Did the Bible allow men to have sex slaves?

Did the Bible allow men to acquire women whose sole purpose was for sex? The real question that we are asking is did the Bible allow men to have sex with a woman without making her his wife?  Many people, even Christians, wrongly believe the answer to this uncomfortable question is “Yes”.  The reason they believe that is because of the existence of concubines in the Bible.

Concubines are wrongly thought by some to have been the Biblical equivalent of sex slaves. But a closer of examination of the Scriptures reveals that this is not the case. The term “concubine” in the Bible refers to a slave wife. There were two classes of wives in the Scriptures – free wives and slave wives.

A free wife was a woman born to a free man. She was acquired as a wife when a man approached her father and offered him the bride price.  If her father consented he would give her as a wife to that man usually accompanied by some kind of wedding feast.  While both free wives and slave wives were considered to be the property of their husbands a free wife held a greater place of social honor and her children had inheritance rights that were required to be honored. The concubine’s children had no inheritance rights unless they were granted under special circumstances.

How were slave wives acquired?

Slave wives were acquired in much the same way slaves were acquired in general. Sometimes slave women were captured as prisoners of war and later converted to concubines (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). Sometimes poor women whose fathers, brothers or husbands had died sold themselves as concubines so they could be taken care of.  A man could sell his daughter as a slave to another man (Exodus 21:7-11).  That man could either continue to use her only as a servant or he could convert her to his concubine or give her as a concubine to one of his sons. Once a woman was converted to the status of a concubine she had the right to have sex with her husband.  Being a concubine in many ways was a step up for a slave woman.

Also it was common for fathers to give their daughters slave girls (hand maids) as gifts as was the case with Rachel and Leah. In many households the free wives ruled over the slaves wives while ultimately the husband was the master of the entire home. Sometimes free wives would give their husband their hand maids to produce more sons as we see in the case of Rachel giving her servant Bilhah to Jacob and Leah giving her servant Zilpah to Jacob(Genesis 30:4-9).  It interesting to note that Leah stated God had rewarded her by reopening her womb and giving her another son “because I have given my maiden to my husband”.

Concubines sometimes served as surrogate mothers

The story of Jacob and his sons shows another interesting scenario when it came to slave wives. Some free wives would use their slave wives to act as surrogate mothers and after the children were weaned raised the children as their own.  This is why even though some of the twelve sons of Jacob were born of slave women they were all equally considered his rightful heirs.

Did slave wives have any rights?

Today when we think of slavery in any form we think of a person who has absolutely no rights.  In fact because of the abuses of slaves throughout history we think all slaves were treated as nothing more than animals.  But while God allowed slavery he also required slave owners to respect the rights of their slaves.

A female slave whether she was a concubine or not could not be physically abused by her master

“20 And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished…

26 And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake.

27 And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.” – Exodus 21:20 & 26-27 (KJV)

A concubine had to be provide with food, clothing and sex from her husband

“7 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.

8 If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.

9 And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.

10 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.

11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.” – Exodus 21:7-11 (KJV)

So as we can see here a slave if she were to be taken as a concubine then she was to be treated as a daughter by her husband’s father and treated by him as his wife. She would have the right to have sex with her husband (“duty of marriage”).  The pledge of “food, clothing and bed” which was often used in Jewish wedding ceremonies was based on this passage from Exodus 21.

For more confirmation of the fact that concubines were not just slaves but were also considered wives see how Keturah is referred to as the “wife” Abraham took after Sarah died in Genesis 25:1-4 but then she is referred to as his concubine in I Chronicles 1:32-33.  Even within the context of Genesis 25 we can see she is considered one of Abrahams “concubines”(Genesis 25:5-6) all of which he sent away after giving their children gifts because he was giving his estate to Isaac.

The reason Abraham sent away his concubines and their children as he knew his death was imminent was to make it clear that Isaac was the only rightful heir to his estate being the son of his first wife who was the only “free” wife he had.

