Did God endorse Polygamy?

My question has to do with polygamy in the Bible. A passage that I have not been able to make sense of is 2 Samuel 13:8. This is where Nathan is rebuking Nathan and gives the words of God: “And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.” The part that I cannot understand is the part that talks about “if this were too little, I would add to you as much.” Is God saying that He would have added MORE wives to David? If so, does this not seem as though God does not have issue with polygamy? Or at least, He didn’t have an issue with polygamy?

Sincerely,
Morgan

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Morgan, your question gave me a lot to think about. I’m glad you were able to raise this up. I looked up the passage that you have placed here and read on the different bible translations.

  1. 2 Samuel 12:8 American Standard Version (ASV)
    “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.”
  2. 2 Samuel 12:8 New Living Translation (NLT)
    “I gave you your master’s house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more.”
  3. 2 Samuel 12:8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
    “I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.”

If you closely look into the versions of translation of the last phrase, it is either referred to as “much, much more” or “such and such things”. What came to my mind is that God is emphasizing to David that He as already given him gifts and possessions that were previously Saul’s. God gave the kingdom and all of it’s possessions to David. He is referring GENERALLY to these generous giving to David, leaving out any reference of approval or implication of approval of either Saul’s wives or David having more wives.

It is safe to say this because God is clear all throughout scripture in his establishment of marriage on how He originally designed it as union of two people only and reconfirmed by Jesus’ in the New Testament.
*His original design is in Genesis 2:22-24, “The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

  • God’s intention from the beginning was emphasized again in the New Testament. Jesus recognized the prevailing societal illness and disasters this has brought to families and community by having more than one partner when he addressed it in Mark. He recognized that new commands in the Mosaic law were added such as issuing divorce certificate to practically protect the vulnerable partner. But on the succeeding text, he was firm to emphasize that God will still call out adultery to anyone who will breach the covenant between Him and the married partners when either of the two will remarry. Mark 10: 3-12, "He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, "God made them male and female.’ “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

I’m just amazed how God has displayed His grace and mercy to His children despite choosing to be in a polygamous relationship, divorce and separation committed no less by kings, His elects and the many people we read in the bible that had gone through this. But He is still firm and clear that His design for marriage is for male and female and between two partners. Morgan I hope this helps.

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Hi, @morgannix18! There’s not much that I can add to @kiichimae’s reply at the moment, but your question made me remember a couple of conversations we’ve had on Connect that may be worth scrolling through, if you haven’t already. I don’t think you’ll find your specific question answered, but it makes for good reading around the subject. :slight_smile: This first one was pretty in-depth…

Looking forward to reading other people’s thoughts!

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I recently had a similar converastion with someone about slavery. I.e., does the Bible endorese slavery? In fact, there are a lot of things that would fll into this question format. The above posts do an exellent job laying out a basis for an answer. But I would offer one idea I had hammered out at the time of the convo:

There is a difference between a thing being contained in the Bible, and it being endorsed. Child saacrifice was reported in the Bible, but it was in no way enforced (quite the opposite). The Bible is many things, and one of them is a report of what was happening at the time each book was written. So take that into account when reading.

That said, the citation you provided does not explicitly say He would add more wives, so i would not read that into it.

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Thank you for your reply. This is helpful. As I try to wrestle with this here is my push back. While there may be no approval or implication of approval of Saul’s wives or David’s wives it is clear from the text that God gave David Saul’s wives. I fully appreciate and acknowledge that the foundation for marriage as a monogomous union is grounded in Genesis 2:22-24 and that Jesus builds upon this Genesis account to validate what true marriage is. So, are you implying that this “giving of your master’s wives” is a concession to the cultural milieu of the day as referenced in Dr. Craig Keener’s video below?

Thank you for helping me wrestle through this.

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Sorry, it appears that the video that Carson posted is above my current post.

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Good question, and nearing the limits of what I would be willing to say, but I think the fact is, during that time, polygamy was the cultural norm (along with many other things that were sinful). For example, slavery. The point of the passage was not necessarily that God was focused on the wives, but the key is that during that time, in that culture, wives were a symbol of status and wealth. To say that He gave David all of Saul’s House and his wives was to say that David not only got everything, but that ‘everything’ was a substantial amount in this world/culture.

It’s an interesting issue. As I said, it applies to slavery as well. It is clar from these two examples that God was not interested in ‘fixing’ all of the sinful cultural norms we create for ourselves, then or now. Jesus did not come to abolish slavery, and God did not raise David up in order to abolish polygamy. in may ways doing so in either occasion would have detracted from the overall message David/Jesus was meant to deliver.

To the contrary, I think David’s polygamy and general crappiness when it came to women (e.g. Bathseeba) was one of the major ways that the Bible shows us how “God draws straight lines with crooked sticks.” Without these stains on his story/personality, that story loses some of its punch and relatability. David, and Saul, chose to be dirtbags. So we can be relieved that dirtbags like us have a chance.

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Hi @morgannix18,

That’s a sharp question to ask. Glad you didn’t miss it.

So if you look carefully, this is a reenactment of the fall of mankind in Genesis. When God had given Adam & Eve everything in the garden for food, but they have to go for the one thing that is forbidden. To take for themselves what they see as good for themselves, not what God think is good for them. The verse 2 Sam 12:8 means that everything in Saul’s kingdom has been given to David, was it not enough that he has to take of the forbidden fruit and sinned just to do it?

However in case there is any doubt on God’s stance on polygamy, here is a decree for a king, given way before they were a kingdom and had a king.

Deut 17:17 NASB
He(the appointed king) shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself.

Here, God is teaching that a king’s position is to serve the people, not “for himself”. So God made it loud and clear enough regarding polygamy, and even added a warning. The kings indulged themselves in polygamy, like Solomon, the greatest offender of all, and his heart did turn away eventually, but in no way it means God is pleased with it or endorses it.

In fact, all biblical accounts of polygamy only goes to show that it never ends well. The households will be full of strifes and infightings, like Jacob’s. David’s household is a bigger mess, with Absalom literally shaming his father by setting up a tent to lie with all his father’s concubine in the sight of all Israel (2 Sam 16:22), thanks to Bathsheba’s grandfather, Ahitophel’s advice (2 Sam 11:3, 2 Sam 23:34). Even Abraham taking a concubine just to have a child, created one of the largest thorn against Christianity til today. LOL

So reading all these accounts should serve as a warning, to discourage us, and show us the ramifications of a polygamous household. God’s design is for one man one wife household, as @kiichimae and @KMac’s articles clearly pointed out.

Hope that sheds some light.
Blessings

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@morgannix18 I stumbled upon Alan Shlemon’s video discussing your question directly whether in any way God conceded to the cultural milieu of David’s time when He gave David Saul’s wives. I think I won’t be able to put it much better than he does. A transcript is even provided for clarity. Below is the link that hopefully will give more clarity to your important question.
https://www.str.org/video/does-god-endorse-polygamy#.XXBZtigzbIU

I also agree to @EvoFaith and @RoySujanto take on this including @KMac’s very comprehensive references and expanded my view on this.

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Wow the video puts it so well and concise. That video will now be my go-to template answer for polygamy issues. Thanks for sharing it @kiichimae.

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Thank you for your responses! Very helpful to the question I was asking. The scripture reference from Deuteronomy sets things in order. Thank you @kiichimae, @RoySujanto, @KMac, and @EvoFaith for all your help.

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