The Pursuit of Holiness (Leviticus) - Lesson 10

By Glen Pemberton

Lev 18

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The student will recognize the connection between a person'sG(g)od and moral behavior and be challenged to reaffirm their commitment to the Lord and reexamine their sexual behavior in view of this commitment.
  2. The student will be able to define the three types of sexual relationships forbidden in Lev 18.
  3. The student will discuss the reasons these relationships are forbidden.
  4. The student will consider the relevance of these ancient laws for Christian life and society in general.


  1. A Bible for each Student.
  2. A chalk board or marker board.
  3. Copies of Student Handout #10 ("Holiness in Sexual Relationships")


The first major topic in our study of the holiness code (Lev 17-26) is sex. The code's teaching on sexual relationships begins with a reminder that Israel must not live according to the standards of Egypt or Canaan, but according to the standards of her God: The Lord. Israel must be holy because her God is holy. In Leviticus 18, holiness is defined by proper sexual relationships. The text, assuming awareness of the command against adultery, prohibits three other types of sexual relationships: marriage (and thus sex) of close relatives,homosexual behavior, and bestiality. A fourth prohibition against sexual intercourse with a woman during her monthly period is omitted from this lesson due to time restraints. This lesson will examine each of these three prohibitions, seek to understand the reason(s) for them, and reflect on their contemporary relevance by examining both the NT and our own society.

Special Note to the Teacher:

Like lesson 7, this lesson has integrated the Applications into the Learning Experiences rather than presenting these as a separate section. Because of this move, there is a danger of

getting hung up in discussions of early points and running out of time. This is especially true in this lesson due to the "hot topic" nature of the material. Be aware that time may run short. Decide which points of application to stress, move through other aspects of the outline quickly, and be sensitive to the concerns of the class insofar as far as possible.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class


  1. Welcome visitors and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Spend time taking prayer requests and leading the class in prayer.

