THE CHRISTIAN CONCUBINE
A look at a seldom talked about and very misunderstood topic.
This book, by author and former missionary Walter R. Sanchez, touches on a subject that is foreign to most Christians - or is it? How often have we heard about a pastor or deacon who ran off with another woman? Is divorce God's way of dealing with infidelity?
THE CHRISTIAN CONCUBINE takes the reader through a scriptural look at the subject, illustrated with stories from history and today's world cultures. A "must read" book for pastors, counselors, and anyone who will need to know how to deal with this situation when it hits home.
In the year 1994, following a tragic situation in my own life, I began to take an interest in the subject of concubines, mistresses, and multiple wives. Having studied and taught the scriptures for many years, I didn't recall ever reading in the Bible a direct condemnation of the practice of polygamy which would apply generally.
With questions in my mind about the topic, I began to do some research to see what books about the subject were available, especially from a Christian and biblical point of view. To my astonishment, I found NOTHING. I also looked for articles in magazines, but only found a few references, and they generally were about either the Mormons of the 19th century, some political scandal from years ago in another country, or about the subject in the context of a pagan culture.
Not willing to just drop the subject, my mental curiosity led me to an in depth study of the subject from a biblical point of view. My original paper, "What About the Mistress?", dealt primarily with the reasons Christians should NOT engage in the practice of Polygamy. Since then, though, I have begun to find more writings on the subject, especially on the World Wide Web, so I thought it would be helpful for those people who want to see all sides of an issue if I include some of the positive aspects of polygamy in this present work.
There is certainly much more that could be included in a book like this, and at some point I may offer another edition with much more material.
Before continuing, please read the definitions.
The Christian Concubine
By Walter R. Sanchez
In many countries of the world it is very common to hear about men who are married but who also have a mistress or concubine. In most cases the "other woman" is neither a prostitute nor promiscuous, but really loves her man and is faithful to him, despite the fact that he is "not faithful" to her. In other words, he is her only man but she is not his only woman.
A concubine, sometimes called a mistress, is a woman who, like a wife, is the exclusive property of one man and who has similar conjugal and family rights. She does not take on the man's name, nor do her children, but they are bound by the same rules of the household. The concubine, in most cultures, is treated as an employee with all legal implications. (1.)
Most countries, especially the so called "Christian countries", have laws against bigamy (two wives) and polygamy (many wives). In order not to violate the law, the man simply finds another woman with whom he "marries", but not officially. He visits her regularly and they may even have children.
In such cases, the legal wife, if she is not sure of the other relationship, may at least suspect it. In some countries a man is not thought of as being normal unless he has a concubine.
The question is this: Is it alright or not for a man to have more than one woman?
It is of primary importance that Christians have and promote practices which are biblical. That means that they are doing the things the Bible says they should be doing, and not doing the things the Bible says they must not do. Let's see what the Bible says about this subject.
Reading the Old Testament we find many cases where men had several wives and/or concubines. The most famous case is that of Solomon, king of Israel, who had 700 wives and 300 concubines. (I Kings 11:3) He affirmed, as we can imagine, that they brought him much pleasure. (Ecc. 2:8-10)
It seems that having more than one woman was somewhat common in Bible times and it is mentioned as a fact of life without much comment. It is interesting to note that never do we find mention of God's disapproval of the situation. Even with many women, the testimony of some is that they were "men of God". (Neh.12:24)
The reason that God did not want Israel's kings to have many wives is that they, normally daughters of foreign kings, would introduce the worship of other gods. (Deut.17:17) Never do we find in the Bible the concept that it is a sin to have more than one wife or a concubine.
