Despite its regular appearance in the Old Testament, polygamy is actually condemned in Scripture, according to Sam Emadi, author and senior editor at 9Marks, a church ministry resource organization.
In an essay published at the theology website Desiring God on Tuesday titled, “Why Did God Allow Polygamy?,” Emadi wrote: “Among Israel’s patriarchs and kings, polygamy and concubinage seem almost a matter of course. More than that, some Old Testament passages appear not only to describe these practices but to sanction them.”
“Christians need to understand how Scripture advances the normativity of monogamy and how that squares with the many polygamous saints found in the pages of the Old Testament.”
Emadi wrote that when the Bible speaks of the polygamous relationships of various Old Testament figures, it is simply describing the relationships and not endorsing them.
“Recording an action — even an action of an otherwise upstanding ‘hero’ of the biblical narrative — is not in itself a commendation of that action,” he wrote.
“Few characters in Scripture emerge as heroically as the apostles, but no one suggests the Gospel writers want us to imitate Peter’s denial of Jesus.”
Emadi pointed to Genesis 2:24 (“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh”) as an example of marriage being described as monogamous, and cited other scripture passages that condemned the inclusion of other romantic partners.
“Jesus, as we have seen, affirms the goodness of God’s design for monogamy in Mark 10. Similarly, the church’s elders, whose lives should serve as examples of faithfulness for all Christians (1 Peter 5:3), must be one-woman men (1 Timothy 3:2),” Emadi added.
“The reason Scripture records so many instances of polygamy and concubinage is not to endorse these actions, but to condemn them and show just how destructive such sexual perversity proved to be.”
Emadi noted examples of rivalry and brokenness within the polygamous relationships described in detail in the Old Testament as evidence that the Bible was warning against the practice.
“Whereas explicit commands in Scripture teach the people of God that polygamy is wrong, the stories show it to be ugly — a hideous perversion of one of God’s greatest gifts,” he concluded.
Emadi joins others, among them Old Testament professor Peter Gentry of Phoenix Seminary, in explaining that the Old Testament does not endorse the practice of polygamy.
“When you read the Bible, the Bible is not promoting polygamy. It's showing us that only royal figures had many wives,” said Gentry in a 2019 video for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's YouTube channel.
“It's also showing us that this is not ideal, that this caused all kinds of difficulty and hardship and trouble and the fighting among the wives. And it's not a satisfactory relationship.”
Kenneth Reid, a writer for the ministry LightWorkers, penned a column posted by The Christian Post in 2020 likewise addressing polygamy, telling readers that they should not “confuse God’s permissive will with God’s perfect will.”
“It’s important to remember that the examples of polygamy we read in Scripture are ‘biblical narrative.’ In biblical narrative, the authors rarely offer commentary on what they write. Instead, they tell the story as it happened,” wrote Reid.
“The Bible lays out a clear standard for marriage in Genesis, chapter two. Then in subsequent passages, it tells stories of people who fell short of those standards. Just because God didn’t strike them down doesn’t mean He condoned their actions …”