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  • Bible Topic Study Is Polygamy a Sinful Lifestyle?

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    Is Polygamy a Sinful Lifestyle?



    Part 1, Part 2

    In this article, my goal is not to make you a believer for or against polygamy. So, why am I making this article? Well, over the years, I have spoken with various Christian friends about polygamy and decided out of curiousity to study the topic, to see what the Bible really said on it. I decided to be open minded and give it a fair shake, as I am a person who desires the truth, not what is popular or considered to be correct.

    And, what did I discover? Well, the argument for polygamy seems to be pretty solid. From my studies, I noticed that there are a great deal of Bible passages people seem to ignore, which are pro-polgamy throughout the Old and New Testament.

    One very simple logic progression you should consider: Many revered Old Testament characters were polygamists. If you assume it is a sin, it would follow, God would require blood to be shed for their sin of polygamy and we would have read several examples of God punishing people for the sin of polygamy. After all, if you committed adultery in the Old Testament, you were stoned to death. How is it we never see God punishing all the polygamists in the Bible?

    The simple logical progression I just mentioned above is just the icing on the cake. The reason I say this is because there are many Bible passages where God directly and indirectly justifies polygamy. It would be disingenuous for me to ignore all of these passages:

    For Example:

    1. Exodus 21:8 - Establishes rules for slaves who became wives. Note there is no mention of the man having to be single to marry a slave.
    2. Exodus 21:10 - A man is not allowed to diminish food, clothing and marital rights, if he marries an additional wife.
    3. Leviticus 20:14 - Prevents a man from marrying a woman and her mother at the same time. This rule would be irrelevant if polygamy was a sin.
    4. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 - A man is to marry a virgin he had sex with, as long as the father did not refuse him. However, notice there is no mention on whether than man is single or not. If it was a sin to be a polygamist, there would have been a rule here saying if the man was already married, he would be punished or stoned.
    5. Judges 8:30 - Gideon had "many wives". He was a man of God.
    6. 1 Samuel 1:2 & 13:14 - Elkanah has two wives. One of his wives, Hannah, gave birth to the prophet Samuel. Wouldn't he be an illegitimate child, if polygamy was a sin?
    7. 2 Samuel 12:7-8 - David was given his dead master's wives. Also God said he could have given him more than what he had. However, David chose to kill a man to steal his wife and that was where his sin was. God indirectly promotes polgamy in this passage.
    8. 1 Kings 11:1-3 & Deuteronomy 17:17 - Solomon had 300 wives and 700 concubines. However, it is made clear, his sin was marrying strange(foreign) wives and multiplying wives, not having more than one wife. His foreign wives ended up leading him to idolatry later on in his life. Adding more than one wife, such as his father, King David did was not a sin. And it should be clear, that Bathsheba was married and the sin was he was taking another's wife, not adding another wife, as is made clear by the prophet who rebukes him. However, multiplying or hording wives, as King Solomon did was a sin. Recently, I heard Hank Hanegraaff claim that "multiplying wives" refers to adding more than one wife, however, for him to conclude this, he would have to ignore all the scripture cited here. Generally speaking, I almost always agree with Hank on most anything he says, however, in this case, he is wrong. God is not double-minded, but single-minded. If he says you can have more than one wife in several Old Testament passages and then says you can not "multiply wives" as a king, it should be clear, that he is refering to hording wives, not adding another wife.
    9. 1 Kings 15:5 - King David married atleast seven wives, but it says David did what was right in the sight of the Lord. If polygamy was a sin, David would not be right in God's eyes.
    10. 1 Chronicles 2:46-48 - Caleb had two concubines. Yet, he was one of only two men allowed to enter the promised land! And, as you know, Moses was not even allowed to enter the promised land due to one sin!
    11. 2 Chronicles 24:3 - Joash had two wives that were chosen by Jehoida the priest!
    12. Nehemiah 13:26 - Solomon is again shown to have sinned because he took foreign wives and multiplied wives, not because he had more than one wife.
    13. Esther 2:2-4 - Esther was atleast the second wife of the King. God orchestrated the salvation of the Jews through her marriage to a polygamist.
    14. Job 27:15 - Job mentions a man who's "wives shall not weep".
    15. Song of Solomon 6:8 - The shulamite is praised by many queens and concubines of the king who loves her. If you add up all the queens and concubines, you discover that the shulamite who is courting with King Solomon here is the 141st wife of King Solomon. Remember, this is a story on how God desires us to be with our spouse.
    16. Jeremiah 3:6-10 - God portrays himself as a polygamist with more than one wife.
    17. Jeremiah 31:31-32 - Same thing again here. God with more than one wife.
    18. Matthew 25:1-13 - Parable of the 10 virgins, where Jesus has himself as the groom marrying 5 of the 10 virgins, making himself a polygamist in the parable.
    19. Romans 5:13 - If there is no law for something, it is not a sin. There is no law against polygamy, therefore, it is not a sin.
    20. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 - Mentions that adulterers will not inherit the Kingdom of God, yet in Hebrews 11, we see many polygamists listed who inherited the Kingdom of God. Therefore polygamy is not adultery.
    21. 1 Corinthians 7:2 - If you look at the greek behind this scripture, you will notice that the words used for "his own" and "her own" are not the same. The terms seem to allow for polygamy under close scrutiny.
    22. 1 Timothy 3:2 - Bishops / Deacons must be husband of one wife. At best or worst, this is saying certain leaders can not be polygamists. Perhaps doing the work of the church in some leadership roles require an amount of devotion to where polygamy is not compatible. Or, perhaps, it is not limiting to one wife, but rather saying that he has to atleast have one wife. Not sure which, however, might as well take the safe ground with the former viewpoint.
    23. James 2:23 - Abraham was called a friend of God, but he was a polygamist.

