What the Scripture Says in Support of Polygyny
So plenty has been said about what the scripture says about adultery, divorce, who one can marry and some of the instances of polygyny in scripture. It seems time to show what scripture teaches positively about polygyny. So we will start with the first mention of a man with more than one wife in scripture.
Genesis 4:19, 23-24 "19 And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.
23 And Lamech said unto his wives: Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; Ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: For I have slain a man for wounding me, And a young man for bruising me:
24 If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, Truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold."
Scripture mentions the above as it often does as just relating fact. There is no mention of Lamech's marriage being abnormal or evil. Some have used verse 23 to suggest that because Lamech killed a man that his having more than one wife was evil. The conclusion has no logical foundation. Here is the passage from the Book of Jasher.
Jasher 2:17, 26-36
"17 And Lamech, the son of Methusael, became related to Cainan by marriage, and he took his two daughters for his wives, and Adah conceived and bare a son to Lamech, and she called his name Jabal.
26 And Lamech was old and advanced in years, and his eyes were dim that he could not see, and Tubal Cain, his son, was leading him and it was one day that Lamech went into the field and Tubal Cain his son was with him, and whilst they were walking in the field, Cain the son of Adam advanced towards them; for Lamech was very old and could not see much, and Tubal Cain his son was very young.
27 And Tubal Cain told his father to draw his bow, and with the arrows he smote Cain, who was yet far off, and he slew him, for he appeared to them to be an animal.
28 And the arrows entered Cain's body although he was distant from them, and he fell to the ground and died.
29 And the Lord requited Cain's evil according to his wickedness, which he had done to his brother Abel, according to the word of the Lord which he had spoken.
30 And it came to pass when Cain had died, that Lamech and Tubal went to see the animal which they had slain, and they saw, and behold Cain their grandfather was fallen dead upon the earth.
31 And Lamech was very much grieved at having done this, and in clapping his hands together he struck his son and caused his death.
32. And the wives of Lamech heard what Lamech had done, and they sought to kill him.
33 And the wives of Lamech hated him from that day, because he slew Cain and Tubal Cain, and the wives of Lamech separated from him, and would not hearken to him in those days.
34 And Lamech came to his wives, and he pressed them to listen to him about this matter.
35 And he said to his wives Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice O wives of Lamech, attend to my words, for now you have imagined and said that I slew a man with my wounds, and a child with my stripes for their having done no violence, but surely know that I am old and grey-headed, and that my eyes are heavy through age, and I did this thing unknowingly.
36 And the wives of Lamech listened to him in this matter, and they returned to him with the advice of their father Adam, but they bore no children to him from that time, knowing that God's anger was increasing in those days against the sons of men, to destroy them with the waters of the flood for their evil doings."
As you can see Lamech killed two people, but did so without intent to harm and according to scriptural law would not be held accountable for murder. Also according to this account Adam advised Lamech's wives to return to their husband.
The next instance in scripture that we will mention is Abraham. Scripture does tell us that Abraham had many children born unto him in his household, but he had no heir by his wife Sarah. The children of a concubine do not inherit. So Sarah gave her servant Hagar to Abraham so that Sarah would have a child by her to inherit. God never condemned the taking of Hagar. God's intent was to give Abraham and Sarah a direct descendant, Isaac. When Sarah sent Hagar away there was no mention of Abraham officially ending his marriage with Hagar. So after the death of Sarah when Abraham took Keturah we can only guess that he was still married to Hagar.
Jacob, of course, ended up with a second wife because of Laban's deception. Then his two wives gave him their servants in the same way that Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham. It is important to note that the nation of Israel began with one man and four women. God later considered Israel his wife.
We know that Saul had several wives for when David became king of Israel God gave David Saul's wives.
2 Samuel 12
"7 And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith Yahweh, the God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;
8 and I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added unto thee such and such things. "
In the above verse God claims that he himself gave David wives, as in more than one. Not much needs to be said about David's son Solomon except that he did in fact violate God's command that a king not multiply wives unto himself.
The real key is not necessarily that many of our ancestors had many wives, but that God's law supports and in some cases strongly recommends it. I like to point out that the next verse is found just 22 verses after, "Thou Shall not commit adultery".
Exodus 21:10 "If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish."
In the case where a man died with out a male heir to continue his name it was the duty of his brother to raise up seed for him. While there is no direct listing of this law in scripture we know that God fully supported it. There are scriptures that show that it is important for a man's name to not be forgotten. A man who refused this duty was looked down upon in Israel. By the way, the term brother is used in a broader sense than we think of it today. It works the same way with the term sister as when Abraham was able to rightfully call Sarah his sister even though we today would use the word niece in Sarah's case.
