Featured Levirate marriage and God's unchanging moral standard

Discussion in 'OT Historical Books' started by Pergamum, Apr 17, 2019 at 11:32 AM.

  1. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    God is perfect and would not command us to do that which is immoral.

    God commanded the OT Jews to marry multiple women (The Levirite marriage). Therefore, this Levirite arrangement was not sin.

    This means that polygamy is not per se (innately) sinful in all circumstances, or else God could not have commanded it to be done. Just as not all killing is murder, not all polygamy is sinful polygamy. Therefore, polygamy is not sinful in and of itself.

    ---Does this argument check out? If sombody gave you this argument stating that polygamy was not sin, how would you respond?
  2. Joshua

    Joshua Administrator Staff Member

    Please provide the scripture passage for everyone to consult.
  3. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    The practice is reflected in three Old Testament texts: Gn 38.6–11, the Book of Ruth, and Dt 25.5–10.

    5 “If brethren dwell together, and one of them die and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry outside unto a stranger; her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him for a wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother unto her.

    6 And it shall be that the firstborn whom she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother who is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.

    7 And if the man like not to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel. He will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother.’

    8 Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak unto him; and if he stand by it and say, ‘I like not to take her,’

    9 then shall his brother’s wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother’s house.’

    10 And his name shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him that hath his shoe loosed.’"

    So the penalty for refusing to take and try to impregnate your dead-brother's wife was a public shaming.
  4. Joshua

    Joshua Administrator Staff Member

    I am familiar with the passage; I thought it'd be helpful to have it referenced, though.

    So where does it indicate polygamy? In the Hebrew?
  5. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Junior

    Presumably by the fact that the statute applies to a man whether he is married or not. There is no exception provided for a man if he is already married to another woman.
  6. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    You can play all sorts of games with biblical morality.

    Question for the claimant: because God commanded the "ethnic cleansing" of Canaan, is it true therefore that "ethnic cleansng" isn't in-and-of-itself sinful?

    I'd say this is a good diagnostic question, before starting into a discussion of the issue of polygamy.

    Also, the proposed parallel of polygamy with the alleged qualification on prohibition of murder (6th commandment) is rather loose.
  7. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    With regard, specifically, to the levirate institution: the more fundamental question is whether this arrangement is strictly a "marriage" in the full/robust sense.

    I argue: it is not, because there is no presumption of ongoing (lifelong) sxual relations between the "husband" and the "wife." The sole reason for the congress of the two is the production of an heir for the sake of the dead brother (who lacked one), and end-of-life care for the wife/mother.

    The situation in patriarchal-tribal culture had certain social characteristics, one of which was inter-generational care. Those who lacked this "safety net" were doomed to death, apart from dedicated provision.
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  8. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I guess I would have to say that ethnic-cleansing is not per se sinful, because God commanded at least one class of people to be obliterated and that instance was not sinful, therefore, ethnic cleansing is not innately sinful, only the wrong kind of ethnic cleansing.

    How do I get out of this conundrum?
  9. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Freshman

    I was just grappling with this the other day as it came up in course in my daily readings. And my own denomination addressed the issue of the marrying of one's "deceased wife's sister" when the UK legalised such a union in the early 1900s. Our church opposed the change in the law and to this day forbids such a marriage.

    From what I can make out it's like this:

    There is a general commandment against marrying a sibling of one's deceased husband/wife (Leviticus 18:16). However there was an exception made (Deuteronomy 25:5) which, according to the godly commentators, was for the theocratic Israel only and with the dissolution of that nation the original commandment came back into full force.

    One of the reasons given for the exception is because of the misguided view of the Israelites that one's offspring were the primary means of "living on", evidencing a poor understanding of the resurrection.

    It is also suggested that it had been a practice amongst the Israelites before the regulation was given in Deuteronomy which might suggest that God was regulating a practice which the Israelites persisted in though against the law (much like the situation with polygamy where it clearly was against God's teaching on marriage but they persisted in it anyway). And God, as lawgiver, is able to dispense with His own laws.

    That's how Poole/Henry explain it anyway.
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2019 at 12:49 PM
  10. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I would argue that it is a true marriage. Was Ruth a true wife to Boaz?
  11. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    There's no reason to think Boaz was currently married, so the marriage between the two appears to take the full step. There is, further, an argument that Boaz was likely much older than Ruth, closer to the generation of Naomi, who could not have a child herself. Ruth 4:17, "There is a son born to... Naomi."
  12. yeutter

    yeutter Puritan Board Senior

    I would contend that Levirate marriage was part of the civil law, and therefore not binding on either individuals or the civil state in the New Covenant
  13. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Well, you could begin by inquiring where God has commanded the man who wants a plural marriage to take another wife.

    In other words: no selective appropriation of the biblical witness. Appeal to some particular case as though it makes an allowance for someone to do what he pleases has to take into account the fullness of the data, not just that which serves his aim.
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  14. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Junior

    Of course. The question is, can something be innately sinful if their are certain circumstances in which it is permissible?
  15. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    The man would then point to God's imagery of Himself having two wives. God Himself describes Himmself as polygynous.

