Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Leviticus 18

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Book  Book of Leviticus
Order in the Bible part  3
Bible part  Old Testament
Category  Torah
Leviticus 18

Leviticus 18 is the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. According to the Hebrew Bible, it narrates part of the instructions given to Moses by God on biblical Mount Sinai. The chapter deals with a number of sexual activities considered unclean or abominable. Although the chapter is principally concerned with incest, it also contains laws related to bestiality and "lying with a man as with a woman." This single reference in verse 22 has, in recent years, made the interpretation of this verse a focus of debate among Christians and Jews regarding homosexual activity (see Homosexuality and Christianity and Jewish views of homosexuality).


Leviticus 18 is generally regarded as part of the holiness code of Leviticus 11–26, and its sexual prohibitions are largely paralleled by Leviticus 20 (except that chapter has more emphasis on punishment).


The original text of Leviticus 20, like that of most of the Hebrew Bible, is written in Hebrew. The oldest extant versions of the text in Hebrew are found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Masoretic Text. An ancient Greek translation from the third century BC, the Septuagint, also exists. Since the addition of chapter divisions in the thirteenth century AD, this chapter is divided into 30 verses.


International Standard Version groups this chapter as follows:

  • Leviticus 18:1-20 = Sexual Relations with Relatives Prohibited
  • Leviticus 18:21 = Child Sacrifice Prohibited
  • Leviticus 18:22 = Sexual Relations with the Same Sex Prohibited
  • Leviticus 18:23-30 = Sexual Relations with Animals Prohibited
  • Incest

    The Bible lists several types of relationship which it regards as incestuous unions; one list appears in the Deuteronomic Code, and two lists occur in the Holiness Code of Leviticus. These lists only mention relationships with female relatives; excluding lesbianism, which implies that the list is addressed to men. Since the lists would then describe women with whom it is forbidden for a man to have a relationship, they also indirectly imply a list of men with whom it is forbidden for a woman to have a relationship. These lists then compare as follows (blue = forbidden for men only, pink = forbidden for women only, purple = forbidden for both men and women):

    One feature of all the lists is that sexual activity between a man and his own daughter is not explicitly forbidden. The Talmud argues that this is because the prohibition was obvious, especially given the proscription against a relationship with a granddaughter. The shortness of the list in Leviticus 20, and especially of that in Deuteronomy, are explained by classical Jewish scholarship as being due to the obviousness of the missing prohibitions. Note also that the explicit prohibition against engaging in sexual activity with "both a woman and her daughter", implicitly forbids sexual activity between a man and his daughter. Some biblical scholars have instead proposed that it was originally in the list, but was then accidentally left out from the copy on which modern versions of the text ultimately depend, due to a mistake by the scribe.

    Apart from the questionable case of a man marrying his daughter, the list in Leviticus 18 roughly produces the same rules as were followed in early pre-Islamic Arabic culture. However, most tribal nations also disliked exogamous marriage—marriage to completely unrelated people. In several prominent cases in the Torah, the incest rules are ignored in favour of marriage to a close relative; Jacob is described as having married his first wife's sister, and Abraham as having a father in common with Sarah (rather than a mother, which would have been permitted by the list). These are not seen as illegal marriages as the incest laws were not given until Moses.

    Verse 22

    The text of 18:22 :

    "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." KJV 'You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.' Revised Standard Version and English Standard Version 'And with a male thou dost not lie as one lieth with a woman; abomination it [is].' Youngs Literal Translation 'Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman: that is detestable' CEV

    The Hebrew wording of Leviticus 18:22 has been generally interpreted as prohibiting some or all homosexual acts, although which precise acts, and in which situations, is a matter of ongoing scholarly debate.

    The major area of debate has then been over the hermeneutical question of whether and how this text applies to the modern Christian or Jewish situation (see The Bible and homosexuality and Biblical law in Christianity for that debate).

    Some authors state that verse 22 condemns "homosexuality" or "homosexual relations" and other authors maintaining that it condemns only males penetrating males (anal intercourse). The Talmud maintains the law prohibits all male homosexual activity including pederasty; however, modern scholarship does not reach this consensus. Since the practice is allotted the death penalty for both the active and the passive partners in Leviticus 20 the law appears to have only applied when both participants were men above the age of majority which is set at 20 years old in the Torah.

    Lesbianism is not explicitly prohibited in the Torah, despite many blanket statements made concerning homosexuality and Judaism. However, the rabbi and Jewish scholar Maimonides ruled in the 12th century that lesbianism was prohibited nonetheless and deserving of punishment by beating.

    In any event, some people interpret Leviticus as delineating between the sins of sexual immorality and child sacrifice, for which God judged the native inhabitants of the land (Leviticus 18:27–28), and the ceremonial ordinances, such as dietary laws, which functioned to distinguish the children of Israel from neighboring nations (Leviticus 20:22–26; see also Deuteronomy 14:21).


  • The whole chapter is part of the weekly Torah portion (parashah) Acharei Mot (אַחֲרֵי מוֹת‎) which comprises Leviticus 16:1–18:30.
  • References

    Leviticus 18 Wikipedia