The vast majority of professing Christians today believe that the Bible teaches that monogamy is the only acceptable form of marriage and that polygamy violates God's law concerning marriage. But is this what the Bible teaches, or is this just a popular cultural opinion?
Within both secular and biblical history, and up to this present day and age, we find people entering into both monogamous and polygamous marriages for reasons of economics, cultural and social requirements, political alliances, procreation, sexual lust, and true love.
It is not the intent of this study to compare the merits of a monogamous or a polygamous martial relationship. This study is meant to clarify the legality of polygamy from the biblical perspective and answer some conceptual questions about the polygamous marital relationship.
Is Polygamy a Sin?
In order to determine if polygamy is a sin from the biblical perspective, one must first know what sin is and is not. Notice how sin is defined in the Bible:
"Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" (1.Jn.3:4 KJV).
"All unrighteousness is sin" (1.Jn.5:17 Para.). "Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Blessed is the one not condemning himself in what he approves. But the one doubting, if he eats, he has been condemned, because it is not of faithand all that is not of faith is sin" (Rom.14:22-23 Para.).
"Therefore, to anyone knowing to do good, and not doing it, it is sin to him" (Jms.4:17 Para.).
What Is Sin?
Sin is the violation of the physical and spiritual law of Godsin is lawlessness. Sin is any deviation from God's righteous laws, precepts, and principles that define how people should live and worship God.
The law reveals the standard of behavior with which all must comply, and its perfect system of justice demands the execution of all lawbreakers (Rom.3:20; 6:23). The law only determines guilt or innocence; it does not have the ability to restore harmony between God and humanity.
The law of God is perfect. Its precepts, principles, and value judgments are empirical and do not depend upon human validation.
No Law, No Sin
In his letter to the saints at Rome, the apostle Paul explained, "sin is not imputed when there is no law" (Rom.5:12‑13 KJV).
Is there a law in the Bible that prohibits polygamy? No. There is no such law found in the Bible. And where polygamous relationships are noted, there is nothing negative said about this form of marriage. However, there are many laws noted in scripture that regulate the polygamous marriage and there are also many scriptures that clearly show that polygamy does not violate God's law.
Polygamy Is Not Adultery
God's law dictates that sexual relationships between men and women is only sanctioned within a marital relationship. Sexual relationships between men and women outside of marriage fall within one of three broad categories: adultery, promiscuity, or rape.
Lawful polygamy is not adultery; it is a material relationship which is sanctioned and governed by God's law. Adultery is the result of a husband or a wife breaking the marriage contract. Adultery is an illegal relationship with someone other than the person to whom one is married. According to the letter of the law, polygamy is not adultery because there is a marriage agreement in place between the husband and each wife.
"Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge" (Heb.13:4 KJV).
POLYGAMY, PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
In order to show the validity of polygamous marriages for the elect of God under the gospel age agreement, it is necessary to review what the Bible says about its practice before the advent of Christ, during the early church era, and after Christ returns.
Polygamy in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament there are dozens of examples of men marrying and being married to more than one wife at a time. The patriarchs Abraham and Jacob are examples of righteous men who had several wives in order to father male heirs.
Abraham had two wives and one concubine Keturah who later became his wife after Sarah died (Gen.25:1; 1.Chron.1:32). Sarah his first wife gave her servant Hagar to him as a wife to bear his children (Gen.16:1‑4).
It is important at this point to understand that, in ancient times, when a man had more than one wife or wives and concubines, these wives and concubines were segregated by position and authority within the husband's family. The first wife held the highest position and it was to her first-born son that the husband's inheritance was given. The husband's concubines were true wives, but subordinate to the first wife.
Although it is difficult for some people to accept the premise that one person can own another person as property, this is nevertheless a fact of history and a perfectly legal biblical concept which has its own set of rules that must be followed concerning the treatment of such individuals. Sarah had the legal right to give her servant Hagar to her husband as a wife to bear his children, because her servant was her property to manage as she saw fit. See Gen.16:1-16.
Although the child born to Sarah's servant was not her genetic offspring, the child was in fact legally hers. Moreover, the child would have received an inheritance as the first-born son if Sarah had not given birth to Isaac.
Jacob whom God named Israel had four wives. His first two wives were Leah and Rachel who were sisters. Leah gave Jacob her servant Zilpah to be his wife and bear his children. His second wife Rachel gave Jacob her servant Bilhah to bear his children. From these four wives, the twelve patriarchs of the twelve tribes of national Israel were born. See Gen.30:1-10; 35:23-27.
