When One Wife Isn’t Enough: The Problems of Polygamy

Sister_Wives_TV_series_logoPolygamy is the next battleground for marriage in the United States.  In fact, just last month a federal judge declared laws on the books in Utah that guard against polygamy to be unconstitutional.  The state may still outlaw plural marriages, but it cannot prohibit polygamous cohabitating, thus weakening anti-polygamy law.  The plaintiff in the case was none other than the “star” of The Learning Channel’s (TLC) polygamy reality show Sister Wives, Kody Brown.  Mr. Brown, a fundamentalist Mormon, is an outspoken polygamist with four wives although he is only legally married to one of them.  Undoubtedly, he or someone else will challenge the outright ban of polygamy in the near future.

Is anybody surprised that this decision was handed down?  The cultural slippery slope that was predicted with the increasing legality of same-sex marriage is coming to bear.  Many argued that redefining marriage to include homosexual marriage would open the door for marriage of all types, and the prediction is proving to be accurate.

However, the situation doesn’t only have to do with Mormons in America.  There’s also the growing tide of Libertarian political philosophy, which basically says “do whatever you want, and so will I.”  People who don’t even desire to be polygamous are beginning to push for polygamy in the name of “freedom.”  Furthermore, many overlook the growing Muslim population in the United States.  It has been rapidly growing over the last century due to immigration, conversion, and high birth rates.  It is estimated that are over 3.5 million Muslims now live in the US.  Some expect that number to double by the year 2030.  These stats are pertinent to the conversation on polygamy because men are allowed to have up to four wives in Islam.  Undoubtedly, there’s plenty of fuel here in the demographics to push polygamy even further toward reality in America.

The cultural elites have been increasingly pushing polygamy for almost a decade.  In March 2006, Home Box Office (HBO) debuted its fictional polygamy show “Big Love” and, as one might expect from HBO, played heavily upon the erotic idea of having multiple wives.  The name of the show itself was a polemic against monogamy, portraying polygamy as better through the idea that bigger is better:  our love’s bigger than y’all’s love.

That very summer, a real story of polygamy burst onto the scene when Warren Jeffs, the “President and Prophet, Seer and Revelator” of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was arrested for numerous crimes of polygamy, incest, and child abuse in several states.  The whole real-life drama widened the conversation about polygamy.  The producers of “Big Love” couldn’t have asked for anything more because the news undoubtedly drew viewers to their show.  That show ran for five seasons until 2011.

After the third season of “Big Love” in 2010, the reality TV show mentioned above, “Sister Wives,” hit the airwaves.  Brown and his wives have been clear that their purpose in doing the show is to make the public more aware of polygamist families and to combat societal prejudices.  The cumulative effect of these shows, especially “Sister Wives,” is to soften people toward the idea of polygamy.  After all, these are just normal people trying to live life and to live out their faith.  There’s nothing wrong with it, right?

It is my strong belief that people with any common sense should know that polygamy is bad, and we who are people of the Bible should surely know it.  Polygamy is all throughout the Scripture as part of the narrative.  For this reason, critics of Christians often throw the Bible in the face of Christians.  “Polygamy is in the Bible.  You can’t argue against it!” they say, but what these critics fail to realize is that the Bible includes a lot of things in its narratives that are never prescribed by God.  In fact, if one was to actually look at the accounts of polygamy in the Bible, one would quickly see that there’s not a single instance where it leads to something good.  Polygamy is always a gateway for trouble in the narratives.  Always.

The narrative in Genesis 30 is the perfect example.  By this point in the story, Jacob (aka., Israel) had already married Leah and later married her sister Rachel.  The chapter begins with jealousy between the “sister wives” because Rachel was barren while Leah was not.  Leah had already borne Jacob four sons.  This jealousy led Rachel to convince Jacob to take her servant as a wife (three wives now) and to have sex with the servant in the hopes of the servant bearing children for Rachel.  That request in itself is way messed up!

After Rachel’s servant had a couple of children who Rachel claimed for her own, Leah struggled to get pregnant again.  So, she convinced Jacob to take her servant as a wife as well (four wives now) and to have sex with the servant in the hopes of the servant bearing children for Leah.  Underlying all of these sinful decisions was the desire to have the favor of Jacob.  Each woman simply wanted to be Jacob’s favorite.

Not long after that, the women got into a fight over some mandrakes Leah’s son found, which by the way are believed to be a home remedy for infertility.  Rachel wanted some, but Leah in bitterness against Rachel refused.  So, Rachel came up with a great idea.  She would let Leah sleep with their husband that night in exchange for some mandrakes (apparently it was Rachel’s turn).  Rachel literally prostituted Jacob.  That night Leah conceived and eventually bore a son.  She later conceived again and bore yet another son (six sons altogether).   Again, all of this drama was in the hopes of being Jacob’s favorite.  That’s why Leah said after the firth of her final son, “God has endowed me with a good gift; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons,” (Gen 30:20).

What a test case for the problems with polygamy!  Very sad indeed!  From Genesis 30 alone, we see six problems with polygamy.

#1 – Polygamy exploits and commodifies men and women.  In this case, Jacob was exploited and commodified.  He was prostituted by his own wife to his other wife.  Jacob became an object to gain.  However, the situation here with Jacob is in one sense atypical.  It’s atypical in the fact that the man was the one exploited.  In the typical polygamous culture, the women are the ones exploited because there are never enough women to go around given that each husband has multiple women.  So, in a race to get a bride, women are married off to men at younger ages.  Furthermore, since the demand for a women is so high, brothers, fathers, and husbands tend to control their women more.1 As one author stated, “Far from polygamy being beneficial to women, it usually is anathema to women’s economic, social and emotional well-being.”2

#2 – Polygamy is institutionalized adultery.  They may all be called “wives” or “husbands,” but what every single one of them is after that first marriage relationship is adultery.  Jacob had one wife (Leah) and three adulteresses (Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah).  No, they weren’t secret adulteresses.  They were institutionalized adulteresses.  The Bible clearly defines marriage as one man and one woman.  Any sexual relationship outside of that is adultery, even if it’s not called that.

#3 – Polygamy kills intimacy between husband and wife.  Imagine the thought of knowing that your spouse is in the next next room having sex with someone else.  In just a few nights, he or she will be having sex with you.  What does that do to intimacy?  It stomps it to death.  But, intimacy is more than sex.  It’s that trust of sharing everything about yourself with your spouse that nobody else gets access to.  It’s being able to give yourself to your spouse without having to worry what somebody else is thinking or if you’re being fair to other people who “deserve” your intimacy too.  The emotional pretzels that polygamy pushes a person into must be exhausting at the least, if not excruciating.

#4 – Polygamy spreads the husband or wife too thin.  Technically, polygamy is the marrying of more than one wife or husband.  So, polygamy can be a wife with multiple husbands (technically called polyandry) or a husband with multiple wives (technically called polygyny).  However, polyandry is almost nonexistent in the world.  Polygyny is almost the sole practice of polygamy, such that the two have become synonymous.  Therefore, it is typically a husband who gets spread too thin because he has to meet the needs of multiple wives.  It is difficult enough for a man to meet the needs of one woman, but imagine trying to please multiples.  It undoubtedly leads to great frustration or simply giving up trying any more.

#5 – Polygamy causes jealousy among husbands or wives.   God never intended for a wife to share her husband with another woman or for a husband to share his wife with other men.  He has designed us in a way that to do so is emotionally and spiritually hurtful.  God created a woman to long to be her husband’s sole desire, and when a “competitor” is brought into the picture, jealousy naturally and rightly arises.  Of course, it doesn’t often end with jealousy.  Jealousy, even righteous jealousy, is like a gateway drug.  It often leads to great sin, and we certainly see that with Rachel and Leah.  Rachel and Leah both encourage Jacob to go deeper into adultery (refer to #2) by convincing him to take their servants as his wives also.  Obviously, jealousy led to bitterness between the two women, evidenced by Leah’s remarks to Rachel over the mandrakes.  Jealousy also led to the ladies agreeing to prostitute Jacob.  Rachel sold, and Leah bought.  Of course, jealousy leads to even greater sins than these, like murder.  Thankfully Rachel or Leah never attempted that!

#6 – Polygamy falls short of God’s design in marriage.  Jesus tells us clearly in in Matthew 19:4-6 that God created male and female and joined them together in marriage as a one flesh union to death.  Polygamy falls short of that two becoming one flesh ideal.  There’s no oneness.  There’s more a conglomeration of unions with typically the man as the hub.  This scenario is what we saw with Jacob and his wives.  He’s connected to multiple women, but there’s no connection between the women.  Oneness isn’t even possible.

These six problems are located in the text of Genesis 30, but there are at least two others not alluded to in the text.

