A look at a seldom talked about and very misunderstood topic.
This book, by author and former missionary Walter R. Sanchez,
touches on a subject that is foreign to most Christians - or is
it? How often have we heard about a pastor or deacon who ran off
with another woman? Is divorce God's way of dealing with
THE CHRISTIAN CONCUBINE takes the reader through a scriptural
look at the subject, illustrated with stories from history and
today's world cultures. A "must read" book for pastors,
counselors, and anyone who will need to know how to deal with
this situation when it hits home.
In the year 1994, following a tragic situation in my own life, I
began to take an interest in the subject of concubines,
mistresses, and multiple wives. Having studied and taught the
scriptures for many years, I didn't recall ever reading in the
Bible a direct condemnation of the practice of polygamy which
would apply generally.
With questions in my mind about the topic, I began to do some
research to see what books about the subject were available,
especially from a Christian and biblical point of view. To my
astonishment, I found NOTHING. I also looked for articles in
magazines, but only found a few references, and they generally
were about either the Mormons of the 19th century, some political
scandal from years ago in another country, or about the subject
in the context of a pagan culture.
Not willing to just drop the subject, my mental curiosity led me
to an in depth study of the subject from a biblical point of
view. My original paper, "What About the Mistress?", dealt
primarily with the reasons Christians should NOT engage in the
practice of Polygamy. Since then, though, I have begun to find
more writings on the subject, especially on the World Wide Web,
so I thought it would be helpful for those people who want to see
all sides of an issue if I include some of the positive aspects
of polygamy in this present work.
There is certainly much more that could be included in a book
like this, and at some point I may offer another edition with
much more material.
In many countries of the world it is very common to hear about
men who are married but who also have a mistress or concubine.
In most cases the "other woman" is neither a prostitute nor
promiscuous, but really loves her man and is faithful to him,
despite the fact that he is "not faithful" to her. In other words,
he is her only man but she is not his only woman.
A concubine, sometimes called a mistress, is a woman who, like a
wife, is the exclusive property of one man and who has similar
conjugal and family rights. She does not take on the man's name,
nor do her children, but they are bound by the same rules of the
household. The concubine, in most cultures, is treated as an
employee with all legal implications. (1.)
Most countries, especially the so called "Christian countries",
have laws against bigamy (two wives) and polygamy (many wives).
In order not to violate the law, the man simply finds another
woman with whom he "marries", but not officially. He visits her
regularly and they may even have children.
In such cases, the legal wife, if she is not sure of the other
relationship, may at least suspect it. In some countries a man is
not thought of as being normal unless he has a concubine.
The question is this: Is it alright or not for a man to have more
than one woman?
It is of primary importance that Christians have and promote
practices which are biblical. That means that they are doing the
things the Bible says they should be doing, and not doing the
things the Bible says they must not do. Let's see what the Bible
says about this subject.
Reading the Old Testament we find many cases where men had
several wives and/or concubines. The most famous case is that of
Solomon, king of Israel, who had 700 wives and 300 concubines. (I
Kings 11:3) He affirmed, as we can imagine, that they brought him
much pleasure. (Ecc. 2:8-10)
It seems that having more than one woman was somewhat common in
Bible times and it is mentioned as a fact of life without much
comment. It is interesting to note that never do we find mention
of God's disapproval of the situation. Even with many women, the
testimony of some is that they were "men of God". (Neh.12:24)
The reason that God did not want Israel's kings to have many
wives is that they, normally daughters of foreign kings, would
introduce the worship of other gods. (Deut.17:17) Never do we
find in the Bible the concept that it is a sin to have more than
one wife or a concubine.
Can we say, then, that the Bible approves of bigamy and mistresses? No. On this subject the Bible gives no direct teaching
either for or against it. It neither approves or disapproves it.
This is an area of life where we have to base our conclusions on
indirect teachings and logical thinking to determine if it is
something we should practice or not. It may be that the
conclusion of the matter is not necessarily applicable to all
people equally, but rather a personal decision. This same
principle is used in the case of a Christian married to an
unbeliever. (I Cor.7:13,15)
There are other behavioral situations in which the Bible is not
so specific. Take, for example, the drinking of alcoholic
beverages. Can we say that the Bible approves of drinking
alcoholic beverages? Or can we say that it disapproves of it? No.
