Does the Bible condone polygamy?
Published: 22 July 2017 (GMT+10)
In response to one of our articles on same-sex marriage, Jim G. from the U.S. wrote to us:
Homosexuality is clearly sinful and an abomination per God (Lev 18:22, 20:13, Rom 1:26–27, 1 Cor 6:9–11, 1 Tim 1:8–10). God has spoken definitively on that subject regardless of the gay-marriage advocates who try to twist scripture to say something else. However, the author errs when he excludes polygamy as a valid expression of marriage as ordained by God. Nowhere does God ever declare polygamy to be sinful or speak a negative word against it. The Law assumed that polygamy would be a valid, moral expression of marriage in Israelite society along with monogamy as shown in Exodus 21:7–11, Deut 21:15–17, Deut 22:22–29, and Deut 25:5–10. The Levirate Law in Deuteronomy 25:5–10, which commands a brother to marry his deceased brother’s childless widow and have children in his brother’s name, makes no exception if the surviving brother is already married. Therefore this command would result in polygamous marriages if the surviving brother was already married, and in practice it often did. Furthermore, God figuratively describes himself as having a polygamous relationship with Israel and Judah in Jeremiah 3:6–11 and Ezekiel 23:1–12. Also, Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25:1–13 describes the coming Kingdom in terms of polygamy between a single bridegroom and ten virgins.
CMI has produced many anti-polygamy articles that all fail to engage with any of the arguments put forth by Christian polygamy groups. Tom Shirpley has written an ebook called “Man and Woman in Biblical Law” that very convincingly argues that the primary purpose of the Genesis 2 creation account was to establish patriarchy of which polygamy is a necessary and valid expression. Every argument put forth by CMI has been clearly addressed, and I would love to see an article that engages with these arguments directly.
CMI’s Keaton Halley responds:
Thank you for submitting your comment on How gay marriage harms people.
You’ve raised enough concerns about another important topic that I think it warrants us publishing a separate article. So please see my comments interspersed.
Homosexuality is clearly sinful and an abomination per God (Lev 18:22, 20:13, Rom 1:26–27, 1 Cor 6:9–11, 1 Tim 1:8–10). God has spoken definitively on that subject regardless of the gay-marriage advocates who try to twist scripture to say something else.
However, the author errs when he excludes polygamy as a valid expression of marriage as ordained by God. Nowhere does God ever declare polygamy to be sinful or speak a negative word against it.
In One man, one woman, we’ve explained how the Bible treats monogamy as normative. This is apparent in the creation account, for example, and in instructions to the church (e.g., 1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Corinthians 7:2). So it’s incorrect to say there is no "negative word against it.”
I do not think that polygamy is as drastic a departure from the biblical ideal as same-sex marriage, but it is nevertheless a departure.
The Law assumed that polygamy would be a valid, moral expression of marriage in Israelite society along with monogamy as shown in Exodus 21:7–11, Deut 21:15–17,
These are examples of regulations placed on polygamy, which do not entail an endorsement of polygamy itself. In fact, the second passage (Deuteronomy 21:15–17) concerns a situation where one of the wives is “unloved”, but surely this should not be taken to mean that the Bible approves of a man who does not love his wife.
Similarly, the Old Testament law allowed for and regulated divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1–4), but Jesus pointed out how this was an accommodation, not the ideal as determined by the created order (Mark 10:2–12).
This passage is about penalties for adultery and rape so, up through verse 27, it has no relevance to polygamy. The only way that the passage might relate to polygamy is because verses 28–29 require a man who has violated an unbetrothed woman to marry her, and it is possible that such a man was already married to another. If so, then see my comments immediately below about Levirate marriage, which would hold true in this situation as well.
and Deut 25:5–10. The Levirate Law in Deuteronomy 25:5–10, which commands a brother to marry his deceased brother’s childless widow and have children in his brother’s name, makes no exception if the surviving brother is already married. Therefore this command would result in polygamous marriages if the surviving brother was already married, and in practice it often did.
Fine, but this would be an exception to the general rule that only one wife is preferable. There is a biblical principle that some moral rules will trump others if there’s a conflict, so I agree that in some situations polygamy was morally permissible—but only under very particular circumstances, where a higher law took precedence. This is not moral relativism, but graded absolutism. For instance, Jesus indicated that David was blameless for eating the Bread of the Presence as he was fleeing for his life (Matthew 12:3–4) even though, according to the Mosaic Law, it was only to be eaten by priests (Leviticus 24:9). And Jesus also noted that the priests were guiltless when they performed temple duties on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:5), despite the command to rest (Exodus 20:10).
The Bible is full of similar examples, like how we are commanded to obey the government (Romans 13:1–5), yet obligated to disobey when the government requires us to violate God’s laws (Acts 5:29; Exodus 1:15–21). So if polygamy was approved in certain narrow, less-than-ideal circumstances, this does not negate the fact that it was generally a bad idea.
In the case of Levirate marriage, we can understand the allowance of polygamy as an accommodation for a culture in which women could be reduced to poverty if they had no husband or sons (e.g., Ruth). This provision was intended to care for the widow as well as carry on the family name of the deceased. But it would not prove that polygamy was approved by God in ordinary circumstances.
Furthermore, God figuratively describes himself as having a polygamous relationship with Israel and Judah in Jeremiah 3:6–11 and Ezekiel 23:1–12.
