Tuesday, September 17, 2013


My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Polygamy:

Q:  Does the Bible allow for polygamy?  If a Christian man lived in a country where it is legal,  would it be acceptable for him to marry multiple wives?

Polygamy can be a challenging question for students of the Bible.  After all, there are numerous examples of polygamous marriage throughout the Old Testament some of which involve men who would undoubtedly be considered heroes of the faith—Jacob, David, Solomon, and Gideon. 

Unlike divorce, which has clear guidelines in the New Testament about if/when it might be acceptable, polygamy has no such mention.  Very likely, this is because it was not a topic of debate among the Jews of the time or among early Christians, but there is no New Testament command explicitly allowing or forbidding a man from marrying more than one wife.

However, the Bible clearly does not envision polygamy as God’s design.  In the beginning, Genesis records that God creates one man and one woman, and not a man with multiple wives.  On numerous occasions, Jesus affirms the statement from Genesis following the creation of woman, that “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his own wife,” using it as the foundational principle for his other statements about marriage and sexuality. 

In the Old Testament, even though God distributes robust punishments for various sexual sins (the Sodom and Gomorrah incident, David and Bathsheba, etc.) he does not do the same for polygamy, perhaps indicating a different degree to polygamy than to other sexual sins, much like hatred and murder or gossip and lying under oath bring different degrees of earthly consequences even though variations on the same sin. 

At the same time, the Old Testament’s example never portrays a polygamous family with good outcomes.  Jealousy overshadows Jacob’s household.  Abraham’s taking of Hagar as a concubine had violent consequences which are still being felt between his sons’ descendants in the Middle East to this day, and Solomon was led horribly astray as a result of his numerous marriage partners. 

In both Testaments, the marriage commands and advice that are given relating to married life, such as in Proverbs and Ephesians, are always given in singular terms, certainly indicating a preference for monogamy.  The New Testament also demands monogamy on two occasions when giving qualifications for pastoral service.  This seems to indicate not only a preference for monogamy, but also a command for monogamy among all Christians.  This is because all other items on the list of pastoral qualifications are also true for Christians in general.  The difference between pastors and Christians in general is not that pastors must obey additional laws, but rather that certain sins (such as poor parenting, or drunkenness), while sinful regardless of who commits them, are grounds for disqualification for the pastoral office. 

Finally, the Bible draws a clear connection between the marriage relationship and the relationship between Christ and the Church.  Monogamous marriage reflects this relationship in that there is one Christ and one Church which includes believers of every nation, race, and denomination (not one church with several saviors or one savior with several Churches).  Other variations on a marriage relationship fail to reflect this reality, because their participants do not match with their counterparts in the Christ-Church relationship. 

Although the Bible lacks a direct statement that “Thou shalt not engage in polygamy,” there seems to be plentiful evidence, that polygamy is, at the very least, discouraged and less than ideal, but also a convincing argument that, linked to the commandment “You shall not commit adultery,” polygamy is unacceptable in all cases for Christians. 

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