I want to make (and this is not necessarily directed at you, Dan) is that polygamy and homosexuality are not necessarily as comparable as many people make it out to be. The one thing they do have in common is that they get rid of the Christ-church image that makes a monogamous marriage between a man and a woman so beautiful, more specifically, a Christ-centered marriage of that sort.

      But anyway, this is my last comment on here. I have a tendency to get pretty heated in these discussions, so I have to stop myself after one or two to keep on amicable ground. Peace.

      • Forgive me if I’m misunderstanding what you mean in your first paragraph but….

        To manipulate, control, own, dominate, or enslave are acts of DISrespect. One cannot do these things in a respectful manner.

  23. I am the mother of four. A couple of years ago, one of my daughters was in a relationship that I didn’t approve of. I have more life-experience than she, so, I had a pretty good idea how it would end. I sweated bullets through the whole ordeal as I watched the daughter I love go through something painful. I know her, and know her well, and knew I couln’t intervene. All I could do was offer my open arms when she ended up with a broken heart. She was a bit miffed with me and asked, “Mom, why didn’t you stop me?!” I said, “Now, honey, be honest. If I had tried to stop you, would you have cooperated with me?” Her shoulders slumped and she sighed, “No. I would have done it anyways.”


    I believe God deals the same way with US. If He “allows” something, it’s not because He’s okay with it or wants it that way. I think He actually ABHORS alot of our behaviors and decisions, and the way we treat each other!

    I also don’t believe that only those born into a certain biological line (which would require or excuse something like polygamy) are the only ones going to heaven either. True children of God are grafted into His heavenly family tree when they live by principles of peace, love, mercy, compassion, etc. Polygamy violates the human heart and soul. If it were MEN who were pluralized in marriage in religious practice/worship, they’d all turn ATHEIST lickedy-split!

    Even though I think it would take a long time to acheive, ancient customs involving prejudices in ANY degree need to be completely eradicated if we are to reach our full potential as thinking, FEELING, reasoning beings.

  24. God told Moses explicitly all the sins connected to sexuality in the book of Leviticus such as fornication, adultery, incest, rape, homosexuality, etc .. I wonder why God did not list polygamy, sure if this was sin, why not listing it. Any thought?

    • Would not “adultery” cover this sin? God made marriage to be between one man and one woman, as we see in Genesis. If a man (or woman) marries or pursues someone they are not married to already, I would call this polygamy.

      Does that answer your question?

        • I think “adultry” and “polygamy”, as well as “divorce and remarriage” are really the same things. Think about it.
          I forget where it is, but there’s a scripture, for example, somewhere that says something about a man committing adultry against his previous wife if he remarries, even though divorce was “allowed”. Hmmmmm……

          I don’t think God ever intended for us to ever have more than one parner, period. But thanks to ‘stiff necks and hard hearts’, He “allowed” us to do differently.

          If we are God’s children, whether literally or figuratively, I believe His desire for us is HAPPINESS. I believe that is the very purpose of our existance, which wouldn’t be possible without Intellect and Emotions (in combination with the needs or our bodies). History and negative outcomes (like those that come from slavery, prejudices in any degree, divorce as a result of selfishness or jumping in too soon) are supposed to teach us how to make happier, healthier, wiser decisions as we try again and again to get it ‘right’. Apparently, there are too many who never seem to get it. Too many misinterpret what they think God is or isn’t implementing or condoning and try to push it on others, only repeating and wreaping the same destructive results.

          I don’t think God will ever give us a complete list of “do’s and don’ts”. It’s not possible to explain to us every single combination of possibilities. I think He wants us to use our heads and think things through for ourselves, to take situations case-by-case.

          In the case of polygamy vs. monogomy, if one’s goal is to mass produce human bodies as quickly as possible, then plurazing women in a sexual/marital situation, polygamy, “works”. But since human beings are made of 3 inseparable and intertwined parts, the heart/mind/body, polygamy will NEVER “work”. It causes too msuch pain and suffering, especially when there is a sexual/marital set-up that can benefit ALL instead: UNselfish, UNprejudiced, monogomy. How is it that so many don’t get this, and still focus so much on what the Bible does or doesn’t “say” in black’n’white?

  25. God made marriage to be between one man and one woman, as we see in Genesis.

    I don’t believe Genesis says this. Probably you are referring to Genesis 2:24…

    “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

    …but this passage does not limit marriage to one man/one woman. It does not say that God “defined” marriage that way. It does not say that one man/one woman is God’s intention… none of that. Some of us might read into the passage an intent of one man/one woman, but the text does not say that, isn’t that fair?

    (and as a clarification, I am NOT an advocate in any way of polygamy, but rather, am just trying to stick to what the Bible actually does and doesn’t say – I think we always need to caution ourselves into reading modern and/or cultural prejudices into ancient texts, doesn’t that sound like a reasonable caution?)

  26. Dan,

    Thanks for your reply.

    I see your point, however I respectfully disagree. Genesis 2:18-24 is instrumental in us knowing why God created Man and Woman, as well as what roles they were to perform. As Lionel said in the text of the article above,

    “The Bible begins with an explicit affirmation that marriage is between one man and one woman (Gen 1-2), an affirmation which is later confirmed by Jesus himself (Matt 19:4-6).”

    So I think that Genesis is an excellent place to start. Gen. 2:24 in particular, I think, is a good indication as to the participants in a marriage.

    Your thoughts?

  27. Can you show me where specifically you see “one man/one woman…”?

    Is that not a reading into the text something that simply isn’t there? At the least, couldn’t we agree that it is, at best, implied and not stated outright?

    • See, I believe that Gen 2:24 does state it outright, but the wording is a little less definite than we are used to in modern times, so I can see how it could be read differently.

      Elsewhere in Timothy (to move out of the OT), one of the requirements of a church leader is to only have one wife (3:2). Verse 12 says the same for deacons. These people are supposed to be our examples of Christ on Earth – I think, therefore, that this makes it very clear who are to participate in a marriage union.

      I’m going to bow out now. Thanks for the comments.

  28. I’m not sure what happens in other cultures. However, getting a second wife in my culture involves the same procedure like getting the first wife. In other words, the second wife is a free woman belonging to no one.

    However, I’m aware of the pain and the torture a first wife can go through and it has to take a lot counseling and negotiations. At that point is where for me the whole question resides. However, God gave 613 explicits laws and sexuality was dealt with in full, and He does not hide anything, for sure God could have mentioned it as a stand alone since just like the other sexual sins. From the text, I don’t think it can proved that two or threes wives is sin.

    In the case of Paul and the deacon, did he call it sin or it was not encouraged for other reasons?

    Just like others, I am not encouraging polygamy, but we cannot call it sin if the Bible does not.

    I read Rashi’s commentary on the passage and two becoming one flesh. Rashi is the walking computer of judaism and two becoming on is not a mathematical idea, it simply means you are one with the person you unite with even if she is a prostitute.

  29. I may be a little late but I’d love to get some feedback on a couple of passages where it seems that polygamy was not always seen as a negative thing within the narrative. Abijah, for example, was King of Judah and watched God rout the Israelites & Jeroboam before his eyes. And in 2 Chronicles 13:21 polygamy seems to be linked to his peace and success: “Abijah grew in strength. He married fourteen wives and had twenty-two sons and sixteen daughters” before he ruled over a decade of peace.

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