It is true that the Bible prohibits drunkenness (Ephes.5:18), but
not drinking. The biblical teaching is that we do all in
moderation, showing self control. (Gal.5:22,23)
Nevertheless, there is the case of the Nazarite vow (Num.6:2-12)
in which a person abstains completely from alcoholic beverages in
order to better dedicate himself to God. The apostle Paul said
that there were many things that he could do, but he did not do
them simply because they were not convenient. (I Cor.6:12) This
is a matter of personal choice. The decision to drink alcoholic
beverages or not will be based on reasons other than a direct
If the Bible, then, does not prohibit a man from having more than
one woman, should he consider participating in the practice?
There are at least four good arguments for not having more than
one woman. But first, let's see if there are any arguments in
favor of polygamy.
The Mormon Experience
The Mormons, a religious group that originated in the United
States of America, practiced polygamy between the years 1850 and
1890. They called it "plural marriage". It began as a subtle
teaching among some of the leadership, and gradually spread to
become a general doctrine. (2.)
They met with much opposition due to the fact that polygamy was
not practiced by the general population. In fact, it stirred up
quite a controversy nationally, eventually leading to laws
prohibiting the practice in the entire nation. (2.)
Plural marriage actually played a relatively small role in the
total life of most Mormon communities. Most accepted the principle but did not practice it. Maybe ten to fifteen percent of the
families in pioneer Utah were involved. Most men who did take a
second wife stopped at two. (2.)
According to accepted guidelines, a man had to get permission
both of his first wife and of the church to take another wife,
though not all husbands followed the guidelines. He was required
by the church to prove both his spiritual and economic worthiness
before taking additional wives. (2.)
Sometimes the wife would select the second woman who frequently
would be a sister or close friend. Some plural marriage families
all lived in one house; others found it more convenient to have a
separate house for each wife. Some found it stressful, but others
were successful and had enjoyable relationships. The church
stopped sanctioning the practice in 1890. (2.)
In the case of the Mormons, because the practice was begun by the
church and required a spiritual evaluation before approval was
given, we can safely say that it was not done primarily because
of lust, greed, or any other evil intention that is generally
attributed to men who have multiple women. The men were taught to
treat their wives with all due respect, to provide for them
satisfactorily, and to live a good life, the same as if they had
only one wife.
Even though Mormon men, especially the leaders, were encouraged
to have plural marriages, most chose not to. "Based on the best
information now available, we estimate that no more than 5% of
married Mormon men had more than one wife, and the great majority
of those had only 2 wives, ... Certainly no more than 10% of
Mormon children were born into polygamist families. (3.)
One probable reason that more Mormon men did not engage in the
practice, or stopped at only two wives, is that it would be a
greater burden on them, financially, emotionally, and physically.
And if they were of the mind set that whatever they did should be
done well, each additional responsibility would produce even more
caution for the future. Younger men would, of course, observe the
success or failure of older men and form judgements about their
A second possible reason that polygamy among Mormons was very
limited is that they just didn't want to face the public outcry
against them, as it was not a practice generally accepted in
Thirdly, I would suppose that some women were jealous and would
have really given their man a hard time if he had taken another
wife, religious sanction or not.
While some Mormon women were negative or at least neutral on the
subject, many leading Mormon women spoke in favor of plural
marriages. "For them it was a practical, honorable means of
providing marriage and motherhood for thousands of deserving
women who would otherwise be condemned to a life of spinsterhood;
it was an alternative to a variety of social evils..." (3.)
Most assuredly there are many single women today who would make
good wives and mothers if a man would choose them. Some are so
frustrated about their singleness that they just go out and find
someone to get them pregnant so they can have a baby. If they
were given the option of being a second or third wife, perhaps
society would be benefitted. Perhaps not. There would definitely
have to be some adjustments to how we think and interact as a
society if polygamy became an accepted practice.
One passage in the Bible even indicates that there will come a
day when, due to wars killing off the men, seven women will all
try to take the same man, begging him to take all of them as his
wives, even offering to support themselves, just to take away the
shame of their being left unmarried. (Isaiah 4:1)
Some may argue that having more than one woman would cause the
man's love to be spread too thin; that each time another woman
became a part of the home, the love the husband has for each is
reduced. That this is untrue can be illustrated easily by looking
at the love of parents for their children.
