Tough Passages #4: Illegitimate Children? (Deuteronomy 23:2)

Tough Passages #4: Illegitimate Children? (Deuteronomy 23:2)

In “Tough Passages,” we’re looking at the difficult verses in the Bible that are often brought up by secular people as reasons the Bible doesn’t make sense, and discovering how they actually reveal the character, love, and glory of God in a beautiful way.  Last month, we looked at Matthew 5’s convicting commands concerning lust; but for April, we’re going back to the Old Testament and saying some bad words.

The Verse

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.

Deuteronomy 23:2, KJV

The Secular Response

Being born out of wedlock makes you filthy, apparently […] but what if your dad abandoned you and your mom after she had given birth to you… that means you’re going to be held responsible and deprived of God’s love… which…

Wow, this means that Christian orphanages are hypocritical institutions if they’re taking these kids to church. Brutal.

Ivana Wynn,

Our Reply

You can always count on the KJV to use language that makes you a little uncomfortable.

On the face of it, this verse seems pretty self-explanatory: if your parents weren’t married, you can’t be in the congregation. Which means you can’t be saved. Right?

Let me make it worse before I make it better: in ancient Israel, the word “bastard” referred not only to the child of unmarried parents, but also to a child with one Israelite parent and one non-Israelite parent. So this verse also refers to biracial children.

But what’s really going to cook your noodle is this: there was a particularly famous man in the Bible who was considered a ‘bastard,’ by this definition: Jesus of Nazareth. His mother, Mary, wasn’t married until after Jesus was born, and the popular interpretation was that (at best) Jesus was Joseph’s son, conceived before marriage, or that (at worst) Mary had cheated on Joseph and Jesus was a product of that sin. Of course, He was conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit, buts other way, his parents weren’t married.

So if you misinterpret this (as is done above), you run into a thorny problem: that the son of God isn’t qualified to be a part of the Church that He came to redeem. Oops.

[pullquote]If you misinterpret this, you run into a thorny problem: the son of God isn’t qualified to be a part of the Church that He came to redeem. Oops.[/pullquote]Now, this fact does underscore a particularly glorious thing about God’s plan to save the world: not only did He send Jesus to Earth in squalor instead of glory, not only did He give Jesus a carpenter’s hut instead of a royal palace—He also sent Jesus into the world as someone that the religious elite would look down on.

And, in fact, they did; in John 8:41, after Jesus has rebuked some religious Jews for not loving God, they respond to this rebuke with thinly-veiled derision for His parentage: “‘You are doing the works your father did.’ They said to him, ‘We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.'” (John 8:41, ESV)

This is beautiful because it’s another example of how God didn’t sent the promised Messiah the way He was expected. He didn’t come with a crown on His head or an army at His right hand; rather, He washed feet and walked among us. He performed miracles for the weak and poor, and welcomed the children to come and hang out with him. Next time, He comes in glory with cavalry and infantry and tattoos on his leg; but this time, He was born into a manger to an unmarried mom.

[pullquote class=”left”][God] uses instruments you’d never expect to accomplish His plans.  To bring about His glory, He can use anyone—and He will use everyone.[/pullquote]All of this reveals God’s glory by showing just how unlikely Jesus’ power and ministry were; no human would have tried to pass off a poor, illegitimate child as the King of the Universe. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. He uses instruments you’d never expect to accomplish His plans. To bring about His glory, He can use anyone—and He will use everyone.

But where does that leave us with Deuteronomy? Well, if you remember last month’s appendix about the different laws in the Bible, you’ll remember that some laws God passed down in the Bible are for Israel as a nation, not Israel as a church.  What God banned illegitimate offspring from wasn’t the church, it was public office.  So a ‘bastard’ was welcome into the nation of Israel, and welcome into the Church; he could hold a job, be well-respected in the community, even become a Jew if he wanted.  He just couldn’t hold public office.

And this is important because of Israel’s neighbors; nations on all sides were eager to invade and take over, and if an Ammonite or Moabite could marry in, convince their children to take public office, and hand over the nation to her enemies, it would be all the easier.  The Israelites could even be led to worship a false god.  But God loves His people, and His covenant was to protect them.

But now, God’s people are no longer a political group, they’re a spiritual one.  This law was for a time, not for all time; He calls us to be discerning in choosing our leaders even today, but this law has been gloriously fulfilled.

How has it been fulfilled?  Well, since Jesus isn’t qualified for office, that means that humans can’t choose Him to rule. We don’t have any responsibility for His rule because He can’t be appointed to rule the universe by your will. Nothing we can do can change that.  Only God’s power can, and when Jesus rose from the dead, it did; in that moment, God fulfilled the law by placing His true son—considered an illegitimate son, a poor carpenter, and a friend of sinners—upon the throne of the universe.

