Christian Polygamy? (Part 1 – New Testament)

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview, Culture Wars/Popular Culture 639 14

The institution of marriage seems to be in the public eye all the time today. Usually, it is with the topic of same-sex marriage, but there are other ways that the traditional view of one man and one woman is questioned. One of these is the subject of polygamy. There are many well-meaning Christians who believe that it is ok for a Christian to be a polygamist. In fact, one website opens its article on the subject by saying, “Have you ever wondered why God never condemned polygamy? It’s not hard to prove from the Old Testament and the New Testament that polygamy was, and still is, a valid form of marriage and is not sinful.”[1]

That is a pretty confident statement to make about a topic that a vast majority of Christians believe is a sin (the name of that article is “Polygamy is not sinful”). Of course, just because a majority believes something about a topic does not automatically mean that it is correct. This is why I am covering this subject.

The one fact that is impossible to deny is that there are many practicing polygamists in the Bible. From Abraham to Jacob and (possibly) Moses to David the simple fact is that there were many faithful men in the Scriptures who had more than one wife.  This is not the only argument used to support the idea that polygamy is sanctioned by God. It is argued that various Old Testament passages, such as Leviticus 18:18, Deuteronomy 17:17, and many others support the institution of polygamy, as do some New Testament passages.

Since there are so many arguments from the pro-polygamy side, I will be examining the subject in a series. In this article, I will study what the New Testament teaches about the topic. For the record, I am going to use the term “polygamy.” Those on the pro-polygamy side would be correct that this subject has more to do with polygyny (a man marrying more than one woman) rather than polyandry (a woman marrying more than one man).

The Teachings of Jesus

The teachings of Jesus are naturally going to be the most important place for Christians to look when discussing a controversial topic and polygamy is no different. The passage that comes up in this topic is Matthew 19:4-9.

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Mark 10:12 adds, “And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

The most common argument from these verses that is used against polygamy is that a husband and wife become “one” flesh. How can a man become “one” with multiple women? The text says the “two” become one not three or four.[2] Those who believe in Christian polygamy, however, have noted that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:16, says that a man becomes one flesh with a prostitute. Since a man can become one flesh with someone he is not married to, including a prostitute (and more than likely has a wife as well), then it could be possible for a man to be one flesh with more than one wife.[3] I understand this point, but I do not believe that this is the major point about polygamy that we can take away from this passage.

Quite simply, Christ’s argument about someone divorcing their spouse and committing adultery would fail miserably if polygamy was acceptable in the first place. Wouldn’t this, by implication, also condemn polygamy? If a person is committing adultery if the divorce isn’t legitimate, then isn’t that implying that they would be committing adultery if they marry someone else if they are not divorced?[4] Bible scholar Craig Keener said it well:

“The school of Shammai…did not permit divorce except for the wife’s unfaithfulness (whether successful or attempted), but they did not consider remarriage afterward adulterous. Jesus is more consistent: if one divorces one’s spouse without valid grounds (unfaithfulness or analogous sins; cf. 1 Cor 7:10-13), the marriage is not truly dissolved and subsequent marriage is adulterous.”[5]

Keener continues,

“The saying is ‘hyperbolic-that is, it has exaggerated, intensified force: because God does not accept divorce as valid, any man who divorces his wife is not really divorced, and if he marries someone else, he commits adultery. No one else in antiquity spoke of divorce in such strong terms. (Because most Jewish teachers allowed polygamy, they would not have seen marrying a second wife as adultery, even if they had agreed that the man was still married to the first wife. But Jesus eliminates the double standard; a man consorting with two women is as adulterous as a woman consorting with two men.”[6]

However, William Luck, a defender of polygamy (in the polygyny form), has said, “But such an appeal is in vain. Jesus’ quote of this passage is not attempting to affirm monogamy in Matthew 19:5 f. He is insisting that no covenanted person is free to walk away from the partner. The context makes this clear…Yet we contend that neither Jesus nor his hearers understood those words as implying the moral impropriety of polygyny. We offer instead that Jesus means only to reaffirm the older Testament’s condemnation of a man who would divorce his wife in order to marry another woman (Mal. 2).”[7]

I find some difficulties with this. As Keener noted, Jesus takes the concept of divorce and adultery beyond what any of his hearers would have taken it. He takes it to its logical and consistent conclusion: a person was to be with only one person in marriage, even in divorce (unless for marital unfaithfulness as Matthew points out). Divorcing a wife simply to marry someone else makes no sense of what Jesus is saying. As Keener noted many Jewish leaders would never have seen divorcing someone and marrying someone else as adultery. Jesus, however, did.


