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Full text of "May a man marry his deceased wife's sister?"

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MAY A MAN MARRY 

HIS 

DECEASED WIFE'S SISTER? 



BT 

MRS. COLIN MACKENZIE, 

AUTHOR OP " SIX YEARS IN INDIA , " 
&C., &C., &C. 

WITH PREFACE BY 

THE VERY REV. A. PAYNE SMITH, D.D., 

Dean of Canterbury. 



LONDON : 
HATCHARDS, 187, PICCADILY. 

M. WALBROOK, 180, BEOMPTON ROAD, S.W. 



PRICE THREEPENCE. 



MARRIAGE WITH A DECEASED WIFE'S SISTER. 

The repeated attempts made in every session of Parliament to pass a 
Bill which shall enable a widower to marry the sister of his deceased 
wife, and the very considerable sympathy which exists in the public 
mind in favour of those who are working for a relaxation of the 
existing laws, make it very important to state clearly and briefly the 
grounds on which the prohibition ought still to be maintained. The 
sympathy of the public, as far as it exists, rests upon a very narrow 
basis. People imagine that the best guardian for a widower's children 
would be found in the sister of his deceased wife, and they think it 
hard that the widower may not marry her. They forget that the 
widower can have this aid and solace immediately under the protection 
of the existing law ; and that if such marriages were lawful, a widower 
could no more have a sister-in-law to dwell with him and keep his house 
than he could any other woman of equal social position ; and that in 
fact the possibility of such a marriage would probably render both the 
widower and the sister-in-law unwilling to enter upon relations, which, 
confessedly might terminate in the sister taking the deceased wife's 
place., A man would thus be debarred from having this most natural 
aid and solace, in the hour of his first distress, and when he saw his 
children in need of a mother's care, if he had no sister of his own, and 
wished for his wife's sister as guardian for them, he must face the dis- 
agreeable question whether he was prepared finally to marry her. But 
very frequently the wife's death is preceded by illness, during which, at 
present she looks to her sisters for relief in the cares of housekeeping 
and the management of her children. They come as being equally the 
husband's sisters, and the drooping wife is not distressed at the thought 
that one of them is to take her place in his affections, and be her 



successor. Finally, the relaxation of the law would destroy those happy 
relations which now exist between families united by marriage, and which 
add so much to the purity and enjoyment of domestic life. 

But, with many, these considerations would weigh but little against 
their own selfish interests, or against that indolent good nature of the 
public, which would let everybody do as they like. It is necessary 
therefore to shew that this prohibition rests upon higher authority, and 
those who might not care much for considerations respecting the general 
good and happiness would not willingly do anything contrary to Holy 
Scripture. They feel that they have in the Bible the only sufficient 
code of morals. Once depart from it, we know not whither our route 
may take us. Especially women feel truly that they owe to Christianity 
the equal position which they now hold towards men, and they would 
not wish the authority of the Bible tampered with. The object of this 
little pamphlet written by a woman, is to state the scriptural argument 
clearly and sufficiently, and there are, I am persuaded few, who when they 
have read it, will not feel that there are strong reasons for regarding the 
prohibition as resting upon the authority of the Bible. Most indubi- 
tably the Bible puts relationships by affinity upon the same footing as 
relationships by blood. It takes, no doubt, a high view of marriage, but 
are not such views the very palladium of the sanctity of the home, and 
the safeguard of all that is best in society ! And all such as are unwilling 
to have marriage degraded to a mere matter of convenience, and would 
wish it still to hold the high position given to it in Holy Scripture will 
do well carefully to consider the arguments here stated, and weigh both 
them and the possible consequences that may follow from our setting 
aside any portion of the moral law, enacted for us, as all believers in the 
Inspiration of the Bible firmly hold, by God himself. 

R. PAYNE SMITH. 

Deanery^ Canterlmry. 

March, 1880. 






MAY A MAN MARRY HIS 
DECEASED WIFE'S SISTER? 

It is a question with some persons, whether it is lawful for 
a widower to marry the sister of his deceased wife. The 
Presbyterian Church has long ago given her judgment on 
this question, in her Confession of faith, which, at the time it 
was drawn up, was acknowledged as the standard of the 
united kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland, and is still 
maintained by all English-speaking Presbyterian congrega- 
tions and churches throughout the world ; while in Scotland 
it is to this day, I am thankful to say, the law of the land as 
well as the law of the church. In the twenty-fourth chapter it 
declares, " Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of 
consanguinity or afBnity forbidden in the word, nor can such 
incestuous marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man 
or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as 
man and wife. The man may not marry any of his wife's 
kindred nearer in blood than he may of his own; nor the 
woman of her husband's kindred nearer in Mood than of her 
own.'' 

