Does God Endorse Polygamy?

26 Nov

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Didn’t God give David multiple wives? Some conclude that, because Scripture apparently says God gave David multiple wives that he endorses polygamy. Is this true? In a word, No! It can be shown that God does not endorse taking more than one wife.[1] The fact is that he condemns such a practice (Deuteronomy 17:17) whether it be for the king or for the ordinary citizen (Leviticus 18:18). In short, God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and considers the monogamous relationship the ideal (Genesis 2:24). Rather, he allows divorce and multiple wives due to the hardness of men’s hearts (Matthew 19:8), and governs the inferior states to favor the plight of the woman, who happens to be the vulnerable one in the practice.

Let’s consider, first, what the Scriptures say about David and what God did for him as related to us through Nathan, the prophet:

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. (2 Samuel 12:8 KJV)

This is speaking of David being given Saul’s estate. One cannot presume that David did more to Saul’s wives than care for them. In 2Samuel 12:11 God tells David through Nathan that he intended to judge David for murdering Uriah, namely, that his enemy (i.e. his son Absalom) would rise up against him and take David’s wives, and he would go in unto them publicly. In other words, David did not dishonor his master Saul, but provided for the care of his wives after his death. Yet, David’s own son would dishonor him when God judged David by giving the care of the kingdom over to Absalom.

David had more than one wife by choice. God didn’t give him his wives, and 2 Samuel 12:8 cannot be used to show that he did. The fact is, if David did lie with Saul’s wife, Ahinoam, he would have been committing incest according to the Law of Moses, because his wife, Michal, was Saul’s daughter by Ahinoam. Leviticus 18:17 condemns one marrying the mother of one’s wife. Therefore, to claim that God gave Saul’s wives into David’s hands, so that he might multiply his wives, reads too much into the text. Having more than one wife was specifically forbidden, so taking multiple wives was a choice, not a gift from God. God gave Saul’s estate into David’s hands, which included Saul’s wives for his care.

Another Scripture used to claim God endorses polygamy is Exodus 21:7-11, where a father sells his daughter to another man. The first thing that must be understood is that this is not the ideal arrangement; it is an example of case law, not a widespread practice. It was treated in the same fashion as other examples of case law: “If men struggle with each other…” (Exodus 21:22) and “If men have a quarrel and one strikes the other…” (Exodus 21:18). God didn’t tell the men to quarrel or struggle together. They did that by choice, but God governed the outcome. Similarly,  Exodus 21:7-11 is not an ideal situation. God didn’t tell the man to sell his daughter, but the Law governed the outcome of less than desirable events.

In the matter of Exodus 21:7-11 a man seems to have contracted with the father of a poor family to obtain a wife for himself or his son. It doesn’t seem that he acquires her as a servant, because he is to treat her as a daughter, if he acquires her for his son. In verse-10 the Scripture postulates if he takes another women in marriage, showing that he does acquire the first woman for the purpose of marrying her. Neither the selling of the young woman, nor the event of the man taking an additional wife were condoned by God, but rather, he put up with such practices (cf. Acts 17:30) due to the hard hearts (Matthew 19:8) of his people, Israel. What God did do through the law was put limits upon the injustice a man was able to do, and he made arrangements in the Law to protect women from over abuse, abandonment and perhaps having to prostitute themselves in order to survive.


[1] As I said HERE, this current theme about “making sense of the Old Testament God” is based upon the book: Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. These are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Paul wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read concerning defending our faith.

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Posted by on November 26, 2015 in apologetics


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