Those who support Christian polygamy have some objections against this. First, wasn’t adultery punishable by death according to Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22-23? If polygamy is adultery according to the interpretation above then why weren’t all the polygamists in the Old Testament put to death for having polygamous marriages?[8] I believe that this is a good question, but I think that it is easily refuted. There are many cases in Scripture where people commit a sin that requires death but are never put to death.

For example, Deuteronomy 17:2-7 says that if anyone is found in Israel worshipping other gods than they must be put to death. However, throughout Israel’s history most of the Israelites worshiped idols. All one has to do is read the books of 1 and 2 Kings and discover that many people were never put to death by stoning (which is what the Deuteronomy passage above requires) even during the reign of righteous kings (see for example 2 Kings 14:3-4; 15:3-4, 34-35). It should also be noted that one of Israel’s judges, Gideon, made a golden ephod in which some of the Israelites worshiped (Judges 8:27). Why weren’t they stoned to death?

Also, it must be remembered that many Jews simply did not think polygamy was adultery. However, as we saw earlier, Jesus disagreed and did view it as adultery. That should settle the matter for Christians.

The Teachings of Paul

This brings us to the Apostle Paul. There has been considerable debate concerning what Paul taught in 1Timothy and Titus. 1 Timothy 3:2 says, “Now the overseer must be above approach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…” Titus 1:6 also says that an elder must be “the husband of but one wife.” Do these passages teach against polygamy or not?

The meaning of “a husband of but one wife” (literally “one-woman man”) has been interpreted in different ways. It has been suggested that the phrase means that an overseer (or elder): 1) must be married, 2) have only one wife his entire life (i.e., never remarry after a divorce or death of a spouse), 3) be monogamous,[9] or 4) be faithful to his wife.

Numbers 1 and 2 above are doubtful considering that Paul was single and wished that every Christian would be like him (1 Cor. 7:7, 32ff) and also taught that Christians can remarry after becoming a widow (1 Cor. 7:39). Scripture even allows for remarriage after a divorce under certain circumstances (Matthew 19).[10] If it was Paul’s intent to exclude men who had divorced there would have been a much clearer way to say it – “not divorced.”

When it comes to polygamy (# 3 above) a few things must be noted. Although polygamy was practiced by Jews during the first-century it was not practiced among the Greeks and Romans. As a result, the pro-polygamy side argues that Paul would not have told Timothy and Titus (who were in Ephesus and Crete respectively) to ban something that didn’t even exist in those locations?[11]

I do agree with Luck that the phrase Paul uses, “a one-woman man,” was focusing more on being faithful to one’s wife (number 4 above). In fact, many commentators on this passage agree with that.[12] This would be supported by 1 Timothy 5:9 which says concerning a widow that she must be “a one-man woman.” Since polyandry (a woman marrying more than one husband) was not practiced by the Jews or Romans the phrase is probably referring to being faithful to her husband. Luck also compares 1 Timothy to 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 which say that a man should have his own wife while a woman should have her own husband.[13]

However, I do believe, for the reasons below that if we follow this phrase to its logical conclusion, similar to what Jesus did concerning divorce and adultery, then it would also condemn polygamy. In fact, many commentators believe that although the phrase is more about being faithful than anything else, it would still ban polygamy by implication:[14]

  1. How can anyone be a “one-woman man” if he is polygamous? How can a man have more than one wife when he is commanded to be a “one-woman man?” Even if polyandry didn’t exist during that time period, it would be impossible for any woman to try to argue that she could have one than one husband based on the phrase “one-man woman.”
  2. If Paul meant the same thing in 1 Timothy and Titus as he meant in 1 Corinthians (that a person needs to be faithful) why didn’t he word the former the same way as the latter? Paul seems to be making a specific point here. He “positively affirms sexual fidelity couched in monogamous martial terminology.”[15] He easily could have simply said that a person should be faithful to his spouse, but he deliberately says it in monogamous terms.
  3. Andreas Kostenberger and David Jones, in their book, God, Family, and Marriage, have noted, “Considerably more likely is the possibility that the phrase [“one-woman man”] is geared toward barring men from holding church office who had one or several concubines, a widespread practice at that time. Apparently, neither the Greeks nor the Romans regarded these practices as adulterous or polygamous. For Paul, however, concubinage was essentially equivalent to polygamy, since sexual union results in a ‘one-flesh’ relationship (cf. 1 Cor. 6:16).”[16]
  4. Paul’s phrase and this interpretation fit well with what was said about Jesus’ teaching above.[17]

