CAUTION! This article contains many Scriptures which will likely require you to reconsider what you may have believed the Bible says about marriage, divorce, adultery, sexual conduct and related matters. If you are not completely committed to placing the written Word of Elohim above all other sources of information, it is highly recommended that you NOT continue reading this article.
There are some things that Elohim is definitely for in both the Tanak and the Messianic Scriptures. He is for loving Elohim with all one's spirit, soul, mind and strength. He is for living by the Word of Elohim. There are other things He is definitely against in both the Tanak and the Messianic Scriptures. He is against adultery. He is against murder. He is against covetousness.
Then there are things that were allowed under the Old Covenant, but it isn't quite as clear whether they are still allowed under the New Covenant. Such is the case with polygyny. Quite often, people read into Scripture what their tradition says or what they think Scripture should say, rather than what it actually says.
Polygyny is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language as "the condition or practice of having more than one wife at a single time". In Biblical terms, it is simply when two or more women are married simultaneously to one man.
When we look at the Scriptures, we find that Lamech had two wives, Adah and Zillah (Genesis 4:19). Abraham had three wives, Sarah (Genesis 11:29), Hagar (Genesis 16:3) and Keturah (Genesis 25:1). Esau had five wives, Judith and Basemath (Genesis 26:34), Mahalath (Genesis 28:9), and Adah and Aholibamah (Genesis 36:2). Jacob had four wives, Leah (Genesis 29:23), Rachel (Genesis 29:28), Bilhah (Genesis 30:4), and Zilpah (Genesis 30:9). Moses, through whom Elohim gave the Torah, had two wives, Zipporah (Exodus 2:21) and the Ethiopian woman (Numbers 12:1). David had several wives, including Micah (1 Samuel 18:27), Ahinoam, Abigail, Maacah, Haggith, Abital and Eglah (2 Samuel 3:2-5). Of course, Bathsheba was not rightfully his. But Elohim said through the prophet Nathan that He gave him his master's wives (see 2 Samuel 12:8).
In today's Western culture, polygyny is typically viewed as evil, even though the Scriptures never teach any such thing. As often as polygyny is recorded in Scripture, it is amazing how Elohim never condemns the practice. Both wicked and righteous men were polygynous and Elohim never called either to repent of it.
It's time to look to the Scriptures to see what is actually said regarding this subject. But first, consider this: Could something that was a sin in the Old Covenant be righteous now? Or could something that was righteous in the Old Covenant be a sin now?
"For I am Yahweh, I shall not change" (Malachi 3:6a, The Scriptures)  Elohim's character and morality does not change, nor would He "tolerate" sin, as some people mistakenly assert. If polygyny had been a sin according to Elohim, the Biblical Patriarchs would not have been vindicated with such high standing and considered worthy for His children to look up to. Surely He would have ruled against them being polygynous like He would have against all other sins. Instead, in many instances, Elohim showed acceptance and even gave recognition of the other women as "wives" in His Word and had blessed and vindicated their offspring. This certainly seems to be the case if one studies the Word without prejudice and presumptions.
"If he takes another wife, her food, her covering, and her marriage rights are not to be diminished." (Exodus 21:10, The Scriptures)  Would Elohim allow, regulate or even command sin? The first two passages here (two translations of the same Scripture verse, for clarity) do NOT condemn the man who takes another wife, but rather specifies how the first wife must not be deprived of her existing property and rights in the process. The last passage requires the living brother to marry his brother's wife, and there is no statement whatsoever in regards to the marital status of the living brother. He could be single or he could already be married. The passage says nothing either way. If the living brother is already married, then we have a command from Elohim for a man to have a polygynous relationship. If the living brother was already married (as would usually be the case), in order to obey Elohim, the man would be required to have more than one wife.
'And I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Yisra'el and Yehudah. And if that were not enough, I also would have given you much more!' (2 Samuel 12:8, The Scriptures)  Would Elohim have someone sin, or reward them (give them their hire) for sin?
"Then the reign of the heavens shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five foolish. Those who were foolish, having taken their lamps, took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their containers with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom took time, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard, 'See, the bridegroom is coming, go out to meet him!' Then all those maidens rose up and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us of your oil, because our lamps are going out.' But the wise answered, saying, 'No, indeed, there would not be enough for us and you. Instead, go to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.' And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast, and the door was shut. And later the other maidens also came, saying, 'Master, Master, open up for us!' But he answering, said, 'Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.' Watch therefore, because you do not know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Adam is coming" (Matthew 25:1-13, The Scriptures)  Would Yahushua use a parable or analogy of Himself sinning? If Elohim does not change and neither does His perfect law, it is abundantly clear that He would never regulate, allow, reward or command sin.
