Why Polygamy is Wrong

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)

and

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?

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22 Comments

Filed under General Interest

22 responses to “Why Polygamy is Wrong

  1. Good points. As the wicked culture influences some Christians about marriage, it is not surprising to hear some claim that not only is homosexual marriages okay but nearly all others as well.

  2. bethyada

    Hi Kevin, are you arguing that polygamy is sinful, or less than ideal, or not appropriate for the New Covenant, or that it should be (remain) illegal? I agree with some of your arguments and am less convinced by others. While I would agree that polygamy does not fit into God’s original design, how much further does tho Bible take it? Surely it wasn’t intrinsically sinful for the OT saints? God allowed divorce for hard hearts and it was not so from the beginning, but what of divorce now? It seems to be acceptable in some circumstances for Christians, but does Jesus intend for his comments to be law, or his expectations for covenant people? If we have these potential exceptions for divorce still you need to show why they do not apply to polygamy.

    • Thanks for the comments Bethyada. I do believe polygamy is sinful. I’d place it next to slavery, but better than prostitution for the woman.

      I do think the idea of polygamy is perverted. Not intellectually discussing it as we are, but applying the possibility to oneself.

  3. bethyada

    You give 9 arguments. My thoughts

    1. Agree. And any discussion concerning polygamy must deal extensively with this passage.
    2. The reference back to Genesis shows Jesus high view of this passage and confirms that polygamy is a post-Fall phenomenon.
    3. This is a qualification for an elder, not a deacon. There is no one wife qualification for a deacon which is interesting. It is not certain that the qualification implies that polygamy is sinful like rage. He must be able to teach but lack of ability to teach is not sinful. It seems that monogamy is necessary for an elder but not clearly necessary for a non-elder and polygamy not clearly implied as sinful here.
    4. Important, and may represent the Christians got this correct early on. But not a biblical argument and hence doesn’t override good biblical arguments for polygamy.
    5. Agree. But was it for a time? How long? Is it comparable to divorce or slavery?
    6. I have heard this before. Need to think more. But disagree with your David example. His adultery and murder were to blame. And God blessed his subsequent marriage to Bathsheba even though David had wives.
    7. Disagree. Monogamy is right but unmarried men shouldn’t be thinking about just one person. Sexual thoughts about your wife or wives is appropriate. Thoughts about non-wives are not.
    8. True. But not an argument either way.
    9. True. But not an argument either way. Further, I have thought about this issue and had the odd discussion yet I am not looking for another wife.

  4. Adrian

    OK,

    How do you understand Deuteronomy 25:5-9

    5 “When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. 7 But if the man does not desire to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to establish a name for his brother in Israel; he is not willing to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ 8 Then the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him. And if he persists and says, ‘I do not desire to take her,’ 9 then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’

    Being spat on was not considered lightly: Numbers 12:14

    14 But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again.”

    • It was a cultural thing – overcoming a bad situation where polygamy was better than the other options. Importantly, it was not done for the benefit of the man, but for the benefit of others (his brother’s name, and the widow’s well being).

  5. Sam

    I recently came across you post on the subject of polygamy. I wonder if you are familiar with the work of Blaine Robison. He is a Nazarene churchman with degrees from Point Loma and the Nazarene Theological Seminary. He has written on this subject and concluded that “…there is no evidence that polygamy is a sin”, although he personally does not advocate it, or practice it.

    Here is a link to his website.

    http://www.blainerobison.com/concerns/polygamy.htm

    http://www.blainerobison.com/personal/author.htm

    The Biblical facts are undeniably clear. (1) The Bible does not directly prohibit polygamy (like it does with adultery and homosexuality). (2) The Bible never calls it sin, perverted, unclean, evil, abomination, impure, ungodly, or anything like that (like it does with adultery and homosexuality). (3) The Law lists no punishment for it, and the NT does not command church discipline for it (like they do for adultery and homosexuality). (4) Many Godly men practiced it. God never punished or rebuked any of them for it. None of them ever repented of it. When these same men committed real sins, God rebuked them, and they repented. (5) The word Adultery in Hebrew specifically refers to a married or betrothed woman being violated by another man. The Bible never calls a man out as an adulterer for doing it.