(As a side note here I want to make a quick comment: Scholar D.A. Carson disagrees with the idea that absolutely no Romans practiced polygamy. He told me, in a personal correspondence, that although it was not practiced by the commoners it was practiced by the aristocracy. Thus, the whole point that Paul would have been banning something that didn’t exist would be incorrect and it would be very easy to see this as a straightforward condemnation of polygamy. I am currently looking into this and if I come to agree with this I will update this article to reflect that belief.)


One of the most common counterarguments is that the Greek word translated as “one” in the phrase a “one-woman man” (mia) does not mean “one” but “first.” The phrase then should read as “first-woman man.” This allows, in their view, that a man can have more than one wife.[18] However, there are some serious problems with this interpretation:

1. The word mia is the feminine word for the numerical heis, which is the common Greek word translated for “one.” The normal Greek word for “first” is protos. Out of the over 300 occurrences of the Greek heis, it is only translated as “first” only eight times and almost all of these have to deal with calendar time. Although this shows that the word mia (along with heis) could be translated as “first,” it is the context that the word appears in that needs to studied in order to determine the word’s meaning.

2. Glenn Miller, of the website Christian Think Tank, says, “It is difficult to make [heis] even mean ‘first’ in most cases. Consider some of these, substituting ‘first’ for the words in bold:

“These men who were hired last worked only one hour.” (Mt 20.12)

“‘He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?'” (Mk 2.7)

“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all” (Mr 12.6)

“On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues” (Lk 13.10)

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors” (Lk 16.5)

“since there is only one God, who will justify…” (Rom 3.30)”[19]

3. The point that I am making is not that the word mia (or heis) can be interpreted as “first,” but that the word(s) often have the meaning of “one.” The context must be examined carefully. This is where the true problem lies. A serious question needs to be asked, “What would a ‘first-woman man’ even mean?” The translation of mia to “first” in this passage makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Does this mean that a “first-woman man” must only be a loving husband towards his “first” wife?[20]

The issue with 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 and 27-28

The last thing to look at concerning the New Testament on this issue is these verses in 1 Corinthians. 7:10-11 says, “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.”

Verses 27-28 in the same chapter say, “Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.”

The belief here is that verses 10-11 are only teaching that a woman must not remarry. Since this is the case (at least according to the polygamist argument), a man may remarry and if his first wife comes back to him then he must not put away his second wife. Thus, he becomes polygamous and this is ok and even commanded by God. ( envisions this by the following scenario:

“A believer WIFE departs from her believer HUSBAND. She is commanded of God to remain unmarried, per verses 10-11. Her HUSBAND, however, then subsequently marries another wife (who is not another man’s wife). The HUSBAND and the new wife have not sinned, per verses 27-28. The departed WIFE then seeks to be reconciled back to her HUSBAND.”[21]

There are many problems with this interpretation:

1. To believe that only a woman may never remarry, but a man may remarry after a divorce completely ignores what Jesus taught: “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). Neither one was to marry someone else and they were both expected to return to each other.

2. Verse 28 (“if you do marry”) is referring to the person in verse 27 that is not looking for a wife. It is not referring to the person who is married.[22] is simply assuming polygamy in order to get polygamy.[23]


The issue of polygamy is a sensitive one. In my opinion, however, Jesus’ statement makes little sense if polygamy is allowed and Paul condemned the practice for Christian leaders (“these leaders are told to be examples to the flock, and the believers are told to follow the example of the apostles, disciples, and leaders. [Phil 3.17; 4.9; 1 Thess 1.6,7; 2 Thess 3.7,9; 1 Tim 4.12; Tit 2.7; 1 Pet 5.3; 1 Cor 4.6; 1 Cor 11.1] So this would mean that Paul’s teaching would apply to all Christians).[24] These are, of course, not the only passages used in Scripture to support Christian polygamy. In the next articles in this series, I will examine the Old Testament Law and the fact that there are heroes of faith that were polygamists.

