Polygamy in the Old Testament


The Old Testament of the Bible constantly refers to men having multiple wives or the practice of polygamy, and God even encourages men to take many wives. Did the New Testament where Jesus tells us marriage is between a man and a woman overrule the Old Testament teachings from God? Is polygamy okay?


While there are lots of cases of polygamy in the Old Testament (notably King Solomon), it can be argued that most of such instances constituted special reasons: for example, for kings to form alliances or strengthen relationships with other countries or tribes, or in a situation where a man’s wife could not produce her own children. The trend among Jews just before and during New Testament times was to forbid the practice.

In Matthew 19:5, Jesus clearly states that a man should have only one wife: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”. In actual fact, Jesus is here directly quoting Genesis 2:24 in the Old Testament, suggesting that monogamy was God’s desired intention even in the Hebrew Scriptures. So Jesus is not overruling Old Testament teaching, but rather reinforcing its emphasis on monogamy as the general rule. Thus polygamy should not be regarded as being okay.

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