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What Does the Bible say About Polygamy?

Polygamy is a complex topic in biblical thought. This includes many historical accounts of key figures who themselves had multiple spouses. However, when scripture is examined, it reveals a preference for monogamy as God's ideal for marriage. This blog post will explore key biblical passages and principles to understand what does the Bible say about polygamy?


Is Polygamy Biblical

What Does the Bible say About Polygamy?


Biblical Condemnation of Polygamy


Some suggest there are no verses in the Bible that condemn having multiple wives. One of the most direct statements against polygamy for kings can be found 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.


This verse instructs that kings should not have or acquire "many wives" and suggests that doing so could lead their hearts astray. This directive could be a broader caution against polygamy, emphasizing the potential moral and spiritual pitfalls that can arise as a result of having multiple spouses.



Description vs. Prescription


When considering a topic like this, distinguishing between descriptive and prescriptive passages in the Bible is essential. It is important to remember that not everything recorded in Scripture is endorsed by God. For instance, David’s adultery is documented, but nowhere is it condoned. Similarly, polygamy is recorded in different biblical narratives, yet that does not mean it is prescribed or approved by God.


In relation to this, we must also remember God's tolerance and His ideal will. The Bible indeed includes regulations for polygamy (e.g., Deuteronomy 21:15-17), these laws reflect an accommodation to human weakness rather than a change in God's ideal of monogamy. We see something similar concerning the subject of divorce. The presence of such regulations suggests a tolerance of polygamy rather than endorsement. God's original design remains the standard.



Consequences of Polygamy


The Bible provides numerous accounts where polygamy led to adverse outcomes. Solomon, despite his wisdom, is a notable example: 1 Kings 11:1-4 - 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.


King Solomon’s many wives led him astray, resulting in spiritual and national consequences, including turning his heart from the Lord.


Similarly, patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob's polygamous relationships caused great familial strife and conflict. For example, Abraham's relationship with Hagar led to significant tension with his wife, Sarah (Genesis 16). Jacob's marriages to Leah and Rachel resulted in jealousy and competition (Genesis 29-30).



God's Ideal: One Man, One Woman


What is God's ideal for marriage? God’s original design for marriage is clearly laid out in Genesis 2:24 - Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.


The original creation narrative presents a monogamous union as the foundational model for marriage. Jesus reaffirms this ideal in His teachings in Matthew 19:4-6 - 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'.



New Testament Guidance


The New Testament consistently promotes monogamy, especially for church leaders. Notice what it says in 1 Timothy 3:2 - Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach. Paul says in Titus 1:6 - If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.


These requirements for bishops and elders underscore monogamy as the unwavering standard for church leadership and, by extension, for all believers.



Moral and Theological Principles


God’s marriage design, modeled in the Genesis creation narrative and reflected in the relationship between Christ and the Church, is monogamous.


Paul uses the marriage relationship as an analogy for the relationship between Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5:25 and 31 - Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.


This ideal is the moral and theological standard, and deviations are allowed due to human sinfulness but are not ideal.



Conclusion


The Bible presents monogamy as the ideal model for marriage, established in the creation narrative and reinforced by Jesus and New Testament teachings. While polygamy appears in biblical history, it is often accompanied by negative consequences and is tolerated rather than endorsed, reflecting human brokenness rather than divine ideal.



Question

Do you have any other thoughts or Bible verses on this subject? Please share your thoughts and insights below, and let's continue encouraging one another.



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