That this simple intelligible principle is a Scriptural one, 
and therefore binding upon all Christians, is evident from the 
eighteenth chapter of Leviticus, 6th verse, where the reason 
given for prohibiting marriage with an uncle's wife is because 
" she is thine aunt." This proves that consanguinity and 
affinity, that is relationship by blood, and relationship by 



marriage, are reckoned as the same in the sight of God. It is 
He who said " she is thine aunt." Xow if your aunt-in-law 
be your aunt, your sister-in-law is your sister. 

Again, marriage with a wife's daughter or granddaughter is 
forbidden because " they are " thy near kinswomen, verse 17. 
What makes them " thy near kinswomen " ? They are no 
blood relations. It is the oneness of husband and wife. 
" They shall be one flesh'' (Gen. ii. 24). These words are repeated 
emphatically by our Blessed Lord (Matt. xix. 2) who added "so 
then they are no more twain hut one flesh " (Mark x. 8.) This 
absolute unity and identity of man and wife is used as the 
type of the perfect union between Christ and His Church. 
He is our Head (Eph. v. 23,) " and we are members of His 
body," and after His example " so ought men to love their 
wives as (being) their own bodies." He that loveth his wife 
loveth himself, for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, &c., see 
(1 Cor. xi. 2.) 

Husband and wife being one, the wife's kindred are the 
husband's kindred, and stand in exactly the same relation- 
ship to him as to her. And that this is not merely a deduc- 
tion of right reason, but a Scriptural principle, is proved by the 
Divine assertion that the wife of an uncle '' is thine aunt " the 
daughter or granddaughter of a wife is* " thy near kins- 
woman," and the wife of a father or a brother is spoken of as 
identical with her husband. 

This is sufficient to settle the whole question for those who 
take the word of God as the infallible Eule of Eighteousness, 
but there are many other considerations which must lead to 
the same conclusion. 



* This is the translation of one of the best of modern versions, the French 
by Professor Segond. But if " her near kinswoman" is right, it follows that 
nearness of kin to the wife prevents marriage with the husband, 



Certain connections are forbidden in tlie eighteenth and 
twentieth ot Leviticus. Those which are expressly named 
are as follows : — 

'' Mother. 

Father's Wife, or Stepmother. 

Sister. 

Half-sister. 

Granddaughter, by either Son or Daughter. 

Aunt, by either Father or Mother. 

Uncle's Wife, or Aunt-in-law. 

Son's Wife, or Daughter-in-law. 

Brother's Wife, or Sister-in-law. 

Wife's Mother, or Mother-in-law. 

Wife's Daughter, or Daughter-in-law, Stepdaughter, 
s. Wife's Granddaughter, or Granddaughter-in-law. 



•8^ 



Here there are just as many relationships by affinity as by 
blood — the most distant being the aunt. No sort of Mother 
(or grandmother), of aunt, of sister or of daughter is allowed. 

Now it may be laid down as an acknowledged principle, 
that no part of the Law given to Moses either has passed, or 
ever shall pass away (Matt. v. 17-19). It either has been 
fulfilled, or, it is still binding. The whole of our Eedeemer's 
Mission was a proof of the unchangeableness of the Law; 
which, being an expression of the will of its Divine Author, 
is as immutable as Himself The Lord Jesus left the throne 
of His Glory to magnify the Law and to make it honourable 
by fulfilling every title of its demands ; He suffered and died 
to atone for its violated majesty ; and the new covenant in 
Christ Jesus is comprised in these two promises, that "sin 
should be forgiven and forgotten," and " that the Law should be 
written in our hearts and minds " (Heb. x. 16 18, viii. 10 12.) 

Thus the moral law can never change. All the ceremonial 



8 

observances, all the rules relating to inheritances, (types and 
signs whereby a stupid and stiff-necked people were trained 
to look forward to eternal realities) and among these rules 
the injunction to the brother, or next kinsman of a childless 
husband, to marry his widow, and to heiresses to marry within 
their father's family, have fulfilled their purpose. The earthly 
Israel and their earthly inheritance have given way to spiritual 
and heavenly realities. 

