Does I Corinthians 7:2 imply polygyny?



I stumbled on a website about polygyny being biblical still, which stunned me.  It’s not the only one out there promoting this.  The author claimed his insight came from I Corinthians 7:2 when two different words are used to show possession of respective spouses. The words are:

  • heautou  (Strongs #1438)
  • idios  (Strongs #2398)

In Can you explain the difference between heautou and idios? you define these words and seem to support the idea that ‘idios’ does not exclude the fact that, while a woman may have her own husband, he may not be exclusively hers alone.

I’ve looked on BibleHub's interlinear and got the feeling of more exclusivity for the woman’s owning of her husband, but I’m no scholar!

The author that I found obviously draws support from the Old Testament culture of polygyny and makes the parallel of God marrying two sisters Samaria and Jerusalem (Ezekiel 23:1-4). I rather think He married one and they split.  I also don’t see Jesus speaking of the church as a plurality of brides.

He also says ‘but’ has been added to ‘but one wife’ in the qualities required of an elder, so it could just mean ‘married’.  And he points to Isaiah 4:1, somewhat out of context I think. He thinks the virgins with their oil lamps were all waiting to become brides.

But in Matthew 19, Jesus says in the beginning two (not more) become one flesh, so I’m assuming that God just chose not to mess either with the Hebrews’ culture nor later with the Greco-Roman monogamy we still try to follow.

It is very worrying to see how hard it is to rightly divide the Word. That is what the author of the website I found believes he has done.

What do you think, please?


What I stated before in Can you explain the difference between heautou and idios? is that idios refers to something that privately belongs to a person. It does not refer to things that are shared. The word heautou is typically used when an action is applied to a person or to something that is strongly identified with that person. It can also be used to indicate possession of something that is strongly identified to the person.

"Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But this I say by way of concession, not of command. Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that" (I Corinthians 7:1-7).

All usages of heautou and idios in this passage refer to personal possession, exclusive of anyone else. However, by using heautou when saying that "each man is to have his own wife," Paul is subtly emphasizing that a man should view his wife as an extension of himself. "So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body" (Ephesians 5:28-30). Throughout this passage in Ephesians 5:28-30, Paul uses heautou to emphasize that men are to see their wives as an extension of themselves. But it is also used because "love" or "hate" is being applied to the person.

Returning to I Corinthians 7:4, notice that idios is used when you would expect heautou to be used. After all, your body is definitely something that is strongly associated with yourself. But here Paul uses idios to emphasize that in marriage each partner's body is under the authority of the other partner. Each person's body is still his or her own and, as a unit, a married couple belong exclusively to each other.

If you look at the use if idios in the Bible, you do not find it being used to imply a sharing.

  • I Corinthians 6:18 - The fornicator sins against his own body
  • Romans 14:5 - A person is to be convinced in his own mind
  • I Corinthians 7:37 - A person has power over his own will
  • Galatians 6:5 - Each person is to bear his own burden

Going back to I Corinthians 7:2, notice that each man (singular) is to have his own wife (singular). Each woman (singular) is to have her own husband (singular). Even you mistakenly try to say there is a difference in the degree of possession, the syntax of the sentence still states that marriage is a one-to-one relationship.

You are correct that the illustration in Ezeziel doesn't apply to Christians today, nor is it an illustration of God's intention for marriage. Jesus stated that a man marries a woman (both singular) and that was God's intention from the beginning of creation (Matthew 19:4-6). Without that understanding, God's laws regarding divorce and remarriage would not make sense.

In I Timothy 3:2, an elder is to be the husband of one wife. There is no conjunction in the phrase and I don't know of a translation that put a "but" into this phrase. The literal Greek translation is that an elder is to be a "one woman man."

Isaiah 4:1 is talking about how few men would be left after an upcoming war by describing the desperation of women to find a husband. This is not an approval, only a prediction of what would happen.

Matthew 25 uses an illustration of ten virgins waiting to attend a wedding feast. They are not called brides and the focus is on their attendance at the wedding feast. A wedding feast is held after the marriage takes place for the guests at the wedding. Just because an unmarried woman attends a wedding, it does not imply that she is getting married.

"If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain" (I Timothy 6:3-5).

All this person has done is proved that he doesn't follow God's teachings. He certainly has not proven that polygamy is allowed under the Law of Christ.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email