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What the Bible actually says about polygamy

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Christians who hold to the Bible’s teachings on marriage and sexuality rightly insist that marriage is a heterosexual union and that the Bible strongly condemns homosexual behavior.

Consequently, we reject same-sex “marriage.”

However, when it comes to polygamy, Christians are often less certain about the Bible’s stance.

For instance, in a 2017 interview, the late evangelical televangelist Pat Robertson said that he is “not sure” that “polygamy, as such, is against the Bible.” Even though he didn’t endorse polygamy, he indicated that the Bible does not condemn it.

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Progressives have leveraged the perceived ambiguity in the Bible on this matter to advocate that Christians should not only embrace polygamy but also polyamory. In his book The Gospel of Inclusion (2022), progressive Christian pastor Brandan Robertson writes, “Neither the Hebrew Bible nor the New Testament condemns non-monogamous relationships.” Robertson concludes that he “can see no reason to deem such relationships to be unethical or sinful” (p.95). How should Christians respond to these claims? Is there really no biblical basis for condemning polygamy? Actually, there is. Here are three examples:

1. God designed marriage to be monogamous

To begin with, let’s consider the first married couple in the Bible. Before sin entered the world, God created the institution of marriage. Following his description of the creation of woman from Adam’s side, Moses briefly interrupts the story to give the following command: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). According to Moses, Adam and Eve’s marriage is the model for all subsequent marriages among humans (hence the “therefore”).

This command in Genesis 2:24 is significant because only a monogamous union is in view: Both nouns are in the singular (“a man … and … his wife”). The Septuagint reinforces this point by adding the word “two” to the text: “And those two shall become one flesh.” Significantly, when Jesus cites this verse in Matthew 19:5, he quotes the Septuagint, explicitly defining marriage as being between only two individuals, not three, four, or more. As Jesus says, “they are no longer two but one flesh” (Matthew 19:6). Paul also appeals to this verse as the foundation for his own teachings on marriage (1 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 5:31). Thus, Moses, Jesus, and Paul all uphold monogamy as God’s design for marriage.

2. The Bible directly prohibits polygamy

Contrary to popular assumptions, God’s law directly prohibits polygamy. Leviticus 18:18 states, “You shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness.”

In English, this command could be read as prohibiting only sororal polygyny (a polygamous marriage between a man and two women who are sisters), implying that while a man cannot marry his sister-in-law, polygamy in general is permitted. However, the Hebrew text tells a different story. The Hebrew expression ishah el-achotah, translated as “a woman in addition to her sister,” always conveys the idiomatic sense of “one in addition to another” whenever it appears in the Old Testament. The same is the case with the masculine counterpart of this expression. Thus, if we interpret this expression consistently, then Leviticus 18:18 prohibits polygamy across the board: “You shall not marry a woman in addition to another...”

It is worth noting that the Qumran community also interpreted Leviticus 18:18 as a ban on polygamy generally. Thus, the interpretation proposed here is not some modern innovation but can be found in ancient Jewish commentaries on this verse. In light of the Hebrew text, I think that the Qumran community was on to something.

3. Polygamy violates God’s command to love your neighbor

Another biblical command that demonstrates the sinfulness of polygamy, albeit indirectly, is found in Leviticus 19:18. This verse reads, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Both Jesus and Paul taught that the command to love one’s neighbor is at the heart of genuine obedience to God’s law (Mark 12:28-31; Gal. 5:13-14; Rom. 13:8-10). Love for God and one’s neighbor does not replace the law but is the guiding principle for living out the law (Matt. 22:34-40).

How does the command to love one’s neighbor relate to polygamy? Meta-analysis studies have shown that women and children involved in polygamous families experience poorer mental health outcomes compared to those in monogamous families. According to these studies, polygamy results in negative mental health issues such as extreme neurotic anxiety, depression, paranoid ideation, lower academic achievement, lower self-esteem, and psychoticism.

These findings are unsurprising in light of the Bible’s consistent negative portrayal of polygamous families. Abram’s marriage to Hagar caused severe conflict between Sarai and Hagar (Genesis 16:4-6), as well as between Isaac and Ishmael (Gen. 21:8-11). Jacob’s family also experienced constant strife and rivalry. The same could be said for the families of Elkanah, King David, and Solomon.

As Romans 13:10 states, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” Thus, since polygamy causes immense harm to women and children, engaging in this practice violates God’s command in Leviticus 19:18 to love one’s neighbor.

What about the laws regulating polygamy? Some might argue that the existence of biblical laws regulating polygamy is proof that God endorses the practice (e.g., Deuteronomy 21:15-17). But this is a misunderstanding. There is a difference between laws that reflect God’s perfect will for human conduct and laws given in response to the realities of a fallen world. When sinful humans disregarded God’s will for monogamous marriage (as expressed in Genesis 2:24 and Leviticus 18:18), laws were necessary to manage the consequences.

We can compare the Bible’s laws addressing polygamy to its laws addressing theft. God’s law condemns theft (Exodus 21:15) while also giving instructions for restitution (Exodus 22:1-4). Just as the Bible’s laws on restitution do not indicate that God approves of theft, the laws addressing the consequences of polygamy do not imply that God approves of polygamy.

The Bible affirms monogamy and condemns polygamy in at least these three ways.

Genesis prescribes the principle of monogamy to all marriages. This principle is reinforced in Leviticus 18:18, which directly prohibits polygamy. And considering the harmful effects of polygamy upon women and children, we have also seen that polygamy violates God’s command in Leviticus 19:18 to love one’s neighbor.

David Wilber is an author, Bible teacher, Christian apologist, and joint CEO of Pronomian Publishing LLC. He has written several books and theological articles and has spoken at churches and conferences across the country. David’s articles, teaching videos, and debates are available at

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