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Common Objections to Biblical Plural Marriage

These are the things we typically hear, and frankly, the things we had to work out for ourselves when we were first exposed to the idea that legally-enforced monogamy had its roots in Roman law and culture, not the bible. If you know of a bible-based objection that you don't see here, please let us know using the form in the footer below. We will add a response to this list as soon as we can.

A man cannot be one flesh with more than one woman!

Genesis 2:24 "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." Matthew 19:5-6, Ephesians 5:31, Mark 10:8

1 Corinthians 6:15-17 "Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? Know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? For two, saith He, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit."

A husband and wife have a "one flesh" relationship, which is very important, being the fundamental essence of marriage, and a physical reflection of the "one spirit" relationship between Christ and the church (1 Corinthians 6:15-17, Ephesians 5:22-33).

Can a man only have a single "one flesh" relationship with just one woman?

1 Corinthians 6:16 states clearly that if a man has sex with a prostitute, he becomes one flesh with the prostitute. Clearly, if a single man has sex with a prostitute he becomes one flesh with her. But was this verse written only to single men, or to married men also? Nowhere is this limited to single men. So if a married man has sex with a prostitute, he must become one flesh with her. But he is already one flesh with his wife. So now he is "one flesh" with one woman (his wife), and also "one flesh" with another woman (the prostitute).

So a man can be "one flesh" with more than one woman.

To look at this from another angle, if "one flesh" is a parallel of the "one spirit" relationship between Christ and the church, what are the spiritual implications of this?

1 Corinthians 6:17 states that "he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit". Every individual who accepts Christ as Lord becomes one spirit with Christ. Each individual believer has a "one spirit" relationship with Christ. It doesn't matter how many other people become Christians, each one receives this same intimate "one spirit" relationship with Christ. Ephesians 5:32 on the other hand states that "Christ and the church" are joined in this way, and that passage is often used to imply that the church is the one monogamous bride of Christ. But the Greek word for church, "ekklesia", means "a gathering or assembly of people" - it is not a word meaning a single individual, but rather a group. So Ephesians 5:32 also states, in the Greek, that Christ is one spirit with the many individual people who follow Him.

Every Christian has a "one spirit" relationship with Christ. However many others join the church in future, each has their own individual "one spirit" relationship with Him.

Every wife has a "one flesh" relationship with her husband. However many others join the family in future, each has their own individual "one flesh" relationship with him.

The Bible says that every woman should have her OWN husband and every husband his OWN wife!

1 Corinthians 7:2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own (heautou) wife, and let every woman have her own (idios) husband.

The Greek words for "own" in this passage have been added in brackets. In the Greek, two completely different words have been used to describe the relationship between a man and his wife, and a woman and her husband. But because of limitations in English vocabulary, both are translated as "own". In reality, both words have very different meanings.

Heautou refers to a person themself, or something belonging exclusively to oneself. It is almost always translated "himself", "themselves", or similarly. For instance, my own (heautou) leg, my own (heautou) watch.

Idios means "pertaining to oneself", but not necessary belonging exclusively to oneself. For instance, in Luke 2:3 we are told everyone went to "his own (idios) city" to be taxed - the city did not belong exclusively to the person, but rather many people were associated with that city, and each may call it "my own (idios) city". However, each person was only associated with one city.

So every man is to have his own (heatou) wife who belongs to him exclusively, and each woman is to have her own (idios) husband, who is the only husband she has, but whom she does not have exclusive posession of and may also be the husband of other women.

The husband may say "That is my own (heautou) wife, she belongs to me and me alone".

The wife may say "That is my own (idios) husband, and I belong to him and him alone".

In the Greek, this verse actually shows very strong New Testament support for polygyny. Why would Paul very specifically use these two different words for "own", that perfectly describe the relationship between men and women in polygyny, if he did not intend to allow for polygyny?

And if Paul is specifically allowing for polygyny in this passage, then he is proposing that polygyny (like monogamy) is a solution to avoid fornication. So according to this verse, polygyny is not fornication, it is actually a wholesome solution to avoid fornication!

Polygamy is adultery, and 'neither shalt thou commit adultery'!

We must be careful to ensure that we define adultery as the Bible defines adultery, and not as modern secular culture does. In present-day culture, the English word "adultery" refers to a married man or woman having sex with someone other than their spouse. That is NOT the meaning of the Hebrew word for adultery (na'aph)

In scripture, "adultery" (na'aph) always refers to a married woman having sex with a man who is not her husband. The meaning of this word may be confirmed in any concordance, and shown through Biblical usage.

Leviticus 20:10 "And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death."

Jeremiah 29:23 "Because they have committed villany in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbours' wives, and have spoken lying words in my name, which I have not commanded them; even I know, and am a witness, saith the Lord."

Ezekiel 16:32 "But as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband!"

Hosea 4:13 "They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and elms, because the shadow thereof is good: therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses shall commit adultery." Note here that the word "spouses" is the Hebrew "kallah", which is a feminine noun and refers to a bride, young wife, or daughter-in-law.

