POLYGAMY

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Photo of: Introduction to Biblical Interpretation; William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr.; Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2004; p. 348.

by Dr. Stephen Kim

“And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, not for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Jesus, Matthew 19:9)

Can a Christian man marry multiple wives? Did God ever prohibit polygamy? Does the New Testament prohibit polygamy?

Many Christians I meet fall into an interesting category regarding the issue of polygamy. Most, fall into a category that merely holds a “quiet aversion” towards polygamy. While publicly condemning polygamy, they will simultaneously hold the position that the Bible does not ever prohibit it. Christians will bash Mormon and Islamic theology for supporting polygamy; but when push comes to shove, they usually concede something along the lines of popular Christian website, gotquestions.org, which believes:

How does God view polygamy today? Even while allowing polygamy, the Bible presents monogamy as the plan which conforms most closely to God’s ideal for marriage.

So according to gotquestions.org, God presently allows polygamy, and monogamy is merely the ideal. Which is simply another way of saying, “Polygamy is not the best that God has in store for you; but it’s okay, and it’s certainly not a sin.”  This view is perversely wrong. It serves to highlight the mass confusion around the issue of marriage within Christendom. Just today, a reader by the name of “Josh” left me the following comment:

I believe that polygamy is not a sin. There are too many men, godly men, in the OT that had multiple wives. Deut. 25:5 required polygamy, assuming the brother-in-law was already married when his brother died. The NT requires that deacons and preachers only have one wife. If this was unacceptable for all, then they would have broadened this scope to include everyone.

“Josh” sort of summarizes the modern “Christian” view aptly. The assumptions and logic go something like this: Godly men such as Abraham, Jacob, and King David all had more than one wife. God never condemned them for having multiple marriages. Furthermore, the New Testament only instructs pastors and elders to have monogamous marriages. Therefore, polygamy must be okay for the modern-day Christian.

With the Supreme Court’s ruling last year on “gay marriage,” Christians desperately need to get this issue right. The legalization of both incestual and polygamous marriages loom in the horizon and unless we have a firm biblical base for opposing polygamy, churches will crumble under societal pressures and logic.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

THE OLD TESTAMENT

God certainly intended monogamy in the beginning: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife (not wives), and they shall become one flesh (not fleshes)” (Gen 2:24). The first recorded case of polygamy in the Bible was committed by wicked Cain’s descendant, Lamech, who took for himself two wives–Adah and Zillah (Gen 4:19). Thereafter, the Old Testament has several recorded cases of men (both godly and ungodly) taking multiple wives. The Bible acknowledges the women as real, legitimate wives of the men. This therefore, permits one to correctly conclude that God did allow polygamy in the Old Testament (e.g., 2 Samuel 12:8 records God saying to King David: “I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms”).

THE NEW TESTAMENT

However, by the time we get to the teachings of the New Testament, we find that what God once allowed is now strictly prohibited. Just as remarriage after a divorce was once allowed in the Old Testament (Deut 24:1), polygamy was also once allowed in the Old Testament (2 Sam 12:8). Yet, in the New Testament era, Christians are now prohibited from both. Let’s examine a few key texts:

Key Text # 1: Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife. (1 Tim 3:2)

While objections are made that the prohibition is made only for men striving to become clergy members, upon closer examination, one discovers that all the qualities desired in an elder are also expected in the common Christian. Hence, God expects all Christian men to be the husbands of only “one wife.”

Key Text #2: But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1 Cor 7:2)

The text was written to all Christians (not just clergy members) in Corinth. Polygamy prohibits the faithful execution of 1 Corinthians 7:2. A man who has multiple wives prohibits any one of his wives from having her “own” husband. Polygamy always forces the sharing of one’s spouse. This is sin.

WHAT JESUS SAID ABOUT POLYGAMY

Key Text # 3: And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, not for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. (Matt 19:9)

The clearest text of all (Matt 19:9) comes from the mouth of our Lord Jesus himself. Yes, the text immediately bans divorce and remarriage; however, it also bans polygamy. Let me explain.

If you read carefully, you will see that the reason why a divorce and remarriage is considered as adultery in the eyes of God is because God considers the first marriage still to be in full force and in effect. In God’s view, you are still married to your first spouse and hence, a court-sanctioned divorce and subsequent remarriage to another person is really nothing but adultery in the eyes of God (Matt 19:9). But why is that the case if Jesus uses the words, “marries another”?

