Polygamists, Muslims, and Scripture: A Question.

Part of my new job requires me to drive from time to time. Recently I had to drive to Wildwood, FL. This trip is about 5 hours one way. If you’ve ever driven a long distance you know that entertaining yourself is always a challenge. I forgot to take the time to prepare myself CDs to listen to, so I was stuck with the “scan” feature on the radio. Eventually I ran into NPR, a station I frequent (when I can find it). NPR was running a story about Black American Orthodox Muslims. Apparently in their scriptures they are taught that polygamy is best for a family. They especially said that having 2 wifes is best, then 3, then 4, if you cannot treat more than 1 wife equally (fairly), then you should only marry 1. They interviewed a few different polygamist families, they all shared good things and bad things about polygamy (the number one bad thing mentioned was the potential for jealously amoung wives). One lady was a Southern Baptist converted to Muslim. She was her husband’s first wife, and she decided that she wanted to study abroad. Realizing what this would do to her family, she decided it would be best to find another wife for her husband, so that he would be taken care of. The NPR reporter fairly stated that sex is one reason for polygamist marriage, but assured her listeners that alturism is often another reason (such as taking a widow as a second wife to help support her and her children).

If we look in the Bible, we see many examples of Polygamists. I am not saying that these are examples for us to follow. The biggest name I can think of for polygamists would be Abram (Abraham). Although he was not the biggest polygamist (Solomon), being that he was the father of the faith (as some call him), his polygamy cannot go unnoticed. Traditionally, however, Christians believe that Monogamy is the best practice. I think there are probably more scriptural commands that encourage monogamy, than those that encourage polygamy (1 Timothy 3 for example).

Given all of what I have said, and all that you already know, I have a question. If a polygamist family converts to Christianity, what should they do? Divorce? Remain as they are? What are your thoughts?

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  1. Hmmm…a Lew…phole. Sorry. Seriously though, great question! I’m leaning towards “remain as they are.” But, I will have to think on it for a while.

  2. I think I would tend toward remain as they are as well. I do not think polygamy is best. I also do not think divorce is best. I also don’t see how divorce would make things better.


  3. Jeff

    Nice pun! I talked about this last night a little with my wife. She thought it was a pretty tough question. It’s obviously not something we encounter everyday, but it could be something we do encounter.


    I see you agree with Jeff. I too think that “remain as they are” is the best answer. It seems to be the answer Paul gives. You’re right, divorce doesn’t seem to make things better. We also have to consider the fact that these polygamist families usually have children involved.

    Thanks for the comments guys. Hopefully more people will chime in with opinions and thoughts.

    God’s Glory,

  4. What would you say if I argued that the first marriage was the only recognized marriage? Given that no divorce took place (if you believe such a thing can take place), then the second marriage is not a covenant in God’s eyes despite whatever words you may have spoken out loud. Therefore, the second marriage is not a marriage at all but an open adulterous affair. If this is the case, then the second (and third, fourth,…) sexual/intimate relationship(s) ought to be terminated.

    If I take a strong stance on the “exception clause” in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, then I might argue that the sexual relationship with the second woman terminated the covenant with the first. Assuming that the vows with the second wife were taken before consummation, then they do not count because the man was still married to the first; so when he had sex with the second wife, he terminated the first marriage through an act of adultery with a woman to whom he was not married. Now he’s married to nobody. Assuming he takes his vows with the third wife before sex, he is now married to the third wife and the process starts over. Under this interpretation, he will only be married to one wife at a time. He will only be married to every odd numbered wife. And, every time he has sex with whichever “wife” he in not in a covenant with, he breaks whichever covenant he happens to be in, terminates that marriage, and becomes a fornicator with multiple women.

    Both of these arguments assume that God only recognizes one legitimate married covenant at a time. They also assume that marriage is a covenant. The second assumes that adultery breaks the covenant thereby resulting in a termination of the marriage.

  5. Gary,

    You asked: “What would you say if I argued…” I would say that you have the right to be wrong. :)

    You’ve asked some good questions. Scripture doesn’t give us direct answers in these cases, but unfortunately they are real cases that happen in real life. I think they should be handled with grace… alot of grace.


