What does the Bible say about Polygamy. Can polygamist serve God?
Most believers would probably say that this is an easy
question, but that is not necessarily true. Most would say that it is a
sin to be a polygamist and that this is a clear and unambiguous teaching
of the New Testament.
The fact is that there in no one New Testament passage which
unambiguously teaches that it is a sin for a man to have more than one
wife (or vice versa for that matter). Possibly this is because the
cultural mileau of New Testament times was quite different from Old
Testament times. During the time of the writing of Genesis, for example,
it was a very common practice for wealthy men to have a number of wives.
By the first century polygamy in the eastern Mediteranean was relatively
rare. Roman and Greek society did not condone polygamy.
Having said that there is no specific passage which absolutely
and clearly condems polygamy, there are a number of passages which would
very strongly support the claim that it would not be right for a Christian
man to take more than one wife. Never mind that the qualities of an elder
in the Christian church includes a man with only one woman (Titus 1:6),
one could consider, for example, Ephesians 5:25; “Husbands, love your
wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. It
seems impossible to imagine a man fulfilling this charge to love his his
wife in this way while at the same time pursuing a second wife!!! Jesus’
teaching certainly seem to preclude polygamy. Matthew 19:4 quotes Jesus
as saying, “at the beginning the Creator made them male and female. For
this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his
wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two but
one.” It is impossible to imagine putting another wife into this
picture. Many other passages in the New Testament could be used to show
that it is not ever acceptable for a disciple of Jesus to take a second
Accepting that a disciple of Jesus would not choose to take a
second wife, there is an interesting scenario which is not outside the
realm of possibility. What if a man who already has more than one wife
were to come to Christ? In fact, I know of a specific situation in
Nigeria in which a man from a background which allows for polygamy, and
who had three wives, was later converted to Christ. What should he do?
Should he send all of his wives away but one? Where would this leave
these women in a culture such as Nigeria? Which ones should he put away?
The spiritual men who were in his life advised that he continue in his
situation, in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 7 which mentions the wisdom of
remaining in the situation one finds oneself when coming to Christ.
Clearly, he would not be an appropriate elder in the church, but it seemed
best for him to continue meeting the needs of the three women. I am
guessing that under the same circumstances, except here in the United
States, very different advice would have been given! Nevertheless, I find
it hard to criticize the wisdom of the advice given in the situation in
Nigeria. Based on this example, I would say that polygamy is not
absolutely, in and of itself, sinful, but that a disciple of Jesus
certainly would not even consider choosing to become a polygamist. I hope
this answer has been helpful and not confusing.