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Bible passages describing 8 family/marriage types.

Part 2: Six more types

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This topic is a continuation of Part 1 of this topic,
which lists two marriage/family types in the Bible

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Family types mentioned in the Bible:

Here is a duplicate of the graphic in Part 1 of this topic, so you won't get lost:

Display of 8 marriage types in the Bible 1

Of the eight types of marriages mentioned in the Bible, many were non-consensual and some would have involved continual rapes:

  • Type 3: A man, one or more wives, and some concubines: A man could keep numerous concubines, in addition to one or more wives. These women held an even lower status than a wife.  As implied in Genesis 21:10, a concubine could be dismissed when no longer wanted. According to Smith's Bible Dictionary, "A concubine would generally be either (1) a Hebrew girl bought...[from] her father; (2) a Gentile captive taken in war; (3) a foreign slave bought; or (4) a Canaanitish woman, bond or free." 2 They would probably be brought into an already-established household. Abraham had two concubines; Gideon: at least 1; Nahor: 1; Jacob: 1; Eliphaz: 1; Gideon: 1; Caleb: 2; Manassah: 1; Saul: 1; David: at least 10; Rehoboam: 60; Solomon: 300; an unidentified Levite: 1; Belshazzar: more than 1.

  • Type 4: A male rapist and his victim: According to the New International Version of the Bible, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 requires that a female virgin who is not engaged to be married and who has been raped must marry her attacker, no matter what her feelings were towards him. A man could then become married by simply sexually attacking a woman that appealed to him, and paying his father-in-law 50 shekels of silver. There is one disadvantage of this approach: he was not allowed to subsequently divorce her. However, the King James Version and American Standard Version translate the same passages as having the man "lay hold on her" which seems to imply some sort of force was used that might be interpreted as rape. Youngs Literal Translation refers to the man catching her which also seems to involve force. Finally, the New Living Translation simply refers to the couple having intercourse. The original Hebrew seems to be ambiguous.

  • Type 5: A man, a woman and her property -- a female slave: As described in Genesis 16, Sarah and Abram were infertile. Sarah owned Hagar, a female slave who apparently had been purchased earlier in Egypt. Because Hagar was Sarah's property, she could dispose of her as she wished. Sarah gave Hagar to Abram as a type of wife, so that Abram could have an heir. Presumably, the arrangement to marry and engage in sexual activity was done without the consent of Hagar, who had such a low status in the society of the day that she was required to submit to what she probably felt were serial rapes by Abram. Hagar conceived and bore a son, Ishmael. This type of marriage had some points of similarity to polygamous marriage, as described above. However, Hagar's status as a human slave in a plural marriage with two free individuals makes it sufficiently different to warrant separate treatment here.

  • Type 6: A male soldier and a female prisoner of war: Numbers 31:1-18 describes how the army of the ancient Israelites killed every adult Midianite male in battle. Moses then ordered the slaughter in cold blood of most of the captives, including all of the male children who numbered about 32,000. Only the lives of 32,000 women - all virgins -- were spared. Some of the latter were given to the priests as slaves. Most were taken by the Israeli soldiers as captives of war. Deuteronomy 21:11-14 describes how each captive woman would shave her head, pare her nails, be left alone to mourn the loss of her families, friends, and freedom. After a full lunar month had passed -- about 29.5 days -- they would be required to submit to their owners sexually, as a wife. It is conceivable that in a few cases, a love bond might have formed between the soldier and his captive(s). However, in most cases we can assume that the woman had to submit sexually against her will; that is, she was continually raped.

  • Type 7: Polygynous marriage: A man would leave his family of origin and join with his first wife. Then, as finances allowed, he would marry as many additional women as he desired and could afford. The new wives would join the man and his other wives in an already established household. Polygyny -- the marriage of one man and multiple women -- was practiced by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, until the practice was suspended, a least temporarily, in the late 19th century. It is still practiced by separated fundamentalist Mormon groups which have left and been excommunicated from the main Mormon church.

    There are many references to polygynous marriages in the Bible:
    • Lamech, in Genesis 4:19, became the first known polygynist. He had two wives.

    • Subsequent men in polygynous relationships included:
      • Esau with 3 wives;

      • Jacob: 2;

      • Ashur: 2;

      • Gideon: many;

      • Elkanah: 2;

      • David: many;

      • Solomon had 700 wives of royal birth along with 300 concubines;

      • Rehaboam: 3;

      • Abijah: 14.

