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Baptists/Polygamy, The Old and New Testaments


Montag wrote at 2006-10-06 23:33:59
The following is taken from a letter I wrote to a believing brother who also had trouble understanding the Bible's clear teaching on polygamy v. monogamy.  I hope it helps.

You asked what I believe concerning "multiple wives" or polygyny.  I am only too happy to tell you.  First, I believe man has no right whatsoever to define marriage and that that is solely the privilege of the Creator who is the inventor of said covenant.  There are marriage traditions in every culture throughout history and the world, but none of them supercedes the authority of the One who conceived the institution in the first place.  Many traditions are harmless ceremony, but where those traditions are claimed to be morally required where Scripture is silent or where they stand in opposition to Scripture, they cease to be harmless and begin to be sinister.  Second, I believe that the system of polygyny is morally superior to the extra-biblical system of monogamy.  Please do not misunderstand.  The system is superior, but the system of polygyny includes the practice of monogamy.  That is to say, one can understand and accept the Bible's teaching on polygyny and still have just one wife.  There is nothing intrinsically superior in a man having two wives than a man having one, any more than there is moral superiority in having one wife over having none.  These are simply options afforded us by Yahweh in His Word.  However, since the system of monogamy prohibits the practice of taking subsequent wives and, in abrogation of the teachings and commandments of the Bible, invites myriad societal woes, it must be viewed as inferior as a system.  In time, I look forward to fully substantiating the conclusions I offer here.  But for the present, these are the conclusions at which I have arrived after months of rigorous examination of Scripture and the subsequent examination of history where this particular matter is concerned.

Let us now consider the question we are addressing.  How does the Bible define marriage and what place, if any, does polygyny hold in this definition?  In order to address this question, we must allow Scripture to speak for itself and set aside our own prejudices and religious presuppositions.  We may examine our preconceptions, but we must not cling to them with any undue tenacity if we are to understand the truth.  

"One Flesh"   

Much is made of Genesis 2:24 and the other passages of Scripture that hearken back to the notion of "one flesh."  The majority of arguments that purport a biblical mandate of monogamy are founded on this verse, but does it in fact declare a divine preference for monogamy?  The answer to this question lies not in the verse itself, but in the balance of Scripture that addresses marriage.  The important point here is not to assume, based on our own traditions, that this verse must mean what many commentators have asserted it means simply because antiquity and orthodoxy are on their side.  What is clearly present in this verse is the one-on-one nature of the marriage covenant.  A marriage does consist of one man becoming "one flesh" with one woman.  What is conspicuously absent from this verse and what we must seek out elsewhere in Scripture is the limitation placed on men and women as to how many such covenants into which they might lawfully enter.  Scripture makes it very clear that a woman may not be married to more than one man at a time.

So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.  (Romans 7:3)

Interestingly, throughout all of Scripture there is no such prohibition given to men.  In fact, there are several places where Scripture makes it clear that polygyny is acceptable and, on occasion, even required.  Very often, the passages that most clearly support polygyny are twisted to "forbid" polygamy in order to support a manmade tradition of monogamy.  An example of this is what is often done to the following verses:

Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.  (Deuteronomy 17:17)

Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.  (Leviticus 18:18)

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;  (I Timothy 3:2)

These verses are generally cited with little or no explanation save that they are "proof" that the Bible prohibits polygyny.  The simple fact is they do not.  Look at the first.  A king is told not to "multiply wives to himself" and this is asserted to mean monogamy.  This assertion is patently absurd in light of the verse immediately before it in which the same kings are instructed not to "multiply horses" unto themselves.  The language is identical and I have yet to read any commentary that holds that ownership of more than one horse is a sin.  Yet not "multiply[ing] wives to himself" is arbitrarily assigned the designation of singularity, i.e. monogamy.  The second verse is often used the same way, but the application of only a touch of reason leads us, necessarily, to a conclusion in favor of, rather than in opposition to, polygyny.  How can this be a general prohibition on polygyny?  If a man may not take his wife's sister to wife, the obvious implication is that a woman who is not his wife's sister is a potential wife!  Additionally, this verse does not even prohibit the marrying of sisters.  It addresses, rather, the motivation of an husband in taking his sister-in-law to wife: "to vex her."   The third verse is similar in that it offers a specific case (allegedly) in which polygamy is prohibited.  Prohibiting a behavior or action in a specific case means that when the specific case changes, so does the prohibition.  A 25 M.P.H. speed limit in a school zone does not mean that driving faster than that is everywhere prohibited.  It means that as long as the circumstances (proximity to a school in this case) persist, the limitation also persists, but when the circumstance is different, so is the limitation.  