#7 – Polygamy leaves numbers of unmarried men.  Keeping in mind that the typical polygamous situation is polygyny, a few men marry up all the women.  Potential wives are not infinite resources.  There are only so many to go around.  In fact, the boy to girl birth ration is basically 1:1.  Mathematically speaking, that means there is only one women for each man.  So, when one man ends up with four wives like in the case of Jacob, three men are left likely to never marry.  That reality is problematic for men and for society.  Men who don’t have wives or children to live for are much more prone to form harmful habits such as substance abuse and to commit crimes of all sorts, including rape, theft, abduction, and murder.  China is a good example of what happens to societies where many men have no opportunity to marry although China’s marriage gap is due to preferring male children under a one-child-only government policy and has nothing to do with polygamy.3  Nevertheless, the outcomes are the same because numbers of men are left unmarried.  It’s bad news for the men and the society around them.

#8 – Polygamy spreads dads too thin.  Fathers in a polygamist family have to balance their time between multiple wives who usually have multiple children.  That can be very difficult!  Let’s take Kody Brown’s family from Sister Wives for instance.  He has 17 children by 4 different wives.  That many children typically isn’t possible with a monogamous couple (the Duggars are the exception!), but it’s easily attainable with four wives.  Perhaps the most famous polygamist is Brigham Young, the successor to Joseph Smith and the founder of Salt Lake City.  Young had approximately 55 wives and 56 children through only 16 of those wives.  Undoubtedly, Young was spread thin, which is what happens in polygamous families.  In a very real sense, many children of polygamous families grow up virtually fatherless because the father is spread too thin between so many wives with so many children.  This reality is neither good for the children nor for the father.

One other problem may be manifest in polygamy although at this point I don’t really have any evidence.  I merely have a hunch that polygamy produces jealousy among half-siblings as well.



The acceptance of polygamy seems to be gaining ground here in America.  It’s a bankrupt marital arrangement that hurts everybody involved.  May we who are salt and light spread truth so that men and woman can enjoy the blessings of biblical marriage!

~Ben Simpson  :  @JBenSimpson  :  JBenSimpson.com  :  West Main Baptist Church

1Libby Copeland, “Is Polygamy Really So Awful?” http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/01/the_problem_with_polygamy.html

2Shoshana Grossbard, “Polygamy Is Bad for Women,” http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/12/17/should-plural-marriage-be-legal/polygamy-is-bad-for-women

3Rob Brooks, “China’s Biggest Problem? Too Many Men,” http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/14/opinion/china-challenges-one-child-brooks/


  1. Jake Barker says

    I choose to disagree with one point at this time. What about the good and faithful women that would be wives except they cannot find a decent man? In your narrative above you refer to “too many un-married men”. In the US there are too many un-married women or women that cling to a substandard man for lack of someone that would take them, love them and help them. I see problems in polygamy but fewer than we have with un-wed mothers and mothers who are married to a substandard man. Polygamy in the US among the Mormons, came about on their westward move as the husbands died from exposure, hostile reactions from the natives as they traveled through native territory etc. It came about to aid the widow and we can’t fault that. But that is just the opinion of a whiskey peddling former methodist.

      • says

        I have limited time so pardon the drive by’s 😉 When you realistically look at polygamy without our late coming lenses of one wife 4 life, polygamy goes back to the creation of man. Adam and Eve as singular persons is shot full of holes….that’s a discussion for another day. Quickly here, your comment about Jacob, Leah etal is not about the possible sin of polygamy it is about, in your words, jealousy. Jealousy is the sin in Genesis. It started with Abraham and Sarah. Instead of a man being a man and managing the competition between his multiple wives, the man as usual takes the easy way out and sucumbs to the wiles of the woman…..did Adam not take the second bite after Eve? Scripture shoots holes in the one man one woman scenario. If God in the Old Testament had said polygamy is abomination we would not be having this discussion. Had Jesus said I give you another commandment and that is one woman one man, then we would not be discussing this. Marriage was and is reserved for the masculine and feminine gender…..not male/male nor female/female.

        • Bart Barber says

          Jake, next you should cite that verse where Jesus said that the three of them would become one flesh. Oh, wait a minute…

          • Jake Barker says

            Cite the verse where it says singular…..1 man and 1 woman. Exclusive of the divorce rule.

        • says

          Your denial of a historical Adam and Eve completely and totally destroys your credibility. It is clear from Romans, that not only did Paul believe in a historical Adam, but he makes it clear that a historical Adam is required for proper understanding of the actions of Christ Jesus. As such, holding to a historical Adam and Eve, the very fact that God created a SINGLE man and a SINGLE woman as the proper design of Creation, we can conclude that such a design is the “normative” design for human relationships that follow. It is a result of the fall that other relationship structures have been introduced, and they are as a result less than the ideal. Has God used polygamous relationships to further His goals? Yes. However God also used a donkey to accomplish His will. That does not mean that is or should be normative.

          • Jake Barker says

            Hebrew for Adam is mankind…..not a singular man. But that is a discussion for another day.

          • says

            Let me guess, 1-2 semesters of Hebrew? Self Study?

            Did you know my name, Stephen, in Greek also means “crown”. Did you know that a word can be both a proper noun and a general noun? Frankly anyone with an ounce of language study (in any language not just biblical languages) would know this.

            But you still did not deal with and confront the actual content of my original post. Paul, clearly believed Adam was a historic and literal person. Are you saying Paul was wrong?

            And before you say “discussion for another day”, the creation of Adam and Eve is and should be the foundation for God’s perfect will as it relates to marriage. One man, one woman.

          • says


            Adam does mean mankind; however, it means it in the same way that Israel means both Israel the man and Israel the nation of progeny that descended from Israel the man. In such people-group names, the singular progenitor always precedes the generic group named after him. That also explains why mankind is usually referred to not merely as “adam,” but as “sons of adam.”

  2. dr. james willingham says

    While I do not approve of either bigamy or polygamy, and there are those who think once married always married, regardless of divorce for adultery or desertion, I would like to call attention to a reality. I was once visiting a group that would not have anything to do with anyone with a second marriage (I really did not realize what this meant until I happened to say that such was my situation, divorce and remarriage due to desertion. In that moment I experienced what it was like to view a parting of the waters at the crossing of the Red Sea. The fellow setting next to me got up right then and moved, so did the people in front and behind me.) I later asked a friend (?) who spoke at that meeting, what they did about God? After all, He presents Himself as a bigamist and divorced in Jer.3. He gave Israel a bill of divorce and sent her away for her adultery. Then He spoke of her treacherous sister Judah who also played the harlot.(Jer.3:8). Could it be that the Lord is willing to be so identified with His people in their sins that He would so present Himself? This does not mean that He approves such sins, but only that He is willing to become identified with sinners. Like our Savior who ate and drank with publicans and sinners.

  3. says

    So, I guess I won’t pursue that extra wife then. Compelling article. The most compelling argument to me is Jesus saying, in answer to easy divorces, which is, in effect, serial polygamy; ‘from the beginning it was not so.’ Not just is marriage male/female, from the beginning it was One male and One female.

      • says

        Genesis 1? God created one man and one woman. They were to be joined for life. That this standard was abandoned does not mean it is not the standard of God’s intent in creation.

        I’m wondering if you are kidding Jake. Are you really saying that polygamy is biblically justified?

        • Jake Barker says

          Not saying that it is biblically justified, saying that it is not a sin such as fornication or sodomy or adultery. Polygamy is not a sin…you cannot from any part of Scripture find it condemned.

        • says


          You don’t have to find it condemned. You only have to find it asserted that marriage is between one man and one woman, and you have that clearly in Genesis 2, Matthew 19, and Mark 10. Anything other than that is outside of the revealed will of God and sinful.

          • Jake Barker says

            I would start at Genesis 30 thru 32 for starters. God blesses Jacob in all that he does, protects him, gives him favor…..what more can a man ask for?

          • says


            You can’t do it. You noted Jacob’s life, but look at the misery brought in to Jacob, Rachel, and Leah’s lives because of it. Please remove your rose-colored, polygamy glasses.

          • Jon says

            I’m certainly not in the supporting polygamy camp, but there is at least one verse that could be taken as supporting it.
            2 Samuel 12:8 8 And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.
            Some might argue that if God gave David Saul’s wives, that either it can be a sin, or God led David to sin. I’m not saying that I’m arguing this, just pointing a possibility

          • Jon says

            Sorry for the typo, towards the end that should be, “Can’t be a sin” not “can be a sin”.

      • says

        Matthew1 9:7-9
        They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

        The same in all the major translations.

        • Jake Barker says

          If you will this as per your own statement refers to divorce….however since you opened the can of worms, note the plural “WIVES”. There was a sociological reason for not divorcing a wife, that of support for her and her/your children. The only job for a woman with no skills other than a tent wife was prostitution. Once a man married a woman in that era it was his duty to support her to death to divorce a woman was basically to tell her to go become a prostitute.

          8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality,[d] and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

          • says


            It seems “Jake” likes to take words out of context and base his theology off of them. Your observation is one that is shared by nearly every other reader of basic english (or Greek if you are reading it in the original language). Actually the Greek makes it even clearer. But I guess that is a “discussion for another day”.