These are figurative, as you say, so they need not be taken as endorsements of polygamy. In one of his parables, Jesus compared God the Father to an unrighteous judge (Luke 18:1–8), but this does not imply that God is pleased with unrighteous judges!
Also, Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25:1–13 describes the coming Kingdom in terms of polygamy between a single bridegroom and ten virgins.
It’s not clear to me that the bridegroom planned to marry all ten virgins. Rather, the group may be composed of a single bride and her friends—something more akin to ‘bridesmaids’. It was common in that culture for a wedding processional to accompany the newly married couple from the bride’s home to a banquet at the groom’s home. And, indeed, it would seem odd even in a culture where polygamy was practiced for a man to marry ten people all at the same time.
However, even if your interpretation is correct, it would still be a misapplication of the parable to see it as an endorsement of polygamy. Jesus once compared his exorcisms to the binding of a strong man before plundering his house (Matthew 12:28–29), but this does not mean Jesus was giving approval for plundering strong men in general. It meant he was plundering the devil—that’s all. Likewise, the parable of the ten virgins means we should be ready for Jesus’ return—that’s all.
CMI has produced many anti-polygamy articles that all fail to engage with any of the arguments put forth by Christian polygamy groups. Tom Shirpley has written an ebook called “Man and Woman in Biblical Law” that very convincingly argues that the primary purpose of the Genesis 2 creation account was to establish patriarchy of which polygamy is a necessary and valid expression.
How is it necessary? Obviously patriarchy can exist without polygamy, because Adam, Noah, Isaac, and Joseph were patriarchs (heads of their families) who practiced monogamy.
Every argument put forth by CMI has been clearly addressed, and I would love to see an article that engages with these arguments directly.
I’ve at least taken the time to engage with the arguments you’ve offered so people can judge for themselves whether they do justice to the Bible’s teachings. Thank you for reading our literature and interacting with us despite our differences. Hopefully I’ve given you something to chew on as well.
As I've been reading this Conversation- It seems to me that both Tommy and Jim G. Are are not taking what the bible says directly into account so much as trying to imposed ideals and social constructs that help to ease their ideas into what God Said. Keaton's premises make perfect sense to most of use out here, yet I keep seeing Him being misquoted because you don't seem to want to understand from outside your own perspectives (which were CLEARLY cemented before you gave the impression that you were actually interested in his Keaton's answers). God CLEARLY indicates that the way things are is NOT the way they are supposed to be. He is "ALLOWING" for a whole lot of what is otherwise not acceptable because the alternative is worse. Keaton gave many good examples of that. Yet you both seems to be looking for that hard/fast "Don't do it in Scripture. But God sometimes doesn't offer those extremes. I know of a situation in which missionaies of ours were smuggling in Bibles to Saudi Arabia against the law of the land.The missionaries and the bibles were in the back of a van. At a check-point they were stopped and the the guards demanded to inspect the back of the VAN. But when they opened the VAN and looked RIGHT AT the missionaries and the bibles, they saw nothing there. God hid this from their eyes to protect His people. Does this mean that since God hid them from view then he is a deceiver and thus its ok for us to do the same? Of course not. But that is the same argument that you both seems to be making despite Keaton's attempts to clarify the issues. Please Pray about this more before deciding to "Rationalize" what God meant instead of just looking at what He said.
What if we look at the beginning. GOD created Adam and Eve, not Adam, Eve, Mary, Sally, Carry, and so on! Also, it says that a man shall leave his parents and cleave to his wife, not wife's! Just because David and some others had more than one wife does not make it right. Jacob wasn't even trying to marry more than one women, he was tricked into marrying the wrong one. He had to marry them both, if he wanted to be with the one he loved. In the end, that family had nothing but problems due to the jealousy between the two wifes. I think men that want to marry more than one wife are wrong. It goes against the way GOD intended marriage to be. One man, one woman, just like he created in the beginning!
The levirate law was introduced to ensure that 'a man's name will not be blotted out from Israel' (Deut.25:6), and there was a male heir to inherit the deceased's land. If the brother was already married, he was under no obligation, once he had fathered a son by the widow, to continue having intercourse with her; he had only to provide for her, that son, and any girls she may have borne before the son.
Jesus' teaching clearly excludes polygamy and entails that it is adultery. In Mt. 5:32, Mk. 10:11-12, and Lk. 16:18, Jesus says that if a man divorces his wife and marries another, then he commits adultery. In other words, Jesus is saying that, despite the divorce, the bond to his first wife still exists, and therefore in marrying another the man commits adultery. This obviously logically entails, and assumes the principle, that if I marry another woman when I'm already married, then I commit adultery. Otherwise what he says about divorce doesn't follow. If polygamy is acceptable, Jesus should have said, "anyone who divorces his wife, and marries another, enters into polygamy". But he did not. Clearly, therefore, OT polygamy comes under the "because of the hardness of their hearts" clause, and it is not permissible in the NT, as is plainly taught in 1 Tim. 3:2,12 & Titus 1:6 (and yes, I read koine Greek fluently). So if anyone practices polygamy, they are an adulterer, according to the Lord Jesus Christ, and should be expelled from the fellowship of believers unless they repent, and abandon their polygamy.