When there is only one child, that child feels content and loved,
assuming, of course, that he is treated well. Initially he may be
upset when he finds out that there will be another child on the
way, unless his parents have prepared him. When the parents
decide they want another child, they are not losing their love
for the first child.
When the second child finally arrives, the first one may feel
left out. Much of his parents' attention is now directed toward
the newcomer. He must learn to share his parents with his new
sibling, and he must learn to love and appreciate the new baby.
Eventually he will learn to play with him; and, to some degree,
the attention of his parents will be replaced by the attention of
his brother or sister. This is part of maturing in a family.
In a similar way, when a man has decided he wants to bring home
another wife or a concubine, he must prepare his wife ahead of
time. She must know that his love for her will not be reduced,
even though the attention he pays to her may be divided between
two or three. Like the parents who bring home a second child, he
must make an effort to assure his first wife that she is still
loved and appreciated. In turn, part of her expression of
maturity is in showing her husband that she still loves him too,
and in showing the new wife or concubine that she is accepted.
She will eventually find that this new companionship can be
enjoyed very much, and will even help to make up for times when
their husband may be away at work, etc.
Love does not diminish by being divided. It grows.
Women Need Women
Noted pychologist and author Dr. James Dobson points out that one
of the big problems for women in modern western society is that
they don't have time for other women like they used to a hundred
years ago. Back then they would cook together, can fruit
together, wash clothes at the creek together, and pray together.
Older women in the community would teach the younger ones how to
diaper and care for their new babies. Women need regular social
interaction with other women. (4.) A household with two or more
women would certainly help meet that need.
In today's world, there are some cultures where polygamy is
practiced openly and legally. However, upon examination, it is
difficult to find cases where the husband treats his wives
decently. It is common for a man to keep his wives submissive and
obedient by threatening to go get another wife if she doesn't
obey. Since the practice is generally limited to people belonging
to "pagan" religions, especially Islam or animistic religions,
the practice has been seen by Christians through the centuries as
being a "pagan" practice.
In Kampala, Uganda, Beatrice complains that she is not able to
share life with her husband any more because of the time he
spends with his other wives, or getting more wives. It seems that
African men are expected to have several wives. But when Beatrice
married her husband, she didn't know he would have more than
Historically in rural Africa, having multiple wives was seen as
an advantage, because the children would help work the fields as
part of their family duties, not for pay. The first wife would
help choose her co-wives and they would also be her co-workers in
Western ideas of monogamy and women's liberation have caused
African women to start pushing for the elimination of polygamy.
The Ugandan Association of Women Lawyers remind women that their
nation's laws require men to provide financial support for all
their wives and children. Some are seeking laws that require men
to obtain permission from the first wife before additional wives
are taken. (5.)
A Curious Event
The Old Testament of the Bible instructs men not to engage in
sexual intercourse during their wives' menstruation. One reason
for this may simply be just to give the man a rest from sexual
activity in order to refocus on other things for a time. A man
may assume, though, that by having several wives or concubines,
their menstrual cycles would be different enough so that the
biblical instruction would not apply. He would be therefore free
to have sex with whichever of his women were not having their
However God has set up another curious event to prevent that too,
and, in a sense, force the man to take a needed rest. It seems
that when women live in close proximity to one another, such as a
harem, a college dormitory, or even a mother and daughters, their
menstrual cycles become synchronized. So even a man with multiple
women, if he wishes to follow this biblical instruction, will be
forced to rest for a few days each month. God knows best.
Now, let's consider some of the arguments against multiple
Arguments Against Having Multiple Women
One argument against a man having multiple women is that it is
not God's perfect plan. He created only one woman for Adam.
(Gen.2:18-25) The great majority of Bible references to marriage
suppose that there is one man and one woman. That is the
Another reason for not taking additional women is that normally
when a man marries, he makes a promise, or vow, with God and
other people as witnesses, that he will be faithful to his wife
and not have other women. The only person who can free him from
his vow is his wife. (I Cor.7:4) If he does not think that he can
keep the vow, he shouldn't make it; it shouldn't be included in
the marriage ceremony. To break a vow is a sin. (Num.30:2)
What is the possibility that a fiancee would accept a marriage on
the condition that her husband could have other women? I think it
would be very slight, because lovers tend to be jealous, even
though the Bible clearly states that true love is not jealous. (I
Cor.13:4) When two people dedicate their lives to each other in a
way as intimate as marriage, they don't want others to interfere.
