Why would God make men polygamous but then make an equal number of men and women in the world? It would seem unfair to make most men have a desire that few could ever act on.
Recently I was asked this question by reader named Alex(a Christian wife) on my blog:
“I’ve been thinking about this, and I have to wonder if God ever really intended for polygyny to be widespread or many men to have strongly polygynous designs. If He did, then one has to ask why he didn’t design us so that women conceive girls at least twice as often as boys. It seems unfair to make most men desire multiple wives and then not create enough women who could marry them.”
This really is a great question and it is one that often stumps those who embrace the fact the God does allow polygamy in the Bible and God actually designed men with the capacity and desire for polygamy to greater and lesser extents.
Before I answer Alex’s question let’s first review the terms we are discussing.
Understanding the Terms
Polygamy refers to one man having several wives or one woman having several husbands. Polygamy is distinguished from polyamory in that polygamy is always a one to many relationship where polyamory is a group marriage with possibly multiple men and women all have sex with one another.
Polygyny refers to the type of polygamy where a man has several wives and polyandry refers to polygamy where a wife has several husbands.
The Bible only allows one type of polygamy and that is Polygyny. Polyandry and polyamory break the biblical model of marriage that women was made for man and that a woman can only have one husband at a time. If she were to attempt to marry a second husband she would be committing adultery against the first unless her first husband was dead or she was justly divorced from him(I Corinthians 7:39).
From this point forward I will use polygamy and polygyny interchangeably as there is only type of polygamy that is allowed by God.
7 Biblical Facts about Polygamy
FACT #1 – God rewarded Leah with another child for giving her husband another wife (Genesis 30:18). Some Christian teachers try to say she just thought God rewarded her but the Scripture does not EVER record God condemning her for this so we must take the Scripture at face value that God did indeed reward her for giving her maid to her husband as another wife.
FACT #2 – God expressly allows polygyny and set rules for its practice. (Exodus 21:10-11, Deuteronomy 21:15-17,Deuteronomy 25:5-7)
FACT #3 – God while allowing polygyny warns against Kings “multiplying wives” meaning to not to horde wives as Solomon would later do. – (Deuteronomy 17:17)
FACT #4 – God tells tells David through his Prophet Nathan when he sinned and took another man’s wife(Bathsheba) that he had given David the wives of his master and would have given him more wives (II Samuel 12:8)
FACT #5 – Jehoiada the high priest gets TWO wives for the young king Joash (II Chronicles 24:2-3)
FACT #6 – God pictures himself as polygamist husband to Judah and Israel in (Ezekiel 23:1-5)
FACT #7 – God divorce his first wife which was the Israel as nation(Jeremiah 3:8) and but through his seeking of his second wife(the church) seeks to make his first wife Israel jealous(Romans 10:19) and one day his first wife Israel as a nation will also be restored in the New Kingdom of God.
Many great men of God including Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, David and Joash were polygamists and NOT once did God offer a word of condemnation to these men for their polygamy.
Israel had a proud history of polygamy even past the time of Christ
A good summary of the Jewish history with the Romans on this subject is found in “Christian Marriage: An Historical and Doctrinal Study”:
“When the Christian Church came into being, polygamy was still practiced by the Jews. It is true that we find no references to it in the New Testament; and from this some have inferred that it must have fallen into disuse, and that at the time of our Lord the Jewish people had become monogamous. But the conclusion appears to be unwarranted. Josephus in two places speaks of polygamy as a recognized institution: and Justin Martyr makes it a matter of reproach to Trypho that the Jewish teachers permitted a man to have several wives. Indeed when in 212 A.D. the lex Antoniana de civitate gave the rights of Roman Citizenship to great numbers of Jews, it was found necessary to tolerate polygamy among them, even when though it was against Roman law for a citizen to have more than one wife. In 285 A.D. a constitution of Diocletian and Maximian interdicted polygamy to all subjects of the empire without exception. But with the Jews, at least, the enactment failed of its effect; and in 393 A.D. a special law was issued by Theodosius to compel the Jews to relinquish this national custom. Even so they were not induced to conform.”
