Q. I have been told that God was the originator of giving man more than one wife, in earlier times, because he was building a nation. I think on such Bible patriarchs such as Abraham, David, Solomon, Jacob and Moses, who were allowed to have many wives and in some instances were even given another by God.
So my questions is, were all these major Bible characters committing sin by having multiple wives and was God just ignoring it or have they been unfairly treated by later generations? Can you provide solid evidence that Polygamy is of God or of Man?
A. It’s very difficult to make a bullet proof case for monogamy solely from the Bible. I consider Genesis 2:24 where a man leaves his father and mother to be united with his wife and the two shall become one flesh more of a comment on a man starting his own family. The two become one in each child they produce together.
Some of the great patriarchs were monogamous some were not. Adam apparently was. So were Noah, Abraham (with the exception of using Hagar as a surrogate) and Isaac. Jacob, David and Solomon were not. Scholars differ where Moses is concerned, but if he did have two wives it was one at a time.
After David sinned with Bathsheba, God rebuked him for having Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, killed but in the process told him, “I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.” (2 Sam 12:8) At the time David had seven wives in addition to Bathsheba, but from the context it appears that the Lord was saying, “If you had asked, I would have given you another wife. You didn’t have to kill a man to get one.”
The two most direct references are in Deut 17:17 where the Lord said that Kings of Israel should not take many wives, and in 1 Tim 3:2 & 12 where Paul wrote that Elders and Deacons of the Church should be husbands of but one wife.
The “one man, one woman, one life” idea first became mandated in Christianity in the early 600’s AD when the Catholic Church instituted it. Citing the absence of a clear Biblical directive, some scholars believe the church’s motivation was more economic than theological. They claim that after limiting the number of a man’s wives to one, the church’s revenue skyrocketed from money left to it by wealthy members who had seen to the needs of their much smaller families, and gave the balance of their estate to the church.
I’m neither saying that I’m opposed to monogamy, nor in support of polygamy. You asked whether polygamy was of God or man, and the Bible indicates that polygamy was at least tolerated. But from reading the text as it’s written it appears that at least among common people monogamy was the norm throughout both Old and New Testaments.