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Today I was debating with a Christian who believes in polygamy and claimed that the Early Church Fathers allowed for the act of polygamy, is that true and is there any evidence that the Early Church condemned the act of polygamy (ie marriage to more than one spouse at a time).

4 Answers 4

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Paul only prohibits it for church leaders.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul writes:

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

1 Timothy 3:2-5

Given that this letter was written in the context of a polygamous culture, it can therefore be reasoned that Paul wasn't prohibiting polygamy entirely, but only banning polygamists from attaining positions of power in the church, along with banning those in power in the church from abusing that power to accumulate multiple wives.

I don't know what other early church fathers said in writings outside the Bible, but it's my understanding that strict monogamy was a primarily Greek and Roman thing at the time of the early Church, it entered the Church through Greek and Roman converts, and that the Catholic Church eventually enforced it on Medieval kings in order to gain political power over them by controlling their wedding alliances. I don't have any citations for that, though.

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  • Does St. Paul really mean to say that polygamy not acceptable only for church leaders? Many critics of polygamy also point to the Pauline epistles that state that church officials should be respectable, above reproach, and the husband of a single wife (1 Timothy 3,Titus 1). The Greek phrase mias gunaikos andra is an unusual Greek construction, capable of being translated in multiple ways, including (but not limited to): 1) "one wife man," (prohibiting plural marriage) or 2) "a wife man" (requiring elders to be married) or 3) "first wife man" (prohibiting divorcés from ordination).
    – Ken Graham
    May 1, 2022 at 14:15
  • @KenGraham Paul was writing in the context of a polygamous culture, to another member of that culture, and Jesus had prohibited Christians from divorcing. It was probably either option one or two.
    – nick012000
    May 1, 2022 at 21:39
  • St. Paul wrote to Timothy in Greek. The Greek culture was monogamous and not polygamist. Timothy was a native of Lystra or of Derbe in Lycaonia (Anatolia) and not Palestine. St. Paul wrote his Epistle to the Hebrews in Aramaic. It was addressed to their culture.
    – Ken Graham
    May 2, 2022 at 15:05
  • @KenGraham Both Paul and Timothy were Hebrews - though the latter had one Gentile parent.
    – nick012000
    May 3, 2022 at 2:32
  • Timothy was Of the Greek culture. He only became circumcised because of the circumcision dispute. Paul came also to Derbe and Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
    – Ken Graham
    May 3, 2022 at 2:43
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Did the Early Church Fathers condemn polygamy?

The short answer is yes.

Tertullian (155-220), wrote that marriage is lawful, but polygamy is not:

We do not indeed forbid the union of man and woman, blest by God as the seminary of the human race, and devised for the replenishment of the earth and the furnishing of the world, and therefore permitted, yet singly. For Adam was the one husband of Eve, and Eve his one wife, one woman, one rib. We grant, that among our ancestors, and the patriarchs themselves, it was lawful not only to marry, but even to multiply wives. There were concubines, too, (in those days.) But although the Church did come in figuratively in the synagogue, yet (to interpret simply) it was necessary to institute (certain things) which should afterward deserve to be either lopped off or modified. For the Law was (in due time) to supervene. (Nor was that enough:) for it was meet that causes for making up the deficiencies of the Law should have forerun (Him who was to supply those deficiencies). And so to the Law presently had to succeed the Word of God introducing the spiritual circumcision. Therefore, by means of the wide licence of those days, materials for subsequent emendations were furnished beforehand, of which materials the Lord by His Gospel, and then the apostle in the last days of the (Jewish) age, either cut off the redundancies or regulated the disorders. - Marriage Lawful, But Not Polygamy.

Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian all spoke against polygamy, condemning it. Tertullian explicitly tackled the objection that polygamy was allowed for the patriarchs.

The monogamy of the Roman Empire was the cause of two explanatory notes in the writings of Josephus describing how the polygamous marriages of Herod the Great were permitted under Jewish custom.

Some of The Dead Sea Scrolls show that several smaller Jewish sects forbade polygamy before and during the time of Jesus.

Although some have argued that St. Paul may have seemingly allowed polygamy in some cases except for bishops or church leaders. This is in direct conflict with Church Fathers and not a Catholic interpretation of the Sacred Texts. They make mention of 1 Timothy 3: 1-5. Many critics of polygamy also point to the Pauline epistles that state that church officials should be respectable, above reproach, and the husband of a single wife (1 Timothy 3,Titus 1).

The Greek phrase mias gunaikos andra is an unusual Greek construction, capable of being translated in multiple ways, including (but not limited to): 1) "one wife man," (prohibiting plural marriage) or 2) "a wife man" (requiring elders to be married) or 3) "first wife man" (prohibiting divorcés from ordination).

1 Timothy 3: 1-5:

1 It is well said, When a man aspires to a bishopric, it is no mean employment that he covets. 2 The man who is to be a bishop, then, must be one with whom no fault can be found; faithful to one wife, sober, discreet, modest, well behaved, hospitable, experienced in teaching, 3 no lover of wine or of brawling, courteous, neither quarrelsome nor grasping. 4 He must be one who is a good head to his own family, and keeps his children in order by winning their full respect; 5 if a man has not learned how to manage his own household, will he know how to govern God’s church?