Learning Experiences

  1. Review and set the stage for today's study.
    1. We are now studying the last major section of the book ofLeviticus ? Lev 17-26.
      1. Q. What do scholars and students of Leviticus often call this text? A. The Holiness Code.
      2. Q. Why? A. These chapters consist of a code of conduct for holy living, practical instruction on holiness in everyday life.
    2. Q. Briefly, how does this "Holiness Code" fit within the book of Leviticus? A. The God of Israel is holy. Further, this holyGod wants to live with his people. Thus, in addition to the other provisions in Leviticus that make this relationship possible (e.g., atonement sacrifice, priests, purity laws, the day of atonement), God's people must live holy lives. We are called to do the same! In sum, Read Lev 19:2. (WKSH? You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy)
    3. Our approach to this material today and for the next two weeks will be topical; each class will focus on major topics and themes in the holiness code. Today, we will examine what the holiness code teaches about sexual relationships.
  2. [Holiness in Sexual Relationships] (WKSH ? Holiness inSexual Relationships)
    1. The instructions regarding sexuality are prefaced by a prologue.
      1. Read Lev 18:1-5.
        1. Q. What fundamental point is the Lord trying to establish in these verses? A. You (Israel) must not live by the moral standards set in Egypt or Canaan(stated seven times in this chapter: 3[2x], 24, 26,27, 29, 30). Rather, you must live by my (the Lord's)standards. (WKSH ? You must not live by the moral standards set by others)
        2. Q. Why? What reason or reasons are given in this text for obeying the Lord's standards? A.
          1. First and foremost because the Lord is your God (stated six times in this chapter: 2, 4,5, 6, 21, 30). (WKSH ? The Lord is Your God)You do not serve the gods of Egypt or Canaan;you serve and belong to the Lord. Therefore, you follow the Lord's standards.
          2. Second, the Lord's standards promote life:"by doing so one shall live" (5). The Lord's instructions are for the well being of his people.This code promotes the full life God intended for his creation. (WKSH ? The Lord's standards promote life)
      2. [Application] Pause for a minute and think about the message these verses have for us. Q. If God were addressing this holiness code directly to us (rather than to the Israelites), what might he say? What do we need to learn from this and take with us this week? A. (Allow time for discussion, then stress the following points.)
        1. First, our ethics or moral behavior is directly tied to the God we serve and who owns us. We belong to the Lord, not the gods of America - the gods of materialism, success, and personal pleasure (I Pet1:14-16; 2:9)
        2. Second, do not forget that God's instructions are for the promotion of the life he intended for us.Holiness is not a matter of jumping through hoops to prove our devotion. Holiness is the best lifestyle for human life. ( I Pet 2:10; John 10:10; Eph 6:3)
    2. The instructions of the Holiness Code for sexual relationships in Lev 18 prohibit 3 types of sexual relations.
      1. First ? a forward: Lev 18 assumes the sinfulness of adultery. (WKSH - Forward: Leviticus assumes the sinfulness of adultery)
        1. Adultery is strictly forbidden in Exod 20:14.Remember, Leviticus builds on Leviticus.
        2. Punishment for adultery is stated in Lev 20:10.
        3. The same ethic is taught in the NT (see I Cor 6:16-20; Matt 5:27-30)
        4. Thus, these forbidden sexual relations pertain to who a man may marry, not simply who a man may not have sex with.
      2. Sexual relations with a near relative. (WKSH -Marriage to a near relative)
        1. Read Lev 18:6-18.Note to the Teacher (1): The key phrase in this text is "to uncover nakedness" (NRSV; NASV; KJV). This is a little unclear and could lead to some thinking that this simply prohibits "looking" at someone in a state of undress. For this reason, the NIV (as well asCEV and ERV) capture the meaning of the Hebrew phrase a little better: "to have sexual relations."Note to the Teacher (2): These instructions are clearly given to men, not women. In ancient Israel, for the most part, the men decided on marriage partners, not women. If time permits, the class might discuss what relevance such male oriented instructions have for women.
          1. Q. Generally speaking, what are the limits of sexual relationships with relatives? A. A man is barred from marrying the nearest of his relatives (mother, aunts, sisters, granddaughters) or marrying two women from the same family.Summary:
            1. Mother or other wife of your father (7-8)
            2. Sister (of father or mother; 9,11)
            3. Granddaughters (of sons or daughters;10)
            4. Aunt (father's sister or sister-in-law,mother's sister; 12-14)
            5. Daughter-in-law (15)
            6. Sister-in-law (16)
            7. A woman and her daughter or her granddaughter (17)
            8. A woman and her sister (18)
          2. Q. Do any of these prohibited relationships surprise you? Why? A. (Allow time for discussion.)
            1. Some may be startled to see that the prohibited relationships were not limited to blood relations, but extended to relationships created by marriage (e.g., a paternal uncle's wife).
            2. The apparent reason for the inclusion of relatives that we would say are not "blood" related is that Lev 18 takes Gen 2much more seriously than we do.
              1. Gen 2:24 claims that in marriage the couple becomes "one flesh"
              2. Thus, "flesh and blood" for Lev 18includes relationships created by marriage - since marriage makes "one flesh."
              3. For example, a man may not marry his step sister because, through the marriage of their parents (one flesh),they are now considered to be "flesh and blood" as much as full brothers and sisters.
            3. Q. Are there any kinship relationships that are omitted from this list that surprise you? Why? A. (Allow time for discussion.) You may want to mention the following:
