Frequently the most useful books on the Bible feature a scripture index. If you want to know what the writer says about a particular verse, you look it up in the index and find where it is in the book. You don’t have to read the whole book. This makes it useful for reference as well as a potential good read. Here is the first internet scripture index on polygamy. It will improve as time goes on, but it will start by listing what this site says about particular verses, and will include others where this is allowed by their authors.
The Bible is not just a big book, but a big library of books – if you know of a verse or point about a verse that should be covered here, let us know by emailing email@example.com
2 vv 23-24 God made a woman from Adam’s rib. He gave her to Adam as his wife. She was naked and not ashamed.
Sometimes, those who teach monogamy say that this shows God’s original intention or ideal form of marriage. But curiously they are only talking about the fact that Adam married one wife. They insist that this text means we should each have only one wife because Adam did, but they do not insist that she be made from our ribs, that she should be directly and miraculously given by God, or that she should be naked.
Another way of looking at it would be that God made Adam marry every woman who was around – because that is what happened. If we tried to do that today we would all have to be polygamists, and we might find it a hard rule to follow.
So – God gave Adam one wife, and God made Adam marry all the available women. Which rule do we follow? Why?
Perhaps we should not follow either because they are not scriptural rules at all. The only rule we can take from this passage is the one that Christ drew from it – that men should not separate what God has joined together. Any other rule that doesn’t have scriptural backing is just an invention of man.
We know that Genesis does not give us all the possible options for mankind because Adam didn’t have the option of celibacy that is found elsewhere in the Bible. Adam was commanded to “go forth and multiply”. One wife may well have been what God intended for Adam, but he might have something different in mind for you. If we accept that, unlike Adam and Eve, this could be celibacy, then that also means that, unlike Adam and Eve, it could be polygamy.
Those who teach that monogamy is the only way to live need to explain how they can do that without banning celibacy, without allowing incest, without promoting nudism, without saying that a man should marry every single woman who is available, and even without requiring that men can only marry someone miraculously formed from the material in one of their ribs. If they cannot explain why they pick one of these rules without accepting the others then we may think that there is no good reason to accept what they say about the text teaching monogamy.
These verses are sometimes used to defend monogamy, on the basis that God made two into “one flesh” and that you cannot be “one flesh” with more than one person.
These verses are quoted in 1 Corinthians 6 vv15-17 to establish that “he that is joined to an harlot is one body” and to compare with “he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit”. The same passage talks of how bad it is to take the “members of Christ” and make them “members of an harlot”. So the “one flesh” concept is not limited to marriage but can also apply to sex with a prostitute. As prostitutes tend to have sex with more than one man, it follows that they are “one flesh” with more than one person. Just as this can apply with these immoral relations outside marriage, so it can also apply within marriage to instances where there is more than one wife.
So, either those who insist on monogamy must claim that Paul was talking about the world’s first monogamous prostitute, or they must accept that you can be “one flesh” with more than one person. But if they accept that, then it is clear that it cannot be an argument against polygamy.
And, as if that was not enough, the passage then says that the ‘One-ness’ of Spirit that a Christian has when joined to the Lord is comparable to the ‘one-ness’ of flesh that a man has with a woman, which is why it is important that it should be pure. But I am joined to the Lord, and many other Christians are joined to the Lord. The concept of One-ness or unity does not prevent the Lord from being One Spirit with many millions of individuals, and therefore does not prevent a man from being one flesh with more than one wife.
4 v 19 Lamech, first recorded polygamist.
Lamech is descended from worldly Cain, not godly Seth. He is perhaps not the best of characters, and he is the first man recorded as having two wives. Some argue that according to a rule of biblical interpretation called “the rule of first mention”‘, the first occurrence of a word, expression or utterance is the key to its meaning, and that as the first polygamist was a murderer, polygamy is bad.
However there is no Biblical text which declares this rule of first mention, or even one that demonstrates a man of the Bible using it.
