Levirate Marriage

LEVIRATE MARRIAGE (lĕv'ĭ-rāt, lē'vĭ-rāt, from Lat. levir, a husband’s brother). An ancient custom, sanctioned by practice (Gen.38.8ff.) and by law (Deut.25.5-Deut.25.10, which does not contradict Lev.18.16; Lev.20.21, where the participants are all alive), whereby a deceased man’s brother or nearest male kin was required to marry his brother’s widow and raise up seed in his brother’s name. To repudiate this obligation meant public infamy (Onan’s sin was his refusal to fulfill his obligation to his dead brother (Gen.38.8-Gen.38.10). Ruth’s marriage to Boaz recognized this law (Ruth.4.1-Ruth.4.17). It also underlies the argument of the Sadducees in Matt.22.23-Matt.22.33.