How can we reconcile the fact that God seems to endorse polygamy in the Old Testament but, in Christ’s admonitions against divorce in the New Testament, He repeatedly quotes from Genesis indicating that marriage is between one man and one woman?
@Bruno_Molina Where in the Old Testament does God approve of polygamy? The argument that God approves of polygamy is an argument from silence. Such arguments cannot reach definitive conclusions and are often fallacious. For example, the Bible never directly mentions abortion. However, based on what the Bible teaches about the value of human life, God’s role in giving/taking away and God’s involvement with us from the womb, we can infer that God is opposed to the taking of innocent life.
Similarly, there are Biblical indicators that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman:
- the establishment of marriage in Genesis
- the fact that God compares Himself to the groom and Israel to the bride - the Churches covenant with Christ is also compared to a monogamous marriage, showing that monogamy is God’s intention
- in Genesis, polygamy led to many very unhappy people and broken relationships
- King Solomon’s reign was destroyed because his foreign wives led him to idol worship
In the following thread @CarsonWeitnauer makes some great points:
God’s disdain for polygamy is clear in its consequences. The Old Testament reveals the strife and the temptations that accompany this kind of practice. Of course Solomon is the quintessential example. His legacy of faithfulness was compromised because of his polygamous behavior. Despite world-renowned wisdom his peaceful, prosperous rule ended in scandal and civil strife. Why? The Bible is emphatic. It’s because his wives turned his heart after other gods.
@Bruno_Molina This is a great question. I have actually run into to men online that think having a concubine and polygamy are endorsed or given an affirmation by God in the Old Testament, because they are there. You bring up an excellent point that Jesus refers to the Genesis record, pointing to Matthew 19:4-6 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
So we have to look at a way to hermeneutically reconcile this. To put it straight out there, that Scripture has prescriptive teachings and descriptive narratives. That said, what we see in the Old Testament is what we see as descriptive when we read the accounts on polygamous relations in the line of the Patriarchs. Though they are mentioned in the Old Testament in the descriptive sense, it does not mean that God affirmed or endorsed the relationship. God did not “wink” at polygamy but He permitted it without “caving” on the original pattern for marriage. This is also runs congruent with what Jesus teaches in the aforementioned passage.
Hope that helps.
Hey there, @Bruno_Molina.
Great question, and I really cannot add more to the answers here. But I also think it’s interesting that you bring up the Old vs. New Testament, when I think how there are cultures today that still maintain polygamy as an part of their culture. I have wondered if I was to evangelize someone who is already married to multiple wives, what would be the next steps? I think your question is just as relevant today as it was back then.
@andrew.bulin The question of what to do with those who come to Christ when already living in the state of polygamy is interesting. I’ve attached a treatise from 1800s advocating that a man cannot lawfully put away any of his wives and yet also cannot marry any more unless they all die. He bases it on Paul’s argument in I Cor that a man ought to remain as he is when saved and on the nature of the one flesh union. It is an interesting read.
Also, I attached an article about Sechele, a chief encountered by Daving Livingstone on his missionary journeys who had five wives. Sechele came to Christ and put away 4 of his wives at Livingstone’s request, but later returned to polygamy and rain making in spite of teaching the Bible to his tribe. To me, Sechele misused Scripture - though the BBC article naturally hails him as a champion of his own culture standing up against colonialism and the forcible adoption of European culture. I agree that missionaries at times were very guilty of forcing their culture on tribal peoples even when unnecessary, but in this case Sechele appears to have, whether intentionally or no, bent Scripture to his own ends. Livingstone obviously drew a hard line on this issue.
Not sure either of these views is necessarily correct. But it is interesting to see historically how people dealt with these situations.
If, as is here maintained, a Polygamist cannot, without committin~ sin, free himself from the state of Polygamy into
which, as a heathen, he lawfully entered, of course he must be
baptized as a Polygamist. With regard to marriage, as to all
other things, he if:! to do his duty in that state of life in which
he finds himself or may be called to. In regard to marriage
in particular, he is (1). to obey the law of C_hrist by r~maining
faithful to the marnage bond, surrendermg the hberty of
divorce which possibly the customs or laws of his tribe may
have allowed b1m ; (2) to obey the law of the Church by surrendering
the liberty of marrying- any more, so long at
least as any of his existing wives IS left. Thus, as St. Paul
says, " Let every man wherein he is called therein abide with
God." He is not, indeed, to keep his heathen wives against
their will (1 Cor. vii. 15). If they depart, he may let them
depart; he is not responsible for the result, as it was none of
The greater problem was polygamy. Sechele had five wives, and Livingstone insisted that to become a Christian he needed get rid of the “superfluous” ones. This was a political as well a personal nightmare, threatening the political structure of the tribe and relations with other tribes.
But in 1848 Sechele divorced four of the women and was baptised. The following year, however, one of his exes became pregnant, and it turned out that Sechele had fallen. He repented, and told Livingstone: “Do not give me up because of this. I shall never give up Jesus. You and I will stand before him together.”
Here are my concerns—the answers to which may be “past finding out” and fall into the category of Deut. 29:29:
· Since God is so offended by the immorality and particularly the “harlotry” of his own people against him in the Old Testament, why isn’t there one word of warning against polygamy, aside from his warning to Solomon?
· Why does He, apparently, offer to have given David more wives had he asked in 2 Samuel 12:8? I” also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!”
Mind you, I agree with God regarding monogamy—not that He needs my approval being sovereign and omniscient and all—it’s just that I wish I had better biblical ammunition in order to defend His standard.