Were concubinage, slavery and polygamy sins that God overlooked?

In this post we have discussed some topics that are all very offensive to our modern cultural values. This is the part of the article where 99% of Christian writers will tell you that the practices of concubinage, slavery and polygamy were all sins God overlooked for a time but then God rid of in the New Testament.

The truth is that God never condemned the practices of concubinage, slavery or polygamy. He gave strict rules as to how these things could be practiced but he never condemned the practices themselves.

I invite you to look at these two articles that explore all the passages on slavery and polygamy in the Bible and you may be surprised as at what you find.

Was polygamy a sin God overlooked in the Old Testament?

Why Christians should not be afraid of slavery in the Bible

Conclusion

While it is true that many pagan nations may have had “sex slaves” the people of God in the Bible were forbidden from such practices. If a man were to buy a slave woman (or acquire her in war) with the intent of having sex with her had to make the commitment of a husband to her.  He could not simply have sex with her and have no intent of making her his wife.

While it is true that a concubine was indeed a slave the truth is she was a wife as well.  Another way of stating this is truth is that in Biblical times all concubines were wives, but not all wives were concubines.

We have proven here from the Scriptures that God did not allow men to have sex slaves. They could have free wives or slave wives (concubines) but they had to grant the basic rights of a wife to any woman whom they desired to have sex with.

5 thoughts on “Did the Bible allow men to have sex slaves?

  1. An interesting article. I had never really given any thought to exactly what a concubine was. I never figured them as ‘sex slaves’, if I had ever considered them at all! I’m good trying to deal with one wife, much less several including ‘slave wives’! You are right, though, that most Christians would not accept the fact that God never condemns this particular practice, then or now. Odd how we filter out the bible based on our culture, when it should be the other way around….

  2. BGR, interesting topic never really thought it through. What about women taken as spoils of war? We know of course the Israelites neighbors as all ancient peoples kept slaves. Would the Israelites have been any different? I wonder, it certainly would have been difficult not to yield to temptation as we know even from pre Civil War America. Of course the term slave is loaded now and we can’t discuss the idea in modern circles logically. But I remember an ancient history prof arguing quite strongly that being captured and then enslaved by the Romans was a far better existence than living free but outside the benefits of the Empire. Hard to wrap our minds around but probably correct.

  3. Dash,

    Your question “What about women taken as spoils of war?” is a great question and the Bible actually speaks very specifically on the issue of women being taken as spoils of war in the book of Deuteronomy:

    “10 When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the Lord thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive,

    11 And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife;

    12 Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house, and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;

    13 And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.

    14 And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.” – Deuteronomy 21:10-14 (KJV)

    Here we see clearly that God allowed the Israelite men to take women from foreign nations as spoils of war. However I want to draw your attention to a very BIG difference between Israel’s practice of taking women as spoils of war and other nations:

    “…that thou wouldest have her to thy wife”

    Israelite men were FORBIDDEN from raping women in towns and cities they captured. Men of other nations could indiscriminately rape women as they went through towns and cities. Israelite men had to have the intention of of making this women their wife. They also had to give her a month to mourn for her family that had been killed in war. Then they could make her their wife. Now if she turned out to be resistant to this man and would not submit to him and her husband he could send her away. But it is clear that the men had to treat these women with proper respect and have every intention of being a husband to these women.

    Contrast this with other nations that would allow their soldiers to indiscriminately rape and abuse women as they went from town to town in war. Often even men from foreign nations did take women back with them they truly did make them sex slaves and did not give them the status of wife as God commanded for Israelite men.

    Another thing we must realize as you were alluding to it was actually a kindness in many cases for these Israelite men to take these women back to be wives. Would it have been better to leave them in a burned out town with all the men dead so there was no one to protect and provide for these women? These are things we don’t often consider.

    Again great question and I hope I answered your question.

  4. Found you just by chance(?) great reading for those of us who wish to live by God’s word. thank you.

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