#1 Post of 2016 – Does Solomon’s Hundreds of Wives Mean That the Bible Promotes Polygamy?

In 1 Kings 11, verse 3, we read that Solomon, the king who ruled at the pinnacle of Israelite power, had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Other great men of the Old Testament also had more than one wife. Are we to conclude that God encourages polygamy?

Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, in When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficultiesargue that the Bible unequivocally teaches that monogamy is God’s standard for the human race.

This is clear from the following facts: (1) From the very beginning God set the pattern by creating a monogamous marriage relationship with one man and one woman, Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:27; 2:21–25). (2) Following from this God-established example of one woman for one man, this was the general practice of the human race (Gen. 4:1) until interrupted by sin (Gen. 4:23). (3) The Law of Moses clearly commands, ‘You shall not multiply wives’ (Deut. 17:17). (4) The warning against polygamy is repeated in the very passage where it numbers Solomon’s many wives (1 Kings 11:2), warning ‘You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you.’ (5) Our Lord reaffirmed God’s original intention by citing this passage (Matt. 19:4) and noting that God created one ‘male and [one] female’ and joined them in marriage. (6) The NT stresses that ‘Each man [should] have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband’ (1 Cor. 7:2). (7) Likewise, Paul insisted that a church leader should be ‘the husband of one wife’ (1 Tim. 3:2, 12). (8) Indeed, monogamous marriage is a prefiguration of the relation between Christ and His bride, the church (Eph. 5:31–32).

How do the biblical texts treat the practice of polygamy?

Polygamy was never established by God for any people under any circumstances. In fact, the Bible reveals that God severely punished those who practiced it, as is evidenced by the following: (1) Polygamy is first mentioned in the context of a sinful society in rebellion against God where the murderer ‘Lamech took for himself two wives’ (Gen. 4:19, 23). (2) God repeatedly warned polygamists of the consequences of their actions ‘lest his heart turn away’ from God (Deut. 17:17; cf. 1 Kings 11:2). (3) God never commanded polygamy—like divorce, He only permitted it because of the hardness of their hearts (Deut. 24:1; Matt. 19:8). (4) Every polygamist in the Bible, including David and Solomon (1 Chron. 14:3), paid dearly for his sins. (5) God hates polygamy, as He hates divorce, since it destroys His ideal for the family (cf. Mal. 2:16).

Geisler and Howe summarize the argument for monogamy:

In brief, monogamy is taught in the Bible in several ways: (1) by precedent, since God gave the first man only one wife; (2) by proportion, since the amount of males and females God brings into the world are about equal; (3) by precept, since both OT and NT command it (see verses above); (4) by punishment, since God punished those who violated His standard (1 Kings 11:2); and, (5) by prefiguration, since marriage is a typology of Christ and His bride, the church (Eph. 5:31–32). Simply because the Bible records Solomon’s sin of polygamy does not mean that God approved of it.

  • Jason Miller

    Thank you for this post. I’m truly curious to understand this topic. I noticed that 2 Samuel 12:7-9 states with respect to David’s adultery with Bathsheba:

    “Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?”

    Why would David be convicted of other sin in his life (adultery) but not the polygamy? Does the scripture above mean that God delivered all of Saul’s wives to David to be their “covering” per se, and if so, was it really a sin for David to have these wives? Lastly, when God says “And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more” is this in reference to giving David more wives if he desired more (versus taking another man’s wife), more houses (e.g. Israel & Judah), or both?

  • Jason,
    I think you are reading 2 Sam 12:7-9 too literally. Nathan is merely saying that God gave David everything that belonged to Saul. Saul, in fact, had two wives, but they are never listed as David’s wives, meaning that they probably never were David’s wives.

    This phrase, “And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah,” is just a shorthand way for Nathan to say that God turned everything over that belonged to Saul to David.

    If you don’t believe me, here is a quote from Old Testament scholar Walter Kaiser:

    “2 Samuel 12:7–8 supplies no encouragement to polygamy when it says that all that Saul had, including his wives, were to be David’s possessions. Nowhere in all the lists of David’s wives are Saul’s two wives listed; hence the expression must be a stereotypic formula signifying that everything in principle was turned over for David’s disposition.”

  • Jason Miller

    Bill, thanks for the clarity on 2 Sam 12:7-9. That is very helpful.

    Can you also address my first question: why would David be convicted of other sin in his life (adultery) but not the polygamy? We could even add David’s sin of taking the census which angered God and warranted punishment.

  • The biblical authors clearly took a dim view of polygamy, as all of the biblical patriarchs and kings who took multiple wives inevitably found themselves in trouble. Just because there wasn’t a specific recorded incident where David is explicitly punished for polygamy doesn’t really mean anything. There were undoubtedly numerous sins which David committed which are never addressed in Scripture.

    The biblical authors assume that their readers understand that God intended men to have only one wife, as is clear from the pattern established in Genesis, so they don’t go out of their way to constantly point out this very common sin.