Posted by: celticanglican | April 12, 2008

Does the Bible Allow for Christian Polygamy?

There are accounts in the Bible that involve men having multiple wives.  There are also groups in this day and age that believe Christians should practice polygamy.  Since men in Biblical times tended to have more than one wife, does this mean that this is God’s plan for us today? This could easily be compared to the question of slavery.  It’s mentioned in the Bible, and God allowed it. Does that mean that God necessarily condoned it? No!

Going back to Genesis (2:18-25) marriage is instituted between Adam and Eve.  If polygamy had been God’s plan, certainly God could have created multiple women for Adam.  Jesus restates this understanding of a monogamous marriage when questioned. (Mark 10:5-8) Male Christian leaders in the New Testament are to have one wife (1 Timothy 3:1-3, 11-13; Titus 1:5-7)

Throughout the history of Christianity, monogamy has been the norm.  The first time polygamy was widely practiced by a group claiming Christian beliefs was in the early history of Mormonism (Latter-Day Saints). The LDS discontinued and forbade polygamy in 1890, although breakaway Mormon groups do practice polygamy. Modern polygamy among groups professing Biblical forms of Christianity is rare.

In the Bible, polygamy has had its share of problems (the rivalry between Rachel and Leah comes to mind, as well as the problems with King Solomon taking numerous wives).  It’s possible that the Biblical model for marriage was planned so that the problems associated with polygamy would be avoided.

Rather than a God-instituted family model, it seems that polygamy was permitted by God for cultural reasons in a time when most women were dependent on men for both safety and finances. This is why I don’t believe polygamy should be upheld as a model for all time.

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Responses

  1. The internal logic of covenant history quite clearly supports monogamy. We certainly find in the nuptial imagry of scripture that the LORD is faithfully betrothed to one people, Israel. This imagry continues with Christ as the bridegroom of one bride, the Church. So I would concur with what you write.

  2. Hi peregrinator,
    Thanks for your comment & stopping by. You have a great blog!

  3. I once read a Muslim convert try to make the case that early Christians practiced polygamy and that nowhere in the NT does it say that a Christian can have no more than one wife. He was making the case that Islam actually does express a preference, in writing, for havng one wife using a verse that counsels that if a man can’t take care of multiple wives equally, then it is better to have just one.

    At the time, I wasn’t able to make a proper case. The limit of one is indeed implied except in one place where it says that bishops must be the husband of one wife. Unfortunately that was one verse that the convert used to “prove” that polygamy was the norm in early Christianity. I tried referring to the historical case that the Jews had largely given up polygamy and that Christians coming out of Judaism were no more likely to be polygamous than Jews were at the time. I guess I won’t bore you with more. Needless to say, its true. There isnt one place where it says “a Christian man must have only one wife” There is language describing the maritial bond in general terms such as a man and his wife. But there is no language which explicitly excludes polygamy.

    All of this is to say that i am glad to see Pereginator’s comment. I knew their must be a better biblical case than the one that I managed to come up with at the time. I also feel that the one man, one wife practice of Christian history has something to do with modelling the concept of God’s faithfulness and committment in the human family.

    A non-biblical argument that I like to use, is that having one wife elevates a woman above the status of a herd animal. It immensely increases her value since she is the only one. The prohibition against divorce further affirms the value of women, that they are too important and valuable to be tossed away casually. I say to anyone arguing for it that a woman has far too much dignity to be part of a herd. There are options to having multiple wives which ensure th dignty of women as individuals with a value independent of their also being wives and mothers. For just one example, Christianity made a place early on for unmarried women by creating the female religious orders. The more that I think about the more I think what a huge step for women that really was.

  4. Good thoughts, Stayin. (re: monogamous relationships are better for the women) I’ve read accounts of what some women in other cultures which still practice polygamy go through due to rivalry, etc. I’m sure the rivalry between the various half/step siblings in some cases doesn’t help.
    I think that women benefit overall when options such as religious orders exist.

  5. Hello,

    You shared in your article, “Going back to Genesis (2:18-25) marriage is instituted between a man and a woman. If polygamy had been God’s plan, certainly God could have created multiple women for Adam.”