    King David had around eighteen wives, and God never said anything negative about it. In fact, God said that He would have been happy to give David more wives if David wanted more (2nd Sam. 12). On the other hand, when David had sex with another man’s wife (Bathsheba – wife of Uriah), God rebuked David sharply. God said that David despised His Law, and that David “utterly scorned” Him. Then, God decreed that the sword would never depart form David’s house. All the trouble with Ammon, Tamar, and Absalom happens immediately after that.

    Basically, I am calling “bullcrap” on something that the medieval Roman Catholic Church made up. Much of what the modern evangelical church teaches about marriage comes straight from the Council of Trent and not the Bible.

    “Wisdom on this issue requires consensus with other believers”

    I’ll take consensus with Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, David, Solomon, Josiah (all polygamists), and I might add Paul and Jesus Christ – not polygamists, but affirming the OT Moral Law – over consensus with the Pope.

    I might also add that Hugo Grotius has also written on this subject, concluding that polygamy is lawful.

    • Hi Sam thanks for the comment.

      I think polygamy is akin to slavery – something tolerated in the OT, but not part of God’s plan, and not good for the oppressed people involved. It’s not advocated by Jesus or Paul, and is prohibited for leaders in the Church. In this way it is worse than slavery.

      Nothing good ever happened in the OT because of polygamy. Even when permitted, it always caused problems.

      As I wrote in the post, Does our motivation to justify polygamy come from a heart that seeks after God? Or from a desire to satisfy the flesh? It’s usually the latter.

      • Sam

        Does our motivation to condemn polygamy come from an honest, and careful examination of the Biblical text, or a rather desire to conform to cultural norms, to not “rock the boat”, to avoid conflict (and the fear of being labeled a wacko, or immoral pervert, by other Christians, the larger culture around us, and our own families)? It is usually the latter. It takes a strong Christian to cling to the Bible when it teaches things that are unpopular.

        I for one, do not intend to nullify the Law of God, in order to uphold the cultural traditions of men. God’s Moral Law, as revealed in Scripture, is crystal clear regarding this issue. God does not prohibit polygamy, and does not call it evil. The real question for us is this: “What is our true source of Spiritual authority?” Does the Bible establish our sexual norms, or is it something else?

        This is a question all Christians must seriously ask themselves. We live in an increasingly decadent age, and the pressure to conform to it will be intense. Twenty years from now, will you still condemn homosexual conduct, or will you compromise God’s Word in order to be accepted by the culture? It is very hard to uphold an unpopular, and culturally offensive truth.

        Also the often repeated statement that:
        “Nothing good ever happened in the OT because of polygamy. Even when permitted, it always caused problems.”
        just isn’t true.

        Beyond that, it grants the key point. The key point is this: “God considers polygamy to be marriage, not adultery, or sexual immorality”. I totally agree that polygamy is not generally a good idea. I just can’t call it immoral, sin, perverse, etc. because God doesn’t.

        By the way,
        We don’t read of David having a messed up family because of his polygamy. He has a messed up family (and kingdom) explicitly because of his adultery and murder.

        Look at the Patriarch’s. Sure, Abraham and Jacob (polygamists) had messed up families, but so did Isaac (monogamist). Look at all the craziness in Isaac’s family (deceit, favoritism, sibling rivalry to the point of death threats, etc.), it seems no better than those of Abraham or Jacob.

        Moses had two wives (Ziporah the middle eastern Midianitess, and the Cushite (black African) woman. We don’t read about Moses family having problems because of it (other than his siblings Aaron and Miriam, and God rebukes them while defending Moses).

        The Judges Abdon and Jair were polygamists (you don’t get that many kids from one wive), and they seem to have had happy and stable families.

        Nothing good ever came from it –

        Half the tribes of Israel are descended from Jacob’s 2nd wife Rachel, and the two concubines Bilhah, and Zilpah. I think it is a good thing that Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher (and the resulting Tribes of Israel, and all their descendants like the Apostle Paul were born). Likewise, it is a good thing that the prophet Samuel was born, although his father had two wives.