Answer: Because polygamy is a sin in the eyes of God. You see, you may have legitimately married another person in court, but God does not allow you to have multiple wives. In God’s view, the first marriage is undissolvable, and thus, a remarriage after a divorce is really the sin of bigamy. The first wife is the true wife (for God honors that marital bond) and the second wife is considered an adulterous relationship by the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not even a real marriage in the eyes of God. Instead, God identifies it as sin.

If the first marriage is still valid (Jesus says that it is in Matt 19:9, Matt 5:32, Luke 16:18, and Mark 10:11), and–let’s erroneously assume–that the second marriage is also valid (as per our judicial system and many contemporary Christian leaders); then the person essentially has two marriages. Hence, by calling for divorced and remarried couples to remain in their second marriages, many church leaders unwittingly advocate polygamy! Thankfully, Jesus unilaterally struck down remarriages after all divorces. In doing so, both remarriage and polygamy were effectively made sins of adultery by the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, those who instruct remarried couples to remain in their remarriages are instructing them to continue in the sins of adultery and polygamy. 

CURRENT NEW YORK STATE LAW

Presently, New York State prohibits and annuls polygamous marriages. If a person is married and subsequently marries another, then the second marriage is considered void and is annulled by New York State Penal Law (an annulment is a court ruling that the marriage was never valid in the first place):

S 255.15 Bigamy. A person is guilty of bigamy when he contracts or purports to contract a marriage with another person at a time when he has a living spouse, or the other person has a living spouse. Bigamy is a class E felony.

Interestingly, adultery is also still a crime under New York State Law (notice the virtually parallel descriptions between bigamy and adultery):

S 255.17 Adultery. A person is guilty of adultery when he engages in sexual intercourse with another person at a time when he has a living spouse, or the other person has a living spouse. Adultery is a class B misdemeanor.

Unwittingly, New York State is simply backing up the teaching of Christ: Polygamy is the same sin as adulterous remarriage, and they’re both not real marriages. If a person is really and truly married to a person, the second marriage is an invalid marriage that ought to be annulled. Bigamy is a crime in New York. According to New York State code, Dom. Rel. §5-7, 24, 140; an undissolved first marriage is grounds for annulment of the second marriage anytime during the lifetimes of parties. Of course, in the eyes of God, the first marriage is never ever truly dissolved (Matt 19:9) and therefore, all second marriages are both adulterous and invalid. Thus, this certainly means that God considers polygamy as sin.

CONCLUSION

In the eyes of God, polygamy is adultery. It is indisputable that God views polygamy as sin. Any marriage, that is in addition to and concurrent to the first, is viewed as the sin of adultery by God (cf. Matt 19:9, Matt 5:32, Lk 16:18, Mk 10:11; and also see the above photo of page 348 of Introduction to Biblical Interpretation). Lastly, if one does not call for the dissolution of a remarriage, then he also does not have any biblical justification for banning polygamy. 

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About Dr. Stephen Kim

Dr. Stephen Kim is the senior pastor of Mustard Seed Church in New York City. He has also served as Associate Director of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, NYC Extension Center. Pastor Stephen is the happy husband of one beautiful woman and the joyous father of four beautiful children. As a pastor and writer, he is passionate about accurately feeding Christians the Word of God: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?" (Matthew 24:45).
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21 Responses to POLYGAMY

  1. Anonymous says:

    Never once does the Bible ever criticize anybody for polygyny.
    If the Lord allows, I hope you will read Tom Shipley’s doctrinal manifesto regarding Polygyny. I think it will challenge your theology on this subject. Man and Woman in Biblical Law. It’s also a PDF on the web.
    Tom Shipley: “WE are thoroughly “horizontal” in our culturally ingrained perceptions, and the Bible is thoroughly HIERICHICAL in its orientation. WE are egalitarians…but God is a monarch. That is why St Augustine’s quote is on the back cover of the book. Commenting upon family authority and polygyny in the Bible Augustine compares: “thus we read… that MANY females served ONE husband…as MANY souls are rightly made subject unto ONE God.”
    Augustine GOT IT. Does patriarchy inherently involve the acceptability of polygyny? Indeed, it does. These two things are logically linked together with “chains of iron.” Polygyny presupposes patriarchy. Patriarchy logically and inexorably infers polygyny. I believe the logical link between the two things is as solid as the Rock of Ages.”

    On the Biblical Polygamy website:
    “Statistics show that there are more women than men of faith and if we are to be equally joined together (2Cor.6:14,1Cor.7:39) then polygyny is a God sanctioned option for those who by faith are able to live this lifestyle. If faithful men desire to provide spiritual headship for more than one wife, and Christian women are strongly committed to plural Christian marriages then such are free before God to so marry without condemnation and excommunication.”