Secondly, this alleged rule is not used for polygamy the way it is used for other things. There is no word, expression or utterence that is spoken of here, and to which a ‘rule of first mention’ could apply, even if it did exist. ‘Polygamy’ is an ancient practice, but a modern concept. We are the people who think it matters whether a man has one wife or two. To everyone in the Bible it was just ‘marriage’. The term was not there to be defined.
The argument is of course open to abuse. Should we think the first instance is the key to understanding? If so, men are incomplete without women. Yet Jesus and Paul allowed for some men to be celibate. If the rule of first mention operates then perhaps every man should marry all the available women in the world or at least the first one he finds, for that is what marriage is all about if we follow this ‘rule’ – as that is what happened the first time.
And finally on this point, the “rule” tells you whatever you want to hear. Those who insist on monogamy emphasize the fact that Lamech was a killer and a polygamist. But the first murderer was monogamous Cain – does that mean that the essence of murder is monogamy? They will portray Lamech’s declaration about his killing as a boastful act, but will they consider that Lamech was prosperous, and that his sons were creative pioneers.
In any event, the Bible doesn’t claim that Lamech introduced polygamy. For all we know, Seth could have been the first polygamist. This argument assumes that polygamy is a big issue, which is quite a monogamist assumption. In the Old Testament, where polygamy was freely accepted, it would not be unusual for the real first polygamist just not to get a mention.
Further evidence to support this comes from the description of Lamech’s sons. Each is the ‘father’ or originator of this or that activity. But is Lamech recorded as the father of polygamists? No! Just at the time when the origins of behaviour are being discussed in the Bible, it fails to mention Lamech as the originator of polygamy, possibly because he wasn’t.
The “rule of first mention” is a double-edged sword. Lamech could be portrayed as a prosperous man with a talented family. He could be portrayed as a man who realised the enormity of his own actions and committed this realisation into poetic form. And then we could say ‘he was the first polygamist, you know – which goes to show that polygamy breeds prosperity, talent and culture’. The so-called ‘rule’ of first mention is whatever you want to make of it. That is why it is not scriptural to use it, for it reduces objective truth to subjective speculation.
16 v 3 Abraham, Sarah and Hagar
21 vv 9-21 God directed Abraham to send Hagar (his wife who was a slave) away.
When Abraham sent Hagar away, he did not sell her as a slave to anyone else, but set her free. This was later given as a law in Exodus 21 v 8 and in Deuteronomy 21 vv 10-14.
25 v 6 Abraham, Keturah, and other concubines – Oh yes, Father Abraham had many sons, all right, and plenty of wives too.
26 v 34 Esau, Judith and Bashemath
28 v 9 Esau and Mahalath
29 vv 9-30 Jacob, Rachel and Leah
30 vv 1-6 Jacob, and his concubines Bilhah and Zilpah – concubinage and plural marriage blessed by God.
20 v 14 “Thou shall not commit adultery” – Some people suggest that polygamous marriages are adulterous.
The Online Bible gives na’aph (Strongs 05003) as the word used for adultery, in fact the only word used for adultery in the Old Testament. In this passage the word is used according to the Qal verb pattern (getting technical, isn’t it?). This means, according to the Hebrew Lexicon, “adultery, usually of man, always with the wife of another, of women”. It is also translated “women who break wedlock”. John Gill, in his exposition of the Bible, although he does not support polygamy, has to concede of the word that “strictly speaking [it] is only that sin which is committed with another man’s wife”. Hence the idea conveyed by scripture is that the act which is condemned is sexual intercourse with another man’s wife. The marital status of the male adulterer is not an issue. It is the marital status of the woman that is most important. Adultery is a sin against the true husband, and it is committed by his wife as well as by his rival.
If the woman concerned is not married to anybody, this is treated differently. In the Old Testament if you committed adultery you got the death penalty. For the lesser offence of sex with an unmarried woman you got life (!), meaning of course that you were compelled to marry the woman concerned and could never divorce her (see Deuteronomy 22v28). So if a married man had an affair with a married woman they would both be put to death. If he had an affair with an unmarried woman he had to marry her – God’s law required him to become a polygamist.