    So, if the Levirate was ALREADY in practice, then God was merely regulating a present law and ameliorating it instead of positively commanding a new law. Sort of like saying, "If you are going to do this practice, here are some rules to help you make it better." This seems to make a difference to me. Is it a difference that matters?
  16. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Freshman

    As I said above, that's the inference I take from Poole and Henry commenting on this issue.
  17. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    That is the solution I like best. Thanks. It avoids the discomfort of God positively commanding polygyny rather than God merely regulating and limiting it.
  18. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Ezk.23? Is this the claim? That's bad exegesis.

    God portrayed himself as being united to two wives--which was actually one people and one "marriage," Hos.2. God takes the historical movement and split of the kingdom after well over half a millennium, and describes the one marriage as two.

    In the same book Ezk.16, God describes him as married to Jerusalem--is that three wives? Or is it a literary device?
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  19. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Yes, that is his reference. Thanks for the Hosea 2 reference.

    And also his go-to is in 2 Samuel 12 where the prophet Nathan lists many wives as gifts of God and says to King David over his sin with Bathsheba, we read: "I have given you your master's house and your master's wives into your bosom ... and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah, and as if this wasn't enough, I would have given you even more."

    God was ready to gift David with many more wives had David merely desired it. His wives were listed among all the other property God had blessed him with. If polygamy were a sin it would be coutned as a curse to heap up wives, but Samuel speaks of David's wives as blessings.
  20. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Sophomore

    “...not...further than the general equity thereof may require.” :):worms:
  21. Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    That passage doesn't say anything about anyone in question being deceased, and considering Christ's rebuke of the Sadducees for supposing that there would be marriage in the resurrection (if there were a resurrection, which they denied) and the Apostle Paul's clear statement in Romans that death annuls marriage, there is good reason to think the passage refers to a living brother, just as everyone else in the passages forbidding incest is supposed to be alive.
  22. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Again, it sounds like someone who wants to find some "precedent" (any) in order to slip by Jesus' plain teaching on marriage ideal. Further, Jesus' teaching on "serving two masters" seems germane, as loving one and despising or neglecting the other seems not only a natural effect; it is frankly the portrayal of every multiple-marriage in the Bible.

    Men with multiple wives in NT church-order are neither free to divorce them, nor to serve as elders. Some bridges cannot be recrossed, and moving forward the situation must be handled as one that is less-than-ideal, and fraught with consequences. Polygamy is not condoned in Scripture, but it is regulated.

    Scripture does, at times, take history into account, as to what is permissible. Adam and Eve's children had to marry one another--there was not other human beings with whom to mate and carry on the human race. Later, marrying one's immediate family became unwise and flatly forbidden. So, simply noting that a past practice found in the Bible is not apparently frowned on in every case (and by every means) is no argument for its normative status, or for its allowance now.

    David was an ancient monarch, and before that a warlord. Such kings' status was judged in part by their marriage alliances, their harems. That God did not condemn David (or others) for taking plural wives--and may even be said to describe it as a personal privilege* (according to the custom)--is no reason to ignore the teaching of Jesus, the apostles, and the biblical witness as a whole. Either there were particular lessons that Redemptive History was used to teach, along with a consistent moral thread; or else the Bible is a mishmash of conflicting moral lessons.

    [* it's also the case that Scripture refers only to one wife for Saul, 1Sam.14:50, and one concubine who was taken by Abner, 2Sam.3:7. So, Nathan's words are clearly used in a speech that simply puts his condemnation of David in terms of the ancient practice of conquest-appropriation; note the deplorable acts of Absalom in this connection, 2Sam16:21-22]
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  23. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    The fact that NT writers did not spend much time 'apologizing' about OT polygamy leads me to believe it is kind of a 'no-brainer'.
  24. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Freshman

    Whether the original spouse is dead or alive isn't relevant (here). The commandment is forbidding a union between a man and his brother's wife period. Once the original union had been entered into such a subsequent union was forbidden. This general rule is qualified later.
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  25. Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    It is unqualified because if he's dead, she's not his wife. No qualification is needed.
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2019 at 2:11 PM
  26. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Freshman

    1) The Confession 24:4 states: "The man may not marry any of his wife's kindred nearer in blood than he may his own, nor the woman of her husband's kindred nearer in blood than of her own." Leviticus 20:19-21.

    Lawful marriage is governed by both consanguinity and affinity and Leviticus 18:6-18 teaches they are of equal reach.

    2) Leviticus 18:18 (putting aside whatever it is specifically addressing) gives the qualification of the original wife still being alive. It would seem strange that if 18:16 applied only when the original wife was still alive the qualification wouldn't be added there as well. And indeed if we take 18:16 as applying only while she still lives it only serves to make 18:18 either redundant or very unclear as to its meaning.

    3) Poole, for one, understands it as applying uniformly: whether the spouse is still alive or dead.

    4) It was understood by the church as forbidding even after death, clearly, or there wouldn't have been the need to change the civil law to allow it. (The civil law was based on earlier canon law.)
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  27. Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    That it has been historically interpreted in a certain way does not ensure that that interpretation is correct. Every American Presbyterian denomination, even the most conservative, such as the RPCNA, no longer subscribes to that line of the 1646 because the Scripture is clear that marriage does not bind after death.
  28. Joshua

    Joshua Administrator Staff Member

    False. Not every.
  29. Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    Are there any full conformists besides the Westminster Presbyterians? I'm not sure I'd call one or two churches a denomination, and the FCC isn't "American".
  30. Joshua

    Joshua Administrator Staff Member

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