Keaton, you've misunderstood again. When I mentioned men desiring sex every 72 hours I said by design. It is a biological design of the male body, not a sinful desire and not to be confused with the sinful desire to fornicate and be promiscuous. However, the biological need to release semen every 72 hours can certainly tempt a man to sin in the ways you suggest. I had assumed you knew the biology of the matter. And even though men can indeed go much longer and it's not mandatory to have sex every 72 hours, it's still clearly a biological design that God put there.
And while you claim that there is much scripture specifying one man and one woman, it does not necessarily mean only one man and one woman. Because even if a man has multiple wives, each marriage is still a covenant just between those 2 persons. In other words, polygamy is not an invitation to have orgies with your multiple wives. It's still a union between those 2 individuals and when they come together it is private and between them only.
All said and done, you have still failed on all points to refute the fact that God never spoke a word against his holy men from practicing polygamy and that God gave multiple wives to David. Your responses have shown how strong the argument for polygamy is because you've revealed that their isn't any refutation that holds water.
For the record, I only began to accept the polygamy position this past year and was firmly on your side prior to that. I had to give up my belief in favor of the plain reading of scripture. When God gives wives to a holy man, that nailed it. God doesn't give a man into sin as a blessing. Not a chance.
In the end, I don't promote polygamy either. It is also not commanded to do it.
I haven't misunderstood. You're begging the question because the point at issue was whether polygamy is prima facie sinful—or a legitimate outlet for our sexual desires. The same sexual desires could be satisfied by non-marital sexual relationships, so why regard fornication as a 'temptation' to wrongly satisfy those desires, but regard polygamy as a proper way to fulfill those desires? You're obviously using other criteria besides the desires to make this determination. Therefore the desires themselves—even if programmed by God—can't tell us that polygamy is okay.
And even though I've repeatedly explained how my view is not that God "give[s] a man into sin as a blessing", you continue to misrepresent it that way.
I've think I've been fair in allowing you to air your objections, but I've already answered your other false assertions. So if you continue to go around in circles I will not be likely to publish future comments from you in this thread.
Keaton, you misunderstood what I said:
"Regarding your analogy with homosexuality, it fails on three counts. One, you've admitted that we can tell from the created order that something is wrong—although, you first say that would be enough and then immediately suggest it might not be. Which is it?"
It does not fail on this point because it's more obvious from God's design that polygamy is a valid expression of His design. Men desire sex roughly every 72 hours (by design) where women desire most of all for affection and to nurture and raise children through childbearing. So, from that design men could have sex more often to meet their designed needs and women can bear and nurture children according to their needs.
"Two, there is more than just the created order that indicates polygamy is wrong, because it is an assumed norm throughout Scripture as we've highlighted."
As already pointed out, the norm that we see in scripture is polygamy. Even when a situation was problematic for multiple wives, God did not rebuke them for having multiple wives, he addressed the issue at hand. Certainly he would have rebuked them if this was wrong.
"Three, as I've said, polygamy is not as egregious a sin as homosexuality and is of a different nature. A significant difference is that same-sex marriage is not a true marriage at all and is a relationship which God would always want to cease, while we've said that in cultures which practice polygyny, those are genuine marriages which should not be dissolved once established."
Your opinion on which is more serious is irrelevant. You've done some serious theological gymnastics to retain your belief. Very much like old age earthers manipulate Genesis to fit their belief.
Basic desires are not the only factors to be considered in natural law (and we musn't ignore Scriptural revelation either). If they were, we would have to say that fornication and promiscuity are 'God's design' as well, which is false. Also, polygamy is absolutely not the norm in Scripture! Instructions regarding married people commonly use the singular when referring to husband/wife because only one spouse is often assumed as the normative pattern.
If you don't think differences between sins matter, then why doesn't God treat every sin exactly the same? Why did Jesus say that some sins were worse than others (John 19:11), and some elements of the Law weightier than others (Matthew 23:23)?
Interesting exchange! @Keaton, Jim G. uses sarcasm to make a point, but it seems that your logic is what makes God out to be a buffoon who contradicts Himself through incompetence. Your arguments about people in moral dilemmas aren’t valid because they are all about people seeking to do God’s will, but this is about God himself. You argue that God’s creation plan for marriage was monogamy and that polygamy is sin. Think about what sin means! God hates sin; it is rebellion against Him, and it demanded the death of Jesus to atone for it.
You’re asking us to believe that in the Levirate Law, God commands people to commit an act that he himself detests, that goes against his own creation purpose. Not only that, CMI’s article “One Man, One Woman” and several of the readers’ comments characterize polygamy as this horrible thing that leads to strife and degrades women. If that is the case, what does that say about our God? It either undermines his goodness or his omnipotence because he commanded such a horrible practice, to protect widows no less! You’re asking us to believe that God couldn’t find another solution to this problem without violating his own design for marriage.
This is completely different from God allowing sin to happen to accomplish his will, such as allowing Jesus to go to the cross, punishing David for his adultery, or punishing Israel and Judah with captivity. God may use sin committed by sinful people to accomplish his will, but he doesn’t command those people to sin and they certainly don’t escape judgement for their sin! But in this case, if polygamy is sinful then you have God commanding sin, even though you are trying to evade the argument.
It seems you’re trapped in an intellectual quandary because your starting assumptions are wrong.
Once again, I never said God commanded people to sin! Rather, I argued that in particular circumstances polygamy would not have been a sin, but permissible. This is because the circumstances matter, and can change the moral equation. Forcefully shoving an elderly woman and causing her to fall down would ordinarily not be a nice thing to do, but if one's motive is to prevent her from being run over by a car, that’s a big difference.
