Polygamy in the Bible

polygamy in the bible

There are 33 direct references to polygamy in the Bible, with almost all references being in the Old Testament and only passing reference in the New Testament. Why the sudden change? Likely because the purpose of the New Testament was entirely different.

So when it comes to understanding the Bible's position on polygamy, we have to rely almost entirely on the Old Testament.

We'll quote the relevant verses below, as well as discuss likely or known context.

Polygamy in the Old Testament

Genesis 4:19
And Lamech took to him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.
Genesis 4:23
Lamech said to his wives: "Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me."
Genesis 6:2
Then the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and they took them wives of all that they liked.
Genesis 28:9
Then went Esau to Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife.
Genesis 30:26
Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest what service I have done thee.
Genesis 31:17
Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels.
Genesis 31:50
If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.
Genesis 32:22
The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.
Genesis 36:2
Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan: Adah the daughter of Elon an Hittite and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon an Hivite.
Genesis 36:6
So Esau took his wives and his sons, and his daughters, and all the souls of his house, and his flocks, and all his cattle, and all his substance, which he had gotten in the land of Canaan, and went into another country from his brother Jacob.
Genesis 37:2
These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father.
Judges 8:30
And Gideon had seventy sons begotten of his body: for he had many wives.
1 Samuel 1:2
And he had two wives: the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
1 Samuel 25:43
David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they were both his wives.
1 Samuel 27:3
And David lived with Achish at Gath, he and his men, every man with his household, and David with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail of Carmel, Nabal's widow.
1 Samuel 30:5
David's two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel.
1 Samuel 30:18
David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and David rescued his two wives.
2 Samuel 2:2
So David went up there, and his two wives also, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel.
2 Samuel 5:13
And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David.
2 Samuel 12:8
And I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.
2 Samuel 12:11
Thus said the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of his sin.
1 Kings 11:3
And he had seven hundred wives, that were princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned away his heart.
1 Kings 11:4
For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, so that his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God as was the heart of David his father.
1 Kings 11:8
And so did he for all his outlandish wives, which burnt incense and offered unto their gods.
1 Kings 20:7
Then the King of Israel sent for all the Elders of the land, and said, Take heed, I pray you, and see how he seeketh mischief: for he sent unto me for my wives, and for my children, and for my silver, and for my gold, and I denied him not.
2 Kings 24:15
And he carried away Jehoiachin into Babylon, and the king’s mother, and the king’s wives, and his eunuchs, and the mighty of the land, carried he away into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon.
1 Chronicles 4:5
But Ashhur the father of Tekoa had two wives, Helah, and Naarah.
1 Chronicles 14:3
Also David took more wives at Jerusalem, and David begat more sons and daughters.
2 Chronicles 11:21
And Rehoboam loved Maachah the daughter of Absalom above all his wives and his concubines: for he took eighteen wives and threescore concubines, and begat eight and twenty sons, and threescore daughters.
2 Chronicles 13:21
So Abijah waxed mighty, and married fourteen wives, and begat two and twenty sons, and sixteen daughters.
2 Chronicles 21:17
And they came up into Judah, and brake into it, and carried away all the substance that was found in the king’s house, and his sons also, and his wives, so that there was not a son left him, save Jehoahaz the youngest of his sons.
2 Chronicles 24:3
And Jehoiada took him two wives, and he begat sons and daughters.
Daniel 5:3
Then were brought the golden vessels, that were taken out of the Temple of the Lord’s house at Jerusalem, and the king and his princes, his wives and his concubines drank in them.

Polygamy in the New Testament

The New Testament differs greatly on the subject of marriage. Not so much in relation to polygamy, but because the focus is on the bond and duties between husband and wife rather than a recounting of historical events.

In fact, all references to marriage seem to be ambiguous, at best, if they are referencing monogamy or polygamy.

For example, Ephesians 5:28 says "So ought men to love their wives, as their own bodies: he that loveth his wife, loveth himself."

This quote may very well be referencing monogamous marriage or polygamy, given the wording.

For this reason, we are left to rely on the New Testament for direction on marriage but the Old Testament for quotes involving polygamy.


What you will notice with all of the biblical quotes referencing polygamy is that there is neither approval or condemnation. Rather, being polygamous is mentioned as a detail relevant to the individual or events, sometimes in relation to the most favored individuals in the Bible.

God does not appear to have been shy about rendering a verdict on a wide range of subjects, so why the lack of direction on polygamy?

You will find many people pursuing polygamy and claiming that it was ordained by God. We won't make any claim so bold, nor do we think it is especially true.

We would argue that marriage, as a sacred bond, was ordained by God. And if you study the judgments made in relation to marriage, stories told, as well as the direction and commandments given, they all relate to not betraying those you have sworn yourself to and have an obligation to serve.

Whether that's between a man and woman or a man and his many wives does not seem important in scripture.

It's the actions of the individual that one will be judged on, whether you are a loyal servant to your wife or many wives.