Here we see a situation similar to that of Abraham and Sarah; in that, Leah and Rachael owned female servants whom they gave to their husband Jacob as wives for the purpose of bearing children.
Gideon who judged Israel for many years and obeyed God's instruction to lead Israel out from under the oppression of the Midianites had many wives and at least one concubine:
"And Gideon had seventy sons which he fathered: for he had many wives. And his concubine that lived in Shechem also bare him a son, whom he called Abimelech" (Jdg.8:30‑31 Para.).
A Warning about Kings and Wives
God knew that, after entering the promised land, the Israelites would want to imitate the nations around them and be governed by a king. So before the Israelites entered into the promised land, they were given specific instructions about the placing of a king over them (Deut.17:14-19). One of these instructions prohibited such a king from having many wives. Some believe that this instruction prohibited polygamy; however, this instruction was a preventative measure to keep the king from being adversely influenced by his many wives "Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away" (Deut.17:17). King Solomon is an example of a man who allowed his wives to influence him into turning from God. See 1.Kgs.11:1-8.
Israel Wanted a King
Just as God expected, Israel rebelled against him and the system of priests and judges that he had established to govern them and wanted to be governed by a king, so God chose Saul to rule over them.
King Saul had many wives and at least one concubine named Rizpah (2.Sam.3:7; 21:11). When Saul died and David assumed rule over Israel he took the former wives of Saul and added them to the wives he already had (2.Sam.12:8). But apparently the number of wives David had was not excessive. God said of king David who was a polygamist that David had a perfect heart (attitude) before him, which means that David was in harmony with God's law. See also 1.Sam.13:14; Acts 13:22.
"But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; Of the nations concerning which the Lord said to the children of Israel, You shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in to you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clung to these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father" (1.Kgs.11:1‑4 KJV)
Notice that Solomon was not criticized or condemned for having hundreds of wives and concubines, he was criticized and condemned because of the kinds of wives he chose, his departure from God, and his idolatry and worship of false gods.
Polygamy and the Early Church
There is very little mention of polygamy in the New Testament, but there are a number of teachings and clarifications that can be of assistance to a polygamist.
Some people view Paul's instruction to the Corinthians concerning the avoidance of fornication as proof that only monogamous marital relationships are sanctioned for the elect:
"Now concerning the things that you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband" (1.Cor.7:1‑2 KJV).
When Paul's letters to the Corinthians are studied, it is clear that there were major problems concerning marital relationships, adultery, promiscuity, and incest within the congregation. Here Paul is addressing the problem of sexual urges and promiscuity. He is merely saying that, in order to avoid these sexual pressures, men and women should enter into a marital relationship.
FORBIDDEN SEXUAL RELATIONS
There are a number of laws set forth in both the Torah and the New Testament that deal with the issue of incest and monogamous and polygamous marriages. Although, these laws may seem archaic to some people, they are principles that must be practiced in order to receive the blessings promised through them.
In Leviticus chapters 18 and 20, there is a long list of prohibited sexual relationships, all of which apply to monogamous and/or polygamous marital relationships.
Leviticus chapter 18 begins with the Creator God reminding the Israelites of his Sovereignty over them and he instructs them not to practice the ways of the Egyptians or the people of Canaan. Because the Creator promises life (salvation) to those who practice his law, it is clear that the laws prohibiting adultery, incest, and promiscuity still apply today.
"And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, I am the Lord your God. After the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, where I bring you, you shall not do: neither shall you walk in their ordinances. You shall do my judgments, and keep my ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Therefore, you shall keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a person practices, he shall live in them: I am the Lord" (Lev.18:1-5 KJV Para.).
The original language of the following verse leaves no doubt that the Creator is giving very specific instructions prohibiting adulterous, incestuous, and/or promiscuous behavior with close relatives:
"None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nudity: I am the Lord" (Lev.18:6 KJV).
The English word uncover in verse 6 is translated from the Hebrew word galah, which means to denude (especially in a disgraceful sense). From the context of verse 6, it is clear that the Hebrew word galah is being used to describe prohibited sexual relations between close relatives.
Within the following verses, there are references to a person's biological relatives, relatives one step removed (e.g., a half-sister), and relatives through marriage (e.g., stepsister, aunt, uncle, mother-in-law).