  4. Doug Hibbard says

    If Scripture isn’t enough, then there’s this:

    Polygamy=multiple mothers-in-law.

    Therefore, polygamy=not a good idea.

    Why? Because if you got one good mother-in-law, the odds really stack against you that you’ll get another good one.

  5. says

    Polygamy is wrong, but it is not adultery. It is simply less than the ideal that God intended. David had multiple wives and was blessed of God—it was not until he stole another man’s wife that he fell under condemnation for adultery. The Bible definitely and strongly affirms that marriage is intended to be between one man and one woman for life; but nowhere in Scripture is polygamy called adultery. In fact, if a man has more than one wife and divorces one, then he causes that one to commit adultery. Any man who is the husband of more than one wife is not to be given the office of bishop, but I do not see where he cannot be even a member of the church. In the days of the Apostles, there were many men who had more than one wife. While we should expect that no believer would choose polygamy, we also do not find any calls in the epistles for new converts who have more than one wife to divorce all but one.

    • says


      You said, “Polygamy is wrong, but it’s not adultery.” Let’s just cut to the chase. Is it sinful for a man to marry more than one wife at a time?

    • Bill Mac says

      Ken is right on this. It is not adultery. God said he gave David wives, plural. There are plenty of good, scriptural reasons to oppose polygamy, but the charge that it is adultery isn’t one of them.

      But quite honestly, now that the door to gay marriage is wide open, I cannot imagine a good case for the state to oppose polygamy.

      • says

        You’re right about that Bill—it’s already on its way. Al Mohler mentioned on a recent “Briefing” that a judge in Utah ruled anti-polygamy laws to be unconstitutional based on religious bias. It will eventually be that “anything goes,” with whole groups of men, women and “transgenders” marrying each other (even mixed groups).

    • dr. james willingham says

      Dear Ken: The husband of one wife as you envision it, if carried out, would fit the Roman Catholic view of digamy. They will, so I understand, allow a Lutheran or Episcopalian minister who converts to Rome’s way to pastor a church, even if he has a wife. However, if his wife dies, so I understand, then he cannot marry again and continue in the priesthood. Never mind what the Bible says. Never mind that God is divorced (He surely can’t be God, if He is divorced and yet so it says in Jer.3). In my second marriage I have been married for 44.5 years, and my wife raised my daughter from the first marriage. We had a son who is our pastor. My views were your views, when my first marriage broke up. I almost committed suicide, because I hated divorce worse than you do, being made a child of divorce at the age of 3, losing both parents. You can have no conception of how miserable and hateful the very idea was to me, unless you are a child of divorce yourself. Then some people helped me, pointing in the direction of works written on the issue, explaining all of the verses in the Bible appertaining thereto. A friend who told me I should not be in the ministry wound up with a divorce. He contacted me to ask about books on the issue. Nothing is ever easy in the world of fallen men and women. My hat is off to those men and women who were and are able to last in their marriages. But I also salute those who went on in the ministry with second marriages. Even one of our seminaries was founded by a fellow with a second marriage. For years it was the largest seminary in the Southern Baptist Convention. My brother-in-law attended that seminary. I’ll let you guess what school it is. And as to pastoring, I pastored almost four years and two churches (consecutively) during the first marriage, and two churches and one interim (consecutively) for 24.75 years (or an even 25 years, if one counts from the time I moved out the parsonage of the last full time church I served.

      During all of those long and stressful years, I did research in many realms. I even stumbled across how the original doctrines make a believer balanced, flexible, creative, constant, and magnetic or, in other words, God’s best advertisement for the faith, a mature believer. Now I am coming to the end of my ministry and life, and I wonder, if I ever shall be able to share what I discovered with many others as a help to them in their ministries. Research and a keen Bible-believing intellect with a heart to submit are keys to the Third Great Awakening to coming, the one which shall reach every soul on earth for a millennium, a millennium not of years but of generations (I Chron.16:15) (that’s anywhere from 20,000-900,000 years, depending on the length of a generation, 20 years, 50 years or, if a man dying at a hundred is considered a youth, then 900 or Methuselah’s age) and reaching a quadrillion planets and all the populace thereof (thank the Lord for Dr. John Owen’s work, The Death of Death in The Death of Christ, which some consider the source for Limited Atonement, which actually mentions a sufficiency for many worlds), all in order to fulfill the Lord’s bit of humor to cheer His dejected and despairing followers recorded in Rev.7:9).

  6. says


    I gave you a Biblical argument that I’d like you to address. You did not merely say in your article that marrying more than one wife was sinful. You said it was adultery. Establish that claim from Scripture. You ask, “Is it sinful for a man to marry more than one wife at a time?” Let me ask you this: Is it sinful for a single man to marry a woman for selfish reasons—or against the will of his godly parents? If it is sin, would that make it adultery? David’s adultery brought the judgment of God upon him; but his 300 earlier marriages did not. Jacob was blessed in spite of his 4 wives, and you go far beyond Scripture when you say that three were not marriages but adultery. It is Scripture itself that calls them wives, and not once were Jacob’s children portrayed as illegitimate or Jacob portrayed as an adulterer.

    • says


      You assert that marriage is between one man and one woman for life. Amen!

      Then you assert that polygamy is only adultery if a person has sex with and marries somebody else’s spouse. What?!

      Your two assertions just do not line up. If marriage is between one man and woman, then to have a sexual relationship outside of that relationship, whether it’s with another “wife” or a just mistress, is to commit adultery against your first wife.

      Adultery is an intimate relationship outside of the one flesh union of a husband and a wife. I’m afraid your reasoning with David falls flat. Furthermore, your thinking that since God blessed the polygamous David and Jacob, then it must be okay with God misses the point that God can still bless sinners and does so everyday in spite of their sin.

      • Jake Barker says

        You are confusing adultery with fornication. Adultery is leaving or sending a wife away and then remarrying. Fornication is having sexual relations with another person who is not your spouse.

        • says

          Wow…I did not think it were possible for a person to make as many biblical language gaffs in one day as you are.

          The greek word translated in nearly every english translation as “adulterer” is ??????. That word has the definition of “one who is unfaithful to a spouse”. It is such with only one exception, in James 4:4 when the same word is used for those who are “unfaithful to God”. The word “fornicator” or “sexually immoral” is ??????, which is “one who practices sexual immorality”. Guess what word we get from that greek word? It functions much as a “catch all” word for sexual promiscuity, though some want to limit it to those who sleep with prostitutes. Either way it in no way has any relation to “having sexual relations with another person who is not your spouse.” Again, that is ??????, the Greek is clear! He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

          • says

            Looks like this forum does not like Greek (or at least Apple’s Greek input keyboards). The first and third ?????? is (transliterated) moichos. The second ?????? is pornos.

          • cb scott says

            We are not hyped up very much on Latin, French, or German either, as Jared Moore found out when he put up his New Year’s Resolution post a few weeks ago.

          • Doug Hibbard says

            The theme can’t do anything but US English.

            It even chokes up on British spellings, flipping out over words like “defence” and “lorry.”

            That’s why we have no Australian commenters, either. And few Canadians.

        • says


          That is completely wrong. You are the one confused. Adultery is a married person having sex with somebody who is not his or her wife. I would argue that a man can only have one true wife, and if he adds another, he is committing adultery.

          Fornication is sex between two single people.

          • Jake Barker says

            What could be more plain than this verse?

            Luke 16:18
            English Standard Version (ESV)
            Divorce and Remarriage

            18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

            Or this one:
            Hebrews 13:4
            English Standard Version (ESV)
            4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

          • says

            Those verses don’t mean what you think they do Jake. Do a little basic research to what some Jews during the time were doing in terms of divorce. Her is a hint, they were not doing it in line with what God gave allowances for. IE, their wives got old, so they got a divorce. Their wives got “uglier” so they got a divorce. They fell in love with someone else, so they got a divorce. That is the context in which Jesus is speaking. The context in that these men were not giving good reason for their divorces, thus in the eyes of God, they were committing adultery, because they were still married to their original wives.

      • says


        You stated:

        You assert that marriage is between one man and one woman for life. Amen!

        No, I said, “…marriage is intended to be between one man and one woman for life…” The intended ideal does not define marriage itself, else those who divorce would disqualify their previous relationship as being a marriage, since it was not for life—then their next marriage to other people would actually be their first marriage. But the intended ideal is not the definition. Marriage is not always for life, and (mostly in days of old) marriage is not always between only two people. You stated:

        Then you assert that polygamy is only adultery if a person has sex with and marries somebody else’s spouse. What?!
        Your two assertions just do not line up. If marriage is between one man and woman, then to have a sexual relationship outside of that relationship, whether it’s with another “wife” or a just mistress, is to commit adultery against your first wife.

