Polygamy’s Place in Biblical Narratives

Polygamy is a topic that has sparked numerous debates and discussions among believers and scholars alike. As we explore the Bible, we can find instances of polygamy in the Old Testament, with several prominent figures like Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon having multiple wives. However, understanding the context and God’s perspective on the matter is essential for a clear comprehension of the topic.

The Bible contains passages that seem to acknowledge polygamy, such as Exodus 21:10 that offers regulations for taking another wife. However, it is important to consider that God’s original plan was for a monogamous relationship, as highlighted in Genesis 2:24 where it speaks of a man leaving his family and uniting with his wife as one flesh.

Throughout our analysis of the Scripture’s teachings on this subject, we will strive for a thorough understanding of the cultural and historical context, as well as examining what Jesus and the New Testament say about polygamy. Our aim is to approach this topic with a confident, knowledgeable, and neutral tone, aiming for clarity and providing a balanced view.

Overview of polygamy in biblical narratives

what does the bible say about polygamy
Overview of polygamy in biblical narratives

In the Bible, polygamy appears as a practice deeply embedded in ancient cultures. Many patriarchs, judges, and kings within the Old Testament had multiple wives and concubines, which was culturally acceptable during those times. Let’s delve deeper into some of these biblical narratives.

We begin with patriarchs in the Old Testament. Notably, Abraham, Jacob, and David practiced polygamy to varying extents. Abraham had two wives, Sarah and Hagar, while Jacob married Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah 1. David, a prominent figure in both religious and historical contexts, had several wives and concubines2.

Moving on to kings, perhaps the most well-known example is King Solomon. His excessive number of wives and concubines (700 wives and 300 concubines) ultimately led to his spiritual downfall, as they brought idolatry and false gods to the kingdom3.

In the context of judges, Gideon, a judge and military leader, had several wives and fathered 70 sons 4. Elkanah, the father of the prophet Samuel, is also mentioned as having two wives — Hannah and Peninnah5.

However, polygamy was not just a practice exclusive to these influential figures. It was a widespread practice during the time of the Old Testament and served its own societal purposes. Here are some factors contributing to its prevalence in that era:

  • Population growth: With high mortality rates and lower life expectancies, polygamy facilitated quicker population growth and lineage continuation6.
  • War: In times of war, polygamy provided for the needs of widows and orphans who would otherwise struggle to survive7.
  • Wealth and social status: Having multiple wives often demonstrated wealth and social standing, as a man would need sufficient resources to support multiple families8.

It is important to note that while the Old Testament records the practice of polygamy, it does not necessarily endorse it. In the New Testament, Jesus emphasized the concept of monogamous marriage, which has become the prevalent norm amongst Christian denominations9.

Biblical Foundations of Marriage

Biblical Foundations of Marriage
Biblical Foundations of Marriage

Creation Story: Adam and Eve

In the beginning, the Bible tells us the story of God creating the world and all living things, including the first man, Adam (Genesis 2:7). After seeing that Adam was alone and needed a companion, God created the first woman, Eve, from Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:21-22). This marked the beginning of the institution of marriage. Their relationship serves as the prototype for what God intended marriage to be – a union between one man and one woman.

The Concept of ‘One Flesh’

The Bible states that when a man and a woman enter into marriage, they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). This concept signifies the deep bond formed in marriage, merging the lives, bodies, and souls of the partners. God’s original design for marriage was a monogamous relationship, where both partners are spiritually and emotionally united.

Genesis 2:24“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

This “one flesh” union exemplifies God’s intention for marriage, emphasizing the sanctity and exclusivity of the marital relationship. Through the story of Adam and Eve, we can see that marriage was created for the union of male and female partners, with God’s presence and blessing. This underscores the importance of marriage as a fundamental part of God’s creation and plan for humanity.

