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The 12 Books of Abraham

    Guest Authors 19

    Was Ellen White Right or
    Wrong About Polygamy?
    by Steve Teichner

    Dear Brothers and Sisters,

    Over four months ago, I visited with several of the elders of the [Seventh-Day Adventist] church and shared with them from the Bible what I am about to share with you. I respectfully requested that they help me to understand how I might be wrong, and to share this with the church if I am right; but instead of responding to my request for help, they have essentially ignored me.

    For that reason, I am writing you.

    Ellen White and her writings, without argument, have a tremendous influence on the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Perhaps not as much an influence on the core doctrinal beliefs, which appear to be based on the Bible alone, but certainly on the manmade doctrinal and cultural beliefs that permeate many institutions within the church. 

    This letter looks at a false doctrine within our church that brings into question the prophetic gift of Ellen White and her ministry, and challenges the church and its satellite institutions to only teach doctrines that are in accordance with God’s Word alone.

    In her writings, Ellen White makes at least eight claims regarding polygamy that are either unsubstantiated by any scriptures, or are clearly contradicted by the Bible record. Her claims regarding polygamy are the following:

    1. It has not been sanctioned by God “in a single instance.” (3SG 100)
    2. It is a violation of God’s law—a sin. (PP 145)
    3. God punished David for polygamy. (4SG 87)
    4. Laban understood the wrong of polygamy. (3SG 126)
    5. It is fatal to the sacredness and peace of the family relation. (PP 145)
    6. It is one of the sins that brought the flood. (PP 338)
    7. It is the surest way for Satan to deface the image of God in man. (PP 338)
    8. God “…knew that the happiness of man would be destroyed by it.” (3SG 100)

    Rather than refuting each of these claims, I think it is sufficient enough for me to refute the first 3 claims to make my point. Ultimately, if polygamy is not a sin, then none of Ellen White’s claims can be true.

    Whether or not a believer wants to be a polygamist, or whether or not polygamy should be a valid marital choice for believers today, are not the focus of this letter. The focus of this letter, very specifically, is what Ellen White claims in her writings regarding polygamy, and whether or not those claims are in harmony with the Bible.

    Besides the fact that we send missionaries to polygamous societies with a false doctrine, the significance of this letter is clear. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).


    Claim 1 – It has not been sanctioned by God “in a single instance.” (3SG 100)

    “God has not sanctioned polygamy in a single instance. It was contrary to his will. He knew that the happiness of man would be destroyed by it” (3SG 100).

    In contradiction to Ellen White, the Bible is clear that God tells David: “…I gave thee…thy master’s wives into thy bosom…and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things” (2 Samuel 12:8).

    When God said “I gave thee,” He was saying that it was explicitly by His will that David received his master’s wives, not that he physically handed David his wives. Therefore, polygamy could not have been contrary to God’s will in that particular instance. 

    It appears God clearly did sanction polygamy in this instance, especially if he claimed he gave David his wives. If it really “was contrary to his will,” and he really “knew the happiness of man would be destroyed by it,” why did God give David such a curse, and then describe it as a blessing? Even David perceived that the wives and concubines he took were a blessing from the Lord.

    “And David perceived that the LORD had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for his people Israel’s sake. And David took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron: and there were yet sons and daughters born to David” (2 Samuel 5:12-13).

    When God gives you something he does not think you should have, something against his counsel, he tells you about it. For example, God tells Israel through the prophet Hosea, “I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath” (Hosea 13:11). It is a stark contrast to God telling David “I gave thee…wives…and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given thee such and such things.”

    Through the prophet Hosea, God is telling Israel “I gave thee a king in mine anger [because it was against my counsel that you wanted a king], and took him away in my wrath [because the king I gave you acted contrary to my commandments].”

    Through the prophet Nathan, God is telling David, “I gave thee…wives…[because it was my will that you should have them] and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given thee such and such things [meaning, if the wives and the house and the kingdom were not enough, I would have given you more of the same].”

    It is absolutely irrefutable, based upon God’s Word, that God did sanction polygamy in a single instance, that it was not contrary to his will, and that God did not feel that the happiness of man would be destroyed by polygamy.

