Leviticus 18: The One About Sex

Ah, Leviticus 18. The infamous sexual laws chapter.

I’ll level with you all, this is a really difficult chapter to write about for several reasons. First off, there is so much interesting stuff in here! Secondly, there is a lot of potentially explosive stuff in here! Thirdly, it is super interesting what wasn’t in the chapter!

Let’s start with the interesting stuff.


Oh sure, God has given plenty of laws in Leviticus. But he hasn’t spent a third of the chapter explaining how vitally important it is that his people follow those particular laws.

At the beginning of the chapter, God sets his laws over and against the laws of the Egyptians (the place where his people just came from) and the Canaanites (where they are going). In no uncertain terms he commands his people to follow him and only him.

Then at the end of the chapter he explains that the very reason the Canaanites are being removed from the land is their defiling, abominable sexual practices. Should the Israelites fail to heed God’s commands, they too will be “vomited out” from the land. He’s never gotten close to that level of explanation before. So why do it now?

Apparently, when it comes to sexual standards, his people might not be so inclined to listen to him.

I can’t imagine why.

It’s one thing to not eat shellfish. It is quite another to have someone tell you who you can and can’t have sex with. Speaking of that . . .

Who You Won’t Be Sleeping With Tonight

And by “you,” I mean “Israelite male.”

  • Your mother
  • Your step-mother
  • Your sister
  • Your step-sister
  • Your half-sister
  • Your grand-daughter
  • Your aunt
  • Your aunt by marriage
  • Your daughter-in-law
  • Your brother’s wife
  • A woman and her daughter at the same time
  • A woman and her grand-daughter at the same time
  • Your wife’s sister while your wife is still alive
  • A woman on her period
  • Your kinsman’s wife
  • Other men
  • Animals
  • You also won’t be sacrificing your children to Molech

Now, here is something I find very interesting. This is a list of 18 people (or things) that they are commanded to not have sex with. Most healthy people nowadays would probably agree that 17 of them are still really good laws. But that 18th law is enough for many people to dismiss this book as outdated, irrelevant, homophobic, backwards, and oppressive.

So what do we do with the tricky 18th? Contextually and hermeneutically, it is going to be really difficult to toss it out without getting rid of the other 17 laws everyone likes.

This chapter raises all kinds of thoughts and questions for me. Most of which I have not the space nor the energy to talk about here.

Also, if you are going to talk about that 18th law (and you know you know which one it is!) in the comments, please do so respectfully. This is my blog and I want it to be a place where people can freely express their thoughts without being attacked by anyone else.

So don’t be a douche-lord.


5 responses

  1. Ben, good for you to keep on keepin’ on! This is all really interesting, what you’re noticing in the Bible as you dissect it like this. Cool! I’m off to read more. 🙂

  2. I think its worth mentioning that a closer translation is that a man may not have sex with another man in his wife’s tent. Make of that what you will.

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