On Biblical Polygamy

Now that the Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage in every state in the union, those of us in the church are still standing behind traditional marriage. This has led to the haughty derision of our non-Christian peers who claim the Bible endorses polygamy. Let me be clear – the Bible gives examples of polygamy and, quite frankly, gives us examples of the problems which arise from it. Let’s talk about the examples of polygamous unions in the Bible, shall we?


Jacob had four wives; kind of, the sisters Rachel and Leah, and their handmaidens/his concubines Bilhah and Zilpah. What issues arose from having all these wives? Well, for starters, there were issues of jealousy among his wives. Rachel and Leah were constantly at odds with each other, breaking the kinship they should naturally have a sisters. In their jealousy, they handed over other women to their husband to sleep with, Bilhah and Zilpah. Think about that for a moment. In their jealousy of each other in their quest for their husband’s affection, they sent their husband into the arms of other women. This jealousy was something they viewed as righteous each time they bore more children, either by themselves or through their handmaidens. Jacob was treated like chattel at times by the sisters, at one point being prostituted to Leah by Rachel because she wanted some mandrakes (Genesis 30:14-16). Jacob’s preferences for his wives also lead to jealousy among his sons. His preference for Rachel led to his favoring of Joseph. His favoring of Joseph lead to jealousy among the brothers, which led to them trying to murder their own brother. They end up selling him into slavery instead. The Lord used all this sin, but does this mean the Lord condoned it? Or does this give an example of “what not to do” as we see all the issues in this family stemming from Jacob’s polygamy?


David had at least eight wives and potentially more concubines. It’s not entirely clear from the Biblical narrative how many more wives/concubines he had. What happened in his family with this variety of wives? Well, first, there was murder – as David’s lust for other women led to him murdering Uriah the Hittite so he could bed and marry Bathsheba. What else came from this divided household with numerous wives and numerous half siblings? We saw David’s son Ammon rape his sister Tamar, followed by Absalom murdering his brother. Absalom then tried to overthrow his father and led a rebellion. David’s poor management of his household with his growing harem of women led to all manner of confusion, family issues, crime, and death. Absalom ends up dead following his rebellion. Later in life, there is confusion as to who should ascend to the throne based on lineage and David’s numerous wives, leading to David’s eldest Adonijah trying to usurp the throne. But, David picks the son of his favorite wife Bathsheba leading to Solomon becoming the next King of Israel. Adonijah tries again to capture the throne through an attempt to wed the woman David was sleeping (non-sexual) with before his death, but is put to death by Solomon. The confusion in continuity of the throne due to the plural marriages; the poor management of household during these plural marriages. How is this an example of something the Bible condones? Or does it, much like before, paint a picture of a poor household, a bad situation which has at it’s base polygamy. Also, technically, David was in violation of Deuteronomy 17:17 which outlines that a King should not take many wives. David did it anyway. His son would continue that tradition to a grand degree.


Solomon had a whole lot of wives, once again violating Deuteronomy 17:17. Some put the count at 700 wives and 300 concubines. Yea, that’s a lot. Marriages were a political convenience for Solomon done for political purposes. Did he consummate all the marriages? We have no way of knowing. The Bible is very clear about what Solomon did following his marriages – he worshipped other gods (1 Kings 11:1-8). In fact, he was known to worship due to one of his wives a god which required infant sacrifice. I wrote about that before, but here’s a brief copy of my comments:

Our God is a jealous God and does not want us worshiping any others before Him or alongside Him. Solomon was doing that, which is upsetting in and of itself. Then, you see who the second god listed is – Milcom.

Milcom and Moloch are used interchangeably. For those who don’t know, Moloch is one of the Semitic deities that required human sacrifices. Not just any human sacrifice, but the sacrifice of babies. Moloch’s ritual, according to some historians, involves the creation of a multi-chambered statue where various sacrifices from grains to animals are placed inside. The statue, made of gold, would then be heated from the outside and all the contents would be destroyed. A baby was one of the sacrifices.

For Solomon to have fallen so far that he would be worshiping a deity that would require child sacrifices. Following the Lord calling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the Lord has never required human sacrifice. He abhors it, and has said as much throughout the Bible. This is an upsetting passage of scripture. The political and spiritual leader of the Israelites is offering worship to a god who calls for child sacrifice. It’s disgusting, it’s perverse, and it’s upsetting.

So, Solomon’s polygamist marriages led to him worshipping a god which required infant sacrifices. It led to him being drawn away from the Lord and toward false idols which condoned some horrific actions. How is this an attempt to condone polygamy?

That’s just the three most well known examples and look at the disaster wrought upon these families from the polygamous unions. So, I ask again to those who like to point out polygamy is in the Bible – do you still think the Bible condones polygamy? I do not.

About the Author

Matthew Newman
Matthew Newman is a Christian environmental engineer (Professionally licensed in Maryland). He’s also a husband, beard aficionado, Dad of four beautiful children, blogger, and all around geeky guy from Baltimore County. When he’s not chasing his kids or working, he’s probably asleep.

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