Polygamy (a person having multiple spouses) – including polygyny (a man with multiple wives) and polyandry (a woman with multiple husbands) – is contrary to God’s original intention for marriage. His creative purpose from the beginning involved only “one man/one woman” marriages (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6; 1 Cor. 7:1-5). There are, however, numerous instances of polygamy (incl. bigamy) recorded in the Bible. Lamech is the first one mentioned as having more than one wife (Gen. 4:19). This practice apparently originated among those who had become estranged from God (Gen. 4:16 ff.). Nevertheless, there are also some “righteous” men who had a plurality of wives, such as Abraham (Gen. 16:3), Jacob (Gen. 37:2), and David (1 Sam. 25:43). But even these polygamous unions were conceived in the context of sin and led to many problems (cf. Gen. 16:1-6; 21:11; 29:16 - 30:15; 37:28; Deut. 17:17; 2 Sam. 11:27; et al.). Other polygamists included Esau (Gen. 28:9), Gideon (Judg. 8:30), Elkanah (1 Sam. 1:2), Saul (2 Sam. 12:8), Solomon (1 Kgs. 11:3), Issachar’s sons (1 Chron. 7:4), Shaharaim (1 Chron. 8:8-9), Rehoboam (2 Chron. 11:21), Abijah (2 Chron. 13:21), and Joash (2 Chron. 24:3). But no polygamous marriage is ever depicted as a good marriage.
If polygamy was contrary to God’s will and caused so many problems, why did He allow it? Throughout the Old Testament God seems to have permitted, and even regulated, a number of things of which He disapproved (e.g. Matt. 19:8). Yet He patiently endured in order to bring about a much greater state of affairs. Paul reveals that in anticipation of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, God, in His forbearance, “had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Rom. 3:23-26). Despite their imperfections, those who submitted their lives to God prior to Christ’s death (e.g. Abraham, David, etc.) had forgiveness available to them (cf. Heb. 9:15). However, now that God’s complete will has been revealed, there is no longer any excuse. “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
--Kevin L. Moore