This post is about why I believe polygamy is wrong. A while back I was speaking with a fellow believer who holds that polygamy is acceptable. That conversation is why this is on my mind.
I also believe that homosexual sexual relations are wrong. It’s not the point of this post to address that issue, but I do think that some of the arguments for the two issues overlap. Another issue that may have some overlap and Biblical relevance is the issue of slavery. I will get into that later in the post.
Marriage was designed by God to be between one man and one woman. It started that way with Adam and Eve. Genesis 2:24 states that “…a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Jesus made the assumption that marriage was between a man and a woman. When the Pharisees questioned him about divorce, Jesus quoted from the same passage from Genesis:
It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:5-9)
Jesus says that “they are no longer two, but one.” Like divorce, polygamy was tolerated in the Old Testament. Like divorce, it was never God’s design.
The Apostle Paul wrote that a man should have only one wife. Writing about the qualifications for a deacon, he states:
If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. (1 Tim 3:1-3)
…appoint elders in every town as I directed you. If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:6-9)
The Greek phrase that Paul uses here is “mias gunaikos andra“. It literally means “a one-woman man”. Polygamy fits into the same category as cheating on one’s spouse. Or put differently, polygamy disqualifies one from leadership in the same way that drunkenness, arrogance, greed, and rage do.
Christian consensus has always advocated monogamy. Polygamy has never been considered acceptable by any orthodox Christian group. Christian consensus has always been that marriage is between a man and a woman. We should be wary of arguments that disregard the “rule of faith” (Things that nearly all Christians at all times have agreed on). People like Muhammad and Joseph Smith have advocated polygamy. But Muhammed was non-Christian, and Joseph Smith was heterodox. That ought to be a warning to us.
Just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s preferred by God. Polygamy took place in the Old Testament. But that didn’t make it okay. Like slavery and divorce, polygamy seems to have been something that God permitted because of the hardness of hearts, but it was not ever something he preferred or designed.
Polygamy always causes hurt and division. In the Bible whenever polygamy took place, it caused hurt to others. Abraham’s polygamy was due to his and Sarah’s lack of faith in God’s promise, and it caused division in his family (Genesis 21). This division still exists among Jews and Arabs today. Samuel’s mother Hannah was grieved because of having to compete with the other wife of her husband who ridiculed her (1 Samuel 1). David’s polygamy resulted in murder and family division. Solomon’s polygamy pulled his heart away from God.
The idea of polygamy is perverted. The possibility of multiple sexual partners takes a man’s thoughts to places he should not go. As Christians, we need to take our thoughts captive (2 Cor 10:5). This is especially true of our sexual thoughts. It is easy to imagine having sex with another woman. And it is wrong to do so. Jesus says that if a man even looks at another woman with lust, it’s the same as committing adultery in his heart (Matt 5:28).
Wisdom on this issue requires consensus with other believers. Sometimes those of us in the Protestant tradition think we can peruse a few Bible verses on our own, and come up with our own original doctrines. However, when we come up with our own innovations and ideas, we ought to discuss them with other mature Christians. And if they disagree with us, we need to take their wisdom into consideration.
We can’t expect God to give us wisdom if we are sinning. If a man is actively looking at pornography, he cannot expect that the Holy Spirit will guide him to truth on this issue. Does our motivation to justify polygamy come from a heart that seeks after God? Or from a desire to satisfy our flesh?