Polygamy in the Old Testament

what does the bible say about polygamy
Polygamy in the Old Testament

The Patriarchs and Their Wives

In the Old Testament, patriarchs such as Abraham, Jacob, and David practiced polygamy. For example, Abraham married Sarah, and later took Hagar as a concubine (Genesis 16). Jacob married sisters Rachel and Leah, as well as their maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah (Genesis 29–30). David, a renowned king of Israel, had multiple wives and concubines (2 Samuel 3).

Laws and Practices

Throughout the Old Testament, several laws and practices governed polygamous relationships. In Exodus 21:10, the law stated that if a man takes another wife, he must continue to provide marital rights to his first wife, ensuring her sustenance, clothing, and conjugal rights. In Deuteronomy 21:15-17, the rights of the firstborn son of a less-loved wife were protected, ensuring his inheritance was maintained.

However, specific limitations on polygamy were also outlined. In Deuteronomy 17:17, the law prohibited kings from accumulating excessive numbers of wives. This rule aimed to prevent the king from straying from following God due to his wives’ influence.

King Solomon’s Wives

King Solomon, renowned for his wisdom, had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). His wives were primarily foreign women from various nations and played a significant role in his deviation from God (1 Kings 11:1-9). He built shrines for these foreign women to worship their gods, which eventually led to his disregard for the Lord’s commandments. This situation exemplified the rationale behind the limitation stated in Deuteronomy 17.

In conclusion, polygamy was a prevalent practice in patriarchal characters throughout the Old Testament. While certain guidelines were established to ensure fair treatment of wives and children, excess indulgence in polygamy led to spiritual downfall, as witnessed in King Solomon’s case.

New Testament Perspectives

New Testament Perspectives
New Testament Perspectives

Teachings of Jesus and Paul

When looking into the New Testament, we find that both Jesus and Paul often discussed marriage and its implications on individuals and society. In Matthew 19, Jesus refers to marriage as the union of two people becoming “one flesh” and emphasizes the sacred bond between husband and wife. Paul, on the other hand, echoes this perspective by advocating for monogamy and criticizing those engaging in sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 7:2).

According to these teachings, the New Testament seems to discourage polygamy, presenting a monogamous relationship as the ideal marital situation. As Jesus reminded the Pharisees of God’s intention for marriage from the time of creation, he quoted Genesis 2:24: “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”.

Christian Marriage Ideals

The foundation of Christian marriage rests on the notion that marriage represents the covenant between Christ and the Church, as put forth by Paul in Ephesians. In this sense, the husband stands as a symbol of Christ, while the wife represents the Church. Ephesians 5:31-32 says:

For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

Given this symbolic marriage theology, the one flesh principle further underscores the importance of monogamy, as any additional spouse would undermine the integrity of the Christ-Church analogy. Furthermore, in Romans 7, Paul explains how a wife is bound to her husband by the law for as long as he lives. This principle could be applied as an argument against polygamy, as it enforces the idea that a marriage covenant should be exclusive between one man and one woman.

Church Leadership and Monogamy

Additionally, the New Testament explicitly instructs church leaders, such as bishops, elders, and deacons, to be monogamous. In 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, church leaders are advised to have only one wife and to manage their households well. This indicates that monogamy was seen as a standard for those in church leadership positions.

Cultural and Legal Considerations

what does the bible say about polygamy
Cultural and Legal Considerations

Historical Context of Polygamy

In the context of the Old Testament, polygamy was a fairly common practice among society. Notable figures like King David and King Solomon had multiple wives and concubines, which was considered acceptable at the time. The practice of polygamy served a variety of purposes: providing protection, ensuring the continuation of family lines, and allowing for economic and social stability.

While there were guidelines and laws governing the treatment of multiple wives, such as providing each wife with adequate food, clothing, and marital rights1, the Bible also acknowledged that polygamy was not the original plan for marriage. Genesis 1 illustrates how God intended marriage to be between one man and one woman, as evident in the complementary pairs woven into the fabric of creation2.

