A weathered Bible, opened on a page with the words "Love one another" highlighted, contrasting with a reflection of a diverse group of individuals, symbolizing the complexity of polygamy.

What Does The Bible Say About Polygamy?

Polygamy, the practice of having multiple spouses, is a controversial topic that has biblical origins. In this comprehensive article, we will examine what the Bible really says about polygamy.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Bible includes many examples of polygamy among important figures like the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, as well as kings like David and Solomon.

However, the Bible lays out ideals for marriage that point toward monogamy as the standard.

Polygamy in the Old Testament

Polygamy Practiced by Patriarchs

In the Old Testament, some prominent patriarchs like Abraham, Jacob and David practiced polygamy by taking multiple wives. Abraham married Sarah but also took her maidservant Hagar as his wife (Genesis 16). Jacob married two sisters, Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29).

David had many wives including Michal, Abigail, Bathsheba and others (1 Samuel 18, 25, 2 Samuel 11). Though the Bible records these instances of polygamy without overt condemnation, there is often family strife, favoritism and sorrow as a result of the practice.

Polygamy Among Kings and Leaders

Many Israelite kings had multiple wives, likely due to the influence of surrounding cultures. King Solomon famously had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3)! This enormous harem led Solomon’s heart away from the Lord.

Other kings like David, Rehoboam, Ahab, Jehoram, Joash, Jehoiachin and Belshazzar also had multiple wives and concubines.

While polygamy was tolerated and practiced by even the most famous Bible heroes, the Scriptures consistently elevate monogamy as the ideal marriage arrangement. The Bible says a man shall “hold fast to his wife” (Genesis 2:24), not wives!

Old Testament Law and Polygamy

Though polygamy was common and accepted, the Mosaic Law contains some provisions that may indicate that monogamy was considered the proper guideline. For example, a man had to continue conjugal duties with his first wife even if he took another wife (Exodus 21:10).

Also, the high priest was expressly forbidden from marrying more than one wife (Leviticus 21:13).

Some scholars believe God allowed polygamy to protect women in patriarchal societies where many men died in war. A widow with no man to provide for her was in dire straits. Yet the problems stemming from polygamy in the Bible strongly suggest God’s ideal is monogamy.

Monogamy in the Bible

Adam and Eve

The Bible presents Adam and Eve as the first married couple, created by God to be monogamous. Genesis 2:24 states, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

This verse establishes the foundation for marriage being between one man and one woman in a monogamous relationship. Throughout the Old Testament, polygamy was practiced by some, but it appears to have been culturally acceptable, not God’s ideal.

For example, Deuteronomy 17:17 instructed kings not to “acquire many wives,” implying monogamy is preferred.

New Testament Teachings on Marriage

In the New Testament, Jesus affirmed God’s original intention for marriage to be monogamous. When asked about divorce, Jesus pointed back to the Genesis account and affirmed God designed marriage to be permanent and monogamous between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6).

The apostle Paul also used monogamous marriage as a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). He instructed church leaders, like elders and deacons, to be “the husband of one wife” showing monogamy (1 Timothy 3:2,12).

Overall, the New Testament is clear that marriage is intended to be a monogamous covenant between one man and one woman.

Bible Verses About Polygamy

The practice of polygamy, where a man takes multiple wives, is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. Here are some key Bible verses about polygamy:

Examples of Polygamy

Some major biblical figures had multiple wives, including David, Solomon, Jacob and Elkanah:

  • “David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David.” (2 Samuel 5:13)
  • “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women.” (1 Kings 11:1)
  • “Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah.” (Genesis 29:30)
  • “Elkanah had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah.” (1 Samuel 1:2)

Old Testament Law Allows Polygamy

The law God gave to Moses allowed men to take multiple wives. However, it made restrictions to protect the rights of the first wife:

  • “If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights.” (Exodus 21:10)
  • “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved…” (Deuteronomy 21:15)

Warnings Against Kings Taking Many Wives

Although polygamy was allowed, some Old Testament passages warn against a king taking many wives:

  • “And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away.” (Deuteronomy 17:17)
  • “King Solomon loved many foreign women…His wives turned away his heart after other gods.” (1 Kings 11:1,4)

New Testament Affirms Monogamy

While polygamy was practiced in Old Testament times, the New Testament affirms God’s ideal marriage is monogamous. Passages referring to husbands and wives always mention one husband and one wife:

  • “Let each man have his own wife and let each woman have her own husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:2)
  • “An overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife.” (1 Timothy 3:2)
  • “Let deacons each be the husband of one wife.” (1 Timothy 3:12)


In summary, while the Bible includes many examples of polygamy, the original ideal of marriage in Eden was monogamy. The New Testament also speaks favorably of monogamous marriage and places standards on church leaders that point away from polygamy.

There are diverse views among Bible scholars on whether polygamy is banned or allowed according to Scripture. The biblical texts themselves do not explicitly prohibit the practice in all cases.

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