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Answering The Atheist
December 14, 2003 / Volume 3, Issue 50

Is incest forbidden? Some Bible passages condemn incestuous marriages (Leviticus 18:9, 12; 20:17, 19; Deuteronomy 27:22), but others do not (Genesis 20:12; 17:16; Exodus 6:20). Is there a contradiction?

Clearly, under the law of Moses, incestuous relationships were forbidden. The list of passages given above establish that clearly. What we must concern ourselves with is the situations where marital relations between closely related persons are reported in the Bible.

The word "incest" does not actually appear in the Bible. Rather, the law of Moses specifically describes the relationships which were forbidden. Our English word incest comes from the Latin incestus, designating sexual impurity. Incest is defined as "sexual intercourse between persons so closely related that they are forbidden by law to marry" (Merriam Webster's Deluxe Dictionary). What incest is will change from region to region, according to the local laws. For instance, if Bob's son passed away, and Bob desired to marry Joyce, his son's widow he could do so in Georgia or Oklahoma. However, if they lived in Texas or Tennessee, they could not. What is and what is not incest is dependent upon the laws of the land in which you dwell.

In Israel, the laws regarding what was and was not incest are outlined in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Abraham and Sarah were not subject to these laws, since they pre-existed the law by over 400 years. Likewise, Amram and Jochebed were unaffected by the law of Moses, since their marriage also was prior to this law being given to Israel.

There is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible