Does God say we should have only one wife?


One would think that this is a straightforward and easy question, but there are subtleties to the biblical response to this question.

First of all, I believe that all along, God fully intended, without any qualification, that one man and woman is unambiguously God’s plan for marriage. I believe that Genesis 2:20-24 is sufficient to establish this position, although words by Jesus and Paul will also prove this. Having said this, it is somewhat surprising to note that neither the New or the Old Testament specifically and definitely condemns in absolute terms the marriage of a man to more than one woman. I believe that this is an example of God allowing for a practice which he definitely does not prefer. Every example of polygamy in the Old Testament worked out very badly. Jacob, Solomon and David are examples of God showing, by example, the inevitable problems which accompany polygamy. Abraham’s taking of a concubine can be added to the list of multiple relationships which turned out very badly.

There is no example of polygamy being even allowed, never mind supported in Christianity and no mainline Christian group in the entire history of Christianity has encouraged polygamy. I do not include Mormonism as a Christian religion. Obviously, no No Christian can take a second wife. Period. Nevertheless, I believe that if a polygamist were to become a Christian, this situation is the reason there is not specific absolute condemnation of polygamy in the New Testament. I personally know of a situation in Africa where a polygamist man became a Christian. The church in this case felt that to divorce two of the man’s three wives would have been more unjust and unloving than to maintain the marriages he found himself in when he was baptized. Obviously, this man will not be an elder or a major public leader of the church, but this is the position the church took, and I believe it was the best decision in this interesting, unusual and difficult situation.

John Oakes

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