Does the Bible Condemn Polygamy?

The Mosaic Law never condemned the practice of polygamy. In fact, it clearly allowed the Israelites to marry multiple wives as long as they did not neglect their first wives and all were treated equal (Deut 21:15, Ex 21:10, 1 Sam1:2, 2 Chr 24:3). The New Testament, however, informs us that this practice was not God's ideal, and that He merely tolerated it because of Israel’s rebellious tendencies and "hard-heartedness" (Matthew 19:4-6).


The fact that God allowed polygamy in the Old Testament is duly described as His permissive will. But while God's PERMISSIVE will prevailed in the Old Testament, Jesus came to change all of that by introducing us to God's PERFECT will. And honest Christians will desire to live in accordance with God's perfect will, NOT His Old Testament permissive will. The subject of polygamy largely rests on this principle and those who advocate for polygamy will conveniently ignore this fact.


But even in the Old Testament, God’s perfect will is clearly distinguished from His permissive will. This fact is plainly visible in the prohibition against polygamy located in Deuteronomy 17, where God decrees that kings should not multiply wives (polygamy) or riches: Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold (Deuteronomy 17:17). The reason for why God enacted this law is clearly expressed in the same verse: “that his [the king's] heart turn not away [from God]”. This would explain why David and Solomon got into so much trouble over their womanizing ways. But remember, God's permissive will prevailed here, so He tolerated their blatant disregard for this prohibition. On this matter, Jesus said, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts PERMITED you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” From the very beginning of time, neither polygamy nor divorce and remarriage were part of God's program since both represent the gross disregard of a woman's feelings and preferences.


So it would seem that God was keenly aware of the danger in having more than one wife at a time. And perhaps one of the main reasons why Israel forsook Yahweh for idols was simply because they ignored this prohibition, as in King Solomon's case.

Another important point to consider is the link between Deuteronomy 17 and the New Testament's prohibition on polygamy. While the leaders of Israel were to avoid multiplying wives for themselves, we find the same prohibition applied to the leaders and servants of the Church. Through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, Paul places a “one wife” prohibition on the bishops and deacons of the Church (1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6). Those who miss the clear correlation between Deuteronomy 17's prohibition and the one expressed in 1 Timothy and Titus are intentionally blind.

In Ephesians 5, we find the following admonition: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her (Ephesians 5:25). It is clear that the kind of love prescribed in this scripture passage is a sacrificial one, considerate of the other individual's feelings and preferences. Now after reading this instruction, it's important to ask the following question: If husbands would truly love their wives in the sacrificial manner required, would they not be content to keep themselves faithful to their "one and only"? In other words, it's hard to imagine a man's eyes roving for other women while sacrificially loving his wife.


Moreover, 1 Corinthians 7 states that every man should have his own wife (singular), just as every woman is to have her own husband (singular). Notice: Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband (1 Cor 7:2). Clearly, both the man and the woman should be content with one spouse each.


In Genesis 2:22, God forms Eve from Adam’s rib before presenting her to him. However, He intentionally provides Adam with one woman, not several. This was no mistake since Yahweh truly knows what’s best for man. Malachi 2:14-15 offers us the following explanation for why God did this:


Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. [NOTICE THAT ONLY A MAN'S FIRST WIFE IS RECOGNIZED AS HIS COVENANT WIFE] And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.


In the above passage, God is saying that He intentionally created only one mate for Adam. Why? Because He was seeking godly offspring. But when we stop to think about it, it really does make sense. Men with many wives have no time to carefully raise all of their children in a godly manner. They are simply too busy having to provide for their extra large families--never mind the time invested in pleasing all of their many wives without making any of them jealous! Sounds like a familiar problem? If so, it’s because we are well acquainted with the stories of the Bible's patriarchs and their multiple wives.


Now it’s interesting that Adam never married another wife as long as he lived. Neither did his descendants up until Lamech, who descended from Cain’s sinful bloodline. Abraham also remained faithful to Sarah, at least until she encouraged him to take “seed” from Hagar, her maidservant, which was just as bad an idea as when Eve presented Adam with the forbidden fruit. But the Lord condemned the illegitimate union between Abraham and Hagar and broke it off. Isaac on the other hand, never trespassed in the same sin. He kept to his one wife Rebecca until death, and so did Moses, Job, Lot, and countless others.


When God wiped out almost the entire human race with a flood, He spared only eight people, among whom was Noah and his family. But it's important to note that Noah and his family were spared in perfect pairs: Noah and his wife, and their three sons with their individual wives. In total, four men and four women were spared, no more and no less (Genesis 7:13). So God created the world with perfect pairs, and when He destroyed the earth, He started over again with perfect pairs. Was this a coincidence? I believe not.


A careful read of Matthew 19:4-9 and Mark 10:2-3, finds that a polygamous marriage is defined as a perpetual state of adultery with multiple women [refer to my book on divorce and remarriage]. And this is no small sin!


NT Principles that are Violated by Polygamy 1. Polygamy promotes selfishness and discontentment Husbands are called to love their wives as "Christ loved the Church and gave His life for her” (Eph 5:25). Men who have grown dissatisfied with their wives will likely take notice of other women. Polygamy is an obvious symptom of selfishness and discontentment. 2. Polygamy breeds lust If we believe the lie that polygamy is acceptable, we will begin to scrutinize the single women around us for possible sex mates. And the more we are allowed to feed this lust, the bigger it grows until it snuffs out our love and devotion for Christ. Women became the chief downfall of two of the greatest kings of Israel-- David and Solomon. God wisely foresaw this problem and attempted to regulate it. But Israel's kings ignored the prohibition against polygamy (Deut 17:17), resulting in some pretty severe consequences. We need only read the accounts pertaining to David’s neglected children to appreciate the negative repercussions of polygamous unions. 3. Polygamy devalues women and relegates them to concubine status Men do not marry multiple wives because they are needy for companionship, but rather sexual gratification. This does not take into account a woman's feelings or preferences and devalues her to the status of a concubine. It is a fact that all cultures that currently practice polygamy objectify women and do not treat them as co-equals. America is one of the few countries in the world that champions monogamy and has always held women in high regard because of it. However, this attitude toward women appears to be fading away, and so too the moral fabric of our culture. 4. Polygamy breeds jealousy and neglect Polygamy produces jealousy between wives and it also does the same between men. After all, not all men can afford to care for more than one wife. Page 3 of 4 5. Polygamy promotes child neglect Polygamy is the perfect catalyst for producing lots of children and neglecting them. So taking all of these factors into account, we simply can't deny that polygamy is a prime recipe for disaster and was the cause of much heartache throughout the Old Testament.


One Wife for Elders & Deacons In both Titus and 1 Timothy, the Apostle Paul outlined specific standards that were to be applied to the Church's leadership and their families. These standards clearly demonstrate that God's eternal preference is always monogamy. The wording of the text is rather clear. Notice: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly (Titus 1:6). A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well (1 Timothy 3:2; 12) . Now here's the kicker. Every man in the Body of Christ is either an older servant (bishop/elder) or younger servant (deacon). So these instructions apply equally to all of us. Now if we truly desire to remain faithful to God, why not begin by remaining faithful to the first wife He gave us? In Christ, JA