Simply put, the Bible’s rules on adultery are different from the ideas that many Christians have about them. They place different restrictions on men than on women, as the Bible does in other places, and they ensure that if the rules are broken, then both parties are guilty of the same offence and receive the same punishment. The rules are what we would expect to find if God allowed polygamy and if it was legitimate behaviour. They are not what we would expect if the strict monogamous viewpoint had any credibility. Adultery happens when a woman breaks her marriage contract. This does not happen when a man takes a second wife, for that wife is then honouring her marriage contract. The second woman is truly a wife in the eyes of God, because it is God’s law that required men to take second wives in these and other circumstances. Christ fulfilled the law when he added that a man that put away his wife and took another was himself guilty of adultery. He had then broken his wife’s marriage contract by depriving her of her rights and her position, and often, due perhaps to the economics of the time, the woman was forced to find another man in order to survive, causing her to commit adultery. The Bible is therefore very clear about adultery. The Biblical view of adultery supports polygamy and even requires it, and it is only polygamy that can allow a man to take another wife, without committing adultery himself.
Another difficulty with imagining that polygamy is adultery is that, according to 1 Cor 6 v 9-10 adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God, yet in Hebrews 11 and 12 we read of a list of people including many polygamists. (Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, and David) who died in faith, desiring “a better country, that is a heavenly one – therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11 v 16). Polygamy cannot be adultery for these men of God will inherit the kingdom of God, yet according to those who insist on monogamy they die as unrepentant adulterers which, if it were true, would prevent them from inheriting the kingdom of God.
20 v 17
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” Notice the commandment is limited to a neighbour’s wife (not a neighbour’s husband) but includes both sexes when it talks about servants. This shows that the Bible sees it as legitimate for a single woman to desire to marry a man who is already married. Of course, the Bible does not allow divorce just so that her desire can be fulfilled, but it did allow polygamy, which would allow a legitimate desire to be legitimately fulfilled.
21 v 8 Establishes the rules for slaves who became wives, similar to the rule in Deuteronomy 21 vv 10-14.
This rule was part of the law, but is also what God directed for Abraham and Hagar. (Genesis 21 vv 9-21)When Abraham sent Hagar away, he did not sell her as a slave to anyone else, but set her free.
21 v 10
The law requires a man to provide his wife with food, clothing and marital rights. He was not allowed to diminish these if he took a second wife.
18 v 18 The law prevents a man from taking his wife’s sister to be her “rival wife” while she was still living.
20 v 14 The law prevents a man from marrying a woman as well as her mother.
1 v 46 Records the number of Israelite fighting men as 603, 550. See also ch 3 vv 40-43 for relevance.
3 vv 40-43 records that there were 22,273 firstborn sons.
This means that there were 22,273 families (since a family cannot have more than one firstborn son). But as Ch 1 v 46 records that there were a total of 603,550 fighting men, we have to distribute them among 22,273 families, or an average of 27 men per family. Unless you believe that the average Israelite woman gave birth to 27 children (unlikely!) who were all male (also unlikely) then you must accept that the average Israelite man had enough wives to give birth to 27 boys and whatever number of girls came inbetween. Consequently, polygamy was not rare in ancient Israel, it was in fact extrememly widespread. (Thanks to J. Wesley Stivers for this – more of his writings here)
17 v 17 Kings of Israel weren’t supposed to “multiply wives” to themselves.
The Bible does not define multiplying, but shows God giving wives to David when, after Saul’s death, God gave his wives “into his bosom” (2 Samuel 12vv7&8). God gave plural wives to David, yet people say polygamy is sinful. Can God sin or be an accessory to sin?
The limitation on the Kings of Israel is not then so much a statement of an ideal, but more of a constitutional limitation on power – God could give them more wives, but they couldn’t multiply them unto themselves.