Every time, adultery refers to a married woman having sex with a man other than her husband.

Deuteronomy 22:22 If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.

For a woman to commit adultery, she must be married, and have sex with a man other than her husband.

For a man to commit adultery, he must have sex with a woman who is married to another man.

In Biblical polygyny (one man, multiple wives), no woman is committing adultery, as she is only having sex with her husband. No man is committing adultery, as he is not having sex with the wife of any other man, each of his wives belongs to him exclusively. So polygyny is not adultery, cannot be adultery, and no serious Hebrew scholar would ever suggest that it could be adultery.

1 Kings 15:5 "Because David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite."

"The matter of Uriah the Hittite" was when David committed adultery with Uriah's wife Bathsheba, and then had Uriah murdered. This adultery was sinful. But David had many wives. If polygamy was adultery, we would be told here that "David did that which was right ... except in his many adulterous marriages, and the murder of Uriah the Hittite" - because every single one of his marriages after his first wife Michal would have been sinful. But they were not. Only his affair with Bathsheba was sinful, because only that one was adulterous, and it was adultery because she was the wife of another man.

In the New Testament it says you must be the husband of one wife, as in 1 Timothy 3:2!

1 Timothy 3:2 "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one (Greek 'mia') wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach;"

1 Timothy 3:12 "Let the deacons be the husbands of one (Greek 'mia') wife, ruling their children and their own houses well."

Titus 1:6 "If any be blameless (bishop), the husband of one (Greek 'mia') wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly."

Firstly, these verses are specifically addressed to deacons and bishops. Even if they did require some men to be monogamous, they would not necessarily apply to all men, but rather only to those few men who are in leadership positions in the church.

Furthermore, Paul functioned as a church elder, yet was unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:8). If these verses required all church leaders to be monogamous Paul would have been in breach of them.

So it is important to understand the actual meaning of the Greek word "mia", used for "one" in these verses.

Strong's definition of mia (G3391): irregular feminine of G1520; one or first:—a (certain), + agree, first, one, × other.

So "mia" can mean "one", "first", or "a certain". It does not necessarily mean "one and only one". For instance:

Matthew 28:1 "In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first (Greek 'mia') day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre."

The women did not visit the tomb on the "one and only" day of the week. The fact that there was "day one", the "first" day of the week for them to visit the tomb on did not mean that there would not be another six days in the week also. Mia in no way implies exclusivity. "One/mia" can simply mean "one of a set".

So if mia is not exclusive, a church leader being required to be the husband of "mia" wife may mean:

  1. He must have "a certain" wife, or "at least one" wife. In other words, he must be married. Or,
  2. He must be the husband of "first" wife, in other words still be married to the "wife of his youth" and have not divorced her.

Either interpretation is plausible, some hold to one and some to the other. Whichever is correct, these verses do not require church leaders to be monogamous. But to consider this further:

Nothing that Jesus ever taught even hints at marriage being mandatory. Both Jesus and Paul were unmarried. So why would Paul state that church leaders must be married? Elsewhere Paul actually implies that celibacy is better than marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-7). So a requirement for church leaders to be married appears inconsistent with other teachings.

On the other hand, the New Testament is full of strong teachings against divorce, from Jesus Himself and other New Testament writers. If church elders are to still have their first wife, they will be men who have proven themselves faithful to their wives so should be faithful to the church, in addition to being able to counsel other men in their marriages.

Paul's primary point is not whether a man should be married, but that if he is, he must meet all the requirements of these passages, to manage his own household well. He must be faithful to his own family first. And his faithfulness to his own family qualifies him to hold a leadership position in the church.

These passages do not firmly state that church leaders must be monogamous, in fact they may state something entirely different. These passages cannot therefore contradict the many other passages in scripture that very clearly show polygyny is acceptable to God.

The Bible clearly states that marriage should be the way it was in the beginning. Divorce and polygamy were only allowed for the hardness of their hearts.

Matthew 19:3-9 "The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, 'Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?' And he answered and said unto them, 'Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female', And said, 'For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.' They say unto him, 'Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?' He saith unto them, 'Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.' And I say unto you, 'Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.'"

Mark 10:2-9 "And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, 'Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?' tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, 'What did Moses command you?' And they said, 'Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.' And Jesus answered and said unto them, 'For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.'"

What did the Pharisees ask Jesus? What is the topic of these verses - polygyny, or divorce?

The Pharisees are asking Jesus about divorce, which is the topic of his response. Many times this verse has been put of out context to say that marriage should be the way it was in the beginning as with Adam and Eve, monogamy. Besides the fact that using this verse against polygamy is taking it out of context, even then the argument doesn't work. Someone could use the same reasoning to insist nudity should be allowed in public, as "in the beginning" Adam and Eve were not in clothing.

We wear clothing because we do not base our theology on the situation God happened to create Adam and Eve in, but rather on the specific instructions He later gave us to live by in Old Testament law, and the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament. The same applies to marriage.

For polygyny to be restricted would require specific statements in scripture, just as divorce is restricted due to very specific statements in verses such as these.