• • •

Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture!  Next month in Tough Passages, we’re going to back up by one verse and look at someone else who was banned from holding a public office in Deuteronomy 23:1.  In the meantime, there will be lots of great content coming out every week!

Want to write for Redeeming Culture? We would love to have you!


While I do like this explanation. I’d also like to read in the Bible how to come to the conclusions in the article. What Verses, examples help to prove the case that an illegitimate child can be part of the nation, church, but not hold office. The case has been made well but scriptural references are necessary.

First of all that explanation was totally wrong Mary was never considered to be cheating on Joseph I would never have the audacity to say God you cheated on my wife the holy spirit is pure and she had on purpose to be the vessel to bear God’s child so Jesus was never a bastard he had a father and a mother Mary and God Joseph was the father on Earth God is the heavenly father who already knew who Jesus was cuz Jesus was God in the flesh as for the other bastard children from rape whatever the case may be provocative dressing promotes promiscuity that’s why the Amish that’s why the Muslims that’s why the Hebrews middle Eastern in general and the Quakers they wear full top two feet dresses they cover their hair they cover their face some which so that way everyone looks the same there’s no sexual immorality to behold you don’t hear much about raping or premarital sex going on prior to marriage in different cultures. If women would cover more than just the top in their bottom I can almost guarantee rape would slim to virtually nothing premarital sex in high school students filth dirt lust wouldn’t happen in high schools most of which would disappear

If that’s all you got so be it. Study the cultures a little more, the behind the scenes activities.

If you Love God and regard him for who he is you will try to analyse a verse that seems contrary to the saviour. What I mean is, if You think that God is good all the time then you will either find that the verse is relative to the culture or that God is doing something that you may not understand but relying on the Holy Spirit will put God in a good light not that he’s dependent on us to bring light but then you will see that God is for everybody and not just what we call bastards or whatever.

I would not say the explanation was wrong. You may not think of Mary as cheating on Joseph neither would I but the Jews and high priest of the day did. According to their standards. Remember, Christ came from a long line of questionable characters, Rahab, Ruth, to name two. What we wear defines our character I agree but it doesn’t make us children of God.

Jonathan I’d recommend reading Isaiah 56:1-8. It doesn’t directly mention illegitimate children but it does mention Eunuchs and foreigners (which were also mentioned in Deuteronomy 23:1-8).

Isaiah 56:1-8 (ESV)
Salvation of Foreigners
Thus says the LORD: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.

Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”

For thus says the LORD: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”

The mental backflips you Christians go through to defend the indefensible is stunning. Read the verse for what it is and nothing else. God is not the author of confusion.

I’m sorry you see this as “mental backflips,” but I assure you it’s nothing of the sort. Poor translation and interpretation is to blame, along with simply not reading the entirety of the text. Verses are not intended to be read in a vacuum.

some things you can’t just take for what it is, context is important, as well as translation, & these alone can put a whole different meaning to what God truly intended by these scriptures for the people back then

None of these explanations explain why the verse is the way it is? From recent observation though, from pertinent average behaviour of such children I can gleen why. Often they are full of strife against those who are not abandoned, giving them very little chance, if at all, of the blessing of Ruth or that of Isiah 56. Also there’s the glaring truth that God’s covenant for the earth to be filled by his glory & subdued by Man-Gen 1:26-28-31, it meant marriage and its offspring; the holy spirit is to be in such a tebanacle(s) by that order not its violation hence pre-marital sex, rape, polygamy, prostitution, adultery and homsexuality/ homesexualism and other sexual misnomalies eg,- people & animals, incest, etc are sins.

Like all other wrongs/sins, this too, production of illegitimate children, it’s what people do in their corruption refusing cooperation & agreement with God’s will for their lives.

When Joseph asked for Mary’s hand in marriage, her father said to her, you are married in all sense except of baring a child, not for a year, Mary, 14-15, she had to wait to become of marriageable age, 16, they by G-D’s law were married legally.Seeing G-D was Jesus in flesh, then your calling him a bastard, let me know how that works for you.When they were about to leave for Bethlehem, he said to Mary you are my wife, that is all they need to know,meaning how she became pregnant wasn’t any ones business.If he was a bastard he would never been able to enter the Temple,or be blessed by Simeon, the Jewish people were sticklers for their rules and regulations.because most every one around new Mary got pregnant, and that she was Visiting her cousin Elizabeth and Zachariah,and he would have forbidden her to enter his home
being a Pharisee..

You state, “ So this verse also refers to biracial children.” Not at all! Never based on race ever! But, on religion. Two different races of the same religion could marry.

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