Father, Mother, and Wife
"You shall not uncover the nudity of your father, or the nudity of your mother, she is your mother; You shall not uncover her nudity . You shall not uncover the nudity of your father's wife: it is your father's nudity" (Lev.18:7-8 Para.).
There are three individuals noted in verses 7 and 8 with whom you are not to have sexual relations: Your father, your mother, and your father's wife.
The English word mother in verse 7 is translated from the Hebrew word em, which in this context means a mother, whereas the English word wife in verse 8 is translated from the Hebrew word ishshah, which means a woman.
The Hebrew words em and ishshah make a clear distinction between the mother and the wife, thereby indicating that the one spoken of as the wife is not the mother, but is another woman (i.e., wife). This wife could be the father's only wife who is not a person's mother or one of the father's wives who is not a person's mother.
The willful violation of this law by both individuals required that the death penalty be administered to both of them:
"Cursed be he that lies with his father's wife ('ishshah'); because he uncovers his father's skirt. And all the people shall say, Amen" (Deut.27:20 KJV).
"The man that lies with his father's wife ('ishshah') has uncovered his father's nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them" (Lev.20:11 KJV).
It Is Your Father's Nudity
Verse 8 tells us that if a person has sexual relations with their Father's wife (not the person's mother) it is the same as having a sexual relation with their own Father. This is because the father and his wife are as one flesh (Gen.2:2; Matt.19:5); therefore, a sexual relation with the wife is the same as a sexual relation with the husband.
The Sister and the Daughter
"The nudity of your sister, the daughter of your father, or the daughter of your mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nudity you shall not uncover" (Lev.18:9 Para.).
Verse 9 clearly prohibits a sexual relationship with a person's biological sister or half-sister.
It is important to remember that, when a man and a woman marry they become as one flesh (Gen.2:2; Matt.19:5); The person prohibited from sexual relations in verse 9 is the child of the father and the mother; therefore, this person is genetically linked to the daughters of both parents whether they are a biological sister, or a half-sister.
Deuteronomy chapter 27, verse 22 states, Cursed be he that lies with his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.
"The nudity of your father's wife's daughter, begotten of your father, she is your sister, you shall not uncover her nudity" (Lev.18:11 KJV Para.).
Because the English word wife in verse 11 is translated from the Hebrew word ishshah (woman), this seems to be a prohibition of a sexual relationship with a person's half-sister.
"And if a man shall take his sister, his father's daughter, or his mother's daughter, and see her nudity, and she see his nudity; it is a wicked thing; and they shall be cut off in the sight of their people: he has uncovered his sister's nudity; he shall bear his iniquity" (Lev.20:17 KJV Para).
This law prohibits a man from having sexual relations with a biological sister or a half-sister from either his father or his mother. This law also applies to marital relationships, whether monogamous or polygamous. The English phrase cut off is translated from the Hebrew word karath, which is a primitive root meaning to cut off, down or asunder and by implication it means to destroy or consume. Moreover, it seems that, in the context of verse 17, the death penalty is to be applied to individuals participating in these forbidden sexual relationships.
A man cannot be married concurrently to women who are sisters.
"Neither shall you take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nudity , beside the other in her life time" (Lev.18:18 KJV Para.).
Prior to the laws given to national Israel, marriage between a man and sisters was not prohibited. Jacob married Leah and Rachel who were sisters. However, after the nation of Israel was formed, this type of marital relationship was prohibited. We are not told the reason for this prohibition, but perhaps it was to mitigate strife and competition between siblings within a family unit.
"You shall not uncover the nudity of your brother's wife: it is your brother's nudity" (Lev.18:16 KJV Para.).
Leviticus chapter 20, tells us that the punishment for the willful violation of this law is that the couple remain childless. Of course if the brother is dead the women is free to marry again, because the death of either spouse nullifies the marital agreement.
"If a man shall take his brother's wife, it is an unclean thing: he has uncovered his brother's nakedness; they shall be childless" (Lev.20:21 KJV).
How the required punishment for the violation of this law was administered is lost in antiquity; however, in the Talmud Mas. Yevamoth 55a there is a lengthily discussion that basically says that, if the offending parties had children prior to the violation, the violators would see these children die during their lifetime and if they did not have children prior to their violation, their union would not produce children.
