Author Alan Shlemon
Published on 10/01/2018

Does God Endorse Polygamy?

If God is opposed to polygamy, why does 2 Samuel 12:8 say that God gave David wives?


Is God pro-polygamy? Let’s talk about that.

If God is opposed to polygamy, then why does 2 Samuel 12:8 say that God gave David wives?

Now, I do believe God is opposed to polygamy. In fact, in Genesis 2:24, God’s creation account indicates that God intended for one man to marry one woman, and become one flesh for one lifetime. In fact, Jesus even quotes that definition in Matthew 19 and upholds it as valid. And in fact, then He adds his own commentary by claiming that monogamous marriage is a God-ordained institution.

But now, if you read the Old Testament, you’ll see polygamy practiced by patriarchs, and of course, many Israelite kings. Remember though, that many parts of Scripture are descriptive, not prescriptive. And the Bible often records what happened, not necessarily what should happen.

Still, it appears God allowed polygamy to occur.

Now, I think this is true, but I believe that God tolerated polygamy, but never condoned it. And the same could be said of divorce. God never intended married couples to divorce, but He tolerated it. In fact, Jesus even says in Matthew 19:8 that divorce was permitted because of the hardness of the hearts of men. And yet He also clearly reminds the pharisees that divorce was never intended by God from the beginning.

So, what are we to make then when the Bible says God gave David his master’s wives?

Well first of all, Deuteronomy 17:17 forbids kings from marrying more than one wife, so it doesn’t make sense that God would give that clear prohibition and then give David multiple wives. Furthermore, in Leviticus 18:17, it forbids marrying a woman and her daughter, so that would also be odd for God to give David Saul’s wife, who was his mother-in-law.

Now second of all, as Paul Copan points out in his book, “Is God a Moral Monster?”, the same word “gave” where God gave David these wives, is used in 2 Samuel 12:11 when God took David’s wives and gave them over to his wicked son Absolom. Now we wouldn’t say that God approves of polygamy because of this punishment.

Third, notice that the text doesn’t say God gave David these wives to marry, but that God gave David your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care. In other words, it’s possible that he didn’t marry them, but was simply responsible for caring for Saul’s estate and household after his death.

This, by the way, would often occur during the Old Testament era. A king would inherit the previous ruler’s house and especially the widows and the orphans if the ruler had died. And David would have been expected to extend his protection to Saul’s family, including his harem. In fact, we even see eight chapters later where David takes his concubines and puts them in a house under guard, and the text even says he provided for them but had no sexual relations with them.

So, God is opposed to polygamy, and it doesn’t seem that the 2 Samuel passage does anything to undermine that view.