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May 28, 2011

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Q: Does the Bible condone polygamy?

A: After creating Adam from the dust of the ground, God presented the beasts of the field and the birds of the air to Adam to name. When Adam found no suitable helper, God formed the first woman from Adam’s side. It should be noted that God intended to make “a helper” for Adam, not several helpers. Furthermore, from one rib God made one woman for Adam. Genesis 2:24 reveals the pattern of a man leaving his family to “be joined to his wife,” not wives. This union is then described as becoming “one flesh.” Jesus confirmed this understanding of marriage when he was asked about divorce (Matthew 19:1–12). He quoted from Genesis 2, confirming that His understanding of marriage was one man for one woman.

What then of the references to polygamy in the Old Testament? There we find accounts of men such as Lamech, Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon, who all had multiple wives. It is interesting to note that there are no passages in Scripture that clearly state, “No man should have more than one wife.” The only direct command against polygamy is given to the kings that were to rule Israel, as they are told not to “multiply wives” to themselves (Deuteronomy 17:17). However, polygamous relationships are never mentioned in a positive light, and, indeed, the problems of such relationships are presented.

Moving to the New Testament, there are several passages that can be understood to speak against polygamous relationships. The primary example would be the qualifications for leaders in the church given by the Apostle Paul to Timothy and Titus. In 1 Timothy 3:2 and 12 and Titus 1:6, we are told that leaders of the church must be the “husband of one wife.”

Continue reading to learn more about what the Bible has to say on this controversial topic.

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