Q.

People in the Bible, such as Abraham, had more than one wife. Why did God allow such a thing? When did the practice begin, and when did it end?

A.
Polygamy is defined as a husband’s having more than one mate at a time. Genesis 4:23 reads, “Then Lamech said to his wives” (NKJV). He may have been the first man to practice polygamy.

We are not sure when polygamy ended, as far as Bible times are concerned, but we know it still occurs today. We also know that God’s perfect plan for one man is one wife. Read Genesis 2:21–24 for God’s will, enunciated at creation. This passage teaches us the one-man one-woman blueprint of God. This blueprint also illustrates the right bride, the church, for the right Man, Jesus Christ. Here, too, there is one, and only one, for each other. Notice that the passage uses the word “wife” in the singular, not in the plural.

Matthew 19:3–6, as well as Ephesians 5:21–23, teaches the same principle. So why, then, did God allow polygamy? The answer is found, in part, by asking why God allows anything. Today we hear of extremely violent crimes. God seemingly does not step in, but someday He as Judge will right all wrongs. The answer is also quite the same as the answer to why God permitted divorce during Moses’ time (Deuteronomy 24:1–4; Matthew 19:8). It was due to the stubbornness of the people’s hearts, not because God wanted it that way. It was man, not God, who changed in regard to the one-flesh principle of marriage, which incidentally involves only two—a man and a wife. (Some people today don’t seem to know what marriage is.) God’s ideal is that marriage is permanent; divorce is never God’s will.

Polygamy isn’t either. Yet God does not stop people from exercising their volition. He did, however, warn against polygamy in Deuteronomy 17:17. The New Testament also warns against polygamy. The qualifications for elders and deacons in a local church include the rule that each must have only one wife (1 Timothy 3:2–12; Titus 1:6). But this rule also applies to every believer: “Let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2).

The violation of Biblical principles brings unrest and unhappiness. Solomon’s life is one example (1 Kings 9:6–9; 11:1–11). Another example is in 1 Samuel 1. Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children and Hannah didn’t. “This embarrassed and grieved Hannah, and her rival provoked her greatly to vex her, because the Lord had left her childless. So it was year after year; whenever Hannah went up to the Lord’s house Peninnah, provoked her, so she wept and did not eat” (1 Samuel 1:6, 7, Amplified). God finally granted Hannah a baby—Samuel—but imagine the bickering, jealously, and hurt that went on year after year in that home.

A similar scenario is given us in Genesis 30 concerning Jacob’s household. Verse 1 reads, “Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister and said unto Jacob, ‘Give me children, or else I die!’ ” (NKJV). Here, again, we see the conflict and heartache that took place between women who shared a husband. God’s way is always the best way.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (July 1998).
© 1998 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.