    Claim 2 – It is a violation of God’s law—a sin. (PP 145)

    “Polygamy had become so widespread [in the time of Abraham] that it had ceased to be regarded as a sin, but it was no less a violation of the law of God, and was fatal to the sacredness and peace of the family relation” (PP 145). Emphasis added.

    When Ellen White writes about the sin of polygamy, she is not writing as though she were referring to a sin by implication, which she actually is, but rather to an egregious violation of the ten commandments — God’s law; but as she well knew when she was writing her books, there is not one scripture in all of God’s Word that states polygamy is a sin. If she had known of one, wouldn’t she have quoted it?

    Whenever a believer claims that something is a sin, they are also claiming that everyone that has done, or is currently doing that something, is guilty of sin. Without scriptures to support such a claim, one risks becoming a false witness. If a spiritual leader falls into this trap, she could endanger her flock with a false doctrine. Therefore, the statement “it is a sin because…” should always be accompanied by an “it is written.”

    According to Ellen White, polygamy was a sin “because they became corrupted, and departed in this thing from God’s order.” Therefore, in her opinion it was sin, not because they had transgressed any written law, but because they became corrupted by departing from God’s order. But what does she mean by “God’s order,” and what does that imply?

    Here is the sin of Polygamy, by implication. Ellen White tells us, “In the beginning, God gave to Adam one wife, thus showing his order. He never designed that man should have a plurality of wives” (3SG 99-100). Because plural marriage departs from this supposed order, the implication is that polygamy is a sin. 

    The questions then become, was it truly “God’s order” that he was establishing by giving Adam one wife? And if he was not establishing an order, or setting an example by his decision, then how can polygamy be contrary to God’s law?

    Incidentally, but not insignificantly, by creating only one man and one woman, and commanding them to be fruitful and multiply, God created an order that necessitated brothers and sisters marrying each other.

    "The earliest inhabitants of earth had no other choice than to marry their brothers and sisters in order to fulfill the divine command, “Be fruitful and multiply” (see Acts 17:26). That the custom long remained in vogue is seen in Abraham’s marriage to his half sister Sarah. Such marriages were later prohibited (see Lev.18:6-17)." Seventh Day Adventist Bible Commentary, Volume One, page 242.

    On this point, I submit that if God later prohibited such incestuous marriages, even though they were part of his original order like one woman and one man, he could have also prohibited, in the same explicit terms, the practice of polygamy, but he did not.

    In any case, if polygamy were a violation of God’s order as Ellen White claims, and thereby a sin, then it certainly could not have been considered legal marriage by God. Subsequently, any children born outside of a legal marriage would have been considered bastards. Therefore, if Ellen White is correct, and polygamy is a sin, then all of the children of Israel were bastards.

    Since a bastard could not enter the congregation of the Lord to his tenth generation (Deuteronomy 23:2), and since we know that the race of Jacob did indeed enter that congregation, it is safe to say that the children of Israel were not bastards, and that they were born of a legal marriage even though they were born of a plural marriage. 

    So if polygamy is legal marriage, how can legal marriage be considered sin? 

    “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).

    The early church obviously had members that had multiple wives, otherwise why would Paul have to specify that bishops and deacons be “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6)? If all the members had only one wife, and polygamy had been recognized as a sin, Paul would not have had to specify that they be “the husband of one wife.”

    [ed. see MIÂ REVISITED: Disposing of a Stumbling Block].

    If polygamy is somehow a sin, and as dangerous as Ellen White perceives it to be, then why does God tell the Israelites “If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish” (Exodus 21:10), instead of telling them simply: thou shalt not take another wife? And where else in the Bible does God give instructions on how to commit a sin?

    If polygamy is somehow a sin, and “is fatal to the sacredness and peace of the family relation” (PP 145), and God “…knew that the happiness of man would be destroyed by it” (3SG 100), then why did God give David wives as a blessing? 

    “And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things” (2 Samuel 12:8).

