Polygamy and the Bible…some truth

Can we have a proper discussion on Polygamy (polygyny, a man having more than one wife)? Rather than being pressurised by liberalism and modern day feminism can Christians look at these matters objectively?

Let’s be honest, there’s nothing wrong with a man having more than one wife. People such as Moses, Abraham and David are believed (by Christians) to have more than one wife. And these are Biblical heroes.

Rather than lazily and unjustly labelling these heroes as wrong-doers, why not have a proper discussion about what the Bible actually teaches? Do NOT be afraid of what the liberals and Western feminists may or may not say.

First focus on the Old Testament, there’s nothing in there prohibiting the practice of having more than one wife. In fact the Old Testament regulates it! And then focus on the New Testament.

I’ve drawn up some notes from Mark Henkel’s presentation ‘Bible Never Created One Man One Woman Doctrine’ below for ease of following and added some additional points.

National Polygamy Advocate, Mark Henkel goes through the Bible and presents an interesting case about the Bible.

Did the Old Testament ALLOW Polygamy?

Under the Old Testament Law Polygamy was never banned. It was simply regulated

If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. [Exodus 21:10]

15 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him. [Deuteronomy 21:15-17]

So this clearly shows the Old Testament did not prohibit the practice of Polygamy, it simply regulated it by giving rules of equal treatment.

Thus further showing the one-man one-woman doctrine is something new while Polygamy is certainly present in the Bible.

According to the Bible, God gave David wives

Mark Henkel says Moses had two wives., Abraham had three wives and that the twelve tribes of Israel were born of Israel’s four wives.

Mark Henkel says David had numerous wives and according to the Bible, God gave David those wives and if he wanted more God would have given more:

8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. [2 Samuel 12:8]

Matthew 25, as mentioned by Mark Henker, contains a parable of a polygamous bridegroom.

Mark Henkel: Clearly the Bible never taught the anti-polygamy doctrine.

Adultery and One Flesh?

The prohibition on adultery is not given in English, it was given in Hebrew. Mark Henkel teaches the Hebrew word for ‘adultery’ means WOMAN who breaks wed-lock. Thus through the Hebrew we see that polygamy of a man marrying more than one wife is not adultery.

And we must also keep in mind Mark Henkel’s important reminder of Christian belief, Moses is believed to have written down the Law prohibiting adultery yet he had more than one wife thus showing to Christians and Jews that polygamy of a man marrying more than one wife is NOT adultery.

As for the two will be one flesh. Mark Henkel states this does not mean you cannot be one flesh with more than one woman as Moses was.

Mark Henkel points out that the Bible also teaches one can become ‘one flesh’ with a prostitute. Mark Henkel contends this means that the person can be ‘one flesh’ with his wife and ‘one flesh’ with a prostitute.

16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”[b] 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. [1 Corinthians 6]

Mark Henkel believes the understanding of adultery and the one-flesh passage are not in contradiction with Polygamy.

Ruling for Kings in Deuteronomy 17?

The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. [Deuteronomy 17:16-17]

Some Christians may use Deuteronomy 17:16-17 to argue against polygamy but is this an intellectually honest  argument?

Firstly, the passage is speaking about kings (not everyday people) and secondly the instructions are do not take a great number of horses and many wives. Of course, a king will have more than one horse so it does not seem to be a teaching of do not take more than one. Perhaps it’s a teaching of do not be extravagant and have a great number of horses and wives. So it seems like the kings can have more than one wife and more than one horse.

The Husband of One Wife and 1 Timothy

1 Timothy 3:2, 1 Timothy 3:12 and Titus 1:6 are not general prohibitions of polygamy. Mark Henkel says these are instructions only for Bishops, Elders and Deacons. Mark Henkel offers a further interpretation referring to the Greek, he believes this is a prohibition against divorce.

Something that Mark Henkel did not mention that I will touch on. 1 Timothy 4:12 is said to be teaching pastors to be an example to the believers. The anti-polygamy Christians will use this verse. However, is this really a teaching of direct imitation? If it was, then wouldn’t all Christian believers have to become pastors? So to hang one’s hat on this verse does not seem to be the best of logics. On top of this, the acceptance of 1 Timothy being from Paul is in question – New testament scholars dispute whether Paul wrote this. Professor Bart Ehrman believes it to be a forgery. Here’s a little piece online that you may be interested in reading:

1 Timothy is one of the three epistles known collectively as the pastorals (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus). They were not included in Marcion’s canon of ten epistles assembled c. 140 CE. Against Wallace, there is no certain quotation of these epistles before Irenaeus c. 170 CE.

Norman Perrin summarises four reasons that have led critical scholarship to regard the pastorals as inauthentic. Read more
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