The Great Polygyny Debate

For a while now, a discussion has been taking place at the Roundtable of the Fellowship Hall. The topic is one which is controversial & even offensive: polygyny, the practice of a husband having more than one wife concurrently.

The wisdom of God as found in the Scriptures is more precious than gold, and because marriage is so absolutely foundational to society it is pertinent to understand “what saith the Lord” regarding it. That requires being able to draw truth from the Scriptures without inputting opinions or traditions back into the Scriptures. That isn’t always an easy thing to do, particularly when we’re so convinced that our beliefs are right. Pride can harden a heart pretty thoroughly.

I had my pride broken a while ago regarding the issue of polygyny. On the basis of sola Scriptura, I’ve seen every monogamy-only argument soundly defeated by pro-polygynists (who are not necessarily polygynists themselves, mind you). Check it out for yourself if you have a few minutes.

In my experience in the debate, I have found it much easier to play devil’s advocate, arguing for polygyny and against my own position of monogamy-onlyism. Often, I would do this to keep the discussion rolling. At other times — and in the mutual interest in Truth — I had no choice but to point out obvious errors in monogamy-only argumentation.

Concerning my position, however, I have seemingly left myself without a leg to stand on. I define marriage as a union of one man & one woman not because I have a laundry list of biblical verses to support my position, but because it’s simply what I choose to believe, what I feel is right.

I realize that violates sola Scriptura. Yet I hold out hope that somewhere someone has a sound defense of monogamy-onlyism. I’ve mentioned that on the Fellowship Hall in the course of the discussions before, but I’m sharing it here with my fingers crossed that someone reading this might be wise enough in the Scriptures to help me out.

I should make clear why this discussion is important to me. As I stated earlier, the wisdom of God is more precious than gold, and marriage is the foundation of society. Logically, God’s view of marriage must be vitally important and so it should be sought for by Christians hoping to further know the mind of God.

That is why this topic interests me, nothing more. I’ve no interest in having multiple wives.

We need to be as the Bereans were, diligently examining the Scriptures to see whether what we are taught and what we believe is so. Is the monogamy-only position scriptural? Or is polygyny permissible? And if it is, what then? Do we sweep it under the rug, hiding it from our “enlightened” society who might cry “sexist!”? Or do we proclaim it just as we would any other biblical truth, just as we do the sanctity of monogamous marriages?

Your comments on this issue are more than welcome. I may not get around to replying to all comments, but go on ahead and let your understanding of the Scriptures be voiced.

I’ll likely examine the issue further here — providing more that you may comment on. The bottom line is, if monogamy-onlyism is merely a tradition of men which condemns something which God has actually permitted, then I don’t want to be guilty of believing in it. Likewise, I want all the feedback I can get — and hopefully some good monogamy-only arguments — because I also don’t want to be guilty of accepting polygyny if God has actually condemned or otherwise forbidden it.

5 Replies to “The Great Polygyny Debate”

  1. Back when you were about to be married and going through pre-marital counseling, you posted much of what was covered in the sessions. Lots of material about how a husband and wife should treat each other.

    The question is, how much of that material has scriptural support?

    The next question is, how much of that material is compatible with multiple wives?

    You may find an implied monogamy endorsement.

  2. As I recall it, I posted the list of “ways a husband may show love to his wife” without any pretenses of it being “biblical truth derived by exegetical study.” They were merely suggestions based upon the biblical command for husband to love their wives. (The command is reciprocated as well, and we have a list here also of ways a wife may express love to her husband.)

    They may be a lot of good ideas, but there wasn’t much authority behind it.

    I fail to see how any would preclude a polygynous relationship as well.

    In fact, one of the strongest arguments for polygyny that I have ever seen is that of Exodus 21:10, which states that if a man takes unto himself another wife, he is not to diminish the food, raiment, or “duty of marriage” (or “conjugal rights”) of the first wife.

    Romans 7:7 establishes that without the Law, there is no sin, yet the Law never once condemns polygyny. Indeed, a mere 22 verses after the Seventh Commandment (“Thou shalt not commit adultery”), the Law allows polygyny in giving conditions which must be meant.

  3. Interesting discussion…

    Indeed we see many biblical people that had multiple wives (Abraham, Jacob, etc) and the bible does not report God disapproving this. However, Abraham was also married to his half-sister Sarah, while later God clearly prohibited this (Leviticus 18:9-11). So these instances do not apply if we find a later prohibit.

    I think we can bring up some verses that at least suggest that one should have one wife.

    First, we have Genesis 2:24 which says a man and his wife become one flesh. But then you cannot be also one flesh with another woman, because the women would not be one flesh. Of course I assume here that this “one flesh” is a permanent thing. pro-polygamists could interpret it as a temporary thing. Still, I think in first reading the text suggests monogamy.

    In the New Testament we find however 3 places where the requirements of important people in the churches are laid out. (I Timothy 3:2, 3:12, and Titus 1:6). It clearly states they should have only one wife. Haven’t we all got an important place in the church? Shouldn’t we all have but one wife?

    Furthermore there are many instances where the bible speaks of “his wife” “her husband” in a prescriptive context (letters of Paul), which suggests one should have only one wife. Wouldn’t Paul have said “his wives” in that case?

    Now we get to the thing Jesus said. E.g. Luke 16:18, where he clearly says that a man who divorces his wife and marries someone else is committing adultery. Ah, some might say, but if you do not divorce her all is well… Don’t they see that they are stretching it??

    About Exodus 21:10. The law gives direction for when someone already has a second wife. It doesn’t condone it. The next verse makes this clear. 21:11 is about the complete freedom of the wife when the husband does not do his duty, but that doesn’t mean the husband was justified in this!

    While the bible never says: “Thou shalt not have multiple wives”. Many texts either logically imply it or at least suggest it.

    In Christ,

    Roel Meeuws

  4. Roel, thank you for your reply. I will hopefully respond in detail later. I’m rather pressed for time at the moment. I will, however, point out that at least some of what you said has been addressed by Hugh McBryde on the Fellowship Hall, and I’d be interested in how you would respond to him. (Again, my whole point in posting the above post here is to get feedback from people who disagree with the polygyny advocates).

    You’re also welcome to register on the Hall and take part in that discussion to see if it can progress any further.

    God bless.

  5. I KNOW that i know that God is right in all He says. Man doesn’t need to make it “better”. I also know that man has his
    so called “standards”, doctrines, which he may think it’s God’s Word but it isn’t.

    For instance, it is not the Law of God that marriages should be conducted by the priest/church. Biblically, it is purely a domestic affair. But man has it that it has to be in Church, and by a priest.. kinda it looks more “spiritual”. No Scripture to support this but man already feels the urge to modify God’s Law. No wonder the State intervened to support man’d idea, and now man wants same-sex marriage.. IN CHURCH BY THE PRIEST!

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