Questions, Insights, & Responses

shared from and with users

#100 - Polygamy, bigamy, and adultery

by Robert Nguyen Cramer

This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.


Question/insight #100a:

Would you not consider polygamy or bigamy adultery?

Response #100a from

The website is not intended to reflect my opinions.* Rather it is primarily intended to explore the original texts and early Christianity. I will say that I do not believe that polygamy or bigamy has any place in modern society.

Though polygamy was considered legitimate and practiced in Judaism until approximately 1000 years after Jesus, the strong Greco-Roman influence of monogamy finally won out as the standard for the developing Western civilization; however, in none of the literature I have researched thusfar is polygamy or bigamy equated with adultery. For example, in Judaism divorce was often difficult to be granted -- and divorce was considered by Jesus as a form of adultery. Polygamy was sometimes employed as a means of getting a new wife without the the difficult step of divorce.

For more information on the biblical teachings regarding polygamy, you can refer to the following resources:

Question/insight #100b from the same reader:

Your research is leaving out some significant facts. Jesus was not saying divorce equals adultery. The point Jesus was making was that man has no power to divorce; therefore, in Matthew 19 he explains that since you have no right to divorce and if you do for any other reason than unfaithfulness (pornea), the divorce is not valid before the eyes of God. Therefore, if the divorce is not valid, you are still cleaved to your wife, and by marrying another you commit adultery by taking a second wife. You see, the first marriage is valid and the second is adultery, which is essentially bigamy. I feel Christ was clear in his teaching on this -- it wasn't divorce he was angry about, but rather he referred to God's original plan of two becoming one and that divorce does not qualify so, another wife is adulterous.

If a man is one flesh with his original wife, he is cleaved to her and no longer two fleshes, just one flesh. Paul speaks later in his letters that the man's body is not his own nor the woman's her own. Thus, if he is stuck to her, he is no longer his own person or flesh. If he marries another and joins her, he literally melds him and the second woman into the first. Now you have three in one because the first is stuck to him. God spoke that two woman in one was evil. Jesus was very clear. Many times he spoke to confound the wise, and the scriptures are to be read by the eyes of the Holy Spirit. This is why Paul always said each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. Three woman cannot all have authority over one man's body.

Also, in a perfect Garden of Eden there would be, as biology shows, a ratio of approximately 50-50, male-female. Actually a slightly higher males, but this is due to female infant not making it. However, I am not refrerring to this world where men die in war or earlier than males which make higher proportions of women. I am talking about Eden where no one was to ever die. By saying polygamy is not a sin you are very wrong. In the Garden of Eden, if a man took more than one wife, clearly some men would not even get one wife at all. God clearly stated in the Garden marriage was meant to be for men. Thus, polygamy is total selfishness and sin. For a man in the garden to take 20 wives would be sin on many levels against the women as well as 20 men who would not get a wife. Plain and simple. You mention that the Bible in the Old testament doesn't speak against it. The point to remember is that these were Jews -- not Christians. Big difference. They were not of Christ or of the Kingdom of God. The world had yet to see the light, and all the Old Testament shows is that it was full of sin, polygamy, and prostitution. (God never condemned prostitution either until after Jesus came.) We are not founding our faith on the Jews, who God called a "stiffneck poeple". We are to be a holy, royal priesthood.

Response #100b from

You wrote, "Jesus was not saying divorce equals adultery." I did not mean to imply that Jesus equated those terms. I did write (and admittedly badly worded), "Divorce was considered by Jesus as a form of adultery." [Unfortunately that first response was written quite hastily and emailed at 1 am in the morning.] What I meant to say was that initiating divorce and then remarrying was considered by Jesus as a form of committing adultery. Actually several years ago I wrote an extensive research document regarding the early Christian teachings on the subject of divorce. You are welcome to read it at:

The earliest recorded quote of Jesus on the subject of marriage and divorce is by Paul, who wrote (1Co 7:10,11, Today's English Version),

I believe Paul articulated Jesus' original teachings on the subject. That appears to be the standard that Jesus taught his followers. My 25 years of marriage to my one and only wife attests to my appreciation of that standard. [I also consider my wife to be the one and only true love of my life, and my very dearest friend and companion.]

