In this sermon, we search the Scriptures to determine if God supports or prohibits polygamy. We also answer the opposition towards polygamy and why monogamy is prescribed.
- The many forms of polygamy
- The biblical support
- Christian objections to polygamy
- Why is monogamy prescribed?
Note: This article was originally posted on 08/13/16 and has been recently updated to support new information. Originally, I stated that polygamy was supported by God but only in countries that allowed it—I was wrong. I also promoted monogamy as God’s best, but that’s not supported in Scripture nor in nature. This article is the first of many to shed light on this controversial topic.
The featured photo depicts bridegroom Milton Mbele, a Zulu businessman, with his four brides from left: Happiness, Thobile, Simangele, and Zanele, at their Western wedding in Weenen. Milton thought it cheaper to marry all his women at the same time instead of separate ceremonies.
The many forms of polygamy
First off, let’s get some terms understood. Polygamy means multiple spouses or sexual relationships. It’s a word that encompasses the following marital arrangements:
- Polygyny means a man with multiple concurrent marriages and wives.
- Polyandry means a woman with multiple concurrent marriages and husbands.
- Polyamory means multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved (may include both heterosexual and homosexual relationships).
- Monogamy means a man or woman can only be married to one spouse at a time.
It’s clear in scripture that the great patriarchs of God had multiple wives and God didn’t condemn them. Each wife was a separate marriage covenant. But we also know that God originally gave the first man one wife. Adam, and all the way until Lamech, the son of Cain, had one wife. Lamech was the first man to take two wives (Genesis 4:19). Then we jump to the nation of Israel and we see rules setup concerning the treatment of multiple wives.
A woman with multiple husbands is not supported by God because women were created for men (Genesis 2:18, 1 Corinthians 11:8,9). Once a woman marries a man, she belongs to him for life (1 Corinthians 7:39). If any other man has sexual relations with her, it’s considered adultery. A married woman cannot share herself with other men—she wasn’t built that way.
So any man or woman practicing polyandry is violating God’s laws. Also, it’s clear in scripture that God made man the “head of the wife” (Ephesians 5:23). If a woman has two husbands, then who’s the head?
Polyandry was never practiced by the Israelites or the Church of old because it’s just plain against nature. A woman practicing polyandry is a whore according to the Scriptures. While some Indian and African tribes practice polyandry, the men in these relationships later go off to marry their own wives—their permanent wives. So it’s not like these multiple men stay with this one woman for the duration of their lives. Therefore, they understand that polyandry isn’t something sustainable.
I know some of my readers are saying this is a double standard. If the Scriptures seem to support a man marrying multiple women, surely a woman can do the same, but men and women are not the same as we’ve shared on this site too many times. You must let go of egalitarian ideologies.
This form of polygamy is simply wild. It can include homosexuality and heterosexuality at the same time. I’ve seen instances where it looked like polyandry, but the wife was allowed to sleep with other men outside of the relationship and so where the men. Sometimes it involves two couples who swap each other’s wives and husbands, but agree to keep those relationships exclusive, meaning no one within the group could step outside and have sex with someone else.
Clearly God doesn’t support these kinds of arrangements even if they are consensual because it violates nature. At most, people practicing polyamory are committing fornication, adultery, and even homosexuality; and these people will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
The biblical support
The Bible records the amount of wives, concubines, and children for many men in the Bible, he also gives regulations for polygyny, and even in the New Testament under the New Covenant, polygyny is supported.
