Unlawful Sexual Relations in Leviticus 18 from a NT Perspective

Does the New Testament cancel moral law? What about unlawful sexual practices? Are we free to practice at least some of them?  Would grace cover us when we regularly did?

Let’s see if we can answer those questions.

For a general overview of the interrelations between the Old Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant, click on:

What Does the New Covenant Retain from the Old?

How Jesus Christ Fulfills the Law: Matthew 5:17-19

One Decisive Difference Between Sinai Covenant and New Covenant

Many (not even close to all) elements are retained, and what is kept is improved on or streamlined.

The NIV is used here, unless otherwise noted. Readers are invited to go to biblegateway.com, choose their own translation, and open another window to follow along.

Now let’s begin.

Here is a list of the unlawful sexual relationships in Lev. 18. We will look at the punishments for them in Lev. 20.

No sex or intimate relationships with the following relatives:

1.. Close relatives (this prohibition introduces the more detailed ones, below)

2. Mother

3. Father’s wife (stepmother)

4. Sister, whether full or half-sister (Abraham and Sarah were husband and wife before law was given, in Gen. 20:12)

5.. Grandchild, whether son’s daughter or daughter’s daughter

6.. Step-sister (born to father’s wife from another marriage)

7.. Paternal aunt

8. Maternal aunt

9. Paternal aunt by marriage (paternal uncle’s wife)

10. Daughter-in-law

11. Sister-in-law

12. A woman and her daughter

13. Step-granddaughter, either a man’s wife’s son or by by the man’s wife’s daughter, which is a wickedness or shameful deed cunningly devised (says BTSB on Lev. 18:17)

14. Sister-in-law while your wife is still living (before the law Jacob married Rachel and Leah, and it was quarrelsome, says Gen. 29:16-30)

15. A woman during her monthly period

16. Neighbor’s wife

17.. With a man (detestable, which refers to a repugnant practice, either from foreigners looking at Hebrews or repugnant to God himself, says BTSB on v. 22)

18. A man with an animal (perversion or “mixed” or “confused,” says BTSB on Lev. 18:23). We’ll discuss this prohibition further in Lev. 20.

19. A woman with an animal (perversion)

Here is the summary verse

24 “‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you. (Lev. 18:24-28)

Those verses teach that the inhabitants of the land who lived there before and were still living there practiced those strange sexual relationships. It was for that reason that God was going to drive them out (v. 24). In v. 25, the land itself was about to vomit them out. It was as if the land was sick of all the defilement. If the Israelites engage in the unlawful sexual practices, the land would vomit them out, too. And it did when the Assyrians exiled the northern kingdom, and the Babylonians exiled the southern kingdom. God’s just and correct judgment.

The worst offense happened when the Canaanites sacrificed their children to the bloodthirsty satanic deity called Molek who was the god of the Ammonites. Children come from sex and are sacred to the Lord, so the Israelites must not profane his name. It fits the logic of holiness and cleanness that God would say no to sacrificing children. No modern critic should complain about it, since God gave the Canaanites time to repent. Verse 26 says that foreigners living among the Israelites must not do those things, either. They could be a member of blessed Israel, but they had to live by God’s rules.

If it is any (ironic) comfort to critics of the Bible about God declaring war on the Canaanites, then Israel did not succeed in driving them out, and the land became polluted and the people of the Sinai covenant corrupted.

Here are verses that show Israelites sacrificing to the god Molek.


He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. (1 Kings 11:5-6)

On a more positive note, Josiah would not allow the sacrifices and removed the religious accouterments where the Israelites sacrificed children to Molek:

10 He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molek. (2 Kings 23:10)

The words “Ben Hinnom” over the centuries may have morphed in Hinnom Valley, which in turn changed to Gehenna at the time when Jesus lived, and this became a depiction of hell. No wonder, since it was a dump with an endless smoke, children having died there.

Here’s the place near Jerusalem:

The king also desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem on the south of the Hill of Corruption—the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the people of Ammon. (2 Kings 23:13)

Josiah was a good (enough) king, but his successors went back to the old satanic ways. Jeremiah, a later prophet, denounced the people of Jerusalem, with a tinge of sadness in this prophecy:

34 They set up their vile images in the house that bears my Name and defiled it. 35 They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin. (Jer. 32:34-35)

It never “entered my [God’s] mind” means he never planned or endorsed such sacrifice. So the people cannot claim God told them to do such things.

What do the New Covenant Scriptures (New Testament) say about the unlawful sexual practices and Molek?

Let’s begin with the satanic deity Molek. Paul said not to mix idols and Satan (Belial) with Christ:

14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.  (2 Cor. 6:14-16)

God and Christ and his temple (the church) are holy and share no harmony with Satan.

John ends his brief epistle with these words:

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)

Now what about the unlawful sexual practices?

In the church at Corinth, Paul rebuked the church for permitting a man to sleep with his mother, probably his stepmother.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? (1 Cor. 5:1-2)

Roman law strictly outlawed incest like this. Why would Christian tolerate it? Paul’s solution was to excommunicate the man, so that he would come under the attack of Satan. His body may be killed, but his spirit would be saved. He may have repented (2 Cor. 7:8-13).

It would be a grave mistake to conclude that the New Covenant Scriptures do not import moral law from the Old Covenant Scriptures in the New. Moral law is absolutely retained in the New.

Here are examples, in imperative or command form:

* Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near (Matt. 4:17)
* But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. (Matt. 5:22).
* But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:28).
* But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matt. 5:39).
* But I tell you: Love your enemies (Matt. 5:44).
* Be completely humble and gentle (Eph. 4:2).
* Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3)
* Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor (Eph. 4:25)
* Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths (Eph. 4:29)
* Be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1)
* Wives, submit to you husbands (Eph. 5:22).
* Husbands, love your wives (Eph. 5:25).
* Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

*But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Pet. 115-16, quoting Lev. 11:44, 45)

See my post:

Two Approaches In Interpreting Scripture

How does this post help me grow in Christ?

I learned that God has rules in place to keep us safe, and the God who puts guardrails on the road of life loves us and does not want to see us injure ourselves, by crashing through them and going down the embankment. When we do, he is merciful. He gets a tow truck and pulls us out. He may fix our car miraculously, or he may require us to pay the cost by a long process of making things right, if we damage others.

The God who protects us with guardrails is the God who loves us.

We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8) and our sins are forgiven by the blood of Christ upon our repentance (1 John 1:9). And then by his sustaining grace we can have the power not to commit those unlawful practices.

Here are some great verses on which to meditate, as we learn to say no to ungodliness and those sexual practices listed in Lev. 18:

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14)

That passage teaches us that with grace he appeared and offered salvation to everyone and gave himself to us. For what purpose? The purpose is to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that belong to him all by himself–not belonging to the world or the flesh or the devil. And then we are eager to do what is good. By the power of his grace, salvation, redemption and purification we won’t commit those unlawful sexual acts. So grace does not excuse sin, but empowers us to avoid it.


Moral and Other Laws in Leviticus 19 from a NT Perspective

What Is Moral Law?

The Law Teaches Virtue and Restrains Vice


Works Cited


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