    From a pure logical perspective, this is problematic. Unless the text within the creation story gives a specific command to be followed, then the story is nothing more than a narrative, providing only the seed for a much larger tree. For example, since the creation story includes Adam taking care of the garden, does this mean that farming is the only acceptable means of working? Just because God did not create more wives for Adam does not mean that this was intended to be the only kind of marriage allowed anymore than it was intended that farming was the only means of making a living.

    You said, “Jesus restates the institution of one man/one woman marriage (Mark 10:5-). Actually, this passage does not teach against polygyny. It is about divorce!

    You said, “Male Christian leaders in the New Testament are to have one wife (1 Timothy 3:1-3, 11-13; Titus 1:5-7). Well, that is one way of translating those verses. However, the word for “one” may be translated a few ways, to include “first”, which would establish that a leader would be required to be faithful to his first wife even after marrying others.

    You said, “Throughout the history of Christianity, monogamy has been the norm. The first time polygamy was widely practiced by a group of Christian origin was in the early history of Mormonism (Latter-Day Saints). The LDS discontinued and forbade polygamy in 1890. Modern polygamy among groups professing Christianity is rare.”

    Yes, this is true! However, “majority rule” theology is not the best way of coming to conclusions throughout church history. If this were the case, we would all be Roman Catholics.

    You said, “In the Bible, polygamy has had its share of problems (the rivalry between Rachel and Leah comes to mind, as well as the problems with King Solomon taking numerous wives). It’s possible that the Biblical model for marriage was planned so that the problems associated with polygamy would be avoided.”

    This would be like saying that because we see problems in churches (almost all epistles mention something), therefore, we should not practice church. Polygyny is no more a cause of sin then is the local church. Sin comes from the sin nature – period!

    You said, “Rather than a God-instituted family model, it seems that polygamy was permitted by God for cultural reasons in a time when most women were dependent on men for both safety and finances.”

    Since we know that the Law is Perfect, Holy, Good and Spiritual according to many Scriptural references, and since God allowed Polygyny in His Law, then we cannot assume that it is not an acceptable model. That would be a slap to God’s Law, and hence, to the Law giver Himself.

    Blessings!

    Pastor Randy

    • Above you state that the Greek words “mias guanaika” (translated as one wife) in 1 Timothy 3:1-3, 11-13; Titus 1:5-7 may be translated as “one” or “first”wife. “Mias” is always translated as “one” in the New Testament EXCEPT in the circumstance of reference to the first day of the week “Sunday” which was referred to as “mias sabbaton”. The word “protos” is used to mean “first” in all other situations in the New Testament. Please refer to the writings of all of the early fathers of the church (i.e . Justin Martyr, Iraenaeus, etc.) who all acknowledge that there were Jewish members of the early church who were polygamists – they were not permitted to occupy leadership positions in the church as the early church fathers acknowledged that leaders had to be the husband of one wife, as per the Scriptures. (1 Timothy 3:1-3, 11-13; Titus 1:5-7)
      Can you name any early Christian leader or saint who was a polygamist ?
      You will not be able to – because there weren’t any.

    • I CERTAINLY concur Pastor

  6. Also, I noticed you said:

    “Good thoughts, Stayin. (re: monogamous relationships are better for the women) I’ve read accounts of what some women in other cultures which still practice polygamy go through due to rivalry, etc. I’m sure the rivalry between the various half/step siblings in some cases doesn’t help. I think that women benefit overall when options such as religious orders exist.”

    This is not what the researchers are saying. If you wish, you can email me and I will give you the link.

    Blessings!

  7. Hi Randy,
    I had a question about your responses. It’s been argued in the past that slavery must have been approved of by God because it was practiced in Biblical times. Later, consensus changed so that most people recognized slavery as something that God allowed to happen, but was a consequence of the culture of the time, rather than something He approved of. Couldn’t polygamy be seen in the same vein?

  8. Note to all: When you’re discussing a position that you don’t agree with, please stick to discussing the views and refrain from attacking the person’s standing with God, knowledge of scripture, etc.
    Civil discussion is certainly welcome, debate is not.

    I’ve also started a post on the issue of Christians following the Law, with a little mini-poll. I’ll post a follow-up study on it pretty soon. Anyone interested in discussing the Law & how it, or if it, applies to Christians, is welcome to add comments to it.

