Can Christians marry more than one wife?

Can Christians marry more than one wife?

King Solomon famously had 700 wives. That’s mind-boggling. I’m not sure I even know 700 people, let alone understand all that goes into having 700 wives! This raises lots of questions in our minds. How did the scheduling work? Did he have favourites? How did he even remember their names?

There is one question that it raises that we should be clear on: is it OK for people to marry more than one person at a time?

Now, I do hope that you are not seriously considering that question right now in a practical sense. If you’re married, having the one spouse is enough. If you are not married, your choices are to remain single or to obtain one spouse in the future.

The Biblical teaching on marriage is simple. Genesis 2 describes it as between one man and one woman. Jesus simply reaffirms this teaching in Matthew when asked, and Paul also quotes Genesis 2 when he teaches on marriage in Ephesians 5. Across thousands of years and different cultural situations and languages, God’s view of marriage is the same: it is for one man and one woman.

The problem arises when we see how many of the believers in the Old Testament decided to marry more than one person. Solomon is the most extreme example, just like he was extreme in all other areas of his life. But he is by no means the only believer in the Bible who had more than one wife. His father David also had many. Abraham had Sarah and Hagar. Jacob had Rachel and Leah. Elkanah had Hannah and Penninah. This is not a once-off issue.

Not only this, but you won’t find a verse that condemns the Old Testament believers for their polygamy. Solomon’s wives turned his heart from God, but this may have happened with one just as easily as 700. Mostly, the Biblical text just tells us how these marriages unfolded rather than giving an explicit judgement on them being wrong.

Why is this? I am arguing from silence here, so perhaps I am mistaken. I think the Biblical writers assume we already know this marrying more than one person was wrong according to God’s plan; after all, Genesis 2 is clear on the matter, and we read Genesis 2 before these other examples. There is a second reason though: instead of telling us this was wrong, the Biblical writers show us where such a sinful decision leads.

Abraham married Hagar out of impatience at God fulfilling his promises, and it ended up with the longstanding enmity between the Jews and Arab peoples. David’s many wives led to children from different marriages setting themselves up against one another to jockey for position. Jacob’s wives despised one another, even naming their children somewhat spiteful names in reference to the other one. The message is clear: marrying more than one person leads to conflict and disaster. We don’t need to be told it is a bad idea; we are shown it is a bad idea.

In the end, we cannot use the example of Abraham or Solomon to justify polygamy. God’s good design for marriage is between one man and one woman. That’s enough for anyone!