        The two assertions line up perfectly. Jesus said that if a man divorces his wife, and marries another, then he commits adultery. He did not say that if a man keeps his first wife and marries another, he commits adultery. You will not find any such language anywhere in Scripture—and you will continue to run into such problems in trying to argue your view from Scripture. Marriage is intended to be between one man and one woman—but it is you, and not God, who demands that such intention is the very definition. You stated:

        I’m afraid your reasoning with David falls flat. Furthermore, your thinking that since God blessed the polygamous David and Jacob, then it must be okay with God misses the point that God can still bless sinners and does so everyday in spite of their sin.

        You have not squarely addressed my argument with regard to David and Jacob. I did not say, “since God blessed the polygamous David and Jacob, then it must be okay with God.” Why are you avoiding the force of the argument? The very same God who had a big problem with David’s adultery with Bathsheba did not have that same problem with the 300 other wives. Ben, the Bible is where we ought to get our views on such things, and the Biblical record does not support the same kind of standard regarding what is adultery that you have raised. If it did, we would rightly expect to find such statements in Scripture as you make—statements condemning polygamy as adultery. But, as in the case of Jacob, we find no such condemnation.

        • says


          God had a problem with David and Bathsheba because Bathsheba was already married, and then David by proxy murdered her husband.

          The Bible at no point calls polygamy a sin, but it clearly states that marriage is to be between one man and one woman. To fall short of God’s ideal is sin. I’ll call that sin adultery. You can just call it wrong.

          • says

            Hi Ben,

            Thanks for writing this post and the time and effort you put into it.

            Polygamy is less than ideal (by far), but it is not sinful. You might want to check out Deuteronomy 25:5.

            Biblical words already have a meaning and definition. You call adultery sin and to that I agree. But where are you going if you start calling behaviors that you (or your tradition) don’t like, “sin” when God doesn’t call it sin? How does God view that behavior?

            We don’t really want to go there, do we?

          • says


            You keep digging yourself deeper into that hole. Are we to conclude, then, by your reasoning, that God has no serious problem with adultery as long as there is no murder of a spouse involved? That would beg the question, If God has no problem with it then why do you? But intellectual honesty should spur you to uncover why God has no problem with it.

            Unlike you, I do not choose what I call sin, or what I call adultery, or what I call murder, etc. I submit to the word of God, and look there alone for what I call anything. You know, there was a certain group of people in Jesus’ day who also weren’t satisfied that the Bible defined sins strictly enough, and so they aided God by raising the standard to what it should be. But Jesus said they were “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” If God’s commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” does not actually include polygamy, but you teach that it does, then whose commandment is it that you are really teaching?

            Furthermore, any objective reader will see that I gave you a well-reasoned, Scripture-based argument; and you have replied with short dismissals and assertive rhetoric, rather than substantive engagement. You admit, “The Bible at no point calls polygamy sin…” but that doesn’t seem to even give you pause in your campaign to equate it with adultery—itself a crime incurring the death penalty under the Mosaic law. The ironic thing is that what you are very close to what is being done by those who claim that the Bible does not condemn homosexual marriage: both you and they are redefining God’s law according to one’s personal moral feelings. You feel that polygamy is as wrong as adultery, so you feel justified in teaching that it is; while they feel that homosexual marriage is as legitimate as heterosexual marriage, and so they feel justified in teaching that it is—buy neither seem to be appropriately limited by what the text actually teaches.

  7. Dean says

    I teach the Bible teaches one man – one woman. I teach that and believe that. However, there are a few passages that I have always hoped no church member would question me about. I am in a shooting house with my son so I can’t cite the passages but will paraphrase. I hope some of you scholars will look them up and add them to this discussion.

    The prophet tells David that God had given him Saul’s wives.
    In the Law the Bible teaches that a man cannot take a second wife if it meant he could not care for the first. Sorry for no references. I will check back after we kill something either a deer or armadillo we are that is in our plot.

    • cb scott says

      Be patient. Wait on the deer. However, if you just can’t take it anymore and have to kill the armadillo . . . don’t eat ‘im.

  8. Doug Hibbard says

    I was going to quibble on point 2 but will instead ask a question for the intelligence collective here at SBCVoices:

    To what extant do the arguments for polygamy, even the arguments that it “was” okay in the OT, rise and fall on the reality that the Hebrew and Greek languages use the same word for “woman” as for “wife”? (Just as for “man” and “husband”)

    I’ve got rabbits to chase, so I’ll be back tomorrow, but I’m just wondering about how we handle the text and translation issues and if that’s part of the issue.

    • cb scott says

      “I’ve got rabbits to chase. . . ”

      I would give a $100.00, twelve pounds of deer sausage, two boxes of #6’s, and pack all the lunches to be with Doug Hibbard today.

      • Doug Hibbard says

        Unfortunately, it was just a metaphor tonight. I had class to attend, blogs to write, and trouble to stir up.

        And alongside that, pastoral ministry to do.

        On the upside, they’re building a convenience store across the street, and it’s been great to hear my kids pray for the workers to be safe while working. Going to head over and meet folks tomorrow. At the very least, they deserve a thank you for providing my son with all the viewing pleasure he can get all week long. Nothing like being 7 and having dump trucks, bulldozers, excavators, and other heavy machinery right outside the big window.

        • cb scott says

          When you are 7, dump trucks and bulldozers are that of which dreams are made. Enjoy the good days and play all you can with that boy. They grow up all too soon.

        • Dwight McKissic says


          Almyra, convenience store? Will that not sort disrupt the tranquil, peaceful, serene, quiet, and pristine nature of your great little town? Vera & I really loved visiting there. I finally got to experience an area where my Daddy pastored before I was born. You and your wife made the trip most memorable & special. The hook-up with the Deacon from Providence Baptist Church was 2nd to the great meal your wife cooked in our memory bank. Thanks again.

          • Doug Hibbard says

            The Farm Co-op has built convenience/farm co-op connected stores in 3 other locations in the county. They bought out the local general store owner, who really wanted to retire anyway and his kids didn’t want to run the store, so that they could convert the Almyra Co-op into another convenience store.

            Except the Almyra Co-op is located on the far side of town, away from the highway (you know, that one paved 2-lane you came in on!) So, now they’ve sold that to the fertilizer company and are leaving the fertilizer business over there, and moving the gas pumps, small grocery, and tire repairs over here.

            It’s going to be a change and change doesn’t come easy around here. It will be helpful in duck/goose season, and will probably increase our tax revenues (sales tax is all we’ve got) by 50% because they’ll take debit cards. Plus, there will be a different gathering place for the folks that don’t have much to do. Great new ministry opportunity, if I can get the rest of the church to see it as that.

            Dwight, your kind words are very humbling. I remain quite sorry that our A/C konked out that week and we were only able to host you at the church rather than at home. Of course, we didn’t stay home much ourselves that week until we fixed it. Looking forward to seeing you in May.

      • cb scott says

        “Are rabbits easier to chase than squirrels?”


        I have found that if you are going to “chase” the squirrel yourself, it is best to let your fingernails and toenails grow out ’cause you are going to have to go up trees pretty fast. Getting “down” from the trees fast is not really a problem. Just jump.

        If you time your jump just right, you can land on a rabbit and get two fine meals for the price of one.

      • Doug Hibbard says

        I will say this: the rabbit is more worth the work than the squirrel. In both usable portion and flavor.

        Plus, rabbits don’t climb trees.

    • Doug Hibbard says

      I’ve encounter a couple of places in the last few weeks as we read through the Bible as a church that seem to follow a traditional translation philosophy–this is how it was then, so we keep using this word choice.

      But I’m starting to wonder if those word choices are accurate. Starting with range of meanings like man/husband, woman/wife, and spirit/breath/wind/Spirit.

      I think chasing that down is too far afield of Ben’s topic, but this is why you need to spend some time getting good training in the languages God chose to reveal Himself with–

      • Doug Hibbard says

        I should clarify: the word choices we make, traditionally: the ranges are correct, but are we always picking the right one?

  9. says

    Ken Hamrick is right about the point he is making. A careful reading of what he has actually said would be helpful.

    The Biblical case for polygamy would be stronger if God had made two or more women for Adam.

    Our country treats all religions with equal respect/contempt. When polygamy rises to the popularity of forming political action groups, then the issue will become a ballot issue. Polygamy as a court issue is already here.

    Are you ready to do marriage counseling in such a context? Good PhD thesis material. Ready for your children to bring home their multiple spouses? Ready for the marriage of one woman and several men? Ready for the church that ordains a man who is one of two husbands of the same woman? Ready to comfort a friend, maybe one of us, when their wife wants to add a spouse?

    Ready to begin teaching that our nation is godless, and that we are to come out of it? Ready to begin teaching that a Christian marriage is radically different than an American marriage? Ready to prepare your young people to live in this culture?

    There comes a time when a culture is so mangled that the slate needs to be wiped clean.

  10. Dale Pugh says

    I’m wondering what kind of comments might be generated by a post on interracial polygamous marriages between beer drinking Calvinists and cigarette (or pot) smoking Arminians who raise semi-Pelagian kids.