  6. Funny how 1 Timothy 3 says an elder must have only one wife. This seemed to have been a problem in Ephesus.

    I agree with Gary to a certain degree. God declared a ONE FLESH union in Genesis. He allowed polygamy just as He allowed slavery and other sins while he worked through sinful people.

    One thing not considered in this post is that polygamy is illegal here. If dealing with other countries where it is part of the culture then it is altogether different and we should show grace even though the man can never be an elder(leader) in the Body.

    But here, the guy is considered a criminal and any ‘marriage’ after the first one is not legal. Perhaps we should admonish him to turn himself in to the authorities. :o)

  7. Gary

    You asked, “What would you say if I argued that the first marriage was the only recognized marriage?” That is a good thought. My wife and I were actually talking about the last night and she mentioned that possibility. I don’t think there is too much in the bible to help us determine if God only recognizes the first marriage. It is probably more likely the case that God just happens to allow multiple marriages, even though it’s not the “best”. Plus there are so many examples of “biblical heroes” taking on multiple wives, but no examples (as far as I can remember – double check?) of God telling them that they are wrong for doing so. Exodus 21:10 is possibly applicable regarding slave woman and wives… the context is a little difficult to understand though.

    You’re questions are very good and very important for us to consider. As always though, our assumptions should be questioned.


    I have thought that perhaps Paul was dealing with a similar issue with writing 1 Timothy 3.

    I agree that he declared the one-flesh union. But I believe one-flesh is talking about sex, not about marriage covenants. If we look in the Law, we see that those who are one-flesh are automatically married (or the man has to pay a fine). I think perhaps a better argument would be God’s encouragement that we cleave to our spouses… I sense that cleaving doesn’t give much room for multiple spouses.

    Regarding it being illegal in the US. I suppose you are correct, if we believe that the government can define marriage… and if we believe that God expects us to submit to the governments definition of marriage. By the way, I’m not saying that either of those beliefs are wrong – just playing the devil’s advocate a little :).

    Thanks for participating in this conversation; you bring up some great points.

    God’s Glory,

  8. Lew, Thanks for your graciousness. It is a pleasure to interact here.

    I think you are right and I had not thought of it….that ‘cleaving’ is a better argument for one spouse.

    I have been working through what God allowed in Old Covenant that we consider sin. God did not necessarily rebuke these things but does ‘regulate’ them with the Law.

    However, extra wives or concubines caused lots of trouble for some of the most important people in the OT: David, Solomon, Jacob, Abraham, to name a few. We hardly see an example of smooth sailing with muliple wives. :o)

  9. Thanks Lin… I use to have more time to blog and have always encouraged people to interact with my topics.

    Yeah, I can see that extra wives causing trouble… I find that my single wife causes enough trouble :).


  10. John,

    If you’re talking about the “law” laws… then I’d say the Israelites.

    Why, what are you thinking?


  11. Lew,

    I was going to follow with another question regarding to whom the N.T teaching on the subject is directed.

    But, suffice to say, I chuckle to myself some times when I see some of the arguments being made about what Scripture says, with no reference to the context.

  12. John,

    I guess there are a number of opinions about who the “law” laws are written for. We definitely know they were given to the Israelites, but some people that the Israelites were the Church and thus apply those laws to ourselves.

    Regarding this post though, I don’t think there is much in the OT or NT telling someone what to do in a case where they are married to more than one wife and then become followers of Christ.

    So to discuss the issue we look at the whole of Scripture and try to find out what we think the “best” answer could be. So far the comment have come up with a few possibilities: “Stay as you are”, “Only the first wife was a marriage”, “One-Flesh”, “Cleaving”, etc. Some of these are more applicable to the given post, most are taken out of context. But it is the subject matter that helps us consider the question. I don’t think anyone here would be dogmatic about the topic… just trying to think a little bit about what might (or might not) apply to the situation.


  13. Lew,

    Even though we speak the same language,I think I wasn’t very clear, or I/you misunderstood, or, ….danged if I know :) :)

    I agree with your correspondents and yourself! My comment was more about the plethora of “official” opinions which are current.

  14. It was probably a combination of all of them :).

    Plus we might speak the same language officially… but our dialects are surely different.

    It’s always a pleasure, even if I think you’re saying I’m wrong.


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