        I’m sorry to be obnoxious. It’s just that I think the modern condemnation of polygamy really comes from Greco/Roman cultural norms, which were adopted and sanctified by the post NT Patristic fathers (under Gnostic influence), and eventually the Medieval Roman Catholic Church. I don’t think it actually comes from the Bible.

        The Scriptures warned us about harmful Gnostic influences ahead of time.

        “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. ” (1st Timothy 4:1-5 NIV)

        The Bible doesn’t use the word “polygamy”. It just calls polygamous marriages “marriage”. God created marriage, and blessed it. God seems to regard polygamous unions as “marriages”.

        Gnosticism, Monasticism, and the Roman Catholic Church attacked marriage in multiple ways. The RCC for example forbids the Clergy to marry at all (totally unbiblical). Monasticism denigrates marriage as somehow “less spiritual” than a life as a monk or a nun.

        I wonder if the whole “prohibition of polygamy” is somehow part of what Paul was referring to in the above text. I wonder if it is a residual and lingering influence of the Gnostic heresy.

  6. Hi Sam,

    I don’t think your cultural norm argument is born out by the facts. Rather the opposite is true. Just as divorce, serial monogamy, and homosexual behavior has become more acceptable in Western society, so too will polygamy. This is because our society is moving away from God, not towards him. It falls into the same category of things that Paul warns us about in Romans 1. This is not to say polygamy is as bad as homosexual relations, but that as a society becomes more engrossed by sexual impurity, polygamy will also become more acceptable as part of the darkening of hearts. It has typically been tolerated in non-Christian societies and religions (like Animism, Islam, and old Mormonism). To me, that speaks against its validity, not for it.

    The reality that God can bring good out of dysfunction (like Jacob’s family) speaks to God greatness, not to the validity of the things he and his family did.

    As a Christian, I believe in progressive revelation, and I’m sure you do too. God has revealed himself more over time, and particularly in the person of Christ. We read the OT in light of the NT. The fact that God permitted polygamy in the OT only puts it in the same category as slavery, butchering of foreigners, killing disobedient children, animal sacrifice, etc. I’d venture to say you don’t spend a lot of time defending those practices, even though they’re scriptural. And rightfully so. Jesus changes everything, especially the way we treat others.

    In the NT marriage is always referred to as between a man and a woman. Jesus refers to it that way, as does Paul in 1 Cor 7. Paul also makes the case there for being single. The best choice is to be single (if one can keep their passions under check), the second best choice is for a man and a woman to marry. Paul lists no third option of multiple wives. So in that sense, the RC’s are being biblically principled by not allowing priests to marry. They are right on the principle, but wrong on its mandatory application.

    • Adrian Gallagher

      This article (also) came today and seems relevant.

      This Is Why Christianity Is On the Ropes
      http://billmuehlenberg.com/2016/02/03/this-is-why-christianity-is-on-the-ropes/

    • Sam

      The God of the New Testament is the God of the Old Testament. His name is I AM WHO I AM. He does not change. I do not believe the basic fabric of His Universal Moral Law changes either.

      His way of dealing with mankind has changed since the Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished redemption through His perfect sinless life, substitutionary death on the cross, and resurrection on the third day.

      God has also changed us in this New Covenant. He changes our hearts, gives us new spiritual life, and enables us to love Him, and love one another in ways that we could not do before.

      Please remember that God did not “permit the slaughter of the Canaanites, the killing of wicked and rebellious sons, and animal sacrifice” in the Old Testament.

      He actually demanded those things! Furthermore, He was right, holy, just, and true, to do so!

      Let’s look at the text.

      “However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.” (Deut. 20:16-18)

      “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.” (Deut. 21:18-21, NIV)

      Both of these commandments highlight the Holiness of God and uphold the Ten Commandments. The first deals with the sin of idolatry. The second deals with the commandment to honor father and mother.

      Animal sacrifice shows that man’s sin separates him from God, and that he needs a sinless sacrifice to atone for him. These sacrifices showed that sin brings death. The constant repetition of sacrifices pointed to the need for a better sacrifice, one that would satisfy the righteousness of God for all time. Thus, the animal sacrifices pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ, and His saving work. Hebrews explains all this in detail.