Source: Christian Marriage: An Historical and Doctrinal Study – Joyce, George (1933). Christian Marriage: An Historical and Doctrinal Study. Sheed and Ward. p. 560.
Israel was still one of the most polygamist nations in the world during the time of the Roman Empire. At first Rome passed some laws exempting Israel from its monogamy policies but later it removed Israel’s exemption and it eventually forced monogamy only marriage on Israel.
Christian objections to polygamy
Many (but not all) Christian theologians over the centuries have been opposed to Israel’s practice of polygamy and viewed it as a sin God overlooked for a time and then completely removed with the coming of the New Testament church. The problem is there is no New Testament prohibition against polygamy.
The two most common Christian arguments against polygamy
God made one man and one woman in the Garden of Eden
This argument might seem to be compelling. After all if God meant for men to be polygamous he would have gave Adam multiple wives and he also would have made sure there was a higher ratio of girls to boys being born throughout history which also hits on the original question this article is addressing.
The problem with this line of thinking is if monogamy was God original intent for marriage than was incest God’s original intent for marriage as well? Remember that Adam and Eve’s children had to marry each other. Brothers and sisters marrying. In fact it would have probably been very common when the world first started out for brothers and sisters to marry.
But what about birth defects? There would not have been any back then because man’s genetic code was pure at that time. But as men and women began to multiply and corruptions arose in our genetic code this made sibling marriage something that could in fact cause genetic defects as the brother and sister would share the same defects.
God would later outlaw sibling marriage in Leviticus 18:6-18. But just as sibling marriage was a temporary situation so too was monogamy in the Garden of Eden as we later see God allowing polygamy and even regulating its practice.
The New Testament says the Bishop is to be the husband of one wife
The second most popular argument of Christian teachers today who oppose polygamy is based on God’s restriction that a Bishop (Pastor) be the husband of one wife. They are argue that God outlaws polygamy for the Christian church by restricting Bishops to one wife and this applies to all Christian men.
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;” – I Timothy 3:2 (KJV)
But the proponents of this theory miss two very important things about this passage. First, this is not a clear prohibition against polygamy even by Bishops as it uses the same language of another passage concerning widows serving in the Church:
“Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man.” – I Timothy 5:9 (KJV)
The Apostle Paul could very well have been speaking to a Bishop not being divorced and it would make sense in light of I Timothy 5:9 talking about widows being taken in who were not divorced. Even if Paul was prohibiting polygamy (which we do not know for sure) he was only prohibiting for Pastors and Deacons in the same way marriage restrictions were tighter for priests in the Old Testament than the common man.
In either case whether he was talking about divorce or polygamy – this restriction applied strictly to church officials and it certainly is not a clear ban on polygamy for all Christians.
So as far as opposition to polygamy the Christian opponents of it really don’t have a Biblical leg to stand on.
Now that we have established that polygamy is indeed allowed by God in the Scriptures let’s look as some reasons that God made men with the capacity and desire for polygamy.
3 Reasons God gave most men polygynous desires even if they may never be able to fully realize them
So now we come to Alex’s question. Why would God give most men polygynous desires to a greater or lesser degree when most men in the world will never be able to act on these desires?
- To help populate the world. In the beginning of creation it is very likely that we had more women than men as this would help the world population to grow faster as one man could impregnate several women at the same time.
- Because some men were too lazy, too stupid, too poor or slaves and could not have wives this would leave many women without husbands. Only men who had the brains or means to take care of a family could marry (and that is the way it should be now but unfortunately western society has chosen to subsidize monogamy).
- War and early death of men would leave many virgins and widows in its wake. Man’s polygynous nature would allow him to easily come in make up for the imbalanced sex ratio and quickly rebuild the population.
