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Is polygamy Biblical?

24-06-2014 - Posted by Andre Piet

images_12 On my bookshelf, I have a book that for several years has been in need of a discussion. For the readers of the GoodBericht-blogs, I’m introducing a topic about which, most likely, very few have been deeply concerned. The book is a passionate plea in favour of polygamy, under the title, “The Great Omission“, written by Clyde L. Pilkington, Jr. The author has written many books which I warmly recommend, but this one is not one of them. Pilkington defends that it is completely Biblical for a man to be married to multiple wives. As a father can love several children, so a man, also, can love several wives, says the writer. Pilkington writes in defence of the patriarchal family, with the husband as the head. I will confine myself in this discussion to his arguments based on Scripture. The author emphasizes that polygamy is nowhere forbidden in the Bible. In fact: many Biblical figures have gone before us in polygamy. Think of Abraham, the father of all believers, who had both, wives and concubines (Gen.25:6). This also applies to Jacob, who had twelve sons by two wives and two concubines (Gen.30:4.9). Pilkington also points to Moses, who was married to a Midianitish woman (Zipporah; Ex. 2:21) and to an Ethiopian (Num.12:1). In addition, we can think of Gideon, who had many wives (Judge 8:30). And Elkana, the father of Samuel (1Sam.1:2). Or what about David, “the man after God’s own heart” (2Sam.12:8)? Famous and notorious is especially his son, Solomon, who had as many as 700 wives and 300 concubines (1Kings 11:3). But also think of King Joash, who “did what was right in the sight of the Lord” and had two wives (2Cron.24:2,3). Under the Mosaic legislation is also an arrangement made, in case a man wishes to have more than one wife (Ex.21:10). Pilkington also points to the prophet Ezekiel, where God Himself is presented as legitimately (i.e. by means of the law of Moses) being married to two women (Oholah and Oholibah; Eze.23:4). These are the main reasons which Pilkington presents, from the Bible, in defense of polygamy. Next, my point by point response. 1. It is true; nowhere in Scripture is polygamy condemned. The moral indignation that Western people express about polygamy, is not based on the Bible. 2. Although polygamy frequently occurs in the Bible, we need to note that “from the beginning” it was not so (cp. Matt.19:8-10). God gave to Adam one wife, not several. And the famous wedding declaration is based on (Gen.2:24) and is quoted by both, Jesus (Matt.19:5) and Paul (1Cor.6:16; Eph 5:31). It also speaks of a man who adheres to “his wife”. Please note “his wife”, i.e. singular. 3. The first time the existence of polygamy is mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis 4:19. There we find Lamech, who took, both, Adah as Zilla, to be his wives. This entry is not a recommendation, because Lamech in Genesis 4 marks a line that broke away from God. 4. Nowhere in the Bible is polygamy recommended. And as far as the Bible describes polygamy (Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon), we can not draw from it a recommendation for it, either. Polygamy in the Bible is always a source of painful rivalry and jealousy. 5. In the N.T., polygamy is not mentioned. What we do read is that Paul, even three times, writes that men, in prominent positions, as overseers or servants, should have “one wife” (Tit.1:6; 1Tim.3:2.12). They were to be hospitable, wise, fair, competent, etc., but also “the husband of one wife”. Monogamy is proving to be a feature that, for Paul, belongs to setting a good example. Pilkington dismisses all this by claiming that “one woman” means no different than “a woman”; but that is nonsense. Paul used no indefinite article, but a definite numeral. The Greek ‘mia’, which occurs 79 times in the N.T., always means one (see: Eph.4:4-6). 6. Pilkington’s argument is completely based on the O.T. Not on, as “it has been from the beginning”, but on what is allowed “under the law”. With that starting point, he got lost in the fog. We would take our starting point from the clear, unambiguous statements of Paul, the “apostle and teacher of the nations”. And from his teachings, we take note of the other Scriptures.