  9. Well while I would say that polygamy is not, perhaps, the wisest lifestyle to engage in, the Bible doesn’t really make a case for it being a sin.

    Never in the Bible are people called to repent from their polygamy.

    What is adultery? Fornication? Lusting?

    If i have two wives, but I never lusted after either, how have I broken the commands of God? If I only have sexual relations with my wives and nobody else, I haven’t committed adultery NOR have I been unfaithful to my wives.

    In our culture, polygamy is taboo. In a culture that polygamy is the norm, do you really think that the other wives feel cheated on?

    Like i said, maybe not the wisest position to put yourself in, but scripture does not make a case for the sinful nature of polygamy.

  10. Welcome to the discussion!

    “Well while I would say that polygamy is not, perhaps, the wisest lifestyle to engage in, the Bible doesn’t really make a case for it being a sin.

    Never in the Bible are people called to repent from their polygamy.”

    While it’s not called a sin in the Bible, I think it is noteworthy that:
    a. Jesus spoke of marriage in a singular, not a plural context (Matt. 19:4-6, Mark 10:7-9)
    b. A bishop/overseer of the church is expected to be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:1-3)
    It seems to me that if polygamy were to be retained by the Church, leaders wouldn’t have been held to a standard of one wife.
    I believe that plural marriage was something that was practiced in early times due to a higher woman-to-man ratio, and governed accordingly by the laws of the Torah. Obviously, God had to provide standards so that women in such marriages would be protected. A standard for all time with the New Covenant? No. People in the Bible have committed many sins for which repentence was never directly called for.

    “What is adultery? Fornication? Lusting?”
    Sex or contemplating sex with another after marriage, as my quick definition. Lust can certainly be a destructive sin because it’s easy to fall into.

    “If i have two wives, but I never lusted after either, how have I broken the commands of God? If I only have sexual relations with my wives and nobody else, I haven’t committed adultery NOR have I been unfaithful to my wives.”
    Of course, the question is, can a marriage between a man and more than one woman even be sanctioned by God? If the Scriptures (in both Testaments) can show that this is an sanctioned marriage, there’s no sin. If not, however, taking a second “wife” would constitute a form of adultery.

    “In our culture, polygamy is taboo. In a culture that polygamy is the norm, do you really think that the other wives feel cheated on?”
    I’m sure that it does happen. Human nature being what is is, a husband can probably show extreme favoritism towards one or more of the women that he doesn’t to others. If any non-married man were involved with several women sexually, he’d be considered to be promiscuous. I’m not really sure that calling such an arrangement a marriage justifies it.

    “Like i said, maybe not the wisest position to put yourself in, but scripture does not make a case for the sinful nature of polygamy.”
    Thank you for your comments, I enjoyed the discussion.

    • The Bible deos not say that we need to change oil in the car often. Hence the answer regarding polygamy is clearly coming directly from Jesus: “At the beginning it was not like this” there was only ONE MAN and ONE WOMAN.

  11. hmm, so then if christians want can they have more than one wife.

    • NO!

  12. Welcome to the discussion, M.

    For those of you who do condone polygamy, I have a question: how is it NOT adultery if a man desires a woman (who later becomes his second wife), while he’s married to his first wife? How do you reconcile this with Jesus’ teaching on committing adultery in the heart?

  13. […] Interesting Discussion on my Other Blog https://celticanglican.wordpress.com/2008/04/12/does-the-bible-allow-for-christian-polygamy/ […]

  14. I have read all the comments so far and wold like to ask a question. You have said if God wanted a man to have more than one wife he would have provided so, if then, would it mean that we were certainly meant to sin and that is why the tree was placed in the garden of Eden. Please dont present arguements like that. And please do not compare one thing to another. Do not comapre slavery to marriage. They have nothing in common. No one is forced to marry, to stay single by the scripture but yet they are forced to practice polygamy for certain reasons and all the more when one practices ploygamy in love they have never been condemned except if done out of lust. Further who was it who started all this row on polygamy? the western world who thinks they are more civilised than the rest of the world even sicne the times of 1st century where christian scholars influnced by roman and greek culture and morality rather than christ spoke less of polygamy

