God officiated the first marriage by creating one woman for Adam, and in establishing marriage He stated that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). And the nearly balanced birth ratio of boys and girls provides evidence that God designed human beings for monogamy. However, the Bible has many references, negative, neutral, and even positive, to polygamy. Why then do Christians stand almost unanimously against a man simultaneously having two or more wives?
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New Testament: No known New Testament believer lived in polygamy and a careful look at Scripture indicates directly that, by New Testament times, polygamy was not considered acceptable moral behavior. How so? The standard of monogamy for bishops, elders, and deacons in the epistles of Timothy and Titus apply to all Christians. The primary difference between church members and church leaders is that, in order to be appointed a leader and maintain that office in good standing, a church leader must actually live the Christian life. The prohibition of polygamy in the New Testament for church leaders does not present a “higher” standard of holiness for bishops, for there is only one standard of holiness: being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. As presented in the epistles, holiness includes sober living and self-control. Are these behaviors only recommended for pastors, whereas other church members are permitted to drunken outbursts of anger? No. When the biblical standards for elders require leading an orderly household, does that mean that God is okay with others having disorderly households with disrespectful children, a miserable wife, and unpaid bills? The epistles require also that a church leader be the husband of one wife. Literally that Greek phrase translates as a one-woman man, which idiom for monogamy also presents a general condemnation of promiscuity; otherwise, the biblical qualifications would have been remiss in not addressing general sexual immorality, which they do by way of this dual-purpose expression. An elder must be a one-woman man, that is, not a polygamist, not an adulterer, not a womanizer. Similarly, in the Mosaic Law, there is not a higher standard of holiness for priests, although God does impose upon them various symbolic ordinances to point forward to the great high priest, Jesus Christ.
Just like the standards for bishops and deacons, the levitical priesthood could not require a higher standard of holiness because the only valid standard of holiness, for all believers, is God Himself. There can be no standard higher than Him. Three times Luke refers to Him as the Highest. What then of the qualifications for the priesthood? The Bible student can easily identify the symbolism in the priestly regulations of Leviticus 21, and realizes that they do not infer something that does not and cannot exist, namely, a higher standard of righteousness:
|No blind priests||In Jesus the blind see (John 9:7)|
|No lame priests||In Jesus the lame walk (John 5:9)|
|Do not tear clothes||Jesus’ robe is not torn (John 19:24)|
|No broken hands/feet||Jesus’ bones were not broken (Ps. 34:20; 22:17; John 19:33)
though his hands and feet were pierced (Ps. 22:16)
|Do not marry a harlot||Don’t join Christ to a harlot (1 Cor. 6:15)|
|No divorcees/widows||Christ’s Bride is a virgin (Mat. 25:1)|
|No eunuchs||Christians should multiply (Mat. 28:19; 13:23)|
|Defective eye||Jesus gives eye salve (Rev. 3:18)|
|Covered head||Jesus is the head (1 Cor. 11:3)|
|Always in the sanctuary||Jesus ever lives to make intercession (Heb. 7:24-25)|
|Do not touch the dead||Jesus frees from death, and the sting of sin is death (1 Cor. 15)|
The qualifications and regulations for priests do not imply a higher standard of righteousness, for there is no such thing. Therefore also, because there can be no higher standard of righteousness for church leaders, the New Testament’s prohibition for polygamy among church leaders applies also to all believers: thus traditional Christian teaching opposes thievery, murder, polygamy, drunkenness, etc.
Old Testament: Polygamy was widespread among God’s people, including the great patriarchs of the faith. After the Fall, the paradise faded and sin and its consequences pervaded all aspects of the human experience, from marriage and child raising to commerce, and so on. God responded, for example, by permitting child discipline including spanking, which would not have been so from the beginning. He instituted and regulated criminal justice including restitution, flogging and the death penalty. In family law God regulated divorce (Ezra 10:3; Deut. 24:1; Mat. 5:32; etc.). These consequences of the Fall were not so from the beginning (Mat. 19:8), that is, they do not reflect God’s original design for innocent mankind. As Jesus said, God permitted divorce, “for sexual immorality” (Mat. 5:32; 19:9; etc.) which includes abandonment (1 Cor. 7:4, 15, 9, 27-28; Ex. 21:10-11) for the marriage covenant is destroyed by sexual immorality which includes abandonment.
Thus God regulated behaviors that He had not originally designed: spanking, death penalty, polygamy, slavery, etc. (See this author’s article on Slavery in the Bible.) But why would God permit polygamy in Old Testament times? After the global Flood, the earth was such a hostile and lawless place that women simply could not survive on their own. A woman effectively had only four options:
1. live in her father’s house
2. live in her husband’s house
3. live as a slave
4. live as a harlot
Outside of living in one of these options, a woman faced only death. God permitted polygamy and concubinage, which is an expansion of option two above, out of mercy to women and because of the great desire He put within them to raise children. As in Scripture (and implied by scant secular archaeological extra-biblical references), in the centuries after the Flood life expectancies plummeted. (Incidentally, plummeting life expectancies explain why Egypt’s Pharaohs spent their lives and their massive wealth building pyramid tombs while obsessing about their deaths, and they thereby set a precedent which other emperors later mimicked to show their grandeur.) Postdiluvian fathers died younger and younger, and the ruins of ancient walled cities still testify how commonplace was the mass killing of men from plundered villages. Yet a woman simply needed a man to survive. Thus Scripture never permited polyandry, whereby a woman would have multiple husbands. However out of mercy toward women, God regulated polygamy. By the time of the New Testament, mankind had progressed sufficiently that even though a woman would still have a hard time surviving on her own, she could be supported by the infrastructure around her, not governmental though, as with Nimrod and Marx, but by her extended family, fellow church members, friends and neighbors.
By Pastor Bob Enyart
Denver Bible Church & KGOV.com
Notes: Polygamy is not known to be practiced by New Testament believers but by Old Testament beleivers and others including Lamech, Abraham, Esau, Jacob, Ashur, Gideon, Elkanah, David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Jehoram, Joash (Jehoiada), Ahab, Jehoiachin, Belshazzar, and Ahasuerus. The Mosaic Law specifically permitted polygamy at Exodus 21:10, Leviticus 19:20 and Deuteronomy 21:15-17. See also this author’s article on Slavery in the Bible and Pastor Enyart’s debate with a well-known Mormon polygamist Leland Freeborn. The reader may also be interested in Enyart’s interview with Newsweek’s Lisa Miller, rebutting her cover story about homosexual marriage during which Bob caught her red-handed, having intentionally misrepresented the Bible when instead of quoting Scripture directly, Ms. Miller quoted a secondary source that she knew to be incorrect.
Biographical Sketch: Bob Enyart pastors Denver Bible Church. Bob first had a technical career working: at McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Company on the Army’s Apache helicopter; as a systems analyst for “Baby Bell” US West; as a program manager for Microsoft; and writing as a senior technical analyst for Ziff-Davis’ industry stanndard PC Week. Bob became a believer in 1973, entered full-time Christian work in 1989, and in 1991 began hosting a daily talk show on America’s most powerful Christian radio station, the 50,000-watt AM 670 KLTT. In 1999, the elders and pastor of Denver’s Derby Bible Church ordained Bob into the ministry. In 2000, Derby planted Denver Bible Church with Bob as pastor.