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What Does the Bible Say About..Concubines?

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What does the Bible say about concubines?


There was a time when people in the Bible had concubines. (Note that a concubine in the Old Testament context is not a mistress, but more like a lesser wife. The relationship was as binding as a marriage, although the concubine may not have had all the privileges of the full wives.) Perhaps the two most famous are Abraham and Jacob, although Kings David and Solomon also had numerous concubines.

If Abraham’s wife, Sarah, had not offered Hagar, her handmaid, to her husband as a concubine we might not have the conflicts between Arab and Jew that we now have. Those two ethnicities trace their lines back to Abraham and his wife and concubine. (Genesis 16 and 21)

Abraham’s grandson, Jacob (also known as Israel), had two wives. He also had their handmaids as concubines. Several of the twelve tribes of Israel were descended through the concubines. (Genesis 30)

Solomon had problems because of his many wives and concubines. “And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.” (1 Kings 11:3) They turned him to idolatry.

While concubinage was at least accepted, if not approved, in the Old Testament, it is not acceptable for Christians. Even from the beginning God intended that marriage be one man and one woman for life. “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 10:6-9) Among the qualities of elders and deacons, and therefore something to which all Christians should aspire, is that they be husband of one wife. (1 Timothy 3:2, 12) While there is no indication that a person who was married to more than one wife (or had concubines) was required to give up all but one if he became a Christian, the expectation was that a person who had only one wife would not later add another wife or concubine.