The Old Testament records many instances of men having concubines or many wives. Why did having concubines not fall under the sin of adultery?

2 Samuel 5:13 - "After he left Hebron, David took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem, and more sons and daughters were born to him."

Genesis 25:6 - "But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east." (Abraham)

I suppose the issue here must've been consent between all parties.

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    The definition of adultery was a married man having relations with a married woman (and not being married together) or a married woman having relations with an unmarried man. Married men having relations with other women wasn't clearly defined until much later. Mostly it was about men lusting after another man's wife. Dec 10, 2014 at 15:32

2 Answers 2


Having multiple wives was permitted (though not exactly endorsed) in the Law of Moses.

Adultery is having (or desiring) an intimate relationship with someone who's already married (to someone else). As it was forbidden in the Mosaic law, it was referring to a man and someone else's wife. It was not really speaking of a married man and another woman. Even then, though, the only occasion in which such a relationship is allowed is within marriage. So, in order for a man to have that kind of relationship with a woman, she would have to be a wife of some kind.

Concubines were essentially wives of lower status. They were still bound to the one man.

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    The question was not about why polygamy was permitted, so I didn't attempt to answer it.
    – mojo
    Apr 28, 2014 at 3:17
  • that's covered elsewhere on this site quite thoroughly, so that's totally legit.
    – wax eagle
    Apr 28, 2014 at 13:03
  • @mojo, very nice answer, I have taught for 40yrs and have never seen this line of thought. You have made me pause. Now is this your idea on the interpretation or do you have some points of reference as I would like to study on it.
    – rob
    Apr 30, 2014 at 15:28
  • Where in the Bible under the Law of Moses does it state having multiple wives is permitted?
    – Beestocks
    Dec 10, 2014 at 17:13
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    @Beestocks De 21:15, for example. It's never stated as an official commandment or allowance, but it is regulated, as if it as least permitted.
    – mojo
    Dec 10, 2014 at 21:54

Having multiple wives was permitted in the Bible for the same reason disobeying God is. God honors man's free will.

Had God intended that man should have multiple wives, why would he only create one for Adam. Most assuredly since God wanted man to multiply and fill the Land having multiple wives would enhance that program exponentially.

Genesis 2:18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

Genesis 2:21 and 22 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Those Scriptures are not there to tell us what God allows, but to teach us the progression of man's defiance of the rule of God, and the need for extraordinary measure to bring mankind back into God's grace.

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