Contrary to popular belief, polygamy is not a sin in Scripture. Being raised primarily baptist, I could not accept this truth until the Lord showed me the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11-12. Chapter 11 is a narrative of the actual event of David and Bathsheba’s adultery and the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. Chapter 12 is the accounting of the Lord sending Nathan to David to expose the sins of David and the punishment for such sin. In verse 9 it says, “Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.” The sins that David committed are as follows: murder of Uriah, adultery against Uriah with Bathsheba, and committed treason by betraying Uriah to the enemy. David was not chastised for taking Bathsheba as a wife, but for taking Uriah’s wife as his own…this sin is only in reference to the adulterous affair between David and Bathsheba.
In the verse just previous to this (v. 8), the Lord says to David, “And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.” In layman’s speak, the Lord is saying, ‘David, I gave you Saul’s house, his women (plural), and his kingdom – if you wanted more of any of these, I would have given it to you had you just asked.’ David, who was considered a “man after God’s own heart”, was given multiple women to be as wives, in written ketubah* (also known as a “marriage contract”) with David. He did not seek these women out, but rather the Lord gave them to him. If the Lord considered multiple ketubah to be sinful and evil, then why would he have given David several women and even said he would have given David more women if David wanted them? That does not make sense. The only possible explanation would be that our understanding of men and women relationships have been skewed and have been shaped by the indoctrination of worldly culture and the religious doctrines of man. The illustration in the case of David is one of many that the Lord has in Scripture to show his approval (not tolerance) of plural marriage or polygamy.
Furthermore, a man who has a polygamist lifestyle is not inherently a “cheater” or a sex-maniac. If you understand that the word “cheater” in terms to relationship between man and woman is a relatively new definition from the late 1900s (after 1950). Historically, the term “cheater” is synonymous with the more commonly used word, “thief”. A polygamist does not “cheat” his other women by creating a new ketubah with another woman. However, if a man “steals” the wife of another man, then he may be considered a “cheater” and a thief because he has stolen another man’s woman and has therefore “cheated” the other man. It would be inappropriate to use the word cheat in reference to a relationship state between a polygamous man and a woman. Now, if a man has a woman or multiple women, it would be unwise to become emotionally and/or physically involved with another woman if his current woman do not know of his intentions, however, even in this the man is not committing sin – he’s just being stupid.
It is also important to make the distinction that a man who is a polygamist does not have a ketubah (or otherwise known as a written contract sealing a woman to become a man’s wife) with multiple women within one ketubah, but rather a separate ketubah with each woman he marries. Each ketubah, or as modern Westerners say “marriage contract”, is its own relationship separate from the other ketubot* the husband may have with other women (or “wives”).
Now, there are men throughout history (and today) who have verbal relationships with women they have no ketubah with. Although there may be no ketubah, these women are submitted unto the man, have joined his household, are under his headship and covering, and hold position in his household as one of his women; these women are what the bible calls “concubines”. This too, is not a sin. Concubinage is found in scripture and, like polygamy, has been recorded, illustrated, and never condemned by the Lord. We are so obsessed with the worldly concept of “marriage” that the biblically-approved relationship types between men and women have been socially and culturally constrained to single or married with no other options. This destroys the allowances the Lord makes for the relationship types He has always approved of.
Whether or not a ketubah has been agreed upon, Genesis 2-3 and Ephesians 5 illustrate the natural order of the male-female relationship. In Genesis 2-3, we have the original sin of man made by Adam (and Eve) as well as the punishment for men and women in the form of a curse that Christ came to remove through his death on the cross. Genesis 3:16 says that a portion of the curse to women is that “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” The word “desire” in this case is not of the sexual nature, but rather meaning a longing to run over in a way that consumes – basically the desire to dominate, control, and rule over. This is a state of a curse, not the original, natural reaction or desire a woman should have in relation to her husband or man.