Women should be allowed multiple husbands too!

Deuteronomy 22:22 "If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel."

If two men marry one woman, every time one of them slept with her, they would be sleeping with the wife of another man. They would each be committing adultery every time they slept with her. So it is clearly sinful for a woman to have more than one husband.

1 Corinthians 11:3,8-9 "But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. ... For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man."

Matthew 6:24 "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon."

Men and women are different. They were created different, and have different roles in marriage that come directly from Creation. And the husband is the head of the wife. If she had two husbands, she would be serving two masters.

Ezekiel 23:37 "That they have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands, and with their idols have they committed adultery..."

To worship an idol is to set up another god alongside God, to turn from the one who truly deserves to be our lord/master/"husband", to serve another one. For a wife to commit adultery is to turn from her husband and go to another man alongside her husband. Adultery is the physical reflection of idolatry. And a polyandrous marriage (one woman, multiple husbands) is also a physical reflection of idolatry, one person serving multiple gods. This is fundamentally why it is forbidden in scripture, because marriage is far more than just a relationship between men and women. It is a physical reflection of far deeper spiritual truths.

Deuteronomy 17:17 says that you should not multiply wives, which is a direct command not to be polygamous!

Deuteronomy 17:16-17 "But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply (Hebrew 'rabah') wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold."

Proverbs 31:3 "Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings."

Here the king (not all men, simply the king) is commanded not to "multiply" (rabah) horses, wives, silver or gold.

Rabah (H7235) means: to increase (in whatever respect):—(bring in) abundance (× -antly), archer (by mistake for H7232), be in authority, bring up, × continue, enlarge, excel, exceeding(-ly), be full of, (be, make) great(-er, -ly, × -ness), grow up, heap, increase, be long, (be, give, have, make, use) many (a time), (any, be, give, give the, have) more (in number), (ask, be, be so, gather, over, take, yield) much (greater, more), (make to) multiply, nourish, plenty(-eous), × process (of time), sore, store, thoroughly, very.

Consider:

  • Could the king have more than one horse? Obviously you can't even breed more without having at least two, and he had many servants and an entire army to provide horses for.
  • Could the king have more than one silver coin, or one gold coin?

The word "Rabah" does not simply mean "have more than one". It means to multiply in great abundance. The king could certainly have many horses - but was not to have more horses than he actually needed. He could accumulate silver and gold, in reasonable quantities, but not to excess. And he was allowed a reasonable number of wives, but not an excessive number of them.

2 Chronicles 24:3-4 And Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. And Jehoiada took for him two wives; and he begat sons and daughters.

What is a "reasonable" number of wives for a king to have? Scripture gives no clear line, except that it is clearly at least two, or Joash's marriages would not have been "right in the sight of the Lord". Nor would David's marriages to many more women.

1 Kings 11:2-4 "Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father."

Nehemiah 13:27 "Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?"

Solomon had a thousand wives & concubines. This presumably counts as "multiplying" wives, but we are not told so. Rather, Solomon's error was that "his wives turned away his heart after other gods". Even Solomon is not criticised in scripture for the number of his wives - but rather for idolatry. His problem was marrying foreign, pagan wives, and following their religions instead of leading them to God.

Clearly the marriages of Godly men such as Abraham, David and Joash to a much smaller number of women do not count as "multiplying" wives, and nor would the marriages of a Christian man to two or more women today - even if this verse applied to all men and not just the king.

Polygamy was never really approved of by God, is was just 'tolerated' in the Old Testament!

RJ Rushdoony said in Institutes of Biblical Law (p.362-368) that 'It is thus apparent that the law [of Moses] tolerated polygamy while establishing monogamy as the standard. The reason for this tolerance was the fact that the polygamous family was still a family, a lower form of family life, but a tolerable one. . . Biblical law thus protects the family and does not tolerate adultery, which threatens and destroys the family.'

Note first that Rushdoony confirms in this quote that polygyny is not adultery. So if it is not adultery, how is it sinful?

Malachi 3:6 "For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed."

Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever."

Psalm 33:11 "The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations."

Ecclesiastes 3:14 "I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth [it], that [men] should fear before him."

James 1:17 "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."

Numbers 23:19 "God [is] not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do [it]? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?"

Does God change?

Do His values change?

Can something that was not a sin in the Old Testament times be a sin now?

Romans 5:13 "For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law."

1 John 3:4 "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law."

For something to be a sin, there must be a clear command somewhere in scripture stating that it is sinful. God is not shy to call what He hates sinful. Just read through Deuteronomy! If He even feels so strongly about wool and linen mixtures in fabric that He would make a law against such an apparently minor matter, if He truly believed polygyny were sinful, would He not have simply said so? Would there not be a law somewhere that simply stated "Thou shalt not have more than one wife"?