The last point about war killing off most of the eligible men is an interesting one. In fact one the contributing factors to the rise of feminism after World War I was that fact that millions of women in Europe and America could not find men because of the millions of men who will killed in battle. This same problem happened again after World War II. There were millions of young women that were never able to marry after both wars and many widows left to continue on their own with no male support.
God prescribed a way for women to be protected and provided for by men especially during times of war, feminine and disease when men are being killed off. His answer was polygamy. That my friend is one of the big reasons God gave men polygynous desires. In fact if we practiced Levirate marriage as found in the Old Testament(Deuteronomy 25:5-10) if a man’s brother was killed in war or some other way he would marry his brother’s wife to care for her and raise up an heir for his brother’s estate. And no there was no prohibition of if he was married he could not do this – if did not do it – it would be a shame to him.
So yes during times of relative peace as the world has seen for several decades where we are not losing men by the millions we seem to question God’s wisdom. But I can tell you if another world war broke out and millions of men were being killed over several years the truth of what I am telling you would be very real.
But let’s leave war and disease taking out all the men and talk about why polygamy is needed even in times of peace like we have today.
While worldwide estimates say there are slightly more men than women the population of men to women is not distributed equally by countries. There are far more women in eastern European countries like Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Russia then there are men. This is why women are trying to leave these countries in droves to seek men from other countries to be their husbands.
Even if there was an exact ratio of 1/1 males and females there is a great possibility that many men will not want to marry. In fact a lot of women talk about this today- “Where are all the guys that want to marry?” That is a different topic for another post. But I can tell you for a fact when I was going through my divorce they told us that divorced men had a far easier chance of getting married and often got married faster than the divorced or widowed women. It is just harder for divorced or widowed women to get married again especially if they have children for a variety of reasons.
Now if polygamy were legal it would solve this problem by allowing wealthier men to come along and have multiple wives and be able to care for them and their children.
So is it unfair that few men today can fully act on their polygynous natures in a Biblical way?
I think in some ways it is unfair(unjust) and in other ways it is not. If a man is lazy and lacks ambition and lives in his mom’s basement at the age of 30 – no it is NOT unfair that he can’t act on his polygynous desires. In fact he should not able to act on his sexual desires even with one wife because he cannot provide for a wife and family.
I think our ban on polygamy is unfair to a single mom whose husband was killed or abandoned her and she has to scrape by just to put food on the table and care for her children. I am sure that if you gave many single moms who are in hard economic straights the choice to be a second, third or fourth wife to a wealthy man they would take that opportunity in second! But we don’t give them that choice.
I think it is unfair to men who are very successful in their business endeavors who in centuries past would have been able to not only to fully realize their dreams in business but their reward for being successful would have been to be able to have multiple wives and more children.
It is an utter waste to me that wonderful successful men are limited to only one wife when so many women out there struggle to make it alone on their own. Also it is a fact that most successful men whether they be in business or politics have very HIGH testosterone levels and very high sex drives.
So basically you have a man who has the means to take care of multiple wives and their children and has the high sex drive to want multiple wives. Many women would love to be one of his wives but our society stops this and then we wonder why these very successful men often have affairs when in Biblical times they could have just had many wives.
I am not defending men that go whoremongering – but our culture as well as our churches have set up men for failure with our attitudes toward male sexuality and specifically man’s polygynous nature.
What about men who can’t afford multiple wives or even one wife?
Well that is why God gave men such vivid imaginations when it comes to sex. Men should be able to exercise their polygynous natures even if only through their fantasies. This is why I maintain the position that not all porn is wrong. Men should be able to look at normal heterosexual porn (that does not involve things like homosexuality, orgies, bestiality, child sex and rape). Even if a man feels he cannot rightly look at porn because of all the fornication that serves as the inspiration for these images he can construct his own porn in his mind as men have been doing long before we had cameras.
In this way men can ward off the temptation to go whoremongering by exercising their polygynous desires that they may never be able to fully realize. It is much the same reason that it is good for some men to play violent video games (contrary to what some say) because it allows men to exercise their aggressive and competitive natures in a healthy and controlled way.