"The nudity of your son's daughter, or of your daughter's daughter, even their nudity you shall not uncover: for theirs is your own nudity" (Lev.18:10 KJV Para.).
Verse 10 prohibits a person from having sexual relations with a granddaughter.
A Biological Aunt
"You shall not uncover the nudity of your father's sister: she is your father's near kinswoman. You shall not uncover the nudity of your mother's sister: for she is your mother's near kinswoman" (Lev.18:12-13 KJV Para.).
Verses 12 and 13 prohibit sexual relationships with a person's biological aunt. Leviticus, chapter 20 tells us that the willful violation of this law requires punishment:
"You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother's sister, nor of your father's sister: for he uncovers his near kin: they shall bear their iniquity (i.e., their consequence or their punishment)" (Lev.20:19 KJV Para.).
An Uncle's Wife
"You shall not uncover the nudity of your father's brother, you shall not approach to his wife: she is your aunt" (Lev.18:14 KJV Para.).
The law prohibits a sexual relationship with a person's biological aunt by marriage and equates such a sexual relationship the same as a sexual relation with the uncle. Leviticus, chapter 20 tells us that the punishment for willful violation of this law is that the couple will die childless:
"If a man shall lie with his uncle's wife, he has uncovered his uncle's nakedness: they shall bear their sin; they shall die childless" (Lev.20:20 KJV). See Talmud Mas. Yevamoth 55a for an explanation of the administration of punishment for violating this law.
"You shall not uncover the nudity of your daughter-in-law: she is your son's wife; you shall not uncover her nudity" (Lev.18:15 KJV Para.).
The willful violation of this law by both individuals required that the death penalty be administered to both of them as noted in Leviticus chapter 20:
"If a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death: they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them" (Lev.20:12 KJV).
"You shall not uncover the nudity of a woman and her daughter, neither shall you take her son's daughter, or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nudity; for they are her near kinswomen: it is wickedness" (Lev.18:17 KJV Para.).
The English word take in verse 17 is translated from the Hebrew word laqach, a root word that can mean to take (in the widest variety of applications). For example, to receive, to acquire, to buy, to bring, to marry, and to take a wife.
Of all of the prohibitions listed thus far, this prohibition most closely points to a restriction dealing with a polygamous marriage, because it seems to prohibit concurrent sexual relations with three generations of women of the same family line, (i.e., mother, daughter, granddaughter).
Two Wives and the First-born Son
"If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son is hers that was hated" (Deut.21:15 KJV Para.).
The English word two in verse 15 is translated from the Hebrew word shenayim, which means two or twofold. The English word wives in verse 15 is translated from the Hebrew word ishshah, which in this context means a woman (opposite of a man) or a wife (woman married to a man).
The two Hebrew words shenayim and ishshah document that the practice of polygamy was a legal form of marriage at the very beginning of Israel as a nation. Verses 16 and 17 address the inheritance issue concerning the husband's first-born son of the wife that he hates:
"Then it shall be, when he makes his sons to inherit that which he has, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he has: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his" (Deut.21:16-17 KJV).
There is no condemnation of a polygamous marriage in this law. The law just clarifies the issue concerning the inheritance to be given to a first-born son.
A Wife and Her Mother
"And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you" (Lev.20:14 KJV).
This law prohibits a man taking a woman and her mother as wives. Violation of this law required that the man and both women be executed by fire.
Deuteronomy chapter 27, verse 23 says, "Cursed be he that lies with his mother-in-law. And all the people shall say, Amen."
While polygamy is not forbidden or condemned in the teachings of the New Testament, there are instructions which prohibit the spiritual leadership of congregations from having more than one wife.
The following are the apostle Paul's instructions to Timothy and Titus concerning the number of wives men who are ordained into the ministry of the church are permitted to have.
To Timothy Paul writes, "This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach" (1.Tim 3:1‑2 KJV).
To Titus Paul writes, "For this cause left I you in Crete, that thou should set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed you: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly" (Titus 1:5‑6 KJV).
Paul's instruction to Timothy and Titus reveals that polygamous marriages were common within the congregations of the elect at that time; otherwise, these instructions would have been unnecessary if only monogamous marital relations were permitted within the church.
The reasons for this prohibition should be obvious considering the time and effort required to carry out the responsibilities of one who is called to lead and care for the elect in the capacity of a spiritual leader.
