Polygamy and polygamous attitudes were once normal in the history of our Scriptures. Eventually, it fell out widespread practice and monogamous relationships became the standard. While polygamy was not the norm of God’s plan for mankind, it was none the less accepted by God and great men such as David and Moses had multiple wives. Given the history of polygamy, it should not surprise us that the bible has a several future references for it as well.
An oft asked question about the Bible’s ‘normalcy’ on the subject is why it was normal. The answer to that question is not as superficial as the platitude, “it’s a man’s world”. The hierarchy of male power certainly played a role in the history of biblical polygamy but there are also deep doctrinal purposes for the prior existence and acceptance of polygamous marriages. I’ll save those doctrinal discussions for another article. What I want to highlight on now is the future return of polygamy and the normalization that it held in times past.
The fact that Old Testament polygamy was accepted by God is unquestionable. This acceptance is not in any way a contradiction to any New Testament teaching and, frankly speaking, that fact baffles a lot of Christians studying the issue. Throughout the the New Testament, monogamy is inferred from many different passages but, on the flip side, no where is polygamy condemned. From a New Testament perspective, there is a rather large absence of information on the matter. An example of inference is found in the book of Ephesians:
Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. (Eph 5:33)
When the bible addresses marital relationships, it always does so in the singular context. I’m not convinced that’s an outright condemnation of polygamous relations but the inference of it is not unreasonable.
I’m not advocating Scriptural interpretations in favor of polygamy. I liken the issue somewhat along the lines of divorce: acceptable in the Old Testament but less than ideal in the New Testament world. Putting all for & against interpretations to the side, I want to highlight that polygamous marriages will again become the norm. The bible is quite clear on the future rise of polygamy.
Let’s take a look at some verses dealing with bishops and deacons in the church:
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; (1Ti 3:2)
If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. (Tit 1:6)
There can only be two possible interpretations for the “husband of one wife”. We are either dealing with the subject of divorce or the subject of polygamy in the passages. I contend that it’s the latter. While divorce is less than ideal in church leadership (cf Lev 21:14), to rule it out is theologically problematic for a few reasons.
The first of these reasons is authority. Authority belongs to the man in Church leadership. A woman of ill intent could easily topple the church structure by her departure. Seeing that Eve was first deceived, such a scenario is not hard to fathom. Remember, Adam’s sinless state was not removed until he sinned after the manner of his wife.
Additionally, such a robbery of authority could be considered contradictory to First Corinthians 7:15 (not under bondage in such cases). To remove one’s leadership authority on the basis of a no-fault divorce would put an individual under bondage. Even further, the passages say nothing of the remarried widow! Such contradictions must be avoided in scriptural interpretations.
If we make a case for the return of polygamy on the aforementioned verses, is it backed up elsewhere in Scripture? Indeed it is. Look what Isaiah has to say:
And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach. (Isa 4:1)
Polygamy may not be the norm at this time but it will be. Women will be clamoring for it due to the shortage men from war. Hardcore feminists may reject such a notion but remember, they are the minority and the reality of war can change attitudes.
I suspect it will be an easy transition to normalizing polygamy from our current views. The government will (more than likely) get out of the marriage game altogether and leave such ‘unions’ up to religious institutions [as they should]. When that happens, the practice of polygamous marriages will go mainstream again. In some senses it has already with such reality tv shows as Sister Wives.
Polygamy may not be “normal” or accepted right now. Eventually it will be and the modern church should prepare itself for that fact. The body of Christ will be forced to reconsider the doctrinal meaning of marriage and the hidden truths that lie behind polygamy. It’s all part of God’s plan in the fulfillment of prophecy.