      • Jehoram, Joash, Ahab, Jeholachin and Belshazzar also had multiple wives.

    • From the historical record, it is known that Herod the Great (73 to 4 BCE) had nine wives.

We have been unable to find references to polyandrous marriages in the Bible -- unions involving one woman and more than one man. It is unlikely that many existed because of the distinctly inferior status given to women; they were often treated as property in the Hebrew Scriptures.

  • Type 8: A male and female slave: Exodus 21:4 indicates that a slave owner could assign one of his female slaves to one of his male slaves as a wife. There is no indication that women were consulted during this type of transaction. The arrangement would probably involve rape in most cases. In the times of the Hebrew Scriptures, Israelite women who were sold into slavery by their fathers were slaves forever. Men, and women who became slaves by another route, were limited to serving as slaves for seven years. When a male slave left his owner, the marriage would normally be terminated; his wife would stay behind, with any children that she had. He could elect to stay a slave if he wished to remain with his family.
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Comments on the family types in the Bible:

There do not appear to be any passages in the Bible that condemn any of the above forms of marriages or family structures, with the exception of Solomon's 700 wives and 300 concubines:

  • God was displeased with Solomon's approximately 1,000 wives and concubines. But it was not because of the polygynous arrangement of one male with multiple females. God was concerned that many of the wives were foreigners, and worshiped foreign Gods. They eventually lead Solomon to stray from worshipping Yahweh. (1 King 11:1-6).

  • Polygynous marriages were part of God's plan, according to the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Jacob had twelve sons who became the patriarchs of the twelve Tribes of Israel with the help of two wives and two female slaves.

  • Jesus is recorded in John 2:1-11 as converting water into wine at a wedding in Cana, in the Galilee. He seems to have created the wine in order to help the wedding  organizers who had run out prematurely. Some believe that by making the wine, Jesus affirmed his approval of the first type of marriage, listed above. That might be true. But there is no indication that Jesus indicated disapproval of any other forms of marriage. He never criticized polygynous marriages, levirate marriages, or any of the other marriage types described in this section.

    Incidentally, some commentators noticed that Jesus, his mother, and his friends were present at the wedding and concluded that this wedding might be between Jesus and a woman -- perhaps Mary Magdalene. This would harmonize with other Gospel verses that referred to Jesus as rabbi (teacher); only married men could be rabbis at the time.

  • John the Baptist criticized Herod's polygynous marriage to Herodias and other women. (Matthew 14:3). But the criticism was based on Herod's inappropriate choice of Heodias, since she was the wife of his brother Philip. John apparently had no concern about the fact that it was a polygynous marriage.

  • Some interpret Jesus' comments on divorce in (Mark 10:2 & Matthew 19:3) as proof that Jesus supported only the first type of marriage listed above. But his response "So they are no longer two but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate" was in answer to a specific question from the Pharisees: whether "a man" was allowed to divorce "his wife." (Matthew 19:3). Jesus' response, which denied a man the right of a man to divorce his wife, does shows that at least Jesus acknowledged the nuclear, one-man-one-woman marriage. But it does not exclude his support for the other types of family structure, listed above. Polygyny was less common during the 1st century CE than it was in earlier times, but it was still practiced. As noted above, Herod the Great had nine wives.
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And in today's world....:

You may enjoy watching a trailer for the documentary "A Family is a Family is a Family: A Rosie O'Donnell Celebration." It was executive produced by Rosie O'Donnell and Sheila Nevins for HBO Documentary Films. It covers families headed by one parent, two parents of opposite-genders, two parents of the same gender, interracial parents, etc. Adopted children and children conceived by in-vitro fertilization are included. See the trailer in the lower left corner of the page at: http://www.hbo.com

There may be cuter kids somewhere in the world, but I doubt it.

The "Join the Conversation" section with comments by people haters and lovers is alternately sad and hilarious, but well worth reading.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. We do not know the creator of this image. It is found in many locations on the Internet.
  2. Michael Foust, "California 'gay marriage' bill goes to Schwarzenegger," Baptist Press, 2007-SEP-10, at: http://www.sbcbaptistpress.org/

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Copyright © 2001 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUL-3
Latest update: 2012-AUG-12
Author: B.A. Robinson
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