POLYGAMY AND PROPHECY
The prophet Isaiah recorded many things that would occur before and after Christ returns to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. One of the things that he recorded shows that polygamous marriages will be practiced after Christ's return:
"And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by your name, to take away our reproach" (Isa 4:1 KJV).
Prophecies show that, before Christ returns, the earth's population will be greatly reduced. Isaiah's prophecy shows that there will be a tremendous imbalance between the numbers of men and women able and willing to marry. The number of women who desire marriage will far exceed the number of eligible men. These women will want children, companionship, and a sexual relationship, so they will be willing to be a part of a plural marriage to fulfil these natural human desires.
Forbidding to Marry
"Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth" (1.Tim.4:1‑3 KJV)
Paul's prophetic warning has truly come true today. There are many who have departed from the faith and teach things that are contrary to the word of God. It is interesting to note that forbidding to marry is one of the things that these evil people will teach. Although "forbidding to marry" clearly includes the teaching of celibacy as a requirement to live a pious life or to serve as a spiritual leader, it could also include teaching that polygamous marriages are forbidden.
Polygamy was practiced without criticism before the advent of Christ and was regulated by many laws concerning fair and equitable treatment of wives and children, succession of heirs, and distribution of inheritances. Additionally, polygamy will be practiced after Christ returns according to the prophecy of Isaiah.
OBJECTIONS TO POLYGAMY
Many people who profess to follow biblical teachings object to the practice of polygamy and attempt to alter the intent and meaning of scripture in favor of their own tradition, cultural education, or personal belief or bias. The following will examine some of the scriptures that people use in an attempt to prove that polygamy is not a marital option for the elect today.
The One Man One Wife Rule
Many cite the example of Adam and Eve as the basis for their belief that it was Gods original intent that marriage be a monogamous relationship between one man and one woman:
"And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Gen.2:23‑24 KJV).
Although it is clear that the Creator only made Adam one wife, this fact does not establish a one man one wife rule. Genesis 2:23-24 is only a statement of fact; it does not establish monogamy as the only valid marital state.
Because Genesis 2:24 says: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (KJV), some people assume that this is proof that polygamous marital relationships are sinful. However, the assumption that being one flesh is confined to the marital relationship between one man and one woman is inconsistent with the teachings of the apostle Paul:
"Don't you know your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of a whore? God forbid. What? Don't you know that he which is joined to an whore is one body? For he says that two shall become one flesh. But he that is joined to the Lord is one" (1.Cor.6:15‑17 Para.).
Clearly two becoming one flesh is not limited to one man and one woman, nor does it place limits on the number of women that can be wives of one man. The one flesh concept and its reality in the physical world applies to any sexual relationship between a man and a woman. If this were not so then Paul's analogy would not make sense because even a married man can have sexual relations with a whore. Although Paul is using this analogy to explain a spiritual concept, his use of this example seems to indicate that a man can become one flesh with more than one woman.
The Pharisees' Question:
"The Pharisees also came to him to test him. They asked him, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his his wife for every cause? Jesus replied, Haven't you read, that at the beginning he made them male and female, And he said, For this reason shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cling to his wife: and the two of them shall be one flesh? Therefore, they are no more two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together no man should separate" (Matt.19:3-6 Para.).
The question put to Jesus was not about monogamy or polygamy; the question concerned divorce and remarriage. It was a question of law (i.e. God's law concerning marriage) and specifically the portion of this law that dealt with the cancellation of the marriage contract.
"They then asked him, Why then did Moses command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He said to them, Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to put away your wives: but this was not allowed at the beginning. And I say to you, Whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery: and whoever marries her which is divorced commits adultery" (Matt.19:7-9 Para.). See also Mk.10:1‑12.
Jesus explains that the reason the Creator God allowed Moses to sanction divorce was because of the hardness of Israelite men's hearts. He also says that the law did not allow for divorce when marriage was established at creation.
It is important to understand that God makes the rules concerning human behavior and that he has the authority to alter these rules as he sees fit in order to fulfill his plan for humanity and to accommodate the human condition.
Jesus who was the Creator God and law-giver before he became human, clarifies and modifies the law of divorce when he said that the only valid reason for the cancellation of a marriage contract is fornication (which includes adultery). Jesus also explains that those who remarry after an unlawful divorce commit adultery (a violation of God's law). See Matt:5:31-32; 10:11-19; 19:3-9; Lk.16:18.
