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Polygyny is practiced in the Bible with God's full knowledge.

What about polyandry?

Many say that Western values are based on Judeo-Christian principles.

One western value is that marriage is gender neutral.

Is marriage gender-neutral in the Bible? Polygyny was legal. What about polyandry? I mean if the Judeo-Christian concept of marriage is gender neutral, we would expect polyandry to be as legal as polygyny right? So what's the story?

  • possible duplicate of The Bible seems to allow polygamy. Why doesn't the church? – curiousdannii Mar 28 '15 at 12:07
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    I took the question as about whether polygyny is prohibited in the Bible, not whether it is a sin. I've offered an edit to that effect. – Lee Woofenden Mar 30 '15 at 13:09
  • @LeeWoofenden I don't think there's a substantive difference. – Mr. Bultitude Apr 2 '15 at 19:45
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    @Mr. Bultitude Many things are prohibited in the Bible that are not considered sins by most Christians. There are also things most Christians consider sins that are not prohibited in the Bible. So I'd say that the difference is substantial. Questions of whether X is a sin are disallowed on this site. Are questions of what the Bible says on X subject disallowed? – Lee Woofenden Apr 2 '15 at 19:50
  • I am not asking whether something is sin. I am asking if it's prohibited in bible – user4951 Apr 5 '15 at 9:17
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The New Testament explicitly prohibits polyandry:

Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress. (Romans 7:2–3)

The Old Testament does not have such a clear prohibition, but the laws against adultery are usually interpreted to mean that polyandry is prohibited. For example:

If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)

Practically speaking, there are no examples of polyandry in the Bible, whereas there are many examples of polygyny.

As for the broader question, it would be a stretch to argue that marriage is gender-neutral in the Bible.

However, there is a general arc starting with male/female equality in the creation of humans in the first creation story (Genesis 1:26–27), to increasing inequality from the second creation story in Genesis 2 in which woman is created out of man (Genesis 2:21–23), to the punishment of Eve in Genesis 3:16 in which she is made subject to man, to the first example of polygyny in in Genesis 4:19–24, after which women are considered subject to men for the rest of the Old Testament narrative, and polygyny is common. But in the New Testament there is a move back toward monogamy, and a general increase in the status of women—without, however, explicitly re-establishing full equality between the sexes or universally prohibiting polygyny.

Still, the trend was set. Within a few centuries Christianity adopted a strict monogamous position, and the position of women in relation to men generally improved over the centuries. The same developments have taken place in post-Biblical Judaism as well.

For an analysis of the first three chapters of Genesis from the perspective of gender equality or lack thereof, see my articles, Man, Woman, and the Two Creation Stories of Genesis and What are the Roles of Men and Women toward Each Other and in Society?

  • Using creation stories to imply marriage rules seem to be very far fetched. Jesus did it once to point that divorce is not okay. – user4951 Mar 30 '15 at 20:50
  • Could a woman not be married to two men such that she does not 'lives with another man while her husband[s are] alive'? If one is married, how can one commit adultery with whom they are married to? That is, I don't see it as a strict prohibition as claimed (as presented): there would also have to be support for a strict definition of a biblical marriage, at the least. (Which ought not to be that hard to include.) – user2864740 Apr 1 '15 at 3:05
  • @user2864740: Though theoretically from a modern perspective Romans 7:2-3 could be stretched to be interpreted that way, the practical reality is that while there are many instances of polygyny in the Bible, there is not a single instance of polyandry. The culture of that time and region simply wouldn't permit it. – Lee Woofenden Apr 1 '15 at 14:49
  • @Jim Thio: Those early chapters and verses of the Bible are very compact, but they are packed with meaning. Genesis 1:26-27 is all we've got about the first creation of humans as spiritual beings on this earth. And it embodies an equality between man and woman that falls away in the second Creation story and beyond. The linked articles delve into this in much more detail. – Lee Woofenden Apr 1 '15 at 14:53
  • The problem is, a woman can have sex with someone else' husband. That is the case of polygamy. And the bible don't seem to raise any fuss about that. Most christians that believes that sex outside marriage is sin, believe that it's okay because Jacob is both Lea and Rachel husband too. So what about if a man lives with someone else' wife because it's his wife too? – user4951 Apr 2 '15 at 2:01

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