Can we say, then, that the Bible approves of bigamy and mistresses? No. On this subject the Bible gives no direct teaching either for or against it. It neither approves or disapproves it. This is an area of life where we have to base our conclusions on indirect teachings and logical thinking to determine if it is something we should practice or not. It may be that the conclusion of the matter is not necessarily applicable to all people equally, but rather a personal decision. This same principle is used in the case of a Christian married to an unbeliever. (I Cor.7:13,15)
There are other behavioral situations in which the Bible is not so specific. Take, for example, the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Can we say that the Bible approves of drinking alcoholic beverages? Or can we say that it disapproves of it? No. It is true that the Bible prohibits drunkenness (Ephes.5:18), but not drinking. The biblical teaching is that we do all in moderation, showing self control. (Gal.5:22,23)
Nevertheless, there is the case of the Nazarite vow (Num.6:2-12) in which a person abstains completely from alcoholic beverages in order to better dedicate himself to God. The apostle Paul said that there were many things that he could do, but he did not do them simply because they were not convenient. (I Cor.6:12) This is a matter of personal choice. The decision to drink alcoholic beverages or not will be based on reasons other than a direct biblical command.
If the Bible, then, does not prohibit a man from having more than one woman, should he consider participating in the practice?
There are at least four good arguments for not having more than one woman. But first, let's see if there are any arguments in favor of polygamy.
The Mormon Experience
The Mormons, a religious group that originated in the United States of America, practiced polygamy between the years 1850 and 1890. They called it "plural marriage". It began as a subtle teaching among some of the leadership, and gradually spread to become a general doctrine. (2.)
They met with much opposition due to the fact that polygamy was not practiced by the general population. In fact, it stirred up quite a controversy nationally, eventually leading to laws prohibiting the practice in the entire nation. (2.)
Plural marriage actually played a relatively small role in the total life of most Mormon communities. Most accepted the principle but did not practice it. Maybe ten to fifteen percent of the families in pioneer Utah were involved. Most men who did take a second wife stopped at two. (2.)
According to accepted guidelines, a man had to get permission both of his first wife and of the church to take another wife, though not all husbands followed the guidelines. He was required by the church to prove both his spiritual and economic worthiness before taking additional wives. (2.)
Sometimes the wife would select the second woman who frequently would be a sister or close friend. Some plural marriage families all lived in one house; others found it more convenient to have a separate house for each wife. Some found it stressful, but others were successful and had enjoyable relationships. The church stopped sanctioning the practice in 1890. (2.)
In the case of the Mormons, because the practice was begun by the church and required a spiritual evaluation before approval was given, we can safely say that it was not done primarily because of lust, greed, or any other evil intention that is generally attributed to men who have multiple women. The men were taught to treat their wives with all due respect, to provide for them satisfactorily, and to live a good life, the same as if they had only one wife.
Even though Mormon men, especially the leaders, were encouraged to have plural marriages, most chose not to. "Based on the best information now available, we estimate that no more than 5% of married Mormon men had more than one wife, and the great majority of those had only 2 wives, ... Certainly no more than 10% of Mormon children were born into polygamist families. (3.)
One probable reason that more Mormon men did not engage in the practice, or stopped at only two wives, is that it would be a greater burden on them, financially, emotionally, and physically. And if they were of the mind set that whatever they did should be done well, each additional responsibility would produce even more caution for the future. Younger men would, of course, observe the success or failure of older men and form judgements about their own possibilities.
A second possible reason that polygamy among Mormons was very limited is that they just didn't want to face the public outcry against them, as it was not a practice generally accepted in America.
Thirdly, I would suppose that some women were jealous and would have really given their man a hard time if he had taken another wife, religious sanction or not.
While some Mormon women were negative or at least neutral on the subject, many leading Mormon women spoke in favor of plural marriages. "For them it was a practical, honorable means of providing marriage and motherhood for thousands of deserving women who would otherwise be condemned to a life of spinsterhood; it was an alternative to a variety of social evils..." (3.)
Single WomenMost assuredly there are many single women today who would make good wives and mothers if a man would choose them. Some are so frustrated about their singleness that they just go out and find someone to get them pregnant so they can have a baby. If they were given the option of being a second or third wife, perhaps society would be benefitted. Perhaps not. There would definitely have to be some adjustments to how we think and interact as a society if polygamy became an accepted practice.
One passage in the Bible even indicates that there will come a day when, due to wars killing off the men, seven women will all try to take the same man, begging him to take all of them as his wives, even offering to support themselves, just to take away the shame of their being left unmarried. (Isaiah 4:1)
Some may argue that having more than one woman would cause the man's love to be spread too thin; that each time another woman became a part of the home, the love the husband has for each is reduced. That this is untrue can be illustrated easily by looking at the love of parents for their children.
When there is only one child, that child feels content and loved, assuming, of course, that he is treated well. Initially he may be upset when he finds out that there will be another child on the way, unless his parents have prepared him. When the parents decide they want another child, they are not losing their love for the first child.
When the second child finally arrives, the first one may feel left out. Much of his parents' attention is now directed toward the newcomer. He must learn to share his parents with his new sibling, and he must learn to love and appreciate the new baby. Eventually he will learn to play with him; and, to some degree, the attention of his parents will be replaced by the attention of his brother or sister. This is part of maturing in a family.
In a similar way, when a man has decided he wants to bring home another wife or a concubine, he must prepare his wife ahead of time. She must know that his love for her will not be reduced, even though the attention he pays to her may be divided between two or three. Like the parents who bring home a second child, he must make an effort to assure his first wife that she is still loved and appreciated. In turn, part of her expression of maturity is in showing her husband that she still loves him too, and in showing the new wife or concubine that she is accepted. She will eventually find that this new companionship can be enjoyed very much, and will even help to make up for times when their husband may be away at work, etc.
Love does not diminish by being divided. It grows.
Women Need WomenNoted pychologist and author Dr. James Dobson points out that one of the big problems for women in modern western society is that they don't have time for other women like they used to a hundred years ago. Back then they would cook together, can fruit together, wash clothes at the creek together, and pray together. Older women in the community would teach the younger ones how to diaper and care for their new babies. Women need regular social interaction with other women. (4.) A household with two or more women would certainly help meet that need.
Polygamist Societies Today
In today's world, there are some cultures where polygamy is practiced openly and legally. However, upon examination, it is difficult to find cases where the husband treats his wives decently. It is common for a man to keep his wives submissive and obedient by threatening to go get another wife if she doesn't obey. Since the practice is generally limited to people belonging to "pagan" religions, especially Islam or animistic religions, the practice has been seen by Christians through the centuries as being a "pagan" practice.
In Kampala, Uganda, Beatrice complains that she is not able to share life with her husband any more because of the time he spends with his other wives, or getting more wives. It seems that African men are expected to have several wives. But when Beatrice married her husband, she didn't know he would have more than her.
Historically in rural Africa, having multiple wives was seen as an advantage, because the children would help work the fields as part of their family duties, not for pay. The first wife would help choose her co-wives and they would also be her co-workers in the field.
Western ideas of monogamy and women's liberation have caused African women to start pushing for the elimination of polygamy. The Ugandan Association of Women Lawyers remind women that their nation's laws require men to provide financial support for all their wives and children. Some are seeking laws that require men to obtain permission from the first wife before additional wives are taken. (5.)
A Curious EventThe Old Testament of the Bible instructs men not to engage in sexual intercourse during their wives' menstruation. One reason for this may simply be just to give the man a rest from sexual activity in order to refocus on other things for a time. A man may assume, though, that by having several wives or concubines, their menstrual cycles would be different enough so that the biblical instruction would not apply. He would be therefore free to have sex with whichever of his women were not having their menstruation.
However God has set up another curious event to prevent that too, and, in a sense, force the man to take a needed rest. It seems that when women live in close proximity to one another, such as a harem, a college dormitory, or even a mother and daughters, their menstrual cycles become synchronized. So even a man with multiple women, if he wishes to follow this biblical instruction, will be forced to rest for a few days each month. God knows best.
Now, let's consider some of the arguments against multiple women.
Arguments Against Having Multiple Women
One argument against a man having multiple women is that it is not God's perfect plan. He created only one woman for Adam. (Gen.2:18-25) The great majority of Bible references to marriage suppose that there is one man and one woman. That is the norm.
Another reason for not taking additional women is that normally when a man marries, he makes a promise, or vow, with God and other people as witnesses, that he will be faithful to his wife and not have other women. The only person who can free him from his vow is his wife. (I Cor.7:4) If he does not think that he can keep the vow, he shouldn't make it; it shouldn't be included in the marriage ceremony. To break a vow is a sin. (Num.30:2)
Conditional AgreementWhat is the possibility that a fiancee would accept a marriage on the condition that her husband could have other women? I think it would be very slight, because lovers tend to be jealous, even though the Bible clearly states that true love is not jealous. (I Cor.13:4) When two people dedicate their lives to each other in a way as intimate as marriage, they don't want others to interfere. They want it to be exclusive.
