SAFM invited me to take part in an hour-long debate on radio, Wednesday 29 July, on the subject of polygamy. The other panel guests included a professor of Islamic Studies at Kwazulu Natal University and a chief from the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders.
Some of the justifications given for polygamy included: that because of war and other factors, men tend to die more frequently and earlier than women, and there are more women than men. Therefore, for the provision of these women, men should be able to take more wives.
In response I pointed out that Christianity has always rejected polygamy because it inhibits, and in fact exterminates, exclusive, devoted love. Christians have always maintained that love between a man and a woman must be exclusive. Otherwise marriage is degraded, in essence, to mere physical lust. No woman who loves her husband, and wishes to be loved in return, can tolerate “another wife”.
Protecting Women and Children
Polygamy erodes the concept of a Biblical family. Christianity has always maintained that monogamy alone gives the woman the recognition, status and value that she needs. Monogamy provides the environment for raising children in a stable and loving home.
One Muslim caller maintained, on the basis of Isaiah 54, that God himself is a polygamist because he is married to every individual on earth! “Therefore, technically, logically, God is a polygamist!” declared this caller.
I turned to the passage in question and responded that it was blasphemous to suggest that God would violate His own Laws and be a polygamist. The passage in Isaiah 54 is speaking to “The barren … the desolate … for you will forget the shame of your youth and will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His Name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth” Isaiah 54 1-5
Plainly this passage is speaking symbolically of God providing for the widowed and the unmarried. However, this passage is not speaking about a literal marriage with individuals, but a symbolic marriage in the sense of provision and protection to those whom He has redeemed from His creation.
Biblical Support for Monogamy
I was challenged by a number of callers, and by the presenter, to give Biblical evidence for my position that Christianity promotes monogamy.
I quoted from Matthew 19:4-6: And Jesus answered and said to them; “Have you not read that He who made them in the beginning, made them male and female, and He said: ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.’ So then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Here the Lord refers back to God’s creation ordinance. God created Adam and provided for him a single wife, Eve. He did not provide multiple wives, nor do we have any evidence that Adam ever had another wife. This original marriage relationship powerfully portrays God’s intent for marriage relationships.
Noah is called “a preacher of righteousness” 2 Peter 2:5. Noah had only one wife; his three sons only had one wife each. They alone were spared during the great destruction of the Flood.
God called Job “My servant”. Job was considered the greatest man amongst all the people of the East and he had only one wife.
Isaac, the child of the promise, only had one wife, Rebekah.
The Lord’s earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, are another prime example of a monogamous marriage. The Scripture is clear; “… let each man have his own wife and let each woman have her own husband.” 1 Corinthians 7:2
It is also a standard for church leadership: “Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.” 1 Timothy 3:12
What About Polygamy in the Bible?
The objection was made: what about the examples of polygamy in the Old Testament? David and Solomon had many wives.
The Bible records many things that it does not recommend. “Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.” 1 Corinthians 10:6
Polygamy originated in the lives of the murderers Cain and Lamech. Later Esau, who despised his birthright, caused much grief to his parents by marrying two pagan wives (Genesis 26:34).
The Disastrous Consequences of Polygamy
God forbad the kings of Israel to be polygamists (Deuteronomy 17:17). The Scriptures record the tremendous upheaval and chaos caused when they disobeyed God.
The deadly rivalry between David’s sons from his different wives led Israel into civil war. Solomon’s hundreds of wives led Solomon and Israel into idolatry, destruction and captivity. Hannah, the mother of Samuel, was humiliated by her husband, Elkanah’s, other wife Peninnah (1 Samuel 1:1-7).
Abraham and Sarah had been monogamous for many years when Sarah convinced him to take Hagar in order to bear an offspring. This caused tremendous strife. The consequences of which are still causing wars between the descendants of Ismael and Isaac, to this day.
Jacob only wanted Rachel, but was tricked into marrying her older sister, Leah, by the deception of his father-in-law. Later he took slave girls at the sisters urgings, due to their rivalry to produce more offspring. Jacob was hardly a good example in this, nor was he at any spiritual high point at those times.
Similarly when David married Abigail and Ahinoam (1 Samuel 25:42-43), these adulterous tendencies led to David’s tragic downfall, with violent consequences for all of Israel.
From the very beginning God created one woman for one man, for life (Genesis 1:27-2:25).
Can Women Have More than One Husband?
The presenter again brought up the matter of there being more women than men in the world. I countered, by pointing out that in China and India there are many more men than women due to sex selection abortions. Should women have the right to have more than one husband? This brought about furious disagreement from the traditional chief who claimed, as women are the ones who bear the children, it is important to know who the father is - for legitimacy.
Essential for Civilization
One caller noted that monogamy is an essential feature of civilisation. He noted that it is impossible for any man to love more than one woman at a time. Surely this is what ‘falling in love’ and ‘getting married’ is meant to be about: exclusive love?
Are No Women Forced into Polygamous Unions?
Numerous Muslim callers reiterated that the Quran permits marrying up to four wives, as long as one treats them all equally. They also claimed that polygamy was by the woman’s consent. None of them were forced!
Before we ran out of time I managed to reiterate that Christianity maintains that marriage is a mutual partnership, therefore it rejects polygamy. The promotion of monogamy, one man and one woman for life, and marital faithfulness, grants women respect, dignity and protection. Women need greater respect, dignity, honour and protection, and we dare not go back to the paganism of polygamy.
Dr. Peter Hammond