Does the Bible Approve Polygamy?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Some critics argue that the Bible approves polygamy because the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) had multiple wives and the biblical text does not seem to condemn their actions. This, however, is a gross misunderstanding of the Bible. Just because the Bible reports certain behaviors does not mean it approves of it.

Polygamy is clearly prohibited by God in many ways. First, we know that monogamy is the correct pattern of marriage because it was established in Genesis 1 and 2. Second, we know that this pattern was followed until the sin of Lamech in Genesis 4:23 is reported. The first polygamous husband in the Bible is a murderer! Third, the Law of Moses clearly commands, “You shall not multiply wives” (Deut. 17:17).

Finally, it is obvious from the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that polygamy is the cause of much family conflict. This is especially evident with Jacob, who has 4 wives. Because of the favoritism of Jacob toward one of his wives, Rachel, his sons end up selling one of their half-brothers into slavery! Clearly polygamy is not portrayed in a positive light in these narratives.

  • Benjamin Kennard

    While the Bible may not say it approves of polygamy, it suggests it by the adoration and rank bestowed upon those who partook in it. In the Old Testament God had not yet agreed to forgive the sins of his people, or of any people. Therefore, how can Abraham be such a heavenly figure, who entered heaven prior to the death of Christ? Without forgiveness, he must not have sinned, which means polygamy is not a sin.

  • Entrance into heaven before Christ lived was not based on believing in Christ or living a sinless life.

    Please read this blog post:
    http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org/2014/03/28/how-were-people-who-lived-before-jesus-saved/

  • sean

    I’m not in a position where I feel I know enough to say whether the Bible does or does not condone polygamy, but I do see a line of argument in here that I take issue with. I don’t think the first polygamist being a murderer proves the Bible is anti-polygamy any more than that the first woman in the Bible (Eve) being a sinner proves the Bible is anti-woman. The first polygamist sinned, therefore the Bible is anti-polygamy is an argument no different in structural validity than that Eve was a a sinner therefore the Bible is anti-woman. That there is strife in polygamous families of the Bible is no more to the point than that there is strife in non-polygamous families in the Bible. I’m not seeing a causal link, just an assertion of one.

  • Benjamin Kennard

    Okay – however, God spoke directly to these people. He did not, when speaking to them, request that they correct their lifestyle – in this way, at least.

  • Sean,
    It is well known how Hebrew literature communicates truths through narrative. Early in Genesis, God makes it clear that there is to be one man and one woman in marriage. There wasn’t one Adam and five Eve’s.

    So the readers and hearers of later portions of Genesis and subsequent books of the Bible would be expected to understand that polygamy was not the ideal marriage God intended. When they would read about polygamous marital dysfunction, they would make the connections immediately.

  • sean

    I understand what you are saying about God making one woman for man. I wasn’t objecting to that. Nor am I objecting to your reference to the Law. (Deut. 17:17) I am objecting to the idea that a murderer in the Bible being a murderer demonstrates the point that God does not like polygamy.

  • SoundOn

    There is clear precedent in the scriptures for approved polygamy. 2 Chron. 24:2-3 is one example and 2 Sam. 12:8 is another. There are many other references of prophets and other righteous men having more than one wife such as Gen. 16:1–11; Gen. 29:21–28; Gen. 30:4, 9, 26; Ex. 21:10; 2 Sam. 2:1–2. David was a man after God’s own heart, until he became a sinner. Was David a sinner because he was a polygamist or because he was an adulterer? David’s sin was adultery and murder, not polygamy. In fact, the prophet Nathan even tells David that God blessed him with wives (2 Sam 12:8). All David’s wives were approved by God with the exception of Bathsheba (at least up to that point).

  • Titan000

    Why do you think that God credits himself with giving wives of Saul to David if it is a sin?

    Surely David was punished for murder of his servant and committing adultery with Bathsheba. But not punished for taking the wives of Saul.