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If a worldwide count of societies were made, polygyny would prove to be the favored form of marriage.

William F. Kenkel
The Family in Perspective
University of Kentucky, 1977, p. 30

The mobile nuclear family has throughout history coexisted with the polygamous type. Even in the Western part of the world, where monogamy has long been at least the nominal rule, some people have set up polygamous families more or less openly …

If monogamous societies have always included informal polygamy, the technical polygamous societies – which make up fully three fourths of the world – have been largely monogamous.

Robert Wernick
The Family (Human Behavior), p. 35
Time-Life Books, 1974

A Hebrew man, moreover, could rule over more than one woman. So a man and a woman in marriage may have been “one flesh,” but it was more his flesh than hers, and was subject to more flesh being added. The only scriptural limit was that Hebrew men were not to marry non-Hebrew women (Deuteronomy 7:2-8).

Ronald L. Ecker
And Adam Knew Eve: A Dictionary of Sex in the Bible
Hodge & Braddock, 1995

Luther insisted that whatsoever was not specifically forbidden by Scripture was optional for the Christian, and not only is there no Biblical ban on polygamy, there are positive examples of it, in the patriarchs. In January of 1521 … Luther had written to a friend whose marital life was wholly asexual owing to the illness of his wife and who had been asked whether he might take a second wife … Luther had responded that he could raise no objection if a man wished to take several wives, since Holy Scripture does not forbid it.

William Graham Cole
Sex in Christianity and Psychoanalysis
Oxford University Press, 1955, p. 116-117

Luther was consulted by a man whose wife … was unable to fulfill her marital obligation. The man felt himself unable to sustain the burden of chastity, and asked for Luther’s advice. Luther replied that … [he should] take a second wife. Luther … exhorted him to provide sufficiently for his first wife and not abandon her.

Raymond J. Lawrence, Jr.
The Poisoning of Eros: Sexual Values in Conflict
Augustine Moore Press, 1989, p. 178

I confess, indeed, I cannot forbid anyone who wishes to marry several wives, nor is that against Holy Scriptures …

Martin Luther
Cited by:
– Robert Hutchins, Multiple Marriage: A Study of Polygamy in Light of the Bible, 1987, p. 64.
– Philip Leroy Kilbride, Plural Marriage for Our Times, 1994, p. 63

Luther’s conversations at mealtime with his family and friends were recorded for posterity by some of his followers and published as Table Talk. On one occasion Luther ventured the opinion at supper that the time would come again when a man will take more than one wife, as he had in patriarchal times.

Raymond J. Lawrence, Jr.
The Poisoning of Eros: Sexual Values in Conflict
Augustine Moore Press, 1989, p. 180

In the Jewish communities of that time, however, polygamy was still practiced.[1] Josephus, the Jewish historical writer of the first century, mentions in two places that this custom still existed among his people.

The Lord certainly must have known that polygamy still existed among His Jewish contemporaries. If His teaching on marriage was intentionally incompatible with this immemorial custom, we might expect to find some clear statement of his against the permissiveness of the Mosaic law. We might expect to find at least a clear hint of disapproval in the one passage where Jesus actually discussed the practice of levirate marriage (c.f. Matthew 22:23-30, and parallels). This practice frequently, perhaps even more often than not, involved polygamy. For marriage was so highly esteemed among the Jews that men, as well as women, normally married at an early age (usually just after puberty), and bachelors must have been very rare indeed.[2] So it may be assumed that levirate marriages very frequently must have been polygamous.

“This duty [levirate] was enjoined by the law,” says Bernard Haring, “even in cases where the brother-in-law of the widow was already married.”[3] The sin of Onan, for which he was punished with death by God, was not masturbation; it was his refusal to perform the levirate duty of taking his brother=s widow and raising up offspring for his deceased brother (cf. Genesis 38:8-10).

Eugene Hillman
Polygamy Reconsidered,
Orbis Books, 1975, pp. 20, 163-164


(return)1. See:

George H. Joyce, Christian Marriage: A Historical and Doctrinal Study, Sheed and Ward, 1933, 1948, pages 570-571.

Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time Jesus, Allerton, 1922, Vol. III, pages 84-86.

Salo Wittmayer Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, Columbia University Press, 1937, 1952, 1962, Vol. II, pages 223-229.

Bruce Vawter, The Four Gospels, Doubleday, 1967, page 315.

(return)2. See:

Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, McGraw-Hill, 1961, page 29.

 Salo Wittmayer Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, Columbia University

Press, Vol. II, page 218-220

E. Neufeld, Ancient Hebrew Marriage Laws, Longmans, Green, 1944, pages 139

(return)3. Bernard Haring, A Theology of Protest, Strauss and Giroux, 1970, page 147.

Contrary to church teaching and bold statements that the New Testament corrects polygamy, and makes monogamy the only possibility for humanity, there is not one statement in all the New Testament that says this.

Philo Thelos
Divine Sex: Liberating Sex from Religious Tradition
Trafford Publications, 2006, p. 69

God ordained that marriage be sacred, but he did not prescribe the number of wives, neither a high nor a low one. He commanded: thou shalt be faithful to thy marriage vow, and though shalt not break it. Now it so happens that God has always created many more women than men. And He makes men die more readily than women. And He always lets the women survive and not the men … And if there is such a surplus of women, let it be taken care of by marriage, so that the meaning of God’s commandment may be heeded … If this cannot be achieved by giving each man one wife, she should have two, or whatever number may be required to take care of the surplus.

Phillip Von Hohenheim (1493-1541)
Cited by George H. Williams, The Radical Reformation
Westminster Press, 1962, p. 509

The Apostle speaks to the widows, the most worthy of charitable assistance. He did not advocate nunneries or houses for unwed mothers: he demanded marriage. Like other Biblical laws, no consideration or exception is made for situations involving married men. What would happen should a church find itself with widows but no single men? Obedience to this command would require polygamy. We have here a New Testament application of the levirate law. Christian men are to treat Christian women as sisters. If they are widowed, then they and their orphans should be adopted and incorporated into a family. If they are lawfully divorced, they are covenantally widowed and should be treated the same, as say the Early Fathers. This is the work of “pure religion” (James 1:27). Polygamy encourages this practice; monogamy discourages it.

 James Wesley Stivers
Eros Made Sacred
Patriarch Publishing House, 2007, p. 46

The regulation of polygamy is prominent in Biblical law; thus, we may interpret that fact as indicative of its pervasiveness as a social custom.

James Wesley Stivers
Eros Made Sacred
Patriarch Publishing House, 2007, p. 39

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April 2009
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