    • says

      That’s terribly offensive. As a Calvinist I take offense to your ridiculous notion that the kid would turn out semi-Pelagian. Antinomian maybe, but I think any self-respecting beer drinkin’ Calvinist would divorce all of his wives if they exercised their freedom to allow their children to be semi-Pelagians.

  11. Dale Pugh says

    I don’t have time for a full on discussion of this topic, and I apologize for just “drive-by commenting,” but I think it’s interesting that God created Adam and Eve for one another. He didn’t create Adam and a few more Eve’s.
    One man and one woman was His original intent and plan. Polygamy doesn’t rear it’s ugly head until much later in the biblical narrative. As soon as it does, you see problems. Look at Abraham. Look at Jacob. Look at Solomon. Look at any place in the Bible where multiple wives are mentioned and you will see a man with headaches, heartache, and troubles.
    The whole “the Bible doesn’t call it sin so it must not be” argument just won’t float, gentlemen. You can apply that same argument to a whole lot of very destructive behaviors. The fact that some men that God used in the Bible were married to multiple wives doesn’t make it right. They, too, were flawed human beings. And if you read with an eye for their humanity you’ll see that their polygamy wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Just goes to show that God can and will use whomever He chooses regardless of their fallen state. But nowhere in the Bible is polygamy any more than a cultural accommodation for sinful humanity’s less than perfect marital relationships.

  12. says

    With great fear and trepidation I’ll add my little $0.02 here.

    This is something I’ve frankly not thought very deeply about. It is not something that comes up in our Western culture very much.

    I’ve seen on here polygamy called a sin and not called a sin. It has been called adultery and not called adultery. And absent any specific and explicit statements either way, we have to look to a broader context to make a decision. As has been noted, polygamy was not God’s creation order intention. I think we all agree on that, and that subsequent accommodations of polygamy were just that…accommodations much like divorce. Not God’s creation design, but nevertheless regulated by God to some extent and apparently not openly rebuked in a blanket manner.

    Nevertheless, in my confessional community, subscribing to the WCF and WCF Shorter and Larger Catechisms, I believe polygamy is both adultery in a broad sense and is sinful. The WCF LC says on the 7th commandment (which encompasses much more than a prohibition against just technical adultery) says,

    “Q. 137. Which is the seventh commandment?
    The seventh commandment is, Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

    “Q. 139. What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?
    The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts…having more wives or husbands than one at the same time; unjust divorce, or desertion…”

    The framers referenced two passages on the multiple wives/husbands prohibition: Malachi 2:14-15 and Matthew 19:5.

    So I do think polygamy is both sinful and adultery in a broad sense and is a violation of the 7th commandment.

    John Murray says this:

    “The only thesis that appears to me to be compatible with these data is that polygamy and divorce (for light cause) were permitted or tolerated under the Old Testament, tolerated in such a way that regulatory provisions were enacted to prevent some of the grosser evils and abuses attendant upon them, and tolerated in the sense that openly condemned and censured with civil and ecclesiastical penalties, but that nevertheless they were not legitimated. That is to say, these practices were basically wrong; they were violations of a creation ordinance, even an ordinance which had been revealed to man at the beginning. (Principles of Conduct p.16)”


    “How could this be? How could God allow his people, in some cases the most eminent of the Old Testament saints, to practice what was a violation of his preceptive will? It is a difficult question….[Our Lord] tells us explicitly that for the hardness of their hearts Moses suffered the Israelites to put away their wives, but that from the beginning it was not so (Matthew 19: 3-8; Mark 10: 2-9)…..there is no good reason why the same principle should not be applied to polygamy. (p.17)”
    Ra McLaughlin says on the subject,

    “Nevertheless, the Old Testament, and Moses’ writings in particular, do not hold up polygamy as the ideal. Genesis is quite instructive in this regard. In the ancient Near East, creation narratives were used to demonstrate not just what was, but also what should be. It was generally understood and accepted that the world was created with purposeful order, and that to deviate from that order was sin. In writing the creation narrative of Genesis, Moses adopted this same perspective, and used the creation narrative to motivate Israel to return to the Eden, i.e. the Promised Land, in order to enjoy God’s blessings in the restored creation. It was a real return to Eden. Jesus himself adopted this reading of Genesis, and with specific reference to marriage, in Matthew 19:1-9. There, Jesus argued that the law Moses had permitted regarding divorce was not the ideal. Rather, the ideal was the order God had established in creation. In the same way, the law permitted polygamy, but Genesis 1-3 demonstrates this was not the ideal toward which the people were to strive. The ideal was the model of creation: one man and one woman in a monogamous relationship.It is worth noting in this regard that the first polygamist mentioned in the Bible is the murderer Lamech (Gen. 4:19-24).

    As Jesus indicated in Matthew 19, God did not always enact laws that perfectly represented his ideals. Rather, to some degree he accommodated his law to his people (compare Deut. 30:10-14). Even the New Testament contains no clear statement forbidding polygamy — though it also contains no record of extant polygamy, and lists monogamy as the ideal (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6). This introduction of polygamy after the fall, and progression toward monogamy as we move toward the full restoration of God’s kingdom, indicate that polygamy is not the ideal, and it is less and less permissible as kingdom of God progresses.”

    When we add in the prohibition that elders could not have more than one wife, leaders in the church, it all adds up that polygamy is sinful and not to be practiced by God’s people. After all, the people are reminded to follow the example of their elders/leaders: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7, ESV)

    Now, one can still run across polygamy in the world. So God has regulated it in some manner same as divorce. So, you become a Christian and suddenly realize that you are now a believer married to an unbeliever (prohibited by God). What to do? End that marriage so as to not be unequally joked? No Paul tells us. You don’t add a sinful divorce to your list of crimes.

    A missionary leads a man to Christ in a context where men in the tribe have many wives. Does the man need to divorce all but one? I think not. He has covenant obligations to each one. There is not NT inference that polygamists were to be kept out of the church. Church office yes is denied, but not church membership. As I think John Frame said, polygamy is not like other sins such as a thief. A thief can stop stealing. A polygamist cannot simply stop being a polygamist.

    Dale is right when he said, “God created Adam and Eve for one another. He didn’t create Adam and a few more Eve’s” and “But nowhere in the Bible is polygamy any more than a cultural accommodation for sinful humanity’s less than perfect marital relationships.”

    Blessings brothers.

    • says


      That’s more like $20 and change! A valuable contribution, I’d say. I agree with just about all that you’ve written except that polygamy is adultery. The fact that new believers were not charged with divorcing any wives in excess of the first shows that it was not continuing in adultery. Less than ideal: Yes. Sin? Quite possibly, but not the kind of sin that disqualifies the marriage. I sin when I snap at my wife in the morning before I’ve had my coffee, but not every sin disqualifies a marriage. Divorce is a sin, but it does not redefine the relationship in such a way as to deny that the ended marriage was ever really a valid marriage in the first place. What I am arguing is that the divine intention for marriage ought not to be used as the definition of marriage. Intended to be for life? Yes. Not a real marriage unless it lasts till death? Not true, else divorce is not really divorce and no harm is done.

      • Les Prouty says


        Well I had some extra change. Not much time right now, but I get what you are saying about adultery. I was calling it that in a broad sense not in a technical sense. i.e. if polygamy is a sin, and I think it is, I believe it would fall under the 7th commandment. Obviously I think all sin necessarily falls under one of the 10 commandments.

        Back later brother.

      • says


        Divorce is not always sin. The Bible gives two reasons for a righteous divorce.

        Of course, not every sin disqualifies a marriage, but polygamy obliterates the two-becoming-one-flesh union that is the very fabric of marriage. That’s why in the case of adultery divorce is righteous. It a transgression of the two-becoming-one-flesh union.

        To say that the ideal of the two-becoming-one-flesh union should not be used as the definition of marriage seems nonsensical to me. In fact, your argument undercuts the argument against homosexual “marriage.”

        • says


          You are right: divorce is not always sin. When I said that, I had in mind only those divorces that do qualify as sin.

          Would you not also agree that marriage was intended by God to be between two believers? And did not God also intend the kind of marriage bond that cannot be found outside of faith in Christ? If we make the divine intention to be the definition, then unbelievers and unequally yoked are not really married.

          You have overlooked the main intention of God for marriage. God intends for marriage not only that one believing man and one believing woman become one flesh for life, but also that [heterosexual] marriage itself would be an institution of law, both moral and civil, that is binding and legitimate even when it fails to meet the ideal. The issue of homosexual marriage ought to be a non-starter, since it goes far beyond merely being less than ideal, attempting to legitimize what God calls an abomination. And unlike polygamy, there are no examples of any homosexual marriage in the Bible, but only places where homosexual acts have been condemned.

      • Tim B says

        You are making a faulty assumption that polygamy was common in Roman Empire in the day of the apostles. Polygamy was not addressed in the NT because it was not practiced in that day. Don’t take my word for it, go research it.

  13. says

    I have to admit that I’ve been fairly surprised by the comment thread here. It didn’t go the way I expected.

