Video by Got Questions Ministries

Polygamy, the practice of having multiple spouses, is a controversial topic that raises many questions for Christians today.

Did God allow polygamy in the Bible? Does the Bible approve of polygamy? What does the Bible say about polygamy?

In this article, I’ll examine polygamy in the Old and New Testaments, looking at key passages to understand what God’s design for marriage is.

Old Testament Examples of Polygamy

Polygamy In The Old Testament

In the Old Testament period, polygamy was practiced by various individuals. Many important figures had more than one wife, like Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon.

Deuteronomy 21:15-17 (NIV) gives instructions regarding the inheritance rights of sons from multiple wives. So polygamy clearly occurred in Old Testament times.

15 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.

Deuteronomy 21:15-17 (NIV)

However, looking closely at the accounts of polygamists we see the problems it causes.

Abraham’s taking of Sarah’s servant Hagar as a second wife led to family discord.

Jacob’s two wives, Rachel and Leah, were jealous rivals who competed for his affection.

Elkanah‘s two wives Hannah and Peninnah were adversaries, with Peninnah provoking Hannah’s deep despair.

David’s marriages to multiple women led to fierce competition amongst his heirs.

Solomon’s 700 wives pulled his heart away from the Lord.

Though it happened, the Bible does not present polygamy in a positive light. It is shown to be a deviation from God’s original purpose and led to strife and disharmony.

The Bible affirms that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman.

God’s Ideal Design: One Man and One Woman

One Man and One Woman

In Genesis 2 we see God’s ideal design for marriage presented as monogamy:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Genesis 2:24 (ESV)

The text does not say “wives” but specifically “his wife.” The two are described as becoming “one flesh”, a profound spiritual and physical union.

This foundational passage shows us God’s intended design from the beginning was for one man to be joined in a marriage covenant with one wife.

In the Old Testament law, provisions were made to protect this monogamous union. For instance:

“You shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.”

Leviticus 18:18 (NIV)

This prohibited taking a second wife in a way that would create a rivalry with the first. The ideal of singular devotion in the marriage covenant is safeguarded.

While polygamy did take place, the Bible confirms monogamy is God’s original design.

The problems stemming from polygamy demonstrate a departure from that ideal model.

What Does the New Testament Say About Polygamy?

The Ideal Christian Marriage

When we turn to the New Testament, we see a continuation of the affirmation of monogamy as the proper form of marriage.

Jesus himself emphasizes Genesis 2:24‘s teaching on the marital union of male and female becoming one flesh:

4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Matthew 19:4-6 (ESV)

Here Jesus presents Genesis 2:24 as a foundational text that teaches marriage is designed by God to be between one man and one woman joined together in a covenantal union for life.

The New Testament letters also repeatedly address marriage as being between one husband and one wife. Paul writes:

“Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.”

1 Timothy 3:2 (ESV)

“But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.”

1 Corinthians 7:2 (ESV)

“Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.”

1 Timothy 3:12 (ESV)

In each of these passages, marriage is presented as a union between one husband and one wife.

The consistent assumption throughout the New Testament is that monogamy is the proper form of marriage.

While the Old Testament records some examples of polygamy, the Bible as a whole shows God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman united in a sacred covenant.

Key Takeaways on Polygamy in the Bible

  • Polygamy (multiple spouses) was practiced culturally during Old Testament times. But this was a deviation from God’s original design.
  • Passages like Genesis 2 show God intended marriage to be monogamous – one man and woman becoming “one flesh.”
  • The problems stemming from Old Testament polygamy demonstrate the wisdom of God‘s monogamy design.
  • Jesus affirmed the Genesis 2 model of monogamous marriage in Matthew 19.
  • The consistent assumption throughout the New Testament is that marriage is between one husband and one wife.

The Bible shows that while polygamy was culturally practiced and permitted during certain periods, the ideal union has always been monogamy – one man and one woman becoming “one flesh” in the covenant of marriage.

Though polygamy happened, the Bible makes clear it leads to complications and pain.

Ultimately Scripture presents a consistent foundation that from the beginning God designed and blessed marriage to be between one man and one woman for life.


In summary, the Bible does record some culturally accepted polygamy practices during the Old Testament period.

But looking closely at the Scriptures as a whole, we see God’s consistent design for marriage from Genesis to Revelation has been between one man and one woman united together in a sacred covenant as “one flesh”.

While polygamy occurred, it brought discord and was out of step with God’s ideal as revealed in His Word.

Frequently Asked Questions About Polygamy in the Bible

Q. Why did God allow polygamy in the Old Testament?

A. God permitted but did not command or endorse polygamy. It was a cultural practice that deviated from God’s created design. The problems resulting from polygamy show it was not God’s best.

Q. Does the New Testament prohibit polygamy?

A. The New Testament does not directly forbid polygamy but consistently upholds monogamous marriage between one husband and wife as the proper form.

Q. Didn’t many biblical heroes practice polygamy?

A. Yes, some Old Testament figures like Abraham and David did have multiple wives. However, their polygamy brought painful consequences showing it was not the best.

Q. Is adultery condemned in the Bible?

A. Yes, adultery is strongly condemned in the Bible. One of the ten commandments in Exodus 20:14 states, “You shall not commit adultery.”

It goes against the principle that two will become one flesh in a marriage, which signifies the unity and exclusivity of the marital relationship.

Q. What does “two will become one” mean in the Bible?

A. The phrase “two will become one” is a biblical expression used to emphasize the unity and oneness of a husband and wife in marriage.

It signifies leaving one’s parents (leave his father and mother) to form a new family unit.

Q. Is it permissible for a man to have sexual relations with multiple partners in the Bible?

A. The Bible does not encourage or endorse a man to have sexual relations with multiple partners. The principle of monogamy is generally upheld, emphasizing the union of one man and one wife as the ideal marital relationship.

Q. Does the Bible speak against polygamy?

A. Although the Bible records instances of polygamy, it does not explicitly endorse or speak favorably of the practice. The problems and negative consequences arising from multiple marriages are often highlighted.

Q. Is polygamy outlawed in the Bible?

A. The Bible does not outlaw polygamy, but it portrays the problems and challenges associated with it. The emphasis is often on the ideal of monogamy as seen in the marriage of Adam and Eve.

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