Many of God's commands must be understood as having some implicit exceptions, so you’re wrong that my examples are just "about people seeking to do God’s will" as opposed to dealing with God’s own commands as expressed in Scripture. I already mentioned Jesus’ example of priests working on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:5). But there are others.
When God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:2), was He commanding Abraham "to commit an act that he himself detests"? No, because under these circumstances it would not have been murder. When God commanded a prophet to to put on a disguise and trick the king of Israel (1 Kings 20:35–43), was He commanding the prophet "to commit an act that he himself detests"? No, because under these circumstances it would not have been sinful to bear false witness. Same for levirate marriage if indeed the Law meant to apply it to an already-married brother—you can’t just ignore the particular circumstances when considering the morality of the practice.
But, by the way, it is an open question for me whether levirate marriage actually did apply to an already-married brother. I granted that assumption in my article, but I’ve read several commentaries that argue the opposite.
Jim G. makes some interesting arguments, but one certainly does not come away with the impression that his interest is in God's heart on this issue, to say nothing of how most women view polygamy.
As you pointed out, there are many examples of God compromising with sinful humans and basically allowing certain otherwise wrong behavior to continue without being expressly condemned. Two glaring examples to me, are: 1 Samuel 8 in which God tells Samuel to 'give the people what they want' which was a human king. God tells Samuel, "They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them." God allowed the people to reject Him as king, and not only did not expressly condemn them for this but anointed and blessed many of Israel's kings. Does this mean that it's acceptable and good to reject God?
A more obvious example is Jesus' teaching on divorce. Aside from the fact that He reiterates the created order of 'the TWO shall become one flesh', there is the issue of the Mosaic Law which apparently lets a man divorce his wife for any reason. Jesus plainly says that Moses allowed this because of *the hardness of their hearts*, but *from the beginning* it was not so. It is because of the hardness of men's hearts that God has chosen to compromise on some of His commands, often in order to ensure that the most vulnerable members of society were taken care of.
Acts 17:30 indicates that in the past God overlooked such ignorance, but NOW He commands everyone to repent.
I have a question concerning a situation that arises in modern countries where polygamy is commonly practiced. If a man with multiple wives becomes a Christian and wishes to join a church, should the man be admitted to fellowship as a polygamist, or should he be required to divorce all but one wife, even if the divorced wives will experience great hardship?
Assuming you are speaking of a country where polygyny is legal, I've addressed this question in another comment, and it is also addressed in Christian converts and polygamy.
Keaton said, “No, God doesn't command sin. You've misunderstood. When there is an exception to a moral rule, it is not sin.” Keaton argues: 1. God’s design for marriage in Creation is monogamy. 2. The murderer Lamech introduced the sin of polygamy, violating God’s design for marriage. 3. God didn’t feel the need to rebuke or correct the patriarchs or Israelites on this sin because it should have been obvious to them. 4. In the Levirate Law, God commands something that would be sin in any other instance to protect childless widows, but it’s not sin because God commanded it.
So here’s my paraphrase of the Levirate Law based on Keaton’s doctrine. [God speaking the married brother-in-law of the widow] “I designed marriage to be between one man and one woman, but sinful men perverted my plan by marrying multiple women. This is sinful, and I hate it, but just forget all that now because I’m commanding you two to marry your brother’s widow to perpetuate your brother’s name. I know you’re already married and now I’m asking you to violate my own design for marriage and live in a strife-filled polygamist marriage, but this is the best plan I can come up with to solve this social problem.”
This is totally illogical! The logical conclusion is that polygamy is a valid, moral expression of marriage as is monogamy.
This is going to be my last post regardless of Keaton’s response or any other posts, but one last thing. Re Keaton’s response to Tommy S. saying, “there is more than just the created order that indicates polygamy is wrong, because it is an assumed norm throughout Scripture as we've highlighted.” No, it is assumed by many Christians, but Scripture doesn’t bear it out. The Scriptural “proof” is like the evolutionist’s missing links – there’s nothing incontrovertible.
That's quite a spin you've put on my words, portraying God as a buffoon who contradicts Himself through incompetence. But you could (also inappropriately) put the same negative spin on other parts of Scripture that I brought up which you didn't address, where people in particular circumstances are considered blameless for doing things that were ordinarily wrong—lying, working on the Sabbath, disobeying the government, and usurping priestly roles. In reality, when choosing the better option in a so-called moral dilemma, one is choosing something good, not just the 'lesser of two evils'. But readers now have a lot of back-and-forth between us and can judge for themselves who is rightly handling God's Word.
Re qualifications for overseers and deacons (1 Tim 3:2,12, Titus 1:6), the NET Bible translator notes say the following about “husband of one wife”:
Or “a man married only once,” “devoted solely to his wife” (see 1 Tim 3:12; 5:9; Titus 1:6). The meaning of this phrase is disputed. It is frequently understood to refer to the marital status of the church leader, excluding from leadership those who are (1) unmarried, (2) polygamous, (3) divorced, or (4) remarried after being widowed.”
The Greek word mia, used for "one" in these verses can reasonably be translated “one” or “first”, or even as the indefinite article “a”, and the meaning is based on what you think the author is trying to say from contextual clues. Since the meaning of mia in these passages is hotly debated and can have at least two meanings that are compatible with polygamy, it can’t be an argument against polygamy.
