Does the Bible make contradictory statements about remarriage?

Herod Antipas coin - year 30In the book of Mark, king Herod is condemned for marrying his brother’s wife, but it says later that Moses approved marriage to a brother’s wife (Mk. 6:18; 12:19). Aren’t these statements contradictory?

King Herod Antipas (who reigned 4 BC to AD 39) was married to Phasaelis the daughter of Aretas IV, king of the Nabateans. He was king over the states of Galilee and Perea (the east bank of the Jordan river) in Palestine, which were under the control of the Roman Empire. His half-brother Herod Philip was married to Herodias and they had a daughter Salome.

Herod Antipas divorced Phasaelis to marry his sister-in-law Herodias. So Herodias left her first husband Philip to live with her second husband Herod Antipas. Then John the Baptist told King Herod “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mt. 14:4; Mk. 6:18). He was referring to the Law of Moses in the Old Testament, which forbade marriage to a brother’s wife (Lev. 18:16; 20:21).

When the Sadducees asked Jesus a hypothetical question they said “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother” (Mt. 22:24; Mk. 12:19; Lk. 20:28). They were quoting the levirate (brother-in-law) marriage, which was given to protect the widow and ensure continuance of the family line (Dt. 25:5-10). If an Israelite died without a son, there was the danger that his name would die out and his property pass out of the family and his widow would have no means of support. In this case, an unmarried brother of the dead man was to marry the widow.

These two cases of remarriage differ because in the case of Herodias, her first husband (Philip) was still alive, whereas levirate marriage was applied after the first husband had died and there was no male heir. As God intended marriage to last a life-time, a person is free to re-marry after their spouse has died (Rom. 7:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:39).

So because they refer to different situations, these statements about remarriage in the book of Mark aren’t contradictory.

Written, January 2015

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