Why Was Polygamy Allowed In The Bible?

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).

Why is Polygamy Allowed

Unequally Yoked

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).

Conclusion

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

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • There are a host of common sense reasons not to marry a bunch of women. I don’t think it takes a holy book to see that.

    And there isn’t any transcendent meaning to “one flesh,” which is no different than Shakespeare’s “making the beast with two backs.” Othello (Act 1, Scene 1, ll. 126-127)

    • Theresa

      And the 2 shall become 1 flesh……that is exactly what it says & you cannot twist it any other way. It is the same thing when it says “a man shall leave his father & mother & cling to is wife” And the 2 shall be 1 flesh…..simple & plain as day as to the meaning.

  • John Galtius

    “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.”

    Jack, how do you live with yourself when you post lies like this? It says nothing of the sort. What about God defending Moses second wife? What about God giving David his wives? What about Jesus not banning plural marriage when he had the chance? What about Titus and Timothy limiting plural marriages while someone holds the position of Deacon, Elder and Overseer in the Church? Why did thy not just ban it for everyone at that time?

    Plural marriage is a choice that God not only supports, but made rules concerning. In Exodus or Leviticus he made provisions for the firstborn in a poly marriage, and Jesus himself can trace his lineage to at least one poly marriage. One of the prophets found two women to someone, forget who right at the moment, and he specifically chose Gideon BECAUSE he had more than one wife.

    So god gives more than one wife as a gift. He wrote laws concerning it. He passed on banning it the many times he had a chance to. He advocated it in a couple of places, directed his prophets to engage or support it on many occasions, and even though Moses was punished for striking the rock instead of speaking to it, God supported him marrying a second wife.

    Sorry, but you might preach it, but you are not being truthful, and you are not being honest. What you ARE doing is trying to manipulate the Bible into supporting YOUR conclusions, and that, Sir, is wrong.

    • Theresa

      Every incident in the Bible of plural marriage did create great strife John how can you not see that?God did’nt create polygamy MAN DID.Greedy power monger men.God allowed it but it was’nt so from the beginning & YOU KNOW THAT IS A FACT. God did have rules for polygamy & he also had rules for slavery so he did’nt ban slavery either right?.So with your logic you should be able to own slaves & have many wives all with God’s blessing right John? You know i always see men in favor of polygamy hardly ANY women want it (only the brainwashed women who were raised in cults) I have even talked to some socalled Christian men who actually believe that women do not have a choice in the matter!!!! Yes they would put their wife through something they would never do themselves……that is not loving your wife as your own flesh …..that is loving your flesh more than anything else…….selfish ……heartless ….bigots. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you . To me polygamy is slavery for women imposed on women from men who use the Bible to make them submit to something they themselves would never submit to.Polygamy is from hell & it needs to go back there

  • APOSTLE1

    God forbid it but He allowed it? Come on give me a break. God is not double minded or unstable. God said He gave King David his WIVES. Must mean God was more than ok with it. He told one king not to take wives. What we see is the only time there was a problem with the men of God that had 2 or more wives was when they went whoring after the god of their wives. God did not simply allow it He blessed it and in some cases commanded it. Stop trying to make God over into the image of a double minded unstable man.

    • Theresa

      God is not double minded but men are.
      Yes God gave David wives he also allowed slavery back then …..do you think that God wants us to have slaves today?Should women submit to polygamy also? What do you think Apostle 1? Are you married? What does your wife think about polygamy if you have one?Are you pro polygamy?

      • APOSTLE1

        Yea I am married and yes I believe in Godly polygamy. My wife actually came to me about polygamy. She told me God spoke to her and called us to polygamy. Slavery and polygamy have nothing to do with each other. There are places in the scriptures where God ordained polygamy. King David was a man after God’s own heart and God confirmed He gave David his 8 wives.