1 Corinthians 7:2 says, “But because of immoralities, each man should have relations with his own [heautou] wife and each woman with her own [idios] husband. In the Greek, two completely different words are used to describe the relationship between a man and his wife, and a woman and her husband, that have very different meanings.
Heautou refers to a person themself, or something belonging exclusively to oneself. For instance, my own (heautou) leg. Idios means "pertaining to oneself", but not necessary belonging exclusively to oneself. For instance, in Luke 2:3 everyone went to his own (idios) city" to be taxed - the city did not belong exclusively to the person, but rather many people were associated with that city.
Why would Paul very specifically use these two different words for "own", that perfectly describe the relationship between men and women in polygamy, if polygamy is sinful?
If the 1 Tim. passage means anything, it excludes polygynists from eldership. I don't see how anyone can seriously argue anything else apart from a fairly profound ignorance of both the Greek and the overall context.
Also, the distinction between idios and heautou required for your interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:2 does not hold. Idios can describe one’s exclusive possession, or something that is possessed along with another possessor. For instance, a farm (Matthew 22:5) would have typically been owned by a family, even an extended family. But idios is used to describe one’s own servants (Matthew 25:14)—a servant would have had one master. Jesus own (idios) disciples (Mark 4:34) were his exclusively. Fruit is the product of one plant (Luke 6:44). I could multiply examples.
In Acts 4:32, idios is used to contrast when no one claimed anything as his own (idios) exclusive possession, but they shared everything. In Acts 20:28, idios is used to describe Jesus’ own blood. See also Romans 8:32. Also, idios can be used to refer to one’s own body (1 Corinthians 6:18).
Now on to heautou. It can clearly be used of one’s own exclusive relationship, as here regarding a man’s relationship with his wife. But it can also be used of a man’s relationship with his town, which is clearly not exclusive (Luke 2:3).
Re Keaton’s reply to Tommy S., in 2 Samuel 12:7-9 the emphasis is ABSOLUTELY on God giving David Saul’s wives, not possessions. The context is David’s taking of another man’s wife. God is basically saying, “I gave you all Saul’s wives (on top of the wives you already had), and I would have gladly given you more if that’s what you desired, so why would you commit this grievous sin and take another man’s wife?” God said he gave Saul’s wives into David’s arms (literally into your chest [or “lap”]), which is clearly referring to marital relations, not that they are just at his disposal if he wanted to marry them.
Deut 17:16-17 says that a king must not acquire (multiply to himself) many horses, wives, and silver and gold. Why do anti-polygamists always neglect to mention the horses and the gold and silver? Because if you try to twist this to say that a king can only have one wife, then you would have to also say that a king can only have one horse and one piece of silver and one piece of gold. No, the overall command seems to be about excess. The king is not to acquire excessive horses, or wives, or wealth. But for the wives there is the additional reason “lest his heart turn away.” Our understanding of why kings married helps explain this as political marriages. Strong kings took (foreign) wives as a means of insuring treaties with foreign nations. Such wives would doubtless be idolaters and bring in the kinds of false religion seen in the life and times of Solomon. The Law (Deuteronomy 7:3) condemns marriage with women of the land for this reason. This verse simply applies the broader law to kings. They are to avoid the ’political marriages’ that were common among kings to insure peace treaties with the kings whose daughters they had married.
I'm largely in agreement with you regarding Deut. 17:17, as noted in the other comment, but still this verse is not insignificant in the overall case.
Many commentators disagree with you that David actually married all of Saul's wives. I'm not denying that the passage likely means they were at his disposal to marry, which is consistent with the custom that the royal harem was part of the royal inheritance. When I said "possessions", I intended this to include Saul's wives. But I see no reason to think that God viewed multiplying wives as the fundamental blessing here as opposed to receiving the things that were Saul's. But, regardless of whether David did actually marry Saul's wives and concubines, the prophet Nathan's main point is that David took something that didn't belong to him even though he already had plenty that did belong to him. If God provided these wives through David's inheritance of the throne, that is not the same as saying that God sanctions polygamy. The same chapter talks about how God would give David's wives to another as a judgment on David (2 Sam. 12:11), but this does not imply God's moral approval of how this was later fulfilled (2 Sam. 16:22).
Keaton says, “it generally is sinful to marry more than one wife, although there could be exceptions as discussed.” What Keaton is arguing is that God commanded polygamy (sin) in Deut 25:5-10 to solve a social problem. But James 1:13 says that God tempts no one to sin. Keaton, are you really arguing that God’s perfect Law, which regulated practically all aspects of Israelite society, had to incorporate sinful practices because our all-powerful, all-knowing God couldn’t figure out another way to take care of widows without violating the “norms” of marriage? Also, in Jeremiah 3:6-11 and Ezekiel 23:1-12, God describes his covenant relationships with Israel and Judah as a polygamous marriage. This is completely different from a parable, e.g. Luke 18:1-8, which is a STORY designed to teach a very specific spiritual message. In Luke 18:1-8, God is clearly NOT an unrighteous judge, the message is that if a widow can wear down even an unrighteous judge who doesn’t want to help her, we should unceasingly pray to God who does want to help us. But in Jeremiah and Ezekiel God is speaking of himself and his relationship to Israel and Judah as a polygamous marriage. If this is not an endorsement of polygamy, then answer this: Would God ever speak of himself as an adulterer, murderer, or fornicator? Obviously not because those are completely against his moral character, so for God to describe himself as a polygamist is a clear endorsement of polygamy. The problem is your starting assumption. You assume Genesis 2:24 teaches monogamy as the only correct mode for marriage, and therefore polygamy is sinful, but then you have to argue that God makes exceptions in certain situations to allow the “generally sinful” practice and ignore God’s description of himself as a polygamist.
