Gregory Thornbury–Answering questions about Old Testament polygamy

In the middle of ongoing cultural convulsions over the definition of marriage, I have found one question increasingly on the minds of many people: “Didn’t God in the Old Testament allow for polygamy? If that is true, then how can you say that marriage is defined as being only between one man and one woman?”

The truth is that the story of polygamy in the Old Testament is, well, a problem. Although monogamy was clearly God’s intent from the beginning, the picture blurs pretty quickly after Adam and Eve’s first sin and expulsion from the Garden. By Genesis 4, you have Cain’s son Lamech taking two wives. The patriarchs Abraham and Jacob themselves had multiple wives and concubines. Technically, the practice was polygyny. In other words, men could have more than one wife, but not the other way around (polyandry)….

How does one respond to this situation? The answer begins by seeing that God always points His creation back to the primacy and perfection of the original design. Next, you have to read every book to the end — especially if it is the biblical context.

Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, Apologetics, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Theology, Theology: Scripture

3 comments on “Gregory Thornbury–Answering questions about Old Testament polygamy

  1. Bill Cavanaugh says:

    I especially like his comment that we must “read the book to the end”. In the RCL right now, we are witnessing the disaster that was David’s many wifed family, and the end of the book in the OT anyway, Malachi is clear, and Jesus and Paul in the NT are even clearer.
    To look at David, Solomon, et. al. and derive a principle is proof texting without context–the very thing liberals accuse conservatives of doing.

  2. Frances Scott says:

    With O.T. polygamy it is also important to consider the economic culture where the woman is essentially dependent upon the men in her family for her survival (she needs a son to provide for her in her old age), the leverite marriage (designed to keep the land connected to the family…or the other way round), and the need to keep Israel intact for the sake of the coming Messiah. I think God sees things more clearly than we do and does not always count as “sin” the things we count as sin. One man/one woman is certainly the divine intention, but we are a fallen people in a fallen world. God remembers that we are dust and deals with us accordingly; take a look at Jesus’ genealogy, as recorded in both Matthew and Luke.

  3. Don R says:

    There seems to be a more basic sort of confusion here. Even in polygamous cultures, a marriage is always between one man and one woman. The difference is the number of marriages one person is permitted to have simultaneously in effect. A man with 20 wives has 20 marriages, each with its own independent existence, each between him and one woman.