Polygamy and Problems
Many people feel that, even though polygamous marriages are not condemned in scripture, there are many scriptures showing that adultery, incest, jealousy, hatred, bitterness, unhappiness, and immorality are associated with polygamy. Therefore, they believe that polygamy must not be the most desirable relationship to enter into. The problem with this argument is that the scriptures also show the same kind of problems within monogamous relationships.
There is no doubt that king David who was a man greatly beloved by God (1.Sam.13:14; Acts 13:22) had many wives and concubines (2.Sam.5:13).
Many people point to his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba as a condemnation of polygamy. However, an honest review of this account does not show any condemnation of polygamy, but it clearly shows that David had committed adultery with Bathsheba before he murdered her husband:
"I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had not been enough, I would have given you even more. Therefore, why have you despised the Lord's commandment and done evil in his sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon" (2.Sam.12:8-9 Para.).
Nowhere in the account of this event or in any of the accounts of David's life is he ever condemned for having too many wives or concubines.
The simple truth is that polygamy creates no more of an environment or opportunity for adultery, incest, jealousy, hatred, bitterness, unhappiness, and immorality than monogamous marriages. The problem is not with monogamous or polygamous marriages; it is with the ability of men and women to live within God's laws that regulate marriage.
The Ideal Marital Relationship
Because Genesis 2:24 says: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be one flesh" some people feel that, in the beginning, monogamy was the ideal marital relationship between a man and a woman. However, nowhere in scripture do we find the polygamous marital relationship shown to be inferior to a monogamous relationship.
The scriptures are very clear concerning what the ideal marriage relationship should be. The scriptures also tell us how to accomplish this ideal. However, an ideal marriage has more to do with one's attitude and behavior than whether the marriage is monogamous or polygamous.
When speaking of the ideal in a marital relationship, we should consider that each individual has different needs, desires, and circumstances. Jesus said that remaining unmarried is the ideal for some who have been called to salvation during the gospel age (See Matt.19:12). And the apostle Paul said that the ideal for him was to remain celibate, but for some it is better to marry than to burn with passion. Paul does not say whether the marriage should be monogamous or polygamous:
"I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift and another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (1.Cor.7:7‑9 NIV).
Clearly, what is ideal depends on one's needs, attitude, and personal circumstance.
Many well intentioned individuals believe that, although polygamy is not a sin, it should not be practiced in this age because many people have strong feelings in opposition to it. The problem with this belief is that it is conceptually incorrect. The reality is that people in general hate the things of God, oppose almost everything that is of God, and hate those who practice God's truth and way of truth. See Jn.15:18-19; 17:14-17.
If one truly believes that they should not practice some of God's law in order to be an acceptable example to the unconverted; then, which of God's laws should a true follower of Christ cease to practice to avoid offending the unconverted? Should one cease to practice the Sabbath, start eating unclean foods, or begin to practice adultery in order to appease the unconverted? Obviously, one should teach and practice all of God's law as an example to the world. Therefore, one should not be ashamed to stand solidly behind the biblical practice of lawful polygamous marital relationships as noted in both the Old and New Testaments.
Clearly, if one is intending to enter into or already is in a polygamous marriage, one should be concerned about the effect that this type of marriage will have on one's walk with God the Father and Jesus Christ, as well as the example being set to others in the Father's family as well as the unconverted. However, these considerations must be viewed sensibly and realistically in the light of all scripture concerning God's law.
CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LAW
Some people use the argument that Romans 13:1-6 instructs the elect to obey all of the civil and criminal laws where they live. Therefore, one should not practice polygamy because many civil laws prohibit it.
Although being subject to constituted authority and paying various monetary levies imposed by civil governments is the subject of Romans 13:1-6, one must view what is said in the light of other scriptures that clearly show that God's law takes precedent over laws devised by people. An example of a civil law that violates God's law is the law in many western countries that require people to swear an oath to tell the truth in a court of law. Obviously, if one follows God's law concerning swearing and oaths (Matt.5:33-37; Jms.5:12) one cannot obey this civil law.
When one practices the law of God, whether it involves the Sabbath, childbearing, marriage, the swearing or taking of an oath, or any other of God's laws, if these laws are in opposition to the civil laws where one lives, one must deal with this situation as instructed through the word of God:
"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be you therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And you shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles" (Matt.10:16‑18 KJV).
