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The 12 Books of Abraham

    Email Discussions 6

    When Two Sisters
    May Marry Polygamously
    & When They May Not

    The following discussion is a response to FAQ #37 Did Jacob Sin in Marrying Two Sisters?

    SK. It can be argued that upon closer inspection of the text that a man is not forbidden to marry two sisters per se: "Do not take your wife's sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living" (Leviticus 18:18, NIV) because of the qualifying word "rival". The King James Version puts it even more clearly: "Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her lifetime". What this means is that you shall not marry your wife's sister for the wicked purpose of arousing her jealosy, to annoy her, or to anger her. In other words, unless your wife is in agreement, and your motive is pure, you shall not marry your sister-in-law.

    MR. To know the meaning of that verse, the entire chapter is needed. The bans are of kinship, 18:17 - of the wife's kinship. A man is not to marry his OR his wives' next of kin. A sister is kin. A wife's sister is her kin, which is why the ban. The "vex" statement is seperate and only detailing that not only is this an unlawful marriage of kinship... it also sets up a battlefield, which can be witnessed in the case of Rachel and Leah. Poor Jacob was trapped into that, and God had mercy on him. We know better, we have the written word calling it wickedness and to break it would be such. Also see Romans 5:13.

    SK. I think we're just going to have to disagree on this one, though I fully understand your reasoning. I still maintain that the key word is "rival" which is the word which disqualifies the practice. Similarly, the following verse is not prohibiting sexual intercourse, but only during the menstruation period (v.19), demonstrating that not all the statutes in this chapter are absolutes but contain exception clauses.

    Speaking personally, I know of a number of polygamous marriages where sisters have married the same husband and their relationship is fantastic. There is no rivalry. Moreover, the marriage is Spirit-filled.

    There is intelligence behind all of Yahweh's commands - they are not arbitrary. In judging the Rachel and Leah scenario, we are faced not so much with the problem of sisters marrying but with a rivalry born out of deception on the part of the women's father and Jacob's romantic indifference to Leah, leading Leah to try to win approval through child-bearing. Rachel's barrenness is another cause of the rivalry. Interesting that it was, in your scenario, the bona fide wife who should be 'punished', don't you think?

    Of course, it is possible to argue 'mercy', as you do, but I doubt that somehow Yahweh would use this marriage as a type of the Church (Messianic Community) if it were somehow sinful. I think your position creates many more problems than it solves.

    The battlefield was, therefore, not the fact that the two were sisters, but the fact that the polygamous marriage was contracted in all the wrong way - indeed, the same result (and worse) may be found in (by your defintion) bona fide plural marriages. In both cases, the issue is (often) MARRIAGE BY FORCE - Jacob being forced to marry a woman he did not love (though I believe he subsequently learned to) (whether Leah felt 'forced' we do not know). THAT, I contend, is the origin of the battlefield.

    Finally, what if I told you that I was married to two sisters, that there was no rivalry between them, that they were aware of the teaching in Leviticus, that they understood this passage as I do, and that they were filled with the love for Christ for one another? And what if I were to tell you that Yahweh showed both of them in vision to me years in advance and said that they were to be my wives - a prophecy that subsequently was fulfilled? Would you care to come out in public - in the light of Romans 5:13 - and call us wicked?

    You may consider these last questions to be rhetorical, for I do not expect an answer. I ask them merely to jog your conscience a little. All I would ask is that you consider that there MIGHT be an alternative interpretation vis--vis the word "rival" and that you exercise care in whom you might inedvertantly be calling wicked, for as I am sure you will know from this ministry it is all too easy to tread on sensitive toes - mine are fairly rubbery, though my consenting, conscious and happy 'Leah' and 'Rachel' might take strong exception

    It's just hard for me to see how vexation/rivalry can be the determiner in deciding if you can marry your wifes' sister, but not be the determiner in deciding if you can marry her mother or daughter, or granddaughter as well. Because I just don't see how the chapter truly separates her sisters from the rest of her near kinswomen.