[1] Richard Anthony. Polygamy is not sinful.” (emphasis in original).

[2] Gleason L. Archer. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982.) 122. Ronald A. G. du Preez. Polygamy in the Bible. Ph.D Dissertation (Barrien Springs: Adventist Theological Society Publications, 1993). 250. Jonathan Sarfati. “One Man, One Woman.” Roger Patterson. “What about Polygamy in the Bible?” Hank Hanegraaff. “Does the Bible Promote Polygamy?”

[3] Anthony. Also see

[4] Glenn Miller. “Is Polygamy allowed in the New Testament?” D.A. Carson, via correspondence agreed with me on this interpretation.

[5] Craig S. Keener. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Kindle Locations 1515-1516). Kindle Edition.

[6] Ibid. Kindle Locations 2768-2771. Emphasis mine.

[7] William Luck. “On the Morality of Biblical Polygyny.”

[8] Anthony.

[9] Donald Guthrie. “1 Timothy.” in New Bible Commentary 4th Ed. ed. D.A. Carson, R.T. France, J.A Motyer, & G.J. Wenham (Downers Grove: IVP, 1994). 1298.

[10] George W. Knight. The Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992). 157-158. William D. Mounce. Pastoral Epistles (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000) . 171, 173. Andreas Kostenberger and David Jones. God, Marriage, and Family (Second Edition): Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation (Crossway. Kindle Edition). 239-240.

[11] Luck.

[12] Knight, 158-159; Mounce, 170-172; Philip H. Towner. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006). 250-251. Kostenberger and Jones, 241.

[13] Luck.

[14] Mounce, 170-172; Knight, 158-159; Towner,250-251; Kostenberger and Jones, 241.

[15] Knight, 158.

[16]Kostenberger and Jones, 241.

[17] Luck has also argued that this phrase comes in a qualification list. These lists are not the place to find new moral teachings. They are, instead, lists that summarize previous teachings. “Thus if we cannot find a prohibition of polygyny up to this point in the teachings of the inspired text, we are in trouble (hermeneutically speaking) finding it here.” In all the sources that I consulted (Mounce, Knight, Kostenberger, Towner, and the book Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles (edited by Kostenberger and Terry Wilder)) none of them mention this. I am not saying that this automatically makes Luck wrong, but I would like to see a source for this interpretation and whether or not a qualification list has to always be seen in this way. If any of my sources did mention it (and I overlooked it) please let me know. In any case, this was not the first time that polygamy is condemned as Jesus did so.

[18] Anthony;;;

[19] Glenn Miller.

[20] Anthony makes an argument the following way: “Again, the purpose for these qualifications is stated in 1 Timothy 3:5, “(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the assembly of God)?” And if an elder or a bishop was divorced from his first wife, he would be violating God’s Law regulating polygamy, which states, “If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish” (Exodus 21:10). In other words, if an elder or a bishop was not still married to his first wife because of divorce, but married to other women, then he would be diminishing his first wife’s food, raiment, and her duty of marriage, and therefore evidences that he does not know how to rule his own house, and therefore cannot rule the assembly of God.” There is a problem here: Nothing in the text implies that the elder or overseer is divorced, and if they were, and were married to other women, they would be committing adultery as Jesus taught. See part 3 of this series for more on Exodus 21. 


[22] Craig Blomberg. 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994). 154.

[23] J.P. Holding. “ and Christian Polygamy.”

[24] Miller.

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14 thoughts on “Christian Polygamy? (Part 1 – New Testament)

  1. lionroot

    Anytime a writer relates the Biblical practice of polygyny to the current issue of same sex marriage and the abomination of sodomy they have engaged in three fallacies: equivocation, guilt by association, and muddying the water. At the same time it provides a singular point of comparison within the God breathed word of the Bible.

    “The best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick alongside it”

    ― D.L. Moody

    God clearly condemns sodomy.

    If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

    (Leviticus 20:13 ESV)

    One should note some things right off the bat. God boldly denounces this sin. He is not coy about it. There is no way to misunderstand the intent of His expression. Further there is a clearly defined punishment, and that the maximum penalty prescribed for any sin.

    Does God likewise condemn polygyny? No.