  15. “You have said if God wanted a man to have more than one wife he would have provided so, if then, would it mean that we were certainly meant to sin and that is why the tree was placed in the garden of Eden.”
    No. Bear in mind that the model of one man and one woman was presented BEFORE the Fall. Most importantly, there isn’t one example in the New Testament of an influential Christian leader who was a.) a polygamist and b.) held up as an example because of his polygamy
    “Please dont present arguements like that. And please do not compare one thing to another.”
    Why does this bother you? If this is to be a reasonable discussion, then all points need to be considered. I would appreciate respectful questions rather than being told what to write or not to write on my own blog 🙂
    “Do not comapre slavery to marriage. They have nothing in common.”
    For the sake of this argument, they do. Polygamous marriage as some claim is a valid form of marriage for Christians today, and slavery, have one thing in common. They are both practices directly related to the culture of people in the Old Testament. Yet, some who cite polygamy as being valid for today based on the OT are adamantly opposed to slavery, when no such distinction is made in the Scriptures themselves. Arbitrarily picking and choosing parts of the OT are the cause behind a lot of theological rifts.
    “No one is forced to marry, to stay single by the scripture but yet they are forced to practice polygamy for certain reasons”
    Are you acknowledging that polygamy occurred for practical reasons in many cases? If that’s what you’re saying, I do agree. However, you should research the issue of forced marriages more closely, They CAN and DO occur.
    “and all the more when one practices ploygamy in love they have never been condemned except if done out of lust.”
    Unfortunately, lust seems to be what’s behind a lot of polygamy practiced by today’s “Christian polygamists”. Again, if polygamy were an acceptable, universal Christian practice, this would have been addressed in the NT. Since the NT’s treatment of marriage involves situations with a husband and wife (not wives), I think it can be safely assumed this was not an accepted Christian practice.
    “Further who was it who started all this row on polygamy? the western world who thinks they are more civilised than the rest of the world even sicne the times of 1st century where christian scholars influnced by roman and greek culture and morality rather than christ spoke less of polygamy”
    This has never been a long-standing theological debate within Christianity that I’m aware of. What prompted my post in the first place was acceptance of this practice by some who claim Christianity as their faith. If members of other faiths wish to condone polygamy based on their beliefs, they are free to. However, self-described Christian polygamists shouldn’t expect such a belief to go completely unchallenged.

    • One thing that seems to be left out in this discussion is that there is in fact two opposing cultures that are clashing here – the Grecian Roman and the Hebrew. It was the Grecian/ Roman culture that insisted on Strict and very hypocritical Monogamy, a “sacred” marriage centered on ancestor worship, allowing for all kinds of illicit or illegitimate relationships and offspring on the side, included in slavery! Interestingly the Hebrew and Roman notion of both Family and Slave are completely different. In fact the word “Family” that has come down to us from the Latin is actually the word originally used for slaves! On the other hand, the word we translate slave or servant in the Hebrew is actually a derivative of the Hebrew word for true Family – Mishpachah! So what I am saying here is that the very words for servants in both houses are very different, one could sit at the table with the whole family by covenant love, and part of the clan, tribe and nation, the other abused, and a non citizen. So yes God permitted and ruled and continued to shape and improve. In other words good things get better over time and are proven. Certainly servant hood was abused but genuine servant hood has never left the household of faith, employment and caring for one another only gets better as we understand it better. Likewise Marriage is a proven good, in all its forms affirmed by numerous scriptures, despite the abuse from within and the attacks from without. Surely marriage (as defined by the Scriptures, including a husband selflessly loving and serving more than one wife, can be seen as a solution today, now more then ever.

  16. Pastor Randy insinuates above that women in polygamous relationships do not have a problem with rivalry. This is untrue. As a physician who has treated women and children involved in polygamy, I have had the opportunity to review the medical literature on the topic. Studies have revealed that women in polygamous unions have a higher incidence of mental illness than women involved in monogamy, manifested as stress, depression, anxiety, phobias, poor self esteem, and somatization disorder. Children who result from such unions have a higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, antisocial behavior, and poor academic achievement. Keep in mind that nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to engage in polygamy – but we are commanded in the Epistles to follow the Law of Land in which we live – and the law of the land is forbids us to enter into polygamous unions.

