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Exhortation to Obedience and Life

18 The Lord spoke to Moses: “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘I am the Lord your God! You must not do as they do in the land of Egypt where you have been living,[a] and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan into which I am about to bring you;[b] you must not[c] walk in their statutes. You must observe my regulations[d] and you must be sure to walk in my statutes.[e] I am the Lord your God. So you must keep[f] my statutes and my regulations; anyone who does so will live by keeping them.[g] I am the Lord.

Laws of Sexual Relations

“‘No man is to approach any close relative[h] to have sexual relations with her.[i] I am the Lord.[j] You must not[k] expose your father’s nakedness by having sexual relations with your mother.[l] She is your mother; you must not have sexual relations with her. You must not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; she is your father’s nakedness.[m] You must not have sexual relations with your sister, whether she is your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter,[n] whether she is born in the same household or born outside it;[o] you must not have sexual relations with either of them.[p] 10 You must not expose the nakedness of your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter by having sexual relations with them, because they are your own nakedness.[q] 11 You must not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father’s wife born of your father; she is your sister. You must not have sexual relations with her.[r] 12 You must not have sexual relations with your father’s sister; she is your father’s flesh.[s] 13 You must not have sexual relations with your mother’s sister, because she is your mother’s flesh. 14 You must not expose the nakedness of your father’s brother; you must not approach his wife to have marital relations with her.[t] She is your aunt.[u] 15 You must not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife. You must not have sexual relations with her. 16 You must not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife; she is your brother’s nakedness.[v] 17 You must not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter; you must not take as wife either her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter to have sexual relations with them.[w] They are closely related to her[x]—it is lewdness.[y] 18 You must not take a woman in marriage and then marry her sister as a rival wife[z] while she is still alive,[aa] to have sexual relations with her.

19 “‘You must not approach a woman in her menstrual impurity[ab] to have sexual relations with her. 20 You must not have sexual relations[ac] with the wife of your fellow citizen to become unclean with her. 21 You must not give any of your children as an offering to Molech,[ad] so that you do not profane[ae] the name of your God. I am the Lord! 22 You must not have sexual relations with a male as one has sexual relations with a woman;[af] it is a detestable act.[ag] 23 You must not have sexual relations[ah] with any animal to become defiled with it, and a woman must not stand before an animal to have sexual relations with it;[ai] it is a perversion.[aj]

Warning against the Abominations of the Nations

24 “‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things, for the nations that I am about to drive out before you[ak] have been defiled with all these things. 25 Therefore[al] the land has become unclean and I have brought the punishment for its iniquity upon it,[am] so that the land has vomited out its inhabitants. 26 You yourselves must obey[an] my statutes and my regulations and must not do any of these abominations, both the native citizen and the resident foreigner[ao] in your midst, 27 for the people who were in the land before you have done all these abominations,[ap] and the land has become unclean. 28 So do not make the land vomit you out because you defile it[aq] just as it has vomited out the nations[ar] that were before you. 29 For if anyone does any of these abominations, that person who does them will be cut off from the midst of the people.[as] 30 You must obey my charge not to practice any of the abominable statutes[at] that have been done before you, so that you do not[au] defile yourselves by them. I am the Lord your God.’”


