a bible, theology, politics, news, networking, and discussion site

Does the Bible forbid a man to have two or more wives, similtaneously?

I know that Paul instructed that church leaders must be the husband of one wife. But, where else is it forbidden? Consider Ex 21:10, before you answer.

Views: 8378

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

That whole passage is referring to slaves. Read from the beginning of the chapter. More like a concubine than a wife.
Michael; It's plain that the man can take another women to live with him and have sex with her. And he is definitely not referring to a call-girl, or "hooking-up with" or "one-night-stands", as my generation called it.
Sorry Michael, I just can't agree with that interpretation.
And you still haven't told me where it is forbidden.

Michael Ballai said:
That whole passage is referring to slaves. Read from the beginning of the chapter. More like a concubine than a wife.
when God was rebuking him for taking Bathsheba, He reminded David how He had given David all of Saul's wives, and concubines, and if that were not enough, God could have given him more, but instead, david took another mans wife and had him murdered! No rebuke whatsoever for all those wives and concubines. God would have provided david with more wives, if he had asked.

Question: what was the difference between a wife and a concubine? I don't claim to know, but I suspect, a concubine had no claim to an inheritance. Part of a harem?
How about the principle that when you marry, your body belongs to your wife? Is it right to take it back and maker her share? How would we feel if our wives did the same thing?


The OT has a prohibition of kings multiplying wives (Deut 17:14-17).All of the prohibitions of polygamy in the Bible were restraints only upon leaders, not people in general. I would presume that that to prevent scenarios like what happened with the Branch Davidians where all of the men went without sex while the leader made the rounds with all of the women, but the Bible doesn't actually give the reason.

Having said that, both Jesus and Paul, in quoting Genesis 2:24 add the word "twain" to the phrase one flesh. The formulation in Genesis does not have twain. The message that I get from that is while polygamy may not be explicitly prohibited in the way that adultery and homosexual activity is, that monogamous marriage and monogamous marriage alone is the norm that God intended for sexual relations.
I choose to distinguish rather carefully among polygamy, polygyny, and polyandry, because the 1st is too general ("multiple spouses" of either sex), while the other two are specific cases to be handled separately.

Ex 21 is a questionable source text because context is clearly female slavery.

But there are quite a lot of other passages not so easily dismissed. Consider Judges 8:30, "Gideon fathered seventy sons through his many wives." One would be hard-pressed to find sin in this. The parents of the prophet Samuel were polygynous (Elkanah, Peninnah, and Hannah, his mother) and again there is no condemnation ever offered. David was indeed granted his wives by God himself (2Sam 12:8) so none of the common modern claims one hears in the political arena, including the lately-discussed Manhattan Declaration, about one-man-one-woman being God's only real intention are so much nonsense in the face of God himself choosing otherwise -- David's sin was in overreaching beyond God's provision for him, not in having the wives in the first place. Take a close look at 2Chr 24:1-4: King Joash has 2 wives found for him by Jehoiada, who was high priest, the highest spiritual authority in Israel (in ch.23, he has the authority to crown the king). No condemnation can be found for this, and Joash spent his life refurbishing the temple.

NET Bible has interesting notes on concubines. Judges 8:31: "A concubine was a slave woman in ancient Near Eastern societies who was the legal property of her master, but who could have legitimate sexual relations with her master. A concubine's status was more elevated than a mere servant, but she was not free and did not have the legal rights of a free wife. The children of a concubine could, in some instances, become equal heirs with the children of the free wife. After the period of the Judges concubines may have become more of a royal prerogative." Near-identical notation is found on several other uses of the word.

An important aspect to bear in mind is that, especially during the time of OT law, a wife was a form of property. Special, honored property, but property nonetheless. For justification of that, consider a number of things: The very existence of the concept of a "bride price" (Gen 34:12; Ex 22:17; 1Sam 18:25); the non-special mention of wives among other property in the 10th commandment, Ex 20:17; the restriction in Deu 17:17, that the king (only) was not to be permitted to "multiply wives," using a verb that fuzzily means "really huge increase," and is the identical verb used for livestock in v.16; Boaz "acquires" Ruth as part of a land deal (Ruth 4:10), using a verb listed in Strong's as "create; by extension to procure especially by implication to own"; the restriction on acquisition of women in Ex 21 and Ex 22, where seduction and rape are both handled via a mechanism that is bluntly of the strictly economic theory of "you break it, you buy it."