Many have been confused by the Mosaic Law, and what has 'changed' about it since Christ has come. The only thing that has changed is that certain parts of the Law are now forever taken care of. The penalties for sin and sacrifices are fulfilled now, because Christ paid for our sins and was the Ultimate Sacrifice. Christ did not "come to destroy the law, or the prophets, but to fulfill", "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled". Matthew 5:17-18 Christ has blotted "out the handwriting of ordinances that" were "against us, which" were "contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross." Colossians 2:14 (See also Hebrews chapters 9 and 10).

Jesus did emphasise that God judges the heart rather than necessarily only the outward action (1 Samuel 16:7, Jeremiah 17:10), and thus equated anger with murder (Matthew 5:21-22), and lust with adultery (Matthew 5:28). But these statements simply restate basic Old Testament principles with a different emphasis (e.g. the 10 Commandments forbidding adultery (Exodus 20:14) alongside the lust to commit adultery (20:17)). He did not add new laws that did not appear in the Old Testament.

On the contrary:

Galatians 5:1 "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."

So if anything has changed, we would now expect to be freer than in Old Testament times. Anyone who believes the New Testament introduces a new law against polygyny, do you also state that the New Testament frees the believer from dietary laws? Would this not be hypocritical? Does Christ bring us freedom, bondage, or leave the law unchanged? Romans 8:21, Galatians 5:13, James 1:25, 1 Peter 2:16.

The Bible always uses the singular 'wife', not the plural 'wives'!

The Bible does not always use the singular term “wife”. It uses either “wives” or “wife” depending on what the context requires. For instance:

Deuteronomy 21:15 “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children... ”

However usually the singular term “wife” is used when discussing the relationship between a husband and wife. This is because every marriage is between one man and one woman.

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.”

Every relationship is between two people – you have a one-to-one relationship with your son, and another with your daughter for instance. The fact that you have a one-to-one relationship with your son does not prevent you from having further children and also having a personal relationship with them. And the fact that a man has a one-to-one relationship with his wife does not prevent him from obtaining another and having another one-to-one relationship with her also.

For this reason, even when directly discussing polygyny, the Bible tends to use the singular word wife, because it discusses the individual women the man is marrying rather than lumping them together as a group. For example:

Exodus 21:7-10 “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights.”

This passage describes how a man should treat his first wife if he takes a second. It is discussing polygyny. However it refers to each wife individually, using the term “wife”, because each is a unique individual with needs that this law is providing for.

Whenever the Bible writes how a man should treat his “wife”, a polygynous husband must treat each wife in this way. Whenever the Bible writes how men should treat their “wives”, this applies to both monogamous and polygynous men. The Bible places great responsibilities on husbands, and the more wives a man has the greater the responsibility.

Ephesians 5:25-28 “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”

You must obey the law of the land concerning polygamy according to Romans 13:1!

Romans 13:1 "Let every soul be subject (Greek 'hupotasso') unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God."

Contrary to popular belief, polygyny (ie a man living with multiple women in a state of marriage) is actually completely legal in most, if not all, countries. Nothing we promote here in any way encourages anyone to disobey the law.

To understand this, we must first consider what we mean by the word "marriage". Although many of us live in countries where marriage is registered with the government using a system of "marriage licences", we need to remember that such systems are a modern idea that did not exist through most of history. Nobody in scripture had their marriage registered with the government, even your own great-great-great-grandparents probably didn't, yet they were still married. Around the world there is a wide variety of marriage registration laws - but none of this alters what marriage actually is, just how it is recorded. You do not become married when you sign a government form, that form simply informs the government that you are married, for them to record this fact for taxation etc. Marriage is a relationship between people, that is between them and God, and does not require validation by an external authority to be real. A marriage licence is an option, not a biblical requirement. So the question of legality is simply whether it is legal to live as a polygynous family, not whether the government recognises those marriages with its state marriage licencing system.

In most secular or Christian-based legal systems, there are few restrictions on the physical and sexual relations people may have, so people can live whatever lifestyle they like. Under Islamic Sharia law the laws are obviously stricter, but explicitly allow for polygyny. Polygyny is a common part of African society so specifically allowed for in most African countries. Polygyny is legal in some form virtually everywhere.

This means that in most countries, for a man to take two women as his wives and live in a state of marriage with them is entirely in keeping with the law of the land.

Where no marriage licences are involved, the only laws that could affect polygyny are specific laws against cohabitation. A small number of US states have laws specifically against polygyny, resulting from historical state-sanctioned religious persecution of Mormonism. This is very unusual, only families in those states need to be aware of it, and these laws are rarely applied and arguably illegitimate. These laws are contradictory to the religious freedoms guaranteed in the US constitution, and any law contrary to the constitution is automatically void, so even here polygyny can be practiced without breaking the ultimate law of the land (the constitution), which is why prosecutions are extremely rare - these local laws are unlikely to stand up in court.