    Do the other situations carry a modifying clause with them? It is a principle to which I hold that a modifying clause to one situation does NOT automatically equal a modifying clause in another situation.

    Thus, when my pastor got up and read Romans 7:1-3, a very gender specific passage, and then proceeded to assume that it applied the other way around as well, I did not accept his pastoral leadership on that topic.

    The fact that there is a modifying clause in this ONE SPECIFIC instance out to, in my opinion, SEPARATE it from the others, rather than provide a clause which could then be applied to all.

    I have very little difficulty in seeing, logically, why it wouldn't be a determiner in a mother-daughter package. There are other headship issues involved which would unavoidably complicate things. Unavoidably. Grand-daughter? It gets even more nightmarish! Having your son call his daughter Mom?

    Y'all may disagree, but the fact that God made modifying clauses on this one, rather than simply saying, 'Don't marry your wife's sister while your wife is alive' (period) seems significant to me. If the first part was completely and finally definitive, than the rest seems to me not only unnecessary but obfuscating. (C)

    VEX=To make into a jealous opponent

    According to Gesenius, akhoth has exact cognates in Arabic, Syriac, and Chaldean, and "It properly signifies an own sister, born of the same parents, but (where accuracy of expression is not important) used also of a sister, 'homopatria' (Greek - 'same-father') or 'homometria' (Greek - 'same-mother')". He also lists wider usages, such as referring to a female relative, kinswoman; one of the same tribe or people; an ally; "one... another"; as metaphor for anything very closely connected with us; or a spouse.

    The Septuagint uses the word adelphe, the feminine form of adelphossa ('brother'), to translate akhoth, which effectively eliminates either homopatria or homometria for consideration here, since the translators could have chosen either of these words if they believed that akhoth was referring to either of these. The stem delphus means 'womb'. So the idea of a sister or brother in adelphe/-os is one born from the same womb. To me, this suggests something quite similar to specific meaning Gesenius gives for akhoth, i.e., that the 'sisters' in question here are sisters who have the same mother and father, especially since the Greek vocabulary has specific terms of the two types of half-sisters. If this is the case, then this has no bearing at all on Abraham's marriage to his half-sister Sarah.

    For whatever it's worth...

    The Concordant Version of the OT renders Leviticus 18:18 this way:

    "And you shall not take a wife (in addition to) to her sister to distress (her), by exposing her nakedness (on)to her in her life(time)."

    * words in parenthesis, with the exception of 'on', indicate words not in the source text, but which were added for clarification.

    In Rotherham's Emphasized Bible, it is rendered this way:

    "And shalt thou not take, - to cause rivalry, by uncovering her shame, besides her own, while she is living."

    Both of these are literal translations. The word 'distress' in the CVOT and 'rivalry' in Rotherham both correspond to antizelon in the Septuagint. Unfortunately, none of my dictionaries had an entry for antizelon (which surprises me somewhat). As prefix, anti- can mean 'over against', 'in opposition to', 'one against another, mutually', 'in return', 'equal to, like', or 'corresponding' (from Liddell and Scott). The stem, -zelon, can be either related to zale ('surge, spray, storm'; metaphor. 'trouble, distress'), which I think is probably the case, or possibly zelos ('eager rivalry, emulation; strong passion, jealousy, envy'). I would suggest from this that antizelon probably means something like 'jealous opponent', which would seem to be consonant with the various translations.

    In any case, this may open more questions than it answers.



    I should like to thank everyone for their contributions. It is very clear to me, taking all the data into consideration, that a patriarch may polygamously marry two sisters provided the one is not a jealous opponent to the other.

    A final thought that, to my mind, settles the issue. If polygamously marrying two sisters were a sin, then surely Yahweh would not use such a model in descibing His allegorical marriage relationship to two sisters, Jerusalem (Judah) and Samaria (Israel)! Those who therefore accuse those of marrying two non-vexing sisters to be living in sin might just as well say the same of the Almighty ... who did the same thing! (SK)

    Author: SBSK

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    Updated on 31 May 2016

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