FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Question: Does the Bible forbid plural marriage?
Question: Does the Bible forbid plural marriage?
The Bible does not forbid plural marriage
Some Christians claim that plural marriage has no Biblical precedents—they point to condemnation of King David and King Solomon as evidence that polygamy is always forbidden by God. Some claim that Abraham's polygamy "portrays his acceptance of plural marriage as a mark of disobedience to, and a lack of faith in, God." It is claimed that since the Bible didn't allow a man to marry two sisters, this proves that LDS plural marriage was "unbiblical" because some Mormons did so.
The Bible does not forbid plural marriage. In fact, many of the most noble Biblical figures (e.g., Abraham) had more than one wife. Furthermore, Biblical laws quoted by critics forbid kings from being led astray by plural spouses, or entering relationships not sanctioned by God's authority. However, the same Biblical laws provide guidelines for legitimate plural relationships.
It is true that David and Solomon were condemned for some of their marriage practices
This problem was mentioned in Deuteronomy:
15 Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother...17 Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away... (Deuteronomy 17:15,17
Only four chapters later, the Lord gives instructions on how to treat equitably plural wives and children
Critics ignore the fact that only four chapters later, the Lord gives instructions on how to treat equitably plural wives and children. (See Deuteronomy 21:15-17.) Why does He not simply forbid plural marriage, if that is the intent of chapter 17? Why does He instruct the Israelites on how to conduct themselves in plural households, if all such households are forbidden?
So, rather than opposing plural marriage, the command to kings is that they:
- not multiply wives to themselves (i.e., only those who hold proper priesthood keys may approve plural marriage—see 2 Samuel 12:8, Jacob 2:30, DC 132:38-39);
- that these wives not be those who turn his heart away from God (1 Kings 11:3-4);
- not take excessive numbers of wives (see Jacob 2:24).
David and Solomon are excellent examples of violating one or more of these Biblical principles, as described below.
David is well-known for his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah
David is well-known for his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah (see 2 Samuel 12:1-27. Nathan the prophet arrived to condemn David's behavior, and told the king:
7 ¶ And Nathan said to David...Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;
8 And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.
9 Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.
10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. (2 Samuel 12:7-10)
Nathan here tells David that the Lord "gave thee...thy master's wives." And, the Lord says, through His prophet, that He would have given even more than He has already given of political power, wives, and wealth.
But, David sinned and did evil in the matter of Uriah. If plural marriage is always a sin to God, then why did Nathan not take the opportunity to condemn David for it now? Or, why did the prophet not come earlier?
Solomon's wives turned his heart away from the Lord, as Deuteronomy cautioned
Solomon's problem is described:
1 BUT king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites;
2 Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love...
7 Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon.
8 And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods. (1 Kings 11:1-8
Solomon's wives turned his heart away from the Lord, as Deuteronomy cautioned. Nothing is said against the plurality of wives, but merely of wives taken without authority that turn his heart away from the Lord.
Abraham and other Biblical examples demonstrate that plural marriage may, on occasion, be sanctioned
David and Solomon do not prove the critics' point, but in fact demonstrate that plural marriage may, on occasion, be sanctioned (as in David's case certainly).
But, we need not rely on these examples only to demonstrate that plural marriage was practiced by righteous followers of God in the Bible. Other cases include:
- Abraham married Hagar (Genesis 16:3), Keturah (Genesis 25:1) and other unnamed concubines (Genesis 25:6).
- Jacob (Genesis 29:21-30, Genesis 30:3-4, Genesis 30:9)
- Abijah had fourteen wives (2 Chronicles 13:21) and yet he is described as a righteous king of Judah who honored the Lord (2 Chronicles 13:8-12) and prosper in battle because of the Lord's blessing (2 Chronicles 13:16-18)
- Jehoiada, priest under king Joash had two wives (2 Chronicles 3:) and is described at his death as one who "had done good in Israel, both toward God and toward his house. [i.e. family]" (2 Chronicles 24:16).
and also possibly:
- Moses [married Zipporah (Exodus 2:22 and an "Ethiopian" (Cushite) woman Numbers 12:1 which may or may not be the same person. 
The Law of Moses provides rules governing Israelites who have plural wives
As noted above, Deuteronomy 21:15 provides rules governing Israelites who have plural wives. Further instructions are also given in Exodus 21:10. Why did God not ban plural marriage through Moses if it is always an immoral act?
The Law of Moses did not allow plural marriages to two sisters
Latter-day Saint plural marriage did not rely on biblical authority or interpretation (though they used biblical parallels to explain and understand the command which they believed they had received from God via a modern prophet.)
Marrying two sisters was quite frequent, possibly because sisters had already learned to get along together, which made for more harmonious plural families. One researcher noted:
Marriage to the wife's sister, defined as incest only by Anglican canon law, is the only form of polygamous marriage of the [potentially 'incestuous] categories...that occurs in significant numbers. 
The Saints did not claim to be restoring Mosaic plural marriage—they only used Moses' example as precedent for the fact that God could and had commanded plural marriage in the past. The specific structure, rules, and restrictions varied from time to time as guided by prophets.
- Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 2:10. off-site
- Jessie L. Embry, "Ultimate Taboos: Incest and Mormon Polygamy," Journal of Mormon History 18/1 (Spring 1992): 93–113.