What Bible Passage Teaches Monogamy?
by George Hutto
via Tidings, Vol. 23, No. 7, July 2008.
Monogamy is the marital rule of having only one spouse. Polygamists say that a person can have more than one spouse at the time, such as the Muslim practice. The teaching of the Bible on this subject will be considered in a moment, but first, let's look at the need for Bible teaching in this matter.
In the late 1800s, the territory of Utah petitioned Congress for statehood in the union but was denied for over twenty years until Mormon leaders renounced the practice of polygamy. The recent events out in Texas involving a commune occupied by Reformed Mormons brought state officials in, not to "crackdown" on polygamy, but simply for the welfare of the children. Today's governmental authorities seem to steer clear of any involvement in the marital lives of individuals.
Their avoidance of marital issues may be because the task is just too big! So many couples are simply "living together," are divorced, or have children without being married. How can all these sinful relationships be corrected by the government?
But here is the crux of the problem for our present study: if the government is "hands-off" in marital matters, how long will it be before polygamy is recognized as legitimate? We already are faced with outrageous judges granting the right of marriage to homosexuals and lesbians. What will hold them back from granting plural marriages to Muslims and Mormons?
Now, back to the Bible question -- what Bible passage teaches monogamy?
First, when Jesus was asked about the practice of divorce, He pointed back to "the beginning," and that God made one woman for one man, and that the "two" should become one flesh (Matthew 19:3-9). Monogamy must have been the rule because the narrative of Genesis makes a note of the unusual behavior of Lamech. "And Lamech took unto him two wives..." (Genesis 4:19).
Second, in the New Testament, the Corinthians are told "Let every man have his own wife, and every woman have her own husband" (I Corinthians 7:2). That "wife" is singular, and that "husband" is singular.
The epistles are written to Christians, the new people of God, to give them direction in moral and spiritual matters. The Old Testament had been nailed to the cross. The old ordinances about wives, husbands, divorce, and marrying the wife of a deceased brother were nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). We must rely on the teachings of the apostles and Christ on the subject of marriage.
Again, note the singular "wife" and the singular "husband" "For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the Head of the church...He that loveth his wife loveth himself." (Ephesians 5:23, 28).
Third, marrying another constitutes adultery. "So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man" (Romans 7:3). So the wife is bound to one man.
Fourth, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her" (Mark 10:11). Now, if divorcing and remarrying is committing adultery, what if a man simply marries a second wife? Yes, that second marriage would constitute adultery also, because it adulterates God's plan for marriage from the beginning.
In this regard, Christ has elevated woman more than any other force in history, by simply recognizing that she has rights too. When the apostles heard Jesus on this subject, they said, "If the case of the man be so with a woman, it is not good to marry" (Matthew 19:10). In other words, if a man can't divorce his wife for just any cause his responsibilities toward her become apparent. She is not to be discarded at the man's whim or displeasure with her. They are married "for better or for worse." The woman has a permanent place at her husband's side. Jesus has been the great power of women, even as He teaches them to submit to their husbands.
Finally, note that we must look at what the New Testament teaches on this subject -- not at what it does not teach. "But it doesn't say that a man can't have several wives at once." Polygamy is in the same category as circumcision for the Gentiles, to which the apostles said, "Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised and keep the law; to whom we gave no such commandment..." (Acts 15:24). Neither Christ nor the apostles ever gave their approval of polygamy, while both approved monogamy. We must abide within the things taught in the doctrine of Christ (II John 9-11).
Perhaps there will be a great challenge on this point in the future, because of the way things are progressing in this direction at this time.