"A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD" (Deut. 23:2 KJV)

I've been systematically reviewing Rick Warren's book The Purpose-Driven Life on my website. I've done chapters 12-28, and I'm going back and picking up chapters 1-11, on which I previously wrote a brief review.

In Chapter 2, page 23, Warren writes, “While there are illegitimate parents, there are no illegitimate children.” I find this a very helpful distinction!

I remember the animus and disgust that seemed to emanate from an older preacher who referred to his granddaughter’s child conceived out of wed-lock as illegitimate. Besides being an ungodly attitude, it was grossly wrong to saddle a child with the onus of his/her parent’s sin. Yet that is the way sin is. Sin never affects only the perpetrator. It always affects others.

However, as I was writing the above I remembered Deut. 23:2 "A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD."

So I looked up the term mamzer (Deut. 23:2; Zech. 9:6), translated ‘bastard’ by the KJV. And I looked up bastard in the Oxford English Dictionary.

does not denote a person born out of wed-lock (HALOT, NIDOTTE). It denotes either a person born of illegitimate mixed-parentage, a half-breed, or a person born from an incestuous marriage forbidden in Lev. 18. An example of a half-breed would be an Israelite who married one of the seven forbidden nations of Canaan. And, interestingly enough, bastard can also mean a person of mixed breed (OED).

Deut. 23:3 is the only other prohibition that forbids entry into the congregation of Israel to the tenth generation: Ammonites and Moabites. If 23:4 didn’t provide the reason for this prohibition, it would be natural to assume since they were born of incest, that is the reason God prohibits their presence in the congregation (which I take to be the worshipping congregation in the tabernacle, not a prohibition of inter-marriage). However, verse four says the reason God is prohibiting their presence is that they did not help Israel in the wilderness but hired Balaam to curse them.

Does Deut. 23:2 have any relevance to the Christian today? In terms of universal principles and specific applications. Deut. 23:2 would be a specific application of the universal principle that divinely approved marriage must be between believers (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14ff) and perhaps that the sins of fathers are visited upon their children. Since the dwelling place of God (the temple) is no longer a physical building, but God dwells within His people, there would be no corresponding specific application prohibiting mixed breeds from God's presence.

Both Deut. 23:2 & 23:3-4 make it clear that sin's consequences extend far beyond the lives of the sinner. Thank God that where sin abounded, grace has much more abounded!

One facet of that grace is that despite illegitimate conceptions, God superintends the design of the resulting child, sent Christ to die for him/her, and willingly dwells within any such person who turns to Christ in saving faith.

Plenteous grace with Thee is found! Praise the Lord!


Thank you for the insight!!
~Heather~ said…
I'm so glad you shared this. I had wondered why the harsh judgement of one not responsible for how they were conceived. Phillip Dickinson
Anonymous said…
Thank you for this. As a child born out of wedlock this passage has always caused me great sorrow. I felt rejected by God through no fault of my own and whilst I have tried to be a good person a part of me has always had a "Where's the point really" sort of attitude. This gives me hope.
Anonymous said…
Wow, thank you for this post,it has helped me as well!

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