Did Jesus Teach Polygamy? Check the Context
[ Author: Kathy Petersen ]
Keep it all in context
We’re probably all aware that when someone (particularly a non-Christian) claims that the Bible says X, that we need to read the cited verse in context to make sure that it does actually say what was claimed. My favorite exaggerated example, is to point out that the Bible repeatedly says “there is no God”… it’s just preceded by statements such as “the fool has said in his heart”.
However, I want to encourage everyone to take that a step further, particularly if it’s something said in one gospel, and make sure that you read any parallel accounts in the other gospels. Recently, I failed to do this and let an opportunity slip by (though it was online, so thankfully eventually a response — a week late!).
In a Mormon group, the topic of eternal marriage came up. While most modern Mormons aren’t polygamous, some sects of Mormonism do practice and/or promote it, and one such individual quoted:
(KJV) Matthew 19:29, “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life”
The person was implying that Jesus was teaching eternal polygamy, with men receiving even a hundred wives in the afterlife!
I examined the section and though I believed that this “receiving a hundredfold” wasn’t referring to a man having a hundred wives (particularly via eternal marriage), I couldn’t find anything in the context to prove it. Then a week later as I was reading through Mark, I saw this:
(BRG) Mark 10:30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.
The context of Mark makes clear what Matthew’s does not; referring to Christian brotherhood and fellowship, with a believer perhaps losing his natural family, but gaining a “church family”, etc. Further, while Matthew doesn’t put any limits on what the person may receive a “hundredfold” of, Mark certainly does.
While Matthew and Mark both recorded that Jesus said a person might need to forsake his father, mother, wife, brothers, sisters, children, houses and lands, Mark specifically excluded receiving a hundred fathers or wives. Thus, not only does the passage teach that this receiving is in this life only, thus not referring to eternity nor eternal benefits, but if anything, it precludes polygamy–by specifically leaving out the receiving of multiple wives. [I would also theorize that it leaves out receiving a hundred fathers, because we have one Father, even God, and He is sufficient replacement for a hundred fathers.]
To further drive home the anti-polygamy point, I would also point out that most of the things are given in plural (since one may logically and reasonably have multiple siblings, children, and houses or lands), but father, mother, and wife are all singular. A person can have only one biological father and mother, but a man can technically have multiple wives. However, since wife is in the singular as well, it appears that Jesus was also promoting monogamy. At the least, this section cannot be used as an argument for polygamy.