The polygamy issue is both complex and controversial. Since there are plenty of good arguments on each side, Christianity has reached a stalemate regarding whether or not polygamy is a sin. Even giants of the faith have been divided on this issue. Luther and Calvin, for example, took opposite views. Sincere Christians today are still divided.
Why Is Christianity Divided On Polygamy?
There are several reasons why Christianity has been divided on this controversial topic.
First, nowhere in the Bible does God clearly and explicitely state whether or not He prohibits polygamy. Even theologians on the anti-polygamy side admit this. Therefore, when making their case, those on each side of this issue use implications from Scripture that seem to support their side. Here are two prime examples:
PRO: God never criticised the patriarches for having multiple wives. Therefore, God approves of polygamy.
CON: God created Adam and Eve. He did not create Adam, Eve, and Betty. Therefore, God disapproves of polygamy.
Second, this is a complex issue and nobody is infallible; not even the giants of the faith.
Third, everyone has biases. Few people approach Scripture without some built-in pre-suppositions.
But there's also a fourth reason why anti-polygamists cling to their position with tooth and nails. Beyond the interpretation of complex biblical passages, there are also complex ethical ramifications which could have a major impact on both Christianity and society as a whole. This is why many are reluctant to surrender to the position that polygamy just might be an ethical option.
America is a melting pot of various cultures. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that various groups are pushing to make polygamy both ethical and legal within the United States. Truly, polygamy is a hot potato!
Why Is Polygamy Such A Hot Potato?
So why is the polygamy issue such a hot potato? The reason is both simple and complex. If we affirm that polygamy is not a sin, it opens wide a torrential floodgate to other complex and thorny ethical concerns. For example:
1. If polygamy is an ethical option, then is polyandry (the practice or condition of a woman having more than one husband at one time) also an ethical option?
2. If polygamy is an ethical option, are alternative lifestyles, such as swinging and polyamory, also ethical options?
The pro-polygamy camp argues that one reason why God allowed polygamy is to fulfill his mandate to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:22). Having many wives allowed the patriarchs to have more children. But another purpose for sex is found in Genesis 2:24. Sexual intercourse causes a man and woman to become one flesh. Some argue that this means becoming unified in mind, body, and spirit. Isn't becoming one flesh just as important as making babies?
A further question arises. Does God only intend for one man to become one flesh with one woman? Or does God intend for all of humanity to become one flesh?
And let's not forget about the pleasure principle. In biblical times, it was difficult to separate sex for reproduction from sex simply for pleasure. Coitus interuptus was the only means available. Today, we have the pill, condoms, and many other techniques that are relatively safe and easy to use.
In other words, if God made sex for pleasure, and if God allows men to have multiple sex partners for the purpose of procreation, wouldn't God also allow men (and perhaps even women) to have multiple sex partners for the purpose of simply enjoying pleasure?
Most modern books on sexual ethics written from a Christian perspective do not even address the polygamy quagmire. It's no wonder, since they begin with the premise that all sexual activity outside of a monogamous heterosexual marriage is sinful. Those books that do address the polygamy issue usually point out that the Bible does not specifically prohibit the practice, but that polygamists like Jacob and Solomon had problems that could have been avoided had they chosen monogamy.
Is The Polygamy Issue Relevant Today?
One might question whether or not the matter of polygamy is even relevant in today's society. After all, polygamy is now illegal in the United States and many other parts of the world. Why should we even care?
How Does The Polygamy Issue Affect Missions?
One practical application of the polygamy issue relates to the preaching of the gospel in foreign missions where polygamy is practiced. To find out why, CLICK HERE.
What Are The Top Six Positions Held On Polygamy?
Although there are many opinions regarding polygamy, I believe everyone falls under one of the following six categories:
1. Polygamy has always been sinful.
2. Polygamy was permitted in the Old Testament but is now sinful under the new covenant.
3. Polygamy is not sinful, but is unwise as it is not God's ideal of one man and one woman for life.
4. Polygamy has always been allowed by God, just like celibacy and monogamy.
5. Polygamy is the Bible's preferred form of marriage.
6. The position of no position.
People who fall under this category either don't know and don't care about the polygamy issue; or, they realize the complexity of the issue and are big enough to admit they haven't reached a conclusion.