Where there is a marriage licence between a man and his first wife, two further offences may exist depending on the jurisdiction:

  • Bigamy (multiple marriage licences): Obviously it is generally illegal to attempt to procure another marriage licence with the second wife.
  • Adultery: A small number of jurisdictions criminalise sex with someone other than your spouse. 21 US states criminalise adultery in some form, as does Taiwan, but prosecutions are rare. In the Philippines a man may be charged with the lesser crime of "concubinage". Otherwise there are either no laws against adultery (most Western and Asian countries), or adultery is defined close to the Biblical definition of sex with a woman married to another man (Islamic countries and India) so has no implications for polygyny.

So in general, a polygynous family is entirely obediant to the law of the land, and this objection is irrelevant.

Note that nothing here constitutes legal advice. This is a very general discussion from a scriptural perspective. Despite polygyny being legal in some form in most jurisdictions, the form this takes varies greatly around the world, and people do need to be aware of the detail of their local laws to carefully ensure their particular situation is actually legal. Check the "Legal" section of this website for more information, and do your own careful research.

But hypothetically, if a government were to make polygyny illegal, should Christians obey that law or not?

Matthew 22:21 "They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."

We are only subject to government to a point. If the government commanded us to take the mark of the beast, obviously we may disobey that law. If the government commands a doctor to perform an abortion, or euthanise patients, obviously they may disobey that also. The law of God takes precedence over the law of man.

Romans 13:4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

The government is given authority in order to punish those who do "evil" - ie those who disobey God's laws. If the government goes against His laws, they are no longer a legitimate minister of God and must be opposed rather than obeyed, so that we can obey God's laws.

Consider:

  • If the government made a law that you had to divorce your monogamous wife, would you obey that law despite it being contrary to God's laws?
  • Does marriage belong to Caesar, or to God?

A second wife would be coveting another woman's husband!

Exodus 20:17 "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's."

1 Corinthians 12:31 "But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way."

If you look up covet in Strong's, you will see it means "desire". Desiring something itself is not a sin. If you look at covetousness in Strongs, you will read "acquired by violence" and "greedy desire to have more". We see in the verses above that there is evil coveting, such as wanting thy neighbor's house, and good coveting, such as desiring God's gifts. Coveting / desiring something is not sinful. However coveting / desiring something that it is forbidden for you to have is sinful.

Exodus 20:17 forbids a man from coveting his neighbour's wife. This is because that woman belongs to his neighbour and is not available to him. For a man to take his neighbour's wife would be adultery. He cannot take his neighbour's wife, or desire to take her (Matthew 5:28).

But there is no law against a woman desiring to marry the husband of another woman. She may marry him without taking him away from the second wife, as he can remain married to both. He does not belong to his first wife. So Exodus 20:17 is written very specifically, and only forbids coveting a neighbour's wife, not a neighbour's husband, for this reason.

There is nothing wrong with desiring something good, and something that you may have. As polygyny is not forbidden, there is nothing wrong with desiring it.

Polygamy may not be prohibited anywhere in the bible, but it's not the 'ideal'!

The idea that polygyny has only bad consequences is created by the media, who publicize rare cases of abuse because they sell newspapers but ignore "boring" normal lives with good consequences. This is changing somewhat in recent years with popular TV shows about polygyny, but still the dominant trend is to highlight the bad and ignore the good - because the good is invisible because most families living with no drama stay out of the spotlight.

In contrast to the general view:

"Polygamy is the highest form of Christianity that can be lived. There's a lot of love, a lot of help. Women have each other." Beth Cook

Both monogamy and polygamy have their own set of benefits and drawbacks. Neither are the overall ideal, but for each individual there is an ideal marriage situation. For one it may be celibacy, for another monogamy, and for another polygamy. Neither the word monogamy or polygamy is found in the Bible. The Bible simply calls them both "marriage".

For example:

  • Polygamy enhances the economic power of the family, community and nation.
  • Polygamy is a form of distribution of wealth.
  • With polygamy one never 'has' to deal with a problem alone.
  • Many hands do much more work, which leaves also more time to play and pursue goals.

Elizabeth Joseph, who's husband has 7 other wives, told an assembly that "polygamy is a feminist institution because it offers flexibility to pursue a career while maintaining a family".

Philip Kilbride, an American anthropologist, states in his book, Plural Marriage for Our Time, that polygamy is a solution to some of the ills of the American society at large. Research and History has shown that in monogamous societies; adultery, murder, divorce, abortion, and prostitution are more common.

Polygamy removes or reduces the seduction of innocent young women. A man cannot vow to marry a woman and then use his present marriage as an excuse to break that vow. It would force men to live up to responsibility and fidelity. Plus, as many have pointed out. If you were a polygamous man, would you dare cheat on your wives? Would you want your two, three, or four wives to find out? With so many eyes, they would, and would any man want to face four very mad women? No man in his right mind would do such a thing!

"The legal monogamy insisted upon by the Greeks and the Romans was often supplemented with institutionalized concubinage and widespread prostitution, and divorce was a recurring problem." Polygamy Reconsidered: African Plural Marriage and the Christian Churches, By Eugene Hillman, C.S.SP. Published 1975 by Orbis, Maryknoll, New York.