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    • Dr. Stephen Kim says:

      Both polygyny and polyandry are sins against Almighty God (cf. Matt 19:9, Mark 10:11, and Luke 16:18). Unless repented of and forsaken, such shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9).

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  2. Kiki says:

    Hi Dr. Stephen,
    Thumbs up for this article! I see people insisting that polygamy i acceptable even after much proof to the contrary by way of the scriptures as wrestling with scriptures really. As at the time I read Matthew 19 too it was as clear as day that Polygamy is a sin and is the sin of adultery. I mean which part of that scripture is unclear? Anyway I just wanted to thank you for the good work you are doing. I also need your advice. I am exploring a relationship with a pastor (unmarried) who believes Polygamy is not a sin. Should this be a deal breaker? I am thinking if he is getting Christianity 101 wrong as a pastor and someone who has been a Christian for over 20 yrs then there should be cause for alarm. What do you think? Hmmmm right now I am even thinking to myself that the mere fact that I am having to ask this question means there is a check or discomfort in my spirit meaning I need to be careful about getting myself involved with the man. Hmmm still kindly let me know your thoughts. Thanks

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  3. Rose says:

    What happens if a man marries a woman and hides that he is still married, and the woman is expecting a child, whilst married to him, divorces the first wife so as to make the second marriage legal in the eyes of the law? Should the second wife who was ignorant remain married to him? Annul it? Can she remarry? Would it be adultery? What of the child?

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    • Dr. Stephen Kim says:

      1. No, the second wife who was ignorant should NOT remain married to him.
      2. The marriage is to be annulled. It was never a real marriage in the eyes of God (Matt 19:9). Furthermore, in most of the United States, what the man did in your case is considered as bigamy and is illegal.
      3. Yes, she can marry someone else after the annulment. It would not be adultery for she was never really married in the eyes of God. However, she must repent before God for her adultery that she committed.
      4. The child is born out of adultery, and the biological father should continue to financially provide for that child until the child is grown.

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      • Gerry says:

        My situation is to my view similar. My father married in the early 1930s. The woman’s mother had their marriage annulled.
        He then married the woman who, 18 years later, became my mother.
        In 1936 his first wife died.
        Did her death validate his marriage to his second wife?
        My mother, a Protestant at the time, wanted to get a new marriage, as she had doubts of the licitness of her marriage. He refused, as he thought that it would make his marriage to my mother in 1932 invalid ab initio and their children born in the early 1930s bastards. He thereby acknowledged the legitimacy of the annulment, which was based on a perjured affidavit by the first wife’s mother, which he had challenged with an alienation of affection lawsuit.
        Complex enough for you?

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        • Dr. Stephen Kim says:

          Gerry,
          If your father’s marriage to his first wife was indeed a legitimate marriage, then her death did not validate his marriage to his second wife because the “marriage” to his second wife occurred prior to his first wife’s death. As per Matt 19:9, the second marriage was actually adultery when your father entered into it. Only AFTER the death of a spouse could a person legitimately marry someone else.
          Second, alienation of affection, though sin, is NOT grounds for divorce. Only sexual immorality is grounds for divorce (but no remarriage afterwards).

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          • Gerry says:

            Dr. Kim, you misunderstood. My father didn’t sue his wife for divorce on the basis of alienation of affection. His mother in law obtained an annulment on behalf of her daughter on the basis of her perjured affidavit that he essentially kidnapped her daughter and coerced her to marry him.
            My mother, after learning of the death of his first wife, wanted to have a new marriage ceremony, but he refused.
            My father had made no profession of being a Christian until after my birth 15 years later. My mother was a nominal Presbyterian at the time. She did not believe that their original marriage was valid “in the eyes of God”; only that it was on the surface legitimate by civil law. If the perjury of the affidavit had been exposed, their marriage by civil law would have been voided from the date of its putative beginning.

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            • Dr. Stephen Kim says:

              Gerry, if it was a perjured affidavit, then the first marriage was legitimate. If your father did not “kidnap” his first wife, but rather, she voluntarily married him; then I see no reason why the marriage wasn’t legitimate. Therefore, the annulment attained by the mother-in-law was a false annulment because the marriage was valid in the eyes of God.

