Polygamy, Concubines & Adultery

Someone asked

“George, if adultery means having sex with someone who isn’t your spouse, why didn’t God have Abraham and the rest have multiple wives and even concubines who are like side chics. Please help throw more light on this.”

My Answer…

The Bible’s definition of adultery is not what many of us make out of it actually. If you read the Bible, you’d discover that people not only had wives, but they also had concubines. We are tempted to think that concubines are similar to what we call “Side Chic” today but they really are not.

First, let me make a case for polygamy.

In a world that was more barbaric, and had constant tribal fights, land grabbing, wars and so on, physical strength was a necessity for survival. Men are physically stronger than some women and therefore the women needed the strength of these men to survive. Belonging to a man alone could be a saving grace.

Also, in a world that was almost 100% dependent on agriculture, more wives and children meant more hands on the plough and more harvests at every harvest season. Marriage was not always about romance, sometimes too, it was about economics. The world had fewer populations and vast lands that needed to be occupied and harnessed.

So, more wives meant more children and more children meant more lands to be occupied. The more there were occupants on the land, the harder it is for an external force to grab it. More children in essence also meant more forces in the days of battle. In those days, individuals could rise up and go to war against kingdoms. Abraham went to war against kings.

Today, I don’t know if you can enter any place in the world and point to a land that isn’t owned by anybody. The world is far more organized and complex than in those days. Today, some people’s excuse for polygamy is “sexual drive”, they claim culture permits polygamy but they fail to answer why exactly culture permitted polygamy. Polygamy in any case has no cure for promiscuity.

Even if it’s not owned by anybody, you’d have the government of that locality to contend with. Polygamy was permitted, not as a cure or answer to people’s promiscuity. It was never about sex but for economic reasons. The answer to promiscuity has always remained “self-control”.


Concubines were essentially “wife-like” but of a lower status. The Children of concubines are not heirs of their father but they can receive gifts and blessings from him. The concubines too were tied to one man, the man unto whom they serve as a mistress. I’d like to use the word “unwedded wives” to label concubines.

While the definition of adultery has broadened today, the Bible’s meaning was specific and somewhat partial. A married woman having sex with a man who is not her husband was considered adultery but a man is only considered to have committed adultery when the woman he sleeps with is married or engaged to someone else.

In other words, a married man who sleeps with an unmarried woman was not considered an adulterer. But don’t make mistakes about it, a married man who sleeps with another woman who isn’t married was still seen as fornication. Fornication was the general term for sexual immorality.

Adultery on the other hand was considered an outright violation of the marriage covenant and the punishment was far greater than that of fornication; an offender would be stoned to death. Today today, the Church is not responsible for punishing anyone, especially with the recommendations of the Old Testament.

In our laws today, adultery means unfaithfulness to your spouse regardless of gender. In the Bible, Adultery was not just about sex; idolatry and apostasy were also adultery.

So, while it was adultery for a woman to have sexual relation with another man than her husband and a married man to have sexual relation with a woman who belongs to another, having multiple wives and concubines were not in any way considered a sexual sin. Although it was not encouraged, it was tolerated.

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