"An Afrikaner theology professor says South Africa should legalize polygamy for whites to beat a divorce rate amongst the highest in the world." Johannesburg (Reuters 1-15-99)

  • Not only does polygamy allow for a man with a barren first wife to have children, it benefits the children themselves and the mothers.
  • Many family members equals much more wisdom and different experiences, which help in raising children.
  • A huge benefit for mothers is free and safe babysitting.

The first time polygamy is mentioned in the Bible, it is regarding the evil Lamech, therefore, polygamy is evil.

Genesis 4:19-23 "And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one [was] Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and [of such as have] cattle. And his brother's name [was] Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ. And Zillah, she also bare Tubalcain, an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubalcain [was] Naamah. And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt."

This passage also gives us the first mention of dwelling in tents, keeping cattle, musical instruments, and metalworking. All were associated with the sinful line of Cain. If polygamy is a sin because it is first mentioned in the context of a sinful society, then is it a sin to be a harpist, an organist, a nomad with cattle, or use brass and iron? Obviously not!

There is no "law of first mention". The supposed "law of first mention" is a lazy way for people to read their own preconceptions into scripture and make their ideas sound theologically valid. This supposed "law" is used entirely selectively - when the first mention of a concept agrees with the point someone wishes to make this "law" is invoked, when the first mention does not agree this "law" is silently ignored.

To demonstrate how illogical this objection is: The first monogamous marriage was Adam and Eve. They sinned so badly that they brought death into the world, requiring God's own Son to come and die to deal with the consequences of their sin. This sin was even directly facilitated by their marriage, since Adam only sinned because he was persuaded to by Eve. Maybe if he'd had two wives he'd have got a second opinion and not sinned. So according to the law of first mention, monogamy must be sinful because it is first mentioned in the context of the first sin.

Obviously this is ridiculous. Neither Adam's or Lamech's sins have any bearing on the morality of monogamy or polygamy.

Abraham was not really a polygamist. Rachel died, leaving Jacob a monogamist with Leah. David repented of polygamy.

It has been argued "Abraham was not a polygamist. While Sarah, his wife, lived, he never married any other woman. Abraham had an illegitimate son by Hagar. Then God took Rachel, Jacob's second wife (Gen. 35:19), leaving only his first and true wife Leah. David repented of polygamy."

Abraham was DEFINITELY a polygamist!

Genesis 16:3 "And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife."

Jacob had more than one wife after God changed his name to Israel.

Genesis 30:9 "When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife."

Bilhah was also his wife. Also referred to as his wives in Genesis 37:2. On no occasion did he divorce these woman.

2 Samuel 12:11-14 "Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give [them] unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst [it] secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun. And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also [that is] born unto thee shall surely die."

1 Kings 1:1-2 "Now king David was old [and] stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat. Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat."

2 Samuel 20:3 "And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten women his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in ward, and fed them, but went not in unto them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood"

David repented of adultery, with another mans wife, not polygamy. He already had many wives, and in 2 Samuel 12:8 the Lord even says that He gave David wives. David never committed adultery until he took Uriah's wife. Notice in 2 Samuel 12:1-14, Nathan reproves David of taking another man's wife, which is adultery, not of taking another wife. He does so in a story about a rich man taking a poor mans prize possesion.

God allowed David's wives to be lain with as a punishment for his sin with the wife of Uriah, not for having more than one wife in the first place. He was also punished by the taking of his son and by evil entering his house from then on, hence the times of upheaval following.

After Bathsheba, David took at least one additional wife - his concubine Abishag (1 Kings 1:1-4). Although he was very old and unable to consummate this marriage, the fact that he took her at all further illustrates that he had not repented of polygyny. It is unclear whether he took any other wives after Bathsheba.

When he married his first wife he vowed to love her and only her, forever. Now he believes polygamy is right and is considering taking another wife. What about his promises?

This is a very legitimate question. Although the Bible does not prohibit polygyny, many men have vowed before God that they would not be polygynous, at their wedding to their first wife

And there are two aspects to this:

  • Vows made to God.
  • Promises / covenants / agreements / contracts made to a wife.

Vows to God

Matthew 5:33-37 "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No ,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one"

James 5:12 "But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation."

It is very clear in scripture that we should not make such vows "lest we fall into condemnation" - because we may make a vow, then later realise it was incorrect to have made it, however reasonable it seemed at the time. Jesus even says that such vows "come from the evil one". Why is it our Christian tradition to make vows about marriage, when our own scriptures clearly forbid making such vows? Why are these traditional vows completely contrary to scriptural teachings on marriage? Could this tradition have been influenced by Satan, in order to undermine God's plans for marriage?

The principle here is clear for Christians: do not make vows, either to the Lord or to one another. First, we are unable to know for sure whether we will be able to keep vows. The fact that we are prone to the errors in judgment which are part of our fallen nature means that we may make vows foolishly or out of immaturity. Further, we don’t know what the future will bring — only God does. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow (James 4:14), so to make a vow that we will do or not do something is foolish. God is the one in control, not us, and He “works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Knowing this, we can see that it is unnecessary to make vows and that it indicates a lack of trust in Him. Finally, Jesus commands that our word be sufficient without making vows. When we say “yes” or “no,” that’s exactly what we should mean. Adding vows or oaths to our words opens us up to the influence of Satan whose desire is to trap us and compromise our Christian testimony.

