Unchanging morality... polygammy permissable?


If morality doesn’t change, then why did God not count it as a sin to be married to multiple people during the Old Testament days?


What makes you believe it wasn’t?

The Jews absorbed many immoral things from their pagan surroundings, polygamy among them.


Three things come to mind.

First, I don’t think God ever told them it wasn’t a sin. They may have just been ignorant.

Second, Abraham and Jacob had several wives and concubines, but Isaac had only one wife, Rebecca. There are probably other examples of patriarchs who only had one wife, though they don’t come immediately to mind.

Third, the Mosaic law actually forbids the king of Israel to have many wives: “[He] shall not multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply for himself silver and gold.” Deuteronomy 17:17. The kings of Israel got into trouble for not following this commandment, especially David’s son Solomon.

I don’t think the Old Testament supports polygamy the way many people think it does.


It was a special exception granted them.



I am very surprised by this question. :confused:

A lot of the good guys in the OT had multiple wives, and it is never condemned.

The Jews absorbed many immoral things from their pagan surroundings, polygamy among them.

So why wasnt it condemned in the OT bible?


Why wasn’t it condemned?


But if morality doesn’t change, how could God have made it not immoral for so many men in the OT?




Ugh, I can’t stand reading those big long, hard to understand things lol. Thank you very much, but if I wanted to read one of those I could have just googled. :o

Can you explain this to me in your own words?


The same reason God allowed divorce. Not that it wasn’t a sin, but “because of their hardness of hearts.” (Matt 19:8)

Polygamy always was a sin, it was not in God’s original design for marriage, which was one man and one woman united for life. But when sin came into the world, it distorted all human relationships and things got thrown off track for a while.

Therefore, God had to meet the Israelites where they were at and slowly bring them out from their pagan culture to teach them his ways. Remember, revelation was given in stages before the coming of Christ. They weren’t ready for the Sermon of the Mount yet.

By the time of Christ though, “the fullness of time” they were ready and God could finally reveal to them his plan for marriage and the family.


So God didn’t prohibit polygamy in the OT because He was trying to “ease them into it?”

I just can’t imagine something as fundamental as adultery being permissible because God was trying to meet them where they were…

Thank you for the response, its the best ive gotten so far. :slight_smile:


One more time: OT accounts of genocide, trickery, and odd marriages, etc. are anecdotal. And 1000 anecdotes, even Biblical ones, do not add up to a single moral precept. This is why the “lie of Rahab” does not justify lying. This is why David dancing before the Ark does not justify in today’s liturgy having an old lady in a bad leotard prance about the sanctuary like a deranged wood fairy. “This guy did in the OT” is Sola Scriptura scraping the bottom of the barrel.


God’s laws were given to the Jewish people and was ever changing. Let us say that it developed over time. The Father permitted it because of the hardness of their hearts. Just remember what Jesus told the crowd when they asked about divorce. The Father allowed it but from the beginning it was not that way. I don’t have the chapter and verse but I’m sure you remember it being read in the gospel.



I don’t understand the bolded. :frowning: Actually, I don’t understand any of it lol. Would you mind explaining a little better, in simpler, more direct terms?

Also, just curious. What do you mean by “one more time?” This is my first time asking this question, lol.


Sorry about the one more time. It wasn’t meant to be directed at you specifically, but it’s one we get a lot.


I think I might be able to try a little.

The question he asks is: “Whether it was ever lawful to have several wives?” I don’t think the question itself is hard to understand, so let’s move forward.

After stating the question, St. Thomas Aquinas poses several “objections.” The objections are answers to the question, but they are answers that he doesn’t agree with. Later he will reply to those objections.

What’s important for us to know is, the objections are not what Thomas thinks, but they are the objections of a hypothetical opponent in an imaginary debate. He also has an “On the contrary” answer, which is always contrary to the objections, but which may also contain some things he doesn’t agree with. Up to this point, St. Thomas hasn’t given his own answer to the question he asked at the beginning.

