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Does God allow men to have many wives?


Thank you for this interesting question. The answer needs to be a little detailed.

When God created Adam and Eve he established a principle for marriage:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24).

However, before the Old Testament law was given through Moses, the ancient people of Israel developed some legal rules of their own, one of which was that only men had legal authority, never women. As a result, men could offer a marriage contract to more than one woman and they could also cancel them at will - in other words, issue a divorce. A wife had no legal power but if she accepted a marriage contract she had to be completely faithful to her husband.

When God's law was revealed through Moses, the husband's responsibilities in marriage were clarified. A husband had to give his wife shelter, clothing and a sexual relationship (Exodus 21:10). He could only divorce his wife for something disgraceful in her behaviour (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

He was not forbidden to have more than one wife, but a wife could not have more than one husband

Most men did not take extra wives, but wealthy people might, as did Abraham and Jacob, and later on the kings of Israel. However, every biblical story of 'polygamy' (the technical word for marrying more than one wife) is about it leading to sinful behaviour and trouble. In other words, the Old Testament does not forbid it but it does not approve of it either.

By the time of Jesus, a different abuse of marriage was more common - men were abusing their legal power to 'send away' wives they no longer wanted. Jesus answered this problem by saying that a marriage should be like that of Adam and Eve - faithful, exclusive and for life (Matthew 19:1-12, with verses 1-6 requiring particular attention).

The Christian position, therefore, is that polygamy is a betrayal of being faithful to one marriage for life. Polygamy is a form of adultery.

  • The Mormon religion has historically approved of polygamy on the basis that the Old Testament does not forbid it but officially renounced it many years ago, although a small group of Mormons have rebelled against the official change of teaching to continue its practice.
  • The Catholic Church believes, as do some Protestants, that Jesus forbade divorce and remarriage under any circumstances, and so remarriage is treated by them as a kind of polygamy because a marriage is for life and cannot be ended. Divorce is only 'a legal fiction' to them.
  • Protestant Churches generally believe that Jesus allowed divorce and remarriage under certain circumstances, and do not therefore regard remarriage as adding another marriage. 

All Bible-believing Christians would stress that the biblical calling in marriage is to remain faithful and united for life in body and spirit so that divorce is always a result of failure to do so by one or both of the partners. 

I do hope this general answer to your question goes some way to helping you find peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. If you want to know more about what Jesus has done for you please watch the video on the main part of our site:

In closing, I want to encourage you to get more involved with your local church. It would be good to speak to a Christian leader or another trusted church individual regarding your question. I know they would be delighted to further answer you as well as offer prayer and support as you continue your spiritual journey:

Please use our Interactive Answer Matrix and feel free to ask another question. Our helpful staff are praying for you and waiting to try and answer to you from the Bible, and will be delighted to tell you more about Jesus Christ the Lord, the Saviour of the world.

*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise

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