1 Fidelis sermo: si quis episcopatum desiderat, bonum opus desiderat. 2 Oportet ergo episcopum irreprehensibilem esse, unius uxoris virum, sobrium, prudentem, ornatum, pudicum, hospitalem, doctorem, 3 non vinolentum, non percussorem, sed modestum: non litigiosum, non cupidum, sed 4 suæ domui bene præpositum: filios habentem subditos cum omni castitate. 5 Si quis autem domui suæ præesse nescit, quomodo ecclesiæ Dei diligentiam habebit?

1 Πιστὸς ὁ λόγος: εἴ τις ἐπισκοπῆς ὀρέγεται, καλοῦ ἔργου ἐπιθυμεῖ. 2 δεῖ οὖν τὸν ἐπίσκοπον ἀνεπίλημπτον εἶναι, μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, νηφάλιον, σώφρονα, κόσμιον, φιλόξενον, διδακτικόν, 3 μὴ πάροινον, μὴ πλήκτην, ἀλλὰ ἐπιεικῆ, ἄμαχον, ἀφιλάργυρον, 4 τοῦ ἰδίου οἴκου καλῶς προϊστάμενον, τέκνα ἔχοντα ἐν ὑποταγῇ μετὰ πάσης σεμνότητος: 5 εἰ δέ τις τοῦ ἰδίου οἴκου προστῆναι οὐκ οἶδεν, πῶς ἐκκλησίας θεοῦ ἐπιμελήσεται.

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"Appendix A: Authorities Referenced at [the Council of] Trent" of Brugger's The Indissolubility of Marriage and the Council of Trent, pp. 149-99, cites many who directly or indirectly condemn polygamy by reaffirming the indissolubility of marriage.

A succinct one is (ibid., p. 153):

Ambrose (339–97)

De patriarcha Abraham, lib. 1, cap. 7, no. 79 (PL 14:442, referenced at CT, IX, 411n4):

It is not licit for you if your wife still lives to take another wife. For indeed to seek another when you have your own is the crime of adultery; this is most serious, because you think in your sin that you should seek freedom in the law [to divorce].

Non licet tibi, uxore vivente uxorem ducere. Nam et aliam quaerere, cum habeas tuam, crimen est adulterii, hoc gravius, quod putas peccato tuo auctoritatem lege quaerendam.

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  • Neither of those are addressing polygamy, but divorce and remarriage. A polygamist doesn't divorce his first wife when he takes his second, after all.
    – nick012000
    May 1, 2022 at 13:05
  • @nick012000 St. Ambrose doesn't mention dismissing/divorcing. (The quote comes from his treatise on the patriarch St. Abraham, who was polygamous; God permitted polygamy in his time.)
    – Geremia
    May 1, 2022 at 21:47
  • Is the Council of Trent considered "Early Church Fathers"? May 1, 2022 at 21:50
  • It might also be worth pointing out that Ambrose was born into a Roman Christian family.
    – nick012000
    May 1, 2022 at 21:53
  • @MikeBorden No, but Council of Trent fathers cited early Church Fathers.
    – Geremia
    May 1, 2022 at 21:58
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the Greek word “ μιαν mia “ - means A certain object- or A certain person - or mia can mean first, or mia can mean - to agree in unity.

the Greek word εἷς - heis always means- a primary numeral one only one.

μιαν - mia - mee'-ah - meaning = first: - or - a (certain)- or agree / unity

εἷς - heis - hice - meaning = A primary numeral one: only - one and no more, singular

Mia is not the Greek word mean a primary numeral one.

as we see here in - tit 1:6 bishops - the husband of A “ μία Mia “ wife.

the bishop is to be the husband of A wife - - this Greek word is Mia. if the bishop is only supposed to be limited to being married of only one singular wife - the Greek word in the bible would be “ εἷς - heis “ - a primary numeral one - no more than one. singular.

1st ti 3: 2 , 12 deacons, bishops be husband of one A “ μία Mia “ wife.

never in the bible is the word one used to command any man to only be married to only one singular wife. - - every single last scripture suggesting that bishops, deacons and churchmen to be the husband of A wife, never uses the word “ εἷς - heis “ meaning 1 wife, as in *( a primary number 1. )

heis 1. wife - NEVER EXISTS IN THE MANUSCRIPTS

but it is simply promoting the idea that the elders and church leaders are to be married. the authors of scriptures could have easily come out against polygamy in many ways. but it is the total opposite. the bible is pro polygamy.

Another anti polygamy translation - is found in 1co 7:2

1co 7:2 nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his “ own “ wife, and let every woman have her “ own “ husband,

but this is not what the manuscripts say - notice the two words in the verse -

“ own “ wife - and - own husband

these are two completely different Greek words with two totally different meanings and definitions, only one of these words are actually the word meaning “ own

so, when you read the Trinitarian translation that says in 1co 7:2 that every man have his “ own “ wife, and every woman have her “ own “ husband

this has nothing whatsoever to do with what the actual manuscripts are saying .

here is the exact manuscript translation - word for word of - 1co 7:2

1co 7:1 now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman.

