Deuteronomy 21:15 If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated:
This verse seems to be a “stronghold” or major “proof text” which my Muslim Facebook friend uses repeatedly to support his view that the Bible itself authorizes polygamy.
This verse does no such thing. God, in mercy and justice, is setting forth His commandment that should a man have more than one wife in the culture where he lives, that he must treat each wife with full justice. Read the context.
I was surprised that some of the older standard Bible commentators make reference to the issue of polygamy when discussing this verse:
One beloved, and another hated – That is, one loved less than the other. This is the true notion of the word hate in Scripture. So Jacob Hated Leah, that is, he loved her less than he did Rachel; and Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I Hated, that is, I have shown a more particular affection to the posterity of Jacob than I have to the posterity of Esau. See the note on Gen_29:31. From this verse we see that polygamy did exist under the Mosaic laws, and that it was put under certain regulations; but it was not enjoined, Moses merely suffered it, because of the hardness of their hearts, as our Lord justly remarks Mat 19:8. [Adam Clarke]
If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated — In the original and all other translations, the words are rendered “have had,” referring to events that have already taken place; and that the “had” has, by some mistake, been omitted in our version, seems highly probable from the other verbs being in the past tense – “hers that was hated,” not “hers that is hated”; evidently intimating that she (the first wife) was dead at the time referred to. Moses, therefore, does not here legislate upon the case of a man who has two wives at the same time, but on that of a man who has married twice in succession, the second wife after the decease of the first; and there was an obvious necessity for legislation in these circumstances; for the first wife, who was hated, was dead, and the second wife, the favorite, was alive; and with the feelings of a stepmother, she would urge her husband to make her own son the heir. This case has no bearing upon polygamy, which there is no evidence that the Mosaic code legalized. [Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown]
The Ultimate Cross Reference Treasury:
two wives. One after the other, not necessarily at the same time (Young). +Gen 4:19; Gen 29:18; Gen 29:20; Gen 29:30-31; Gen 29:33, Lev 18:18, 1Sa 1:4, 5.
hated. FS121C2C2, +Gen 29:31, i.e. the one loved more than the other, as in the case of Rachel and Leah. In scripture language that which is loved less is said to be hated (Young). Gen 29:31; Gen 29:33, +**Luk 14:26.
firstborn. +Gen 27:32; +**Gen 41:51, +Lev 27:26, Job 18:13, +**Col 1:15.