The LawA third reason is simply because it is against the law in most countries to have more than one wife. Those who want to follow the Bible know that they are instructed to obey the civil auth- orities. (Rom.13:1) Although having a concubine does not violate the letter of the law, it does violate the spirit.
The fourth reason is because it makes life really complicated. Because Christian people are not accustomed to that life style, it would tend to cause a certain rejection. If the women came from different families, there is the issue of how to relate to all these families. If they don't live in the same house the children might be excluded from the necessary presence of their father. It may be a problem to find a house big enough for a man with two or three women, each with three or four children.
The French government has recently ruled that it will accept only one wife per man, declaring the marriage to other wives annulled. This came after years of public policy which was lenient to the customs of its immigrant population which included tens of thousands from African countries where polygamy is practiced. It is estimated that in Paris, 200,000 people live in polygamous families, mostly in poor, run down neighborhoods.(6.)
"In St. Denis, a welfare office allocated a small apartment to a Mauritanian family of six. Two months later, 30 members of the same family had moved in. The French neighbors, outraged at the noise, pressed the town hall until the group was moved."(6.)
Then there is the possibility that the man would have a favorite woman, which would probably mean that her children would be favorites. This would cause tension between the women and between their children. Also it would require much time to tend to all the needs of the women and the children. It would require much energy to meet the sexual needs of each woman. It would require much money to maintain such a large home. For many reasons, it is not convenient. As we have previously seen, even after nearly two generations of practicing polygamy, only a small percentage of Mormon men participated in the practice. They must have observed problems to be avoided.
There is also the matter of what is accepted by a person's culture. Not only was the apostle Paul careful to avoid offending God, but also the people around him. (Acts 24:16) Therefore, if the Bible has no direct teaching for or against a matter, but the culture does, the Christian should follow the cultural tradition so as not to offend. On this point, the Mormons were clearly wrong.
What about the case of a married man who already has taken a concubine? Should he get rid of her?
When a person deals with God, he must always start with the present. He cannot change the past, although past sins must be confessed to God and repented of. His first responsibility is to follow scriptural teachings even if they conflict with predominant social traditions.
In the case of the already present concubine, if the man's marriage vow prohibited that possibility, by taking her he has broken the marriage vow; that cannot be reversed. (A thing cannot be "un-broken" once it is broken.) But he may not get rid of her either, because to do so would be the same as a divorce which God has clearly said he is against. (Mal.2:16; Mat.19:8) The scripture which teaches that a man who has sexual relations with a virgin, and is therefore obligated to keep her, does not make distinction as to whether or not the man was already married. (Deut. 22:28)
The Old Testament example of Jewish men having to put away foreign wives (Ezra 10) must not be construed to mean that God generally approves of divorce or disapproves of polygamy. In this case they had disobeyed God by marrying outside of their people and faith. A Jewish man who did so was likely to be led astray to other religions. The principle here is that a person's relationship with God is much more important than his relationship to any human being. Therefore, if it is necessary to put away a wife because she is leading the man astray from the worship of the true God, that would be an permissible exception. See also I Cor. 7:13,15.
In the case we are discussing, the man, along with his wife and concubine, have to learn to live together guided by other biblical teachings relating to interpersonal relationships. I Cor.13:4-7 teaches us that love is longsuffering, it is kind, it isn't jealous, it supports all, etc.
Exodus 21:10 teaches that if a man takes another woman, he is not allowed to reduce the food, clothing, or conjugal rights of the first woman. This would necessarily apply to the second, third, and successive wives or concubines as well. Generally a woman has as much need for sexual satisfaction as a man, so this alone could make the taking of additional women a VERY DIFFICULT responsibility, though not necessarily impossible. While Solomon certainly had no problem obeying the food and clothing requirements of this command, it is very unlikely he obeyed the other part.