Some few things were permitted to the Jews, " because of 
the hardness of their hearts," which were expressly forbidden 
by our blessed Lord (Matt. v. 31-32, xix. 4 ; Mark x. 6), such 
as divorce, but no part of the moral law was ever relaxed, 
or made less stringent. Look at the manner in which our 
Lord opens out the requirements of that law as a sufficient 
proof that He established instead of overthrowing it, as a rule 
of life (see Matt. v). Now a prohibition of marriage is clearly 
a moral, and not a ceremonial prohibition, and as such it is 
equally binding on the Christian as on the Jew. Therefore 
these prohibitions are binding on Christians. 

The manner in which these law 3 are introduced and the 
reasons given for them, show that the forbidden acts are gross 
sins, hateful in the sight of God. 

Nothing can be more solemn than the preface, I am the 
Lord your God, after the doings of the land of Egypt . . . 
and after the doings of the land of Canaan . . . shall ye 
not do, neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. Ye shall do 
My Judgments and keep Mine ordinances. I am the Lord 
your God. Then follow these prohibitions — which conclude 
with the awful warning, " Defile not ye yourselves with any 
*' of these things, for in all these the nations are defiled which I 
" cast out before you, and the land is defiled, therefore do I visit 
" the iniquity thereof upon it. Ye shall not commit any of 



'* these abominations." " I am the Lord your God, ye shall be 
" holy for I the Lord your God am holy, (xix. 2, xx. 7.)" 

It is by an error in the heading of the chapter that these 
prohibited connections are styled "unlawful marriages." 
They are not marriages at all. The expression in verse 6, 
" to uncover," &c., is shown by Gesenius never to be applied to 
marriage, but always to denote something abominable and vile. 
The Vulgate translates it ut revelat turpitudinem ejus, and 
Selden defines it : id est incestus. The laws themselves style 
these sins indiscriminately " wickedness," — " defilement," — 
" abomination." This alone is sufficient to make them hateful 
to all who fear God. 

The reason given is nearness of kin. No one is to ally 
himself with any that is near of kin to him, verse 6, and then 
follow the degrees specified. The case of Abraham and that 
of Amram and Jochebed are probably the reason why so 
many kinds of sisters and aunts are named, but it is evident 
that all forbidden degrees are not expressly named in this 
list : a man is not expressly forbidden to marry his grand- 
mother, his daughter, or his niece, therefore the omission of 
an express prohibition against marrying his wife's sister goes 
for nothing. 

If these laws are not binding, there is no other Scriptural 
ground for prohibiting marriage with an aunt or daughter- 
in-law, step-daughter or granddaughter, or even the nearest 
relations ; for a sense of propriety, or inward sense of right is 
no proof to another person who may choose to deny it. 

We should thus be cast adrift without chart or compass on 
the " troubled sea " of human passion, with no law whatever 
to guide us on the most important point of domestic life, 
except the reference in Corinthians to the sin of taking a 
father's wife — a case of affinity — " no blood relationship " 



10 

yet so heinous a sin that it was "not so much as named among 
the Gentiles : " 1 Cor. v. 1. 

It is incredible that the Church should be left wholly 
without guidance on such a subject, which she has been, 
unless the law in Leviticus is a law for all ages. 

The Law is clearly stated. All unions are forbidden with 
those that are near of hin (Lev. xviii. 6), and the degrees 
subsequently specified seem intended to define what degrees 
are intended by this expression. 

If these rules are binding, the converse of them is true, 
that is to say they are equally binding upon man and woman. 
Now the relationship between a man and his wife's sister is 
exactly the same as that between a woman and her husband's 
brother. If the prohibition of a man's marriage with his 
brother's wife does not equally forbid the marriage of a 
woman with her sister's husband, the two relationships 
being identical, then a woman may marry her grandson, or 
her uncle, or her aunt's husband, or her niece's husband, 
though a man may not marry his granddaughter, his aunt, 
or his uncle's wife. 

Some objections remain to be noticed. Their fewness is 
of itself a strong argument in favour of the doctrine we 
maintain. 

1. The verse, " Thou shalt not take a wife to her sister to 
vex her, beside the other, in her lifetime " (Lev. xxviii. 18.) 
is said to give a tacit permission to take a wife's sister after 
the death of the first wife : but it by no means follows that 
because an act is prohibited at one time it is therefore lawful 
at another. It is most illogical to say he may not do so 
during her lifetime therefore he may after her death. If the 
above is the true rendering of the verse, it would appear to 
be an allusion to Jacob having married two sisters, which 



11 

no man henceforward was to do. But as this kind of 
marriage is already forbidden by implication in the 16th 
verse, where the marriage of a woman with two brothers, 
and therefore that of a man with two sisters, is prohibited, 
the marginal reading, " Thou shalt not take one wife to 
another," appears preferable. At any rate, it prevents any 
doctrine being built on a verse of doubtful interpretation. 
But some reply, that had polygamy been forbidden in this 
verse, it would not have been so generally practised. But 
neither does this follow. David, Solomon, and their de- 
scendants knew perfectly well the command (Deut. xvii. 
17), not to multiply wives to themselves, yet they openly 
disobeyed it. 

