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    FAQ 22

    Is Concubinage
    True Polygamy?

    Q. I have heard it said that a concubine is not really a proper wife to a man but a maid whom the man has a sexual relationship with. Is this correct?

    The Code of Hammurabi (144-147), which was the legal code for civilised Mesopotamia before the Law of Moses legislated for such things, allowed a man to have children through a female slave if his wife was childless, and was the practice followed by Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 16) and also Jacob and Rachel (Genesis 30:1-8). However, Jacob took this practice further by accepting Leah's maid, Zilpah, also even though Leah had already borne him children (Genesis 30:9). We can only guess at why Leah did this but it was probably either motived by rivalry with Rachel or because Jacob wished to continue having more children. The former reason is probably the correct one.

    We are not told in this pre-Mosaic part of the Bible what the basis of this practice was. There is no indication that a revelation was given on the subject and it is most reasonable to assume that the origin of this practice was the Mesopotamian Law.

    It is hard to know what the status of a maid was in such a situation though we may reasonably conclude that her position was secondary or servile. If the maid was given just for the purpose of raising seed to a barren wife, then the husband was probably not permitted to have a sexual relationship with her after she became pregnant. This may therefore be termed as a kind of ancient 'surrogate motherhood'. The woman would not therefore be termed a 'wife' unless the husband continued to have a sexual relationship with her, whence she would become a bona fide concubine or secondary wife. This is perhaps why Bilhah is called Jacob's concubine in Genesis 35:22, while Hagar is not classed with Abraham's concubines in Genesis 25:6. And this fact (that Hagar was not even a secondary wife/concubine) may explain Paul's symbolism in Galatians 4:22-25 where Hagar symbolises slavery - for a slave had no rights. This is in contradistinction to a concubine which has rights. Accordingly, the sons of Jacob's concubines have inheritance with Israel but not the descendants of Hagar the slave's son Ishmael, who have none.

    We see, therefore, that there are essentially three categories of "wife":

    • (a) a full wife;
    • (b) a concubine; and
    • (c) surrogate motherhood through a slave (not a wife at all).

    The last category is different from a slave-woman captured in war who became a full wife with full rights upon marriage (Deutertonomy 20:14-18) though some writers regard these captives as concubines. The regulations in Deuteronomy 21:10-14 clearly classify them as full wives.

    There is no law in the Old Testament dealing with concubines and we do not therefore know what rights they had. We only know that they had an inferior position to the wives but that their children could inherit at their father's discretion (Genesis 25:6). The Book of Judges records the rise to power of Abimelech, the son of Gideon's concubine (Judges 8:3-9:57), and also tells the tragic story of the Levite and his concubine (Judges 29). The impression given in Judges 19:2-4 is that the concubine was free to leave her husband, and that the man relied on persuasion to bring her home. This is not, however, conclusive, and may have just be a sign of the times since Israel was in a spiritually depraved condition when "every man (and by implication, woman) did as he saw fit" (Judges 21:25, NIV). I personally do not believe concubines had the right to leave as and when they wished.

    We also learn from the history of David and Solomon that concubines were drawn from the lower classes of the population (1 Kings 11:3; Song 6:8-9). This is interesting because it shows that one of the functions of polygamy was to break down the barriers caused by wealth which leads inevitably to different social classes. It is therefore one of Yahweh's methods of bringing down social barriers in order to create equality where a United Order of "all things in common" system does not obtain. The children of such concubines would therefore (if the father chose) become co-inheritors with the sons of wealthier wives, thus redistributing wealth in a natural way without recourse to governmental thievry (socialism).

    So concubinage may be said to be true marriage and therefore rightly a part of Old Testament polygyny. More important for us, however, is what part (if any) concubinage plays in the New Covenant. In view of the New Testament teaching of equality between all men and women or all races and social strata, it is my personal view that there is no such thing as 'concubinage' in the New Covenant of Yah'shua (Jesus). I know that there are some Patriarchal Christians/Messianics who accept and promote concubinage but I believe they are in a very small minority. In our own revelations concubinage has been clearly abolished (Olive Branch, NC&C 194): it is equated with slavery (v.1) and with many non-Christian/Messianic marriages where wives are treated as being inferior (vv.2-3). We are also told that whilst Abraham took concubines, these he elevated to full wives (v.6-7). Solomon is condemned for taking too many (v.8). The basic message of the revelation, though, is that a Christian/Messianic husband should love his wife with all his heart and not in part, and thus symbolically taking a concubine would represent less than full love (vv.9-10). Concubinage is also equated with marriage by force, since a concubine would usually have been a servant/maid who had little choice should her barren mistress decide to give her to her husband (v.12). Thus conubinage, though legal under the Old Covenant and protected concubines from abuse, is no longer tenable under the New because it is a fruit of compulsion and not attraction (vv.13-16).

    We do not practice concubinage in our Order and never have. For us it was a shadow of full marriage and is now fulfilled in Christ. Thus for us concubinage is not New Covenant polygamy.

    Further Reading

    [1] A Closer Look at Christian Concubines (Part 1)
    [2] A Fresh Look at the Concubine Issue (Part 2)
    [3] Practical New Covenant Concubinage (Part 3)

    Author: SBSK

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    Updated on 14 April 2016

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