Why did God allow polygamy in the Old Testament?

by Matt Slick
5/2/2017

God allowed polygamy (as well as diviorce) in the Old Testament because of the hardness of people's hearts (Matt. 19:8).  God never approved of polygamy nor did he intend it to be the norm. In fact, he specifically said not to have more than one wife because, in part, they can turn a person's heart away from God.  Deuteronomy 17:17, "He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself."  Nevertheless, God permitted polygamy, just as he permits people to do other sinful acts.

  • Lamech was the first to have more than one wife (Genesis 4:19, 23), but he was a wicked man, a murderer.
  • Abraham had more than one wife (Gen. 16:1-4)and because of it, there were problems.
  • Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-3) and he started serving false gods.
  • Gideon had many wives (Judges 8:30), whose son was Abimelech who was wicked.
  • David had many wives (1 Sam. 18:27; 2 Sam. 3:2-5; 1 Chron. 14:3), and there were problems because of it.
  • Elkanah had two wives (1 Samuel 1:1-7) and there was bitterness because of it.
  • Rehoboam had 18 wives and 60 concubines (2 Chron. 11:21-12:1) and they foresook the Law of God.

The standard that God established in the Garden of Eden was monogamy, one man and one woman.  Genesis 1:27, "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."  God did not create multiple people, but only one man and one woman and from them, in that bond of marriage, was the means to have families and fill the earth..  God goes on to say in Genesis 2:24, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh."  This principle is in the New Testament as well. 

  • Matthew 19:4–5, "And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, 5 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’?"
  • 1 Corinthians 7:2, "But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband."
  • Ephesians 5:31, "FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH."
  • 1 Timothy 3:2, "An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,"

Conclusion

So, polygamy was permitted by God in the Old Testament but it was not his design. It often leads people astray and caused dissension within households where multiple wives are present.  it is not properly represent the relationship between Christ and his bride the church (Ephesians 5:25-27).. He does not have multiple brides, he is one bride. 

 

Inside the Bible

What Jesus said:
Matthew 19:8, "He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way."

Matthew 19:4–5, "And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, 5 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’?"

What Paul Said:
1 Corinthians 7:2–3, "But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband."

Ephesians 5:28, "So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself."

 

Inside CARM

What is the purpose of marriage?
The purpose of marriage is ultimately to glorify God since he tells us he made us for his glory (Isaiah 43:7). Marriage is the covenant union of a man and a woman for the purpose of committing to each other in companionship, provision of food and shelter, sexual privileges, children, and protection.

Topic:  Marriage
Begun by God:   Genesis 2:24, "For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh." 

Is a marriage ceremony performed by the state and not the church valid?
A marriage ceremony performed by an official state representative is a valid marriage even though it is not performed in the church. The state does not give the church the authority to marry. It is God who gives the state the authority to marry. 

 

 

 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.