  1. Leviticus 18:3 tn Heb “As the work [or “deed”] of the land of Egypt, which you were dwelling in it, you must not do.”
  2. Leviticus 18:3 tn Heb “and as the work [or “deed”] of the land of Canaan which I am bringing you to there, you must not do.” The participle “I am bringing” is inceptive; the Lord is “about to” bring them into the land of Canaan, as opposed to their having dwelt previously in the land of Egypt (see the first part of the verse).
  3. Leviticus 18:3 tn Heb “and you shall not walk.”
  4. Leviticus 18:4 tn Heb “My regulations you shall do”; KJV, NASB “my judgments”; NRSV “My ordinances”; NIV, TEV “my laws.”sn The Hebrew term translated “regulation” (מִשְׁפָּט, mishpat) refers to the set of regulations about to be set forth in the following chapters (cf. Lev 19:37; 20:22; 25:18; 26:46). Note especially the thematic and formulaic relationships between the introduction here in Lev 18:1-5 and the paraenesis in Lev 20:22-26, both of which refer explicitly to the corrupt nations and the need to separate from them by keeping the Lord’s regulations.
  5. Leviticus 18:4 tn Heb “and my statutes you shall keep [or “watch; guard”] to walk in them.”
  6. Leviticus 18:5 tn Heb “And you shall keep.”
  7. Leviticus 18:5 tn Heb “which the man shall do them and shall live in them.” The term for “a man, human being; mankind” (אָדָם, ʾadam; see the note on Lev 1:2) in this case refers to any person among “mankind,” male or female. The expression וָחַי (vakhay, “and shall live”) looks like the adjective “living” so it is written וְחָיָה (vekhayah) in Smr, but the MT form is simply the same verb written as a double ʿayin verb (see HALOT 309 s.v. חיה qal and GKC 218 §76.i; cf. Lev 25:35).
  8. Leviticus 18:6 tn Heb “Man, man shall not draw near to any flesh (שְׁאֵר, sheʾer) of his body/flesh (בָּשָׂר, basar).” The repetition of the word “man” is distributive, meaning “any (or “every”) man” (GKC 395-96 §123.c; cf. Lev 15:2). The two words for “flesh” are combined to refer to and emphasize the physical familial relatedness (see J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 282, and B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 119).
  9. Leviticus 18:6 tn Heb “to uncover [her] nakedness” (cf. KJV, ASV, NASB, NRSV), which is clearly euphemistic for sexual intercourse (see J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 282, and B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 119). This expression occurs a number of times in the following context and is generally translated “have sexual relations with [someone],” although in the case of the father mentioned in the following verse the expression may be connected to the shame or disgrace that would belong to the father whose wife’s sexuality is violated by his son. See the note on the word “mother” in v. 7.
  10. Leviticus 18:6 sn The general statement prohibiting sexual relations between close relatives serves as an opening summary statement for the following section, which gives details concerning which degrees of relationship are specifically forbidden.
  11. Leviticus 18:7 tn The verbal negative here is the same as that used in the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:4-5, 7, 13-17). It suggests permanent prohibition rather than a simple negative command and could, therefore, be rendered “must not” here and throughout the following section as it is in vv. 3-4 above.
  12. Leviticus 18:7 tn Heb “The nakedness of your father and [i.e., even] the nakedness of your mother you shall not uncover.” sn Commentators suggest that the point of referring to the father’s nakedness is that the mother’s sexuality belongs to the father and is forbidden to the son on that account (see B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 120, and J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 294). The expression may, however, derive from the shame of nakedness when exposed. If one exposes his mother’s nakedness to himself it is like openly exposing the father’s nakedness (cf. Gen 9:22-23 with the background of Gen 2:25 and 3:7, 21). The same essential construction is used in v. 10 where the latter explanation makes more sense than the former.
  13. Leviticus 18:8 tn Heb “the nakedness of your father she is.” See the note on v. 7 above. This law refers to another wife of the man’s father, who is not that man’s mother. The laws in the Pentateuch sometimes assume the possibility that a man may have more than one wife (cf., e.g., Deut 21:15-17).
  14. Leviticus 18:9 tn Heb “the daughter of your father or the daughter of your mother.”
  15. Leviticus 18:9 tn Heb “born of house or born of outside.” CEV interprets as “whether you grew up together or not” (cf. also TEV, NLT).
  16. Leviticus 18:9 tc Several medieval Hebrew mss, Smr, LXX, and Syriac have “her nakedness” rather than “their nakedness,” thus agreeing with singular “sister” at the beginning of the For a smooth English translation “either of” was added.
  17. Leviticus 18:10 sn That is, to have sexual relations with one’s granddaughter would be like openly exposing one’s own shameful nakedness (see the note on v. 7 above).
  18. Leviticus 18:11 tn Heb “The nakedness of the daughter of your father’s wife born of your father, she is your sister; you must not uncover her nakedness.” That is, a half sister, the daughter of the man’s father by another wife, who is not the man’s mother, is to be considered a true sister. Therefore, the man must not have sexual intercourse with her.
  19. Leviticus 18:12 tc A few medieval Hebrew mss, the LXX, Syriac, and Vulgate all read “because she is the flesh of your father,” like the MT of v. 13.
  20. Leviticus 18:14 tn The expression קָרַב אֶל (qarav ʾel) means “draw near to” or “approach,” but is also used as a euphemism for the intended purpose of sexual relations.
  21. Leviticus 18:14 tn As in v. 12 (see the note there), some mss and versions have “because she is your aunt.”
  22. Leviticus 18:16 sn Regarding the last clause, see the notes on vv. 7 and 10 above.