2. Secondly, it is urged that the marriage of a woman 
with two brothers cannot be wrong, or it would not have 
been sanctioned in a particular case ; and hence it is rather 
illogically argued that the marriage of a man with two sisters 
is lawful. Now as we see by the history of Judah's sons, 
marriage with the widow of a childless brother was a Hebrew 
custom before the law was given, but this no more sanctions 
it now, than divorce and polygamy are sanctioned by their 
having been permitted to the Jews. The express command 
of the law-giver makes any act lawful in that particular 
instance, just as the Israelites were justified in slaying the 
Canaanites. Cain and Abel married their sisters, Jacob his 
sister-in-law ; Amram married Jochebed, his aunt ; in this 
special instance, wliere a Jew was allowed to marry his 
sister-in-law, the exception proves the rule. In all but that 
one case, oj a Jew dyinxg childless, a specified case among a 
specified people, the prohibition was explicit. The marriage 
of a woman with two brothers was pronounced " an unclean 
thing," Lev. xx. 20, 21, and the curse of dying childless 
was denounced upon it. Some may require proof of the 



12 

fulfilment of the curse in these days, as a proof of the con- 
tinuance of the law : but we are no longer under a system 
of visible earthly rewards and punishments, as the Jews 
were ; yet blasphemy, adultery, and Sabbath- breaking, are 
not less sinful now, because the offenders are not punished 
with death. And it most probably means that they should 
be childless in the sense Jehoichin was — with no heirs, their 
children being illegitimate. 

Again, the reason for this permission does not exist now, 
neither could it apply to marrying two sisters. It was per- 
mitted in order to prevent the fusion of too many inheritances 
into one, and to keep up the name of the deceased, an object 
inexpressibly dear to the heart of a Jew. 

Moreover, those who take permission from this passage, 
should remember the conditions. It was only permitted to 
the Jews, and the deceased must have been childless. This 
wholly excludes the favourite argument, that a wife's sister 
is the most proper person to have charge of her children 
which in many cases might be urged with superior force 
in regard to her Mother. Such opinions of man's corrupt 
heart and reason prove nothing as to the rightness of any 
step; were they to be met on their own ground, it might 
easily be proved that the permission which would be a con- 
venience in one case would carry disunion into a thousand 
families where no advantage could ever be derived from it, 
and instead of the perfectly brotherly and sisterly terms on 
which such relations (confident in the sanctity of the barrier 
between them), now live, the distant friendliness of compara- 
tive strangers must be substituted. 

Surely no Christian could enter on a marriage, (a step in 
which he is so peculiarly bound to the greatest purity and 
holiness) against the lawfulness of which, even in the eyes of 



13 

its advocates, the presumptions are so strong, and the argu- 
ments in favour of which rest on one verse of doubtful inter- 
pretation, and one specific case, which does not ap]ply. And 
I hardly think any Christian can examine the question iw>- 
partially without coming to the conclusion that such a 
marriage is directly contrary to the revealed Law of God, 
and therefore no marriage at all. To sum up the question — 

I. — Man and wife are one. 

Gen. ii. 26 ; Matt. xix. 4 ; Mark x. 7 ; Eph. 
1 Cor. xi. 3 ; Lev. xviii. 8, 14. 

This identity is the reason assigned against marry- 
ing a father's, brother's, or uncle's wife. 

IT. — The kindred of the one are therefore equally the kindred 
of the other. Lev. xviii. 14. 

A man is forbidden to marry his uncle's wife, "for 
she is thine aunt." This proves that relationship by 
blood and relationship by marriage are reckoned as 
the same by the Lord. 

If your aunt-in-law is your aunt, your sister-in-law 
must be your sister. 

No man may ally himself with any " that is near 
of kin to him." 

A sister is a near kinswoman v. 12, 13. 

Near kinswomen of the wife are expressly pro- 
hibited V. 17. 

The reason against marrying a wife's daughter or 
granddaughter is, that they are her " near kinswomen." 
So is her sister. Marriage with a brother's wife or 
an uncle's wife is pronounced "an unclean thing." 



14 

How then can marriage with a sister's husband be 
clean? How can you prove any dijEference between 
the relationships ? 