Although a polygamous marriage does not violate God's law, it may be a violation of the civil and criminal law where one lives. Therefore, if one desires to engage in a polygamous marriage, one must be careful not to become entangled in the civil laws governing the area where they intend to live. If the practice of polygamy violates the civil and criminal law where one lives, there are basically three options: 1) Do not practice polygamy; 2) Relocate to a geographical location where there are no civil laws prohibiting polygamy; or 3) Be prepared to defend one's right to practice polygamy.
THE MARITAL CONTRACT
Today, most people who profess to follow Christ have a very limited understanding of the marital contract and the instructions concerning marriage contained in the Bible. This fact is substantiated by the extremely large numbers of dysfunctional families and divorces within the professing Christian community. The following is an overview of some of the basic elements of monogamous and polygamous marital contracts as set forth in the Bible.
Property and Choice
In many male dominated cultures (historically and today), a man's children and wives were and are considered his property. In many cultures, children have no say in choosing their husbands or wives.
The Bible clearly shows that both men and women were often given into marriage without their consent. This was the case with Abraham's son Isaac and his wife Rebekah. Abraham sent his trusted servant to his brother Nahor to acquire a wife for Isaac, and Nahor sent his daughter Rebekah (who he had with his concubine Bethuel) with Abraham's servant to become Isaac's wife. See Gen.22:1-67.
The reason for mentioning this is to show that God allows for cultural and traditional standards and
philosophies to be imposed in forming marital contracts if these contacts do not violate his law or if the individuals which are to be married do not resist the specific martial agreement.
An essential part of any marriage is the marriage contract. And as with any contract, the marriage agreement has terms and conditions. One of the first things to understand about a marital relationship is that, whether it is monogamous or polygamous marriage, it is governed by God's law of marriage and these laws govern every critical aspect of the marriage relationship from beginning to end. Once one enters into a monogamous or a polygamous marital relationship, divorce is not an option; marriage is intended to be for life unless the relationship is broken under the terms and conditions set forth in God's law concerning marriage.
Jesus Christ who was the Creator God and law-giver allowed Moses to sanction divorce among the Israelites because of the hardness of Israelite men's hearts. However, Christ who is the mediator of the new covenant has clarified and modified the law of divorce that he allowed Moses to sanction.
Now the only valid reason for the cancellation of a marriage contact is fornication (which includes adultery). See Matt:5:31-32; 10:11-19; 19:3-9; Lk.16:18.
The Monogamous Contract
When two people enter into a marital relationship with the understanding that it is to be a monogamous relationship and bind themselves to this agreement, this relationship comes under the terms and conditions set forth in the Bible for such a relationship. Neither party can alter the agreement without dire consequences. The agreement can only be terminated by the death of either party, fornication, or adultery as set forth in God's law. See Matt:5:31-32; 10:11-19; 19:3-9; Lk.16:18.
The Polygamous Contract
When people enter into a marital relationship with the understanding that it is to be a polygamous relationship and bind themselves to this agreement, this relationship comes under the terms and conditions set forth in the Bible for such a relationship. Neither party can alter the agreement without dire consequences. The agreement can only be terminated by the death of either party, fornication, or adultery as set forth in God's law. See Matt:5:31-32; 10:11-19; 19:3-9; Lk.16:18.
The following are some of the major problems with the way in which polygamous relationships are practiced today:
While it is true that some men and women who are practicing polygamy are living in an adulterous or an incestuous relationship in violation of God's laws that govern marriage and sexual relationships, this does not mean that all polygamists are living in sin.
One Woman, Two Husbands?
Some might think that, because God's law allows for a man to have more than one wife under certain circumstances, women can also have more than one husband. Paul says the following in his letter to the congregation at Rome about God's law and its relationship to the Father's elect children:
"Brethren don't you know, (I'm speaking to those who know the law,) that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman which has a husband is bound to her husband by the law as long as he lives; but if her husband is dead, she is not bound to him. Therefore, while her husband is alive if she marries another man, she is an adulteress: but if her husband is dead, she is free from that law; so that she is not an adulteress, although she is married to another man" (Rom.7:1-4 Para.).
The principles of the marital relationship set forth in both the Old and New Testaments clearly forbid a woman to have more than one husband at a time.
Should Everyone Practice Polygamy?