The passage also says the King shouldn’t multiply horses or silver and gold, but no-one suggests that the law meant that the King should have only one horse, or only one piece of silver or gold. In fact, the rest of the passage reads like a constitutional document, limiting the choice of the King to God, the nationality of the King to Israel, and prescribing some things he could not do and other things that he had to do as King. So, God seems to have encouraged David’s polygamy and any restrictions on it may be seen as constitutional limitations on power, especially given the historical role of marriages and polygamy in the forming of political alliances.
21 vv 10-14 Establishes the rules for slaves who became wives, similar to the rule in Exodus 21 v 8.
This rule was part of the law, but if also what God directed for Abraham and Hagar. (Genesis 21 vv 9-21)When Abraham sent Hagar away, he did not sell her as a slave to anyone else, but set her free.
21 vv 15-17 The law ensures that a firstborn boy gets a double portion of the inheritance.
This would happen even if his father loves another of his wives more than the boy’s mother.
22 vv 28-29 The law protects unmarried women.
If a man had sex with an unmarried virgin, the law compelled him to marry her, and therefore to provide the food, clothes and marital rights mentioned before. And he couldn’t divorce her, so the protection was guaranteed for life. (Deuteronomy 22 vv 28-29). The Bible does not make any distinction between married and single men. So, if he was married, and he had an affair with a single woman, then the law demanded he become a polygamist.
23 v 2 Illegitimate offspring were not able to enter the congregation of Israel for ten generations.
If polygamy was sinful, and the children therefore illegitimate, then the entire congregation of Israel would not have been able to enter the congregation of Israel, as Jacob was a polygamist and his children from whom all the twelve tribes come, were the fruit of polygamous relationships. Also, David had at least 6 or 7 wives before Bathsheba, and she was Solomon’s mother – so if polygamy was wrong, then Solomon, King of Israel and ancestor of Jesus, couldn’t be part of the congregation of Israel. These difficulties can easily be avoided by acknowledging that polygamy is not wrong after all.
25 vv 5-10 The Levirate
The law provides security for widows without children by requiring the dead man’s brother to marry the woman and raise up children. The text does not limit the rule only to men who are single. Scholars accept that married men would be required to be polygamous by this command of God. It is important that it applies to those already married, for the story of the kinsman-redeemer in Ruth establishes the biblical idea of redemption. Christ can redeem a sinner’s debt, and this involves union with Christ, even though he has already redeemed someone else’s debt and been united to them.
A failure to marry the widow of a brother without children appears to have been tantamount to a breach of contract. It is presented as a duty which has not been honoured, and the man who will not perform the levirate has one of his sandals removed and the widow spits in his face, saying ‘This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.’ (See Deut. 25 vv 5-10). This may seem odd, but Ruth 4 vv 7-12 shows that contracts where property was exchanged were finalised by the exchange of sandals. For the brother who would not perform the levirate, this meant he was stigmatised as someone who did not do his duty or keep his side of the bargain.
The Levirate provided a man with a choice between polygamy and a social stigma ordained by God. The levirate therefore appears to promote polygamy – this was not simply an example of God not liking polygamy but tolerating it – he was encouraging it.
8 v 30 Gideon and his “many wives”
4 vv 1-13 The story of the kinsman-redeemer in Ruth establishes the biblical idea of redemption.
Christ can redeem a sinner’s debt, and this involves union with Christ, even though he has already redeemed someone else’s debt and been united to them.
1 v 2 Elkanah has two wives, Hannah and Peninah. Hannah gives birth to the prophet Samuel.
13 v 14 David was said to be a man after God’s own heart.