    Some here have flat out said that polygamy is not sinful and is blessed by God. Others have opined that it’s not ideal basically using the “it’s not a matter of law, it’s a matter of wisdom” argument. Others have said that it’s wrong but not adultery as I have contended.

    I still argue that polygamy is the violation of the two-become-one-flesh union held up in Scripture in both the New and Old Testaments, making it therefore sinful. I admit that the Bible doesn’t call it adultery technically, but in general I believe it is.

    • John Wylie says


      This is just one of those strange subjects that are hard to parse out. For instance, if polygamy was considered adultery in the Old Testament folks like King Solomon would have been illegitimate and therefore unqualified to be king. More than half of the tribes of Israel would have been born in and through adultery. And then you have the passage in 2 Samuel where God tells David through Nathan that God had given David his mater’s (Saul’s) wives.

      2 Samuel 12:8 “And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.”

      I’m not saying that I am for polygamy and I certainly agree with your one flesh argument, but it would appear that the multiple wives of the patriarchs was not considered adultery.

      • Tarheel says

        The multiple wives society in the OT never seemed to wok out well, never that I can remember anyway. Solomon in fact realized that later in life, did he not. Wasn’t it he who said “rejoice in the wife (singular) of your youth….” (Proverbs 5)

        God, and by extention the authors of the OT acknowledging a practice, is not the same as condoning it….is it?

        • John Wylie says


          Like I said, I basically agree with the idea that it was wrong, but why did God give David his master’s wives? Why was Solomon or half the sons of Jacob not considered illegitimate? Adultery would have produced illegitimate children.

          • says

            The Hebrew word “mamzer” in Dt 23:2 translated as “one of illegitimate birth” means a “bastard” or “child of incest.” I suppose they were not considered illegitimate because they were not born out of wedlock or incest.

          • John Wylie says


            I really appreciate your interaction here and I agree, because there was wedlock they were considered legitimate children. That is my perspective as well, in fact, it’s my entire point.

    • Jake Barker says

      Dontcha love it when you get a little theologically stretched in a thread like this, especially when we haven’t thrown any ad hominems at each other? 😉

      • says


        Well, at one point you were called a “Jack Mormon.” Nevertheless, I do love being stretched. It’s one of the reasons I hazard to post articles here.

        • says

          CB and I have a long and amazingly friendly contention with each other. Kinda like brothers that like to fight and can’t find someone outside the family to duke it out with so we fight each other. The “Jack Mormon” had a double entendre. My wife and I own a liquor store, yes, we peddle whiskey on Main Street and are proud to do it. The term Jack Mormon was as you are aware, applied to those friendly to Mormons and I am friendly, even to the elderly pentecostal ladies that come and get a small bottle of 100 proof to make cough medicine from, or atheists or whatever…..I even get to share the Lord with some folks and pray for them or their relatives that have a need. CB was also referring to Jack Daniels ( or at least I bet he was) as well as “Jack Mormon”.

    • Tarheel says

      Isn’t perversion of God’s instruction sin? I contend it is.

      Homosexuality, adultery, fornication, polygamy, etc…are sins at the most basic level becase they are perversions of God’s design for sexuality and marriage.

      I agree with you Ben, polygamy is a perversion of Gods plan for marriage and sexuality in that it defies the man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife…and the TWO…shall become one flesh.

      I’m hard pressed to see how a biblical argument can be made for many of the positions espoused here. I’m not attacking anyone, just saying I don’t see biblically how polygamy could be embraced as being within Gods prescribed definitions of marriage in the new testament.

  14. Patrick says

    Sorry I’m late to the conversation.

    In Deuteronomy 17:14-17 God tells Israel not to have kings that acquire horses, wives, or gold but of course all of the kings of Israel do exactly that. Yet he blessed them anyway. I don’t think you can say that something is not a sin just because God blesses that person.

    • John Wylie says

      But to say that it was adultery would open up a whole other can of worms. For instance, an illegitimate child was not allowed to enter into the congregation of the LORD for 10 generations. (Deuteronomy 23:2) How would Solomon have been allowed to build the temple if he was considered illegitimate which is precisely what adultery would imply.

      • says

        The Hebrew word “mamzer” in Dt 23:2 translated as “one of illegitimate birth” means a “bastard” or “child of incest.” I suppose Solomon was not considered illegitimate because he was not born out of wedlock or incest.

  15. says

    Deuteronomy 25:5, ff

    If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.

    In this passage there is no exemption for a brother who is already married.

    In this passage there are long term negative consequences for the living brother who refuses to obey.

    I am not fond of polygamy. I am not an advocate of polygamy. I will vote against polygamy. I agree that one man married to one woman is God’s best. But in our teaching we must show integrity and not go beyond what God has actually said with sincere pronouncements of “Thus says the Lord” when it is not what God actually said. Let us not condemn behavior that God does not condemn.

    We must make room in our hearts for the whole message of God, and that includes the above concepts. Righteousness includes making room for what God intends in this passage. And we are all subject to being misled by the traditions of our culture. Lead your culture, don’t follow it.

    Again, thank you, Ben. This is a needed post.

    • Tarheel says

      Wow, this one has me thinking…


      here are my hangups on what I am reading you to say….(that there is not clear teaching in scripture to include polygamy as being sinful and adulterous)

      Didn’t God the Father in fact prescribe the definition of marriage in the OT…and then didn’t both Jesus reiterate it in the New?

      Aren’t Paul’s teachings on the matter clearly referring to a ‘single union”?

      Both the old and new testaments instruct us to “cleave unto our wife”..does that not plainly exclude the idea of ‘clinging to wives” from being part of what God prescribed?

      • says


        I find it frustrating at times that God has not been more exhaustive in defining what He intends. What the Holy Spirit has told us about marriage in the Old and New Testaments is all absolutely true, accurate and authoritative but I would hesitate to say that He has “defined” marriage at all.

        I think God has defined the role of a faithful worshiper, He has defined the role of a husband, He has defined the role of a wife. If a husband and wife worship faithfully, then they will, by default, have the marriage God intends.

        As I try and put all the pieces together in the New Covenant context I reach the conclusion that I wrote in the comment below (currently #99): “I think our primary concern should be to believe, practice, teach and urge that a blessed marriage is only found when a born again male disciple and a born again female disciple enter a life-long covenant with God in the ideal marriage that not only fulfills the material one-flesh symbol but also the spiritual “become one” goal; and where God is recognized as the most important person of the three.” (May God have mercy on me; I am quoting myself, lol).

  16. John Wylie says

    Sorry I was a Johnny Come Lately on this particular thread and I should have read more of the comments before basically repeating some of the arguments others have already made. Having said this I will say that no one has appeared to really address the David argument and the illegitimacy argument. As I said before I do believe in a one man and one woman scenario as our Lord stated from the beginning that this was the intention of God.

    • John Wylie says

      I have to admit that I am not sure what sin it would be, but it would also appear in the Old Testament that those wives were all considered legitimate.

    • says

      I think polygamy is sinful in the countries where polygamy is illegal, on the basis of Romans 13:1-5.

      I think polygamy is sinful if one serves as a pastor or deacon on the basis of 1 Timothy 3:2, 12.

      I think our primary concern should be to believe, practice, teach and urge that a blessed marriage is only found when a born again male disciple and a born again female disciple enter a life-long covenant with God in the ideal marriage that not only fulfills the material one-flesh symbol but also the spiritual “become one” goal; and where God is recognized as the most important person of the three.

      What I dread is an American cultural-christian rhetorical meltdown over politics that ignores our responsibility to prepare our young people to live faithfully and lovingly in times like the times of Noah. And so the children are sacrificed on our right to pontificate governmentally.

      The Holy Spirit of God simply does not convict the innocent of religious guilt that we invent or inherit uncritically.

        • says


          This peg doesn’t fit in that shape hole.

          I don’t think God is pleased when we add to His words. I don’t think God is pleased when we subtract from them, or turn to the right or left from them. He doesn’t want us to go beyond what is written.

  17. Dave Miller says

    I never imagined that there would be so many who would come to the defense of polygamy. Unbelievable.

    • says

      Dave, I’m with you. I said in the OP “Polygamy is the next battleground for marriage in the United States,” but if the thread here is any indicator, there won’t be much objection from some sectors of Southern Baptist life.

        • John Wylie says

          Ben and Dave,

          How could we possibly go any lower than gay marriage? What’s the point of protesting or objecting to polygamous marriage after same sex marriage is recognized?

          Further I have no idea what’s so mind boggling Dave. No one is advocating for polygamy, simply calling into question Ben’s second point that’s all.

    • says

      Dave and Ben,

      Not absolutely sure you are referring to me, but if you are: If I stick up for what God actually says, and you conclude that I am “defending polygamy” and that that is “bad”, then is it not God who is “defending polygamy” and,,,and,,, that you think He is……..

      • John Wylie says

        I want to make it clear that I am not for polygamy nor am o defending it, buti see no indication that it was adultery in the old testament.