Throughout this article, we have used the specific term "polygyny" rather than the more generic term "polygamy", because polygamy simply means having more than one spouse at one time, which can include polyandry (a woman having more than one husband) and polygyny (a man having more than one wife). Scripture clearly condemns polyandry as adultery in both the Tanak and the Messianic Scriptures, but not only is polygyny not forbidden, but Elohim actually gave laws concerning its practice. For example, in Deuteronomy 21, Elohim gave Moses a law regarding a man who had two wives:
"When a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, and they have borne him children, both the loved and the unloved, and the first-born son is of her who is unloved, then it shall be, on the day he makes his sons to inherit his possessions, he is not allowed to treat the son of the beloved wife as first-born in the face of the son of the unloved, who is truly the first-born. But he is to acknowledge the son of the unloved wife as the first-born by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength - the right of the first-born is his." (Deuteronomy 21:15-17, The Scriptures)  This law does NOT condemn the man who has two wives. It simply governs how he deals with the offspring. In fact, immediately before this passage, we find Deuteronomy 21:10-14:
"When you go out and fight against your enemies, and Yahweh your Elohim shall give them into your hand, and you shall take them captive, and shall see among the captives a woman fair of form, and shall delight in her and take her for your wife, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails, and put aside the mantle of her captivity, and shall dwell in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a month of days. After that you shall go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. And it shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go at her desire, but you do not sell her at all for silver. Do not treat her harshly, since you have humbled her." (Deuteronomy 21:10-14, The Scriptures)  In this Scripture, Elohim makes no mention as to whether "you" are already married or not. He simply gives the Israelites the permission to marry a captive girl and how to deal with her. The fact that she is to "shave her head" is significant, because she is no longer under the enemies' authority. She removes her old "covering" by shaving off her hair, and as her hair grows again after 30 days, she becomes the wife of the man of Israel. She is now under a different covering.
This law applies to either a married or unmarried man, and in its application of a married man, Elohim is giving permission for polygyny. In fact, this passage rests in that very context, because the very next statement after verse 14 is, "When a man has two wives, ..." (Deuteronomy 21:15a). Similarly, if a married man were to have sex with a virgin who was not betrothed, he would be required to marry her, and thus end up with another wife.
"And when a man entices a maiden who is not engaged, and lies with her, he shall certainly pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he pays according to the bride-price of maidens." (Exodus 22:16-17, The Scriptures)  Again, there is no specification on whether the man is married or not. The law applies equally to both a married or unmarried man. Another law regarding polygyny can be found in Leviticus 18:18. Here Elohim forbids, not polygyny, but rather the taking on of a sister as a rival wife while the first is still alive.
'And do not take a woman as a rival to her sister, to uncover her nakedness while the other is alive.' (Leviticus 18:18, The Scriptures)  In other words, Elohim disallowed a man to have both a woman and her rival sister as wives at the same time. He also did not allow a man to marry a woman and her mother.
'And a man who marries a woman and her mother: it is wickedness, they are burned with fire, both he and they, that there be no wickedness in your midst.' (Leviticus 20:14, The Scriptures)  These laws (Leviticus 18:18 and Leviticus 20:14) do not prohibit polygyny, but rather they ban certain specific acts of polygyny. Finally, there is one passage in Deuteronomy that some may think condemns polygyny, but the truth of the matter is that it actually allows it. For the king, Deuteronomy 17:14-17 places a very general limit to the practice of polygyny.
"When you come to the land which Yahweh your Elohim is giving you, and shall possess it and shall dwell in it, and you shall say, 'Let me set a sovereign over me like all the gentiles that are around me', you shall certainly set a sovereign over you whom Yahweh your Elohim shall choose. Set a sovereign over you from among your brothers, you are not allowed to set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only, he is not to increase horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Mitsrayim (Egypt) to increase horses, for Yahweh has said to you, 'Do not return that way again.' And he is not to increase wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor is he to greatly increase silver and gold for himself." (Deuteronomy 17:14-17, The Scriptures)  This law is given for the king of the land. There is no such law concerning the common Israelite. In other words, if a rich Israelite were to multiply wives for himself, he would not be breaching this law or any other command from Elohim, because no such command exists. This law does not apply to everyone. It only applies to the king.