    One might say, “Isn’t that an argument from silence?” Not at all, for God is not silent on the matter. He has much to say about the subject. Thus this is an argument from established precedent. A perfectly fine form of reasoning.

    Matt McClellan wrote, “The one fact that is impossible to deny is that there are many practicing polygamists in the Bible. From Abraham to Jacob and (possibly) Moses to David the simple fact is that there were many faithful men in the Scriptures who had more than one wife. “

    How many “faithful men in the Scriptures” were known sodomites? None
    How many named sodomites are in scripture? None
    Not that such men did not exist. They just remained unnamed and anonymous like the men of Sodom. Forgotten by history. At least in God’s history.

    Does God regulate sodomy? Only to definitively end it.

    Does God regulate marriage? Absolutely

    Exodus 21:10 If he takes another wife…
    Deuteronomy 21:15 If a man has two wives…

    Does God prescribe death to men with wives? No. Not at all. Rather we see that “many faithful men in the Scriptures had more than one wife.”

    Yet there are many today that believe they know God’s will better than these “faithful men”. Men that were called respectively, “a friend of God”, a man after God’s “own heart”, and “faithful in all my house”.

    And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”

    (Numbers 12:6-8 ESV)

    Interestingly enough this is the Lord defense of Moses to his siblings. They were unhappy with his taking another wife.

    There are many today that condemn these men when they equivocate what they did with sodomy. They have become wise in their own eyes. Exchanging the truth with a lie.

    Can we really say we understand God more than these “faithful men in scripture”?

    I will end with a quote from Martin Luther. He is known as the father of the Reformation. He translated the Bible into German, so he knew it well. He is most famous for something he said at the Diet of Worms. A trial for which his life was literally at stake. He said:

    “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

    This has certainly earned him a reputation of a man with some integrity.

    Martin Luther later wrote, “ I, for my part, admit I can raise no objection if a man wishes to take several wives since Holy Scripture does not forbid this.” Certainly, he was convinced of this “by Scripture and plain reason”.

  2. lionroot

    It should be noted that Martin Luther was at best a reluctant and perhaps even hostile witness, which will be evident both from his wording and context. Nevertheless the fact that he held a high view of scripture should not be in question and that high view led him to admit, “Holy Scripture does not forbid this.” So it is therefore unlikely that you have achieved what he could not with Holy Scripture and plain reason. Had we to choose between your understanding and his understanding based on scholarly achievement and nothing else, I would have to side with a translator of the Bible and the Father of the Reformation.

    Not only Luther but there is yet a cloud of witnesses. Hebrews chapter 11 is frequently cited as listing of heroes of the faith.

    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.

    (Hebrews 11:1-2 ESV)

    Who were these men that received their commendation by faith?

    11: 4 Abel – Unknown
    11:5 Enoch – Unknown
    11:7 Noah – A monogamist
    11:8 Abraham – A polygynist
    11:20 Isaac – A monogamist
    11:21 Jacob – A polygamist
    11:22 Joseph – Unknown
    11:23 Moses – A polygamist
    Gideon – A polygynist
    Barak – unknown
    Samson – A monogamist
    Jephthah – A monogamist ( only had one daughter)
    David – A polygynist
    Samuel – unknown

    I assume Matt that these are some of whom you spoke when you said, “there were many faithful men in the Scriptures who had more than one wife. “. I think it can be assumed that through faith they had a high view on the word of God. It is safe to say that none of these men saw any part of Genesis in a way that prohibited polygamy. Even the man that is credited with penning it.

    And neither did Jesus.

    Reading the Bible it would seem that neither Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic has a word of monogamy or polygamy. Even if they do, such words do not appear in the Bible. No, a wife is a wife in Holy Scripture. No distinction is made between 1st or 2nd. It is only later because of our language, our culture, and our tradition that we make such clear distinctions, as if they were two different things, but the Bible does not. When people do they are inserting content that is not in the context. I believe the scholars call that eisegesis

    When you say that as Christians we should start with Christ, I could not agree more.

    For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

    (1 Corinthians 10:1-4 ESV)

    Unfortunately, when you brought up Matthew chapter 19 you left out the context.

    And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

    (Matthew 19:3 ESV)

    So the context is divorce. As in, I hate divorce, from Malachi, but what did Moses actually write.

