Popular opinion is not always right
According to a Gallup poll taken in May of 2013, 83% of Americans believed polygamy was immoral while only 14% believed it was morally acceptable.
In this same survey, gay or lesbian relations shot from being 40% acceptable in 2001 to being accepted as a moral lifestyle by 59% of Americans in 2013.
This post is not about gay relations, but I list it for a reason. The reason is that the majority opinion is not always right, man’s opinions sway back and forth, but God’s opinions do not.
Defining the Terms
Let’s first get the terms correct. I had to reference Polygamy for this article because that is what most people will look for on this subject. Technically we are talking about the practice of Polygyny. Polygamy refers to practice of someone having multiple spouses. Polygyny refers to the practice of a man having multiple wives. Polyandry refers to the practice of a woman having multiple husbands (this practice has been rare in the history of the world, but it has occurred and still occurs in some places). Polyandry is expressly forbidden by the Biblical concept that woman was made for man, and not man for woman. If a woman were to try and marry a second husband she would in essence be committing adultery against her first husband and she would have been put to death for this.
Monogamy strictly speaking refers to a person having only one spouse. For the purpose of this article I am referring to the heterosexual type of monogamy.
One other term we need to define is concubine. A concubine in Biblical times was a “slave wife”, as opposed to a “free wife”. A good example of this would be Sarah and Hagar in relation to Abraham. Hagar was a slave woman who worked for Sarah(a free woman), and she gave him to her husband Abraham to give him an heir. God did not have a problem with Abraham taking Hagar as second wife, but the problem was in his wife seeing this child of the slave woman as Hagar to Abraham to produce an heir in direct contradiction to God’s promise that Sarah would bear Abraham’s heir.
In most cases a slave wife’s children would have little or no inheritance compared to the children of the free wives of the husband. However there are some cases, such as Jacob’s two concubines (the servants of his two wives) where their sons were granted full rights.
Often time’s concubines were also referred to as wives such as Keturah (Abraham’s concubine). But if a woman was a slave she was a concubine, whether she was called a wife or not.
From this point forward when I use polygamy and polygyny interchangeably – I am referring to the polygynous type of polygamy.
One last item I want to clarify – I am not arguing that monogamy is wrong. I am arguing that monogamy and polygamy have been and continue to be perfectly acceptable before God. So in essence I am arguing against the “Monogamy Only” position. I believe marriage is Biblically between a man and a woman, but it is not restricted Biblically to being between one man and one woman. From this point forward I will refer to the “Monogamy Only” position as MO (as in MO advocates).
Biblical Patriarchs who were Polygamists
Abraham had one wife, Sarah, and also several concubines. Only two of his concubines are given by name. The first and most famous is Hagar, the servant of his wife. God had him send her away with her son Ishmael. After Sarah’s death Abraham took another concubine, Keturah as well as other unnamed concubines. Genesis tells us that before he died Abraham gave his concubines gifts and sent them away:
“But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.”
This was common practice in the time of Abraham to make sure none of the sons of his concubines would try to rise up and kill Isaac to try and claim his inheritance.
Here are several other famous Biblical characters who were Polygamists:
Jacob had two wives and two concubines. Together these women four women gave birth to the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel.
David had 8 wives and many concubines (at least ten).
Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
Gideon had 70 sons from his “many wives”.
Ezra had two wives.
Hosea had two wives.
This is not exhaustive list of polygamists as there are many other lesser characters listed in the OT that were polygamists.
Four of these polygamists were chosen by God to write down his inerrant Word. God never condemned their polygamy. Some would argue that just because we see polygamy by these men does not mean God approved the practice. They argue men like David, a man after God’s own heart, also committed adultery and had a man murdered. But God condemned the many sins of David including murder and adultery, but he never condemned his polygamy.
Solomon is condemned because he took heathen wives and allowed them to lead his heart astray. However, I think even pro polygamy advocates would say Solomon abused the practice of polygamy as there is no way a man could have a close relationship with a 1000 women.
Conclusion of Part 1
In this first part of my series on polygamy we have defined the terms related to it and established the two sides of the debate, the Monogamy Only advocates who believe monogamy is the only acceptable type of marriage God allows, and then the other side that believes both polygyny and monogamy are allowed (which is the position that I hold to and will defend in the next parts of this series).
We have also established that many of God’s servants, and four writers of the Old Testament, including one who was called a man after God’s own heart, were polygamists.
In the next part of this series, we will discuss the origins of the “monogamy only” position on marriage.