    The idea is, we can not just assume God is against polygamy, if there is no legitimate reason for such a belief. If God permits polygamy throughout the Old Testament and never does away with it in the New Testament, we must assume, it is still permissible even today. Using a couple vaguely referenced scriptures (i.e. ~ two becomes one flesh) to further a viewpoint is not good, and is just self-serving.

    I believe a great deal of the doctrinal contentions in the church could easily be solved by making a few requirements while studying the Bible on any doctrine:

    1. You must consider all the Old and New Testament scripture when attempting to learn God's mind on a topic or doctrine.
    2. You must consider the interpretation in the original languages, rather than relying on any secondary language Bible (such as English, Spanish, French, Russian, etc).
    3. You must consider the fact that all God's Word is inspired, consistant, logical and truthful.
    4. You must consider that God is not hypocritical and that He does not change.
    5. You must consider the Holy Spirit's leading on interpretation while studying scripture.
    6. You must consider what various Christian teachers have taught, to gain more biblical insight.

    With regards to the early church fathers, we find a mindset that says polygamy was "trimmed away" in the New Testament, so as to say God's more perfect design is one man and one woman. Further, they do not say there is any biblical commandment saying you can not be a polygamist, but rather, they believe it was something authorized in the Old Testament, but not authorized (or condemned) in the New Testament:

    "We do not indeed forbid the union of man and woman, blest by God as the seminary of the human race, and devised for the replenishment of the earth and the furnishing of the world, and therefore permitted, yet singly. For Adam was the one husband of Eve, and Eve his one wife, one woman, one rib. We grant, that among our ancestors, and the patriarchs themselves, it was lawful not only to marry, but even to multiply wives. There were concubines, too, (in those days.) But although the Church did come in figuratively in the synagogue, yet (to interpret simply) it was necessary to institute (certain things) which should afterward deserve to be either lopped off or modified. For the Law was (in due time) to supervene. (Nor was that enough:) for it was meet that causes for making up the deficiencies of the Law should have forerun (Him who was to supply those deficiencies). And so to the Law presently had to succeed the Word of God introducing the spiritual circumcision. Therefore, by means of the wide licence of those days, materials for subsequent emendations were furnished beforehand, of which materials the Lord by His Gospel, and then the apostle in the last days of the (Jewish) age, either cut off the redundancies or regulated the disorders." - Tertullian (c. 197, W)

    The problem with the above argument to me is the fact that the Bible never says anything about a "spiritual circumcision" eluding to polygamy. Matter of fact, Jesus actually has a parable where he cites himself as a bridegroom of 10 potential virgin wives, of which only 5 make it to the wedding. On the contrary, I believe we are seeing Roman culture speaking above. As Pagan Rome had strict laws in place against polygamy. However, I would have to say, that Jesus does elude to the beginning in the Garden of Eden, and its perfection and one could say, God's design originally was for one man and one woman. However, if one uses this argument against polygamy, he would also have to use it against celibacy. This is just my opinion of what he wrote. I do not see where he says it is a sin, but more along the lines of being out of the bounds of God's ideal or in the realm of gray area.