We should be open to whatever God plans for our future, including His plans for us concerning marriage.

James 4:14-15 "Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

The story of Jephthah illustrates the foolishness of making vows without understanding the consequences. Before leading the Israelites into battle against the Ammonites, Jephthah — described as a mighty man of valor — made a rash vow that he would give to the Lord whoever first came out of doors to meet him if he returned home as the victor. When the Lord granted him victory, the one who came out to meet him was his daughter. Jephthah remembered his vow and offered her to the Lord (Judges 11:29-40). Whether or not Jephthah should have kept this vow, this account shows us the foolishness of rash vows.

Leviticus 5:4-5 "Or when any of you utter aloud a rash oath for a bad or a good purpose, whatever people utter in an oath, and are unaware of it, when you come to know it, you shall in any of these be guilty. When you realize your guilt in any of these, you shall confess the sin that you have committed."

If we have made a vow foolishly and realized we cannot or should not keep it, we should confess it to God, knowing that He is “faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” A broken vow, while serious, is not an unforgivable matter if taken to the Lord in true confession. God will not hold us to vows made imprudently, but He expects us to obey Jesus and refrain from making vows in the future.

However:

Promises to a wife

Malachi 2:14-16 "Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously."

Romans 1:31-32 "Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."

A marriage is also a covenant, between the husband and the wife. A covenant is not to be broken. A covenant breaker is "worthy of death". If a husband and wife have a covenant which included her as being "the only one" or "forsaking all others", then that is the covenant. To change it, all parties must be in agreement. We know God would allow polygamy, as long as we remain in His Will. Both the husband and wife have to agree to change their covenant, into a 'new covenant'. Some who advocate forcing wives into polygamy, deny this.

The precise situation applying to a husband and wife will depend on the specifics of what they promised, and to whom, in their own wedding ceremony and any contractual agreements around that (such as prenuptial agreements).

Complex situations

If a husband had covenanted with his wife to be monogamous, but then broke that covenant by "having an affair", and then realizes that now he has scriptural obligations to both women, he is in a difficult situation:

  1. He cannot have the second wife without breaking his covenant with his wife, but
  2. He cannot put away the second wife without sinning by putting away a wife without cause.

Whatever he does in this situation will be sinful in some way. However in this situation he has already broken his covenant with his first wife. He can no longer go back in time and choose not to break it - he has already sinned. Putting away the second wife would not change this fact, it would just add a second sin on top of the first. He now cannot choose not to sin at all, he can now only choose whether to stop sinning (to repent), or to keep sinning by adding the additional sin of divorce without cause on top of the situation. We have died to sin, and must not knowingly go on sinning (Romans 6). So this man must now honour his obligations to both of his wives.

This does not allow a man to simply ignore his promises to his wife, have an affair, and then say "oops, sorry, well now you're stuck with polygyny anyway". To do that would make him a covenant breaker. As in all things, we cannot sin simply because we know we are already forgiven through the blood of Christ, rather the fact that we are forgiven must prompt us to from this day forward live lives without sin. A man must keep his covenants. But should he break them anyway, he cannot cover this up by sinning more.

Furthermore this is a terrible way to start a family, and is likely to result in disaster without the strong hand of God directly intervening. Don't do it. But some men have already put themselves and their wives into this situation anyway, and need to work out how to proceed now. And be encouraged - there are families who have come through this and been successful. But it is a very hard road that no man should ever choose to send his family down.

Polygamy is inherently abusive of and demeaning to women!

"Now these brethren of his were under distraction and terror, and thought that very great danger hung over them; yet not at all reflecting upon their brother Joseph, and standing firm under the accusations laid against them, they made their defense by Reubel, the eldest of them, who now became their spokesman: '?Our father's name is Jacob, an Hebrew man, who had twelve of us for his sons by four wives; which twelve of us, while we were all alive, were a happy family...'" Flavius Josephus Jewish Antiquities 2.100 (Whiston)

The idea that polygyny is associated with abuse generally comes from media coverage of abuse documented in fundamentalist Mormon communities in the USA. Tens of thousands of people live in polygamous families in Utah, most involved in Mormon Fundamentalism. There are some larger polygamist groups, and numerous small independent polygamy-practicing churches. Most are confined to single communities, usually communal in structure.

In a small number of these communities, abuse has certainly occurred, and this abuse has received widespread news coverage, because the very fact that it is unusual makes it interesting. There is certainly an increased likelihood of abuse in these situations due to the closed-ness and isolation of the societies and the cult atmosphere. However this atmosphere exists in part due to the fact that their marriages are not recognized by the state, these communities live in fear of persecution by the authorities, and therefore maintain isolation and don't report abuse. It is a vicious cycle. Charges against them range from child abuse and incest to welfare and tax fraud. Though these groups may tout the Bible as the basis for their beliefs, abuse, incest, and robbery are all condemned in the Bible as sins.

