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Does Bible allow polygamy?

Today we have such an interesting question: the polygamy in Old Testament times. The God created a man (Adam) and an assistant, his wife (Eva). But who established the polygamy?

The answer can be the following: the question of polygamy is an interesting one, as most people today view polygamy as immoral while the Bible nowhere concretely condemns it. The first example of polygamy or bigamy in the Scriptures is Lamech in the chapter of Genesis 4:19: «Lamech took two wives for himself». Several prominent men in the Old Testament had plenty of wives. Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, and others, they all had plenty of wives. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (essentially, they were wives of a lower status).

The Biblical teaching of marriage clearly implies monogamy. Adam was created by God, and then God said: it’s not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper, which would comply with him. (Gen. 2:18). The marriage of our first progenitors in the plan of the Creator was supposed to be a rule of creation of life’s most important Union for all future generations. Therefore the man should leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife; and they shall be one flesh (Gen. 2:24).

The first was Lamech, who violated the Divine institution of marriage: And Lamech took two wives (Gen. 4:19). The sacred writer represents this nearest descendant of Cain is arrogant and cruel. It was a clear abuse, contrary to the divine will.

Later, when the promise was given to Abraham (I will make your seed as the dust of the earth; Life.13:16), is often found the polygamy in Old Testament history, but it is only God's allowance. So the elderly Sarah, who survives hard due to her infertility, said to Abraham: the God didn’t give me an opportunity to have a baby, so I can’t bore children; so go to my maid: it may be that I will have children by her. And Abram obeyed to the supplication of Sarah (Gen. 16:2).

The Patriarch Jacob had twelve sons from two wives and two maids. This story is known in detail. During seven years Jacob had been working for his uncle Laban to marry with girl, who he loved. Her name was Rachel. He didn’t think of polygamy, and he just wanted to obey the instruction of his father Isaac. His father said him: “Arise, go to Mesopotamia, to the house of Bathuel, the father of your mother, and take a wife from there of the daughters of Laban, your mother's brother (Gen. 28:2).

But Laban deceived him and gave him Leah instead of Rachel, about what he knew in the morning. As for maid Bilhah, who bore Dan and Nephthalim which was the desire of Rachel, because she grieved of her infertility: here is my maid Bilhah; go to her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her (Gen. 30:3

It is impossible to ignore the fact that this struggle for the multiply of offspring, as in the case of Abraham and in the history of Jacob, which led to the departure from monogamy, was paid a big price – a disturbance of the peace and disorder in families. Hagar after the birth of Ishmael began to despise her mistress (Gen. 16:4). Sarah kicked her, and she almost died in the desert with the child. Between sisters Rachel and Leah flared up the envy, and began a rivalry. After the birth of Naphtali Rachel said, that she had a struggle with her sister, and that she had overcame her. (Gen. 30:8). Also there is a narration of the mother Anna of the great prophet Samuel in Bible. Her husband Elkanah had another wife, which hurt Anna: she provoked her, therefore she cried and did not eat (1 Sam.1:7)

From this we can see that in the Bible there is no legalization of polygamy, but, on the contrary, it is shown that this leads to loss of peace in the relationship.

Some Jewish kings had many wives, but Scripture doesn’t endorse it, because it was contrary to the law. The prophet Moses speaks about the future king: don’t have multiply wives, because your heart can be corrupted. (Deut.17:17). It is known that among the sins of Solomon there also was polygamy.

The Bible speaks of monogamous marriage as the only possible morally form of marriage: your Source is blessed, and take comfort with your wife (Prov.5:18); Who found a [good] wife, he has found a benefit and blessing, and he also obtains favor from the God (Prov.18:23).

According to biblical teaching, especially love for his only one wife can give the man the earthly joy and brighten up the heaviness of life: “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which God has given you under the sun for all your days of vanity”.

The prophets used the image of marriage to denote the relationship between God and His people. They thought only one form – the monogamy. So if we are talking about the election of one nation and about promises, that were given by God towards this people, so the husband should have only one wife – a wife of youth.

In the Holy Bible the doctrine of marriage raised at the special spiritual height. The redeeming love of Jesus Christ to the Church is the way and live rule that the married couple must follow.

So, how do we deal with these examples of polygamy in the Old Testament? We should answer three questions: 1) why did God allow polygamy in the Old Testament? 2) how does God view polygamy today? 3) what are the changes?