    If polygamy is somehow a sin, and it is one of the surest ways for Satan to deface the image of God in man as Ellen White claims (PP 338), then why does God describe himself as the husband of two wives — a polygamist — in Ezekiel 23:2-4?

    If polygamy is somehow a sin, how is it that “Laban understood the wrong of polygamy” (3SG 126), even though he violated his conscience by giving his two daughters to the same man, yet Jehoiada the priest clearly did not understand the wrong of polygamy?

    “And Jehoiada took for him [Joash] two wives; and he begat sons and daughters” (2 Chronicles 24:3).

    It doesn’t add up. In the absence of any scriptures that even implicitly prohibits the practice, polygamy cannot be a sin.


    Claim 3 – God punished David for polygamy (4SG 87)

    “God shows his displeasure at David’s having a plurality of wives by visiting him with judgments, and permitting evils to rise up against him from his own house” (4SG 87).

    The incident that Ellen White is referring to in the above quote is when God sends Nathan the prophet to rebuke David for killing Uriah the Hittite and taking his wife, but she is portraying it as God’s “displeasure at David’s having a plurality of wives.” 

    Besides the fact it has yet to be established that polygamy is a sin at all, a review of the story in question reveals that it was for David’s actual sins of covetousness, murder, and adultery in regard to Uriah the Hittite that God showed his displeasure, not for his having a plurality of wives.

    “Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” (2 Samuel 12:9-12)

    God cannot possibly be showing his “displeasure at David’s having a plurality of wives” in the scripture passage above. It would create a contradiction. In the preceding verse God stated clearly that he gave David his wives and would have given him more.

    “And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things” (2 Samuel 12:8).

    If polygamy was the issue, as Ellen White claims, it is interesting to note that God did not invalidate David’s marriage to Bathsheba, but rather brought the seed of the promise through it. Additionally, David continued to be a polygamist. 

    In King David’s eulogy there is no mention of the supposed crime of polygamy.

    “Because David did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kings 15:5). Emphasis added.

    In contrast, and as a point of interest, Solomon violated the commandment: “Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away” (Deuteronomy 17:17). His crime was that his heart turned away from the Lord when he committed idol worship, not that he was a polygamist. 

    “But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love” (1 Kings 11:1,2)
    “Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin” (Nehemiah 13:26).

    Significantly, in King Solomon’s eulogy there is no mention of the supposed crime of polygamy either.

    “And Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father: only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places” (1 Kings 3:3).

    Clearly it was not Solomon’s sin that he had more than one wife. His sin was that in his desire to have many, many wives, he naturally acquired some idolatrous women from foreign lands, and succumbing to their wiles, he participated in idol worship.

    I’m sure you can see by the Bible record that neither David nor Solomon were sinning by having more than one wife. Therefore, God could not have showed “his displeasure at David’s having a plurality of wives by visiting him with judgments, and permitting evils to rise up against him from his own house” (4SG 87).


    Ellen White, at least in the case of polygamy, has clearly contradicted and added to the Bible record. She has not spoken according to the law and the testimony, and as a result has led many sincere believers astray.

    As a church member, I call for a church trial to be held as soon as possible to publicly resolve this issue. To date, not one elder has given me a reasonable explanation, based on scripture, to defend her statements. Now it is time for the elders of the church to explain it to the whole flock, because I do not believe that talking with any more church leaders would yield any better results. 

    I look forward to a resolution, and to a clearer understanding of God’s word as it relates to this issue.

    In Christ,

    Steve Teichner

    Comments by SBSK

    The Seventh Day Adventist Church will never change its doctrine and never has in regard to polygamy. Man-made institutions rarely reform in the direction of truth. It has always been the contention of HEM that the institutionalised churches will never accept polygamy and that this is a doctrine essentially reserved for the Remnant who come out of the mainline denominations or who are freshly converted out of the world.

    Author: ST

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    First created on 10 January 2002
    Updated on 3 July 2016

    Copyright © 2001 Steve Teichner
    and Reproduced with Permission and Thanks www.geocities.com/steveteichner/
    Not all the views expressed in this article are necessarily those of HEM.