The Great Polygyny Debate

Bib­li­cal polyg­y­ny is a hot top­ic — and by that I mean, peo­ple tend to get pas­sion­ate about it on either side of the debate. If you’d like to share what you think about it, come join our fresh­ly launched (May 2020) polyg­y­ny forum (this forum is the clos­et we’ll ever come to a true replace­ment of the Fel­low­ship Hall, men­tioned just below)!

For a while now, a dis­cus­sion has been tak­ing place at the Round­table of the Fel­low­ship Hall. The top­ic is one which is con­tro­ver­sial & even offen­sive: polyg­y­ny, the prac­tice of a hus­band hav­ing more than one wife concurrently.

The wis­dom of God as found in the Scrip­tures is more pre­cious than gold, and because mar­riage is so absolute­ly foun­da­tion­al to soci­ety it is per­ti­nent to under­stand “what saith the Lord” regard­ing it. That requires being able to draw truth from the Scrip­tures with­out inputting opin­ions or tra­di­tions back into the Scrip­tures. That isn’t always an easy thing to do, par­tic­u­lar­ly when we’re so con­vinced that our beliefs are right. Pride can hard­en a heart pret­ty thoroughly.

I had my pride bro­ken a while ago regard­ing the issue of polyg­y­ny. On the basis of sola Scrip­tura, I’ve seen every monogamy-only argu­ment sound­ly defeat­ed by pro-polyg­y­nists (who are not nec­es­sar­i­ly polyg­y­nists them­selves, mind you). Check it out for your­self if you have a few minutes.

In my expe­ri­ence in the debate, I have found it much eas­i­er to play dev­il’s advo­cate, argu­ing for polyg­y­ny and against my own posi­tion of monogamy-only­ism. Often, I would do this to keep the dis­cus­sion rolling. At oth­er times — and in the mutu­al inter­est in Truth — I had no choice but to point out obvi­ous errors in monogamy-only argumentation.

Con­cern­ing my posi­tion, how­ev­er, I have seem­ing­ly left myself with­out a leg to stand on. I define mar­riage as a union of one man & one woman not because I have a laun­dry list of bib­li­cal vers­es to sup­port my posi­tion, but because it’s sim­ply what I choose to believe, what I feel is right.

I real­ize that vio­lates sola Scrip­tura. Yet I hold out hope that some­where some­one has a sound defense of monogamy-only­ism. I’ve men­tioned that on the Fel­low­ship Hall in the course of the dis­cus­sions before, but I’m shar­ing it here with my fin­gers crossed that some­one read­ing this might be wise enough in the Scrip­tures to help me out.

I should make clear why this dis­cus­sion is impor­tant to me. As I stat­ed ear­li­er, the wis­dom of God is more pre­cious than gold, and mar­riage is the foun­da­tion of soci­ety. Log­i­cal­ly, God’s view of mar­riage must be vital­ly impor­tant and so it should be sought for by Chris­tians hop­ing to fur­ther know the mind of God.

That is why this top­ic inter­ests me, noth­ing more. I’ve no inter­est in hav­ing mul­ti­ple wives.

We need to be as the Bere­ans were, dili­gent­ly exam­in­ing the Scrip­tures to see whether what we are taught and what we believe is so. Is the monogamy-only posi­tion scrip­tur­al? Or is polyg­y­ny per­mis­si­ble? And if it is, what then? Do we sweep it under the rug, hid­ing it from our “enlight­ened” soci­ety who might cry “sex­ist!”? Or do we pro­claim it just as we would any oth­er bib­li­cal truth, just as we do the sanc­ti­ty of monog­a­mous marriages?

Your com­ments on this issue are more than wel­come. I may not get around to reply­ing to all com­ments, but go on ahead and let your under­stand­ing of the Scrip­tures be voiced.

I’ll like­ly exam­ine the issue fur­ther here — pro­vid­ing more that you may com­ment on. The bot­tom line is, if monogamy-only­ism is mere­ly a tra­di­tion of men which con­demns some­thing which God has actu­al­ly per­mit­ted, then I don’t want to be guilty of believ­ing in it. Like­wise, I want all the feed­back I can get — and hope­ful­ly some good monogamy-only argu­ments — because I also don’t want to be guilty of accept­ing polyg­y­ny if God has actu­al­ly con­demned or oth­er­wise for­bid­den it.

5 thoughts on “The Great Polygyny Debate”

  1. Back when you were about to be mar­ried and going through pre-mar­i­tal coun­sel­ing, you post­ed much of what was cov­ered in the ses­sions. Lots of mate­r­i­al about how a hus­band and wife should treat each other.

    The ques­tion is, how much of that mate­r­i­al has scrip­tur­al support?

    The next ques­tion is, how much of that mate­r­i­al is com­pat­i­ble with mul­ti­ple wives?