What Do Surveys Say About Polygamy?
A survey was conducted to determine which of these six categories people fell under. To see the results of that survey, CLICK HERE.
What Positions Have Various Theologians Held On Polygamy?
Various theologians, both past and present, have held various positions. Here are a few examples:
Q: What Did Augustine Say About Polygamy?
A: Augustine (November 13, 354 – August 28, 430), a.k.a. Aurelius Augustinus, Augustine of Hippo, or Saint Augustine, was a philosopher and theologian, and was bishop of the North African city of Hippo Regius for the last third of his life. Augustine is one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity, and is considered to be one of the church fathers.
Augustine believed that the Bible allowed for polygamy, but only for the purpose of procreation and only if the law of the land allowed it. Augustine did not believe the Old Testament patriarchs were sinning by having multiple wives. To discover more about what Augustine said, CLICK HERE.
Q: What Did Thomas Aquinas Say About Polygamy?
A: Saint Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225 – March 7, 1274) was a renowned Roman Catholic priest, a theologian and philosopher. Aquinas commented in his Sentences that, under certain circumstances, polygamy was reasonable and was not inconsistent with the primary purpose of marriage. To discover more about what Aquinas said, CLICK HERE.
Q: What Did Luther Say About Polygamy?
A: Martin Luther (November 10, 1483 – February 18, 1546), the German theologian and church reformer, is considered to be the founder of Protestantism. Luther said polygamy is sometimes permissible. To discover more about what Luther had to say, CLICK HERE.
Q: What Did John Calvin Say About Polygamy?
A: John Calvin (July 10, 1509– May 27, 1564) was a famous French Protestant theologian during the Protestant Reformation and was a central developer of the system of Christian theology called Calvinism or Reformed theology. Unlike Luther, Calvin believed the Jews were violating God's original design by engaging in polygamy. To discover more about what Calvin said, CLICK HERE.
In summary, Luther, Augustine, and Aquinas, three giants of the faith, believed that the Bible allows for polygamy if the customs of the time allows for polygamy. Therefore, all three men would say that polygamy is not forbidden in Scripture, but it may not be the ideal and should not be practiced in cultures where the law forbids it. Calvin, on the other hand, believed that polygamy was intrinsically evil.
Now let's consider what a few modern theologians think of polygamy.
Q: What Did Billy Graham Say About Polygamy?
A: Prominent evangelist Billy Graham said, "Christianity cannot compromise on the question of polygamy." To discover more about what Dr. Graham said, CLICK HERE.
Q: What Did John MacArthur Say About Polygamy?
A: John MacArthur is pastor of Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, and is heard daily on the Grace To You radio broadcast. MacArthur believes that polygamy always was a sin. According to MacArthur, even David and Abraham sinned by having many wives. To discover more of what John MacArthur thinks about polygamy, CLICK HERE.
Q: What Did R.C. Sproul Say About Polygamy?
A: R.C. Sproul, founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, believes polygamy is a disregard of God's design for marriage. To discover more of what Sproul thinks about this subject, CLICK HERE.
Q: What Did John G. Reisinger Say About Polygamy?
A: In An Open Letter to R.C. Sproul, Christian author John G. Reisinger responds to Sproul's position by stating, "Under the Law of God given to Moses, polygamy was not considered adultery." To discover more of what Reisinger thinks about polygamy, CLICK HERE.
So there you have it; giants of the faith, like Augustine, Luther, Aquinas, and Calvin were divided. And so are many modern Bible teachers. However, truth should not be determined by counting noses. If it were, I guess we should throw in the towel and concede that polygamy is a sin. But many sincere Christians are divided, including many who have devoted their entire lives to the study of Scripture. That should at least tell us that this issue is far from being black and white.
Although there are certainly Scriptures that imply that polygamy might be less than the total ideal, there is nothing in The Old Testament or The New Testament that conclusively settles the matter once and for all. If there were, there would certainly not be such a widespread diversity of opinions among so many sincere and intelligent Christians. Therefore, I will attempt to present the best arguments on all sides of this issue. It's up to my readers to come to their own conclusions. Regardless of what your present position is, it's good to understand and consider the arguments on the other side.
