Does the Bible endorse the use of concubines?

Fredric A. Carlson

Concubines were common in Old Testament times, and children of concubines were valued. But in God's view, as plainly expressed in Scripture, concubinage is but one form of fornication. Concubinage, fornication, and adultery are separated by only technical legal nuances.

That statement is based on solid foundations. The first is the way God champions the family unit, the basis for all healthy society. Family is founded on a lifelong monogamous marriage of a male and a female. The protection of that family arrangement dictated three of the ten great commandments of God's eternal Law: the fifth, the seventh, and the tenth (Exodus 20:12, 14, and 17). This ideal is held throughout Scripture (Malachi 2:14-16; Matthew 19:1-9; 1 Corinthians 5:1-12; 7:1-11; Ephesians 5:22-23; 6:1-4; Leviticus 19:3; 20:9; etc.), in its praise of those who achieved its highest fulfillment, in its sad reporting of its most deadly failures inspired by Satan's hate-filled destructive influences against it, and in its prohibitions against conduct that disrupts or weakens any family tie (Exodus 20: 14, 17; Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:24; Exodus 21: 15, 17; Leviticus 21:9; etc.) or thwarts its purpose to fill earth with those who properly reflect God's likeness.

The second foundation is God's repeated definition and descriptions of ideal marriage and family, reinforced by laws and sad descriptions of what violates them. In addition to the previous Exodus references, see at least Genesis 1:27-28; 2:22-24; 18:19; Exodus 21:7-11; Joshua 24:14-15; Ephesians 5:21-33; and Revelation 19:9.

It is true that a number of the otherwise godly men whose lives are described in the Bible apparently got away with having concubines. However, the Bible nowhere states that God approved or blessed those relationships. It was in His grace that He sometimes used the children of concubines to fulfill His will. Yet, it must be acknowledged that without condoning or approving concubinage, God did accommodate it by legislating protections for women, girls, and the children of concubines from even worse treatment. These laws are of the same character as the law of divorce, which did not approve of breaking up families, but intended only to protect women and their children who were its victims from the worst of men's treatments (Exodus 21:10-11; Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-9). Under these rules, a child of a recognized concubine was recognized to carry its father's name, thus protecting it from the stigma of illegitimacy (Genesis 22:24; 1 Chronicles 1:22).

It needs to be repeated that with this issue, as with others, the Bible's accurate record of something does not necessarily carry God's approval of it or recommendation for it. The Bibles records multiple lies told by Satan, evil spirits, and people, and legions of other sins, but just by recording them God did not intend to justify them. In most cases, they were recorded as examples of evil and its deadly consequences. So, while they teach us something, they do not justify those conducts. Likewise, the Bible records numerous instances of various kinds of immoral sexual activity, but in doing so does not justify or legitimize them.

The Hebrew culture that developed during the days of the patriarchs and kings of Israel often paralleled and copied that of the surrounding pagans instead of influencing them for good as God intended (1 Kings 14:24; 2 Kings 17:8; etc.). In the same way, under the powerful influence of the world's media and visual entertainments, today's believers have adopted a number of corrupting values, attitudes, and practices. In Israel's surrounding cultures it was common for the men who could afford more than one wife to take concubines. Possessing concubines apparently was a means of showing off wealth and power as well as trying to satisfy sexual desires. In those cultures, concubinage was included within what was acceptable, and even legal. Nevertheless, just as while the US Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that some abortions are legal, that ruling did not make abortion moral, right, or acceptable in God's sight, so cultural legalization of concubinage did not and does not make it right in His sight.

Nor does common and widespread practice of any conduct override any prohibition of God. Jesus said, "Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter it" (Matthew 7:14). Even "majority opinion" and "political correctness" do not and cannot override God's clearly stated values.

Another factor often used to justify concubinage, particularly among royalty, and notably with King Solomon — who had 300 hundred concubines along with his 700 wives (1 Kings 11:3) — was that it helped to assure dynastic perpetuity. Such course was another lustful perversion of God's original first mandate to mankind to fill earth with those who reflected His likeness (Genesis 1:27-28), God's primary purpose for the family to fulfill. Men's lustful rationalizations of that good mandate included, "Since a woman can safely bear and nurse only one child every two years, I can increase the population more rapidly with every concubine I can afford."

Why, then, does the Bible nowhere quote God as saying specifically that concubinage (as well as every other form of polygamy) is sinful? Because He didn't need to. He clearly forbade all forms of fornication and adultery, everything that violated pure monogamy. The attempt to justify concubinage is nothing but the rationalization that concubines were not already someone else's wives, and the equally fallacious rationalization that it constituted some sort of sub-family, and therefore its perpetrators were not mere fornicators.

It is worth noting that no Bible record recognizes concubinage among any of the New Testament apostles, prophets, teachers, elders, deacons, or members. The Church of Jesus Christ apparently started afresh with the original mandate and its conditions to fulfill God's original intention for a godly family.

To sum up: In my understanding, today's churches ought to be as careful to teach and protect by word and discipline the rightness of pure biblical monogamy as the patriarchs should have been to do the same.

Image Credit: ShaktiShiva; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Personal-Relationships

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Published 2-6-17