Belief in concubinage in the New Covenant by Christian/Messianic polygamists has always been a minoirity position and repeatedly I have found it difficult to pin down exactly what the adherants of this doctrine and practice actually mean by a "concubine". My position has always been that concubinage ended with the advent of the New Covenant, both from a 'gut reaction' (admittedly not usuallys the best method of determining truth but sometimes accurate) as well as from a prophetic word received by our Order (Olive Branch, NC&C 194). However, upon closer inspection of the latter I see now that there are possibilities that I had not considered before and which I would like to address here today.
Before addressing the Olive Branch and its New Testament implications, let us very briefly review the Old Testament teaching on concubines. We learn that a concubine (Heb. pilegesh) is primarily a secondary wife acquired by purchase or as a war captive. Further, where full marriages produced no heir, full wives (Heb. ishshah - can also mean 'woman' or 'female') presented a slave concubine to their husbands in order to raise an heir (e.g. Hagar, Genesis 16:2-3 - see illustration to right). Handmaidens, given as a marriage gift, were also often concubines (e.g. Zilpah in Genesis 24:24 and Bilhah in Genesis 29:29). As such, therefore, they were protected by the Torah (Exodus 21:7-11; Deuteronomy21:10-14). Concubines were clearly distinguished from full wives in Judges 8:31 as being of a separate class or order to the full wives.
The English word 'concubine' is an unfortunate one, being derived from the Latin concubina meaning a 'kept mistress' or 'a woman who cohabits with a man without being his wife', neither of which is the biblical meaning at all. Moreover, the Romans had the male equivalent, a concubinus, meaning a male paramour. 'Concubines' first appeared in the 13th century in the English language and were also called by the undignified 'bedsuster'. In short, the first English 'concubines' were nobles' mistresses. The biblical meaning was well understood for we read of a rather good definition from the 1563 Homilies:
The word 'concubine' was even used to describe denominationalism. Speaking of the Church of England, one writer said:
"After the phrase of the Scripture a concubine is an honest name. Every concubine is a lawful wife, but every wife is not a concubine".
The concept here was that concubinage is a part of marriage as the denomination is a part of the Universal Church. Though not necessarily a biblical idea, the flavour is certainly appealing!
"If we are not now in the One Church, but in a Concubine" (1843),
The Olive Branch halakah clearly repeals Deuteronomy 21:10-14, showing that taking a wife by force is completely unacceptable in the Spirit of Christ (OB< 194:1-5). We therefore conclude that this was one of the Mosaic statutes given because of the hardness of the Israelites' hearts (Matthew 19:8; Mark 10:5).
According to the Old Covenant Torah (Mosaic Law) a former slave had the right, of his or her own free will, to make him- or herself a permanent slave out of love for his/her master (Exodus 21:5-6). According to the Olive Branch, Abraham freed his slave-wives and they all chose to remain with him of their own free will as his concubines (vv.6-7). The concubinage condemned by the Olive Branch is therefore very clearly that which is imposed by force, whether by compulsory purchase or by military conquest (vv.13-16).
If there is such a thing as New Covenant concubinage, then very clearly it is non-compulsive. This would mean that a woman, of her own free will, would choose to become a 'servant wife' or concubine (however we are to define that term), presumably a servant of one of the full wives.
One thing we need to be clear about is that there are, in fact, FOUR different words used to designate wives and concubines. In Daniel 5:2 & 23 we find reference to a shegal or a 'Queen-Wife', in context, the "queen-wives" of King Belshazzar. These are listed before his "concubines" (lechenah) as "...his wives and his concubines drank from them" (v.2). These 'Queen-Wives' clearly, in this case, are royal ishshah - they are not a new category of 'wife"' per se. Shegal is not used elsewhere in the Bible. Neither is lechenah which refers either to a 'royal concubine' or to 'dancing concubines'.
A general word for both "wives" and "concubines" (literally 'married women') seems also to have been used, namely nashim, and was very common. A similar word, nashin, also existed, but was less used and may have been a dialectical version of nashim.
We may therefore summarise saying that the Hebrews recognised ISHSHAH (wives) and PILEGESH (concubines) with their royal equivalents, SHEGAL (queen-wives) and LECHENAH (royal concubines), at least in the court of Babylon. How or when the latter terms came into use is hard to know but such terms are used only in the Book of Daniel. Many technical terms appearing in that book (especially Chapter 3) subsequently became obsolete in Hebrew and Aramaic in the 3rd century B.C.
We might conclude that the Pentateuch (Five Books of Moses) acknowledge only NASHIM (wives) comprising the ISHSHAH (wife) and the PILEGESH (concubine), and that from the latter two evolved the terms SHEGAL (queen-wife) and LECHENAH (royal concubine), but this would not be strictly accurate. For the word shegal was also used outside of Daniel in Nehemiah 2:6 of Artaxerxes' queen and in Psalm 45:9 of David's and the Messiah's Queen. The latter is especially significant because whether or not you accept that Christ was literally married polygamously, monogamously or not at all, one is nevertheless forced to conceed that the "Bride of Christ" is His SHEGAL or Queen, thus placing the term in a New Testament context. And given the fact that Yah'shua (Jesus) identifies two classes of disciple (metaphorical "wife") in the New Testament - servants and friends:
We must then ask the question, Who are the "friends"? Those who obey His commandments (John 15:12-14).
