Polygamy in the Old Testament

King David is called a man after God’s heart, and we know that he sinned grievously in the adultery with Bathsheba. But how can the number of wives and concubines that he had be justified in the light of God desiring one man and one woman to be the basic family unit?

(Dr.) Julian Kennedy

Bournemouth, England


Polygamy on the part of the saints in the Old Testament, such as King David, cannot be “justified.” It was a deviation from the Word of God governing marriage that had been clearly revealed at creation: one man and one woman for life (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18-25; Matt. 19:4-16).

But it was a departure from the law of chastity that was of a different order than adultery. David’s polygamy was tolerated as his adultery with Bathsheba was not.

Although there was a certain tolerance of the saints’ polygamy in the Old Testament, God did judge the evil in their lives. He judged it by the miseries in their family life that were the consequences of the evil, e.g., the strife in the families of Jacob and of David.

There is a difference in this matter of polygamy between the age of the old covenant and the age of the new. Under the old covenant, the saints were immature children, living, comparatively, in shadowy darkness, particularly as regards marriage. Now, in the gospel of the glorified Jesus Christ, the full light has shined upon a grown-up church, particularly as regards marriage.

—Ed. Committee