Does the Bible Allow for Polygamy?

Polygamy is the practice of one man having multiple wives. This was common in the ancient world and is still practiced in several countries today. When you read the Bible you quickly discover that some of the good and no so good personalities in the Old Testament practiced polygamy. Many raise the question that nowhere in the Old Testament does God explicitly condemned the practice. Other fringe groups even advocate that God condones polygamy. How are we to understand these instances of polygamy in the Old Testament and what do they tell us about God’s design for marriage?

First of all, although some people practiced polygamy in the Old Testament this was never God’s plan. The ideal pattern of monogamous marriage of one man and one woman was established very early in Genesis 2:24: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. This passage was quoted by both Jesus and the Apostle Paul in defense of the sacredness and exclusivity of monogamous marriage (Matthew 19:3-9;  1 Corinthians 6:15-17). God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman for life period! The first challenge to this came from a man named Lamech (Genesis 4:19), who had two wives. Lamech was of the cursed line of Cain. Later we see men of God such Jacob, Gideon, David and Solomon, etc. all having more than one wife. Does this mean God was ok with their choices? Of course not! They were going against the revealed Word of God and the consequences for their sin are recorded in the pages of sacred Scripture. The Bible is a very candid book and it does not cover up the faults and flaws of its key figures. The Bible frequently shows us humanity in its deepest darkest sin. However, it is a total misrepresentation of the Bible to say that just because the Bible does not condemn a practice it somehow supports it. This is faulty logic and bad hermeneutics. It is like saying, if a news article recorded the events of “9/11” and did not condemn the attack but just recorded the facts, that columnist actually supports the attack. It makes no logical sense.

In reality the Bible does condemn polygamy in a direct and indirect way. Much like divorce, polygamy was tolerated by God, but never approved. The Bible explicitly forbids the polygamy of kings in Deuteronomy 17:17, He shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away. In the New Testament Elders and Deacons are called to be “the husband of but one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6). The phrase could literally be translated “a one-woman man.” These requirements for kings in the Old Testament and church leaders in the New Testament set the standard of morality and spiritual maturity for all believers. The forbidden nature of polygamy is also seen in Leviticus 18:18: You shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive. The principle of one wife while she is living is supported here. If a wife dies the husband can take a new wife, only in the Lord of course (1 Corinthians 7:39).

In conclusion, any usage of biblical texts to support polygamy are taken out of context. You cannot take biblical narrative history that is simply recorded and then twist it to say that God approves of what happened in that history. 2 Peter 3:16 speaks about those who have no wisdom with the Bible and twist all of it to their own destruction.