Is Polygamy a sin? - A Biblical Perspective

First of all the Bible teaches that restitution is an integral part of one's repentance. The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'Restitution' as a process of restoring things to its original state. In the context of the bible, I would rather word it as a process of 'restoring things to a state which is right with God'. A few Scriptures to support this would include the following...

Eph 4:28

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.(NIV)

Exod 22:1

1 "If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep. (NIV) Take note that a person must stop sinning before he can restitute.

Luke 19:8

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." (NIV)

Sad to say, restitution is an oft-forgotten teaching in churches today. Notice from the verse above (Luke 19:8), that restitution was part and parcel of Zacchaeus' salvation. Nobody forced him to give up his ill-gotten gains, but he himself volunteered it in front of the Lord. Today, we are seeing a disproportionately small amount of restitution in comparison with the large number of souls saved. Is restitution really that optional after all? Can a bank robber who has a loot of one million dollars, keep the money when he comes to Christ? What about a non-christian homosexual? Can he continue in his homosexual practices after he comes to Christ? In like manner, can a man who has two or more wives (as a non-christian) continue to have physical relationships with all of them when he becomes a christian?

God's will for man in particular and mankind in general is to have only one wife...

Gen 2:18

18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." Notice a "helper" not "helpers."

Gen 2:24

24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Leave his father and mother and be united to his wife (NOT WIVES)!

Matt 19:4

4 "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' 5 and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh' 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."(NIV) Emphasis mine

Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman and covenants in the Bible are always made between two parties. Verse 5 above is very clear that THE TWO becomes one flesh in matrimony. Therefore, three or four cannot be united into one flesh.)Notice that Jesus was leaving the dispensation where God tolerated the "Hardness of men's hearts" (refer to Matthew 19:8) to the ORIGINAL intended purpose of God from the very beginning. In the next verse (Matthew 19:9) HE unequivocally rules (notice that God makes the rules) that monogamy is the only accepted norm in the New Testament Church....

Matt 19:9

9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." Notice the phrase "I tell you......"

Careful scrutiny of verse 9 above shows that a man can only marry again if he divorces his wife for the only Scriptural reason of marital unfaithfulness (RE:WHO DIVORCES HIS WIFE....... AND MARRIES ANOTHER). There is no provision for a second marriage without divorce. Jesus defines a second marriage after an "unscriptural" divorce as "Adultery", the first marriage covenant being still intact and binding on the offending party. God, therefore, does not recognise a polygamous relationship in the New Testament context.

Once again one may ask about the many cases of polygamy recorded in the Old Testament....... Many of the examples of polygamy pertaining to the men of God in the Old Testament were cases of men who walked out of God's perfect will in this respect. That polygamy resulted in unnessary strife and contention could be clearly seen in the lives of Abraham, Jacob and King David. In the case of King Solomon, his spiritual downfall was primarily due to his many infidel wives.....

I King 11:4

4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.(NIV)

It is a fact that God allowed polygamy in the Old Testament. It is also a fact that God disallowed polygamy in the New Testament (church). Since we are in the New Covenant we must abide by the rules and regulations laid out in the Gospels and the epistles. So in the light of the teachings in the New Testament, is a born-again christian sinning if he physically cohabits with more than one woman. To say 'Yes' would seem to come down pretty hard on those (christians) who appear to have commited sins unknowingly in their previous non-christian state. Or did they really unknowingly commit the sins? A bank robber is a sinner irrespective of his born-again status. A non-christian man with two "wives" is living in adultery (according to Biblical standards and also according to the laws of some countries). Should we condone such a state of affairs when this same man comes to Christ? If it is a sin for a non-christian to cohabit with two wives would'nt it be also a sin when the same person becomes a christian and carries on the same state of affairs? Once again, remember that the marriage covenant is a covenant between two parties only and sex outside this covenant is straightforward "Adultery" in every sense of the word. The only Scriptural solution for a man (with more than one wife) when he comes to Christ is to cohabit only with the first and legal wife and to support any others contracted to when he was a non-christian. Remember that Adultery is a very serious sin in the Bible. In the Old Testament it is punishable with death (Lev 20:10) and in the New Testament it is a damnable sin....