    "LXXX. On polygamy the Fathers are silent, as being brutish and altogether inhuman. The sin seems to me worse than fornication. It is therefore reasonable that such sinners should be subject to the canons; namely a year’s weeping, three years kneeling and then reception. (i.e.probably only into the place of standers. Zonaras and Balsamon understand by polygamy a fourth marriage; trigamy being permitted (cf. Canon l. p. 240) though discouraged. The Ben. annotator dissents, pointing out that in Canon iv. Basil calls trigamy, polygamy, and quoting Gregory of Nazianzus (Orat. 31) as calling a third marriage παρανομία .)" - To Amphilochius, the Canons. (after 394 CE)

    To me, it seems like they are just looking for a reason to axe polygamy. We see here in the "i.e" note that trigamy being permitted. I would have to assume that if three spouses are permitted, two are as well. We also see him say the Fathers are silent. I believe he is infering that they never conclude it is a sin. With this "brutish and inhuman" comment, I am not sure if he means that the earliest fathers thought polygamy was "brutish and inhuman" or if he meant that the fathers themselves were brutish. I guess it comes down to the fact, they are not condemning it, by God's Words, but more along the lines of finding a way to rid the world of it.

    We can see an echo of this mentality in society today . Ministers trying to find Bible verses showing that polygamy is a sin and then heaping up condemnation about its vile nature. James Dobson illuded to it being worse than gay marriage, yet we do not find anything in the Bible to substantiate such a claim.

    "Against poor Tatian’s garrulity, he proves the sanctity of marriage, alike in the New and the Old Testaments. A curious argument he adduces against the ceremonial washing prescribed by the law (Lev. xv. 18), but not against the same as a dictate of natural instinct. He considers that particular ceremonial law a protest against the polygamy which God tolerated, but never authorized, under Moses; and its abrogation (i.e., by the Synod of Jerusalem), is a testimony that there is no uncleanness, whatever, in the chaste society of the married pair, in Christ." - The Stromata, Bk III, Elucidations (Discussing 2nd Century Fathers)

    The problem I have with all of these arguments is they seem to be taking obscure Bible verses and making elaborate arguments. Ceremonial washing was God's protest against polygamy? Really? Why then did he make laws that conveniently allowed and even dealt with polygamy? (i.e. ~ see ALL my citations at top of page)

    The problem here is one of logic and basic doctrine. The fact is, God does not allow sin. He may deal with sin, but he does not allow it. So, in the case of adultery, we see he forbids. Yet, he deals with it when it occurs, by having one stoned to death. In the case of polygamy, we see no laws against, so knowing God's utter hatred of sin, we know it is not a sin. For God would not make laws bending around a sin to accomidate it. So, we know from this that polygamy may not have been God's ideal, but it is indeed not a sin.

    We need to be careful and open minded with scripture. To make sure we fit the pieces of the puzzle together correctly. As everyone is fooled by their own blinders at one point or another. We paint onto scripture what we want to see. You start noticing such things when you allow yourself to be open on controversial topics (which tend to have more sharp opinion than scriptural backing). Here are just a few topics off the top of my head: Sabbath, Polygamy, Divorce, etc. How often do people have thorough scripture backing on any one of these topics? Generally, it is our opinion with a couple handy verses that seem to back our opinion.

    Regarding God's ideal, I believe that the original design was likely monogamy, however, this was before the fall of man (Genesis 2 & 3). Many people do not consider the fact that celibacy maybe not God's ideal either prior to the fall, along with Polygamy. As it clearly states in Genesis 2:24 that (a/every) man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave unto his wife. However, we can see that the Apsotle Paul teaches that within certain contexts, ceblibacy or singleness could be the best choice. So, marriage was created prior to the fall of man, and after the fall of man, other types of structures were permitted due to the problem of sin. Such as celibacy, divorce(if uncleanness) and polygamy. So, the point being, in various scenerios one maybe more ideal than another. However, likely, God's overall general design would likely be the same as the original, monogamy. Yet we should not look down on or judge those who take other paths. Consider for example these families here, who are polygamous in structure, normal and happy: click here

    When you open your mind up to the possibility that polygamy may not be a sin, you start testing the viewpoint to find some part of scripture that contradicts it. What you discover is, actually, there are no verses that contradict the idea of polygamy not being a sin. For instance, consider sexual relations in a polygamous marriage. It should be easy to prove polygamy is a sin in scripture using commandments on sexual intercourse, assuming God was against polygamy. Very interestingly, though, you find, God seems to make all the sexual restrictions work with polygamy. See below:

    1. Do not have sexual relations with a woman and her daughter (Leviticus 18:17).
    2. Do not have sexual relations with a woman and her son's daughter (Leviticus 18:17).
    3. Do not have sexual relations with a woman and her daughter's daughter (Leviticus 18:17).
    4. Do not have sexual relations with thy wife in addition to her sister, as rivals (Leviticus 18:18).
    5. Man can not have sexual relations with another man (Leviticus 18:22).
    6. Man can not have sexual relations with an animal (Leviticus 18:23).
    7. Woman can not have sexual relations with an animal (Leviticus 18:23).