If plural marriage is in opposition to God’s will and divine pattern then he was consciously living in sin for the majority of his life. If polygamy was wrong, how could God say that David was a man after his God’s own heart? See 1 Kings 15 v 5
18 v 27 David and Michal
3 vv 2-5 David and Ahinoam, Abigail, Maacah, Haggith, Abital, and Eglah
5 vv 12-13
“David perceived that Jehovah had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for his people Israel’s sake, and David took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem.” David again fails to notice what many claim to see so clearly. He takes wives as a reward from God. (See below for ch 12 vv 7-8)
11 v 27 David and Bathsheba
12 vv 7-8
David and Saul’s widows. The prophet Nathan tells David that God had given David his (dead) master’s wives, and goes on to say that if that hadn’t been enough, God would have given him more. It is worth remembering that this is said during criticism for committing adultery with Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife. David had at least seven other wives, apart from Bathsheba, and here God was claiming responsibility for giving David wives. If plural wives can be a gift of God, it is clear that polygamy is not sinful and indeed that God has actively encouraged it. God gave plural wives to David, yet people say polygamy is sinful. Can God sin or be an accessory to sin?
11 vv 1-3
Solomon’s three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines, but it is objected not that he took many wives, but that he took unbelieving wives.
15 v 5 During the life of King David he married at least seven wives.
Yet God says “Because David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from any thing that He commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” If plural marriage is wrong, then why did God fail to include it in the complete list of David’s wrongs? Must one add to the Bible because God overlooked something, or was God correct in saying that “David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord?”
2 v 46-48 Caleb is recorded as having two concubines.
This is despite the fact that he was one of only two men of his generation allowed to enter the promised land (Joshua being the other). God did not appear to hold his polygamy against him.
7 vv 1-4 The sons of Issachar were very numerous “for they had many wives and sons”.
4 v 5 Ashur had two wives, Helah and Naarah
28 v 5 David claims that God has given him many sons.
Those who insist on monogamy would say in fact that those children were the fruit of adultery and therefore illegitimate.
11 v 17-23 Rehoboam had 18 wives and sixty concubines.
He took them when he was being a good king, walking in the ways of his father for 3 years.
13 v 21 Abijah had 14 wives.
24 v 3 Joash had two wives chosen for him by Jehoida the priest.
13 v 26 Solomon is criticised again, not for taking many wives, but for taking foreign, unbelieving wives.
2 vv 2-4 Esther was, at best, the second wife of a polygamist.
27 v 15 Talks of a man whose “widows shall not weep”.
Song of Solomon
6 v 8 The Shulamite is praised by the ‘threescore queens, fourscore concubines and virgins without number’.
This shows that this poem about marital love is about Solomon’s relationship with his 141st wife.
4 v1 God predicts an end time when seven women would want to marry one man.
There is no indication that such a marriage would be bad.
3 vv 6-10 God portrays himself as a polygamist.
If God can portray himself as a polygamist and God is sinless, can polygamy be wrong?
31 vv 31-32 God portrays himself as a polygamist, again.
If God can portray himself as a polygamist and God is sinless, can polygamy be wrong?
23 God portrays himself as a polygamist, yet again, married to Jerusalem and Samaria.
If God can portray himself as a polygamist and God is sinless, can polygamy be wrong?
2 vv 14-16 Some teach that this passage condemns polygamy.
As can be seen in verse 16, treachery against the wife of your youth is “putting away” your wife, not polygamy.
5 vv 17-20 Christ says that he has not come to abolish the law and the prophets.
The law, which Christ did not destroy, allowed and regulated polygamy. A wife was owed duties of food, clothing and marital rights, and this protection was still to be provided if her husband took a second wife (Exodus 21 v 10). The law prevented her husband from marrying her mother, or from marrying another of her sisters, to be a rival wife, while she was still alive. (Leviticus 20 v 14 and Leviticus 18 v 17). The law ensured that a firstborn child maintained his superior rights of inheritance, even if his father preferred another of his wives to the child’s mother (Deuteronomy 21 vv 15-17). The law limited the power of the King so that he couldn’t “multiply wives to himself” (Deuteronomy 17 v 17). As can be seen elsewhere on this site, this is a law that allows and regulates polygamy.
The law, which Christ did not destroy, actually commanded polygamy in certain circumstances. If a man died without children then his brother was obliged to marry the widow. (Deuteronomy 25 vv 7-10). There is nothing to suggest that this was limited to single brothers, and it is important that it applies to those already married, for the story of the kinsman-redeemer in Ruth establishes the biblical idea of redemption. Christ can redeem a sinner’s debt, and this involves union with Christ, even though he has already redeemed someone else’s debt and been united to them.
