Leviticus 17-20: Who you can’t have sex with

Anyone who slaughters an ox or sheep, or offers a sacrifice, without bringing it to the Tent of Meeting has bloodguilt; he shall be cut off from his people.  Any Israelite or stranger who eats blood shall be cut off, because the blood is the animal’s life.  Regarding sexual morality, don’t copy the practices of the Canaanites or Egyptians.  Don’t have sex with relatives, including your parents, your father’s wife, your sister, and many others.  Don’t have sex with a woman during her period, or with your neighbor’s wife, or with a beast.  You shall each revere his parents and keep my sabbaths.  Eat well-being sacrifices before the third day, or else you shall be cut off from your kin.  Do not reap your whole harvest; leave some on the edges for the poor and stranger.  Do not steal, defraud, or be biased towards rich or poor.  Do not let your cattle mate with a different kind, or sow your field with two kinds of seed, or put on cloth with two different fabrics.  If a man has sex with a female slave, he must offer a ram as a guilt offering.  Do not defraud the stranger, but love him as yourself.

Anyone who sacrifices children to Molech, or insults his parents, or commits adultery shall be put to death.  When a man or woman commits bestiality, both human and beast shall be put to death.  You shall observe my laws and not follow the practices of the Canaanites–I drove them out precisely for their abhorrent practices.


  • Chapters 17-26 is known as the Holiness Code, due to its frequent repetition of the word “holy” (i.e. “I, the LORD, am holy”).  This code was probably written separately from the rest of Leviticus, due to its unique format as a law code and some contradictions.  For example, 18:19 prohibits sex with a menstruating woman, whereas 15:19-24 allows it.
  • There is no evidence from Egyptian or Canaanite literature that these cultures were especially sexually licentious or perverted.  This accusation was probably part of a polemic against Israel’s rivals (and not its former enemies), and also provides moral justification for Israel’s extermination of the Canaanites.
  • The Canaanites are said to sacrifice their children to Molech, but there is little extra-Biblical evidence of this.  There is also ample evidence from the Bible that child sacrifice was practiced by the Israelites.  See, for example, Ezek 16:21, 23:37, and 20:25, where God claims to have ordered child sacrifice:

    So I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live; 26 I defiled them through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn—that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the Lord.

  • There are 2 passages that prohibit gay sex, 18:22 (“Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence” and 20:13 (“If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the put of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death”).
  • 20:27 says that necromancers who channel ghosts or spirits should be stoned, while 20:6 says that those who consult necromancers will be cut off from their kin.  The Bible never claims that necromancers are not effective; in fact, in 28:3-14, Saul consults the Witch of Endor, who successfully conjures up the spirit of Samuel.
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3 Responses to Leviticus 17-20: Who you can’t have sex with

  1. Such cruelty. Love our LGBT friends as our brothers and sisters instead.


    • mzzhang says:

      How do you reconcile such love with passages such as 18:22 and 20:13? Putting someone to death does not seem like loving them.


      • I have wrote this topic previously. I think the answer lies in Jesus’ summary of the Law of Moses, and how the disciples followed through Jesus’s teachings in Acts Chapter 15.


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