Polygamy—the practice of one man having multiple wives—was common in antiquity. Though practiced in the Old Testament, polygamy was never God’s perfect plan.
First, the ideal pattern of monogamous marriage of one woman and one man was established early in Genesis: “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (2:24). Moreover, this very passage was quoted by both Jesus and Paul in defense of the sacredness and exclusivity of monogamous marriage (Matthew 19:3–9; 1 Corinthians 6:15–17; cf. 1 Corinthians 7:2).
Furthermore, the Bible explicitly condemns the polygamy of Old Testament kings (Deuteronomy 17:17). Likewise, New Testament elders and deacons are called to be “the husband of but one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6). Just as the requirements for church leaders set the standards of morality and spiritual maturity for all believers, so, too, the admonition against polygamy for the kings of Israel demonstrated the dan- ger of this practice for all.
Finally, God’s disdain for polygamy is seen in its consequences. The Old Testament clearly reveals the familial strife and temptations that accompany the practice. Solomon is the quintessential example of one whose legacy of faithfulness was compromised because of his polygamous behavior. Despite his world-renowned wisdom, Solomon’s peaceful and prosperous rule ended in idolatrous scandal and civil strife, for “his wives turned his heart after other gods” (1 Kings 11:4).
Monogamy—not polygamy—is God’s perfect plan.
“Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 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’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Matthew 19:4–6 NKJV
For further study, see Gleason Archer, New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982) and the article, “Condemnation and Grace: Polygamy and Concubinage in the Old Testament” by Richard M. Davidson.
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