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What does the Bible say about sleeping with family?

Incest is a sensitive and controversial topic that has been addressed in various cultures and societies throughout history. The Bible, as a religious text, also provides guidance on this subject matter. Incest refers to sexual relations between individuals who are closely related by blood or marriage. The Hebrew Bible, specifically in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, contains prohibitions against such relationships. In this blog post, we will explore what the Bible says about sleeping with family members, examining the specific prohibitions, their historical and cultural context, theological perspectives, and contemporary discussions surrounding this issue.

Prohibitions in Leviticus

The book of Leviticus contains detailed instructions and guidelines for the Israelites, including laws pertaining to sexual relations. In Leviticus 18:7-18 and 20:11-21, we find explicit prohibitions against incestuous relationships. These passages outline the forbidden relations and emphasize the importance of maintaining appropriate boundaries within family dynamics.

Forbidden relationships specified in Leviticus include parent-child relationships, sibling relationships, and relationships with in-laws. The sexual relations between a person and their mother, father, stepmother, stepfather, sister, half-sister, granddaughter, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, and others are explicitly prohibited. These prohibitions extend beyond immediate family members to include wider familial ties.

The reasons for these prohibitions go beyond mere biological concerns. They also have moral and cultural significance. Incestuous relationships undermine the sanctity of family unit, disrupt societal norms, and can have adverse psychological and emotional consequences for all parties involved.

Furthermore, the Bible emphasizes the consequences of violating these prohibitions. Leviticus 20:12 states that if a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death. Leviticus 20:14 declares that if a man takes both a woman and her mother as wives, it is wickedness, and they shall be burned with fire. These severe consequences highlight the seriousness with which these acts were viewed in biblical times.

Other biblical references to incest

While the prohibitions in Leviticus are the most explicit mentions of incest in the Bible, there are other instances in which incestuous relationships are depicted.

One such example is the story of Lot and his daughters. In Genesis 19:30-38, after fleeing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his daughters find refuge in a cave. The daughters, fearing that they will not have children from any other man, get their father drunk and have sexual relations with him. This narrative highlights the consequences and moral implications of incestuous relationships.

Additionally, there are instances of incestuous relationships within the biblical genealogies. For example, Adam and Eve were the first human beings created by God and their sons, Cain and Seth, would have had to marry within the immediate family. Similarly, Abraham married his half-sister Sarah.

These narratives serve as lessons and raise ethical questions regarding the complexities of family relationships and the consequences that may arise when boundaries are crossed.

Historical and cultural context

To appreciate the significance of the biblical prohibitions on incest, it is essential to understand the historical and cultural context in which they were given. In ancient Near Eastern societies, incestuous relationships were not as strictly prohibited as they are in modern times. Marriages within close kinship lines were more common, especially among royal families and rulers.

The purpose of the biblical prohibitions against incest was not only to establish moral and ethical guidelines but also to set the Israelites apart from the surrounding cultures. It was a way to emphasize the importance of holiness and purity within their societal and religious practices.

When comparing these ancient perspectives with contemporary views on incest, it is crucial to consider cultural, legal, and ethical factors. The modern understanding of consent, harm, and the psychological consequences of incestuous relationships must be taken into account when examining this issue through a contemporary lens.

Theological perspectives on incest in the Bible

From a theological standpoint, the prohibitions against incest in the Bible can be seen as reflecting broader principles of holiness and purity. The concept of holiness refers to being set apart and adhering to moral standards that align with God’s character.

The Bible also places a significant emphasis on the importance of family and familial relationships. Incestuous relationships disrupt the intended order of family dynamics and can lead to harmful consequences for all individuals involved. It is within this theological framework that the prohibitions on incest can be understood.

However, interpretations and applications of these biblical teachings vary among different religious communities and individuals. Some argue for strict adherence to the literal commands of the Bible, while others take a more contextual and nuanced approach, considering the historical and cultural factors at play.

Contemporary issues and discussions surrounding incest

Incest remains a topic of ongoing discussion and debate in contemporary society. The psychological and societal consequences of incestuous relationships have been extensively studied, and it is widely recognized as a form of abuse that can have long-lasting effects on individuals involved.

From a legal standpoint, most countries have laws explicitly prohibiting incestuous relationships due to the potential for harm and the violation of societal norms. However, even within legal frameworks, there may be nuances and variations in how these laws are defined and enforced.

Ethical considerations surrounding incest include questions about consent, power dynamics, and the potential for exploitation. The complex nature of familial relationships can further complicate these discussions, as individuals may have conflicting emotions and loyalties.

Engaging in open and respectful dialogue about incestuous relationships is essential to better understand the psychological, societal, and ethical issues surrounding this topic.


In conclusion, the Bible contains clear prohibitions against incestuous relationships in Leviticus and addresses the consequences of violating these boundaries. The historical and cultural context provides insights into the purpose of these prohibitions in ancient Near Eastern societies and their relevance to the Israelite community.

From a theological perspective, the Bible emphasizes the importance of holiness, purity, and the sanctity of family relationships. However, interpretations and applications of these principles can vary among religious communities and individuals.

In contemporary society, incest is recognized as a form of abuse with severe psychological and societal consequences. It is generally prohibited by law due to the potential harm involved and the violation of societal norms.

Understanding the biblical teachings on incest and engaging in informed discussions can help shed light on the broader societal and ethical considerations surrounding this complex issue. It is crucial to approach this topic with sensitivity, respect, and a commitment to promoting the well-being of individuals and families.


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