  1. Why did God allow polygamy in the old Testament?

The Bible does not specifically say why God allowed polygamy. Reflecting on God's silence, you must consider several key factors. First, the world has always had more women than men. The current statistics shows that approximately 50.5% of the world population are women. Assuming that a similar correlation occurred in ancient times, so there were tens of thousands women more than men. Second, there were a lot of wars in the ancient times, they were especially brutal and cruel, with an extremely high mortality rate. This led to the fact that the ratio outweighed in favor of number of women. Thirdly, due to Patriarchal societies, a single woman was almost impossible to provide for herself. Women were often uneducated and untrained for independent life. They relied on their fathers, brothers and husbands for provision and protection. The unmarried women were often subjected to prostitution and slavery. There were significant differences between women and men, which have left many women at a disadvantage.

So, it seems that God could have allowed polygamy to protect and provide for women who could not find a husband otherwise. A man would take multiple wives and serve them as the provider and protector of all of them. Although, of course, this phenomenon was not ideal, but life in a polygamous family was much better than the alternatives that existed at that time: prostitution, slavery or famine. In addition to the factors of security / protection, the polygamy led to a more rapid spread of humanity, responding to the divine instructions: "Be fruitful and populate the earth" (Genesis 9:7). Men can impregnate many women in the same period, leading to the fact that humanity has grown much faster than if each man gave birth to only one child once a year.

  1. How does God view polygamy today?

Even while allowing polygamy, the Bible presents monogamy most closely corresponding to the divine ideal for marriage. The Bible says that God's original intention was that one man was married to one woman: "That is why a man leaves his father and mother, then join to his wife, and becomes one flesh with her " (Genesis 2:24). Although the text probably describes what marriage is, not how many people are involved in it, but we should pay attention to the constant use of the singular form. In Deuteronomy 17:14-20, God says that kings should not have multiply wives (like they have horses or gold). Although this cannot be interpreted as a command, that the kings must be monogamous, it can be understood as declaring that having multiple wives causes problems. It can be clearly seen on the example of the life of Solomon.

In the New Testament, God refers, that one man should be married only one time, it is noted in the list of qualities of spiritual leadership. While these qualifications are specifically for positions of spiritual leadership, they should evenly apply to all Christians. It is also noted that all Christians can be sober, rational, exponential, hospitable, able to teach, not drunkards, not fighters, knows how to control themselves, gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy to money. If we are called to be Holy and if these standards are Holy for elders and deacons then they are Holy for all Christians.

After the sublime Evangelical teaching about marriage, the assumption of polygamy means a descent from spiritual heights to the level of the household and physiological. The Koran allows a husband to have four wives (4:3). This assumption shows the human origin of Islam. There is clearly visible the primary motive – it is sensual. Muhammad had wives more, that it was established in the Koran: "He left nine wives. The total number of women who married the Messenger of Allah was thirteen.

Sometimes it is surprised how elastic can be human logic when it is trying to justify any imperfection. The modern defenders of Islam are trying to prove that polygamy is the best form of the family, which allows solving the moral, demographic, and social problems. They say that polygamy is necessary because there are more women than men in the society. That's completely wrong. According to the demographic statistics in 2000-2002 for 100 men there were: in the world – 98,5 of women; in Islamic countries - 97.1 of women; in Saudi Arabia – 87,4 of women; in Iran of 95.5 of women.

READ ALSO: What is your attitude to polygamy in Islam?

The statement about the moral benefits of polygamy is false. It is known that the harmony between the two spouses is achieved through long and difficult mutual effort and hard work. You need to gradually win or reduce disadvantages that are deeply rooted in human nature. In the family of the husband-polygamist it is impossible. This family becomes the source of such passions, as envy, rivalry, resentment, grudge etc. The polygamy is just a form of legalized cohabitation, but it isn’t a marriage in the high value that has defined the Word of God. He said: “Live in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God”.

  1. What are the changes?

Going back to Adam and Eva, the polygamy was not God's original intent. God seems to have allowed the polygamy to solve the problem, but it is not ideal. In most modern societies, there is absolutely no need for polygamy. In most cultures today, women can provide for themselves and to protect, abolishing the only "positive" aspect of polygamy. Moreover, most modern nations forbid polygamy. According to Romans 13:1-7, we are to obey the laws established by the government. The only case when disobedience to the law is permitted by Scripture is if the law contradicts God's commands (Acts 5:29). Since God only allows for polygamy, and does not approve it, a law of prohibiting of the polygamy should be upheld.

So, are there cases in which permission of polygamy would still apply today? Maybe yes, but it is inconceivable that there was no other possible solution to avoid polygamy. Because of the aspect of marriage, consisting of "one flesh", the need of unity and harmony in marriage, there is no real need for polygamy, and we firmly believe that polygamy is not honoring the God and it was not His plan with regard to marriage.

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