One thing I’ve never really thought about is polygamy. We just assume it’s wrong, but never really investigate it. “It’s polygamy, man. It’s gotta be wrong!” But is it? After looking through the Bible, I saw a long line of polygamists: Abraham, Jacob, Esau, David, Gideon –all polygamists. The esteemed Martin Luther even supported polygamy under certain conditions. That makes me think I shouldn’t dismiss it so easily.
Now, my question isn’t whether or not polygamy is destructive, hurtful to women, or illegal. I’m convinced that all those things are true. The question I’d never really pondered before is whether or not God’s okay with it. So I looked deeper, to see what the Bible says.
One of the primary passages people draw out against polygamy is Deuteronomy 17. God commands Israelite kings not to have “many wives.” Seems pretty clear that he’s against polygamy. But in the context, God also forbids a king to have excessive horses and wealth. The passage is saying that God wants moderation in horses, wives and wealth rather than forbidding multiples of them. So under only this passage, polygamy in moderation could be okay. But there are also other places in Scripture that God talks about polygamy…
In 1 Timothy 3, Paul lists qualifications for elders. One is that he be “the husband of one wife.” So hands down, polygamy is forbidden for elders in the church. The Bible’s clear there. But Paul is speaking only of elders, not people at large. So, while it might be better to only have one wife, Paul still does not forbid polygamy for the common man.
What about Bible passages seem to show God’s support for polygamy? In 2 Samuel 12, God tells David, “I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives.” Notice that “wives” is plural. God is not only tolerating polygamy, but is actively furthering its practice. That’s a far cry from God being completely opposed to it.
Again, my question isn’t whether polygamy is destructive or hurtful to women. I think we can all agree that these are true. Also, polygamy is illegal for us in America. So even if it were permissible by God in general, it would be sin for us because the government has outlawed it. But there’s still the root question: Is God okay with it?
I can’t really say for sure. I’m an 18 year-old kid, and there are much older and wiser men than me, with a far better understanding of Scripture and God’s character. But from where I stand, it seems that God’s okay with the practice of polygamy. Definitely not in the extreme, like how Solomon practiced it (per Deuteronomy 17). But David lived his life as a polygamist, never repented, and was never rebuked by God for it. God even gave him more wives. In all his polygamy, he was still called “a man after God’s own heart.” If God can be that pleased with an unrepentant polygamist, I just can’t see him hating the practice absolutely.
There’s an interesting twist on this. Let’s look at some of the negative effects of polygamy: feelings of hurt and of not being good enough, competition between different wives and their children, and the financial obligation to support multiple families. Horrible things. But look again at that list – they match up pretty evenly with the results of divorce. In fact, divorce is rather similar to polygamy. A man is “made one flesh” with multiple women, has children with those different wives, and has to financially support several families. The main difference is that he’s united with the wives only at different times (though there are other differences, too).
And while the biblical evidence for God’s hatred of polygamy is pretty thin, God’s hatred of divorce is very clear. So even if I’m wrong about God being okay with polygamy (which I may well be), he’s definitely much more against divorce. But which are we more against? Which is the church more against? When we think of polygamy, we think of a horrible practice that no Christian should do. But divorce we happily participate in and allow.