As well as this, the Bible also provides protection to unmarried women. If a man had sex with an unmarried virgin, the law forced him to marry her, and therefore to provide the food, clothes and marital rights mentioned before. And he couldn’t divorce her, so the protection was guaranteed for life. (Deuteronomy 22 vv 28-29). Again there is nothing in the Bible to indicate that there was any difference made by the man being married. So, if he was married, and he had an affair with a single woman, then the law demanded he become a bigamist. Imagine the effect this would have today – promises to marry would have to be kept, and so deceit in relationships would necessarily be reduced.
Christ also did not destroy the prophets. We also find references to polygamy in the words of the prophets. In 2 Samuel 12 vv 7-8 the prophet Nathan tells David that God had given David his (dead) master’s wives, and goes on to say that if that hadn’t been enough, God would have given him more. It is worth remembering that this is said during criticism for committing adultery with Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife. David had at least seven other wives, apart from Bathsheba, and here God was claiming responsibility for giving David wives. If plural wives can be a gift of God, it is clear that polygamy is not sinful and indeed that God has actively encouraged it. We learn that from the prophet Nathan, and Christ came to fulfil the prophets.
Isaiah the prophet spoke the words of God in predicting an end time when seven women would want to marry one man, with no indication that such a marriage would be bad. (Isaiah 4 v1). This is perhaps explained by reference to Ezekiel 23 where there are two interesting points of note. Firstly God portrays himself as a polygamist husband of both Jerusalem and Samaria (represented as different wives). If God can portray himself as a polygamist and God is sinless, can polygamy be wrong? Would this portrayal of polygamy be compounded, as it is in Jeremiah 3 vv 6-10 and 31 vv 31-32? Secondly, God divides the one Israel that had been represented as his wife into plural marriage partners. This is important later, as it is an example of Christ and the Church. Christ is one with the Church as a body, but he is also one with each individual member, as 1 Corinthians 6 vv 15-17 talks of the “members” of Christ being one Spirit with him. Hence Christians are One in the Church which is one with Christ, and they are also individually united to him. In this way, Christ really does fulfil the prophets with respect to polygamy.
19 v 12 Christ shows that some men are meant to be celibate.
It is not ideal for them to marry, although it may be for other people. This shows that there is no single ideal will of God for everyone as to marriage.
23 vv 1-33 Christ criticises the Pharisees, not for keeping the law, but for only paying attention to some of it.
They ignored the rest. Are people doing the same today if they ignore the polygamy in the Bible?
25 vv 1-13 The parable of the ten virgins, all of whom are waiting for a bridegroom.
When he comes, only five were ready and went into the marriage. The other five, it is revealed, were never known by him. Some teach that the parable is simply about bridesmaids, but the Bible does not call them that. It simply calls them virgins, and as such they were eligible to marry. In fact, who is going to marry the bridegroom, if not these women?
Monogamists are forced into the strange situation of talking about a wedding without a bride, a wedding where the point of interest is not the bride, but some bridesmaids. Given Paul’s teaching that we individually marry Christ (Romans 7 v 4; 1 Cor 6 vv 15-17; 2 Cor 11 v 2), it is clear that the five wise virgins represent believers who are watching and waiting for Christ, and that the five foolish virgins represent those in what we call “Christendom”, who take the name of Christian, but who do have the living faith through which they could become Christ’s – and so, as elsewhere in the Bible with such false professors, Christ tells them that he does not know them (Matt. 7 vv 21-23).
20 vv 27-38 This text shows that marriages end with death.
There is no such thing as “celestial marriage”. (See Til Death us do part)
8 vv 31-32, 36 When Christ makes us free we are free indeed.
How then can someone pretend that polygamy is banned when the Bible tells us we are free and does not ban polygamy.
