Monogamy is God’s ideal standard for humanity, with one man and one woman (Ge 1:27; Ge 2:24). Jesus reaffirmed the principle in Matthew 19:4. Other passages establish the same point: “Each man [should] have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (1 Co. 7:2). This excludes polygamy. Paul said a church leader should be “the husband of one wife” (1 Ti. 3:2, 12).
God never commanded polygamy. The Law of Moses prohibited polygamy, “You shall not multiply wives” (Deut. 17:17). We can see God’s judgment on polygamy in the following passages:
–Polygamy occurred in the context of societal rebellion against God where the murderer “Lamech took for himself two wives” (Gen. 4:19, 23).
–God warned polygamists of the consequences of this sin– “lest his heart turn away” from God (Deut. 17:17; cf. 1 Kings 11:2).
–Every polygamist in the Bible, including David and Solomon (1 Chr. 14:3), paid for his sins.
Records of polygamy do not convey God’s approval of it. Polygamy was never permitted for anyone in the Bible.
The institution of concubinage was wrong and evil. This was true from an Old Testament point of view as well.
Genesis 2:21–24 sets forth God’s normative instructions for marriage: one man was to be joined to one woman so as to become one flesh.
Polygamy appears for the first time in Genesis 4:19, when Lamech became the first bigamist, marrying two wives, Adah and Zillah. No other recorded instances of polygamy exist from Shem to Terah, the father of Abraham (except for the episode in Gen 6:1–7).
No permission can be recited from any text in the Old Testament for polygamy or concubinage. The practice was never considered normative, even in the life of David or anyone else.
Those who say the Old Testament gave direct or implied permission for polygamy usually point to four passages: Exodus 21:7–11, Leviticus 18:18, Deuteronomy 21:15–17, and 2 Samuel 12:7–8:
There is no suggestion of a second marriage with “marital rights” in Exodus 21:10. The word translated as “marital rights” should be rendered oil or ointments. The idea is that the man who purchased a female servant must continue to provide for her if he proposes marriage and does not consummate it.
Leviticus 18:18 prohibits marrying a wife’s sister during the lifetime of his wife since having her sister as a rival would vex her.
Deuteronomy 21:15–17 legislates the rights of the firstborn, regardless of whether that child is the son of the preferred wife or of the wife who is not loved. This does not affirm that legislation on rights within polygamy tacitly condones polygamy. Neither does legislation on Deuteronomy 23:18 about harlotry approve of harlotry.
2 Samuel 12:7-8
2 Samuel 12:7–8 supplies no evidence for polygamy by proclaiming that all Saul’s wives be David’s. Saul’s wives appear nowhere in the lists of David’s wives are listed. The idea is simply that everything, in principle, was at David’s disposition.
David strengthened his political ties through the marriage of six sons by different wives born at Hebron (1 Sa 3:2-5), which was a common practice for ancient kings. David’s polygamy violated the Law (Deut. 17:17). This led to enormous problems as he tried to blend his various families. When David’s son Amnon violated his half-sister Tamar, he was killed by Absalom, her avenging brother. That led to a bitter estrangement between Absalom and his father that resulted in treason and the death of Absalom (2 Sa. 13–18). David’s polygamy set a poor example for Solomon, who expanded his kingdom while marrying seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. This folly led Solomon away from Jehovah.