      • Christiane says

        no it’s not ‘wrong’
        . . . that green suit is so humbling, it’s classy . . .

        you just don’t get it, JAKE BARKER

    • says

      I’m not defending polygamy, Dave. I’m defending a hermeneutic that values Scripture too much to attribute the sin of adultery to that which Scripture never even implies is adultery merely because I think I can add two and two together and come up with four. Call it sin if you want—but its the sin of polygamy and not the sin of adultery.

      The battle over marriage ought to drive us to be more precise, not less. Any sweeping condemnations that do not come from the precise truth of Scripture but only from our righteous indignation WILL NOT STAND IN THAT BATTLE. Every exaggeration and inaccuracy in our position is a weakness in our position.

    • says


      Considering the probability that polygamy will one day become legal, you may be faced with the problem of having a new convert who already has more than one wife. What will you tell him? Now that he believes, is he to abandon and divorce his extraneous wives? You see, the issue is not merely theoretical but on its way to your front door.

  18. Patrick says

    Applying the New Testament standard, how would anyone pick a second (or third, or fourth) wife without at least some lusting? Would this then not be committing adultery in his heart?

    I just don’t see how in this day and time even picking out the multiple wives wouldn’t be adultery from the heart. Maybe in the OT it was more like purchasing property or something.

    I hate to bring experience into this but when God paired me with my first (and only!) wife, there was (and is after 20 years) some STRONG attraction.

  19. volfan007 says

    I believe about polygamy the same way as I believe about drinking hooch. It’s not wise. It may not be a sin to take one drink of alcohol, but it’s not wise. And, it may not be a sin to have more than one wife, but it’s not wise. It’s not God’s best way for marriage. It’s not really the way God intended for things to be.

    Instead, God wants us to find our joy in the Holy Spirit, instead of in moonshine, or Jack Daniels, or Bud Lite. And, God wants us to be committed to one woman for life….and not covet after more.

    I just thought I’d throw my 2 cents in…since everyone else was. And, I thought that adding liquor to the argument might get the comment thread to zoom even higher than it is, right now. :)


    • says

      You just had to throw the booze in there didn’t you? You know there is no sin in drinking moderately. You just admitted it in your post. That will get the juices flowing….Perfesser Brumbelow will probably even show up. 😉

    • Tarheel says


      I have found that discussing the wisdom/sinfulness/use of alcohol on SBC voices is unwise! It may not be a sin, but I have found it to be unwise!

      • Tarheel says

        How many comments did we get on that one a while back..VolFan?

        I know Miller’s head was spinning! LOL

  20. says

    Question for all: Did God intend that [heterosexual] marriage itself would be an institution of law, both moral and civil, that is binding and legitimate even when it fails to meet the ideal?

    If we’re going to define marriage according to the intentions of God, then we cannot leave this out.

    • Tarheel says

      So, being that everyone here in this thread has at some point said that polygamy is ‘wrong’…am I correct in deciphering that the dividing line in this ‘debate” is not the sinfulness, or lack thereof, of polygamy – but in whether or not it is rightly identified adultery?

      • John Wylie says


        I think for me I would say that pretty much sums it up, but at the same time I still wonder about that passage in 2 Samuel where God gave David the wives (multiple) of Saul.

        • Tarheel says

          So you agree with Ben’s post save for the point about it being adultery?

          I gotta say, I am evaluating all of these comments and will continue to do so. I have certainly (been stretched) into thinking about this issue in ways I had not before.

          I have always considered polygamy adultery. It just makes sense to me. “One man, One woman, One lifetime”, living and husband and wife and having sex with multiple women seems, well adulterous. ya know?

          Does it meet the definition of adultery, or is there a (to use a phrase used by Ken, I think it was,) “more precise” categorization we should use?

          If so what is term/categorization is that exactly?


          thanks, Ben and fellow commenters!

          • Les Prouty says


            If polygamy is a sin, and I think we all agre it is, which of the 10 commandments is violated?

          • John Wylie says

            Great questions Tarheel and Les,

            I must admit I don’t know how to categorize polygamy. I guess that’s been my point all along. I mean there is every indication in the O.T that these wives were considered legitimate wives, and therefore the children were legitimate. If this is the case this can’t be considered adultery. But what it is I cannot say. Certainly our Lord clarified His position on the matter in His teachings but never spoke to this particular O.T. phenomenon.

          • says


            If a single man marries a woman for selfish reasons, or marries her against the will of his godly parents, what commandment was violated? And if a single believing man is convicted by the Holy Spirit to delay marriage, but is impatient and marries anyway, what commandment is violated?

            Many things relating to marriage may be sin, but only adultery/fornication can be grounds for invalidation—and even then, the offended spouse is not required to divorce but is simply given the option by God. But to call a marriage itself an act of adultery is to deny that it is really marriage, since the two are antithetical.

          • Les Prouty says


            Do you agree that polygamy is sinful?

            If yes, then which commandment. It has to fall under one of them. And going to a reason why a man marries two extra women is not the question. His reason may be rooted in covetousness.

            I’m asking about the act itself. Which and commandment?.

            I contend that it must be the 7th commandment even if there are other commandments broken as well.

          • says


            If a single man marries a single woman, but does so against the will of God for that man, what commandment has he broken?

            On what grounds do you see polygamy as breaking the commandment against adultery? It seems to me that you are begging the question of whether or not polygamous marriage is legitimate marriage, since adultery rules out the legitimacy. Therefore, like Ben, you are asserting that the intended ideal is the very definition. But if adultery invalidates a marriage by definition, then what of the spouse who forgives an adulterous affair? Is their ongoing “marriage” a valid marriage or must they get married again?

            If I must pick a commandment, I would go with the first—idolatry in the way that every selfish choice is idolatry. But God even recognizes the marriages of idolaters. Merely because I man worships Baal does not mean you are free to marry his wife, or that she ought not to remain faithful to him.

          • says


            Are you saying that…in 2014 a professing Christian man unbiblically divorces his believing wife and marries another woman (thereby committing adultery) that his 2nd marriage is not valid and God does not recognize it? Is that what you are saying?

          • says

            Relevant passage that prohibits polygamy and makes it a sin and fits it under the 7th commandment.

            He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

          • says

            That is true it is about marriage. But included in His reply was this:

            “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh.”

            Not “wives”. The “two” shall become one flesh. And of course he hearkened back to creation. Jesus defined the boundaries. Go outside the boundaries set by God and one is in sin.

          • says

            Not necessarily, Les. I’m just saying that marriage is not adultery. If you see a marriage as an act of adultery, then you are not seeing the marriage as legitimate, since no legitimate marriage can be adultery. Adultery is sex outside of legitimate marriage involving someone who is legitimately married to someone else.

          • says

            Ken, I disagree brother. In my example above, and in Paul’s teaching as well, we would not counsel a new believer who entered into his marriage in an adulterous manner (or a believer for that matter) to divorce (a second sin) because he sinned in getting into the adulterously started marriage to start with. Marriage is a creation ordinance and is recognized by God even when entered into sinfully.

          • says

            Ok, Brother Les. I think you’ve found the middle ground: polygamy as legitimate marriage that should not be terminated by divorce, but that has an adulterous beginning.

            That’s worth considering, but I’m not sure Ben would agree with you.

          • says

            I admit that this has stretched me and made me think through this matter like I’ve never before. I appreciate that you have kept coming back to making sure whatever position we take that is is grounded solidly in scripture.

            Someone else opined earlier that this will be at our church doorsteps sooner than later in the West. I agree. Our brothers in Africa have had it and still face this issue every day.

            Thanks Ken. You have helped me today.

          • says

            Thanks to you as well, Les. It takes different sides in order to stretch anything. Thanks to Ben for a well-written article to cause such a good discussion. 145 comments and no rancor yet, so all should be commended.

          • cb scott says


            Hey, my Presbyterian friend, Les Prouty,

            That may be the biggest understatement you have ever made. :-)

            Let’s try Wolf Tongued Lust first and then covetousness. What say ye, brother?

          • Tarheel says

            But, John…

            Aren’t there lots of OT sinful phenomena that Christ never specifically addressed?

          • Tarheel says

            Ken, couldn’t one assert that “marriages” after the first are adulterous affairs…and not marriage at all.

          • says


            That’s the issue. If it is adultery, then it is no marriage, and it should have been penalized with stoning to death in the OT, as well as stigmatizing the children as illegitimate. But when we look to Scripture to determine if it is adultery, we do not find that God refused to recognize these marriages as illegitimate adultery, but that Scripture acknowledges them as marriages and the children as legitimate. No one was stoned. No one was condemned. No one was stigmatized or denied access to the temple or told to repent and divorce the extraneous wives. In face, in the New Testament, polygamy still existed in the culture of the new Church, and no new believer is instructed to divorce extraneous wives already present.

            Should we not use caution about asserting what Scripture does not assert?

          • Tarheel says

            Ken, it is clear that the practice dissipated rather quickly in the New Testament church and became condemned practice…how did that happen?