Deuteronomy 21:15-17 "15 If a man have two wives, the one beloved, and the other hated, and they have borne him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the first-born son be hers that was hated;
16 then it shall be, in the day that he causeth his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved the first-born before the son of the hated, who is the first-born:
17 but he shall acknowledge the first-born, the son of the hated, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath; for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the first-born is his. "
Obviously there was no issue when a man loved both wives. This scripture lets us know that the law of the first born was to be followed regardless of which wife bore the first son. The obvious question to me then would be why God would have such a law if he considered polygyny to be sin? A righteous God does not create laws on how to righteously do something sinful.
One aspect that I rarely hear any one mention is the idea of a man loving all of his wives equally. One would certainly never suggest that a woman hated any of her children. She would insist that she loved all of them. I would suggest that a man can love his wives in the same way. Each wife, just like each child, having their own strengths and weaknesses that make them special.
In Hosea 1:2 God commanded Hosea to take a woman who had committed adultery. Then in Hosea 3:1 God commanded Hosea to take another woman who had committed adultery. This was all of course for the sake of Hosea's job to prophecy primarily against the house of Israel, but also the house of Judah both of whom God considered his wives, Ezekiel 23. The church world would tell us that Gomer ran away and that Hosea had to buy her back in chapter 3, but all of that is just made up. There is no scripture to justify that idea.
Ezekiel 23:1-4 "1 The word of Yahweh came again unto me, saying,
2 Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother:
3 and they played the harlot in Egypt; they played the harlot in their youth; there were their breasts pressed, and there was handled the bosom of their virginity.
4 And the names of them were Oholah the elder, and Oholibah her sister: and they became mine, and they bare sons and daughters. And as for their names, Samaria is Oholah, and Jerusalem Oholibah."
Partly because of my religious back ground the idea always comes up that now that we live in the new covenant time that the idea a man having more than one wife is past. If that were the case then we would have a couple problems. First God does not change. His morals can not change. So what was righteous the day the Adam was placed in the garden must be righteous today. What was sin that same day must be sin today. God does not change and his morals can not change. We have a righteous God that we can count on to be righteous.
So when someone suggest that God no longer condones polygyny or that it is just not for today I have to ask them a few questions. When Christ told the parable of the ten virgins and the coming of the bridegroom, who is Christ, how should we understand it when five of those virgins went in unto their new husband?
The scripture uses animals to tell a story or teach a lesson. Why is it that all of the good animals are polygynous in nature? (If you can think of one that is not let me know.)
It has been taught that polygyny was no longer practiced in the time of Christ and afterward. The Romans preferred serial monogamy, divorcing a wife to gain better status was a common practice. Apparently though the idea that polygyny was no longer practiced is not true. I typed, "Herod had many wives" into Google and the first two responses show that Herod had ten wives. Several of the writers from the time after the apostles until the Catholic church became the religious power mention polygamy. Usually it is in a negative light, but written because it was being practiced by Christians.
Remember that the Gnostic's and others taught that the flesh was evil and thus anything that included pleasure, even for strict procreation, was to be avoided and disdained. We are still dealing with that belief and behaviour today. You might remember that it has been taught that the Celts were pagan in their behaviour. Some of this was undoubtably taught because the Celts correctly viewed God given pleasure as righteous and not to be avoided and disdained.
The last part I would like to cover for now has to do with the supposed prohibitions found in 1 Timothy 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:6 concerning the elder and deacon, "must have but one wife" as one translation incorrectly declares. I have written about this for another reason in an article on the subject. My conclusion is that a man must be married in order to be able to lead the church. The verse could have read "must have a wife" and be true to the Greek text.
There is more and as I am not worried about making this article too long I will add to it as needed.
Feel free to send your helpful comments.
Basic Articles on Marriage, Children, Divorce, Remarriage and Adultery
Articles on Polygyny
Scriptural Marriage Possibilities
Polygyny is not Adultery!
Who did Seth Marry?
Lamech Had Two Wives
A Damsel or Two.
God Gave David His Wives.
How Many Wives per Man in Israel?
Is Polygyny Still Righteous Today?
It Began with One Man and Four Women
Let Each Woman Have Her Own Husband
Hosea's Two Wives
Is this the Meaning of Leviticus 18:18?
Women with Women?
Support for Scriptural Polygyny
How I discovered Polygyny
Sunday Morning Visitor
Poly Friendly Book Reviews
Christian Polygyny Links Page