              1. There is no explicit prohibition regarding a man's own daughters. Q. Why do you suppose this is the case? A. Most likely because Lev 18 assumes that everyone already knows that such a relationship is forbidden (e.g., the story of Lot's daughters [Gen 19:30f] assumes such a taboo).
              2. Further, the Law of Hammurabi and HittiteLaws explicitly forbid marriage between a man and his daughter. Lev 18 simply did not need to state the obvious.
            4. If time permits: Q. Can you think of instances in scripture where this code of conduct was not followed? What were the results? A.(Allow time for discussion.) You might mention:
              1. Jacob married sisters (Gen 29).
              2. Abraham married his _ sister (Gen20:12).
            5. The punishments for such illegal marriages are spelled out later in Lev 20.
              1. Read Lev 20:11-12,14,17,19-21 or summarize (as below).
              2. In general, the law stipulates that the closer the relationship, the harsher the punishment.
        2. [Applications] Q. What do you think is the rationale or reason(s) for these restrictions? Does or should this have anything to do with us? A. Allow time for open discussion then mention the following points and discuss each as time permits.
          1. There could be health concerns involved.The danger of birth defects, etc.
          2. Marriage to such close relatives seems bound for stressed relationships within the larger family unit (e.g., Jacob's marriage to sisters).
          3. Marriage within one's clan was assumed to be the norm in ancient Israel. These instructions set the limits for those within the clan that are not suitable marriage partners.
          4. Paul appears to uphold the marriage stipulations in I Cor 5:1. He cannot believe the church is tolerating a man who is living with his father's wife. Paul's reaction is not simply that this is adulterous, but that it is incest - a violation of the regulations of Leviticus.
          5. Such marriage codes are a common part of our own state laws.
            1. For example,
              1. All states prohibit marriages between a brother and sister, parent and child,and aunt and nephew (some states permit marriage between an uncle and niece under certain conditions).
              2. Twenty states and the District ofColumbia permit marriages between first cousins. Oklahoma prohibits such a marriage, but recognizes the marriage if it occurred in a state that permits it. (Incidentally, Lev 18 does not forbid marriage between cousins.)
              3. Some states expressly prohibit the marriage of a brother and sister, even if that relationship was created by adoption.
              4. For other examples see: or
            2. Q. Why do we have such laws? Are we really any different than ancient Israel in this respect?
      3. [Homosexuality] (WKSH ? Homosexuality)
        1. Read Lev 18:22
          1. Q. What is prohibited by this statement?A. Sexual relationships between men.Note to the Teacher: Again, this is written for men. If time permits, you might discuss how the same law would apply to women.
          2. Q. Why? What is the reason for the command in this text? A. It is an abomination(NRSV; NASV; KJV) or detestable (NIV). In other words, such an action should be unthinkable …and yet the presence of this commandment inLeviticus 18 stands as proof that this is no new problem (a command is not usually given when itis not needed).
          3. If time permits: The punishment for homosexual behavior is stated later. Read Lev20:13. Q. What is the punishment? A. Death.
          4. We find very similar statements in the NT.
            1. Romans 1. Earlier in this chapter, Paul has claimed that God revealed himself to all people, but they did not accept him.Consequently, God gave them what they wanted. Read Rom 1:26-28.
              1. Q. What is Paul talking about here? A.The practice of both lesbianism (26)and [male] homosexuality (27).
              2. Q. How does Paul describe these acts? A. They are unnatural and shameless.
            2. Read I Cor 6:9. Q. Who is included in the list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God? A. Sodomites (NRSV) or homosexual offenders (NIV).
        2. [Applications]
          1. Clearly, both the OT and NT condemn homosexual behavior.
          2. Yet, before we pass a "holier than thou"judgment on such lifestyles read the next verse.Read I Cor 6:10. Q. Who is also included in this list along with homosexual offenders? A. [Stress]The greedy! A problem many of us struggle with!
      4. Read Lev 18:23 [Bestiality] (WKSH - Bestiality)
        1. As disgusting or horrible as it may be, the OT explicitly condemns sexual relations with animals in several texts (Exod 22:19; Deut 27:21).
        2. The penalty for such behavior was death - of the person and animal (Lev 20:15-16).
        3. It may be that such behavior was associated with the worship or devotion to other gods.
    3. The text ends in much the same way as it began - with a general statement about the behavior of God's people.
      1. Read Lev 18:24-30.
        1. Q. According to this text, what do these forbidden relationships do? A. They defile or pollute the land in which the people are living.
        2. Q. Consequently, what happens to the people? A.This is expressed two ways:
          1. God casts them out of the land (24).
          2. The land itself becomes sick and vomits the people out (25,27-28).
      2. [Applications] This text is specifically talking about the land of Canaan thousands of years ago. Q. Nonetheless,what message might this text have for us? A. (Allow time for discussion)
  3. Conclusion.
    1. [Stress] Holiness, we have seen today, is not simply a matter of what a person does in a religious setting (e.g.,church). Rather, holiness encompasses all of life - including marriage and sexual relationships.
    2. [Announce] Next week we will continue our study of the holiness code by examining the concept of social holiness,i.e., holiness expressed in relationships with others.

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