No, God doesn't command sin. You've misunderstood. When there is an exception to a moral rule, it is not sin. So it was not sinful, but righteous, for the Hebrew midwives to disobey Pharaoh when he commanded them to murder babies (Exodus 1:17), even though the general rule is that we are to obey the government. Is God's law imperfect because it tells us to obey the government today (Romans 13:1–2) even though civil disobedience may be necessary? No, not if we are "rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15), applying these commands with wisdom.
As for God portraying Himself as a polygamist, you are reading way too much into that. Note that God says He is married to the nations of Israel and Judah, who are not represented as just any two women, but sisters (Jer. 3:8)! Yet the Law explicitly says that a man is not to marry two sisters while both are living (Lev. 18:18). So, would you also say that we are free to marry two sisters because God metaphorically portrays Himself as doing just that?
Keaton said, “And since God gave us norms for marriage in the created order as Jesus taught (Mark 10:6–9), then He doesn't have to step in and rebuke someone for violating those norms—they should already know better.” But clearly either David didn’t know that polygamy was a sin, or he completely disregarded God’s commands, because he had many wives! As king, David was required to make a copy of the Law and keep it with him constantly and read it as long as he lived (Deut 17:18-19), so he definitely should have known better, if, indeed, polygamy is a sin. But 1 Kings 15:4-5 says, “Nevertheless for David’s sake the Lord his God maintained his dynasty in Jerusalem by giving him a son to succeed him and by protecting Jerusalem. He did this because David had done what he approved [Heb “what was right in the eyes of the Lord.”] and had not disregarded any of his commandments [Heb “and had not turned aside from all which he commanded him.”] his entire lifetime, except for the incident involving Uriah the Hittite.” So clearly, David wasn’t living as a polygamist in open disregard to God’s commands!
Keaton must argue that not only was David ignorant of God’s commands, but that God not only chose never to send a prophet or priest to correct or rebuke David for his polygamy, he also ignored/excused David’s sin of polygamy in 1 Kings 15:4-5. If, per 1 Kings 15:4-5, David had done what God approved and had not disregarded any of his commandments his entire lifetime, except the incident with Uriah, then either polygamy is not a sin, or God ignored/excused David’s sin because it’s not held against him in this passage. It’s ridiculous to suggest that David was ignorant of his sin his whole life and God never corrected him and then ignored/excused this lifelong sin.
David was generally righteous, but not perfect. We can't understand 1 Kings 15:4–5 to mean that David committed no other sins, because the Bible records other sins he committed like when he took a census in 2 Samuel 24. I also wouldn't regard it as a "lifelong sin" since the error is in acquiring multiple wives, not in the continuance of the marital covenant once established.
@Keaton Halley. Your reference to Deut. 17:17 is a very weak example since it comes directly after Deut. 17:16 which states:
Only he must not acquire many horses for himself...
So, are we to assume that people shouldn't have many horses either? Of course not.
Here's something that should help shed the brightest light on this and which exposes your line of reasoning. Let's take homosexuality. If the Bible never condemned it then we could certainly still conclude it was wrong simply by it being against God's obvious design. This is one of your arguments that we could still tell it was wrong even without it being spoken against. And that's certainly true. Except, let's say that homosexuality was never spoken out against anywhere, but we saw that the Bible showed many prophets and holy men engaging explicitly in homosexual acts and there was no mention anywhere that it was wrong. And God said of these men that they did right in the sight of the Lord. Would you still conclude that homosexuality was wrong or would you be forced to change your opinion?
Think carefully about this. Because both polygamy and homosexuality are considered, per your belief, to be sexually immoral acts. Certainly, if God's prophets were engaging openly in homosexual acts then he would have condemned it. And so he would certainly do so also for polygamy as it is equally, according to your belief, a sexually immoral act.
The reason Deacons and Bishops are singled out on the multiple wives issue is more likely so that they can be more able to do the work of the Lord and minister to God's people, which would be much more difficult with many wives.
I love CMI, but it is a perceived weakness that you cannot admit when you are wrong on anything.
We can, and have, admitted to being wrong on things. But you are not accurately representing how we've argued. I was not using Deut. 17:17, for example, as a universal condemnation of polygamy. Rather, the verse is aimed at kings, which David was. And that verse by itself may not prohibit having two or three wives, but it does assert that kings should not have "many". It certainly does apply to horses and silver and gold as well. Israelite kings who piled up horses and wealth for themselves were in violation of these laws. So the question is where to draw the line. David had quite a few wives and I think he crossed it. But I was using this verse as a supporting argument in a larger case, not definitive in and of itself.
Regarding your analogy with homosexuality, it fails on three counts. One, you've admitted that we can tell from the created order that something is wrong—although, you first say that would be enough and then immediately suggest it might not be. Which is it? Two, there is more than just the created order that indicates polygamy is wrong, because it is an assumed norm throughout Scripture as we've highlighted. Three, as I've said, polygamy is not as egregious a sin as homosexuality and is of a different nature. A significant difference is that same-sex marriage is not a true marriage at all and is a relationship which God would always want to cease, while we've said that in cultures which practice polygyny, those are genuine marriages which should not be dissolved once established.