14 v 26 The Spirit would teach the disciples all things, yet the Bible closes without any condemnation of polygamy.
How then could it be wrong – did they forget to teach what the Spirit told them?
5 v 13 “sin is not imputed when there is no law.” With no law against polygamy, how can it be sinful?
7 v 3 Polyandry (where a woman is married to two men at the same time) is unnacceptable.
7 v 4 Paul says that Christians (plural) have a spiritual marriage with Christ (singular).
This uses polygamous language to describe the unity of believers with Christ.
14 v 2 The greek for “his own” in this passage talks about a servant and “his own master”.
The same word is used later for a wife and “her own” husband. This 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.
6 vv 9-10 This teaches that adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Yet in Hebrews 11 and 12 we read of a list of people including many polygamists (Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, and David) who died in faith, desiring “a better country, that is a heavenly one – therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11 v 16). Therefore polygamy cannot be adultery, for these men of God will inherit the kingdom of God, yet according to those who insist on monogamy they die as unrepentant adulterers which, if it were true, would prevent them from inheriting the kingdom of God.
6 vv 15-17 This passage supports polygamy in two ways.
First it says that “he that is joined to an harlot is one body” and compares this with “he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit”. This establishes that you can be “one flesh” with more than one person, so the biblical statements that “the two shall be one flesh” does not mean that a man cannot become one flesh with a second wife.
Christ is one with the Church as a body, but he is also one with each individual member, as this passage talks of the “members” of Christ being one Spirit with him. Hence Christians are One in the Church which is one with Christ, and they are also individually united to him.
Secondly, the passage also talks of how it is bad to take the “members of Christ” and make them “members of an harlot”. It is clear that a harlot (a prostitute) is one body with more than one man, and it is clear that the Lord is one spirit with more than one Christian. That is therefore a polygamous union. It is clear that the Bible talks of Christians as the “members of Christ”. This is plural. In our unity we are still individual members, in the same way that a man and woman may experience physical union but remain as individuals.
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 for “her own” in this passage is used in Romans 14 v 2 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.
If each and every man and woman was to be allowed to marry so that sin could be avoided this requires polygamy, as some women cannot find a good Christian husband because they are already married. There simply are not enough to go round.
3 v 17 “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
If we are at liberty, how can polygamy be wrong for us, when there is no biblical law against it?
11 v 2 Includes both forms of talking about the church:-
1) As a polygamous union of many with one, as well as
2) A union of a corporate body (the church) with one.
“I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you a pure virgin.”
5 vv 30-32 The apostle presents each individual believer as united to Christ as one flesh
3 v 2 An overseer must be “the husband of one wife”. (See also the comments on 1 Timothy 5 v 9 for a vital point.)
In England bigamy moved from being a mere ecclesiastical offence to being a criminal matter in the reign of the same King James who had the Bible translated into an ‘Authorised Version’. It is perhaps unsurprising that this English translation supports an anti-polygamy reading of the text which may not be conclusive in the original languages. It is also unsurprising that the other English translations have followed the lead of the King James Version in this regard.
This requirement is not phrased in the negative (i.e. that they should not be the husband of more than one wife), and so it may not even be a prohibition for this group. It is talking about what they should be, rather than about what they should not be. If they have married one wife then they are qualified, but that doesn’t mean they cannot marry two.
There are varying interpretations of what the original greek is actually claiming. Some say the idea of faithfulness is being conveyed – “a one woman man”, and therefore that this bans adulterers and polygamists, but would allow for a single man. Others say it is a limit on polygamy, therefore accepting its lawfulness for the rest of the church.
Analysis of the Greek shows that the word for husband is usually translated man, and therefore the man’s married status is being highlighted when mentioned here, and later on when the desirability of him being a father is established. The fact that he is a married man is important, for it allows him to understand how Christ loves the Church which he, as an elder, is seeking to love. The fact that he is a parent is important, for he must first have successfully exercised a father’s loving authority over his children, before he does the same over the family of God.
The Greek word for “one” is also interesting as it can mean “a ” and “first”. This allows for the emphasis to be on the fact that he is a married man, or on the fact that he has not repudiated his first wife. Many men put away their first wife to take on a second and this is especially common today. Christ calls this adultery in Matthew 5 v 32 and 19 v 9, Mark 10 v 11, and Luke 16 v 18, so it’s pretty clear that it is not acceptable. It could be then that the passages which talk about elders and deacons are reiterating the rule that Christ laid down. It may seem strange that this re-emphasis is needed, but the other rules about elders and deacons include statements that they shouldn’t be greedy, drunken or “brawlers”. These things may have seemed obvious, but in an early church emerging from Jewish traditions and immoral Roman culture, with few fragments of God’s Word in circulation, they needed to be stated.
Hence the idea that an elder is being required to have at least one wife, and not to put her away when he took other wives, does have some credibility. The least that can be said is that there is considerable doubt that elders were required to be monogamous and that, even if they were, there is an implicit suggestion that polygamy was acceptable for the remainder of the church, and that what was ideal for elders was not necessarily the ideal for other christians. Christ is our ideal, yet he was celibate, and Christians are free to marry. It follows therefore that ideals do not limit Christian men with regard to the number of wives they may have.
3 v 12 A deacon must be “the husband of one wife”.
This could mean anything from a requirement that he be married, that he be not divorced or that he should not be a polygamist. See above for 1 Timothy 3 v 2 and below for 1 Timothy 5 v 9.
4 vv 1-3 “in the latter times some shall depart from the faith… forbidding to marry.”
If people forbid marriage (such as polygamy) where God has not forbidden marriage are they departing from the faith?
5 v 9 “Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man“.
Within pages of the “husband of one wife” texts we find its female equivalent, the wife of one husband, which helps us to resolve any dispute about its meaning. No-one suggests that this is a reference to polyandrous women, who would have had two husbands simultaneously, partly because there is no real record of such a problem, so why do they suggest that the qualifications for overseers are about polygamous men? As these phrases are equivalents used by the same author in the same letter, shouldn’t they be treated in the same way?
This passage gives another clue to the meaning of these texts, because both verses 3 and 5 of chapter 5 say she must be “a widow indeed” or “widows who are really widows“. The apostle appears to be saying that he is is not talking of older women, but of widows, women who had been married to a man, and the point is re-emphasised in verse 5. It is unsurprising then to find a further emphasis in verse 9 when the Bible talks of her being “the wife of a husband”. This seems to be an emphasis on the requirement that she had been married and widowed. Similarly the verses in chapter 3 and in Titus can be rendered “husband of a wife”, underlining a requirement that an overseer needs to have been married. Once he has met that qualification there is nothing to say how many wives he should have. Single men can serve God in many important leadership roles, but not in these particular roles in the local church.
1 v 6 An overseer must be “the husband of one wife”.
This could mean anything from a requirement that he be married, that he be not divorced or that he should not be a polygamist. See above for 1 Timothy 3 v 2 and for 1 Timothy 5 v 9.
11 v 16 According to 1 Cor 6 v 9-10 adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Yet in Hebrews 11 and 12 we read of a list of people including many polygamists (Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, and David) who died in faith, desiring “a better country, that is a heavenly one – therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he has prepared a city for them” . Polygamy cannot be adultery for these men of God will inherit the kingdom of God, yet according to those who insist on monogamy they dies as unrepentant adulterers which, if it were true, would prevent them from inheriting the kingdom of God.
13 v 4 Marriage should be held in honour and the marriage bed undefiled.
If polygamy was wrong, how could the writer to the Hebrews write this within two chapters of what he has just written about polygamists as men of faith? In fact Milton portrayed this as giving three options for sex. Either it was marriage, fornication or adultery – if polygamy was none of these, what was it?
2 v 23 Abraham is called the “Friend of God”, yet he was a polygamist all of his days (see Genesis 16 v 3 and 25 v 6).
How could he be a friend of God and an unrepentant polygamist if polygamy was wrong?