      God’s Law is altogether good, right, pure, holy, and true. There is only one problem with it. It just can’t save anyone. Jesus brought a new and better covenant. He fulfilled all righteousness for us. He paid the penalty for our sin. He was “pierced for our transgressions”. Through Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us new hearts, and eternal life.

      Still the basic moral fabric of the Ten Commandments remains. As believers, we are to flee from idolatry (though the Church is not called to put idolaters to death). Idolatry is still cosmic treason. Likewise, we are still called to honor father and mother (though the Church is not called to put wicked sons to death). Furthermore, we are to flee from all sexual immorality, and adultery (though the Church is not called to put fornicators, prostitutes, adulterers, or homosexuals to death).

      Rather, the Church is called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, and His Saving Work to all people everywhere, to call them to faith and repentance, and teach them to obey everything He commanded.

      One of the chief commands we have in Scripture is to “not add to, nor subtract from” what God has said.

      Here is one example of that from Deuteronomy 4:1-2 NIV

      “Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.”

      Regarding the issue of polygamy, everywhere the subject is mentioned in the text of the Bible, God regarded it as marriage, and not as a form of sexual immorality, or adultery.

      God did not prohibit it. He did not call it immoral, perverse, unclean, ungodly, evil, etc. God never treated it anything at all like He treated adultery or homosexuality. Read through ALL THE NARRATIVES in Scripture where it is present. God obviously regarded it as marriage.

      Those who wish to pretend it to be a form of “sexual immorality, or adultery”, and “not marriage” are guilty of violating God’s Law by adding to it. This is a very serious error.

      I agree that polygamy isn’t “the normal form of marriage”. I agree it isn’t “ideal”. I agree that it tends to cause more problems. I agree that it probably never would have existed had Adam not caused the Fall of mankind.

      Still, the Law does not prohibit it, or call it sinful. The Prophets do not prohibit it, or call it evil. Jesus did not prohibit it, or call it a breaking faith. The Apostles did not prohibit it, or say that it defiles. I am in very good company not prohibiting it.

      As an aside – I agree that marriage is “one man and one woman, coming together in the one-flesh union”. That is simply what Genesis 2 says. Jesus quotes it. Paul quotes it. Everybody knows that is the definition.

      When we look at the accounts of polygamy in the Bible, the women aren’t married to each other. It isn’t like David and this group of 18 women have some sort of giant group marriage. Rather, David has a “one-flesh union” with Michal. David simultaneously has a “one-flesh union” with Ahinoam. David simultaneously has a “one-flesh union” with Abigail.

      The marital union is somewhat similar to the union between Christ and His people. Each individual believer is united in a “one-spirit union” with the Lord Jesus Christ. The believer can only have one Lord and Savior. Yet Jesus Christ can be, and is, united to more than one Christian at the same time in a “one-to-one union”.

      “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” (1st Cor. 6:15-17 NIV)

      “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1st Cor. 11:3 NIV)

      Here we see that headship (not monogamy) is the ultimate issue. Christ is the head of each individual believer. Christ can, and does serve as head to more than one believer (but it is idolatry for a believer to serve more than one God).

      Likewise, the man is the head of his wife. It is adultery if a woman tries to follow more than one husband. In addition, homosexuality is a sin as there are two heads but no body to follow (or lesbianism – two bodies but no proper head to lead). But, polygamy does not fundamentally violate this headship principle. It may not be ideal for a man to lead more than one woman, but it isn’t a logically impossible like the other things discussed.

      That is my attempt to understand “why God says what He does about polygamy”.

      Still, at the end of the day, I just have to submit to the authority of Scripture. God calls polygamous marriages “marriage”, and He doesn’t call them “sinful, immoral, etc.”.

  7. Anna

    I don’t think that a man can truly love two or more women at the same time, so then it just comes down to more sex, more children, and better social status. The only advantage that polygamy as over polyandry is more children.
    Funny that polygamy is practiced in places where they treat their women badly and see them as possessions, like Africa, India, all the Muslim countries.

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