They want it to be exclusive.
A third reason is simply because it is against the law in most
countries to have more than one wife. Those who want to follow
the Bible know that they are instructed to obey the civil auth-
orities. (Rom.13:1) Although having a concubine does not violate
the letter of the law, it does violate the spirit.
The fourth reason is because it makes life really complicated.
Because Christian people are not accustomed to that life style,
it would tend to cause a certain rejection. If the women came
from different families, there is the issue of how to relate to
all these families. If they don't live in the same house the
children might be excluded from the necessary presence of their
father. It may be a problem to find a house big enough for a man
with two or three women, each with three or four children.
The French government has recently ruled that it will accept only
one wife per man, declaring the marriage to other wives annulled.
This came after years of public policy which was lenient to the
customs of its immigrant population which included tens of
thousands from African countries where polygamy is practiced. It
is estimated that in Paris, 200,000 people live in polygamous
families, mostly in poor, run down neighborhoods.(6.)
"In St. Denis, a welfare office allocated a small apartment to a
Mauritanian family of six. Two months later, 30 members of the
same family had moved in. The French neighbors, outraged at the
noise, pressed the town hall until the group was moved."(6.)
Then there is the possibility that the man would have a favorite
woman, which would probably mean that her children would be
favorites. This would cause tension between the women and between
their children. Also it would require much time to tend to all
the needs of the women and the children. It would require much
energy to meet the sexual needs of each woman. It would require
much money to maintain such a large home. For many reasons, it is
not convenient. As we have previously seen, even after nearly two
generations of practicing polygamy, only a small percentage of
Mormon men participated in the practice. They must have observed
problems to be avoided.
There is also the matter of what is accepted by a person's
culture. Not only was the apostle Paul careful to avoid offending
God, but also the people around him. (Acts 24:16) Therefore, if
the Bible has no direct teaching for or against a matter, but the
culture does, the Christian should follow the cultural tradition
so as not to offend. On this point, the Mormons were clearly
What about the case of a married man who already has taken a
concubine? Should he get rid of her?
When a person deals with God, he must always start with the
present. He cannot change the past, although past sins must be
confessed to God and repented of. His first responsibility is to
follow scriptural teachings even if they conflict with
predominant social traditions.
In the case of the already present concubine, if the man's
marriage vow prohibited that possibility, by taking her he has
broken the marriage vow; that cannot be reversed. (A thing cannot
be "un-broken" once it is broken.) But he may not get rid of her
either, because to do so would be the same as a divorce which God
has clearly said he is against. (Mal.2:16; Mat.19:8) The
scripture which teaches that a man who has sexual relations with
a virgin, and is therefore obligated to keep her, does not make
distinction as to whether or not the man was already married.
The Old Testament example of Jewish men having to put away
foreign wives (Ezra 10) must not be construed to mean that God
generally approves of divorce or disapproves of polygamy. In this
case they had disobeyed God by marrying outside of their people
and faith. A Jewish man who did so was likely to be led astray to
other religions. The principle here is that a person's relationship with God is much more important than his relationship to any
human being. Therefore, if it is necessary to put away a wife
because she is leading the man astray from the worship of the
true God, that would be an permissible exception. See also I Cor.
In the case we are discussing, the man, along with his wife and
concubine, have to learn to live together guided by other
biblical teachings relating to interpersonal relationships. I
Cor.13:4-7 teaches us that love is longsuffering, it is kind, it
isn't jealous, it supports all, etc.
Exodus 21:10 teaches that if a man takes another woman, he is not
allowed to reduce the food, clothing, or conjugal rights of the
first woman. This would necessarily apply to the second, third,
and successive wives or concubines as well. Generally a woman has
as much need for sexual satisfaction as a man, so this alone
could make the taking of additional women a VERY DIFFICULT
responsibility, though not necessarily impossible. While Solomon
certainly had no problem obeying the food and clothing
requirements of this command, it is very unlikely he obeyed the
Modern Missionary Experience
I once interviewed a missionary who worked in a primitive culture
where polygamy was not uncommon. I asked him what he did in the
case of a man with two or more wives who had become a Christian.
