Monogamy is the practice or state of being married to only one person at a time. When God instituted the covenant of marriage, He designed the relationship to be monogamous. In Genesis 2:21–22, God created Adam and then formed a woman, Eve, from one of his ribs and brought her to the man. God did not create several women for Adam, which would have been helpful in fulfilling the command to populate the earth (Genesis 1:27–28). Adam responded with the joyful proclamation that Eve was “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (verse 23), followed by this declaration: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (verse 24). Jesus echoed this truth when He was asked about divorce (Matthew 19:5). He then added, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). From the very beginning of the Bible, monogamy is the model.
The Old Testament is rife with examples of people abandoning monogamy. Many patriarchs and kings had multiple wives. Even David and Solomon, God’s chosen leaders, multiplied wives over the course of their reigns, and the Bible is strangely silent about this apparent breach of godliness. Deuteronomy 17:17 specifically prohibits the accumulation of wives by the kings of Israel. And because the Bible is so honest about the humanity and failures of even those God used mightily, it dutifully records the problems those multiplied wives created.
In every biblical account of men having multiple wives, there is conflict. Families not based on a monogamous relationship paid a price. Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar were the first “love triangle” gone bad—jealousy arose when the younger Hagar became pregnant when the older Sarah could not (Genesis 16:1–5). Rachel and Leah vied for Jacob’s affection, which led to bringing in servant girls to be their husband’s concubines (Genesis 30). The prophet Samuel was born into a household where his mother Hannah was constantly provoked by her husband’s other wife, Peninnah (1 Samuel 1:4–6).
In King David’s household, the proliferation of wives and children led to such dysfunction that they could have been their own reality show. David’s daughter Tamar by one wife was raped by his son Amnon from another wife (2 Samuel 13). When Tamar’s brother Absalom learned of her disgrace, he plotted vengeance and then killed his half-brother Amnon. David’s mishandling of his dysfunctional household may have led to his son Absalom’s hatred of him and subsequent attempt to take the throne. Had David embraced monogamy, none of this heartache would have happened, and he may never have had to run for his life from his own son (2 Samuel 15:14).
Solomon’s story, in particular, demonstrates the folly of taking multiple wives. King Solomon had been given everything his heart desired. God had given him wisdom beyond that of any other man (1 Kings 4:29–30) and had blessed him materially as well (1 Kings 10:23). God had even granted him “rest on every side, from adversaries and misfortune” (1 Kings 5:4). Solomon was given the high honor of building the temple of the Lord (1 Kings 5:5). Yet he had married many wives from many countries, and, in his old age, his heart turned from the Lord because of his wives’ idolatry (1 Kings 11:3–4). Had Solomon contented himself with his first wife only and remained monogamous, he would never have encountered such temptation and may have remained faithful to the Lord until he died.
By New Testament times, monogamy was the norm in Jewish culture. Jesus taught monogamy. When Jesus was asked about divorce, His answer strongly implied that marriage is between one man and one woman, with no hint of polygamy: “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:6–9). When Jesus says that the “two shall become one flesh,” the obvious implication is that this union is between two individuals only. It’s not three or more that become one; only two become one. Nowhere does Jesus or any of the New Testament writers suggest this union should occur between a married individual and anyone else.
In fact, when Paul gives explicit commands about marriage, he references the passage about being “one flesh” and compares it to Christ and His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:32). He concludes by instructing a husband to love his wife as he loves himself (verse 33). He does not tell a husband to “love all your wives.” The word wife is singular. It is a stretch to try to apply the command about being “one flesh” to a man and several women. And the Bible never at any point implies that marriage can unite anything but a man and a woman. The concept of homosexual marriage is a contradiction in terms.
Scripture does not directly address the practice of polygamy in the Old Testament, but God’s original intent for marriage was clearly monogamy. The Bible shows the result of having multiple wives, and it never presents polygamy in a positive light. Marriage is to be a picture of the covenant Christ has with His church (2 Corinthians 11:2), a picture that fits well with God’s plan that marriage is for one man and one woman for life.