        • Theresa

          ok so your wife came to you & said “god ” called you to be polygamist.I’m just wondering why she would want polygamy?Are you Mormon?Can she not have children?This is very rare when a wife thinks god told her to be polygamist……who am i to question this….i have no right because each individual stands before God & gives an account for their life .I only question when men say that their wives have to submit to polygamy saying that they are going against “god” if they do not submit to it.Forced polygamy is what i’m am totally against & that is slavery because you have no choice in the matter.

          • APOSTLE1

            My wife and I have 2 kids. I agree polygamy should never be forced on anyone. On the other hand if consenting adults wish to live it they should be allowed to. You would be surprised how many women go to their husband’s about living polygamy. Actually the proper term is polygyny.

  • John Galtius

    “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.”

    Sorry, I should just let it go as someone who has no idea what they are talking about, but I just can’t. You’re lying. It’s just that simple. You’re lying, and trying to deceive people, and it’s wrong. IF you want to talk to me personally, which I doubt, send me a private message and I’ll talk about this on the phone. But you cannot teach lies, you just can’t do it.

  • Wynter Woodbury

    I’ve thought about this a lot because of some of the books I’ve read written
    by women who were plural wives and either walked away or escaped. I
    finally realized that God only created one man & one woman,
    therefore men are only supposed to have one wife. As to why polygamy has
    been allowed, that’s simple. Man has freewill and can do what he wants,
    regardless of what God says he should do. God gave man freewill and in so doing placed a limitation on Himself by not interfering with man’s freewill. Plural marriage was not an issue till Adam & Eve ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge. As Jack Wellman pointed out, plural marriage caused nothing but trouble and heartache for the families involved.