Obviously the practice of polygamy is not for everyone, because not all men or women are comfortable with this concept or practice. Not all of the patriarchs or great men and women of the Bible practiced polygamy, and there is no instruction urging men and women to do so. Clearly, for individuals who adhere to biblical law, a monogamous or polygamous marriage is a personal choice.
Could entering into a polygamous marriage be a mistake? Absolutely. It could be a mistake just as being in a monogamous marriage could be a mistake. Although God's law allows polygamous marriages, it may be more prudent and practical to remain celibate or enter into a monogamous relationship in some circumstances. However, once one is married, one must obey God's laws that govern marriage in order to live righteously before God.
Concerns and Problems
May people feel that, because of the number of family members involved, a polygamist will have more family and marital concerns and problems than a monogamist. Although this could be true, it is not necessarily the rule, because family problems and concerns are dependant on many factors other than numbers.
More than one wife in a family could very well have many benefits over a monogamous marriage. In a polygamous marriage wives could share the domestic duties, childcare, provide a greater financial base, and provide more stability and help during times of illness and death than provided by a traditional monogamous family structure. These and many more benefits could be realized if everyone within this marital relationship diligently follows the law of God in attitude and behavior.
A Good Wife Or Good Wives?
There are many scriptures that speak about the benefits that a good wife can provide and the admiration and honor that such a woman should receive. The following are a few of the things that are said about a good wife:
"Whoever finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor of the Lord" (Prov.18:22 KJV).
"House and riches are the inheritance of fathers: and a prudent wife is from the Lord" (Prov.19:14 KJV)
"A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that makes ashamed is as rottenness in his bones" (Prov.12:4 KJV).
"Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies" (Prov.31:10 KJV).
People who oppose polygamy and use these scriptures in support of monogamy, forget that the man who was inspired to write these words of wisdom concerning the virtuous wife was Solomon who had hundreds of wives and concubines.
It is difficult to believe that a polygamous family will be less happy or financially worse off than a monogamous family. The argument that polygamy causes strife and poverty may sound good in theory, but falls short in practice for those who are obedient to God's laws concerning altitudes, behaviors, and work ethics.
Today, both monogamous and polygamous martial relationships suffer from people's perverted view of what marriage should be. There is no doubt that many polygamous marriages are beset with adultery, incest, jealousy, hatred, bitterness, unhappiness, and immorality. It is little wonder that, when polygamy is viewed and evaluated as it is practiced by most people of the world today, it comes up short of the ideal for the marriage relationship. However, so do most monogamous marriages.
God instituted marriage as a part of his master plan for humanity and his laws concerning marriage only recognize it as a single institution. Although God's law does not divide marriage into monogamous and polygamous classifications, his law does speak to each of these marital conditions and the interpersonal relationships within each.
Beliefs and Feeling
Most people base their morality and beliefs about marriage on their cultural tradition and past and current theological philosophy rather than the clear fact of scripture. However, it is an undeniable biblical fact that both monogamous and polygamous marriage relationships were engaged in by righteous men and women.
If we truly believe what the Bible teaches concerning the marital state, then we cannot ignore what it says about polygamy and must admit that God sanctions both monogamous and polygamous marriages as being equally valid.
Some people feel that polygamy may have been acceptable anciently, but it is no longer valid today because we live in a different age under different circumstances. This argument may sound good in theory, but it is without merit, because it is in opposition to Paul's instruction to Timothy concerning the validity of all of the word of God for his elect children:
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2.Tim.3:16‑17 KJV).
Clearly "all scripture" would include the laws that sanction and govern monogamous and polygamous marriages.
The fact is that polygamy is noted throughout the Bible as an approved marital state. If God had intended for there to be only monogamous marriages, he would have reflected this in his law for human behavior. However, in God's marital law we see terms, conditions, and rules set forth for both polygamous and monogamous marriages.
Polygamous marriages are not sinful, wrong, or less than the ideal; they are what they are. They are relationships sanctioned by God which can lead to much happiness and prosperity if the participants truly follow God's laws for such relationships with righteous attitudes and behaviors.
Those Seeking Truth
One who is truly seeking truth cannot ignore the many references to lawful polygamy throughout the Bible and the important lessons that are taught through this marital relationship. Moreover, one is obligated to embrace those of the elect who have determined that this type of marital relationship is the one that they have determined is best for them.
By B.L. Cocherell