In Ephesians 5, we have a description of what the original, natural relationship men and women should have in terms of headship. In reference to polygamy or plural marriage, it is important to make the distinction that a man who is polygamous does not have a ketubah (or otherwise known as a written contract sealing a woman to become a man’s wife) with multiple women within one ketubah, but rather a separate ketubah with each woman he marries. Each ketubah, or as modern Westerners say “marriage contract”, is its own relationship separate from the other ketubahs the husband may have with other women (or “wives”). Therefore, a man deals with each of his women individually and has the God-given, biblically-mandated right as head of his household, as according to Ephesians 5. He is the head of each wife (or isha/woman) and is commanded to love each of women. Notice that this passage is applicable to the single man, monogamous man, or the polygamous man.
Now, some may say “it says Christ and the Church, which means only monogamous or one bride”. It is true that the passage mentions “Christ and the Church”, but if it is to indicate one bride, then which bride is the chosen one to the Lord? In Revelations 2 and 3, it is revealed seven churches: Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodiceans. If we are to claim the Church is THE bride of Christ, which of these is the bride of Christ? Or can it be that the Lord also considers himself to be a husband of multiple brides?
Let us also consider the following passages where the Lord says he has more than one woman/bride:
Ezekiel 23 says, “The word of the Lord came again unto me, saying, Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother: and they committed whoredoms in Egypt; they committed whoredoms in their youth: there were their breasts pressed, and there thy bruised the teats of their virginity. And the names of them were Aholah the elder, and Aholibah her sister: AND THEY WERE MINE, AND THEY BARE SONS AND DAUGHTERS. Thus were their names; Samaria is Aholah, and Jerusalem Aholibah.”
In Jeremiah 3 the Lord calls both Judah and Israel his wives that played the roles of harlots and committed whoredom and adultery before him, “They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the Lord. Lift up thine eyes unto the high places, and see where thou hast not been lien with. In the ways hast thou sat for them, as the Arabian in the wilderness; and thou hast polluted the land with thy whoredoms and with thy wickedness. Therefore the showers have been withholden, and there hath been no latter rain; and thou hadst a whore’s forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed. Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My father, thou art the guide of my youth? Will he reserve his anger for ever? will he keep it to the end? Behold, thou hast spoken and done evil things as thou couldest. The Lord said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks. And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the Lord.”
In Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Revelations, we see the Lord with at minimum of two wives (Israel (Jerusalem), Judah (Samaria)) and seven churches (Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodiceans). If we still claim polygamy is sinful to the Lord, then we must remove these areas of Scripture to maintain our ignorance. These are evidence of the polygamous nature of the Lord, and as man was made in the image of God, then we must accept the same polygamous nature in the men of this world; it is not evil or sinful to be polygynous, but rather, in its own way, godly in its revealing nature of the Lord.
In order to understand the concept and practical application of polygamy, it is important to know that polygamy is a lifestyle choice. In the Bible, the Lord shows us three approved lifestyle choices for a man to have (in terms of his relationship with women): singleness, monogamous, or polygamous. In both the Old and New Testament, the Lord approves of all three of these types of lifestyles for men to have. It is not evil or wrong in the eyes of the Lord to be single, to be monogamous, or to be polygamous.
There are men who, upon discovering freedom in the truth, become over-zealous in letting everyone know what they’ve just learned, just as a blind man who can now see would share with all they know that they were once blind but can now see. Some men take this truth to mean that they are now “approved” to have a second wife, but a wise and godly man is in pursuit of the Lord, his truth, and the calling the Lord has given him. It is my belief that a man should not get married at all (mono or poly), but rather pursue his calling and if the Lord sees the man needs a helper in the calling, then the Lord will bring to him a woman to help him. If a man’s calling is greater than even the help of one woman, the Lord will give him the number of women the man will need in order to accomplish his calling.
*A ketubah (Hebrew: כְּתוּבָּה; “written thing”; pl. ketubot) is a unique and special traditional Jewish marriage agreement, or covenant, between the man (groom) and his woman (bride). It outlines the rights and responsibilities of the groom in relation to the bride. It is considered an illustration or example of how the Lord created a covent agreement with Israel, whom he calls and considers his “wife”. It is still considered a biblically-approved covenant for a man and his wife.