Modern Missionary ExperienceI once interviewed a missionary who worked in a primitive culture where polygamy was not uncommon. I asked him what he did in the case of a man with two or more wives who had become a Christian. The missionary explained that it would not be right for the man to get rid of his other wives because they would have no one to take care of them. Instead, he had to learn to live in harmony with them according to scriptural teachings. At the same time, though, younger men were taught that having only one wife was a better choice for them when the time came.
Thinking solely in terms of a man's sexual responsibility to his wives, we should take into account the fact that the human body's ability to produce fluids varies according to demand. Ask any woman who has nursed a child. As the baby grows and requires more milk, her body adjusts to the demand and produces more. Assuming that the man is in reasonably good health, we can assume that his prostate gland and associated organs would also produce more semen as the demand increases. But surely there is a limit.
What about the church in all of this? Should the church ban or discipline a man who has more than one wife or concubines?
No, not necessarily, but it is very clear that he does not meet the requirements to be an official leader in the church, such as a deacon or elder. For these positions the Bible is very clear that he must be the husband of only one wife, and most probably this would include a concubine. (I Tim.3:2,12) The idea is that in order to dedicate himself to the things of God, he should not be occupied with the responsibility of maintaining two families and satisfying the needs of two or more women.
On certain occasions in the Bible, men abstained from sexual relations completely in order to better dedicate themselves to God. (I Sam.21:4,5; Ex.19:15; I Cor.7:5) I Cor.7:1 implies that it would be better if men could remain celibate (without a woman), but it is not a requirement. However, the fact that we are occupied with the things of the flesh, such as having sexual relations, detracts some from our spiritual life. (Rom.8:1-13) Although the Bible does not require a man to be celibate to officially serve in the church, it at least requires that his sexual activities be at a minimum - limited to only one woman. (See also Leviticus 21:10-15)
Thinking about the cause or the reason that the man is likely to have more than one woman, we could ask the following question: Was there a time in this relationship when the man was in sin?
Knowing the heart of mankind in general, we can be almost sure that there was sin involved. Jesus said that if a man looks at a woman with lust - desiring her sexually - he has committed sin in his heart. (Mat.5:28) Nevertheless, it is possible that a man fall in love with a woman without sinful thoughts. A relationship can grow gradually until there is a desire to form the union that lasts for the rest of their lives.
In the case of a concubine, if the wife is in agreement, there is no sin in the second union. In the case of a second legal wife, if the first wife agrees, and if it is not against the civil law, neither would that be sin. But as was mentioned earlier, it would be rare if the wife agreed to the relationship. Remember too that it would not be convenient. Nor would the man ever be able to serve in a position of leadership in the church, a consideration not to be taken lightly.
In conclusion, it is possible that a man have one or more concubines and even, in some countries, more than one legal wife without being in sin. However, just because a thing may not necessarily be sinful is not in itself a reason for doing it.
If you are a man who is considering whether or not to take an additional woman, realize that there are many far reaching consequences if you do so. Yes, it is a personal decision, but it affects many people in the present and the future. Please carefully weigh all the factors which have been presented here. If you are a Christian man, take very seriously the possibility of a lifetime prohibition against your ever becoming a deacon or elder in any church!
If you are a woman considering becoming an additional woman of a man who already has one or more women, realize that you will have a great responsibility to help maintain peace in the family by getting along with the other woman. Be sure to work out an agreeable plan in the division of responsibilities in the family. Also be sure to check out any legal requirements or restricitions which may affect your new condition. You will no doubt face criticism and even ostracism by your family and by other women, so be prepared to answer them kindly, carefully explaining your decision.
One final thought for men: A man who really wants to please God, will avoid any weight which would hinder his race. (Heb.12:1)
1. Bible dictionary (?)
2. From: "The Story of the Latter Day Saints" by James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard. P. 278
3. From: "The Mormon Experience" by Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton". 1979. P. 199
4. From: "Straight Talk to Men and Their Wives" by Dr. James C. Dobson. 1980. P. 109
5. Exerpts from "African Tradition of Polygamy Faces Economic, Legal Challenges" by Joyce Hackel in The Christian Science Monitor, June 12, 1996. v88 n138, p1, c1.
6. Excerpts from "African Women in France Battling Polygamy" by Marlise Simons in The New York Times, January 26, 1996. V145, pA1.