Is there Biblical Precedence for Polygamy?

by Rusty Lindquist on January 25, 2011 · 10 comments

In the recent post “A quest for spiritual knowledge“, the comments quickly became centered around two distinct topics.  The one being blacks and the priesthood, which was thoroughly covered within the comments on that post.  The other was regarding the practice of polygamy early in the church.  It was to this point that Matt G. asked:

Rusty, I looked up polygamy and polyandry in the Bible and didn’t find any other prophet teaching the practices. Could you show me where the prophets were teaching these as God’s inspired word?

Rather than answering within the already lengthy comments of that post, I’ve decided to address them in a fresh post, so as to allow the natural divergence of comments around these two separate topics, and since the topic is important enough to deserve higher exposure.

In response:

Matt,

Thank you so much for asking.  There are few things I enjoy more than to expose the scriptures, for as we see here, it becomes incredibly problematic that people don’t study the scriptures more thoroughly (which coincidentally was the topic of the originating post).  So many have made such a fuss over polygamy in the early days of the church, either about why it was practiced, or why it was revoked, and then turn around and profess belief in the Bible.  I say to them, you may believe in it, but you don’t understand it.

There are numerous scriptural precedents regarding polygamy taught biblically, and I’ll cover several of them.

There’s no better place to start than with the Lord himself, who in Deuteronomy gives instructions on how to successfully manage a plural marriage… (Deut. 21: 15-17).

15 If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated:

16 Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn:

17 But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.

The Lord cannot tolerate sin, so if Plural marriage were to be accounted as sin, why then would he here choose to counsel in how to do it successfully, wouldn’t he instead be condemning the practice?  Yet interestingly (but not coincidentally) there are times in the bible where he has said it was not to be, even earlier in Deuteronomy, he said:

Deut. 17: 15, 17

15 Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.

17 Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.

It could either be that the Lord was unable to make up his mind, or that there is a time and season for all things.  And what he has commanded once, is not necessarily to be for all times.  I find the latter far more likely, which therefore not only provides precedence for His commanding Polygamy in the early days of the church (at a time when this particular commandment served a particular purpose for the Lord to try the saints), but also sets precedence for the commandment of the practice to later be retracted.

At one point in the Bible the Lord told his disciples only to preach to Israelites.  He later told the prophet (Peter) to preach to all people.  Again, was it that the Lord couldn’t make up His mind?  The thought makes reason stare.  Rather, there is a time and a season for all things, and what matters, is that we follow the current set of commandments as clarified by the current, living prophet.  Another sound confirmation of the importance of a living prophet.

But let’s not stop there.  Let’s talk about David.

In  2 Samuel 12:1-27, we find some important scriptures in this regard.  One of which is vs. 7 and 8:

7  And Nathan said to David…Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;

8 And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.

Here the prophet Nathan himself tells David the it was the Lord that “gave thee… thy master’s wives”.  What’s more, the Lord would have given him more of such political power, wives, and wealth.  If plural wives were a sin, why then were they a gift from God, and why would Nathan, who had arrived to condemn David for killing Uriah, not have condemned him then (or earlier) for plural marriage?

Let’s now talk about Solomon.  (1 Kings 11:1-8),

1. BUT king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites;

2 Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love…

7 Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon.

8 And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods.

Here the Lord accuses Solomon not of having plural wives, but of allowing them to turn his heart away from Him.

There are other instances as well, such as when Abraham married Hagar (Genesis 16:3), Keturah (Genesis 25:1) and other unnamed concubines (Genesis 25:6).  Or Jacob (Genesis 29:21-30Genesis 30:3-4Genesis 30:9).  Abijah had fourteen wives (2 Chron. 13:21) and yet he is described as a righteous king of Judah who honored the Lord (2 Chron. 13:8-12) and prosper in battle because of the Lord’s blessing (2 Chron. 13:16-18) to name a few.  It’s also interesting that Hosea was commanded to marry a prostitute as a sign to Israel (Hosea 1:1-3).

In short, it is clear from a true study of the bible that polygamy is not only not immoral, but (at times) sanctioned of the Lord, and a blessing from righteous living.  Having studied the scriptures, I do not find it odd that at one time the practice is taught and sanctioned, and at another time it isn’t.  Wasn’t the Law of Moses also done away, in place of something else?  Was the Law of Moses therefore bad, or merely tailored for the specific needs of the specific people alive at the time?

The prophet Joseph Smith once addressed this very issue with tremendous eloquence and inspiration with which I cannot compete.  It is therefore with his quote that I’ll conclude:

This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted-by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed…in obedience there is joy and peace unspotted, unalloyed; and as God has designed our happiness-and the happiness of all His creatures, he never has-He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances

– Joseph Smith

Rusty

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ryan October 29, 2009 at 2:21 PM

Well covered, Rusty.

I only want to add that now that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints is world-wide, it has the opposite problem. Certain villages throughout Africa still practice polygamy. And in order to join the church, a convert must quit this practice before baptism is offered.

Ryan

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2 Rusty Lindquist October 29, 2009 at 2:44 PM

Good point. It’s imperative to note that not only is this not now practiced, but forbidden for church membership – just like it was allowed at one time in the bible, but not another. It’s important to cover only because it is a stumbling block for many who learn about the early church, and who don’t realize that there is scriptural precedence for it. I’m no more ashamed of that part of early church history than any Christian should be about the practice even earlier in the church.

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3 Matt G. October 30, 2009 at 12:35 AM

The marriage pattern set forth in the Genesis creation story seems to indicate that the biblical ideal for marriage is monogamy. In Genesis we read that after God decided the first man (Adam) should not be alone, Eve (one woman) was created for him. This is our first indication that one woman for one man is God’s desire. Singular pairing is reinforced by God declaring: “I will make a helper for him” (Gen. 2:18). In other words, God made one helper for Adam. Again, the ideal relational union seems to be one for one, rather than several for one. The oft-quoted instructive passage that follows underscores yet a third time the one to one coupling: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife [singular] and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).

