What Are Concubines In The Bible

Definition of Concubines in the Bible

Concubines in the Bible refer to a woman who is legally in a relationship with a man without officially being married to him. A concubine usually has less rights than a wife and was usually not seen a full member of the household. These relationships were often less serious and could be terminated at any time. These types of relationships can be found throughout Scripture texts and span many different roles, including cultural responsibilities and sexual.

Concubines in Old Testament

In the Old Testament, concubines were included in multiple patriarchal households, such as Abraham, Jacob and David. Abraham had two concubines, Hagar and Keturah. Both were mistresses that were taken as legal spouses with less of the ceremonial rights and responsibilities of a marriage. Jacob had two concubines in addition to his two wives, Rachel and Leah, who provided him with ten children through his four women. David physically had eight wives and several concubines, though the exact number is unknown.

The story of Caleb has a particularly interesting role regarding concubines. After the death of his wife, Caleb took his father-in-law’s concubine as his own. However, Caleb promised to take the concubine back to her original husband and allow him to remarry her in the event that her husband ever returned. While concubines were taken by some Israelite men, they were not a mandatory requirement of household unions.

Terminating Concubines

Terminating concubines was largely seen as a power move in the ancient world. In a patriarchy, the limits and rules of concubinage can be used by men as a form of control over the women in their relationships. In the Bible, men are most commonly seen rejecting their concubines, first, for displeasing their husbands, and second, for failing to produce the expected children. Examples of such can be seen in the stories of Gideon, Elkanah and Rehoboam.

In the story of Gideon, his concubine was taken by the men of Shechem for displeasing him. To punish the men of Shechem for their disrespect, Gideon ordered his own men to kill the men of Shechem in retaliation. Elkanah took his concubine to the Tabernacle primarily so she could be cursed into barrenness for her inability to have children. Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, divorced his 18 concubines because his advisors believed their inability to produce royal heirs would cost him his throne.

Concubines in At-Risk Groups

In the biblical context, concubines also served another purpose. It was common practice to give a concubine to an at-risk group such as the Levites, the fatherless, and the widow. This was seen as a way to offer resources and protection to vulnerable members of society. In this case, the woman would receive some of the same legal rights as a wife such as rights to any inheritance that she and her children were entitled to.

Dynamic of Slavery

Although concubines had more rights than slaves, the dynamic of slavery was still very much tied up into the definition of a concubine. This means they could be treated or viewed in the same context as a slave. Any women that were enslaved by Israelites were often sexualized and used as concubines and would derisively be referred to as one. These women were often considered property and had no choice in their relationship.

Divorce For Concubines

It is important to note that although concubines may not have had the same rights as a wife, they were respected and in the case of divorce, the parties would legally be separated with the concubine being allowed to retain many of the rights she had when married. Divorce of concubines was seen in Scripture; in Deuteronomy 22:29, it is stated that if a man takes a wife and is intimate with her but then changes his mind and claims that she was not a virgin, he must prove it with the testimony of other men who were there when the marriage was consummated. Then the man is aware that he must still divorce her and cannot take her back as a concubine.

Real-Life Reflection

Concubines in the Bible have clear implications for larger, real-life conversations. Although rights for people in a concubinage relationship have changed drastically, a conversation is still necessary to combat the inequality that still exists in relationships today. In ancient times, the status of concubines was understood, making it easy for men to take advantage of vulnerable women. This is perhaps why it is important to look back at these stories in order to recognize the consequences of inequality in all kinds of relationships.

Theological Reflection

The word concubine has an unfortunate theological connotation, with just a few select stories and characters in the Bible being labeled with the title. This means there is a chance for a misrepresentation of these characters, such as Rachel and Jacob, who had a concubine and a wife, Leah and Rachel, respectively. While some could argue that Jacob was immoral for having two women, it is important to see the story in its historical context, recognizing that this was seen as a practical solution to the lack of available women and economic situation in surrounding regions.

Modern-Day Connotations

The term concubines can have different connotations today, with some people using it to refer to a mistress or long-term girlfriend of an unmarried man. The most modern form of concubinage today is often seen as a common law marriage, where two people who are unmarried express a commitment to spend their lives together. These modern-day forms of concubinage may not be seen as legal in many areas, but the relationship and level of commitment is often still respected.

Commitment and Respect

Although concubines were seen as second-class citizens in the eyes of the law, this does not mean their relationships were lacking in commitment and respect. In fact, many biblical concubines were emotionally and spiritually attached to their partners. Although the rights of concubines have drastically changed, there are still cultural and religious considerations to take into account when examining these types of relationships in the modern world.

The Legal Implications

Today, there is not an agreed-upon definition of what constitutes a concubine, with countries’ definitions of such varying greatly. South Africa, for instance, defines concubinage as any form of union that is not legally recognized or married. On the other hand, countries like Brazil have laws addressing ownership of a concubine, wherein if found guilty of wrong-doing, a man is responsible for any damage sustained to his concubine.

The legal implications of concubines in the Bible are still very much applicable today, with some countries recognizing concubines and granting them more rights than modern day unmarried couples. Because of this, it is important to understand the historical dynamics of these types of relationships. The stories of the concubines found in the Bible can provide insight into these types of relationships, even if they were very much bound by the cultural norms of the time.

Cultural Relevance

Concubines in the Bible have cultural relevance even in the modern day. While there may have been some outdated practices in the past, the situation today is a far cry from the concubinage in Biblical times. Looking back at the stories of Biblical concubines can provide insight into a much greater collective of cultures and beliefs. It is also a reminder that the boundaries for relationships in Biblical times may not be applicable today.

Inherent Value of Concubines

Concubines in the Bible were often seen as inferior to wives, however they still had inherent value. Looking at the story of Caleb and his father-in-law’s concubine not only provides a moral lesson on respect but also a recognition of a concubine’s value in a patriarchal society. Although there is still a long way to go in terms of equality between all genders, the stories of Concubines in the Bible can provide valuable insight into the progress made throughout the ages.

Marcos Reyna is a Christian author and speaker. He is dedicated to helping create disciples of Christ through spreading the power of the gospel to others. He has written several books and articles on a variety of theological topics, including matters of faith, worship, biblical studies, practical ethics, and social justice. A trained theologian and devotee of spiritual writing, Marcos has a mission to spread Christian love everywhere. He lives with his family in Nashville, TN where he spends his days encouraging others to seek Christ's grace in all things.

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