Polygamy is a topic my wife has often asked me about — and complained about!
So thanks to Keaton Halley, and also to the various commenters, for a very helpful in-depth exploration of this issue.
To the best of my understanding, the parable of the 10 virgins is highly unlikely to implicate polygamy for the following reason: at the end of the parable, the bridegroom is telling the 5 'foolish' virgins to stay out because they did not make it to the wedding feast on time.
Now I understand kicking out guests who fail to make it on time but would you really kick out the women you were suppose to marry even if they were late. Since they were kept out, they were unlikely to be brides in the first place. Therefore no endorsement of polygamy there.
And thank you to CMI for producing this article refuting polygamy.
It is pretty simple to me. One wife is enough. I can't think of a more simpler example than this: if I am fighting with wife #1, then I can just run to wife #2 for comfort.
However, I'm pretty sure God's plan is that wife #1 and I resolve our differences, learn to compromise, learn to love and respect the other more than self, and keep it one-on-one. Anything else is immature.
Keaton/CMI, please answer this question: Is polygamy a sin, yes or no? If yes then please provide Scripture reference where God declares it to be a sin, such as where he clearly declares homosexuality, adultery, bestiality, and other detestable actions as sin. Also, please explain how a holy righteous God could allow, regulate, and even command polygamy (Levirate Law) if it is sinful? If polygamy is not sin, then please define this third category you’ve created that isn’t “as drastic a departure from the biblical ideal as same-sex marriage, but it is nevertheless a departure.” Isn’t any departure sin? Without a command from God, then isn’t this is a Romans 14 situation where you are standing in judgement of your brothers and sisters who believe that polygamy is acceptable per God’s word? Also, it seems like this topic doesn’t fall within CMI’s mandate.
CMI’s position is that Genesis 2:24 teaches monogamy. If this position was correct, then polygamy would be sin, period. If the monogamy interpretation is correct, and if sexual relations are only allowed in the context of marriage (which I think we all agree on), then any sexual relations other than between ONE man and ONE woman in a marriage relationship would be sinful. Think about it! Any other marriage/sexual combination would be sinful. Hence two men, two women, a man with more than one woman, a woman with more than one man, or a woman or man with an animal would be sinful. Also, sex between ONE man and ONE women who aren’t married, would be sinful. These combinations are all declared sinful in the Bible except for ONE man with MULTIPLE wives! Homosexuality, adultery, and bestiality were all sins punishable by death, why not polygamy? Why did God never rebuke any of the righteous polygamists for being polygamous?
I'm saying it generally is sinful to marry more than one wife, although there could be exceptions as discussed. As I explained in another response to a comment, we can deduce that certain things are wrong from Scripture, even if the Bible doesn't directly say "this is a sin"—like getting high on marijuana.
Notice that God never rebuked Jacob for marrying two sisters, but the Law later declared that this was sinful (Lev. 18:18), and this seems to be the sort of thing that was wrong even before it was codified. The Bible never explicitly denounces concubinage either, so does that make this practice acceptable?
As I said, I don't think polygamy was as serious a sin as adultery or homosexuality. The Bible is quite clear that some sins are worse than others (e.g., John 19:11). And since God gave us norms for marriage in the created order as Jesus taught (Mark 10:6–9), then He doesn't have to step in and rebuke someone for violating those norms—they should already know better.
To me, the question is very simple: Does the Bible ever forbid a man from having more than one wife? The answer is no. Unfortunately many Christians have the penchant of putting words into God's mouth. That's called adding to God's words.
With that being said though, it's obvious that the best thing is for a man to only have one wife. One man, one woman. It's also true that Paul commanded that a pastor or deacon should have one, and only one wife. I think it's also true that it's a good thing for any man to aspire to be qualified to be a deacon in a local assembly. Therefore it's a good thing to limit yourself to one wife.
But the Bible never forbids men to have two wives and to say that it does is, as I pointed out, adding to God's words. I don't care how you try to justify it.
It's not good, that's correct. It's not the best, that's also correct. But don't try say that God forbids it. He doesn't.
The Bible doesn't give us an exhaustive list of every sin, so God doesn't have to explicitly forbid something for us to work out from Scripture that it's wrong. The Bible never explicitly forbids using heroin either, but it gives us principles from which we deduce that this is wrong.
God tells us to be under the gov'ts authority unless it violates His commands and so we are not to have multiple wives. It's also a bad idea because our women are going to be harmed by such unions and we don't want to hurt our wife/wives. However, although there are places where it speaks of a single wife, it is undeniable that God approved of multiple wives.
First, God never condemned this practice even though most of his prophets and holy men had multiple wives. And he only said things such as they did everything that was right in the sight of the Lord. If having multiple wives was wrong then he certainly would have told them to stop.
Second, and most important, there is scripture where God actually gives multiple wives to King David as a blessing.
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.
2 Samuel 12:7-9
The Lord says that he gave David his master's wives (plural) into his arms. Then He rebukes him for striking down Uriah the Hittite. If multiple wives is wrong in God's eyes then he would never give multiple wives to David as a blessing.