  • Andie Brownell

    I have read a lot, and I have thought a lot, and I am now ready to leave my comment. In response to Mr Galtius, and any other person that wishes to defend Polygamy.
    God gave David the kingdom, that is agreeable? And as a result, David got wives. They happened to be a side affect. In 2 Samuel 12 we see what I suppose you could call God giving David his wives. This passage takes place after David and Bathsheba. Nathan came to David and told him the story of the lambs and then he began to reprimand David very strongly. He says (and I am paraphrasing here) God gave you this kingdom, all the land, all the wives, all the riches, and he would have given you three times as much, but you didn’t want what you had, you had to go take something that belonged to someone else. You selfish man. God wasn’t giving David anything in this passage, He was first reprimanding him and then punishing him. Yes, God did give David Wealth and prosperity, and as a result, David got many wives. Throughout all the other passages referring to his wives it says, and David got a wife, not God gave David a wife.
    Moses’s wife situation is a very debated one, because it is pretty unclear. The Bible speaks directly of Zipporah, the daughter of the Priest of Midian, Moses’s wife. The supposed second wife is only referred to as the Ethiopian woman, or the Cushite. She is never named. Many believe this to also be Zipporah, because she was not a Israelite, she was called an Ethiopian. According to Biblical timelines, this idea makes sense. Zipporah was sent back to her father after the circumcision incident in Exodus 4, but after the Israelites came into the wilderness, Zipporah rejoined him and at this point (Num. 12) is when Aaron and Miriam get upset about Moses’s non-Israelite wife. Same woman. One wife.
    Gideon did have many wives, the Bible says so in Judges 8:30. Previous to this scripture Gideon’s marriage arrangements were not mentioned. I read the whole story just to be sure. He was the least likely man to be chosen, he was a humble man. God knew he was not power hungry, that he was scared, but he was willing. Where you got his wives from, I don’t know, I didn’t find it.
    Now on to Jesus! No, you are right, Jesus never blatantly stated, Don’t have many wives. Jesus also never blatantly stated Don’t do drugs or watch porn, but you don’t argue those things do you? However, lets do look at a few verses Jesus did talk about marriage. Ephesians 5:33 :However, let each one of you love his WIFE as himself, and let the WIFE see that she respects her husband. Because we are members of his body.” In 1 Cor. 7 it says, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own WIFE and each woman her own HUSBAND. ” And the greatest, Ephesians 5:30-32 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his WIFE, and the two shall become ONE flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” The two shall become one. This phrase is common in scripture. it is repeated multiple times, in both the old and new testament. Therefore, it must be pretty important to God don’t you think? The two not the three or four, just the two, shall become one. It is impossible to become one flesh with one woman and then become one flesh with another. You wouldn’t be one flesh with either of them, and if you were one with one of them, then that means you weren’t with the other. That thought then concluding with, if you are one flesh with one woman in marriage and you take another and sleep with her, you are committing adultery. Because you cannot be one flesh with more than one woman.
    So lets think, sir. The marriage between a man and woman represents Christ and the church, that’s what Ephesians 5, and many other passages said.This is one reason why the church is so hateful towards Sexual sins, it damages that perfect image of God loving us. God’s covenant with the church is like that of a marriage covenant. A promise so strong and pure that He pardoned us all so we get to be in Heaven with him. So if you are suggesting that God condones a man having many wives, than you are destroying God’s covenant with the church. God doesn’t have many brides does he? No. He has the church which is the bride of Christ. The BRIDE. God has one Bride, so why should we, his people, have many? That, as Nathan put it, is just selfish.
    You are grasping at what isn’t there. God never said out right, “Only have one wife” so He must be ok with it. I did this for a long time with sex. I am not a virgin, and I am not married. For a long long time I justified it by saying, well, Jesus only suggested to wait until marriage. He didn’t say, don’t do it, He just said its better to wait. Finding every little loophole I could to the words in the Bible. But you can’t change what the Bible says, and we can’t add things we want to read to it either. The Bible says, Don’t engage in fornication, adultery, or sexual sins. You can’t get around it. I was trying to because I was insecure and angry and guilty. But I have come to know differently now. God still loves me, he always will. I can’t bend his rules, I just broke them. I am now at peace with myself and with God. I know what God says, and I know what I did, and the two weren’t in line. You are still looking for every loophole you can to justify this act. And if you want to go there, Polygamy can be included in Sexual sins, or sexual immorality. So in that case, God does say it is wrong.
    You insulting another person and calling him a liar is wrong. More wrong than him being mistaken, if he was, which he wasn’t. You were rude and offensive, not him. If you disagree, then Ok, no one can make you believe something you don’t want to believe. I can defend what I believe and I can defend the honor of this Pastor. Which I am.
    I also want to add this tiny statement that Polygamy is very demeaning an dehuminizing to a woman. Do you really think that woman wants to share her husband and her life with another woman? She is not a prize or symbol, She is a woman and she deserves her own husband that is hers alone.

    • ChrisDACase95

      Problem with your argument is that God directly offered David his wives, with no condemnation. If God had a problem with polgyamy in the old Testement, something that dated all the way back to Arbaham, he would’ve condemend it but he never did.

      “And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.” That included wives. It should also be noted David’s repentance was for murder and adultery (taking another man’s wife) never for taking multiple wives of his own.

      Also of polygamy is to be considered a sexual sin, you’d think it would be mentioned somewhere in Leviticus with its list of sexual vices. But the fact is it is not.

      That and if the church is the Bride, you need to know the church refers to people, not a single person. If Christ is the groom, than he practices polygamy himself. The only time monogamy was a requirement in Scripture comes from a statement by Paul, not Jesus. And Paul admits to writting his own opinions down. The fact that polygamy simply fell out of practice in the Jewish community has nothing to do with morality, but a change in culture. The uncomfortable fact is yes, the Bible does condone polygamy, and Goe is neutral about it as a concept. Marriage was always a cutural thing, never religious.

      Here’s more from a fundamentalsit; http://www.gaychristian101.com/Marriage-in-the-Bible.html

      And a moderate; http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/02/26/polygamy-is-biblical-is-it-therefore-moral/

  • ChrisDACase95

    Asinine logic there, but surprising of fundamentalists.

    “The Bible is God’s word, everything that is said comes from the very mouth of God. But if it says things that make us uncomfortable, then it doesn’t mean God condoned it.”

    Cherry picking at its finest.