Polygyny Commanded

There are two sets of circumstances in Scripture in which polygyny is commanded.  The first of these is found in what is known as the Levirate.

If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her.

And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.

And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then let his brother's wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband's brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband's brother.

Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her;

Then shall his brother's wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's house.

And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed.  (Deuteronomy 25:5-10)

The commandment here is clear: marry your brother's widow if he has no heir.  Here again, some would presuppositionally assert that the surviving brother must be unmarried, but Scripture gives no such caveat and, therefore, neither will I.  If this command were routinely heeded, the occasion would inevitably arise that the surviving brother would be married and therefore be required by the commandment of Yahweh to practice polygyny.  A Holy and Righteous Yahweh cannot command unrighteousness.  This is self-evident.

The second example of polygyny being commanded is given in the following verses:

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;

Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.  (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.

Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.  (I Corinthians 7:36-37)

Here again, some would presuppositionally insert a condition of the man being unmarried, but Scripture does not.  Let us also employ our Divinely provided ability to use logic here; what should a married man do in the event that he would, in a moment of failed judgment perhaps, deflower a virgin?  What if a child is conceived?  Should he pay child support?  Who then would raise the child?  In our depraved society, we have little trouble disregarding the importance of a father in the life of a child, but this arrogant nonchalance is not Scriptural!  Does it not harmonize with the bent of Scripture that the man should, as is here clearly commanded, marry the girl and raise the child?

In these cases and under certain inevitable circumstances, polygyny is required by the Law of Yahweh.  This should quell any notion that polygyny constitutes adultery or any other sin.  The only possible way polygyny can be a sin is if Yahweh commands people to sin!  Yahweh forbid.

(The balance of the letter must be posted separately.)

Med wrote at 2010-08-09 18:10:36
Luther also had issues with abusive language, struggled for years with his own person demons and did some pretty shady work in removing the Deuterocanonical books from scripture to bolster his theology.

The Bible tells us that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth, so I'm becoming more convinced that perhaps having a unified church to interpret scripture and lead believers and keep them one might be a very good idea. I've been studying Christian origins for years, and I can't seem to get around this nudging feeling.

Asitis wrote at 2010-10-09 05:03:37
Seems like the prophets of old and men close to God were adulterers big time, super weak, and just plain ignorant if we believe that God just let them do as they pleased, without expressly forbidding them to have more than one wife. If they did know better, and went ahead and took multiple wives, why are they, the adulterers, any more chosen than a common adulterer today. Nations and cities have been destroyed many times over in the Bible because the people were adulterous and sinful.

Why is it so hard for people to accept the possibility that God permits plural marriage at times and disallows it at other times...according to his purposes and wisdom. The sin in marriage is when a man defies God's will and commandments.  I have to believe that Abraham knew God's commandments, lived them, and taught his kids the same laws and expectations. There is a lot that went on over the course of time that is not recorded in the Biblical text, communications between these prophets and God that we don't know about. So, just because there isn't a discourse outlining God's position and expectations with marriage, does not mean that the prophets didn't know how to act. Since there really isn't a huge discourse on the matter, and if one has to form an opinion on what was okay with God and what wasn't, I think it is a more rational move to assume that the holy men of God were acting in accordance with their knowledge recieved of God rather than assume that God never said anything to them about the adultery.  The only exception to this idea is a situation where people like David and Solomon took unlawful or strange wives to themselves, which was a violation of the concept of marriage they were familiar with.  They took a type of marriage that requires a great deal of sacrifice, will power, and wisdom to live right, a higher law so to speak,and turned it into an abomination due to their way over indulgence and disregard to uniting with women that would not lead to to non-spiritual mindsets and strange gods.

So in summary, if we can't look to God's prophets and leaders from ancient times with any degree of respect whatsoever (just a bunch of misguided adulterers and full of who knows how many other sinful traits etc., and can't assume that they had any idea of what a commandment was or what God's will is.  And if we can't use their lives (aside from some normal gaffs here and there)to at least venture a guess as to what the truth is...all we end up doing is guessing away concerning whether God said anything to his people about what is surely an important issue.

P.S.  With regard to God telling David that his wives would be given, by God, to his neighbor, so his neighbor could lie with them.  This sounds like a parent taking a kids drugs and giving them to one of his friends.  I tend to think that although David corrupted the principle of plural marriage there had to be a fundamental acceptability for the practice, that God did not see it as the heinous sin of adultery...other wise I have to wonder what God was doing contributing to gross sin and not telling the people outright, in the scriptures, thou shalt have only one wife...just as he did in the New Testament.