    “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house,

    (Deuteronomy 24:1 ESV)

    Jesus had already discussed this topic back in Matthew chapter 5.

    “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

    (Matthew 5:31-32 ESV)

    It is important to notice here that the standards for divorce have not changed from what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy to Jesus here in Matthew. Which makes sense really, since the Law of Moses, is really just shorthand for the full title: The Law of God given through Moses, and they followed the same Rock that was Christ.

    But there was a change:
    They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

    (Matthew 19:7-8 ESV)

    The original penalty for adultery was not divorce it was much worse.

    “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

    (Leviticus 20:10 ESV)

    “He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” So it is clear that divorce is a lesser punishment for the crime of adultery.

    To write a woman a certificate of divorce that had not committed the crime of adultery was to bear false witness against her. So what is the penalty for bearing false witness?

    If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

    (Deuteronomy 19:16-19 ESV)

    It is in this sense that such a lying husband commits adultery against her, and is himself guilty of adultery.

    Oh yeah, so what about polygamy? Well, none of these text even brings up the issue. One can make arguments that are not made in scripture, that the original marriage is valid, but Jesus does not here do so.

    As for references to Genesis, in no text of scripture is that used as a mandate for monogamy including the great cloud of witnesses and Martin Luther’s understanding. Christians often talk about traditional marriage, of “one man and one woman” but the text to which Jesus refers is “male and female”. A clear reference to heterosexual relationships, which in no way violates Biblical polygyny.

  3. Matt McClellan

    You have read way too much into that introduction. I was simply stating facts: 1) that homosexuality (or “sodomy”) is in the spotlight concerning marriage; and 2) that there is another way that traditional marriage is criticized. Both of these are facts. I’m not using homosexuality as an argument against polygamy. Instead of accusing me of three different fallacies you should have just asked me if that was what I meant or not.

    You mention there were no faithful men who were sodomites. You also provide a list of men and their marriage status. I’ll be talking about these “faithful men” in part 4.

    “Did God proscribe death to these faithful men?” Did God proscribe death to Solomon for worshipping idols, yet the OT Law says that he was to be put to death? The Law simply shows how detestable these sins are (like every sin), yet God desires mercy, not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). What about the woman in John 8? What about Paul killing (murdering) Christians? What didn’t God put them to death?

    In my opinion, the fact that the original languages had no words for monogamy or polygamy means nothing. The word “trinity” is not in Scripture either. Does this mean that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do not exist in the traditional Christian way of thinking?

    You mention that divorce does not equal adultery, but false witness does. The passage in Deuteronomy that you cited does not say anything about false witness being equal to adultery. You seem to be taking a law in the OT and assuming that this is what Jesus must be referring to. Since the OT does not say that divorce is adultery then surely Jesus would not be saying that polygamy is adultery! I do believe that my interpretation of Jesus’ words stand, not only because of what I said in this article, but also because of my discussion of the OT Law in part 3.

    The very foundation of your and every polygamists argument is that God never directly condemned polygamy, nor did he condemn the “faithful.” Personally I think these arguments fall flat on there face. As I noted in part 3, if I apply this logic to the issue of slavery then it is ok for me to own slaves because God never directly condemned slavery either. I’ll talk about all those faithful men in part 4.

    1. lionroot

      I wish you had replied directly to me, then I might have seen this over the weekend. Nevertheless, I did not accuse you of any of those fallacies. I merely seized the opportunity of those comments to make some points about how God deals with sin verses how monogamy only people suggest that He does.

      I am curious. Did you look to see if Hebrew and Greek have no word for Monogamy or Polygamy. Or are you just asserting that here?

      I think the “argument” is more robust than you suggest here. Perhaps thats why it requires people so committed to monogamy to untangle so much from God’s word.

      Did you read Randy Alcorns piece,”America Is Right to Reject the Tyranny of Kings and of Gods”? In it he wrote:
      “And where does the Bible dictate that the sanctity of marriage is limited to one man and one woman? How many of Jehovah’s favorite patriarchs did he give multiple wives and concubines? So, why aren’t the faithful supporting polygamy? Their god did. Religious based principles are morality à la carte selected by tastes and times.”

      Do you see how your position undermines the very faith you profess? You do not get to pick, choose, and formulate how you wish. (and either do I)

      God Bless

    2. lionroot

      It turns out that “polygamy” is a Greek word. Nevertheless the point was not that the word was not used in scripture but that no distinction is made instead we make those distinction.