    Now, just read through the above, assuming polygamy was not a sin. Does it open your eyes a little bit? Notice, Leviticus 18:17 says not to have "sexual relations with a woman and her daughter". Why? Because that is a form of incest. QUESTION: Why is it even relevant to mention this, if polygamy is already a sin? Same also with the rest of verse 17 and even 18. There would be absolutely no reason for God to elaborate on all of this, if polygamy was a sin. He could simply just say, "Thou shalt not have two wives" or "Thou shalt not have sex with two women", but he never does this.

    Further, notice, it says for men not to have sexual relations with men. And then mentions for both women and also men not to have sexual relations with animals. Notice something missing? Where does it say "Woman can not have sexual relations with another woman"? It appears to be missing. Now, if polygamy is not a sin, do you see any reason why it would relevant to leave this out? Consider the situation where a man is with his two wives in bed and they are both having sex with him. Could not a command such as "woman can not lie with woman" be construed as an argument against polygamy in such a situation? So, I believe God left out such a command for this very reason. Now, I believe lesbianism goes against God's design for marriage, but the point is, God is not against polygamy, so such a command of woman with woman is left out as a result.

    However, I do believe it is made abundantly clear that God created female and male to be together. So, the lifestyle of lesbianism is not God's ideal. Further, marriage is only between a man and a woman (or a man and multiple women). So, lesbian marriage or the idea of women committing in marriage to each other is sinful, like the gay lifestyle (all forms of men with men is sinful - except non-sexual relationship). For it works against God's creation and that is where "loving God" comes into play. It is an act of rebellion against God to work against his design in nature. God's design is one man with one woman or as a secondary lifestyle with polygamy, one man with more than one women.

    I am quite sure I am not the first to realize this or consider this viewpoint in their mind. It seems to fall into place too well, and it is so unpopular, no one would dare say it (except me). No one said the truth would be popular. My goal here is basically to look at the Bible without prejudice, so as to avoid my own biases, etc.

    Why would God allow polygamy? I believe it comes down to this.. God's desire is for man to marry only one woman. However, in certain societies, such as many countries in Asia and Africa, woman are not able to easily get jobs, or support themselves. And sometimes, there are more women than men.. If you have more women than men and women are not able to provide for themselves in male dominated societies, it would make more sense to allow polygamy for those type of societies.. Sort of as a secondary lifestyle, to avoid prostitution becoming rampant (as that is one occupation that thrives in such enviroments).

    In other words, it is for the woman's benefit in such a society to be allowed to still be married, rather than trying to support herself in a male dominated society. In such western socieites as the USA, women have equal rights to men(which I believe is God's ideal), so polygamy seems a bit irrelevant, and that is why there are laws that prohibit such activity. So, it is not all about the man's desire that polygamy was permitted in the Old Testament, but rather more so for women who were in these certain societies and to protect the society from falling into wickedness (which is better polygamy or rapant prostitution?). So, to say it is a sin to be a polygamist is not something you can back with scripture (although, I would say discouraging it is good, as God's ideal is one man and one woman). However, there are many societies in Africa and Asia, where polygamy makes a lot of sense for women, who are not able to easily provide for themselves.

    Why would one assume that advanced capitalist societies would be have all the truth on the topic of sex and marriage anyways? Isn't that a little presumptious? Isn't it presumptious for us to look at people in certain parts of Africa and Arabia who are polygamists and also Christian and tell them, they need to divorce one of their wives? Yet, that is what many westernized Christians do. They tell them they have to divorce one of their wives. No wonder westernized Christianity has problems with evangelism in certain sectors of the world. Wouldn't it work better to take the gospel to regions in Arabia and Africa without westernized biases? Take the truth as God laid out in scripture. Why not teach them about Christ, about salvation, without imposing our ingrained dogmas, however good they may be.



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