Lastly ; Kemember that neither Church nor State are in- 
fallible guides in this matter. Take Scripture as your only 
rule. The case of the Corinthian Church should be re- 
membered as a warning to us. The Apostle reproaches 
them with having permitted a connexion which was "not 
so much as named among the Gentiles, — that one should 
have his father's wife" (1 Cor. v. 1). This shows us that 
even a Christian Church may sanction gross sin, and should 
warn us not to think the approbation of any Community 
sufficient to make that excusable which the laws of God, 
natural or revealed, disallow. 

It is remarkable that hardly any one advocates the mar- 
riage of a woman with two brothers. Why? Because men 
make the laws ; and what man can endure the idea of his 
wife marrying his brother ? The feeling is, however, equally 
strong in the other sex. What woman can endure the idea 
of her sister marrying her husband ? And yet this is advo- 
cated, though no example of its being allowed can be brought 
forward from Scripture. These two facts show us that no 
body of men are secure from error in this or any other matter. 
It is not therefore superfluous, again to direct the reader's 
attention to the consequences of permitting marriage with 
two sisters. 

The marriage of uncle and niece may be vindicated on pre- 
cisely the same grounds as that of a brother and sister-in-law. 
It is no where expressly forbidden. Some, who boldly main- 
tain that the Old Testament is not a rale for Christians in 
these matters, would throw open the door to the marriage of 
still closer connexions. Nowhere but in the Old Testament 



15 

is the marriage of a man with his wife's mother or daughter 
forbidden ; or with his son's, uncle's, or brother's wife. Allow 
the marriage of a man with his wife's sister, and you cannot 
forbid his marriage with his niece. Deny the authority of the 
Old Testament, and Christians may marry those who stand iii 
the nearest degrees of affinity, a father's wife being the only 
exception expressly made in the New Testament. 

Deny that men and women stand on precisely the same 
ground, and a woman may marry her grandson or her uncle. 

There is, however, no fear of such results among Christians, 
until the reasons against the lawfulness of such a connexion 
are fairly met and answered, which I venture to say they 
never can be. 



POSTSCRIPT. 



Lord Selbourne the present Lord Chancellor, in his speech 
opposing the Bill for Legalizing Marriage with a Deceased Wife's 
Sister uttered these weighty words. 

" You must consider how far your principle ought to go, and I am 
" sure you can never stop short of the abolition of all marriages of 
''affinity:' 

"If we are to prohibit only such marriages as are prohibited hy the 
" letter of the Old Testament, we must repeal the prohibition in the case 
"of 13 degrees prohibited by our law and not prohibited by the letter 
" of Leviticus ; if on the other hand you endeavour to arrive at the 
"principle contained in that chapter in Leviticus and to lay down a 
" marriage law within the range and limit of the degrees which are pro- 
" hibited there, you will arrive at our present marriage law." 

Lord O'Hagan the Lord Chancellor of Ireland on the same 
occasion truly stated that the Bill was opposed 

"To the harmonious teaching of the Christian Church and the un- 
" broken tradition of the Christian people since Christianity first rose 
*' into existence. The vital principle of Christian marriage is 'that husband 



16 

" and wife are one flesh,' and from this has always been deduced the in- 
*' ference that the kinship of the wife should be held to be the kinship 
" of the husband." 

This became the law of the empire when the empire became Christian. 
The Theodosian code declared marriage with a deceased wife's sister 
unlawful. An Address from the Presbyterian Ministers of Scotland 
to the Non-Conformist Ministers of England in 1S71, published by 
Hamilton and Adams, after an able summary of Scripture doctrine 
shows that it was universally received by the Christian Church of the 
East and West from the time of Basil the Great in the middle of 
the 4th century, was first infringed by a dispensation of Pope Alexander 
VI. (the infamous Borgia) in 1550, and unanimously upheld by the 
Reformers, who rejected the authority of the Canon Law. 

Dr. Cunninghams says "There was never any doubt among interpreters 
*' untill early in the last century, when some Jews in Holland desired 
" to form such connections and the three Universities of Holland 
" unanimously affirmed that no Christian Government should tolerate 
" such among their subjects. There was no difference of opinion among 
" the Reformers, they believed the prohibition to be part of the universal 
" law of God for men," and there was no difference of opinion in the 
Church on this subject till the 17th century, when some petty German 
princes wished to marry their wives' sisters and asked some professors 
to undertake the defence of these connections. 



CAUTION ! 

Compare Leviticus xviii. 14, ivith Matthew v. 17, 18, 19. 



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