If permission for polygamy can be inferred, why isn’t the prohibition of polygamy also inferred?
When I studied and mulled over your question, I remembered that Grace has always been the Lord’s mantle when dealing with us. I believe that is true when regarding I Samuel 12:8. The KJV reads “and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.” That translates for me into a description of Grace and GOD’s sufficiency, not a sanction of polygamy. Perhaps this manner should have been practiced by Missionaries past and in the present.
Not that GOD has ever sanction what He has declared wrong. But He is sovereign in the way and timing He chooses to move us toward maturity in our walk before Him. Saint and sinner alike.
That is evident throughout the Bible and everyday in our present living. Some of our greatest burden for people is that they should immediately show the fruit of the SPIRIT. That was never our call, just a place of comfort that assures us the message was heard. It might assure us, but it may be only a hypocritical compliance. When GOD moves a person forward, one way or the other, it has a sense of permanence, that can only be revoked or enshrined by the exercise of free will.
King David’s polygamy was culturally appropriate, GOD dealt with the culture as it was practiced. But I have yet to discover scripture that encourages us towards polygamy, or any occasion when GOD selected multiple wives or husbands for anyone. I can find where choosing to live in polygamy came with its own bondage.
King David lived to see his son Absalom lie with ten of his concubines, under a tent out on the roof of the King’s house, no less. It was allowed not sanctioned by GOD. 2 Samuel 16:21-22. Solomon’s wives provoked him to idol worship and turned his heart from GOD. The wisest man who ever lived was brought down by the bondage that polygamy brought to his life. 1 Kings 11:1-42. Culturally correct but it came with its own bondage.
Abraham indulged Sarah and took her handmaiden, Hagar as a wife. Genesis 16:1-4. Today the descendants of Sarah’s handmaiden’s son and of Sarah’s son are in constant, hateful conflict. Again, culture and doubt produced its own seed of bondage.
We error when we assume that traditional and cultural wrong receive a nod and wink from GOD, because He does not immediately slay us with the jaw bone of an (animal name the Discourse program may not accept).
GOD has always allowed us to choose. I am reminded of that in 1 Samuel 8:7-9. It always makes my heart ache when I read where GOD says, “Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.” GOD allowed it, He did not approve of it.
Many of the charges made against GOD remind me of that story. We have a problem with GOD because He does not show us miracles, so that we might believe, GOD needs to ‘show us the money’ first. GOD allows war and other atrocities He must not be a GOD we should honor and serve, or He must not exist. Though often unspoken, we conclude our righteousness excels GOD’s. Give us a (choose your law to break and insert here) king so that we are like everyone else!
What I believe is happening in 2 Samuel and planet earth 2018; is what Psalms 103:7-17 alludes too. I won’t quote it all here. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” Psalm 103:13-14.
As well as 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
Personally, I depend upon daily grace which comes via the sacrifice on the cross. I may not have two companions, (Mama didn’t raise a complete fool.) but there is a cornucopia of me that needs to be covered in that Grace. I live free of worry and free of condemnation because I strive to live under the shadow of GOD’s wing. Right next to the Heart. That’s just Grace. I’ll have a double helping of that please.
@Bruno_Molina I think Jesus, when talking about divorce (which Moses also permitted), gives a very powerful line of thought that can help us understand polygamy in the OT.
Matthew 19:8 - Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.
Divorce was not God’s ideal, but it was permitted because of the hardness of men’s hearts. Yet when Jesus came and gave us a new heart He reinstituted the ideal - marriage for life. Perhaps polygamy is similar? What are your thoughts?
Here are some additional resources:
How does one respond to this situation? The answer begins by seeing that God always points His creation back to the primacy and perfection of the original design. Next, you have to read every book to the end – especially if it is the biblical context. And if you read the stories about the characters referenced above, you’ll quickly find that polygamy was an unmitigated sociological disaster that created heartbreak and sowed familial discord. By the time of the writing of Malachi, God’s command to a thoroughly chastised nation was clear: covenantal monogamy was to be the norm.
Further, through the ministry of Jesus, we see God “reset the clock” so to speak to the original goodness of monogamous marital union – pointing forward to a new society and a new way. He also enacted new provisions to protect women and raise their standing in society. Jesus showed a world that had distorted the meaning of marriage back to the beauty of “the man being joined to his wife, and two will become one flesh.”
2 Samuel 12:8
I think it is important to remember the context of 2 Samuel 12 - Nathan is rebuking David for his adultery with Bathsheba. Nathan’s statement in 2 Samuel 12:8 does not condone polygamy - rather, Nathan is condemning David for murder and adultery when God has provided all of his earthly needs. The main subject of the passage is not polygamy - it is the rebuke of David.
Here is a response from Hank Hanegraaff on this verse:
In 2 Samuel 12, the Lord, speaking through Nathan the prophet, says to King David, “I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added you many more things like these.”
At face value, this seems to suggest that God gave David multiple wives, and then stood ready to add to his harem with divine sanction. Of course, that’s precisely the problem with pressing Scripture into a wooden literal labyrinth, because—in truth—if Nathan’s words are anything at all, they are ironic . David had just murdered a man in order to have another woman appended to his harem. Despite the generosity of the very God who had made him sovereign ruler of the land, the king had stolen the wife of a servant and that to satisfy his carnal lust. Thus, in language that dripped with irony, Nathan the prophet pronounces judgment against Israel’s king. As such, 2 Samuel 12 hardly constitutes divine approval for the practice of polygamy.