What does the Bible say about polygamy and open relationships?

Gay marriage vs. polygamy

Gay marriage vs. polygamy

Polygamy in the Bible was a Biblical family value first mentioned in Genesis 4:19. Some but not all ancient Biblical heroes lived in polygamous marriages and yet still enjoyed the blessing grace and mercy of a loving God.

At least two of the human authors of the Bible, David and Solomon, were living in polygamous marriages when they wrote part of the Bible, Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

Some Christians believe that Moses, the human author of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and the book of Deuteronomy, also lived in a polygamous marriage with two women. Scripture tells us Moses had two wives, Zipporah, mentioned in Ex 2:15-16-21 and 18:1-6, and an Ethiopian wife mentioned in Num 12:1-15.

Moses' first wife may have died before Moses married his second wife yet the Bible does not make that clear one way or the other. We do know that God led Moses to make legal provision for polygamy in Jewish law by mandating inheritance rights when a man was married to more than one wife, Deut 21:15-17.

These facts do not mean that Polygamy should be practiced by Christians today. What was culturally acceptable and legal for God followers 3000 years ago is often very different today because our culture and our laws are different.

Some anti-gay Christians invoke the "gay marriage is a slippery slope argument" when they assert that equal marriage rights for gays inevitably leads to polygamy. Does gay marriage really lead to polygamy? We have at least six thousand years of human history which says, absolutely not. In countries where polygamy is legal, being gay and gay marriage itself are illegal. In countries where same-sex marriage is legal, polygamy is illegal.

Polygamists in the Bible

  1. Lamech - Genesis 4:19

  2. Esau - Genesis 26:34 & 28:9

  3. Abraham - Genesis 16:3, 25:1-6

  4. Jacob - Genesis 29:23-29 & 30:4-9

  5. Gideon - Judges 8:30

  6. Abijah - 1 Chronicles 13:21

  7. David - 2 Sam 5:13 & 1 Chron 3:1-9

  8. Solomon - 1 Kings 11:1-3

Open relationships - The Bible says nothing positive about open relationships, where both partners are free to have sex outside the marriage relationship.

The Bible always takes a negative view of open relationships, regarding all sex outside of a committed faithful partnership as sin. Notice how scripture describes sexual relationships in 1 Cor 7:1-9.

We are told that, "to avoid fornication," people should be married, i.e., in committed partnership. In that committed partnership, both individuals are to recognize that for purposes of sex, their body belongs to their partner and neither partner should defraud the other sexually. In plainer words, one reason for committed marriage is to meet our sexual needs in a recognized safe and sanctioned relationship.

This scriptural view is also found in 1 Thess 4:2-6 and 1 Cor 10:8-13 (based on Exodus 32:6-28). Marriage in the Bible is often different than our modern western Christian concept.

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Comments for What does the Bible say about polygamy and open relationships?

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Mar 31, 2014
Man Should Not Be Alone?
by: Henry

Hi, it's me again, I'm so sorry for bothering you with all my questions again. Can you help me understand something, please? In Genesis the Bible says that "man should not be alone", yet at the same time celibacy honors God. (As mentioned in Matthew at the same time he talks about the eunuchs. Plus Jesus was celibate as well, along with many other people in the bible.

How is it already said that man should not be alone, but celibacy is honorable to God? Thanks.

Rick's comment: Hi Henry - "It is not good that the man should be alone..." is found in Genesis 2:18. Celibacy is found in 1 Corinthians 7:7. It is the ability to remain unmarried and not burn in sexual lust, described as a gift; the Greek word is, χάρισμα charisma - gift, the same word used to mean gift in 1 Cor 12:4, 9, 28, 30, 31 and other verses in the NT.

Celibacy can honor God in the context of its being a charisma or gift from the Holy Spirit, to achieve His purpose in the life of an individual Christian.

May 07, 2015
Why Polygyny and not Polyandry
by: Fuller Ming

First - I'm a straight male (married to a woman for 22 year) and currently I do not support or agree with gay marriage, etc. Just full disclosure.

Question 1 - why no polyandy in the bible?

Rick's comment: Hi Fuller - Societies in the ancient near east were rarely polyandrous in the sense of a wife having many husbands. If it was not practiced in the ANE, then we would not expect to see it in the Bible. What some scholars refer to as polyandry did occur in the ANE - see this paper by Sir Vincent Emmanuel Hannon.

Question 2 - according to what I think I understand of your theology from scanning this site, you would support both polygyny and polyandry. Thus, there is no biblical reason to limit modern marriage to two people. Is this a fair / accurate understanding of where you stand? Thanks, Fuller

Rick's comment: No, most definitely not. As I stated in the article, "These facts do not mean that Polygamy should be practiced by Christians today. What was culturally acceptable and legal for God followers 3000 years ago is often very different today because our culture and our laws are different."

Feb 07, 2016
Gay polyandry and lesbian polygyny?
by: Alex

Hello, Rick. First off let me tell you that I love the work you've done in this website and the effort you've put into it. I thank you endlessly.

I'm an Arian Christian. I'm straight, male, 15 years old. I'm really attracted to the idea of being in a committed relationship of love with two women and I would love to practice polygamy in the future. I wholeheartedly support polygyny, since it is a biblical practice, and there is no prohibition to it in the bible.

I also am more open to accept the status of LGBTQ people as children of God each day. However I have to admit that one verse confuses me a bit, and it's Romans 7:3. To me it is clear that polyandry is being condemned here, but, do you think this principle should be applied to LGBTQ people as well? What if a lesbian woman wants two wives, or a gay man wants two husbands?

I thank you in advance. May be the blessings of God the Father be with you.

Rick's comment: Hi Alex - I encourage you to read my article again. In western cultures, polyandry and polygyny are not legal for anyone, gay or not gay.

May I say that there is something off-putting and out of kilter about a fifteen year old desiring to be in a marriage relationship with more than one spouse. You are not yet old enough for legal marriage yet you desire more than one spouse? Why?

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