The difference we have in the Bible is a difference between what is descriptive and what is prescriptive. What the Bible does is demonstrates the consequences that follow inextricably like night follows day, when someone does something that is outside the will of the Lord. You certainly see that in the most graphic of terms with David’s son Solomon. You see that in the end Solomon’s many wives and concubines turned his eyes away from the Lord, and so he died really in a miserable condition when you think about it, he was building pagan shrines and altars to pagan gods for his pagan wives.
So the edict is clear, Deuteronomy 17:17, memorable because of its address, the king “shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away.”1 If this was true for the kings, how much more was it true for the people! But polygamy was practiced in spite of God’s warnings; in spite of the prescriptions that you find in Scripture. Genesis 2:24 is a classic case in point: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” In the New Testament, Matthew 19:4-6: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 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?’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” But it doesn’t end there. There are so many other passages that make clear the very point: A wife must not separate from her husband. It’s never plural—not husbands. 1 Timothy 3:2 points out that “an overseer must be…the husband of one wife”—not multiple wives.
I think the principle is very clear in Scripture, but the Bible doesn’t airbrush anything. It presents people with all their proclivities, with all their warts, moles, and wrinkles. But thank God! God accepts us not because we’re righteous but because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
For further study, please see Does the Bible Promote Polygamy? by Hank Hanegraaff.
Another article to consider is “Condemnation and Grace: Polygamy and Concubinage in the Old Testament” by Richard M. Davidson, from Christian Research Journal, Volume 38, Number 05 (2015). Copies of this issue are available through the CRI bookstore. To order online, click here or call 1-888-700-0274.
This blog adapted from “Why weren’t the kings in the Old Testament considered adulterers because of their many wives?”
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001) used throughout.