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The Bible and Polygamy

Does the Bible Sanction Polygamy?

John Philip Newman Orson Pratt

330 pages
Library of Alexandria
Here is a law, in the words of the Great Law-giver himself, the Lord, who spake to Moses; and it certainly must be a sanction of a plurality of wives, for it is given to regulate inheritances in families of that description, as well as in families wherein the first wife may have been divorced, or may be dead; wives contemporary and wives that are successive. It refers to both classes; and inasmuch as plurality of wives is nowhere condemned in the law of God, we have a right to believe from this law that plurality of wives is just as legal and proper as that of the marriage of a single wife. This is the ground we are forced to take until we can find some law, some evidence, some testimony to the contrary. They are acknowledged as wives in this passage, at least—"If a man have two wives." It is well known that the House of Israel at that time practised both monogamy and polygamy. They were not exclusively monogamists; neither were they exclusively polygamists. There were monogamic families existing in Israel in those days, and therefore in the Lord giving this He referred not only to successive wives, where a man had married after the death of his first wife, or if the first wife had been divorced for some legal cause, but to wives who were contemporary, as there were many families in Israel, which can be proved if necessary, that were polygamists. I might here refer to the existence of this principle concerning the rights of the first-born in monogamic and polygamic families prior to the date of this law. This seems to have been given to regulate a question that had a prior existence. I will refer, before I proceed from this passage, to the monogamic family of Isaac, wherein we have the declaration that Esau and Jacob, being twins, had a dispute, or at least there was an ill feeling on the part of Esau, because Jacob at a certain time had purchased the right of the first-born—that is, his birth-right. The first-born, though twins, and perhaps a few moments intervening between the first and second, or only a short time, had rights, and those rights were respected and honored centuries before the days of Moses. This was a monogamic family, so far as we are informed; for if Isaac had more than one wife, the Bible does not inform us. We come to Jacob, who was a polygamist, and whose first-born son pertained to the father and not to the mother. There were not four first-born sons to Jacob who were entitled to the rights of the first-born, but only one. The first-born to Jacob was Reuben, and he would have retained the birth-right had he not transgressed the law of heaven. Because of transgression he lost that privilege. It was taken from him and given to Joseph, or rather to the two sons of Joseph, as you will find recorded in the fifth chapter of 1st Chronicles. Here then the rights of the first-born were acknowledged, in both polygamic and monogamic families, before the law under consideration was given. The House of Israel was not only founded in polygamy, but the two wives of Jacob, and the two handmaidens, that were also called his wives, were the women with whom he begat the twelve sons from whom the twelve tribes of Israel sprang; and polygamy having existed and originated as it were with Israel or Jacob, in that nation, was continued among them from generation to generation down until the coming of Christ; and these laws therefore were intended to regulate an institution already in existence. If the law is limited to monogamic families only, it will devolve upon my learned opponent to bring forth evidence to establish this point.