Gal 5:19

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, (NKJ) Emphasis Mine

Gal 5:21

21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (NKJ) Emphasis mine


Death of a spouse

1 Cor 7:39

39 A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.(NIV)

Divorce on the basis of the exception clause in Matthew Chapter 19:9

Matt 19:9

9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery. (NIV) Emphasis Mine

Desertion by an unbelieving spouse

1 Cor 7:13

13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. (NIV)

1 Cor 7:15

15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. (NIV)

......AND VIOLATION OF A MARRIAGE COVENANT that is still in force, is therefore ADULTERY.

Paul's writings in Romans Chapter seven sums it all up.....

Rom 7:2-3

2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. 3 So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man. (NIV) Take note that Paul was referring to "The law of Marriage" (Verse 2) and not the Law of Moses here. Apostolic rulings (as in verses 2 and 3 above) are binding on the New Testament Christian.

A married woman who marries another man when her husband is still alive is straight forward adultery. Since the issue here is not one of gender but of a violation of an existing covenant, it follows that a married man who marries another woman when his wife is still alive is also an adulterer (These, being apart from the exception clause mentioned in Matt:19.9.) It cannot be more plain than this!

There is a contention by some (misguided) parties that the Apostle Paul's directive on the qualification of an elder and that of a deacon may allow some kind of "grace" for a practising polygamist who does not hold office in church.....

1 Tim 3:2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (NIV) Emphasis Mine

1 Tim 3:12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. (NIV) Emphasis Mine

I wish to stress emphatically that Scripture cannot contradict itself. If the above Scriptures forbid Polygamy only as far as elders and deacons are concerned (a thought contrary to the other New Testament Scriptures brought up in this article), then it should follow that all "non-elders" and "non-deacons" can marry more than one wife. This interpretation does grave injustice to God's Word. Notice carefully that the Scriptures say, "...THE HUSBAND OF BUT ONE WIFE". Did you notice it says "BUT ONE WIFE". This clearly implies that those seeking positions of leadership must have had only a single marriage (apart from death of a spouse); as a previous divorce (even though based on the exception clause mentioned in Matt 19:9) and re-marriage excludes such a person from leadership, for the simple reason that he cannot manage his family well, a further qualification mentioned in 1 Tim 3:4 and 1 Tim 3:12.....

1 Tim 3:4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (NIV) Emphasis Mine

1 Tim 3:12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. (NIV) Emphasis Mine

In conclusion, I would like to stress that it is sheer ignorance for some to claim that the New Testament is ambigious on the issue of Polygamy. In a nutshell, The New Testament equates Polygamy with adultery on a one to one basis; And......the remedy for Adultery is true repentance (and one requirement of repentance is to refrain from continuing in sin), not COMPASSION.



As mentioned in the article above, sexual relationships outside the marriage covenant is adultery and adultery is basically a breach of the marriage covenant instituted by God between A MAN and A WOMAN (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:4,5). The Apostle Paul states clearly in 1 Corinthians 6:16 that sexual union with a prostitute is tantamount to making a “one flesh” covenant with her. The same argument applies to a mistress or second wife. A husband who has an extra-marital affair, in essence, makes a covenant with the third party involved, and directly or indirectly breaks the existing covenant with his Biblically legitimate wife. This is the reason why our Lord mentions ‘marital unfaithfulness’ as a Biblical ground for divorce in Matt 19:9. A wife who continues to have sexual contact with an unfaithful ‘husband’ is essentially having an illegitimate sexual relationship as far as God is concerned. The other point to remember is that adulterers are not considered part of the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9,10). So a ‘husband’ who is having an extra-marital relationship also breaks his covenant with God and God’s People and should be classified as a ‘non-Christian’ as long as he continues to live in sin. A wife living with such a husband is cohabiting sexually with a ‘non Christian’ and this is not only forbidden but anathema to God. The only recourse for a Christian wife with an unfaithful husband is to separate from him ‘physically’. She should also pray for him to come to his senses and repent of his sin. If he does not repent, the only other option is a ‘physical’ divorce in a court of Law (as this marriage covenant has already been Biblically revoked in the first place).

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