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Chapter 18

Laws Concerning Sexual Behavior. The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelites and tell them: I, the Lord, am your God.[a] You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you once lived, nor shall you do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you; do not conform to their customs.(A) My decrees you shall carry out, and my statutes you shall take care to follow. I, the Lord, am your God. Keep, then, my statutes and decrees, for the person who carries them out will find life[b] through them. I am the Lord.(B)

[c]None of you shall approach a close relative[d] to have sexual intercourse. I am the Lord. [e]You shall not disgrace your father by having intercourse with your mother.(C) She is your own mother; you shall not have intercourse with her. You shall not have intercourse with your father’s wife, for that would be a disgrace to your father. You shall not have intercourse with your sister,[f](D) your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether she was born in your own household or born elsewhere. 10 You shall not have intercourse with your son’s daughter or with your daughter’s daughter,[g] for that would be a disgrace to you. 11 You shall not have intercourse with the daughter whom your father’s wife bore to him in his household,(E) since she, too, is your sister. 12 You shall not have intercourse with your father’s sister,(F) since she is your father’s relative. 13 You shall not have intercourse with your mother’s sister, since she is your mother’s relative. 14 You shall not disgrace your father’s brother by having sexual relations with his wife,(G) since she, too, is your aunt. 15 You shall not have intercourse with your daughter-in-law;[h](H) she is your son’s wife; you shall not have intercourse with her. 16 You shall not have intercourse with your brother’s wife;[i](I) that would be a disgrace to your brother. 17 You shall not have intercourse with a woman and also with her daughter, nor shall you marry and have intercourse with her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter;(J) they are related to her. This would be shameful. 18 While your wife is still living you shall not marry her sister as her rival and have intercourse with her.(K)

19 You shall not approach a woman to have intercourse with her while she is in her menstrual uncleanness.(L) 20 You shall not have sexual relations with your neighbor’s wife,[j](M) defiling yourself with her. 21 (N)You shall not offer any of your offspring for immolation to Molech,[k] thus profaning the name of your God. I am the Lord. 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman;(O) such a thing is an abomination. 23 You shall not have sexual relations with an animal, defiling yourself with it; nor shall a woman set herself in front of an animal to mate with it; that is perverse.(P)

24 Do not defile yourselves by any of these things, because by them the nations whom I am driving out of your way have defiled themselves. 25 And so the land has become defiled, and I have punished it for its wickedness, and the land has vomited out its inhabitants.(Q) 26 You, however, must keep my statutes and decrees, avoiding all these abominations, both the natives and the aliens resident among you— 27 because the previous inhabitants did all these abominations and the land became defiled; 28 otherwise the land will vomit you out also for having defiled it, just as it vomited out the nations before you. 29 For whoever does any of these abominations shall be cut off from the people. 30 Heed my charge, then, not to observe the abominable customs that have been observed before your time, and thus become impure by them.(R) I, the Lord, am your God.


  1. 18:2 I, the Lord, am your God: this declaration appears frequently elsewhere throughout chaps. 17–26, sometimes with a statement of God’s holiness or his sanctifying activity. It emphasizes the importance of the laws and the relationship of the divine lawgiver to the people.
  2. 18:5 Find life: in Dt 30:15–20 Moses sets before the people life and death. The alternatives are set out in detail in Lv 26 and Dt 28. Cf. Ez 20:11, 13, 21.
  3. 18:6–23 These laws deal with illicit sexual behavior. Lv 20:10–21 reiterates most of these cases, with penalties. Cf. also Dt 27:15–26; Ez 22:7–12. The ordering of the cases in Lv 18 seems to be: blood relatives (vv. 6–13), those related by marriage (vv. 14–18), then other cases (vv. 19–23).
  4. 18:6 Close relative: this refers to a blood relative and includes those not specifically mentioned in the list, such as one’s own daughter and a full sister. Have sexual intercourse: lit., “to uncover nakedness.”
  5. 18:7–8 Cf. the story of Reuben lying with Bilhah, his father’s concubine and Rachel’s maid (Gn 35:22; 49:4).
  6. 18:9, 11 Cf. actual or possible marriage to a half sister in Gn 20:12 and 2 Sm 13:13.
  7. 18:10 Daughter incest is found in the story of Lot (Gn 19:30–38).
  8. 18:15 Judah had intercourse with his daughter-in-law Tamar (Gn 38), but did not know her true identity until her pregnancy was discovered.
  9. 18:16 This refers to cohabiting with one’s sister-in-law not only while the brother is alive, but also after he is dead. Dt 25:5–10 allows for the marriage to the wife of a brother when that brother died without a male heir. Cf. Gn 38:6–14. It was the violation of this law of Leviticus which aroused the wrath of John the Baptist against Herod Antipas (Mt 14:4; Mk 6:18).
  10. 18:20 Adultery in the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East is intercourse between a married or betrothed woman and any male. In the Bible it is generally punishable by the death of both individuals (20:10; cf. Dt 22:22–27). Intercourse with an unmarried or unbetrothed woman is not prohibited but carries responsibilities and fines (cf. Ex 22:15–16; Dt 22:28–29). Cf. Lv 19:20–22.
  11. 18:21 Immolation to Molech: the reference is to the custom of sacrificing children to the god Molech. Cf. Ez 16:20–21; 20:26, 31; 23:37. See note on Lv 20:1–5.