Why were the Old Testament Prophets allowed to have multiple wives?

David, Samson, etc had multiple wives and concubines as well.
But we know that the seventh Commandment forbids adultery, yet it seems as if they were all okay with it.
In Jesus’ time, the Jews understood that a man can only have one wife, so what happened?

Because God tolerated it according to the understanding of his people at the time. Where it was permitted, it simply was not adultery, but rather, polygamy.

Adultery was simply the prohibition of a man having carnal knowledge of another man’s wife. It was not the same as the modern-day “cheating” (where a man “cheats” on his wife). If a woman was free to marry (i.e. not married to another man), she can be married to a man who already has other living wives.

David, for example, was guilty of adultery with Bathsheba, not because he was married, but because SHE was (to Uriah). He was not guilty of adultery with Abigail because her husband Nabal was already dead, and despite the fact that his first two wives, Michal and Ahinoam were both still alive.

I’m not certain that this is true. There is nothing in the Torah forbidding polygamy. As one web site says:

The Torah does not forbid a man from having multiple wives. Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon are notable examples of biblical figures who wedded more than one wife.

Approximately one thousand years ago, the noted German scholar Rabbi Gershom “the Light of the Diaspora” banned polygamy.1 This ban was accepted as law by all Ashkenazic Jews, but was not recognized by Sephardic and Yemenite communities.

Practically speaking, polygamy is almost nonexistent today even amongst Sephardic Jews, due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of them live in societies where polygamy is not legally and/or socially acceptable.


David was also a murderer and Sampson was a fornicator. Just because they did that doesn’t mean murder and fornication were condoned.

Also, they were not Prophets.

Apparently it is/was not considered adultery if the polygamous arrangement is consensual (and legal). AFAIK, however, there is no mention in the Torah, either pro or con, about polyandry since it was not part of the Jewish culture, which was largely patriarchal.

God did not “allow” it. God doesn’t micromanage everything.

God gives us rules to live by, but also gives us free will.

At the time, many societies practiced polygamy. Now they generally don’t.

This has also been explained before. Polygamy existed because the mortality rate for men back then was quite high, and it allowed extended families and local societies to stabilize and care for orphaned children and widows. The main intention was not because of sexual pleasure or to make someone feel good and PC inside, but rather for the political and economic benefit of secular civilization.

But to reference Post #5, I am not willing to say it was fine by God.

Some Muslim countries still allow polygamy. And in Africa, polygamy is allowed in certain areas. This becomes a problem for people wishing to convert to Catholicism. However, an African priest told me that if a man is over 65 years old, the local church officials will not bar him and his wives from converting to Catholicism. I don’t know how this would work out since this was a brief off hand comment.

Abraham was a prophet and had two wives (Sarah and Hagar). According to Genesis 16:1-3: “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, 2 and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife.”

And according to Genesis 20:7, Abraham was a prophet. God says to Abimelech about Abraham, “Now then, return the man’s wife;** for he is a prophet**, and he will pray for you and you shall live.”

Also, God talked personally to Abraham on many occasions and never expressed any disapproval that he had more than one wife. For example, Genesis 18 begins, “The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.” God could surely have said, “By the way Abraham, you should only have one wife.” But He didn’t.

God also blessed both of Abraham’s marriages by making the offspring of both wives into great nations. According to Genesis 21:13, God says to Abraham, "As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” And in Genesis 22:17, God says to Abraham, “I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.”

I think David actually was a prophet. Numerous Psalms written by him are clearly Messianic prophecy and have been used since the earliest days of the Church to back up His claim.

Catholic piety also affirms David as a prophet.

I’ve often wondered about this as it gives the impression that morality is changeable and therefore relative.

I guess you could also note that at one time the Jews performed blood sacrifices and now no longer do.

Yes, but in the OT, God instructs that any man AND woman who commit adultery must be killed immediately…both of them…?

Polygamy is not to be regarded as fornication strictly speaking.
God does not tolerate fornication but he did tolerate Polygamy in his people due to spiritual immaturity.
Aquinas States this is not contradicting natural law in a primary sense but only in a secondary derived way. Not even God can or would deny primary nat laws.

The Old Testament marriages were not a Sacrament, but only natural marriage. The Sacrament of marriage has never permitted, nor can it ever permit, more than one (living) spouse.

As I understand the OT situation: polygamy is not intrinsically evil, as a type of natural marriage, and it was permitted by God in certain circumstances. However, I don’t think polygamy was ever the norm among the Israelites. Most OT marriages had only one man and one woman.

Two Christians cannot have a merely natural marriage. They can only have the Sacrament of marriage because they are both baptized. Two unbaptized persons can have a merely natural marriage, as was the case in OT times.

Here are some thoughts that hopefully shine a little light. God’s will is evolving. For example, the main problem in the Garden of Eden was disobedience, not the actual act of eating an apple.

We saw in Genesis 9:3-4 “Any living creature that moves about shall be yours to eat; I give them all to you as I did the green plants. Only meat with its lifeblood still in it you shall not eat.” This was a clear **change **in God’s will. After God created the Flood that wiped out most of mankind, he *also *gave permission for man to start eating living creatures. We are in-between God and animals and note that God is pictured as having multiple wives in Hosea, but in the New Testament. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.a 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise.b " Galatians 3:28

People these days arent having that many children and Christianity is on a steady decline. Would the times we live in cause the Church to approve of polygamy once again, to bring up more children and renew the Church? :smiley:

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