:2 δια by - δε also - τας this - πορνειας is fornication, -

εκαστος each man - την they - εαυτου themselves - γυναικα woman - εχετω have - και and - εκαστη each woman -τον their - ιδιον own - ανδρα man - εχετω have

meaning = = :2 BY ALSO THIS IS FORNICATION, EACH MAN THEY THEMSELVES A WOMAN HAVE, EACH WOMAN THEIR OWN MAN HAVE.

__these two words in the translation that are repeated twice as “ own “ - these are not the same Greek words. The word - heautou - ἑαυτοῦ - referring to the men is the Greek word - heautou -

the word is not “ idios - own “ - it simply means “ heautou themselves “

heautou - ἑαυτοῦ
themselves - heautou - heh-ow-too' ) is a pronoun meaning - your self - selves ) our selves (thine) self (-selves ), heautou = (a reflexive pronoun of the 3rd person) – ("himself, herself, itself," etc.) the word heautou - heh-ow-too' is the 3rd person reflexive (singular, plural) form which also functions as the reflexive for 1st and 2nd person.

it never says - let every man have his “ own “ wife, this word has nothing to do with the word “ own “ in the way that the Trinitarians have translated it - they have altered and changed the verse.

But IN FACT,, - IT DOES SAY LET EVERY WOMAN HAVE HER “ idios - OWN “ HUSBAND the Greek word meaning “ own “ is the word idios “ ἴδιοσ “ meaning - your own . and let every woman have her own / private - idios man

own ; - idios - id'-ee-os ( meaning = private or separate: apart, aside, separate), private (-ly), separate, their (own). this is a huge diference in the Trinitarian translation - than what we see in the manuscripts .

so when the Jew uses the word - פִּלֶגֶשׁ - pîyleyesh / pile yesh, - the combination of the two separate words of combining “ pîyle “ and - “ yhesh “ meaning - -
IN Hebrew a pîylegesh. = means = A WONDERFUL CONNECTING WIFE , when the Hebrews pronounced the word - “ pîyle yesh “ they did not see the word - “ concubine “

the Trinitarian looks at the word - concubine “ concu - bine “ and refused to translate this word pîyleyesh / pile yesh, into english, - the Trinitarian translators refused to translate this word ..... - the Trinitarians simply left the word in - Italian / Latin - and copied the Latin word straight over into the english translation.
“ to the Hebrews serving their god, they see this word in the way that their Hebrew language is structured. the word “ פִּלֶגֶשׁ - pîyleyesh / pile yesh “

the combination of two words “ pîyle and yesh. פָּלָא - pil'îy - meaning = remarkable, amazing - superb and wonderful. The Hebrew word - פָּגַשׁ - pâwyesh / paw-yesh' - meaning = to come in contact with, - to meet with, together) to be joined / connected together - uniting together - to come together.

this word - פָּלִיא - pil'îy - meaning = remarkable, amazing - superb and wonderful is used in many, many verses just exactly like we see here in -
2ch 2:9 even to prepare me timber in abundance: for the house which i am about to build shall be “ wonderful - פָּלִיא - pil'îy - “ and great.

this is what the Hebrews imagined and thought when they used the word “ - pîyleyesh / pile yesh “

as = A WONDERFUL CONNECTING WIFE , they thought of it as meaning = a remarkable, great and wonderful unification, joining or bridging together a wonderful connection to their family. the word concubine is an Italian word for an abused prostitute - living in sexual slavery and has nothing to do with the actual meaning of the literal Hebrew word in the manuscripts - that describes adding a new wife into a family of god.

pîyleyesh - פִּילֶגֶשׁ - “ paw – le _ yesh “

  • pîyleyesh / pile yesh “ as = A WONDERFUL CONNECTING WIFE - not concubine

= a remarkable, great and wonderful unification, joining or bridging together a wonderful connection to their family

a wonderful connecting wife - not concubine

this word pîyleyesh == pal – e and the word yesh - are two separate words that are put together to make the word

“ paw – le _ yesh “

אִשָּׁה - ish-shaw' - meaning = a woman - a female or a wife, woman or a wife

פִּלְאִי - pil'îy pâlîy' - pil-ee', paw-lee' = meaning remarkable: - marvelous and wonderful.

and the Hebrew word “ - פָּגַשׁ - pâwyesh / paw-yesh' - means = to come in contact with, - to meet with, together) to be joined / connected together - uniting together - to come together. “ means to attach or unite together in a grouping or unification. . to band or join together - but in this context it means to band or join or bridge or connect or add or unite another wife into your family.

For some coincidental and unintentional reason the Greek word for wife, is also " Gunay / Gunē - or Gumay

and we even have – Greek and Hebrew historical linguistically reference for Pawlee Guma - Poly gamy. – a great wife.

Why do we need to change the manuscripts to promote an anti - polygamy narrative throughout the entire translation, these examples are not even all of the many changes that have been made through the entire translation - could demonstrate many, many more.

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