A Question About Polygamy

© Marcelo A. Tolopilo

“Ask the Rabbi!”

From time-to-time – especially at the dinner table – our family enjoys a round of what we call ATR sessions, or “Ask the rabbi!” sessions. This means the kids can ask me any biblical/theological question they want, and I as our family rabbi have to answer the conundrum. We’ve had a lot of fun with it over the years and I thought I would extend the merriment to you our friends and partners in ministry. So send us your biblical questions and you might find your query in one of our blog posts.

The question about polygamy…

The first question we will attempt to answer comes from Cindy in Virginia. She asks “Why is there so much polygamy in the Bible with no apparent condemnation when it directly opposes God’s plan, for one man, one woman?”

Great question, Cindy. I have decided to answer this question in two parts because this is an issue that comes up more frequently today when we share the gospel with Mormons. I also want to take a bit more time with this subject because polygamy has been on the collective mind of our culture over the last few years. There have literally been a flurry of shows and documentaries on television and cable exploring the growing phenomena of polygamy among Mormons and their so called “biblical” debate about the plural marriage issue. (I guess polygamy sells air-time. How many shows are there depicting a healthy monogamous marriage? The answer, “0”. Here’s a few about polygamy: Sister Wives, My Five Wives, Polygamy USA, Love Three Times, Big Love, and assorted documentaries on Mormon fundamentalist sects and their compounds.) We will cover this issue over two blog posts.

How does the Bible view polygamy?

First, you’re right Cindy, polygamy was never God’s design for marriage. From the beginning God’s plan was one man for one woman (Genesis 2:24); however, as men lost sight of God’s intention for marriage they strayed from God’s design to their own great harm. God never changed His design for marriage, man just decided to improve what wasn’t broken. While God tolerated polygamy (we’ll talk about this in the next article) the Bible shows us that multiple marriages were a serious compromise and resulted in great heartache, dysfunctionality, and devastation. Consider the toxicity that flourished and festered in the wounds caused by polygamy.


bitterness towards the husband (Genesis 16:5), disdain between the wives (16:5), cruelty (16:6), failure to lead by Abraham (16:6)


emotional abandonment (the descriptive used of Leah “unloved” in Genesis 29:31 & 33 literally means “hated”), sorrow (Genesis 29:32), jealousy, despair (Genesis 30:1), bitter rivalry and constant conflict (Genesis 30:1-24)


bitter provocation, harassment (1 Samuel 1:6,7), inconsolable depression (1 Samuel 1:7,8,10,15)

David’s multiple marriages

… contributed significantly to the following sins in the lives of his children, envy, bitterness, rape, incest (2 Samuel 13:1-15; 16:22), murder (2 Samuel 13:28, 29), treason (2 Samuel 15:6; 16:15), etc.

Solomon’s polygamy

… pulled his heart away from the Lord (1 Kings 11:1-3). The wisest man on earth was bewitched and corrupted by polygamy!

No, the Bible never portrays Polygamy as an improvement on God’s original design for marriage – as did for example the Mormon church in the first half of its history and as do several present day Mormon sects. (The Mormon church backed off its doctrinal conviction regarding plural marriage when in 1858 federal troops in a show of force marched through Salt Lake City and threatened to replace Brigham Young as governor of the UT territory. The Federal government demanded the Mormon church back down on several of its tenets including polygamy which it did – though secretly endorsing the practice. In 1890, the LDS church officially abandoned its long held and cherished doctrine of multiple marriages altogether in order to smooth the way for UT statehood; www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/brink-of-war.html)

Polygamy is a harmful, adulterated version of what God intended. It always has been. The horrible consequences of this practice – honestly recorded in the Bible – remind us of this and serve as God’s indictment of the practice. This is why the New Testament pushes the reset button and reasserts God’s design for marriage: one man, one woman, joined together for life (Matthew 19:5,6; 1 Corinthians 7:2-4; Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Timothy 3:2).

Whereas many of the leaders in the Old Testament seemed the most likely to compromise God’s standard for marriage (the patriarchs, the kings, men of wealth), God demands that every shepherd in the church be wholly committed to his one wife and so – and this is critical – set the example for the congregation (1 Timothy 3:2,12; Titus 1:6). The point of having exemplary leadership is not to create a strain of super Christians, but to set the example for the entire body!

Finally, the crowning exhortation in the New Testament regarding God’s monogamous design for marriage can be found in the example of the Lord Jesus Himself. My friends, Christ is betrothed to one bride, the church, whom He will present to Himself (Ephesians 5:25-27), and whom the Father will bring home to the Son at the consummation of redemptive history (Revelation 19:9; 21:1,2), one Husband, one holy bride (Revelation 21:2; Ephesians 5:27).

In summary, the Old Testament clearly reveals God’s true pattern for matrimony. Man’s disobedience (even redeemed men) does not nullify God’s design. What’s more, in the forthright history of the divine record, polygamy is revealed for the abomination that it is, and as such, condemned. Lastly, the New Testament unmistakably affirms God’s heart for monogamous marriage in the example set by Christ and His one bride (the church) and in God’s monogamous requirement for the shepherds of the church which He desires duplicated in all His people.

In part two of this blog article, we will ask and answer the questions “Why did God permit polygamy? What do we learn from the disaster of polygamy in the Old Testament?” The answer and application may surprise you.

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