The Guy poses this question: So what does the Bible teach about polygamy?


Nobody has yet posted a question about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. “Mormon” or “LDS”) acknowledging delicate details about founding Prophet Joseph Smith’s polygamy, but The Guy decided he ought to examine the classic matter of how the Bible views polygamy.

Smith declared that God was simply using him to restore “plural marriage” (the church prefers that term to “polygamy”) that was divinely inspired in the Old Testament. A major interpretive question affects such Old Testament issues, including slavery. Did God command, or commend, a practice, or did he merely avoid punishing what humans were doing on their own? If the Bible recounts an action without tacking on moralistic criticism, does that signal divine endorsement, or only recording of facts that may be problematic?

Mormons are correct that there was “polygyny” (one husband, multiple wives) in the Old Testament, though not the “polyandry” (one wife, multiple husbands) that Smith also practiced. LDS Scripture disagrees with the Bible by listing Isaac as polygamous. As for others the church cites: Abraham married both Sarah and Keturah, though the latter perhaps after Sarah died, with Sarah’s urging took servant Hagar as a concubine to produce offspring, and had other concubines. Jacob married two sisters, Leah and Rachel, because of their father’s trickery, and each sister later gave Jacob servant girls as wives to produce more offspring. Moses had two wives. Polygamy was often associated with the ruling class, as with Kings David and Solomon. The latter overdid it with 700 wives and 300 cocubines (1 Kings 11:3), ignoring God’s rule that the king “shall not multiply wives for himself” (Deuteronomy 17:17).

The traditional Jewish and Christian belief is that the biblical God established monogamy as the ideal (Genesis 2:18-25). Though Old Testament law permitted polygamy, the Bible often linked it with evil, envy, family strife, and spiritual and moral decline. Lamech, the first polygamist, was the symbol of brutality. Moses’ second marriage stirred opposition to his leadership. Solomon’s harem “turned away his heart after other gods.” And so forth. The later biblical prophets embraced monogamy to symbolize union with God. Mainstream Christianity from its earliest days required monogamy due to Jesus’ scriptural teaching (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7-8, Luke 16:28).

In LDS history, polygamy was a major cause of persecution, including Smith’s own assassination in 1844. Church authorities openly proclaimed their formerly hidden practice in 1852 but then abolished it in the 1890 “Manifesto” following fierce U.S. government and culture pressures (though the polygamy command remains in the LDS Scriptures and the faith’s theology of heaven).

Continue reading "What does the Bible teach about polygamy?" by Richard Ostling.

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