When did polygamy stop in the Bible?

Polygamy begins early in Genesis 4:19 with Lamech having two wives.  Nothing good is associated with Lamech as he thumbs his nose at God and boasts of murdering another man some time after Cain killed Abel.  While this does not automatically make polygamy wrong, it is worth noting that our first instance of it comes from a very evil man.

Several Bible characters of note had multiple wives including Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon.  Despite this, we don’t get the impression that this was ever the norm and was never expressed as ideal.  There is one instance in which God calls for multiple wives – the kinsman redeemer.  If a man’s brother dies that man is to marry his brother’s widow, to take care of her, and to father children in his brother’s name in order to keep his family line going.  The story of Ruth is about a kinsman redeemer.  Closer relatives refused to do their duty so Boaz took Ruth as his wife.  While Boaz is not noted as being married previously the law of the kinsman redeemer allowed for multiple wives in this case.

There is no official end to polygamy in the Bible.  There is little mention of it after Solomon and his son Rehoboam however.  While Solomon’s sin did not lie with having multiple wives but in marrying foreign women and worshipping foreign gods, it seems that Israel took note of the problem.  Multiple wives brought about trouble and if even the wisest man on earth, Solomon, could not keep from sinning the rest of Israel stood no chance.

In the New Testament polygamy was not an issue in the Roman world.  Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:2 that a requirement for spiritual leadership was to be the “husband of one wife.”  Some take this to imply that church leaders should only be men while others imply that it is in reference to divorce.  In either case, it seems clear that polygamy was not accepted within the church.

Author: Spreading Light