"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (Jn.15:15).
If there are two classes of metaphorical wife of Christ - the 'servant' PILEGESH/LECHANAH/Concubine who does not know His Master's business, and the SHEGAL/ISHSHAH/Wife who knows her Lord and obeys Him unreservedly, then does it not follow that oridinary men likewise have two categories of nashim - the Shegal/Ishshah Wives who know and obey him unreservedly (within a Torah context), and the Lecheanah/Pilegesh concubines who who not really know his heart and who are either disobedient or reluctantly obedient? I believe this is a valid biblical conclusion.
My conclusion is that in Christian/Messianic polygamy that there are ALREADY wives and concubines, and that their unspoken status is demonstrated by their works. In a way, the old Ishshah/Pilegesh Order has now gone and we abide the new Shegal/Lechenah Order, since we are kings and queens of the "King of kings" (Revelation 19:16), and the lords and ladies of the "Lord of lords" (Revelation 17:14; 1 Timothy 6:15). And whilst the idea of a servant class of wives - or even of Christian disciples, for that matter - might rest uncomfortably with many raised in our so-called liberal egalitarian and republican society, the spiritual reality declares otherwise. For do we not also learn that there are two classes in Heaven - the 144,000 rulers and the "Great Multitude" servant class? (One should not misconstrue the word "servant" here to mean "slave" in the traditional sense of the word, for in truth the idea of servanthood - the Deaconate - belongs to both classes).
That separate Shegal and Lechenah classes already exist in spirit if not in word will surely raise many questions, and may well cause consternation amongst those wives who reckon themselves as Queens but whose conduct bespeaks otherwise. That is ultimately something that they must personally wrestle with, just as each disciple must wrestle with his standing with Christ - are we obedient and trustworthy Friend/Wives or still lukewarm Servant/Concubines?
This, then, is the negative side of concubinage - a spiritual pointer, but I would suggest that there is another one too, in which concubinage is not seen as something negative but positive and progressive. For in considering these various aspects of wifehood I see forming in my mind parallels with the ministry - of Deacons and Elders (or the female equivalents, the Deaconesses and Eldresses). Could it be that a new wife really is a 'Concubine' (irrespective of her age) as she enters a polygamous family and learns to serve her husband, sister-wives and the family as a whole? And could it be that as she matures and approves herself as a godly and obedient wife who treats her husband as her lord and master, that she acquires the spiritual traits of a full-wife? And is it not also true that just as an Elder always remains a Deacon - a servant minister - all his days, that in truth a wife remains a Concubine-Servant all her married days too? The Ruach (Spirit) whispers to me, "Aye - Yes - it is so".
So rather than looking upon New Covenant Concubinage as something to be avoided, it turns out that in fact it is simply the first part of the matrimonial maturation process. This conclusion is supported by our own deuterocanonical writings, the Twelve Books of Abraham, which speak of new sister-wives entering a polygamous family as being "apprenticed", as it were, to spiritually maturer and more yielded sister-wives. Our books speak of two Orders of Wives that reflect this principle perfectly. And in actual fact - in practice - in the Chavurat Bekorot or Holy Order of which I am a member - we induct new wives first of all as servant-wives and make them accountable to senior wives until they have themselves grown and matured and are found worthy to become full wives. It's just that we've never really looked upon them as "concibines" before.
There are some patriarchs who I know look upon concubinage a little differently and use the word without too much reference to its Old Testament meaning. I know of none who see their concubines as "slaves" or "servants" (thank goodness). If I have understood them right, "wives" are women who live at home with them and "concubines" seem to live elsewhere and are visited but less regularly than "wives". The reasons for this may be varied - perhaps the wives and concubines don't get on, or maybe it's not economically possible for them to move together, or perhaps the concubines have children from previous marriages and simply want to remain as a separate unit. There seem to be various arrangements. Whether such women are strictly "concubines" is debatable and probably immaterial, the point being that these women prefer some sort of headship, protection and companionship, which is stable, to nothing at all. I must say that I personally would not like such an arrangement but at the same time I would not condemn it as being unbiblical. My concern is whether a 'commuting' polygamist can do a good job as a husband and a father with such an arrangement. It is of course good that single mothers can find godly Christian/Messianic polygamist husbands, and the separate apartment arrangement may be necessary on economic grounds. I have heard of at least one polygamist who travels a lot on business who has wives and concubines in different cities, an arrangement which works so long as the man is able to travel. But what if he gets ill or his business changes, forcing him to visit different cities or remain in only one? Such an arrangement seems inherently flawed. But this is more an issue of domestic location than wife/concubine issues, since you can't define the difference between the two purely on the basis of domestic arrangements.
There are some patriarchs who look upon the Isaiah 4:1 scenario as basically being a concubine one - of seven single mothers desperate to find a new polygamous husband after warfare has killed their original husbands (though these could just as easily be previously unmarried virgins and there is a shortage of elligible young men - the general nashim term is used) and others who see the five virgins of Matthew 25 as being proper prospective wives. This is, however, guesswork. Some don't even see Isaiah 4:1 as having anything to do with godly polygamy at all!
No, I think I will stick with my earlier conclusion of what a New Covenant concubine is - a spiritually young polygamous wife or 'apprentice' who is learning to come under discipline in love by subitting herself to her husband and (initially) to her senior sister-wives.
Continued in Part 2