Deacons & Bishops must also only have one wife. If it was wrong then why single out deacons/bishops? That's like saying a Deacon mustn't be a murderer. Well, of course not because murdering is wrong to begin with.
I'm not sure it's true that "most" of the godly men in the OT were polygamists. Many were not, and many of those who had multiple wives generally experienced significant family strife as a result.
As for 2 Samuel 12:8, notice that God is speaking of how he gave King Saul's wives to David. The emphasis is on David's inheritance of Saul's possessions, not on the goodness of multiplying wives per se. In fact, the passage may only speak of the wives being at David's disposal, not that he necessarily married all or any of them. The Law told kings explicitly not to "acquire many wives" (Deut. 17:17).
The reason church leaders are singled out in 2 Timothy 3 is that they are to be exemplars. Most of the qualifications listed are what all Christians should aspire to, but leaders must actually demonstrate those things. So, it's incorrect to think that monogamy is only the norm for leaders, just as 'not being a drunkard' is a requirement for all, even though it's also listed among the qualifications for overseers and deacons (2 Timothy 3:3, 8).
God may allow certain practices that were contrary to his will but he never approved them.The saints of old were not perfect. God did not approve of Satan's lying to Adam and Eve but he certainly allowed it because of Satan's free will, and man's free will to have a choice. So just because polygamy was allowed does not mean it was approved.
Many of the great men of the Bible were subject to like passions as we are, and the Bible records with equal candor and frankness their faults as well as their virtues. Somehow we forget the saints of old were men of like passions as we are, but in our tendency toward man-worship, we begin to weave “halos” about the heads of the saints as though they were faultless. Yet the Bible gives no encouragement for such reasoning, but instead points out the depravity of all men in order to exalt the grace of God. The Bible was not written to exalt human nature, nor to canonize the godly patriarchs and saints; on the contrary, it was written to show us the utter depravity of man and to reveal the matchless grace of God, by recording the sins, mistakes and errors of those whom he saves by his grace. And the greater the sinner, the more it exalts the grace of God.
Are we seeking Truth or confirmation for living as we desire. After all if the Bible is contradictory on this can it be trusted in all areas? The Bible only becomes unclear when we disagree. Thank you CMI for staying with Biblical truths with gentleness and respectful answers.
Long before kings ruled Israel, God instructed them in Deuteronomy 17:17 not to “multiply wives,” or not to take “many wives.” In the verses immediately following, these kings were directed to make their own copy of the law for daily reading so that they would continue to fear and to obey God. Sadly, history shows that disobedience brought great harm to these kings, their families, and the nation as a whole.
I think it is also worth noting that in just about all of the high profile accounts of people engaging in polygamy in the Bible, e.g. Jacob, King David and King Solomon, polygamy causes big problems for them. The Bible doesn't need to directly say 'polygamy is wrong'; it has given us enough examples of the issues it causes.
The Bible is absolutely clear on marriage being between one man and one woman. We do see all kinds of situations crop up in the Old Testament but they are clearly not God's ideal and we should also be clear (unlike the ebook alluded to) that we are no longer under the Mosaic Covenant with Jesus having released us from the Law by fulfilling it. That doesn't mean we throw it out as we understand the Bible as a complete book but it means we understand the Law in light of Jesus. The author of the ebook is flawed in a number of ways but I'd also add that what any author says should only be considered in the light of the Bible and not taken as face value. We don’t use the Bible to affirm a belief we have but to guide our beliefs. When interpreting the Bible, absolute 'literal' interpretation can be wrong (as has been done in the feedback with figurative passages wrongly being used as literal passages). Instead, as has been well pointed out on this site, we understand the Bible plainly - understanding and interpreting passages as God meant them to be understood. With polygamy there is no place where God states that this is his intention for marriage or that it is his ideal. The Bible starts with one man and one woman and ends with one bride and one bridegroom. Like the gay marriage issue, polygamous marriage will open up further chaos and confusion within our already broken world. The alternative is to see and speak God's Word as he does. This is the only source of real truth and wholeness.
It would be fair to assume that God has organized human parents to produce equal numbers of male and female offspring. The actual split is very close to 50:50.
If God approved of polyandry, polygyny and various forms of same-sex and group marriages it would also be fair to assume that He would have arranged the ratio of M:F births appropriately.
He did not.
I think Keaton's response totally settles it. But if it's still not clear, think about this. God says in Genesis 2 “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” How then could it be that God would consider it a good thing for a man to marry multiple women which can only mean that many men must have to live their lives without a helper fit for them? The man/woman ratio is about 1:1, after all.
Or just consider the words of Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Polygamy causes great sorrow for the women involved; they are hardly ever loved equally. And also for the men who won't be able to find a wife to share their life with because of this. Where's the love in that? How could God's Law ever allow that, except in exceptional circumstances where it actually would be an act of love, because the alternative would be even worse?
Or just think for a second about how you would feel if you had to share your wife with multiple men. Wouldn't a woman feel the same about sharing a husband? Would our loving God really think that's a good idea? Of course not!
There are many 'Jims' out there who are looking at the second and third level of message behind a Bible text. They are not satisfied with..'oh, that was a nice Bible reading' after the sermon and can't get a deeper explanation. Then we, I am one of them, are siting on two chairs and try to saw our 'unshrunken' worldly understanding onto the established meaning of the biblical text. But:
"If there is a desire, there is CMI to satisfy this desire."