  23. Leviticus 18:17 tn Heb “You must not uncover the nakedness of both a woman and her daughter; the daughter of her son and the daughter of her daughter you must not take to uncover her nakedness.” Translating “her” as “them” provides consistency in the English. In this kind of context, “take” means to “take in marriage” (cf. also v. 18). The LXX and Syriac have “their nakedness,” referring to the nakedness of the woman’s granddaughters, rather than the nakedness of the woman herself.
  24. Leviticus 18:17 tc Heb “they are her flesh.” The LXX reads “your” here (followed by NRSV). If the LXX reading were followed by the present translation, the result would be “They are closely related to you.”
  25. Leviticus 18:17 tn The term rendered “lewdness” almost always carries a connotation of cunning, evil device, and divisiveness (cf. HALOT 272 s.v. I זִמָּה 2, “infamy”), and is closely associated with sexual and religious infidelity (cf., e.g., Lev 19:29; 20:14; Job 31:11; Jer 13:27; Ezek 16:27; 22:9). Recent English versions differ on how they handle this: NAB “would be shameful”; CEV “would make you unclean”; NIV “wickedness”; NLT “horrible wickedness”; NRSV “depravity”; TEV “incest.”
  26. Leviticus 18:18 tn Or “as a concubine”; Heb “And a woman to her sister you shall not take to be a second wife [or “to be a concubine”].” According to HALOT 1059 s.v. III צרר, the infinitive “to be a second wife” (לִצְרֹר, litsror) is a denominative verb from II צָרָה A (“concubine; second wife”), which, in turn, derives from II צר “to treat with hostility” (cf. J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 283, and B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 122).
  27. Leviticus 18:18 tn Heb “on her in her life.”
  28. Leviticus 18:19 tn Heb “in the menstruation of her impurity”; NIV “during the uncleanness of her monthly period.”
  29. Leviticus 18:20 tn Heb “And to the wife of your fellow citizen you shall not give your layer for seed.” The meaning of “your layer” (שְׁכָבְתְּךָ, shekhavtekha) is uncertain (see B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 122, “you shall not place your layer of semen”; but cf. also J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 283, and the literature cited there for understanding the term to refer to the male member). The Hebrew word שְׁכֹבֶת (shekhovet) is related to the noun מִשְׁכָּב (mishkav) “bed” and the verb שָׁכַב (shakhav) “to lie down,” which also acts as a euphemism for sexual relations.
  30. Leviticus 18:21 tn Heb “And from your seed you shall not give to cause to pass over to Molech.” Smr (cf. also the LXX) has “to cause to serve” rather than “to cause to pass over.” For detailed remarks on Molech and Molech worship see N. H. Snaith, Leviticus and Numbers (NCBC), 87-88; P. J. Budd, Leviticus (NCBC), 259-60; and J. E. Hartley, Leviticus (WBC), 333-37, and the literature cited there. It could refer to either human sacrifice or a devotion of children to some sort of service of Molech, perhaps of a sexual sort (cf. Lev 20:2-5; 2 Kgs 23:10, etc.). The inclusion of this prohibition against Molech worship here may be due to some sexual connection of this kind, or perhaps simply to the lexical link between זֶרַע (zeraʿ) meaning “seed, semen” in v. 20 but “offspring” in v. 21.
  31. Leviticus 18:21 tn Heb “and you shall not profane.” Regarding “profane,” see the note on Lev 10:10 above.
  32. Leviticus 18:22 tn Heb “And with a male you shall not lay [as the] lyings of a woman” (see B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 123). The specific reference here is to homosexual intercourse between males.
  33. Leviticus 18:22 tn The Hebrew term תּוֹעֵבָה (toʿevah, rendered “detestable act”) refers to the repugnant practices of foreigners, whether from the viewpoint of other peoples toward the Hebrews (e.g., Gen 43:32; 46:34; Exod 8:26) or of the Lord toward other peoples (see esp. Lev 18:26-27, 29-30). It can also designate, as here, detestable acts that might be perpetrated by the native peoples (it is used again in reference to homosexuality in Lev 20:13; cf. also its use for unclean food, Deut 14:3; idol worship, Isa 41:24; remarriage to a former wife who has been married to someone else in between, Deut 24:4).
  34. Leviticus 18:23 tn See the note on v. 20 above.
  35. Leviticus 18:23 tn Heb “to copulate with it” (cf. Lev 20:16).
  36. Leviticus 18:23 tn The Hebrew term תֶּבֶל (tevel, “perversion”) derives from the verb “to mix; to confuse” and therefore refers to illegitimate mixtures of species or violation of the natural order of things.
  37. Leviticus 18:24 tn Heb “which I am sending away (Piel participle of שָׁלַח [shalakh, “to send”]) from your faces.” The rendering here takes the participle as anticipatory of the coming conquest events.
  38. Leviticus 18:25 tn Heb “And.” The Hebrew conjunction ו (vav, “and”) can be considered to have resultative or even inferential force here.
  39. Leviticus 18:25 tn Heb “and I have visited its [punishment for] iniquity on it.” See the note on Lev 17:16 above.
  40. Leviticus 18:26 tn Heb “And you shall keep, you.” The latter emphatic personal pronoun “you” is left out of a few medieval Hebrew mss, Smr, the LXX, Syriac, and Vulgate.
  41. Leviticus 18:26 sn On the Hebrew ger (גֵּר) “resident foreigner” see notes at Exod 12:19 and Deut 29:11.
  42. Leviticus 18:27 tn Heb “for all these abominations the men of the land who were before you have done.”
  43. Leviticus 18:28 tn Heb “And the land will not vomit you out in your defiling it.”
  44. Leviticus 18:28 tc The MT reads the singular “nation” and is followed by ASV, NASB, NRSV; the LXX, Syriac, and Targum have the plural “nations” (cf. v. 24).
  45. Leviticus 18:29 sn Regarding the “cut off” penalty see the note on Lev 7:20.
  46. Leviticus 18:30 tn Heb “to not do from the statutes of the detestable acts.”
  47. Leviticus 18:30 tn Heb “and you will not.” The Hebrew conjunction ו (vav, “and”) can be considered to have resultative force here.