      1. Matt McClellan

        Richard, the only point that I am making about Hebrew and Greek words for monogamy and polygamy is that we do not need them to settle the debate. We can come to conclusions without them. I only brought that up because of what you said. (By the way, I will be examining all three of your recent comments here.)

        You think that it is simply bias and that I am picking and choosing what I want to believe. You also have accused me before of depending on different translations yet you are bothered by the translation of 1 Timothy 3:2. You even asked me if I was bothered by the fact that I had to depend on a translation that went against all the translation committees.

        Yet you do the exact same thing. Does that not show that you have a bias about this topic? Can this not be seen as picking and choosing what you want to believe? Personally I do not think that the verse is about divorce, but you are free to make your case. I do not think that you would be wrong just because the translation committees would disagree with you.

        Also please understand that I do not think that you or anybody on the pro-polygamy side is wrong because you are biased (we all are). What matters is which bias is correct. I just do not think polygamy can be supported by the teachings of Jesus and Paul or by appealing to the OT without looking at it through the lens of the NT. I still think that the arguments that I presented in part 3 still apply to the debate – that the OT law tolerated certain flawed societal structures (polygamy, indentured servitude, cities of refuge, etc.). Even the NT didn’t directly condemn slavery (which in the NT period was not indentured servitude but the harsher form which is comparable to the American South).

        By the way, I agree completely that slavery is wrong and that this it is provable through Scripture, but as I just mentioned it is never explicitly stated this way. That’s my point. The number 1 argument from your side is that God never directly condemned polygamy, yet he never did so with slavery as well (even in the NT). The fact is that the OT must be seen in the light of the NT. The OT Law does show some toleration for man’s sins (like slavery and revenge as I noted before). In my opinion, this very fact shows how merciful God is.

  4. Pingback: Christian Polygamy? (Part 2)

  5. Pingback: Christian Polygamy? (Part 3)

  6. Pingback: Christian Polygamy? (Part 4)

  7. goodhermeneutics

    I am aware that this article was written some time ago; however, I have just read it and would like to make some comments for future readers.

    Notice this statement made in the original article:

    “Quite simply, Christ’s argument about someone divorcing their spouse and committing adultery would fail miserably if polygamy was acceptable in the first place. Wouldn’t this, by implication, also condemn polygamy? If a person is committing adultery if the divorce isn’t legitimate, then isn’t that implying that they would be committing adultery if they marry someone else if they are not divorced?”

    This comment is quite interesting and causes one to think about the words of Jesus in Matthew 19. When one carefully reads Jesus’ words, one understands that a man must ‘frivolously divorce’ AND ‘remarry’ in order to commit adultery. Adultery is not committed by a man marrying another woman – unless the woman is divorced, or he has previously frivolously divorced a wife. Jesus extends the scope of adultery to include divorcing a wife for any other reason than ‘fornication’ and replacing her with another wife (cf. Malachi 2).

    It is important to try to approach the Bible to seek to understand what it says, not what you want it to say. The quotation from the article is an example of the type of approach that says “I believe polygyny is sinful and monogamy is the only morally acceptable form of marriage. So, how can I prove this from the Bible? Ah, let’s make adultery fit the crime.” The Bible teaches us that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 16:16). Also, in 1 Corinthians 4:6 Paul writes: “that you may learn not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against another.”

    1. goodhermeneutics

      Sorry, misquoted “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” which actually is found in Romans 10:17.

  8. Dan DeLuca

    Mark 10:11-12 only refers to when the husband divorces his wife, so the scenario is not ignoring Mark 10 at all. When we look at both Mark 10 and Matthew 19:9, we see that the word “woman” has been inserted, as it is not found in the original Greek. It is my contention that Jesus was actually reiterating what He said in Matt 5:32. How is it that a man causes a woman to commit adultery by divorcing her? The Greek word that has been translated “marries” has multiple meanings, and one of those meanings, is “to lead into marriage”. In other words, Jesus was not saying that the man who divorces his wife and marries another woman, is committing adultery, but that by divorcing his wife, he forces her to marry another man, which is adultery. The footnotes at the bottom of Matt 19:9 in the NASB, lends support to this, albeit I have not found which manuscripts they are referring to.


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