Polygamy in the Bible

The research presented at this site takes the position that if you believe the Bible then you have to be Poly-Positive.

This doesn’t mean you must marry a lot of wives. It means that the logical conclusion of your trust in the Bible is a belief that polygamy is presented as something that people can choose to practice without this being a sin. Whether or not you choose to do it is up to you. 

Now there is a chance you’ll disagree that believing in the bible means believing in polygamy. This page serves as an introduction to polygamy in the Bible. See the Scripture Index for a more comprehensive list.

 

Polygamy in the Old Testament

  • First Polygamist mentioned – Lamech in Genesis 4 v 19. Now, he was a descendant of Cain and he killed someone for wounding him. His bigamy, however, passes without adverse comment.
  • Abraham, the first Hebrew, and ancestor of all Israel, had three wives, namely Sarah and her servant Hagar (see Genesis 16 v 3), and Keturah, as well as a number of concubines (Genesis 25 v 6).
  • Esau, Abraham’s grandson, had three wives – Judith, Bashemath (Genesis 26 v 34) and Mahalath (Genesis 28 v 9)
  • Jacob, father of the twelve tribes of Israel had Rachel and Leah, who were sisters, as his wives, see Genesis 29, and their servants Bilhah and Zilpah in Genesis 30. Without these four wives there would be no Israel.
  • Gideon, mighty man of God and judge of Israel, who defeated the Midianites, and whose name is now used to distribute Bibles worldwide, had 70 sons, “for he had many wives” – Judges 8 v 30
  • In 1 Samuel 1 v 2 Elkanah has two wives, Hannah and Peninah. Hannah gives birth to the prophet Samuel.
  • King David, a man after God’s own heart, had plenty of wives, namely Michal in 1 Samuel 18 v 27, and Ahinoam, Abigail, Maacah, Haggith, Abital, and Eglah in 2 Samuel 3, and last but not least, Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 v 27. When condemned for committing adultery with Bathsheba, God reminds him of the many things he has given him, including “thy master’s wives into thy bosom…” (2 Samuel 12 vv 7&8). So it looks like God not only allowed polygamy but actively supported it.
  • Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, according to 1 Kings 11 v 3, but we’ll not list their names. He wrote the Song of Solomon, a celebrated poem about marital love, to his 141st wife (see Song of Solomon 6 v 8 )
  • Ashur had two wives, Helah and Naarah in 1 Chronicles 4 v 5.
  • Rehoboam had 18 wives and sixty concubines, making him another busy man, according to 2 Chronicles 11 v 21.
  • Abijah had 14 wives, see 2 Chronicles 13 v 21.
  • Joash had two wives chosen for him by Jehoida the priest according to 2 Chronicles 24 v 3.
  • In Jeremiah 3 vv 6-10 and 31 vv 31-32 God himself is portrayed as a polygamist.
  • In Ezekiel 23 God portrays himself as a polygamist, married to two sisters, Jerusalem and Samaria, who commit adultery against him.
  • The Old Testament had rules regulating polygamy and limiting its application in certain circumstances. Kings of Israel weren’t supposed to “multiply wives” to themselves according to Deuteronomy 17 v 17. You weren’t supposed to take a woman’s sister to be her “rival wife” while she was still living – Leviticus 18 v 18. And you weren’t to marry both a woman and her mother – Leviticus 20 v 14.
  • Polygamy was recognised and regulated by the Law of Moses. Just like normal marriage, polygamy has its fair share of problems, and the law intervenes in Deuteronomy 21 vv 15-17 to make sure that children get what they’re entitled to.

So we can see that Polygamy was practised without criticism in the Old Testament. In fact, it was regulated by law. It was legal and moral and was clearly within the limits of the law. Indeed, the Levirate practice of marrying the wife of a deceased brother in order to ensure the family line continued (Deuteronomy 25 vv 5&6) would require a man to be bigamous if he was already married.

Polygamy in the New Testament

Polygamy is allegedly not mentioned a great deal in the New Testament, but there are in fact a number of teachings and clarifications which are of assistance to the polygamist. Polygamy is not condemned or outlawed in the New Testament and the Old Testament practice is not changed in any way. For more detail see the page on the marriage of Christ and the Church.

  • Paul, the Apostle, in Romans 7 v 3, shows that Polyandry is unnacceptable. He says a woman who remarries whilst her husband is alive is an adulteress. No such comment is made about a man who has two wives.
  • In Romans 7 v 4 Paul tells the Christians “ye also are become dead to the Law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

Here the old English of the King James Version shows a vital difference in the Greek original that is lost in many translations. In modern English we use the word “you” both when we are referring to just one other person and when we are referring to two or more other people. Old English, like New Testament Greek, used one word when it was just one person (“thou”) and another word when it was two or more people (“ye”). So when Paul says “that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead” he is talking about plural marriage – many believers being married to their one Lord. This is the best example of polygamy that could be hoped for, and it’s there in the New Testament.

  • Whilst Paul advises in 1 Corinthians 7 v 2 “let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband”, the greek words used for “his own” and “her own” are different, and not just in gender, therefore allowing for the possibility that different rules apply to the different sexes, as polygamists suggest. In fact, the greek word for “her own” in this passage (idios) is used in Romans 14 v 4 to represent a servant and “his own” master. This shows that Paul could have used the same word twice in 1 Corinthians 7, but chose not to. And it also shows that a man belongs to his wife in the same sense as a master belongs to his servant. A servant can have only one master, and a master can have many servants. In the same way, a woman can have only one husband, but a man can have many wives.
  • In 1 Timothy 3 v 2 it is made clear that a bishop/elder/overseer, and in v12 a deacon, must be “the husband of one wife” and this is repeated in Titus 1 v 6. This restriction is not placed on any other member of the church, or indeed on anyone at all. The best a monogamist could hope for from this restriction is that while there were polygamists in the church body, these positions were to be restricted to those who had the experience of managing one family and the time to apply their skills to a second family, namely the family of God. However, there is a debate on these issues which allows for the possibility that the scriptures would authorise polygamy even for elders. For a further discussion of this point see the “objections” page. 
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One Response to Polygamy in the Bible

  1. No mention of the Parable of the Ten Virgins?

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