I find the royal restriction of Deu 17:17 especially interesting: The point of the passage is two-fold, as I read it. One, an extremely common way for an ANE king to express his earthly power was to enlarge his property holdings, by conquering lands, by agriculture in the form of increased harvests and livestock herds, by acquisition of gold and silver, by having huge families with many wives and dozens of kids. Two, God tells Israel that their king must not do that; instead Israel's power will be found in God's provision to them, not in how the king shows off. Notice that the restriction is on the king, and only the king, because only a king was in a position to show off to other sovereign states in that particular way.

There is so little specific mention of polygyny -- that is, pointing it out as somehow special -- that it can be hard to hunt down Biblical comment on the idea unless you know what you're looking for (like Joash), polygyny was just so bland that it just didn't matter: Some men would marry one wife, some would never marry at all, and some would marry more than one, and all these choices were given respect.
Where ever the Church has gone, polygamy has ended. It has been that way from the outset. Two thousand years of historic, uncontested, consistent interpretation, or the alternative? Is there really a debate?
The question of polygamy is an interesting one in that most people today view polygamy as immoral while the Bible nowhere explicitly condemns it. The first instance of polygamy/bigamy in the Bible was that of Lamech in Genesis 4:19: “Lamech married two women.” Several prominent men in the Old Testament were polygamists. Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, and others all had multiple wives. In 2 Samuel 12:8, God, speaking through the prophet Nathan, said that if David’s wives and concubines were not enough, He would have given David even more. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (essentially wives of a lower status), according to 1 Kings 11:3. What are we to do with these instances of polygamy in the Old Testament? There are three questions that need to be answered: Why did God allow polygamy in the Old Testament? How does God view polygamy today? Why did it change?

Why did God allow polygamy in the Old Testament? The Bible does not specifically say why God allowed polygamy. As we speculate about God’s silence, there are a few key factors to consider. First, there have always been more women in the world than men. Current statistics show that approximately 50.5 percent of the world population are women, with men being 49.5 percent. Assuming the same percentages in ancient times, and multiplied by millions of people, there would be tens of thousands more women than men. Second, warfare in ancient times was especially brutal, with an incredibly high rate of fatality. This would have resulted in an even greater percentage of women to men. Third, due to patriarchal societies, it was nearly impossible for an unmarried woman to provide for herself. Women were often uneducated and untrained. Women relied on their fathers, brothers, and husbands for provision and protection. Unmarried women were often subjected to prostitution and slavery. The significant difference between the number of women and men would have left many, many women in an undesirable situation.

So, it seems that God may have allowed polygamy to protect and provide for the women who could not find a husband otherwise. A man would take multiple wives and serve as the provider and protector of all of them. While definitely not ideal, living in a polygamist household was far better than the alternatives: prostitution, slavery, or starvation. In addition to the protection/provision factor, polygamy enabled a much faster expansion of humanity, fulfilling God’s command to “be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth” (Genesis 9:7). Men are capable of impregnating multiple women in the same time period, causing humanity to grow much faster than if each man was only producing one child each year.

How does God view polygamy today? Even while allowing polygamy, the Bible presents monogamy as the plan which conforms most closely to God’s ideal for marriage. The Bible says that God’s original intention was for one man to be married to only one woman: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife [not wives], and they will become one flesh [not fleshes]” (Genesis 2:24). While Genesis 2:24 is describing what marriage is, rather than how many people are involved, the consistent use of the singular should be noted. In Deuteronomy 17:14-20, God says that the kings were not supposed to multiply wives (or horses or gold). While this cannot be interpreted as a command that the kings must be monogamous, it can be understood as declaring that having multiple wives causes problems. This can be clearly seen in the life of Solomon (1 Kings 11:3-4).

In the New Testament, 1 Timothy 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:6 give “the husband of one wife” in a list of qualifications for spiritual leadership. There is some debate as to what specifically this qualification means. The phrase could literally be translated “a one-woman man.” Whether or not this phrase is referring exclusively to polygamy, in no sense can a polygamist be considered a “one-woman man.” While these qualifications are specifically for positions of spiritual leadership, they should apply equally to all Christians. Should not all Christians be “above reproach...temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:2-4)? If we are called to be holy (1 Peter 1:16), and if these standards are holy for elders and deacons, then they are holy for all.

