The Disturbing Truth About Polygamy

Are you going to watch the season premier of “My Five Wives” on TLC?

That was the question I was asked the other day. To be honest, I had never even heard of the show. I had heard of “Sister Wives” – the Mormon family with one husband, four wives, and a troop of kids. It seems that four wives wasn’t chaotic enough for TLC – they had to up their game and bring in a family with five.

While I didn’t watch the opening of the show, it did launch a rather interesting discussion about the Bible and polygamy.

Here’s the tough truth – there is no biblical mandate against having multiple wives. The verse that most Christians use against polygamy is where the Apostle Paul instructs that leaders should be husbands of one wife.

On the surface this seems to be a clear indicator of the Christian view of polygamy. Except that polygamy wasn’t rampant in the time and area Paul was writing. It doesn’t make sense that he would be addressing a problem that wasn’t really a problem. There is some merit to the argument that Paul is referring to divorce/remarriage rather than polygamy (but that’s a discussion for another post). Suffice to say, the Bible never comes out and says polygamy is sin.

But TXS, wouldn’t it be considered sinning if you’re having sex outside the bonds of marriage?

The biblical standard for sexual fidelity means within marriage, yes. But it’s not outside marriage if you’re having sex with one of the women you’re married to.

Interestingly, in the OT, polygamy was not about getting more nookie but about preserving the clan/family line and protecting women. With no male child a family line might die out. Multiple wives made possible the preservation of the family line. As for protecting women, in the ancient world there was no possibility for social advancement for women. If you didn’t get married you had a good chance of being destitute. Polygamy allowed for women to be taken into a family and cared for when they might not have been okay otherwise.

Several characters in OT stories have multiple wives. They are never condemned. But here’s the thing – it never ends well and always causes drama and grief. To my knowledge, every character we’re told about that is involved in polygamous families has some serious issues to contend with.

Some have accused me of letting culture set the tone for what is and what is not appropriate. And to some degree, yes! Culture does play a ROLE in determining right and wrong. What “good” Christians in America might consider jail-bait is considered prime marriage and child-bearing material in other cultures. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was likely a young teen when she became pregnant. We can’t use our culture to critique another culture when the Bible is silent on the issue.

In the end I wouldn’t treat it as a salvation issue – the Bible never says that you’re excluded from eternity with God if you have multiple wives. I don’t judge the polygamists in that regard (they are Mormons, and I do hold to a  clear position that Mormonism is NOT the Christian faith), but THEORETICALLY it would be possible for a Christian to be a polygamist and still be saved.

But overall I DO think it’s definitely on the “pretty dumb idea” list. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a polygamy advocate.

If I tried to marry another woman my wife would kill me – she doesn’t believe in divorce!

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4 thoughts on “The Disturbing Truth About Polygamy

  1. While I agree that polygamy was not widespread in the 1st century AD (especially in Greek and Roman societies) apparently it was present. Several of the early church leaders “fathers” do address it. This includes Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Basil the Great of Caesarea etc….as did the Synod of Neo-Caesarea (c 315). I am not saying that Paul is exclusively condemning polygamy but, I think that he is addressing the idea that you can’t have too many “irons in the fire” and be an effective leader. Whether those irons be ex-wives or multiple wives.

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