It is unfair and deceitful to carry these characteristics over onto other polygamists, be they Christian, African, Islamic, or Mormon. It is also deceitful to assume such characteristics will occur in societies where polygyny is openly accepted. Among open societies, without the cult atmosphere, polygamy actually reduces abuse, because:

  • Prospective wives can see how a man treats his existing wives and children and choose not to marry an abusive man, and
  • More wives = more people likely to report abuse were it occurring.

There are many men committing "child abuse and incest to welfare and tax fraud" in monogamous marriages as well. It would, in the same manner, be unfair to squish all monogamists in the same category that those monogamists are in.

In 1996 there were 808,370 cases of abuse confirmed in the USA. A tiny fraction of those were in polygynous households.

We know many happy Christian polygamous families - if you want to meet some, just come to one of our retreats!

Obviously, men want more than one wife because they're sex crazy!

People often shout that polygamists are just sex crazed. Anyone who marries for sex is going to be very disappointed. They will find their families falling apart from neglect in no time. The amount of responsibility, time, effort, and energy we put in one relationship can be enough for most people, let alone more than one relationship. Sex could be called the candle on the cake called marriage, but marriage is a big cake and brings along many new responsibilities. Each wife needs to be loved and nourished, cared for and encouraged. A husband needs to make time for his wives and family, while working a job and being the spiritual leader of the family. Marriage is a lot to handle, in all forms - and only a tiny fraction of the time is spent having sex. Any married person can attest to that.

Consider:

  • Does one get married for sex?
  • When a Christian single man, who cannot have sex, marries a woman and now can have sex, do we assume he just married her to have sex?
  • Is a Christian married man, who can already have sex with his wife so can already satisfy that desire, more or less likely than a single man to have so much unsatiated lust that he would marry another woman simply for sex?

There is nothing wrong with sex, God created it for us and it is entirely wholesome, within marriage. Almost an entire book in the Old Testament is dedicated to the subject of passion and sex for pleasure. Song of Solomon is so detailed in its intention of sexual pleasure in marriage that allegories were used to tone it down and Hebrew boys couldn't read it until they were 12, when they became men. God clearly intended sex in marriage to be pleasurable, and for husbands and wives to not abstain from sex.

1 Corinthians 7:3-5 "But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband is to fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does, and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control."

The feelings of sexual longings and pleasure during sex were created by God, and marriage was created to fulfill those longings. What Paul is saying is to direct those feelings to your spouse and no other and make sure that they are fulfilled within your marriage relationship, not outside of it. Notice that Paul says if one of the partners is not living up to his or her spouse’s expectations, whether it be pleasure or time, then both need to bring it before God so that one doesn't try to find fulfillment outside of that marriage relationship. Because of the existence of pornography and the perversion of sex over the years, many people (especially Christians) get the idea that pleasurable sex is wrong. We sometimes forget that God fashioned us for sex and created the emotions to go with it; pleasure was intended. We shouldn’t let Satan and his lies keep us from enjoying our spouses or fall into the counterfeit pleasure of sex that the world offers. God's pleasure is real and satisfying; Satan's is counterfeit and empty. A married man who desires more sex should first seek to improve his relationship with his own wife.

We all know (if we are honest with ourselves) that sex was one of the many factors that caused us to marry our first wives. It is a legitimate desire. There is nothing wrong with marrying a first wife, or an additional wife, partially in order to have sex - and Paul himself encourages people to marry for this very reason. If it were wrong to marry a second wife in order to have sex with her, it would also be wrong to marry a first wife for that reason.

But marrying for sex alone is a foolish idea that will only result in disaster. Successful marriages, whether monogamous or polygamous, are motivated by far more than just sex. And a married man, who can already have sex with his first wife, has far less need to marry for sex than a single man marrying his first wife.

Polygamy was a Canaanite practice, therefore we shouldn't do it!

A few have used Leviticus 18, saying polygamy was a practice of those in the Land of Canaan and that we are not to do the same as those in the land of Canaan. How far does that go? Are we not to eat bread because they ate bread? The whole chapter is about pagan rituals, not polygamy.

Historically, Western societies are actually monogamous due not to scripture, but rather to the influence of pagan Roman culture, which was monogamous. The Roman church continued in this tradition and established the norms for Christianity. So should we not be monogamous either because pagans were monogamous?

David was so lustful he married a mother and daughter in violation of God's law!

Michal's mother was Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz. 1 Samuel 14:49-50 The woman married to David, shown in 1 Chronicles 3:1 (2 Samuel 3:2) is Ahinoam the Jezreelitess. His marriage to an "Ahinoam" happened before Saul was dead (2 Samuel 3:2), which is before he married Saul's wives. They were given to him after Saul's death. (2 Samuel 12:7-8)

Though this is often used as an argument of the degradation that plural marriage supposedly causes, the fact of the matter based on Scripture shows that these were two separate individuals.

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