Why the Old Testament Doesn’t Rebuke Polygamy

One of the arguments people use to minimize the sinfulness of modern-day polygamy—especially in Africa—is the apparent blind eye God has towards it in the Old Testament. John Reisinger writes: “There is no instance in the Old Testament Scripture that suggests, in any way, that polygamy was a sin. This does not prove that polygamy was not a sin, but it does prove that God never treated it as a sin.” John Mbiti is even more direct:

Christians who uphold monogamy as the only acceptable form of marriage before God, tell us that this is what the Bible teaches. They go on to tell us that polygamy is a sin. I have searched the Bible carefully and one of the staggering things concerning marriage is that the Bible does not treat marriage in terms of either monogamy or polygamy.

Whether or not Scripture explicitly forbids polygamy is fodder for another day’s war. The issue here is whether God’s relative silence about the patriarch’s polygamy implies tacit approval. I say no. Here are some sins in Genesis by righteous people.

1)    Noah gets drunk (Gen. 9:21) – No rebuke from God.

2)    Abraham lies (12:10-20) – No rebuke. In fact, God punishes Pharaoh.

3)    Lot impregnates his daughters (19:30-38) – No rebuke

4)    Abraham lies again (20) – Abraham not rebuked…but Abimelech is!

5)    Jacob deceives his brother (25:31-33) – No rebuke

6)    Isaac lies (26:6-11) – No rebuke, but more blessings! (12)

7)    Jacob deceives father (27) – No rebuke, just more blessing (23)

8)    Jacob tricks Laban (31:20) – No rebuke

Assuming no one would use these stories to support drunkenness, incest, or dishonesty, why then polygamy? Surveying the other 38 books in the OT would bring endless more examples. The point is that God’s disapproval of polygamy in the OT is clear. It shouts at us, but not in propositional form. Rather, the narrative paints for us the ugly picture of family squabbles, marital tension, painful neglect, discarded children, broken promises and unquenched jealousy.

After all, we are never explicitly told that the prodigal son was wrong for squandering his wealth. Just look at the consequences.

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