Q. How did the practice of marrying more than one wife come about since Jesus said marriage is between one woman and one man. We are studying the story of Leah and Rachel and its bugging me that Jacob married more than one woman. When/why did this practice stop?
A. Although Genesis 2:24 reveals that it was always the Lord’s intention for man to have one wife, and that theirs be a life long commitment, the Old Testament doesn’t contain any specific restrictions against plural marriage, and a number of venerated Patriarchs had multiple wives. Perhaps the most famous were King David, who had several wives and his son Solomon who had 300 wives and 700 concubines. But these men were the exception to the rule. The great majority of men married only one woman.
Jesus quoted Genesis 2:24 in his teaching on divorce (Matt. 19:3-9) confirming that marriage was intended for one man and one woman. A study of the 370 times the word wife appears in the Bible shows that it overwhelmingly describes a man’s only spouse.
Paul made monogamy a condition for appointment as a bishop or deacon (1 Tim 3:2 & 12) and taught that marriage was a model of the relationship between the Lord and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). The practice stopped because it was never God’s intention for men to have multiple wives.
Some say that the concept of plural marriage may be returning, since a federal judge just struck down part of Utah’s anti-polygamy law. The judge ruled that while the possession of more than one valid marriage license at the same time is illegal, simultaneous cohabitation with more than one partner is not. People have long speculated that if marriage was no longer legally defined as the union of one man and one woman, anti-polygamy laws would be the next target.