Q. The Law of Moses forbids a man to marry two sisters (Leviticus 18:18) and yet Jacob married two sisters, Leah and Rachel. Did Jacob sin?
This question is a difficult one because it can be approached in three different ways. It can be argued that:
My own belief is that the third position is the correct one but that the second is a valid interpretation too. Indeed, I don't think the two interpretations contradict each other. The third interpretation fits in perfectly with our belief that polygamy must be by love and not force and in many ways foreshadows Christian/Messianic plural marriage.
- 1. The Law (Torah) was not in force in the days of Jacob (as indeed it was not) and therefore he was guiltless. However, since the Law (Torah) has already come, we must now obey the injunction that a man should not marry two sisters; or
- 2. The Law (Torah) in this respect was a lesser statute given because of man's hardheartedness but is now no longer applicable because Christ has now come, restoring the fullness that obtained before the Law of Moses was received (Galatians 3:19); or
- 3.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" (v.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.
Perhaps of more concern is how the third interpretation might be used to misapply other statutes concerning sexual behaviour and I can well forsee how, for example, someone might use it to overturn other statutes in Leviticus 18. The Law bans sexual relations between close relatives though does not explain its reasons. We can speculate that it has something to do with the dangers of genetic inbreeding because such marriages were considered valid in the days of the first patriarchs - Adam's sons and daughters must have intermarried in order to propagate the human race. However, was may just have been a non-repeatable practical necessity to get the human family started.
Therefore in my view none of the following statutes have changed:
I see no grounds anywhere for ignoring these commandments. Yahweh has never repudiated them and probably never will.
- 1. "No-one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am Yahweh.
- 2. Do not dishonour your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her.
- 3. Do not have sexual relations with your father's [plural] wife; that would dishonour your father.
- 4. Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere.
- 5. .Do not have sexual relations with your son's daughter or your daughter's daughter; that would dishonour you.
- 6. Do not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father's [plural] wife, born to your father; she is your sister.
- 7. Do not have sexual relations with your father's sister; she is your father's close relative.
- 8. Do not have sexual relations with your mother's sister, because she is your mother's close relative.
- 9. Do not dishonour your father's brother by approaching his wife to have sexual relations; she is your aunt.
- 10. Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law. She is your son's wife; do not have relations with her.
- 11. Do not have sexual relations with your brother's wife; that would dishonour your brother"
(Leviticus 18:6-16, NIV).
One problem that I have faced concerns the next verse because I have had questions as to whether this may in any way be regarded as being in the same category as verse 18, bearing in mind that the two are also in close proximity:
This is the problem: I know patriarchs who have felt attracted to both a mother and her daughter from a previous marriage, and the two have felt attracted to him. The argument they have advanced is that since both are agreed that a higher law superceeds the Mosaic one.
- 12. "Do not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter. Do not have sexual relations with either her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter; they are her close relatives. That is wickedness" (v.17).
Personally, I do not see how what the Bible calls "wickedness" can suddenly be called 'righteousness'. There are no qualifying statements like "to vex her". I believe that with all the best intents in the world that a mother and her daughter marrying a man, as often happened with the 19th century Mormons, is quite simply evil. In the case of the two sisters, there is also the qualifying statement "in her lifetime", allowing for the man to marry the other sister once the first sister has died. That qualification does not even apply to the mother-daughter situation, meaning that once the mother has died, the man still cannot marry the daughter because she is a near-relative (KJV "kinswoman").
If there are any patriarchs reading this who are considering marrying a woman and her daughter, my urgent pastoral counsel is: GET THAT WICKED THOUGHT RIGHT OUT OF YOUR MINDS. And I say this not just because I am convinced it is 100% Biblical but because I faced a similar dilemma myself once.
Some years ago I was exploring marriage with a woman who had a daughter of marriageable age. At the back of my mind was the thought that maybe the daughter would make a wife for my eldest son one day, should the two be attracted to one another and it be in Yahweh's will. The mother fell in love with me and was very keen that we should get married. The problem was that soon after arriving to stay with her I received a very clear word from the Spirit that I was to marry her daughter, which the daughter independently had confirmed in a prophetic dream. I received no word about her mother either way and thus faced a dilemma. I felt an emotional loyalty to the mother even though I never received any word that it was right to marry her. She had a number of problems with a previous abortion and the occult which she was unwilling to deal with properly and seemed more intertested in my Christianity because of her feelings for me than because of any deep-seated convictions. I also made the mistake of not telling her that I was a polygamist, figuring that (wrongly) Yahweh would reveal it to her if the marriage was right. Of course, it is not up to us to dictate how or when Yahweh reveals such things. Since that experience I resolved that I would not encourage any sort of romantic liason without making it plain what my belief was vis-à-vis polygamy well in advance. I did not know that she would fall in love so quickly so my well-laid out plans did not work out. I was naïve and foolish.
Well, Yahweh never revealed the matter and she discovered my belief in a round-about way by reading our literature, seeing that children were popping up around me, and finally when malicious in-laws informed her and warned her away from me. I did not feel it was right to approach her daughter in view of the circumstances, rightly or wrongly. And being that she was a well cultured woman, she never spoke about my polygamy openly. We have remained friends but contact between us has gradually faded over the years for lack of getting the matter out into the open and discussing it. Her daughter subsequently married, settled down and had a family, which ended the matter. I know the mother was hurt when I did not reciprocate her love in the same way. Another reason for being open about polygamy in such cases, don't you think?
One solution seemed to marry the two and so solve two problems but it didn't square with scripture. In the end I simply had to let the two get on with their lives and dropped all considerations of marriage.
I would suggest that for some patriarchs, therefore, that there is a kind of false guilt which motivates them to want to marry a mother and her daughter. They may initially be interested in the mother but then take to the daughter, for any number of reasons, holy or unholy. They then figure that marrying the two will keep everyone happy, especially if the mother is in love with him. That way he gains, as he supposes, an ally instead of a rival or even an opponent.
But that, I think, is the dilemma, because I think that rivalry between a mother and daughter sharing the same husband is inevitable. A mother and a daughter cannot, and should not, have a sister-wife relationship, because they could never be equal in the way that polygamy requires - the mother would always be a head, and be honoured as such. Yahweh knew that and so banned it. But two sisters are in an entirely different category because the relationship between sister-wives is just that: sisterly. Two sisters that love each other and do not see each other as rivals are, in many respects, the ideal sister-wives because there is such a close bond already. The only disadvantage I can see is that such an intimate bonding may have the undesirable effect of alienating other sister-wives who are not of the same flesh and for whom bonding is made concomitantly more difficult. Were I to marry two sisters I would be alert to the possibility of same-flesh cliquiness and would strongly work to ensure there was similar unity between all the wives. It has never happened.
I think another reason patriarchs may be tempted to marry a mother along with a daughter is out of genuine concern because single mothers are often so lonely. They figure they are doing the mother an act of charity. But this is definitely the wrong solution because marriage should never be because of pity or charity. How would you feel if you were polygamously married because your husband felt sorry for you and not because he loved you as a wife wants to be loved? Then there is the added problem of a single mother who has other children in addition to one daughter. What if there are other daughters? Wouldn't the temptation be great? And wouldn't marrying more sisters have the effect of alienating the mother even more? And what if there were brothers? How would they feel? I think you can see the potential for one big mess.
Marry the sisters if they love each other, if your motive is pure and not to "vex" the first one, and if Yahweh gives the go-ahead. But absolutely do not marry a mother and her daughter. You might well not only reap a harvest of destruction and unhappiness but lose your salvation.
 When Two Sisters May Marry Polygamously and When They May Not - An Email Discussion