Bad Sex: Leviticus 18


Today’s reading: Leviticus 16-18.

Leviticus gives us a list of forbidden sexual practices, but before we run through the list I want to look again at yesterday’s discussion about holiness and uncleanness. Remember that there were two large categories of holy things and common things, and that the common things were broken down into the clean and unclean. Clean things could become holy by sanctification, or unclean by pollution. The laws of Leviticus aimed to keep the holy and unclean apart. Many of the unclean things, including diseases, bodily discharges, mildew, and foods were natural, unavoidable, and involved no guilt.

That is not the case with today’s list of forbidden practices. God calls them wicked, perverted, and abominable. Those who perform these actions are guilty according to God and in later chapters he lays down the death penalty for many of them. The list includes:

  • Incest, though a broader view of incest than we usually think of, including spouses of near relatives
  • Adultery
  • Homosexuality
  • Bestiality

Child sacrifice is also on the list, and though not a sexual practice its inclusion indicates how serious God considers the other transgressions.

The main impact of the ban on incest is prevention of sexual abuse, a problem that is epidemic in our own culture. God tells the people that the land is defiled by the Canaanites who practice these things (this suggests they do it habitually), and that because they do these things he will throw the Canaanites out of the land. God warns the Israelites that the same fate awaits them if they commit these acts. Contrast the condemnation of these willful, voluntary actions with the unclean designation given to involuntary and unavoidable events such as menstruation and disease.


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