Throughout the Old Testament, we read of many men having multiple wives. Why is polygamy in the Bible? What does God say about it?
Does the Bible allow polygamy? The Bible does not allow polygamy for today. In the Old Testament, some men had more than one wife, but this was not God’s original plan for marriage. God created marriage to be between one man and one woman. If polygamy were allowable, the entire picture that marriage represents of Christ and the Church as His Bride would fall apart.
In this blog post, we will look at what the Bible says about polygamy, why the Bible does not endorse polygamy and God’s original design for the marriage relationship.
First, What is Polygamy?
The word polygamy means “many spouses”. This word describes the marriage of a man who has multiple wives or a woman who has multiple husbands. Another word that describes having two spouses is bigamy.
When we hear the word polygamy we may think of ancient or tribal cultures. But there are people today who still believe it is okay to have multiple spouses or sexual relationships at the same time.
Polyamory is more common within our culture, which accepts having open sexual relationships. This, however, goes against the structure and order of marriage given by God since the very beginning of the world.
What Does the Bible Say About Polygamy?
When we ask the question, does the Bible allow polygamy, we must also ask if the Bible allows adultery, divorce, homosexuality, and all other forms of sexual relationships that go against God’s original design.
There are many things in the Bible. Just because polygamy and other forms of sexual relationships are recorded in the scripture does not mean that God endorses it as a practice.
We know this because these relationships go against who God is and everything He stands for.
The Bible clearly outlines God’s plan and design for marriage which is meant to be a covenant relationship between only one man and one woman.
This is seen from the beginning of the Bible in Genesis 2.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.Genesis 2:24 ESV
Jesus also affirms marriage between one man and one woman when the Pharisees came up to Him and asked if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason.
He answered, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’
So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”Matthew 19:3-6 ESV
Not only does Jesus affirm a covenant marriage between just one man and one woman by saying “a man shall hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh”, but Jesus also affirms that married couples should not separate from one another for any reason to find another spouse.
You cannot be one flesh with your spouse’s other spouses. The scriptures show us through the stories of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagai, and Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, that there is often rivalry, bitterness, and jealousy between having multiple spouses.
This is because the covenant union created by marriage is meant to only be between one man and one woman.
In 1 Timothy 3, Paul writes a list of qualifications concerning spiritual leadership, one of the qualifications being that a man is to be the husband of one wife. In other words, the husband is to be a “one-woman man”, only having one wife. This is also echoed in Titus 1:6.
Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.1 Timothy 3:12 ESV
In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul also writes about the marriage relationship between a husband and his wife. In the entire text, all references made to a husband and wife are singular, unless he is speaking to the entire church, in which he uses the plural.
However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.Ephesians 5:33 ESV
Paul also affirms God’s original design for marriage between one man and one woman in Colossians by addressing both husbands and wives in the church as a whole.
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.Colossians 3:18-19 ESV
Thus, from these scriptures, we can see that the Bible clearly states that marriage is only supposed to be a covenant relationship between one man and one woman.
Why Did God Allow Polygamy in the Old Testament?
God does not endorse or approve of polygamy, but He did allow it for a time.
The Bible does not specifically tell us why polygamy was allowed in the Old Testament, but there are a couple of reasons why God may have allowed people in early history to marry multiple people.
- God may have allowed polygamy is to multiply His people all over the earth.
- Single women living in a patriarchal society were not able to provide for themselves on their own and needed a provider. Thus, a man could marry several women and provide for them.
- Unmarried women could have been subject to prostitution or slavery is not cared for by fathers, brothers, or husbands for protection.
The first account in the scriptures that we read of polygamy is in Genesis 4 when we read of the descendants of Cain, Adam and Eve’s firstborn son.
And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.Genesis 4:19-22 ESV
This passage allows us to see that God allowed polygamy for populating people all over the earth. While He allowed it, nowhere in scripture does He encourage it.
Polygamy is not to be a continued practice today, as it is a distortion of God’s original design for marriage. His intent has always been for a man to have one wife, and a woman to have one husband.
In our continued study of what the Bible says about polygamy, there are other men in the Bible who were considered to be great leaders who were also polygamous including Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon.
In Deuteronomy, God gives a command for kings to be monogamous, meaning that they were to only have one wife.
“And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.Deuteronomy 17:17 ESV
However, Solomon, the son of David, who had been commanded by God to not marry foreign wives because they would turn his heart away from the Lord did not listen to His wisdom and did what he thought was best for himself, which led to his destruction.
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love.
He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.1 Kings 11:1-4 ESV
God’s Original Design: Marriage Between One Man and One Woman
So God created man in His own image,
in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
…And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.Genesis 1:27-28, 31 ESV
When God created marriage, He designed it to be only between one man and one woman. Men are to be the husband of one woman, and women are to be the wife of one man.
From the very beginning, the Bible gives us a picture of how God created man and woman to support, partner, and interact with one another. He gave them to each other and told them to multiply and fill the earth with His image.
They were to enjoy each other, encourage one another, and work alongside each other.
When God saw Adam was alone in the garden, He declared that it was not good and that He would make a helper for him. It is important to note here that helper is singular and not plural.
After God created Eve from Adam, scripture sets the pattern for marriage by telling us that a man shall leave his family and cling to his wife, thus becoming one flesh.
This is a union between only one man and one woman, as “one flesh” does not describe having multiple husbands or wives.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.Genesis 2:18, 21-24 ESV
The Purpose for Marriage
Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church, who is His bride. If the Bible allows polygamy, then the entire picture falls apart.
God created marriage to display the picture of Christ’s unconditional love for the church. He is devoted only to her and is faithful to her at all times.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of His body.
“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. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.Ephesians 5:22-33 ESV
A wife wants to submit to her husband who is submitted to the Lord. The best thing a husband can do in loving his wife is to love God more than her.
Sadly, this beautiful picture of marriage has been messed up by the world we live in because of sin.
In this world, there are loud messages of feminism, competitiveness, and being independent instead of appreciating how God made men and women wonderfully different, being equal partners to complement each other in the work God has set out before them, and being interdependent in their relationship with one another.
As Christians, we are to go back to the Bible and learn how a husband and wife are to love one another.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV
God also uses marriage for the sanctification process.
As a man learns to love his wife, and the wife learns to respect her husband, the Lord is making them more like Himself.
They must daily die to themselves and lay aside their own needs to serve one another with love and respect.
This reflects Christ’s unconditional love for the Church, His Bride, and how He has gone to great lengths to demonstrate His love toward us even while we did not know Him.
For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth He is called.Isaiah 54:5 ESV
Why Marriage Between One Man and One Woman is Attacked
Marriage is attacked because Satan hates people bearing the image of God and relationships that point to Jesus Christ.
Because marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church as His Bride, Satan wants to keep us and the world from seeing the beauty God has created in a covenant marriage relationship between one man and one woman.
The covenant relationship in marriage also helps us look forward to the coming return of Jesus Christ when we, the Bride of Christ, shall be taken to be with Him forever and dine with Him at the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and His Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
For the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”Revelation 19:6-9 ESV
What a joyous day that will be!
This is what covenant marriage between one man and one woman is all about. It is to point us to Jesus and help us understand His unconditional love for us.