Still with me? I hope so, because now we get to Thomas Aquinas’s own thoughts on the matter.

Thomas Aquinas’s own thoughts on whether polygamy was ever lawful start in the section called “I answer that.” The first thing he says there is, “As stated above…plurality of wives is said to be against the natural law, not as regards its first precepts, but as regards the secondary precepts.”

He says this because of an ancient Catholic tradition about marriage. In Catholic tradition, marriage has two purposes: its primary purpose is the procreation of children, and its second purpose is the union of spouses. St. Thomas speaks of this earlier in his article. He says, “Now marriage has for its principal end the begetting and rearing of children… But for its secondary end…it has, among men alone, the community of works that are a necessity of life.” (Summa Theologica Supplement Question 65 Article 1)

Thomas Aquinas argues that polygamy is not against the primary purpose of marriage, but rather against the secondary purpose of marriage. It doesn’t hinder the procreation of children, but the union of spouses. He says: “[Polygamy] does not wholly destroy the second end, [but] it hinders it considerably,] for there cannot easily be peace in a family where several wives are joined to one husband.” (Summa Theologica Supplement Question 65 Article 1)

With me so far? If not, here’s a summary: according to Thomas Aquinas, marriage has two purposes, the procreation of life and the union of spouses. Polygamy is not against the primary purpose of marriage, but it is against the secondary purpose of marriage. Therefore, he says, “It is therefore evident…that plurality of wives is in a way against the law of nature, and in a way not against it.” (Summa Theologica Supplement Question 65 Article 1)

This should help you see why he says in Article 2, “[P]lurality of wives is said to be against the natural law, not as regards its first precepts, but as regards the secondary precepts.”

The next thing he says is, “[H]owever, human acts must needs vary according to the various conditions of persons, times, and other circumstances.” A shorter version of this sentence is, “Different circumstances call for different actions.” This is important because he will soon argue that some of the patriarchs were in a unique position where the secondary purpose of marriage was not applicable. They were operating under different circumstances than we are.

In this thread, one of the responses you have gotten (not my original response, but someone else’s) talks about this same thing. The patriarchs operated under different circumstances than we are, and their circumstance allowed them to marry more than one wife by special permission of God. But how does that square with the fact that morality is unchanging?

Because the sinful part of polygamy is the violation of the secondary purpose of marriage. The patriarchs who had more than one wife were not violating the secondary purpose of marriage because the secondary purpose did not apply in their circumstance. The morality part was the same for them as it is for us: do not violate the secondary purpose of marriage. But, uniquely for their circumstance, the secondary purpose of marriage was not present, and thus could not be violated by taking another wife. Thus, it was not the morality that changed, but the circumstances.

Does that make sense?


Why can’t this same reasoning be used nowadays for any number of immoral circumstances?

I’m hardly a theologian, but it seems to me that Thomas Aquinas’s reasoning edges toward relativism.


Aquinas is a saint, and brilliant, no doubt. But not infallible.


Care to elaborate? :slight_smile:


I don’t think it does. Relativism says that there is no moral truth. Aquinas says that moral truth is unchanging.

Why can’t this same reasoning be used nowadays for any number of immoral circumstances?

One reason why is, according to Aquinas, it was God Himself who set aside the secondary purpose of marriage in their case: the law prescribing the one wife was framed not by man but by God, nor was it ever given by word or in writing, but was imprinted on the heart… Consequently a dispensation in this matter could be granted by God alone through an inward inspiration, vouchsafed originally to the holy patriarchs, and by their example continued to others. He also says one reason why God set aside the secondary purpose of marriage in their case: “in order to ensure the multiplication of the offspring to be brought up in the worship of God.”

God speaks through His Church where before He spoke directly to His prophets. By that direct communication He could set aside the secondary purpose of marriage. But He has not permitted His Church to do the same. Therefore, no permission can be given to Christians to have multiple wives.

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