Is Polygamy Wrong?

Why should a man not have more than one wife? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I had a friend message me wanting to know my stance on polygamy. After all, doesn’t polygamy show up in the Bible? Jesus Himself never condemned polygamy did He? There seem to be times in the Bible when God endorses polygamy. What’s going on with that?

One case where it’s explicitly stated is in 2 Chronicles 24 with the first three verses.

Joash became king of Judah at the age of seven, and he ruled in Jerusalem for forty years. His mother was Zibiah from the city of Beersheba. He did what was pleasing to the Lord as long as Jehoiada the priest was alive. Jehoiada chose two wives for King Joash, and they bore him sons and daughters.

Then of course, many great figures in Israel’s history had multiple wives. Abraham had his wife and he had his concubine. Jacob had his wives and both of their concubines. Of course, King David who was a man after God’s own heart is quite well known for his multiple wives and who could top all the wives that Solomon had? Heck. God allowed this to happen. 2 Samuel 12 seems quite explicit.

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.

Yes. See? David had all the wives of Saul and God would have given him even more if it had been too little. Surely God is behind this.

And when we get to the New Testament, we don’t see any explicit condemnations of polygamy. We also see the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Why would there be so many virgins directly said to be at a wedding? Are they the ones taking part in it?

Let’s take a look at all of this.

Polygamy is really one of those borderline practices in Old Testament Times. Lamech was the first to take two wives and it was seen as an example of how wrong society had become before the flood. What we see in the Old Testament is not so much eliminating it as regulating it. If this is here for now, here’s what we’re going to do about it. The same can be said for the slavery system.

We also see divorce being permitted, but Jesus himself said in Matthew 19 that Moses did that because hearts were hard, but it was not that way from the beginning. While there was even a time in Israel’s history, namely Ezra 10, where divorce was commanded, we know that ultimately, God hates divorce. Divorce was a sad necessity in Ezra 10 to avoid a greater danger. It’s the same way God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, yet sometimes they die.

Well what about king Joash? The high priest specifically gave him two wives. Why is that?

Let’s keep in mind the entire royal family had just been killed and Joash was the lone survivor. It needed to be built up again and thus two wives were chosen. After all, one could be infertile or the children could die young, which was common back then. I find it amazing that if polygamy was something that was so wonderful and it would help repopulate the royal family, why stop with two wives? Why not have a dozen or so? The royal family would get populated again very quickly.

Okay, well what about King David? Didn’t God tell him that he could have even more wives? Well, not really.

You see, God was also quite clear that the Israelites were to stay in the land of Israel and Judah. When David has a census later on he’s quite likely wanting to expand his territory and that’s why judgment comes. Israel was given a land and they were not to take from others. So when Israel and Judah is given to David, are we to say God was ready to give him Egypt and Assyria? No. What is being said is that everything Saul had, including his harem, went to David and David had everything that represented his kingship. It does not mean God would give more wives any more than that he would give more nations.

What about the New Testament? Having multiple virgins at a wedding does not mean the man was marrying all of them. For one thing, that would be a long long wedding night as after a man has his orgasm, it takes him awhile before he can have another one. Second, the virgins were often there to be given an idea of their own wedding. Why were some locked out? They had shamed the bride.

Today, weddings are still major events in the lives of young women. Imagine you’re a young woman who has a wedding and you invite someone to be a bridesmaid and they don’t adequately prepare. They don’t fix their hair or get a good outfit or anything. This person is treating your special day as if it’s no big deal. So do the foolish virgins in this parable. Preparing by having extra oil was not a major inconvenience.

Now some of you might be thinking I’m going to Jesus’s words next, but no. I’m going to go to Paul first. Let’s look at Romans 7.

Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.

Now if Paul is saying having relations with another man results in adultery, implicit in that is an understanding that a woman is to have only one husband. Some also see this as a requirement in 1 Tim. 3. That one is much more debated but if it is the idea of one woman for one man in that passage, then we have a statement on how polygamy was viewed.

But now, let’s go to Jesus. The place to go is Matthew 19.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘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.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Notice Jesus has two ideas about marriage. First off, he says marriage is male and female. He could have just gone to Genesis 2:24 and said it was a “one flesh” relationship. He doesn’t. He makes sure to include Genesis 1:27 in there and even then only the part about male and female. Then Jesus points to the two becoming one flesh. Once the two are together, the union is complete. There’s no need for more.

A large part of this was a way of stopping a revolving door. You could have a man marry and then divorce his wife and then marry another and then divorce her and then remarry the first. It would be a way of avoiding a restriction on polygamy by using divorce. Fortunately, even OT law dealt with this one.

Jesus even comes down hard. Many times we like to think that the OT God is strict and Jesus is all love. Look at the Sermon on the Mount if you think that. The OT forbade adultery. Jesus says you don’t even look at another man’s wife with lust. Murder was already forbidden. Jesus said don’t hate in your heart. Jesus always raised the moral bar.

Jesus does the same here. Jesus only says divorce is permitted in the case of adultery. We could ask greatly what adultery means. That is for another day, but it’s important to note that even in cases where divorce could be a sad necessity, it is still that. Sad. We should not rejoice that a divorce has taken place even if we think it’s for the best. That means that someone broke a promise along the way to love the other person till death do them part. That’s tragic.

Polygamy could be a real temptation also because, and I’m sure this will be a shock to all the women, men tend to have a really strong desire for sex. (I’m sure every woman reading this is just shocked right now.) Polygamy can devalue women because a man can just say “I’m not getting it from you. I guess I’ll go elsewhere.” It is very easy for women to become objects.

In monogamy, the man and woman have to work together to make sure each person’s needs, including their sexual needs are met. In fact, this isn’t just for the man. In 1 Cor. 7, the man and the woman are both to give each other their conjugal rights. The wife’s body belongs to the man, but the man’s body belongs to the wife.

So what’s the Biblical response? Live your marriage in such a way that extending beyond the borders would be unthinkable. Since the men tend to have the greatest sex drives, I’ll say that for the women, follow the advice one of Allie’s friends told her recently. “You have to keep him interested.” Your man has a desire for you and he wants you. Sex with you is one of the deepest ways that he connects with you and feels accepted and wanted by you.

For the men, control your desires. Don’t treat your wife as an object. Be with her even when it’s not sexual. If you make everything be about sex, then your wife is prone to think that all she’s good for is sex. You didn’t marry an apparatus to give you pleasure, although your wife’s body should definitely give you pleasure. You married a person to be treated like a person.

If a man tends to go beyond the boundaries, it is because of his great appetite and all the women in the world will never be enough. Men instead need to let their desires for their wives be that which is not quenched. Women. Keep in mind that your husband wanting frequent sex is his way of saying “I can’t get enough of you.” There should not be a limit as to how much a man wants his wife and vice-versa. Grow in that love every day.

In Christ,
Nick Peters