Polygamy in Modern Society

In today’s Western world, polygamy is generally not accepted, and most countries have laws prohibiting it, including the United States, Canada, and most of Europe3. However, polygamy is still practiced and legally recognized in some countries like Saudi Arabia and Yemen, where it is considered a cultural norm4. Various factors influence the varying legal and social statuses of polygamy around the world, including cultural, religious, and historical influences.

In our society, the prevalence of monogamy is due, in part, to the influence of Christianity. The teachings of Jesus Christ emphasized the importance of the covenant of marriage, and He cited the original intention of marital union as a basis for rejecting the practice of divorce (Matthew 19:3-6). This emphasis on the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman has had a profound effect on the move towards monogamy in the Western world.



We’ve examined what the Bible says about polygamy and discovered that despite its presence in some stories, it’s not considered God’s ideal plan for marriage. In fact, more often than not, accounts of polygamous marriages were accompanied by various problems and conflicts.

In the Bible, God’s intention for marriage is clear, as shown in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” As we can see, the Scripture implies a monogamous union between one man and one woman. Additionally, in the New Testament, we find that church leaders and role models are specifically commanded to be husband to one wife.

Although polygamy was practiced by some biblical figures, notably Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon, we must acknowledge that these instances occurred in a context where societal norms were different from our current understanding. Furthermore, it’s important to note that many of these relationships, particularly Solomon’s, led to sin and straying away from God’s path.

In the Bible, marriage is seen as a sacred covenant between a husband and wife, designed to mirror the relationship between Christ and the church. As such, an ideal marriage should be founded on love, mutual respect, and faithfulness. The Bible presents monogamy as a way to uphold these values, beside obeying God’s command.

Frequently Asked Questions

what does the bible say about polygamy
Frequently Asked Questions

Is polygamy considered a sin according to biblical scripture?

Polygamy is not explicitly labeled as a sin in the Bible. However, it is important to note that the ideal form of marriage, as emphasized in various biblical passages, is monogamy – a one man and one woman union. For instance, God created Adam and Eve, setting the precedent for a monogamous relationship from the beginning (Genesis 2:24).

Why did God permit polygamy among His followers in biblical times?

It appears that God did not directly command or endorse polygamy, but rather permitted it in certain historical contexts. We understand that polygamy was a cultural practice that deviated from God’s original intention for marriage. Throughout the Bible, we can observe that polygamous relationships often led to various issues and conflicts, indicating that it was not God’s best for His people.

Did Jesus provide any teachings specifically regarding polygamy?

In the New Testament, Jesus did not explicitly address the topic of polygamy. However, He did reaffirm the principles of monogamous marriage by referring to the creation of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4-6). Hence, Jesus indirectly underscored the importance of monogamy by emphasizing the original design of marital relationships in God’s eyes.

Does the New Testament contain any passages that address the practice of polygamy?

The New Testament doesn’t directly discuss polygamy, but it does emphasize monogamy as the standard for Christian marriage. For example, Paul’s instructions for church leaders (1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6) mention that they must be “the husband of one wife,” which indicates a preference for monogamous relationships among believers.

Are there any specific consequences outlined in the Bible for engaging in polygamy?

The Bible does not outline a specific punishment for engaging in polygamy. However, we see multiple instances of issues, conflicts, and strife arising from polygamous relationships (e.g., Abraham’s family in Genesis 16 and Jacob’s family in Genesis 29-30). These examples serve as warnings that polygamy is not God’s ideal and may lead to various unwanted consequences.

What does biblical doctrine suggest regarding taking a second wife?

While taking a second wife is not explicitly prohibited in the Bible, it deviates from God’s original design for marriage. The emphasis on monogamy throughout Scripture suggests that taking a second wife would not be in line with God’s will for marital relationships. Moreover, Exodus 21:10 instructs that if a man takes another wife, he must not diminish the first wife’s rights – further indicating that polygamy may lead to undesirable outcomes.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top