Why did God allow polygamy in the Old Testament?

Joel Kim & W. Robert Godfrey
1 Min Read

KIM: This is a more difficult question than one that can be answered in thirty seconds or a minute.

The question begins by asking, “Why does God?” This is the point where we have to realize that what we see is the result of sin and the fall. This is not God ordaining things, preparing things, or using things. This is the way in which sins grow and propagate, and we see that happening in the Old Testament and the New Testament as well. There are certain sins that God prevents, and there are others that He allows to continue in some way. We see the clarification taking place as we come into the New Testament from the Old Testament.

In terms of the communities and culture in which Scripture was founded, there was a natural progression of sin by which we understand not only the depth of our sin, but ultimately the solution that comes in Christ Jesus. So, whether it be polygamy or any other sin, in many ways, it becomes a teacher that drives us to Christ. It can help us recognize the depth of human sin that ultimately finds its solution in Christ Jesus, which is clarified for us in the New Testament.

GODFREY: Would it be helpful to think of God’s toleration of polygamy as analogous to what Jesus says about divorce? From the beginning, divorce was not God’s intention for marriage, but He regularized and tolerated it in Moses to a greater extent than He would in the new covenant because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. There is something similar in terms of God’s toleration of polygamy. It was clearly not His plan from the beginning in the garden—it was one man and one woman—but He tolerated sin that He would correct with the coming of the new covenant. Furthermore, He expects us to live better and more purely than what was tolerated in the old covenant. So, there may be an analogy for God’s toleration of polygamy in His toleration of divorce.

This is a transcript of Joel Kim’s and W. Robert Godfrey’s answers given during our 2021 National Conference, and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email ask@ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.