The "Polygamy Has Always Been Sinful" Argument
The opinion that "polygamy has always been sinful" seems to be the most widespread position held among Christians today. This is evident from the results of the aforementioned survey, where 37 percent of those surveyed took this stance. However, 37 percent is only a little over a third, which should be a red flag signaling that this matter is not totally clear in Scripture and thereby warrants further investigation. The"Polygamy Has Always Been Sinful" argument goes something like this: (CLICK HERE)
The "Polygamy Is Not Sinful" Argument
To read rebuttals to common objections to polygamy and to discover why many believe polygamy is not sinful, CLICK HERE.
Q: Was Polygamy A Sin In The Old Testament?
A: There are numerous pros and cons to this question. Suffice it to say, there are no scriptures that say explicitely, "Polygamy was a sin in the Old Testament." However, there are passages used to imply that God disapproved of polygamy in the Old Testament. For more details, CLICK HERE.
Q: Was Polygamy A Sin In The New Testament?
A: There are numerous pros and cons to this question. Suffice it to say, there are no scriptures that say explicitely, "Polygamy is a sin in the New Testament." However, there are passages used to imply that God disapproves of polygamy in the New Testament. For more details, CLICK HERE .
Q: Was Moses A Polygamist?
A: Some might be surprised to learn that Moses may have been a polygamist. CLICK HERE for the details.
Q: Did God Disapprove of David's Polygamy?
A: CLICK HERE for the details.
Q: Why Did God Allow Polygamy?
A: CLICK HERE for the details.
Q: Is Polygamy Unwise?
A: CLICK HERE for more details.
Q: Is Polygamy The Preferred Form Of Marriage?
A: CLICK HERE for more details.
Q: Is Polyandry A Sin?
A: Polyandry is the practice of one woman having more than one husband. Although this practice was rare in antiquity, it has sprung up from time to time in cultures where men outnumber women. Although the Bible includes numerous examples of men having multiple wives, nowhere in the Bible do we find an example of polyandry. Because of this, many, even those who allow for polygamy, have concluded that polyandry is a sin today. Is it permissable for a woman to have more than one husband? What did Aquinas say about polyandry? To discover more, CLICK HERE.
Q: Is Polygamy A Mormon/ Islamic Heresy?
A: CLICK HERE.
Q: Would God Portray Himself As A Polygamist If Polygamy Is A Sin?
A: It may suprise some people that God portrays Himself as a polygamist in the Bible. For the details, CLICK HERE.
Q: Was Levirate Marriage Only For Single Men?
Levirate marriage was a biblical custom described in Deuteronomy 25:5–10. If a married man in Old Testament Israel died, leaving behind a childless widow, the brother of the deceased was required by biblical law to marry his dead brother's widow. The purpose was to hopefully produce offspring that would become heirs to the wealth of the deceased.
The question I wish to focus on, as it relates to the issue of polygamy, is whether or not levirate marriage was limited to single men. In other words, if the brother of the deceased was already married, was he still required to take his brother's widow as a second wife? Was it even allowed?
A: CLICK HERE.
All comments are welcomed and appreciated, as long as those comments are thoughtful, constructive, and reflect a Christian perspective. Please, no profanity. And be respectful of others. The comment button is located near the bottom of this page. Keeping all of this in mind, let the Christian sex talk begin!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction - SEX: What's Right? What's Wrong? and Why?
Is Polygamy A Sin? (this page)
Was Levirate Marriage Only For Single Men?
What Was The Sin Of Adam And Eve?
Does The Bible Condone Nudism?
How should a Christian make an ethical decision?
Is sex outside of marriage always a sin?
Was marriage instituted before or after the fall?
What are the ethical implications of reproductive sex?
What does it mean to be married?
What kind of love should married couples have for each other?
Is there sex in Heaven?
What is fornication and why is it wrong?
What is adultery and why is it wrong?
How far is too far?
What does it mean to look at a woman with lust in your heart?
Are we naturally monogamous?
Are women really from Venus? Are men really from Mars? If so, what are the ethical implications?
Is "Safe(r) Sex" safe enough?
Ethical implications of condoms and the pill.
Are alternative lifestyles, such as swinging and polyamory, always a sin?