  17. Excellent points, Susan, and thanks for sharing your experiences. Could you explain a little about somatization disorder? I’m not familiar with it.

  18. Somatization is a psychiatric diagnosis applied to patients who chronically and persistently complain of varied physical symptoms that have no identifiable physical origin. One common general etiological explanation is that internal psychological conflicts are unconsciously expressed as physical signs. Patients with somatization disorder will typically visit many doctors trying to get the treatment they think they need. Typical manifestations of somatization include symptoms involving abdominal pain and musculoskeletal pain.

  19. Thanks! I can see how that can be problematic for people in these situations.

  20. The command for Christians to be monogamous is found in 1 Corinthians 7: 2 :
    “….each man is to have his own wife, and each wife is to have her own husband.”
    Look at the original Greek of the text :
    The language of the original text is in the imperative – as in a COMMAND.
    The word for wife in the Greek text here is “gunaika” – SINGULAR – it is ALWAYS translated in the singular, never plural !
    (The plural of “gunaika” would be “gunaikas”.)
    When it states that each man is to have his own wife, the possessive pronoun “own” used here is “eautou”. It is a SINGULAR , not plural, possessive pronoun, which is also translated from Greek as the word ALONE.
    Moreover, the command for a wife to have her “own” husband uses interesting language – the Greek word for “own” used here is “idios” which is also translated from Greek as “private” or “proper”, implying her husband is NOT SHARED with anyone.
    All of the fathers of the early church condemned polygamy to the best of my knowledge –Not one of the early church fathers was a polygamist because they had to be the husbands of ONE WIFE (in the Greek text = “mias guanaika” – NOT “protos guanaika “, which would mean first wife.)
    For further insight into polygamy and why it is not a practice of the Christian faith, I recommend evangelical biblical scholar David Instone – Brewer’s textbook on the subject of Christian Marriage

    • The word Gunaka is used by the Angel, when he told Joseph to take Mary, his own wife, nothing is inconsistent in this command with Joseph’s culture ( chosen, called out and shaped by God). Regardless of how many wives Joseph may have had, one or more, each would have been his own wife – there is no need to use the plural as the singular would have been understood to apply to all others of the same state, each wife, would also be “his own” belonging to no other.

      Your take on the word “Idios” fly’s in direct opposition to the whole of scripture, a complete reversal, it would seem, where men are protected from being shared, by this stronger word, while women are not? This would certainly have been a cause for greater elaboration, in context to the norm of the day. Rather it is clear that women had their own husband, in that the husbands position was not shared with any other man in the women’s life – one husband. This is consistent with the whole of scriptures known to the original audience and consistent with the way this verse is given, without a elaboration as there are no changes to the norm, but a reinforcement of the truth already known. Marriage has already been defined, there is no reason to redefine it and it never is, in the New Testament.

      Richard

  21. Some how I missed this earlier, but in response to dwhala’s comment about no one being forced into marriage: this does happen, and in more than one religion/culture.

  22. for me a christian to engage in polygamy is unlawful because you can not handle all for the farticular time as we see Jesus spoke in book of Luke that you canot serve two masters because you can love some one and hate another

  23. An interesting point, Reuben, and thanks for bringing it up 🙂

  24. The Bible nowhere explicitly forbids the practice of polygyny. Nowhere in the entire Bible it is said that a man should have only ONE wife.

    http://www.IslamicEra.compolygamyinbible.htm

    • Hi Stanley,
      What’s your take on 1 Corinthians 7: 2? The Greek word interpreted to mean “own” in this sentence strictly refers to a man having one wife.

      Just because the Bible doesn’t include a “thou shalt not” injunction against polygamy doesn’t mean it’s to be upheld as a Christian ideal.

  25. All these writing in this page explain anything.
    The question to you is. Is polygamy a sin? Does God comndend those who are willing to practice it?
    Can a devoted christian still be a christian even if he has more than one wife?

  26. Hi Jay,

    I think those who have already responded have tried to address these issues. Please see the responses from Pastor Randy and from Susan for examples of two different understandings of this issue.

