- Marrying more than one wife, a practice known as polygamy, is mentioned in several instances in the Bible. It’s important to understand these instances in their historical and cultural contexts. Here are some notes about polygamy in the Bible:
- Old Testament Culture:
- Polygamy was a common practice in the ancient Near East, including the cultures surrounding the Israelites. It’s important to note that the Bible often describes events and practices without necessarily endorsing them. The narratives that mention polygamy in the Old Testament reflect the cultural norms of the time.
- Examples of Polygamy:
- In Genesis 4:19, Lamech, a descendant of Cain, is mentioned as one of the first individuals to have multiple wives.
- Abraham had multiple wives, including Sarah and her maidservant Hagar (Genesis 16). This practice was partly influenced by the custom of providing an heir when Sarah was barren.
- Jacob unintentionally married two sisters, Leah and Rachel, as well as their maidservants Bilhah and Zilpah (Genesis 29-30).
- King David had multiple wives, including Michal, Abigail, and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 3:2-5; 2 Samuel 11:27).
- King Solomon is perhaps the most famous example of polygamy in the Bible. He had numerous wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:3), which led to spiritual compromise.
- Challenges and Consequences:
- The Old Testament also highlights the difficulties and challenges that often arose from polygamous relationships. Rivalries, conflicts, and even divisions within families were consequences of this practice. For example, the rivalry between Rachel and Leah, and the consequences of Solomon’s many wives, are portrayed in the Bible.
- New Testament Shift:
- While polygamy was practiced in the Old Testament, the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament emphasize a higher moral standard for marriage. Jesus references God’s original design for marriage as a monogamous relationship between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6). This shift in emphasis from the Old to the New Testament contributed to the development of monogamy as the standard practice in most Christian communities.
- Spiritual Symbolism:
- Some scholars suggest that the instances of polygamy in the Old Testament can be seen allegorically, representing spiritual truths. For example, Paul uses the story of Hagar and Sarah to illustrate the contrast between living under the law and living by faith in Christ (Galatians 4:21-31).
- Cultural Transition:
- As Christianity spread and matured, many Christian communities transitioned away from polygamy due to the influence of New Testament teachings and the broader societal shifts. Monogamy became the accepted standard within Christianity.
What does the Bible say about marrying more than one wife
- The Bible contains several verses that mention or allude to the practice of marrying more than one wife. However, these verses often describe events without necessarily endorsing or condemning them. Here are ten verses that touch on the topic of marrying more than one wife:
“And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder”
“Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold”
“Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes”
1 Timothy 3:2
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach”
“And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also. And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her maid. And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years”
“If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly”
“If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish”
1 Corinthians 7:2
“Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband”
1 Kings 11:3
“And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart”
“And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah”
Does the Bible support the marrying of a second wife
- The Bible records instances of individuals having multiple wives in the Old Testament, but it’s important to approach these instances with an understanding of their historical, cultural, and theological contexts. The Bible generally describes these situations rather than explicitly endorsing or condemning them.
- In the Old Testament, there are examples of individuals who had more than one wife, such as Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon. However, these examples are often accompanied by challenges, conflicts, and negative consequences.
- While the Bible acknowledges the practice of polygamy, it’s essential to consider the broader biblical teachings and principles. Here are some key points to keep in mind:
- Original Design:
- From the beginning, God’s original design for marriage involved one man and one woman becoming “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Jesus reaffirms this design in the New Testament (Matthew 19:4-6).
- Monogamy in New Testament Teaching:
- The teachings of Jesus and the New Testament emphasize a higher moral standard for marriage, focusing on unity, faithfulness, and mutual love (Ephesians 5:22-33). Jesus‘ teachings uphold monogamy and the sanctity of marriage.
- Negative Consequences:
- Many instances of polygamy in the Old Testament are accompanied by negative consequences, including conflicts among wives, rivalries, and spiritual compromises. For example, Solomon’s many wives led him to idolatry (1 Kings 11).
- Instructions for Leaders:
- In the New Testament, qualifications for church leaders (elders and overseers) include being “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). This suggests that monogamy was considered a desirable and honorable standard.
- Focus on Love and Fidelity:
- The New Testament encourages believers to love and honor their spouses, emphasizing the importance of faithfulness and selfless love within marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19).
- In summary, while the Bible records instances of polygamy, its overall teachings emphasize monogamy, love, fidelity, and the sanctity of marriage. The New Testament teachings, especially those of Jesus, raise the standard for marital relationships and promote a higher moral ideal. As a result, many Christian denominations today uphold monogamy as the preferred and God-honoring model for marriage.