            If no one, as you contend, was teaching differently, then wouldn’t the practice have continued to be embraced by NT churches and pastors?

            I contend that Paul and his teaching on marriage made singularity the standard.

            You seem really close to saying polygamy is not a sin…for if it were a sin -certainly it would have been taught against by the church fathers and you seem to be contending that did not happen.

            As an aside, I also would point out that Peter only had one mother in law. (I have a great mother in law, but who wants a bunch of them?) 😉

          • says


            “If a single man marries a woman for selfish reasons, or marries her against the will of his godly parents, what commandment was violated?” The 1st commandment at least. 5th commandment.

            “And if a single believing man is convicted by the Holy Spirit to delay marriage, but is impatient and marries anyway, what commandment is violated?” 1st commandment

            “Many things relating to marriage may be sin, but only adultery/fornication can be grounds for invalidation—and even then, the offended spouse is not required to divorce but is simply given the option by God. But to call a marriage itself an act of adultery is to deny that it is really marriage, since the two are antithetical.”

            No, a marriage involving adultery is no less a marriage. i.e. one does not commit adultery, marry that person and then divorce when conviction that it was a sin to do so.

          • says


            Of course, the early Church quickly put an end to polygamy, since as Jesus taught, it was not what God intended when He created Adam and Eve. But I still no not find where they quickly put an end to those marriages that new converts brought with them when they were saved. In other words, no believer should ever choose to marry against God’s ideal and will, but neither should God’s will in making marriage a binding and legitimate institution be disregarded merely because of less than ideal situations. Those who came to the faith with extra wives, in my limited knowledge, kept them; while the Church continued to preach against the practice of marrying more than one wife. Maybe someone with knowledge of the early Church writings on this can illuminate it for us.

          • says


            “no believer should ever choose to marry against God’s ideal and will, but neither should God’s will in making marriage a binding and legitimate institution be disregarded merely because of less than ideal situations. Those who came to the faith with extra wives, in my limited knowledge, kept them; while the Church continued to preach against the practice of marrying more than one wife.”

            I agree and referenced that earlier. Christians in Africa are still facing these real life situations today. If a man with many wives comes to Christ, I don’t think the bible demands that he now divorce all but one. He cannot be an elder, but should remain in the marriages.

  21. says

    Ken and Les,

    Ken said, “Ok, Brother Les. I think you’ve found the middle ground: polygamy as legitimate marriage that should not be terminated by divorce, but that has an adulterous beginning.
    That’s worth considering,…”

    It looks like an elegant solution on the surface. But it does not address the initiation (by God) of the polygamy in Deuteronomy 25:5 and 2 Samuel 12:8.

    With a grin I say: “I note with amusement how often the Word of God casts light on the dark corners of my theology.”

    Where are Bart Barber and David Rogers when you need them?

  22. says

    Ken and Les,

    Ken said, “Ok, Brother Les. I think you’ve found the middle ground: polygamy as legitimate marriage that should not be terminated by divorce, but that has an adulterous beginning.
    That’s worth considering,…”

    It looks like an elegant solution on the surface. But it does not address the initiation (by God) of the polygamy in Deuteronomy 25:5 and 2 Samuel 12:8.

    With a grin I say: “I note with amusement how often the Word of God casts light on the dark corners of my theology.”

    Where are Bart Barber and David Rogers when you need them?

    (Don’t know how I posted this by mistake around comment 137)

    • says


      Those are not easy passages. I’ll have to do some study. Initial thoughts at first glance are:

      “Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8 And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.”

      I’m not seeing the text saying that the giving of the wives necessarily was in the form of marriages. All of what Saul had would have been his, including the women. But certainly I need to study it more.

      “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.”

      Here I don’t see polygamy. But I need to study more.

      Thanks brother.

  23. says

    Under the Old way of doing things by the Old Law and the Old Covenant, God permitted polygamy.
    The Old way is gone, having passed away soon after Jesus ascended.
    Today it is a practice God does not permit for His unmarried children.

    Let us think of that Muslim man in an Islamic country with a few wives who converts to Christianity. Should he divorce all but one?
    What if polygamy is allowed by the courts here in the USA and a polygamist converts?

    This then should be the guideline: No married Christian should seek another spouse, and if one has many spouses and becomes a Christian, let him be faithful to God in his marriages.

  24. Dale Pugh says

    So what are we going to do with marriage between a man and his half-sister, aunt or first cousin? Are we now going to promote levirate marriage? All are “permitted” by God. Levirate marriage is commanded.
    I don’t know about Arkansas, but here in Texas all of the above would be frowned upon–legally AND morally.

    • says

      This is an excellent question about half-cousins. Marrying cousins of various degrees of closeness is perfectly acceptable in a wide range of cultures. What are cross-cultural missionaries to do with this? How do they respond to freshly minted Christians who are planning a marriage in the future?

      I fail to see any sort of biblical prohibition of marrying within a family, though I imagine there are levitical laws that the rest of you can point out to me.

  25. cb scott says

    Ben Simpson,

    This post does bring about the reality of what an impact upon the SBC that blogging has had over the last several years.

    1). Tithing, The Sinner’s Prayer, and Confrontational Evangelism are out.

    2). Using Beverage Alcohol, Polygamy, and Skinny Britches are in.

    Who would have ever “thunk it?” ;^)

        • Jake Barker says

          I googled it, is that the same as women called “girdles” when I was young? Those are supposed to be worn “under” clothing. Do they get worn as top layer clothing these days?

      • cb scott says

        Jake Barker,

        The first time I ever saw a guy wearing them was this past June down in Houston.

        Dave Miller, Tim Rogers, Tim Guthrie, Dwight McKissic, Chris Roberts, and Bob Cleveland all wore them when Jared Moore was elected 2VP of the SBC. Jared had on a pair when he was introduced to the convention as 2VP.

        I think it was some kind of “get out the vote for Jared” campaign for Jared Moore’s election. Frankly, I thought it rather shameful.

        The only guy I know who can wear skinny britches successfully is Marty Duren. He has been wearing the same pair of black skinny britches for years.

        • Christiane Smith says


          ‘skinny britches’ is a term for ‘SPANX’ which is a type of girdle material worn to make WOMEN look thinner . . . it is very expensive and quite uncomfortable by all accounts but the effect is dramatic and many women pay the money and go through the discomfort for the sake of vanity

          I didn’t know that MEN were into wearing SPANX too.
          Apparently, this blog is full of ALL kinds of information. :)

  26. Jim says

    Mr. Simpson,
    When referring to people or organizations that practice polygamy, the terms “Mormons,” “Mormon fundamentalist,” “Mormon dissidents,” etc. are incorrect. The Associated Press Stylebook notes: “The term Mormon is not properly applied to the other … churches that resulted from the split after [Joseph] Smith’s death.”

    Mormons have not practiced polygamy since Oct 6, 1890. The U.S. Congress enacted laws that prohibited plural marriage and they were pronounced constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The LDS Church adheres to the this since this time forward..

    On the scriptural discussion, careful reading of the Old Testament says that the Lord gave certain men more than one wife. That said, there were certainly issues that arose from that as you have explained.

    • Dave Miller says

      I know where you are coming with that one, Dale (and that is NOT a racist place) but you might want to clarify before you get killed.

      • Dale Pugh says

        Okay, I’m NOT advocating racism or slavery or any other foul thing that proceeds from the pit of hell! I happen to think we need to be careful what we claim the Bible DOESN’T call sin before we make pronouncements about it’s inherent worth. (Polygamy, for example.) Arguments from silence are rarely good ones.
        This comment thread has probably gone on long enough. I’m done.

        • John Wylie says

          I guess it would all depend on what your definition of slavery would be…taking people against their will and selling them into slavery was absolutely called sin in the Bible. 1 Timothy 1:9-10

          • Dale Pugh says

            I will make one more comment in response here.

            You’re right, John. “Slave trader” or “kidnapper” is called sin, but there is some debate as to the meaning of andrapodistais. You can Google it, but it may be that the word “men-stealer” is specifically speaking of those who promoted the practice of male prostitution by procuring boys and men for sex trade.

            “Slave holder” is not specifically called a sin. Paul clearly says that slaves are to be subject to their masters. Masters are to treat their slaves with godly character and respect. (Eph. 6:8-9)How one does that while still a slave holder is, in my opinion, problematic. But nowhere is slave holding called “sin”.

            And yet WE do. Everyone on this comment thread would call slave holding a sinful act. My point remains that those who wish to exegete from what the Bible does not say need to take a bit more care in how they approach it.

          • John Wylie says


            I appreciate the response and I am going to surprise you here, although I certainly believe that slavery as it was found in its American form was undoubtedly sin, I’m not so sure that slavery in the Pauline passages was necessarily sinful. For instance, slaves in the Pauline passages obviously earned wages. I mean why would Paul send Onesimus back to Philemon if that was the case? And if it were sinful then why does Paul not say to Christian Masters to set their slaves free?