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Question 258:

My question is about polygamy in Christianity. How do Christians attack Islam’s view about polygamy, when it is mentioned in the Bible that previous prophets, including Abraham and David from whom Jesus came, practised it? Why do Christians not accept polygamy as corresponding to God’s will, even though it is allowed in the Old Testament which represents a springboard for Christianity? 

 

Answer:

The questioner is advised to read the relevant sections on this website on topic 14: ethics and social doctrine, the explanations referring to the Christian and Muslim view of marriage. 

Briefly summarised, the evidence of the Old Testament on marriage Is as follows: “Marriage is polygamous (Genesis 4:19-24 and others). Deuteronomy describes it normal for a man to own two women (concubine, slave). Their number is restricted only by economic considerations; rich people such as kings, own many women (2 Samuel 5:13, 1 Kings 11:1-8, but see also Deuteronomy 17:17). In later periods, however, there is no lack of indications that monogamy is considered to be more perfect. Thus the OT interprets even Genesis 2:14 as supporting monogamy (Tobias 8:6 ff, 7:12) The prophetic depiction of the relationship between Yahweh and Israel using the image of a marriage presupposes monogamy (Hosea 2:18-23; Jeremiah 2:2; 3:7; Exodus 16:8, Isaiah 50:1, 54:5; 62:5). The High Priest may only have one wife. Psalm 127:3ff: Proverbs 5:15ff; 12:4; 18:22; 19:14; 31:19ff reveal a practically monogamous environment. In the period of Jesus polygamy has been all but abandoned” (Herbert Haag, Bibel –Lexikon. Einsiedeln/Zurich/Cologne: 1956. Art. „Ehe. (I) im AT” [Marriage in the OT] , column 357). (cf also Irmtraud Fischer, art. Polygamie, III. Biblischer Befund in Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 3. Ed. Vol. 8, Col. 400f).

The Catholic Adult Catechism states: “Jesus proclaims and demands a love that encompasses the whole person and that is measured at the love of God. This central commandment of love also includes sexual love. Although Jesus never mentions it, it is the basis of his esteem of marriage. Jesus refers it back to his father’s creative acting. The love thus enabled between man and wife precludes polygamy and divorce. According to the creator’s intention God’s gift of marriage between man and wife was to last in love and fidelity to the end of life.  — There can be no doubt about Jesus’s prohibition of divorce, this has been noted by Matthew 5:32/Luke 16:18 and during a debate or argument in Mark 10:2-12/Matthew 19:3-9. Jesus does not recognise the Jewish rules for divorce (cf. Deuteronomy 24:1) as being according to the original will of God. The Kingdom of God he brings encourages and enables love and faithfulness. God promises and grants the married couple his grace so they may overome difficulties and hardship. [...]

According to Catholic faith sacramental marriage is a union which uniquely reflects the love of Christ for his church. (Ephesians 5:21-33). Through his incarnation, death and resurrection Christ gave himself to and for his church. Only in the context of this mystery can sacramental marriage be understood and lived. It is a way of following Christ.” (Catholic Adult Catechism, Vol. 2: Leben aus dem Glauben (Freiburg: Herder et all., 1995), p. 349) (cf also Catechism of the Catholic Church Nos. 2387 and 2388)


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