Samuel wrote at 2012-12-03 12:29:04

God instructed Moses that the kings of Israel were to have only one wife:

"Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away." Deut. 17:17

Point of correction is in order here Brother - God never said that Kings should have ONE wife - He said they should not multiply - King Joash was given two wives by the prophet, I am sure the prophet understood better than any of our modern day Pastors what to multiply means.

God said that the King should not multiply horses - does it mean that the King should have ONE horse? Ofcourse not - it simply mean that one should not set their hearts to collecting stuff excessively - as much as it will be morally wrong for  us to have have 100 pairs of shoes and continue to stock, but five pairs do just fine for me and maybe 10 pairs for the brother - But ONE, NO God never said that.

Counter logic here - If that was an instruction given to Kings not multiply wives and horses, there is clearly no restriction for ordinary men to multiply, just as the restriction for Bishops and Deacon to have one wife,ordinary members have no restriction to have more than one wives - Bible is simple isn't?

xzimppledink wrote at 2013-07-27 04:17:18
I'm no theologian and unlike Mr. Camping I can not quote  the  bible word for word, but I do recall one place where God commanded that you must marry your brother's widow in order that his line might continue. There was no exception for those already married.

solohit wrote at 2013-12-19 18:16:51
Most preachers appeal to Gen 1, but how do we interpret God's action or inaction with respect to polygamy practiced by His beloved men? Also, in this Genesis we see God created male and female animals and also His instruction to Noah to take into the ark male and female of a kind.  Does this establish a pattern or command in marriage/relationship for every creature of God?

"Does this verse signify Marriage only?"

What should be the true meaning or interpretation of Gen 2:23 if you read alongside other verses that have similar phrase?

Genesis 2:23

The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man."

Gen 29 14Laban said to him, "Surely you are my bone and my flesh." And he stayed with him a month.15Then Laban said to Jacob, "Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?"

Judges 9:2

"Ask all the citizens of Shechem, 'Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal's sons rule over you, or just one man?' Remember, I am your flesh and blood."

2 Samuel 19:12

You are my relatives, my own flesh and blood. So why should you be the last to bring back the king?'

2 Samuel 5:1

All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, "We are your own flesh and blood.

2 Samuel 19:13

And say to Amasa, 'Are you not my own flesh and blood? May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you are not the commander of my army for life in place of Joab.'"

tony wrote at 2015-04-01 06:36:28
I think the person asking the question gave solid concrete argument to the case FOR polygamy while the answer, having good intentions, does not give solid black and white argument against it. Only platitudes to uphold the Catholic church's law and mandate to outlaw the practice. I believe God left this open for man to decide what will work best for each individual man as long as he loves and cares for each wife as God commands. The marriage was to reflect the church as the bride in marriage to Christ. The church or bride is made up of many, while Christ, the head, is ONE. The bride is to obey the head or groom  and the groom loves his bride and died for it. This all sounds barbaric today, because we've been enslaved by the Catholic mandate for many centuries. I believe that the better a Godly man manages his life and walk with God the likelihood he will well manage multiple wives. But in general, as men have fallen further and further away from God, and since they are weaker nowadays while women are strong headed, they seem to be better off with one wife in our current decadent society. But should the world fall into catastrophic event, I can see a rapid return to strong men and polygamy being just fine, even with women if it means their survival and protection and the alternative grim option that awaits them in the cruel wilderness and hardships. Yeah, some may survive on their own, but it won't be pretty and it will be an extremely harsh and short lived life as the early pioneers and pilgrims found out with 100% mortality rate of women on the first settlements. Life is cushy and plentiful in the western societies, because they been parasitic on the 3rd world nations for so long. I'd venture to say, life was pretty cushy for Adam and Eve, but I think that changed with Cain and especially after the flood as the climate became harshly cold and hot. So, again, I believe God has left that option available, particularly for his own. I'm certain, he'd rather the pagans have only one wife, though. So all these religious leaders against polygamy are either saying it to keep the peace or they lean toward false doctrine....


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Ashley Proctor


I possess strong knowledge in both theology and church history. My particular church history interests include but are not limited to missiology, ecumenism, British and North American Baptist history, the Moravian missionary movement, von Zinzendorf, Luther, the desert fathers, and Patristics. I can answer most any theological or biblical question using sound principles of interpretation and my extensive knowledge of Holy Scripture and other theological resources at my disposal.


I grew up Christian. I am the son of a minister and am about half-way through an intensive dual M.A. in church history and theology at a conservative seminary in the Northeast. I am a former Baptist, but consider myself a solidly orthodox, Reformed Christian.

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
First Congregational Church (UCC)
Christians for Biblical Equality

Various internet sites.

I am currently pursuing dual M.A. degrees in church history and theology. Upon completion of seminary, I will study for a Ph.D. in historical theology in the U.K.

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