You wrote, "By saying polygamy is not a sin you are very wrong." I believe you need to re-read my email, because I never said that polygamy is not a sin. I would agree that historically in many if not most cases, "Polygamy is total selfishness and sin," as you pointed out. This is also supported by references I noted in my last email.

There are other times that polygamy was considered an act of mercy. For instance, each of the synoptic gospels portrays Jesus as non-judgmentally describing the scenario of a woman who is widowed, who has no children to care for her, and who is taken in as a wife (or an additional wife) by the brothers of her husband, as each of the former husbands/brothers died off. (See Mar 2:19-25.)

In that time, that form of polygamy would have been a common practice among the people to whom Jesus was speaking. That is not a practice that I would encourage or adopt. I simply was sharing with you some historical information based upon the research that I was doing -- to aid you in research I thought you were doing.

My intent is never to be the authority for answers. I simply honestly share the results my research and allow questioners the opportunity to do follow-up research and to draw their own conclusions. I simply report the data available. Since none of the resources I consulted mentioned when polygamy was no longer practiced by Jewish Christians, I would not invent conclusions that are not supported by the data.

I did not have time to consult my entire 1500 volume biblical research library in my office; however, all of the literature that I had the time to research said that the polygamy within Judaism disappeared approximately 1000 years after Jesus' earthly ministry.

The Old Testament polygamy was never considered be adultery. Though polygamy was still practiced by Jews (and quite possibly by some Jewish Christians) in Jesus' time, polygamy was never specifically denounced in the New Testament. The literature that I consulted noted that it was the influence of Greco-Roman morality that put an end to polygamy in Western civilization. Though the Morman community tried to restore that practice in America, fortunately the US Congress made polygamy illegal.

Response #100c from

I also should note it is not my "research that is leaving out some significant facts," as you stated in your email. The real fact is that in all of the many resources that I had explored up to that point, there was very scanty information on the subject of polygamy.

I would very much like to solidly document the early Christian views on polygamy. Please share with me the book titles and page numbers of the resources that document any information you shared with me regarding early Christian practices. That would be very helpful. Thanks.

As I have mentioned, references to polygamy are very rare in the 1500 volumes of biblical resources in my library; however, I was able to find a few more that are worth noting. They include the following:

Some other works that have references to polygamy are in the following:

An additional relevant resource is my article on "Adultery" at:

Question/insight #100d from the same reader:

I am pasting you some references from a scholar on polygamy in the church from early times. Also, in 1 Timothy Paul* outlines the requirements for elders and deacons which include a husband of but one wife. The important thing to see in this is that at the end of the requirements, Paul says (I Timothy 3: 14, 15): "I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of truth." He is clearly stating all people in God's house should hold these requirements and this is to be the model of those in God's households. Polygamy has no place.

We might also point out that the post-NT church was likewise anti-polygamy:

1. Justin Martyr (c.160) rebukes the Jews for allowing polygamy:

2. Irenaeus (c.180) condemns the Gnostics for, among other things, polygamy:

3. Tertullian (c.207) was also explicit:

4. Methodius (cf.290) was clear on the issue, arguing that it had stopped at the time of the Prophets:

5 The Pseudo-Clementine Literature boasts about how St. Thomas taught the Parthians [i.e., an Iranian culture] to abandon polygamy:

6. The Council of Neocaesarea a.d. 315 (circa) refers to a 'purification period' for polygamists. By that time, sinners had to 'sit out' of Church activities until they had demonstrated reformation. If a sin showed up on this list of canons, it was considered a 'bad sin'--and polygamy shows up here:

7. Basil, Archbishop of Caesarea, mentioned it a number of times in his letters, generally concerning the period for exclusion from church for polygamists, calling it 'limited fornication'(!):

Response #100d from

Thanks so much for the references and texts. I welcome all the documentation that you have...

Now that we are accumulating a body of knowledge on the topic of polygamy, for which I had originally found relatively few resources, I plan to devote a webpage with the accumulated info, so others can benefit from the research that has been done. It's always valuable to have a completely clear and understanding of authentic early Christian practices.


Copyright 1996-2002 Robert Nguyen Cramer