Is Polygamy Biblical?

Mark Driscoll » Systematic Theology Scripture Doctrine

Like many people, I can still remember the mix of rage and horror I felt as I fought back tears, seeing the television report that an extremist cult compound in Texas had been raided because girls were being held there essentially as slaves to be abused by pedophiles who claimed to be religious leaders. Thankfully, that case is now coming to trial as the Houston Chronicle reports,

    More than 150 potential jurors, including 10 women in prairie dresses and braids, crammed into a makeshift courtroom Monday as jury selection began in the first criminal trial stemming from the raid of a polygamist sect’s ranch last year.
    Raymond Jessop, 38, is charged with sexual assault of a child, stemming from his alleged marriage to an underage girl. The girl, according to church documents seized by authorities, gave birth at age 16 at the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado. If convicted, Jessop faces 20 years in prison.

Following that, Jessop will face Jesus Christ, who said tying a rock around his neck and throwing him into the sea would be a better fate than the just and hellish eternity that awaits him. While we pray for justice to the evil men and loving counseling for the abused girls, the case has brought to light one curious theological question: Is polygamy biblical? Various cults, aberrant sects, and perverts make the case that the Bible does mention polygamy and so it is biblically acceptable. However, they fail to acknowledge that the Bible speaks of human sin from beginning to end to show the evil horrors of sin. Therefore, just because something is in the Bible does not mean that God approves of it, as is the case with the rapes, murders, and adulteries reported throughout Scripture. There are many biblical and practical reasons why polygamy is sinful and harmful.

  1. The first man to take more than one wife was the godless man Lamech (Genesis 4:19–24).
  2. Some of the Old Testament patriarchs did practice polygamy, and it never honored God. For example, Abram married Hagar in addition to Sarai. The results of this polygamy are truly tragic, as is the case with other instances of adultery and polygamy in Scripture. Abram slept with Hagar and she bore him a son. God promised that Hagar’s son would become the father of a great nation because he was a son of Abram, though not the son of the promise (which would eventually be Isaac). God promised that Ishmael would be a “wild donkey of a man” and that he would be a warrior in hostility with his brothers who would descend from Abram. Ishmael was born to a Hebrew father and Egyptian mother and became the father of the Arab nations that to this day are in hostility with Jews and Christians alike, as promised.
  3. The disaster of polygamy is illustrated by Lamech and Adah and Zillah in Genesis 4:19–24, Esau and Mahalath and other wives in Genesis 28:6–9, and Jacob and Leah and Rachel in Genesis 29:15–30. None of these occurrences was godly or good.
  4. The Bible repeatedly shows that polygamy is wrought with favoritism, fighting, jealousy, and mistreatment (e.g., Genesis 35:22; 38:18–28; 2 Samuel 3:2–5; 13:1–29; 15–18; 1 Kings 11:1–4).
  5. The New Testament church elders who serve as the pattern for Christian families are to be one-woman men and not polygamists (1 Timothy 3:2, 12).
  6. God’s intention is that each man would have one wife (Genesis 2:18; Matthew 19:4–6).
  7. Marriage is ultimately a picture of Jesus’ loving relationship with the church (Ephesians 5:22–33; Revelation 19:6–9). Jesus is faithful to one bride, the church, as the pattern for all marriages.

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