By J. Parnell McCarter



The original Westminster Confession of Faith rightly teaches: “Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity 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 blood than of her own.”   The term ‘consanguinity’ means relationship by descent from a common ancestor.  In other words, consanguinity means related by blood.  The term ‘affinity’ means relationship by marriage or by ties other than those of blood.  We learn the gravity of this issue when we read how John the Baptist treated its infraction by Herod (Mark 6:18).


Regarding this topic, the following request for information was recently posted on the rfw list concerning Biblically permissible marriage:


>Regarding marrying a deceased wife's sister, the Free Presbyterian
> Church of Scotland takes the view that the historical position in
> pre-1907 British national law and church law is correct. I feel
> rather unconvinced of this from the Bible, though I may well not have
> read any explanation written by an FPCS writer. I would have thought
> that the Scripture verses concerned referred to "in the previous
> wife's lifetime" whether this was a case of polygamy or of divorce,
> both of which seem to have been tolerated to some extent in the Old
> Testament administration.

The general rule concerning Biblically permissible marriage in such cases is found in the following verses:


> Lev. 20:19-21
> 19 And thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother's sister,
> nor of thy father's sister: for he uncovereth his near kin: they
> shall bear their iniquity.
> 20 And if a man shall lie with his uncle's wife, he hath uncovered
> his uncle's nakedness: they shall bear their sin; they shall die
> childless.
> 21 And if a man shall take his brother's wife, it is an unclean
> thing: he hath uncovered his brother's nakedness; they shall be
> childless.



Furthermore, we should consider the implications of I Corinthians 5:1, by considering these questions:


Does it seem in I Corinthians 5:1 that what makes the sin so
great according to the Apostle Paul is just that the father is still
alive, or that the son would have his father's wife at all? In other
words, is not the emphasis on marriage/concubinage between such

Does not the Apostle Paul's statement in I Cor 5:1 concerning the
Gentiles seem to hearken to the famous ancient Greek story of Oedipus,
whose embarrassing transgression was to have his mother as wife even
*after* his father was dead?

And would you not agree that the father's wife here is not his mother
by blood, but his step mother?

So does this not have implications regarding relations of affinity,
equating them morally speaking with relations of consanguinity?



But the poster did not understand the point I was seeking to make from I Corinthians 5:1, so he posted the following (indicated by “>”):


> Parnell
> Maybe I'm not following your logic, but marriage to a father's
wife is
> a totally different relation, and one that is clearly forbidden all
> round in Scripture.

My response:


What I am trying to show by my line of questions is how
affinity (relation by marriage) comes into play when we consider the
*general* rules regarding permitted marital relations. Notice how
in I Corinthians 5:1 the sexual union between a step-mother and a step-child
(a relation of affinity) is implicitly treated as morally equivalent
to the sexual union between a blood mother and her blood child (a
relation of consanguinity). And this in turn has implications on
how we should consider relations of consanguinity and affinity.

> Marriage to a deceased husband's brother was commanded under the
> Mosaic law,

Not exactly.

Deut 25:5-6: "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 an husband's brother unto
her. And it shall be, [that] the firstborn which she beareth shall
succeed in the name of his brother [which is] dead, that his name be
not put out of Israel."

Notice that it was *only* commanded when the brother had no child.
Up until Israel's Messiah came, it was necessary to maintain Jewish
family names. To accommodate this necessity, God permitted the
provision spelled out above. But notice carefully the "If ... one
of them die, and have no child". This was a very precise condition
(and hence exception to a general rule). Interestingly enough, the
exception actually tends to suggest the general rule, that a man
should not marry his dead brother's wife (except if the brother had
no child). And that in turn supports the conclusion spelled out in
the WCF: "The man may not marry any of his wife's kindred, nearer in
blood then he may of his own: nor the woman of her husband's
kindred, nearer in blood than of her own."

>Therefore it seems unlikely that it is in itself
> immoral, and any argument about it must proceed from scriptures
> relate specifically to it.

We need to be careful not to disprove a general rule from
exceptional rules.

eg, permission to divorce a fornicating spouse does not overthrow
the general rule that divorce is wrong

eg, the implicit permission of Adam and Eve's sons to marry their
daughters does not overthrow the general rule that brothers should
not marry sisters

> In any case I am not saying that I have come to any conclusions,
> asking what the relevant arguments are.

Yes, I am just trying to show you on this topic (as well as on other
topics) why the real WCF is true to scripture, so that you might in
good conscience affirm its doctrines and seek to join the FPCS.

I am thankful you are asking the questions, because it is
very important that the members (and not just the officers)
understand the doctrines summarized in the WCF and understand why
they are Biblical. Informed adherence to the doctrines of the
Westminster Standards is actually required of communicant members
per the FPCS Manual of Practice (see
http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcs062804.htm ). Without such
**informed** adherence, ecclesiastical declension will ensue, for
just following traditions is no sound foundation for any church.