Does the Bible condone polygamy? Does it forbid it? What do the Scriptures say about polygamy?
What is Polygamy?
The word polygamy is a compound word for many “poly” and marriages “gamos” so polygamy is being married to many or at least more than one wife or husband. There are many places that still practice this in parts of Africa, Indonesia, and in the Arab countries of the Middle East. There are some cults that practice this even today in the United States but it is strictly forbidden by most nations of the world. Does the Bible teach that polygamy is acceptable?
Do Not Multiply Wives
God actually states in His Word to not multiply wives and this started with the king as we read in Deuteronomy 17:17 “And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.” Clearly the Bible teaches against the idea of polygamy but God allowed it. Even though God allowed this practice he gave His Word in Scripture that no one is to do such a thing. Every time that someone took more than one wife, it always turns out badly and the family and sometimes even a nation paid serious consequences for it. After David left Hebron he “took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem, and more sons and daughters were born to him” (2 Sam 5:13). David’s adulterous affair and his adding more wives caused God to bring judgment on his family as it is written “the LORD says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight” (2 Sam 12:11).
When Solomon became king following his father David’s death “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter–Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites” (1 King 11:1). In fact “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray” (1 Kings 11:3). Why did they lead him astray? “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been” (1 Kings 11:4). Solomon so lusted after other women that he was willing to forsake worshipping the One, True God and worship gods that were in reality, no gods at all. These foreign wives led him into idolatry which was a grievous sin before the Lord. Solomon ignored his own proverbs which warned “Do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings” (Prov 31:3) which is exactly what he did. Even in David’s own family “Rehoboam loved Maakah daughter of Absalom more than any of his other wives and concubines. In all, he had eighteen wives and sixty concubines, twenty-eight sons and sixty daughters” (2 Chro 11:21).
Scriptures Forbidding Polygamy
The belief that God supports or even condones polygamy couldn’t be further from the truth from what we read in these Scriptures:
Leviticus 18:18 “And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.”
Malachi 2:14-15a “the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?”
Deuteronomy 17:17 “And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.”
Scriptures Supporting Polygamy?
There are only two that I could find that seem to, at first glance, support the idea of having more than one wife. These are:
Genesis 4:19 “And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.
Genesis 26:34-35 “When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.”
If you read these two verses about polygamy, they are not actually supporting polygamy before God’s eyes. The fact is that when Esau took Judith as another wife “they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” so as we can read, it did not go well for Esau’s family. There is not even one time in all of Scripture where having more than one wife turn out good.
Abraham, Sarah and Hagar
When Abraham and Sarah tried after many years to have a child and failed and even though God had promised them both that they would have a child, Sarah convinced Abraham to marry Sarah’s handmaiden to become his wife and Hagar conceived and brought forth Ishmael. Ishmael became the father of the Arab nations and the lineage of Israel, passed on from Isaac, has since then created natural enemies of one another, up to this day. The Jews and the Arabs still have great hostility toward each other. Later, “Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing. Therefore she said to Abraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac.” And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son” (Gen 20:9-11).
We can see that every time a man took more than one wife, not only did he go against what is written in the Scriptures, there was trouble in the home and great strife was the result. You can read from the experiences of biblical characters and the written Word of God that polygamy was not condoned by God. He tried to warn against it but time and again, from Abraham to David to Solomon and all of the kings of Israel, they took many wives and they were frequently the cause of their downfall and more often than not, they led them into idolatry, therefore we can easily conclude that God does not approve of polygamy. Marriage is to be between one woman and one man and there are no exceptions to this rule. In the first marriage ceremony it was written “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen 2:24-25). The man and the woman are not men and women or the man and many women. That is not the ideal and even Jesus said “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mark 10:7-8) showing even Jesus says that it should be two that become one flesh and he should “hold fast to his wife,” not his wives. How clear that is!
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon