Because the definition of marriage is being altered in our country to accommodate the homosexual agenda, we know that other forms of “marriage” are soon going to rear their ugly heads. Once marriage no longer means one man and one woman for life, it will mean whatever our society chooses. This argument alone is sufficient to justify our disgust at the situation in which we find ourselves in 21st century America. Marriage is not between a man and his sheep, two men, two women, multiple men with multiple women (polyamory), a woman with multiple husbands (polyandry), or one man with multiple wives (polygyny). Any marriage that involves more than one man and one woman is polygamy, the current criminal term for which is bigamy.
Recently, I had a someone tell me that he believed polygamy was acceptable to God. When I responded that marriage was originated as one man and one woman and that polygamy is sin, he countered that David and Solomon had multiple wives and that God could not condone sin. To this last, I responded with the verse that I had almost subconsciously been trained to use in such a situation, Acts 17:30, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked (or winked at), but now commands all men everywhere to repent”. The sense I had of this verse is that there was a time when God gave a tacit nod to sin in the lives of His people. The fellow responded that the passage is talking about idolatry. Indeed, upon re-reading the passage, I find he is right.
Remember where Paul is, the people he is addressing, and that he is overlooking temples built to honor the gods of Greece. He is telling them that God does not dwell in temples made with hands and the divine nature is not gold or silver or stone shaped by a man. While an argument could be made that verse thirty includes all the sin of man, the immediate context is of idolatry. Even in context, does this verse mean that God tacitly allowed His people to worship idols? To the contrary, God forbade His people from worshipping idols (Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 6:14, Jeremiah 25:6) and all the attendant actions that went along with their idol worship (Jeremiah 32:35). He did not stop them from worshipping idols, but He never winked at their doing it, either. It is this very idolatry that caused the people to be taken into captivity. Under no circumstances could we say that God temporarily overlooked idolatry as sin.
Did God then wink at or temporarily excuse David’s and Solomon’s polygamy? Did it matter to God? First, understand that polygamy is all over the pages of the Old Testament from Lamech in Genesis 4:19 to Joash in 2 Chronicles 24:3. Second, though, strictly speaking, multiple wives would also be considered adultery; there was a sense in which the marrying of multiple women was different than the taking of another man’s wife. David was directly punished for his taking of Bathsheba but not for his many wives. Making the matter seemingly more difficult is God’s statement to David regarding his sin with Bathsheba of 2 Samuel 12:8 that God may have given David more wives if he wanted them. Earlier God had spoken in Deuteronomy 17:17 of the king that His people would later want “Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away”. The instruction and result are both clear and fulfilled in Solomon. God never wanted multiple wives for anyone. See Malachi 2:14-15 where God speaks through the prophet of “the wife” not “the wives”.
Instead of directly punishing those who took multiple wives, God may have allowed the consequences of this action to be their own punishment as Romans 1:27 says. For example, we know that Solomon’s wives turned his heart from God, 1 Kings 11:4 and Nehemiah 13:26. We are also reminded that although the consequences came to David as a result of other sin, his sons of multiple wives rebelled against him and each other. Absalom slept with his father, David’s, concubines, 2 Samuel 16:21-22.
It may be that we can understand God’s reaction to man’s sin of polygamy in the Old Testament in the same way that we understand man’s sin of divorce as explained by Jesus in Matthew 19:8, it was permitted “because of the hardness of your hearts”. If God were to merit out the punishment, He would have had no people through whom to bring the Messiah. As it was, they had to be chastised in Babylon for their idolatry. In addition, since the Old Testament was written for our learning, we can certainly see the effects of polygamy as realized in the lives of David and Solomon.
The answer to the question really lies in what God’s will always was and is for us today as Christians. In the beginning, God created a man and a woman for that man. He not only did not create a man for Adam but He also did not create two women for him. Some attempt to say that Jesus approved of polygamy; and therefore, we should as well. This idea is mistaken for the simple reason that Jesus was a Jew who lived under the law. He was subject to it. Similarly to homosexuality, if God’s will prohibited polygamy; then Jesus taught and upheld that prohibition. Another way of stating the same thought is that if God defined marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman, then Jesus taught and confirmed that definition. To do otherwise would mean that Jesus violated the law and would not be the sinless lamb that would take away the sins of the world.
Jesus even reiterates God’s universal definition of marriage in the discussion of Matthew 19:1-9. We see no examples of Christians in the New Testament who do have multiple spouses. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:2 that each man should have his own wife and woman her own husband. In the same way that God’s original definition of marriage eliminates all other forms, so does Paul’s language here (and in Ephesians 5:33) eliminate the possibility of multiple spouses. Elders and deacons are to have one wife, 1 Timothy 3:2, 1 Timothy 3:12, Titus 1:6.
While it may be true that God does not directly say in the New Covenant that polygamy is forbidden, neither does He directly say that bestiality is forbidden. Would those who support the former also support the latter? It is sad that some who profess to be Christ’s are so confused about God’s definition of marriage. Understanding God’s will in the matter is not really that hard if we have the heart to let His word guide us. Clearly, the only God-ordained definition of marriage is that of one man and one woman for life, barring adultery, Matthew 19:9.