On Polygamy

Some random thoughts on polygamy:

I think Mark Twain said it best: “Of course the Bible is against polygamy – no man can serve two masters”.

Personally, I don’t know why someone would want two mothers-in-law, but if we want to look specifically at what Scripture says, I think the issue is not quite as cut and dry as everyone would like it to be. Yes, the original example is one man and one woman, with the two becoming one flesh, but there is plenty of Biblical grounds for seeing that caution needs to be exercised when considering what, exactly, this means. Consider the following:

  • Nowhere in Scripture is polygamy prohibited for anyone except for elders in the NT church. If you want to prohibit it for yourself, your city, state or country, have at it – but don’t say the Bible prohibits it for everyone unless you have a verse for us to examine. And you’ll be hard pressed to find one. And should you find this elusive verse, please do me a favor and explain why Paul repeatedly only restricts polygamy for elders.  There are plenty of places where Jesus, Peter or Paul could have nipped this issue in the bud – and they didn’t. One wonders why. This is important because if monogamy was so important that Paul had to repeat it several times for the elders, why on earth did he not mention it even once for the rest of the congregation?
  • There is no Biblical record of anyone being rebuked for polygamy, except in the case of taking many wives (Solomon, Deut 17:17). The same cannot be said for divorce, or even remarriage after divorce. Both were repeatedly rebuked (Matt 19:1-5; Mark 6:18).
  • The closest verse you’ll find against polygamy is 1 Cor 7:2. But here, Paul’s not really talking addressing monogamy – he’s talking about sexual expression/outlets within the specific confines of marriage. Close ..but not quite close enough.
  • People frequently say that every instance of polygamy met with Biblical disaster. Despite this statement simply not being true, would we apply this rationale to other passages? Say, for example, every time a man “listened to the voice of his wife” in Genesis, something bad happened (Adam and Abraham). What should we conclude from this? (At the very least, we should conclude that this proves the fact that correlation is not causation.)
  • To say that “two becoming one” means “only two” becoming one flesh means you also get to explain why so many of us are one in Christ. We’re millions of believers, all being one in Christ. If millions can be one, why, Biblically, do we feel inclined to  insist that only two can become one? This is not a slam-dunk argument, but it does show that “two becoming one” does not necessarily rule out “multiples becoming one.” (The idea grosses me out personally, but I’m not here to discuss my personal opinions. I’m just trying to examine our rationale on this topic.)
  • We need to be careful when deciding whether a passage is prescriptive or merely descriptive. If God’s dealing with man and woman in Genesis 1-3 is prescriptive, then we need to all be wearing leather to cover up our nakedness, because that’s what God used to cover up Adam and Eve (Gen 3:21).  However, if you say that cloth is an acceptable substitute for leather because God allowed cloth in the Mosaic code, then…
  • Please explain why God allowed for polygamy in the Mosaic code. Exod 21:10. You can’t have it both ways.
  • In Matthew 19, Jesus says that Moses allowed for divorce “because of the hardness of your hearts.” This verse, oddly enough, is used to dismiss all manner of OT manners in light of Jesus’ teaching. But let’s focus: Jesus is not teaching on polygamy, He’s teaching on divorce and remarriage. We’ll also note that polygamy was allowed hundreds of years prior to Moses “allowing” it in Deut 24, so His answer doesn’t square up with how many people want to use His answer.
  • When rebuking David for taking Uriah’s wife, God Himself facilitated polygamy : “I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if [that had been] too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! “ (2 Sam 12:8).  Please note the following.
    • God says HE gave David his wives (plural!)
    • God says that if this were not enough, HE would have given David even more wives. (Even if you want to insist that “many more things like these” only refers to the house of Israel and Judah, you still have to explain why “master’s wives” is plural. There’s no getting around it.)
      These two statements now moves this discussion well outside the realm of “Moses allowed it because of the hardness of your hearts” territory. This is God voluntarily saying that He would have done this. Anyone wanting to argue against polygamy must now demonstrate why God Himself would not just ‘allow’ it, but would proactively facilitate it.

So now we’re faced with an even more pressing question: If polygamy is never prohibited or frowned upon in the Old Testament, why is it prohibited for elders in the New Testament? And why only for elders – why not for all believers?

Addendum: here’s a list I found of all the instances of polygamy in the Bible. I haven’t verified the list:

Lamech – Genesis 4:19
Abraham – Genesis 16
Esau – Genesis 26:34, 28:9
Jacob – Genesis 29:30
Ashur- 1 Chronicles 4:5
Gideon – Judges 8:30
Elkanah – 1 Samuel 1:2
David – 1 Samuel 25:39- 44, 2 Samuel 3:2- 5, 2 Samuel 5:13, 1 Chronicles 14:3
Solomon – 1 Kings 11:1- 8
Rehoboam – 2 Chronicles 11:18- 23
Abijah – 2 Chronicles 13:21
Jehoram – 2 Chronicles 21:14
Joash – 2 Chronicles 24:3
Ahab – 2 Kings 10
Jehoiachin – 2 Kings 24:15
Belshazzar- Daniel 5:2, 1 Chronicles 2:8
Hosea – Hosea 3:1,2

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