Does this law say that the king cannot have more than one wife? No, it doesn't. In fact, there are actually three other things that the king is not to "increase for himself", horses, silver and gold. Could he have a few horses? Certainly, David had at least 100 horses (2 Samuel 8:4), and in this, he did not disobey Elohim (1 Kings 15:5). Could a king have some silver and gold? Absolutely. David had silver and gold (2 Samuel 12:30; 24:24) and he did not disobey Elohim. Likewise, a king was allowed to have multiple wives. David had at least 8 wives and 10 concubines (2 Samuel 3:14; 15:16; 1 Chronicles 3:1-9) and yet he was not disobedient against Elohim in these things.
for Dawid did what was right in the eyes of Yahweh, and did not turn aside from all that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriyah the Hittite. (1 Kings 15:5, The Scriptures)  As for a king who breached Deuteronomy 17:17, Solomon is the classic example. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). Yet, even though Solomon obviously "increased wives to himself", Elohim condemns Solomon, in particular, for his marriage of foreign women (1 Kings 11:1-2; Deuteronomy 7:1-4) and the resultant idolatry (1 Kings 11:9-10). The focus is not on how many wives he possessed, but rather, on the marriage of foreign women and how they seduced him into idolatry.
Thus Shelomoh (Solomon) did evil in the eyes of Yahweh, and did not follow Yahweh completely, like his father Dawid. (1 Kings 11:6, The Scriptures)  Even though David had at least 8 wives and 10 concubines, David followed Yahweh completely.
Some people today may think that concubinage in the Scriptures was a form of an immoral sexual relationship, similar to having a personal mistress. Nothing could be further from the truth. When the Hebrew word pilegesh (Strong's #6370) is used, it speaks of a female concubine that is MARRIED to her male partner.
Keturah is called Abraham's concubine in 1 Chronicles 1:32, but in Genesis 25:1, she is called Abraham's wife. David's ten concubines are indeed called concubines, but they are also called his wives by Yahweh Himself (2 Samuel 12:11; 16:21-22). In Judges 19 and 20, the Levite's concubine "committed whoring against him" (Judges 19:2) and left "her husband" (Judges 19:3). She is called a concubine in Judges 19:1,2,9,24,25,29; 20:4 and 5, yet at the same time, her male partner, the Levite, is called "her husband" in Judges 19:3 and 20:4. In addition, the concubines father is called the "father-in-law" (Judges 19:4,7,9), and the Levite is called the "son-in-law" (Judges 19:5). Clearly, concubinage is displayed as a marital commitment.
So then what is the difference between a "wife" and a "concubine"? Wives are free; concubines are not. It's as simple as that. Scripture portrays concubinage as the marriage of a slave girl, without the ceremony of betrothal and without property jointure.
'And when a man has intercourse with a woman who is a female servant, engaged to a man, and who has not at all been ransomed or redeemed, there should be an inquiry. But they are not put to death, because she was not free.' (Leviticus 19:20, The Scriptures)  In the above example, we have a slave girl who has been engaged or betrothed (married without the marriage having been consummated) to a man. Being a slave, she is not killed as a free woman would be for having committed adultery (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), precisely "because she was not free".
In Judges, the concubines husband is twice called "her master" (Judges 19:26,27). Other concubines are identified likewise. Bilhah, Jacob's concubine (Genesis 35:22), whom Rachel gave to him for a wife (Genesis 30:3-4), was a slave (Genesis 35:25, "female servant"). Likewise, Zilpah was a slave-wife (Genesis 35:26; 30:9). Marrying a slave girl was not only practiced, it was legislated in the Torah as well.
"And when a man sells his daughter to be a female servant, she does not go out as the male servants do. If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who has engaged her to himself, then he shall let her be ransomed. He shall have no authority to sell her to a foreign people, because of him deceiving her. And if he has engaged her to his son, he is to do to her as is the right of daughters. If he takes another wife, her food, her covering, and her marriage rights are not to be diminished. And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out for naught, without silver." (Exodus 21:7-11, The Scriptures)  Notice that it doesn't say, "He cannot take another wife". It says, "If he takes another wife". Here we have another law concerning polygyny and it is not forbidden. Although there are people today who view concubinage as an evil deed, Leah, in the Scriptures, viewed it as part of that which pleased Elohim.
And Elohim listened to Le'ah, and she conceived and bore Ya'aqob (Jacob) a fifth son. And Le'ah said, "Elohim has given me my hire, because I have given my female servant to my husband." So she called his name Yissaskar. (Genesis 30:17-18, The Scriptures)  Leah had given Zilpah, her maidservant, to Jacob as a wife because she had perceived that she had stopped bearing children (Genesis 30:9). Yet, she continued to pray for more sons. Elohim heard her plea and Leah understood this to be a reward from Him for giving Jacob a concubine.
"...In essentials we maintain unity, in opinions liberty, and in all things love..."
"...In essentials we maintain unity, in opinions liberty, and in all things love..."