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Chapter 20

Penalties for Various Sins. [a]The Lord said to Moses: Tell the Israelites: Anyone, whether an Israelite or an alien residing in Israel, who gives offspring to Molech shall be put to death.(A) The people of the land shall stone that person. (B)I myself will turn against and cut off(C) that individual from among the people; for in the giving of offspring to Molech, my sanctuary was defiled(D) and my holy name was profaned. If the people of the land condone the giving of offspring to Molech, by failing to put the wrongdoer to death, I myself will turn against that individual and his or her family, and I will cut off from their people both the wrongdoer and all who follow this person by prostituting themselves with Molech.

Should anyone turn to ghosts and spirits and prostitute oneself with them,(E) I will turn against that person and cut such a one off from among the people. Sanctify yourselves, then, and be holy; for I, the Lord, your God,(F) am holy. Be careful, therefore, to observe my statutes. I, the Lord, make you holy.

Anyone who curses father or mother shall be put to death;[b](G) and having cursed father or mother, such a one will bear the bloodguilt.[c] 10 [d]If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife,(H) both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. 11 If a man disgraces his father by lying with his father’s wife,(I) the two of them shall be put to death; their bloodguilt is upon them. 12 If a man lies with his daughter-in-law,(J) both of them shall be put to death; they have done what is perverse; their bloodguilt is upon them. 13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman,(K) they have committed an abomination; the two of them shall be put to death; their bloodguilt is upon them. 14 If a man marries a woman and her mother also,(L) that is shameful conduct; the man and the two women as well shall be burned to death, so that shamefulness may not be found among you. 15 If a man has sexual relations with an animal,(M) the man shall be put to death, and you shall kill the animal. 16 If a woman goes up to any animal to mate with it,(N) you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall both be put to death; their bloodguilt is upon them. 17 If a man marries his sister,(O) his father’s daughter or his mother’s daughter, and they have intercourse with each other, that is disgraceful; they shall be publicly cut off[e] from the people; the man shall bear the penalty of having had intercourse with his own sister. 18 If a man lies with a woman during her menstrual period and has intercourse with her, he has laid bare the source of her flow and she has uncovered it.(P) The two of them shall be cut off from the people. 19 You shall not have intercourse with your mother’s sister or your father’s sister,(Q) because that dishonors one’s own flesh; they shall bear their penalty. 20 If a man lies with his uncle’s wife, he disgraces his uncle;(R) they shall bear the penalty; they shall die childless. 21 If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is severe defilement and he has disgraced his brother;(S) they shall be childless.

22 Be careful to observe all my statutes and all my decrees; otherwise the land where I am bringing you to dwell will vomit you out.(T) 23 Do not conform, therefore, to the customs of the nations(U) whom I am driving out of your way, because all these things that they have done have filled me with disgust for them. 24 But to you I have said:(V) You shall take possession of their land. I am giving it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. I, the Lord, am your God, who have set you apart from other peoples. 25 (W)You, too, must set apart, then, the clean animals from the unclean, and the clean birds from the unclean, so that you do not make yourselves detestable through any beast or bird or any creature which creeps on the ground that I have set apart for you as unclean. 26 To me, therefore, you shall be holy; for I, the Lord, am holy,(X) and I have set you apart from other peoples to be my own.

27 A man or a woman who acts as a medium or clairvoyant(Y) shall be put to death. They shall be stoned to death; their bloodguilt is upon them.


  1. 20:1–5 The term Molech may refer to a deity, perhaps with an underworld association, and the activity forbidden here may be connected with divination. Cf. Dt 18:10; 2 Kgs 17:17; 21:6. In the kingdom of Judah the cult appears to have been practiced in the Valley of Hinnom, just outside Jerusalem on the west and south (2 Kgs 23:10; Jer 32:35).
  2. 20:9 Curses father or mother…put to death: this is more than a simple expletive uttered in anger against one’s parents. See note on Ex 21:17.
  3. 20:9–21 Bloodguilt: these penalties, beginning with cursing one’s parents, reflect the concerns of a patriarchal society that the breakdown of one’s relations with one’s parents can lead to the breakdown of all other familial relationships, resulting in the breakdown of society.
  4. 20:10–21 See 18:6–23 and notes there. It appears that the inclusion of various penalties in 20:10–21 accounts for the different order of the cases here compared to the order found in 18:6–23. The reason why the offenses in 20:10–21 carry different penalties, however, is not clear. Perhaps the cases in vv. 17–21 were considered slightly less serious, being condemned but not criminally prosecuted.
  5. 20:17 Cut off: see note on 7:20.