What is Levirate marriage in Scripture?                                                           by Jack Kettler


The following Scripture citations give a glimpse of levirate marriage.


“And Judah said unto Onan, go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.” (Genesis 38:8)


“Saying, Master, Moses said, if a man dies having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.” (Matthew 22:24)


“If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother unto her.” (Deuteronomy 25:5)


How exactly is levirate marriage defined?


“Levirate, custom or law decreeing that a widow should, or in rare cases must, marry her dead husband's brother. The term comes from the Latin levir, meaning “husband's brother.” The “brother” may be a biological sibling of the deceased or a person who is socially classified as such.” - The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica.


The most well-known example of levirate marriage in Scripture is that of Ruth and Boaz. Ruth’s original husband died without a child, see (Ruth 1:1-5). As a result, God sovereignly directs Ruth to meet a wealthy landowner named Boaz. Boaz was a relative of Ruth’s late husband, see (Ruth 2:20). Ruth asked Boaz to be her kinsman-redeemer, which he did, thus fulfilling the levirate custom.


More importantly, Ruth bore a son named Obed, who fathered Jesse, the father of David and a forefather of Jesus (see Matthew 1:5-6). Moreover, God showed His favor in this Old Testament practice by including Boaz and Ruth in the lineage of Christ.


Levirate marriage is not practiced today in modern Judaism or Christianity. However, the practice was connected to the time when Israel was in the promised land, and genealogies were important, especially in regard to how Israelites passed on their land inheritance to their children. Establishing one’s lineage was a type of land deed. Whether the levirate marriage was commanded by God or a custom is unclear. According to Deuteronomy 25:5, the levirate marriage practice seemed to be part of the civil law and, therefore, expired in the New Covenant.  


“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at www. JackKettler .com