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          • Gerry says:

            Matt. 19:9 has no relevance to the matter of polygamy. I don’t want to beat a dead horse. However, as you applied it to my parents’ situation, I think it necessary to mention it, again if I recall.
            I suspect (she never said to me) that she was of the same errant opinion as it is the predominant one in Protestant Catholicism. She and my father did not need to go through a second marriage ceremony as her original marriage to him was “valid in the eyes of God,” she becoming my father’s second wife in bigamy.
            The civil government’s laws and popular custom do not constitute nor override the law of God. We should not cavalierly disregard them, for only when obedience to the civil laws brings one into the law of God should we disobey them, and then only when we must do the thing the civil laws forbid, or must not do the thing the civil law commands. Unnecessarily picking fights with the institutions of men is unwise, and for no good reason incites the unbelievers to accuse us as evildoers. Not everything that is lawful before God is expedient.
            In my father’s case, the people of the world (at the time including himself) respected the annulment as valid, so by marrying a second wife he was not called an evildoer. By the time he became a Christian his first wife had been dead for 16 years.

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            • Dr. Stephen Kim says:

              Matthew 19:9 completely bans polygamy/bigamy. The word “adultery” in the verse means that God still views the first marriage to still be in full effect and therefore, the second marriage is sin and invalid. The words, “and marries another” in the verse means that the second marriage is bigamy. Therefore, bigamy is the sin of adultery. The second marriage is the adulterous/bigamous one. Jesus strikes down both post-divorce remarriages, and bigamy with one verse. Bigamy is a sin before God and a crime in the Western world.

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  4. Josh says:

    I agree with you in that this was targeting a certain audience, mostly, if not only, the Jews. However, Jesus was setting an example for his current and future followers during this time. I still hold my position that he would not have compared the kingdom of heaven to a practice that he deem sinful after his crucifixion.
    Also, allow me to reiterate on my comment posted in Dr. Kim’s article that many devout and God-fearing men in the OT had multiple wives. The argument may be made that God allowed divorce in the OT, but not in the NT, so why can’t polygamy be banned in the NT as well? In response, I’d like to ask a question myself. How many God-fearing men in the OT divorced their wives? Very few to nil, so I argue that these men at least suspected that divorce was not God’s true intent for his people. However, these wise and devout men expressed no moral discomfort in taking multiple wives. The wisest man, King Solomon, had 700, AND… 300 concubines! His father, King David, a man after God’s own heart, had 8 wives, and 10 concubines.
    But what about Jesus? He’s wiser than Solomon and has a PERFECT heart, yet he never once denounces polygamy. Matthew 19:9 does not condemn polygamy. It condemns divorce. The problem was that men were putting away their wives for any reason they fancied. They didn’t want the financial responsibility of having an additional wife, or wives, so they, instead, put away the one(s) they had in order to make room for the new, probably younger ones. This is absolutely horrible! Men had, AND STILL HAVE, a God-given obligation to support and care for their wives, polygamy or not. During this time, an older woman being divorced, or put away, by her husband could be detrimental. They could not just go and buy a house, or get a job; their rights were extremely limited. If the men during this time wanted a younger, prettier wife, fine, but they should have honored the commitment they made to their first wives just the same, especially LOVE. This is the issue in Matthew 19:9. This is still the issue today, except now it goes both ways. Men divorce their “old model” wives, and women divorce their “broke down” husbands; monogamy hasn’t changed a thing.
    Sorry for the long comment; I tend to get carried away. Also, I mean no offense and am not trying to be disagreeable. I think it is extremely important for Christians to talk about these issues, and be peaceful about it.

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    • Dr. Stephen Kim says:

      Josh,
      Thanks for your agreeable tone and peaceable writing style. I don’t write back often, but you have the right approach to a very delicate and important issue. I appreciate the fact that my articles bless you–all the glory goes to God.

      However, I stand by my teaching on the issue of polygamy. Jesus clearly condemns it as sin in Matthew 19:9. The additional “marriage” is invalid in the eyes of God. You stated: “The problem was that men were putting away their wives for any reason they fancied. They didn’t want the financial responsibility of having an additional wife….” However, within the text, Jesus makes no mention about men “putting away their wives for any reason they fancied.” Additionally, there is no talk about men divorcing in order to avoid the financial responsibility of having an additional wife. That is merely your guess and is not stated anywhere within the text.

      Instead, what is clear within the text is the fact that Jesus is addressing the permanence of marriage (i.e., “God has joined together, let not man separate”). In fact, outside of sexual immorality, the reason for divorce does not matter at all–all divorces are sin and wrong in God’s sight. In Matthew 19:9, Jesus clearly views the first marriage as still being in effect and therefore, the second marriage is bigamy and is called out as a sin, and an invalid marriage by Jesus Christ. According to Jesus, the second “marriage” is actually the sin of adultery.