    You may find an implied monogamy endorsement.

  2. As I recall it, I post­ed the list of “ways a hus­band may show love to his wife” with­out any pre­tens­es of it being “bib­li­cal truth derived by exeget­i­cal study.” They were mere­ly sug­ges­tions based upon the bib­li­cal com­mand for hus­band to love their wives. (The com­mand is rec­i­p­ro­cat­ed as well, and we have a list here also of ways a wife may express love to her husband.)

    They may be a lot of good ideas, but there was­n’t much author­i­ty behind it.

    I fail to see how any would pre­clude a polyg­y­nous rela­tion­ship as well.

    In fact, one of the strongest argu­ments for polyg­y­ny that I have ever seen is that of Exo­dus 21:10, which states that if a man takes unto him­self anoth­er wife, he is not to dimin­ish the food, rai­ment, or “duty of mar­riage” (or “con­ju­gal rights”) of the first wife.

    Romans 7:7 estab­lish­es that with­out the Law, there is no sin, yet the Law nev­er once con­demns polyg­y­ny. Indeed, a mere 22 vers­es after the Sev­enth Com­mand­ment (“Thou shalt not com­mit adul­tery”), the Law allows polyg­y­ny in giv­ing con­di­tions which must be meant.

  3. Inter­est­ing discussion…

    Indeed we see many bib­li­cal peo­ple that had mul­ti­ple wives (Abra­ham, Jacob, etc) and the bible does not report God dis­ap­prov­ing this. How­ev­er, Abra­ham was also mar­ried to his half-sis­ter Sarah, while lat­er God clear­ly pro­hib­it­ed this (Leviti­cus 18:9–11). So these instances do not apply if we find a lat­er prohibit.

    I think we can bring up some vers­es that at least sug­gest that one should have one wife.

    First, we have Gen­e­sis 2:24 which says a man and his wife become one flesh. But then you can­not be also one flesh with anoth­er woman, because the women would not be one flesh. Of course I assume here that this “one flesh” is a per­ma­nent thing. pro-polyg­a­mists could inter­pret it as a tem­po­rary thing. Still, I think in first read­ing the text sug­gests monogamy.

    In the New Tes­ta­ment we find how­ev­er 3 places where the require­ments of impor­tant peo­ple in the church­es are laid out. (I Tim­o­thy 3:2, 3:12, and Titus 1:6). It clear­ly states they should have only one wife. Haven’t we all got an impor­tant place in the church? Should­n’t we all have but one wife?

    Fur­ther­more there are many instances where the bible speaks of “his wife” “her hus­band” in a pre­scrip­tive con­text (let­ters of Paul), which sug­gests one should have only one wife. Would­n’t Paul have said “his wives” in that case?

    Now we get to the thing Jesus said. E.g. Luke 16:18, where he clear­ly says that a man who divorces his wife and mar­ries some­one else is com­mit­ting adul­tery. Ah, some might say, but if you do not divorce her all is well… Don’t they see that they are stretch­ing it??

    About Exo­dus 21:10. The law gives direc­tion for when some­one already has a sec­ond wife. It does­n’t con­done it. The next verse makes this clear. 21:11 is about the com­plete free­dom of the wife when the hus­band does not do his duty, but that does­n’t mean the hus­band was jus­ti­fied in this!

    While the bible nev­er says: “Thou shalt not have mul­ti­ple wives”. Many texts either log­i­cal­ly imply it or at least sug­gest it.

    In Christ,

    Roel Meeuws

  4. Roel, thank you for your reply. I will hope­ful­ly respond in detail lat­er. I’m rather pressed for time at the moment. I will, how­ev­er, point out that at least some of what you said has been addressed by Hugh McBryde on the Fel­low­ship Hall, and I’d be inter­est­ed in how you would respond to him. (Again, my whole point in post­ing the above post here is to get feed­back from peo­ple who dis­agree with the polyg­y­ny advocates).

    You’re also wel­come to reg­is­ter on the Hall and take part in that dis­cus­sion to see if it can progress any further.

    God bless.

  5. I KNOW that i know that God is right in all He says. Man does­n’t need to make it “bet­ter”. I also know that man has his
    so called “stan­dards”, doc­trines, which he may think it’s God’s Word but it isn’t. 

    For instance, it is not the Law of God that mar­riages should be con­duct­ed by the priest/church. Bib­li­cal­ly, it is pure­ly a domes­tic affair. But man has it that it has to be in Church, and by a priest.. kin­da it looks more “spir­i­tu­al”. No Scrip­ture to sup­port this but man already feels the urge to mod­i­fy God’s Law. No won­der the State inter­vened to sup­port man’d idea, and now man wants same-sex mar­riage.. IN CHURCH BY THE PRIEST!

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Rick Beckman