The missionary explained that it would not be right for the man
to get rid of his other wives because they would have no one to
take care of them. Instead, he had to learn to live in harmony
with them according to scriptural teachings. At the same time,
though, younger men were taught that having only one wife was a
better choice for them when the time came.
Thinking solely in terms of a man's sexual responsibility to his
wives, we should take into account the fact that the human body's
ability to produce fluids varies according to demand. Ask any
woman who has nursed a child. As the baby grows and requires more
milk, her body adjusts to the demand and produces more. Assuming
that the man is in reasonably good health, we can assume that his
prostate gland and associated organs would also produce more
semen as the demand increases. But surely there is a limit.
What about the church in all of this? Should the church ban or
discipline a man who has more than one wife or concubines?
No, not necessarily, but it is very clear that he does not meet
the requirements to be an official leader in the church, such as
a deacon or elder. For these positions the Bible is very clear
that he must be the husband of only one wife, and most probably
this would include a concubine. (I Tim.3:2,12) The idea is that
in order to dedicate himself to the things of God, he should not
be occupied with the responsibility of maintaining two families
and satisfying the needs of two or more women.
On certain occasions in the Bible, men abstained from sexual
relations completely in order to better dedicate themselves to
God. (I Sam.21:4,5; Ex.19:15; I Cor.7:5) I Cor.7:1 implies that
it would be better if men could remain celibate (without a
woman), but it is not a requirement. However, the fact that we
are occupied with the things of the flesh, such as having sexual
relations, detracts some from our spiritual life. (Rom.8:1-13)
Although the Bible does not require a man to be celibate to
officially serve in the church, it at least requires that his
sexual activities be at a minimum - limited to only one woman.
(See also Leviticus 21:10-15)
Thinking about the cause or the reason that the man is likely to
have more than one woman, we could ask the following question:
Was there a time in this relationship when the man was in
Knowing the heart of mankind in general, we can be almost sure
that there was sin involved. Jesus said that if a man looks at a
woman with lust - desiring her sexually - he has committed sin in
his heart. (Mat.5:28) Nevertheless, it is possible that a man
fall in love with a woman without sinful thoughts. A relationship
can grow gradually until there is a desire to form the union that
lasts for the rest of their lives.
In the case of a concubine, if the wife is in agreement, there is
no sin in the second union. In the case of a second legal wife,
if the first wife agrees, and if it is not against the civil law,
neither would that be sin. But as was mentioned earlier, it would
be rare if the wife agreed to the relationship. Remember too that
it would not be convenient. Nor would the man ever be able to
serve in a position of leadership in the church, a consideration
not to be taken lightly.
In conclusion, it is possible that a man have one or more
concubines and even, in some countries, more than one legal wife
without being in sin. However, just because a thing may not
necessarily be sinful is not in itself a reason for doing it.
If you are a man who is considering whether or not to take an
additional woman, realize that there are many far reaching
consequences if you do so. Yes, it is a personal decision, but it
affects many people in the present and the future. Please
carefully weigh all the factors which have been presented here.
If you are a Christian man, take very seriously the possibility
of a lifetime prohibition against your ever becoming a deacon or
elder in any church!
If you are a woman considering becoming an additional woman of a
man who already has one or more women, realize that you will have
a great responsibility to help maintain peace in the family by
getting along with the other woman. Be sure to work out an
agreeable plan in the division of responsibilities in the family.
Also be sure to check out any legal requirements or restricitions
which may affect your new condition. You will no doubt face
criticism and even ostracism by your family and by other women,
so be prepared to answer them kindly, carefully explaining your
One final thought for men: A man who really wants to please God,
will avoid any weight which would hinder his race. (Heb.12:1)
1. Bible dictionary (?)
2. From: "The Story of the Latter Day Saints" by James B. Allen
and Glen M. Leonard. P. 278
3. From: "The Mormon Experience" by Leonard J. Arrington and
Davis Bitton". 1979. P. 199
4. From: "Straight Talk to Men and Their Wives" by Dr. James C.
Dobson. 1980. P. 109
5. Exerpts from "African Tradition of Polygamy Faces Economic,
Legal Challenges" by Joyce Hackel in The Christian Science
Monitor, June 12, 1996. v88 n138, p1, c1.
6. Excerpts from "African Women in France Battling Polygamy" by
Marlise Simons in The New York Times, January 26, 1996. V145,