      Finally, you gravely misunderstand Matthew 25:7. The ten virgins who went to meet the bridegroom within that parable are not wives of the groom, but are instead, friends (groomsmen or bridesmaids) of the newly weds. In Jewish custom, the groom went at night with his friends to marry his wife (who awaited the groom with her friends) at her house. After the wedding ceremony, they all had a celebratory feast at the groom’s home. The word for “virgins” in that text is the Greek word “παρθένοι” and can refer to men or women. The exact same word is used again in Revelation 14:4 and the entire parable is really an apt picture of Revelation 14:

      “These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb” (Rev 14:4).

      So again, polygamy/bigamy is a perverse sin against God.
      Blessings.

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    • CJ says:

      How do you think the first wife feels when a younger wife comes along? Do you think she feels loved? Whether or not the man still loves her she has been replaced. It’s ridiculous to think the man can have more wives than one and love them all equally.

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  5. Josh says:

    Hi,
    Dr. Kim, I really do enjoy reading your articles. I didn’t quite expect for part of my comment in a previous article to be used in a new one; I’m very honored. However, to be honest, I never intended for the issue of polygamy to be brought up; I was simply using it to support the idea that God’s rules for remarriage are slightly different for men and women. I am still cautious of this idea, but for time being I have adopted the viewpoint that innocent men that have been divorced by their wives may remarry, but innocent women divorced by their husbands may not. This is a sexist view to be for sure, and while God loves and cherishes men and women the same, His word does not entirely support gender equality as we view it today. 1 Cor. 11:3. 1 Tim. 2:12-15.
    Concerning polygamy, I cannot agree that God had simply decided to ban it, much less, call it sin, in the New Testament. Matt. 25:1 “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.” Now, most of surely know this parable. Matt. 25:10 “And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.” What I would like to point out from these two verses is the obvious. This is a parable illustrated using a polygamous marriage. Some may try to distort its meaning and find any reason is the world to say that it is not one man marrying multiple women, but it really is quite obvious. (Attending to the spiritual meaning in this scripture, it would be sad to think that the bridegroom only picked one of the five wise virgins at the marriage.) I would also like to point out that Jesus himself compared this parable to the kingdom of heaven; first verse. I cannot believe that Jesus would compare the kingdom of heaven to a practice now deemed sinful, especially since it is a spiritual metaphor of His second coming.
    Polygamy is viewed negatively by our society because we’ve been raised that way. Speaking for myself, I have no desire to have multiple wives; one is plenty for me. However, to the broken man that has become a victim of adultery because his wife left him and married another, polygamy may not seem as bad as most of us think; many people are practicing it anyway and do not know it. Now, to the broken woman, my cautious view on this matter offers little comfort, but I will say this. God can change any man, and he can restore a broken marriage. It is the man’s job to support and love his wife (or wives) and God will hold him to it. (Gen. 29)

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    • Alex says:

      Hmm. It seems that Jesus’ parable is targeting a certain audience, who understood polygamy and still lived by Old Testament laws. From my understanding, just because it is in the NT in the bible doesn’t mean much. The gospels are still very much OT regulations because this was still prior to Christ’s sacrifice.

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  6. Alex says:

    I appreciate your teaching. There is so much confusion and willful rebellion today. Your teachings on marriage and divorce are harsh, but this is what they told Jesus too! As a believer who struggles with same sex desires, I have had to come to terms with singleness as a life long possibility. Therefore, my lot is no more difficult than the divorcee. I wish the church really pushed whole community and church body edification and stopped idolizing marriage. There are many people who cannot marry, and from my understanding, the Kingdom is open to us and our gifts are needed in other ways.

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  7. suzannerust says:

    If that is the case, I technically shouldn’t be in existence as I’m the child of a second marriage on both sides. I also believe that adultery, polygamy and re-marrying are all completely separate things. Mind you, I’ll happily admit to being a godless heathen.

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    • Dr. Stephen Kim says:

      Suzannerust,

      No child is an accident with God. Every life is valuable. You might be an illegitimate child, but it does not mean that you’re damned to Hell. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. You are not doomed by the sins of your parents. If you personally repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, God can redeem you, wash you, and secure you in Heaven as his child. Our earthly parents do not matter as much as our Heavenly Father. But God is your Father if and only if you truly believe this message: https://nycpastor.com/become-a-christian/

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