We hear a lot about “biblical marriage” these days. Some of us might not be clear on what that means. The website Religious Tolerance has provided a helpful article on the types of marriage found in the pages of the bible.
Here’s a summary:
- Polygynous Marriage
- Levirate Marriage
- A man, a woman and her property — a female slave
- A man, one or more wives, and some concubines
- A male soldier and a female prisoner of war
- A male rapist and his victim
- A male and female slave
- Monogamous, heterosexual marriage
Probably the most common form of marriage in the bible, it is where a man has more than one wife.
When a woman was widowed without a son, it became the responsibility of the brother-in-law or a close male relative to take her in and impregnate her. If the resulting child was a son, he would be considered the heir of her late husband. See Ruth, and the story of Onan (Gen. 38:6-10).
The famous “handmaiden” sketch, as preformed by Abraham (Gen. 16:1-6) and Jacob (Gen. 30:4-5).
The definition of a concubine varies from culture to culture, but they tended to be live-in mistresses. Concubines were tied to their “husband,” but had a lower status than a wife. Their children were not usually heirs, so they were safe outlets for sex without risking the line of succession. To see how badly a concubine could be treated, see the famous story of the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19:1-30).
Women could be taken as booty from a successful campaign and forced to become wives or concubines. Deuteronomy 21:11-14 describes the process.
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 describes how an unmarried woman who had been raped must marry her attacker.
A female slave could be married to a male slave without consent, presumably to produce more slaves.
and of course …
What you might think of as the standard form of marriage, provided you think of arranged marriages as the standard. Also remember that inter-faith or cross-ethnic marriage were forbidden for large chunks of biblical history.
The important thing to realize here is that none of these models are described as better than any other. All appear to have been accepted.
So there you go. The next time someone says that we need to stick with biblical marriage in this country, you can ask them which of the eight kinds they would prefer, and why.