    My take: polygamy is not specifically condemned as a sin. However, when a closer look is taken at why it was practiced in the OT, it seems to be a practice that God allowed in certain circumstances, under the OT law, rather than something that God specifically instituted for all believers for all time.

    The NT does not uphold polygamy as an ideal. In fact, NT doctrine on marriage seems to be concerned with monogamy. It seems to me that if polygamy were a practice to upheld by Christians, the NT would have addressed polygamous marriages.

    So, I believe that, in order to be a Christian who’s faithful to the NT law of grace, one must be monogamous.

    • Sir, you make the case over and over again “that polygamy was permitted by God for cultural reasons in a time when most women were dependent on men for both safety and finances”. Don’t you feel that today that is still a valid option for women – physical and financial security, as well as the blessing of intimacy, interdependence, Marriage and family. Why would the New Testament be more restrictive and offer less options for women then the Old Testament. It seems to me that loving one another, caring for one another, especially women and children and guarding one another from sin, the passions of the flesh etc, that God’s answer to all of these is Marriage.

      God provided Marriage in abundance, He restricted it where it needed to be restricted, nothing more. Today our own added restriction of Forced MONOGAMY has literally forced many women to go without, suffer needlessly and often fail miserably in more ways than one. Men on the other hand, conveniently, have it easier with monogamy, forcing women to compete for the ever decreasing numbers of eligible, desirable, Godly, Family oriented Men. God’s ways turns the tables on selfish irresponsible men that refuse to grow up. His ways rewards Godly men with Godly women and Godly women with Godly men that have proven themselves loving and faithful, giving women the advantage of more options.

      I think we need to humble our selves read the scriptures anew, we have clearly gotten it wrong somewhere and its time to start listening again.

      Richard

      • Hi Richard,

        “Sir, you make the case over and over again “that polygamy was permitted by God for cultural reasons in a time when most women were dependent on men for both safety and finances”. Don’t you feel that today that is still a valid option for women – physical and financial security, as well as the blessing of intimacy, interdependence, Marriage and family. Why would the New Testament be more restrictive and offer less options for women then the Old Testament.”

        Just so you know, I’m a woman, so I don’t answer to sir 🙂 I honestly believe that polygamy was permitted with some restrictions, not sanctioned, by God. I think it could be seen in the same light as divorce-something that was not in God’s original plan for marriage, but was allowed with some restrictions. There seems to be some evidence that polygamy was not as widely practiced by the time of the New Testament. Even though it was mentioned quite frequently in the Old, I’m not sure it was actually practiced by that many men.

        God Bless!

  27. […] Does the Bible Allow for Christian Polygamy? « CelticAnglican's Ramblings. […]

  28. At NO time in the Bible do I recall reading that having more than one wife, was against God’s will or even WRONG. I think is time to start preaching God’s Word and not what we think the majority wants to hear and feel good about. The Bible is precise about what sin is and what is sinful. Show me one verse that says “NO” having more than one wife is wrong.
    Rachel and Leah Competed, but that was For Jacob’s affection and favor.
    Maybe that’s the problem here.
    Maybe you are pandering to women that don’t think they are to SERVE their husbands.
    The Bible DOES tell a woman in MANY instances to obey and submit to her husband. But tell me, why don’t we talk about that these days? That is “sexist” I guess.
    If God allowed more than one wife, then who are you to tell Him that this is no longer acceptable?
    HIS WORD IS the same, yesterday today and forever I thought.
    Ok, time for me to go to bed. My wife literally just woke up and told me to come to bed. No joke.
    Isn’t THAT ironic?
    But you get my point.
    Time to go to bed.

    Note from blog admin: Just a quick note everyone: Please keep the tone of the discussion respectful. You’re welcome to discuss and disagree with what I say, but let’s keep the assumptions, etc. out of it. This blog does have an Anglican focus, and polygamy is not a doctrine taught in this tradition.

    Christians do disagree on how certain other doctrines are interpreted, i.e. the verses on submission. Please show the same respect for others’ beliefs that you expect for yours.

    Please refer to my comment policy for more info: https://celticanglican.wordpress.com/open-minded-comment-policy/

    Thanks!


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