For David to have been given the “wives” of Saul would have been extremely difficult since we know: a) Saul had only one wife and one concubine (1 Sam. 14:50); and b) Abner appropriated Saul’s concubine for himself (2 Sam. 3:7).

Second, in the East it was the general custom for a king’s successor to take everything possessed by that king. His country, his throne, his harem, his treasures, his everything! Enumerating such things indicated a complete turnover of power and authority. What we have here is God saying to David, basically, “What is your problem? I gave you everything there was to give. I gave you Saul’s total kingdom. Nothing was held back from you, yet you still behave like this.” There is no documentation that indicates that David actually took any wives from Saul.

Even if for the sake of discussion we say that God did give David some as yet unknown wives of Saul, they would constitute an aspect of Saul’s kingdom that would naturally go to David. This statement, then, would still be less of a promotion of polygamy and more of an expression of God communicating a well-known Eastern tradition involving the transfer of kingly authority. The remark by God falls terribly short of any stamp of approval of polygamy. Again, there are the parallels to divorce and slavery. God allowed these activities, tolerated them, even made provisions to protect women and children involved, but there are no endorsements of them by the prophets. As for marriage, the biblical ideal and pattern is monogamy.

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4 Persimmon November 3, 2009 at 8:19 AM

Matt – any idea what the original Hebrew might be for wife/wives in the verses you are speaking of? I’d be curious if knowledge of that might change the meaning of those verses. Very often it does, more particularly in the New Testament – but it always does well to look into that. Our “modern” English translations sometimes do us a disservice when investigating things more deeply.

Note that I’m not saying it is so in this case – only that it would be wise to be certain.

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5 Matt G November 3, 2009 at 7:59 PM

In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul directly quotes from Genesis 2:24. He emphasizes the permanence as well as the unity of marriage: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh” (v. 31). So I’m not sure about the underlying Hebrew, but Paul certainly understood the meaning and taught marital monogamy.

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6 A woman of No Significance January 13, 2010 at 11:53 PM

Hi Matt,
I afraid his right Mathew – trust me as a woman of strong convictions I’ve done my pains of due diligence with a non Mormon King James Bible. I never finch at truth to the point of blinding but polygamy is ban by God TODAY boys so what is the point of arguing with GOD though To be RIGHT Rusty doesn’t make you champion of the human spirit if he has point of view different to your own doesn’t Naturally make his tone disrespectful actually I thought his arguments was highly compelling and is pushing towards kinder spirtual ideal suited to untainted world anyways everyone needs to search their own Nevada truth isn’t just blinding it can be unbareably hot

Matt – Would you mind continuing this communication on less a theological and pershaps a more person one but hi Elder Lindquist great contribution Rusty still saving souls are we?

+614135179

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7 Rusty Lindquist November 3, 2009 at 9:10 PM

Matt G: There is no doubt that there are prominent, clear instances in the bible teaching monogamy, nor that monogamy is the practice accepted and expected by the Lord among his people today. But here we’re not trying to justify monogamy, that is not in question. What was in question was whether or not there was scriptural precedence where the Lord and His servants indeed condoned polygamy, which I’ve referenced adequately above. You’ve attempted to address but one of the scriptures, and inadequately in my opinion, but which I won’t debate since the language in scriptures is clear enough for the discerning reader, but there are still all the others.

In short, monogamy is what the Lord current chosen command. As a latter-day prophet has declared in “the Family, a proclamation to the world”, “Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God”. Yet you cannot discount Mormonism because of polygamy in the early days of the LDS church, without simultaneously discounting all of christendom because of polygamy as referenced in the Bible.

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8 Rusty Lindquist November 3, 2009 at 11:58 PM

Matt, your final comment has been moderated. It doesn’t add to the substance of the discussion, and was far from respectful, which is my only rule. If you wish to politely discuss doctrine, I’d be happy to do so. But your final post demonstrated that this is no longer a constructive conversation, which means we should move on.

We disagree, which is fine. But I won’t waste more time on this particular topic with you.

Rusty

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9 Matt G November 4, 2009 at 8:12 AM

Rusty, nothing I wrote was disrespectful and untruthful. Rather you felt it necessary to censor the material because it questioned the authenticity of Joseph Smith.

Yes, we will forever disagree that the Mormon practice of polygamy and polyandry was taught as religious doctrine in the Bible by the prophets.

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10 Michelle J April 29, 2011 at 11:06 AM

Matt,
As I do agree with you that TODAY polygamy is not the law of God. As I read through my scriptures I see many instances that is was allowed in those days. There are many laws that have changed through the years in the scriptures. The way you seem to believe is that because the early LDS church allowed polygamy they are not worthy to be looked at as holy. I feel you are wrong to pass judgment on this religion as a whole. I am not mormon I am just a regular girl looking for logical answers. Who are you or I to question the prophecy of Joseph Smith? Many questioned Our Lord and even killed him for his beliefs. and What of Moses, the egyptians thought him to be “mad” until God worked through him. Logically and un-bias how can we question the blessings and incite that were given to Joesph Smith? That narrow minded kind of thinking scares me..what will happen When the second coming of The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ comes? How will you know that it is him? Will you call him a fake prophet as well? We are not here to judge Matt we are put on this earth to do God’s will. Many miracles have been worked through the years through many different religions, the truth of it all is this…if we believe and have sincere faith and serve Our God to the best of our ability through good works and a faithful heart, we will inherit God’s Kingdom.
Sincerely,
Michelle J Wyoming

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