From The Vault

I was reading Brooks’ recent post on sexuality and the biblical rules around it and it reminded me of this post I did way back in 2008 on the matter of monogamy in the Bible. A sampling:

[I]s [polygamy] unbiblical? Consider:

  • Genesis 2:24 says that a man will leave his parents to be united with his wife as “one flesh” but it doesn’t explicitly prohibit further unions.
  • David, said to be a man after God’s own heart, was definitely a polygamist, as was his son, Solomon who built the temple. The same was true for other kings of Israel and Judah.
  • Deuteronomy includes rules for handling succession in the case of multiple wives. Clearly this was a common enough occurrence that a ruling needed to be made on the matter.
  • The pastoral epistles in the NT say that elders or deacons should be husbands of “but one wife” which makes monogamy a requirement for church leaders, but, more pointedly seems to implicitly admit that there were polygamists in the early church.
  • Deuteronomy 17:17says not to take too many wives, but doesn’t give us a number.
  • Leviticus 18:18 says not to take two sisters as wives, but thats about it.
  • Mark 10 may look like a ban, but seems to focus on divorce more than marriage.

Here again it is worth reposting, even in the added context of a reply Andrew made that argues that it was sort of acceptable in the Old Testament but definitely bad form in the New Testament. It seems clear though that this may have had much to do with other cultural forces, the Egyptians and the Assyrians were the dominant cultures that influenced the OT Israelites while the Romans and the Greeks were ascendant by the time of Jesus and the Apostolic age. Those passages which tolerated or even presumed polygamy were minimized while those that implied monogamy were amplified in the commentaries of the first couple centuries of Christianity. I have trouble believing that polygamy was well and truly opposed in the OT for the simple reason that, even if Proverbs 5 is taken to presume monogamy, there are sections of the law that are so detailed and so unafraid of even squeamish topics that I have to conclude that it would have simply said “no polygamy” and then most likely also included a punishment.