Ephesians 5:22-33 speaks of the relationship between husbands and wives. When referring to a husband (singular), it always also refers to a wife (singular). “For the husband is the head of the wife [singular] … He who loves his wife [singular] loves himself. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife [singular], and the two will become one flesh....Each one of you also must love his wife [singular] as he loves himself, and the wife [singular] must respect her husband [singular].” While a somewhat parallel passage, Colossians 3:18-19, refers to husbands and wives in the plural, it is clear that Paul is addressing all the husbands and wives among the Colossian believers, not stating that a husband might have multiple wives. In contrast, Ephesians 5:22-33 is specifically describing the marital relationship. If polygamy were allowable, the entire illustration of Christ’s relationship with His body (the church) and the husband-wife relationship falls apart.

Why did it change? It is not so much God’s disallowing something He previously allowed as it is God’s restoring marriage to His original plan. Even going back to Adam and Eve, polygamy was not God’s original intent. God seems to have allowed polygamy to solve a problem, but it is not the ideal. In most modern societies, there is absolutely no need for polygamy. In most cultures today, women are able to provide for and protect themselves—removing the only “positive” aspect of polygamy. Further, most modern nations outlaw polygamy. According to Romans 13:1-7, we are to obey the laws the government establishes. The only instance in which disobeying the law is permitted by Scripture is if the law contradicts God’s commands (Acts 5:29). Since God only allows for polygamy, and does not command it, a law prohibiting polygamy should be upheld.

Are there some instances in which the allowance for polygamy would still apply today? Perhaps, but it is unfathomable that there would be no other possible solution. Due to the “one flesh” aspect of marriage, the need for oneness and harmony in marriage, and the lack of any real need for polygamy, it is my firm belief that polygamy does not honor God and is not His design for marriage.
I'm not sure if it is forbidden, but it is expressly not the way it should be according to Genesis 2 (the two shall become one). Indeed, the first listing of polygamy is portrayed in an ill context (Gen 4 and Lamech under Cain).

In the situation of David, I'd note that marriages served a political function without war for kings: the fact that the wives of his master became his wives seems to imply that the reigns were smoothly handed over, even those bonds that were tied with marriage.
I'd say no. The definitive proof text for a man marrying only one woman is Matthew 6:24a - "No man can serve two masters."
It it ok to kill your your daughter as a sacrifice? They did it in the Old Testament and there is nothing in the new testament forbidding it. Should we stone adulterers and homosexuals? Same precedent.

Chad Gibbons said:
I'd say no. The definitive proof text for a man marrying only one woman is Matthew 6:24a - "No man can serve two masters."

Reply to Discussion




Blog Resources

Arminian Today



Called to Communion


Classical Arminianism


Christian Answers For The New Age

Christians in Context

Conversation Diary (catholic) (marv & scott)

Desiring God blog


First Things

Fr. Stephen (eastern orthodox)


Internet Monk

KJV Only Debate (jason s.)



Lisa Robinson - TheoThoughts



National Catholic Register (catholic)

Parchment & Pen





Roger Olson


Team Pyro

The Apologist's Pen

Untamed Spirituality

WDTPRS (catholic)



Theological Resources


Center for Reformed Study and Apologetics

Creeds and Confessions

Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Council of Biblical Manhood and Womenhood (complementarian)

The Center for Bibical Equality (Egalitarian)

Evangelical Theological Society

Reclaiming the Mind Ministries

Society of Evangelical Arminians


Theological Word of The Day

Tyndale House Bulletin


Church History

Early Christian Writings

Glimpes of Church History


Christian Traditions

Book of Concord

Eastern Orthodox

Orthodox Catechism





Reasonable Faith


Stand to Reason



Bible Study

Bible Gateway

Bible Researcher

Blue Letter Bible

IVP New Testament Commentaries Online


Online Bible and Theology Education

Biblical Training

The Theology Program


Theology and Bible MP3s

Covenant Seminary

263 Theology Questions and Answers

Veritas Forum


Theologica Chat Room

MiRC Chat



Get the Widget


Bible Options

© 2015   Created by Michael Patton.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service

/*============================================================================================ /*============================================================================================