Polygamists in the Bible
There are numerous references to Israelites and Gentiles who had multiple wives. You’ll notice something about each instance: there’s no condemnation or prohibition from God. See the following passages:
- Abijah, 14 wives
2 Chronicles 13:21
- Abraham, at least 2 wives
- Ashur, 2 wives
1 Chronicles 4:5
- Caleb, at least 4 wives
1 Chronicles 2:18–19, 46, 48
- King David, at least 4 wives
1 Samuel 18:27; 25:39, 42; 2 Samuel 3:5; 5:13; 12:7–8; 12:24; Acts 13:22
- Elkanah, 2 wives
1 Samuel 1:1–2
- Esau, 2 wives
- Ezra, 2 wives
1 Chronicles 4:17–18
- Gideon, many wives
- Lemech, 2 wives
- Rehoboam, 18 wives
2 Chronicles 11:21
- King Solomon, 700 wives
1 Kings 11:3, Deuteronomy 17:17
The biblical regulations of polygyny
If polygyny is a sin, why are there regulations for it, and in some cases, why is it mandatory that a man take on a second wife? See these verses for more information:
Don’t neglect the second wife
If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. (Exodus 21:10)
Don’t neglect the first wife
15 If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated:
16 Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn:
17 But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his. (Deuteronomy 21:15-17)
Marry your dead brother’s wife and bear a child
5 If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her.
6 And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel…. (Deuteronomy 25:5-10)
Deacons and pastors can only have one wife
After reading the criteria for deacons and pastors found in Titus 1:6-7 and 1 Timothy 3:2,12, ask yourself why was this a rule for the candidates of these positions if monogamy was the norm. The answer is simple, even in the New Covenant, in the Church of God, men still practiced polygyny and it was acceptable by God.
Christian objections to polygamy
While the Scriptures are clear that God has no issue with polygyny, Christians will still raise some objections to it. Here are a few things people say to justify monogamy as the norm and polygyny as sinful.
“God allowed men to have multiple wives in the Old Testament (OT) because men were weak with lust and had no power from Holy Spirit. Now that the Holy Spirit has come, men are no longer allowed to have multiple wives.” Answer: this objection assumes a man’s desire for another wife is forbidden but this is not true. His desire is a biological drive. If the claim about lust were true, there’d be Bible verses commanding monogamy for Believers under the New Covenant (NT), but nothing is mentioned.
“In the NT, deacons and pastors must be married to only one wife, therefore this applies to ever man in the Church.” Answer: This rule only applies to men who want to be deacons and pastors.
“In 1 Corinthians 7:2 and other verses, the Bible defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Therefore, polygyny is wrong because it includes more than one woman.” Answer: true, a godly marriage only consists of two people of the opposite sex. However, a man can have multiple concurrent marriages; and that is what polygyny is. Polygyny is not one marriage made up of a man and several other women.
“Every time you read about polygamist families in the Bible drama is connected. This is a sign that polygamy is not a good family structure.” Answer: this is not always true. There are polygamist families that cite no issues. However, the following verses expose some problems that came up poly families.
In 2 Chronicles 11:21 and Genesis 29:30-31, we see favoritism. In Genesis 16:4, we see contempt. Favoritism is a normal occurrence and every wife will not be equal, yet the Bible gives rules to treat them all fairly regardless of a favorite. In the case of contempt, this was the choice of the second wife and no fault of the other wife or husband.
In these cases, polygyny isn’t the problem, rather human nature is. Look at the divorce rate among monogamous families in America. Is marriage a bad thing because so many people can’t stay together?
I’ve heard people say, “The first polygamist, Lemech, was a murderer (Genesis 4:19, 23). Therefore, polygyny is bad.” Answer: You can’t condemn a person’s family structure because an act of murder. His amount of wives had nothing to do with his decision to kill someone.
Romans 13:1-5 teaches us to obey the laws of the land because God ordained them. Since polygamy is illegal in America, it’s a sin to practice it in America. Answer: Bigamy is illegal, not polygamy. Bigamy is registering two or more concurrent marriages on state records. Contrary to popular belief, a couple doesn’t have to register their union with a state. A marriage is valid under God if a man and woman agree to unite—there is no paperwork, ring or anything else required.
Why is monogamy prescribed?
There are a few reasons why monogamy is prescribed in certain countries:
Dis-empowers men in a gynocentric social order.
If a man can only have one wife and she has the power to take half his resources and children at divorce, she doesn’t have to be a good wife and the man may have to endure mistreatment or face divorce.
It controls the population and limits the wealth of individual men.
The powers-that-be, and historically European invaders, prescribe monogamy to their conquered inhabitants to limit population of people. Less people equals better control. Along with less children and wives comes a cap on a man’s ability to expand his wealth.