“‘None of you is to approach anyone who is a close relative in order to have sexual relations; I am Adonai.”-Leviticus 18:1
I want to introduce two new terms that are pertinent to our discussion on God’s commands concerning sexual behavior.
The two terms are “consanguineal” and “affinal”.
Here are the dictionary definitions:
consanguineous: having the same ancestry or descent; related by blood
Simply put, “consanguineal” means a person is closely related genealogically and “affinal” means that a person has by marriage been joined to a particular family.
In the case of “affinal”, there is no genealogical or blood connection.
Of course, since we’re all descended from Adam and Eve, in the grand scheme of things, I’m well aware that ultimately we are all “consanguineous” of each other.
However, that’s not what I’m talking about here and that’s not what’s being addressed in Leviticus chapter 18.
From a legal perspective, what’s being established are the rules defining the DIFFERENCE between “consanguineal” and “affinal”.
In other words, when is a relationship distant enough to be considered “affinal” and thus sexual relations between that person were okay?
Back in Moses’ day, this was an important thing to know because it was desirable to marry a family member.
This is similar to the tendency of wanting to marry within one’s racial group and we can see the tensions and opposition that arises whenever one from another family or tribe wants to become “one flesh” with another racially different family or tribe.
The real question back in Moses’ day, was “How distant does a family member have to be in order to be considered an eligible marriage partner from a legal perspective?”
It was considered ideal to marry within the clan or tribe.
In those days, a man marrying his cousin was considered best.
Hence, the question was, exactly how close in blood relationship could a sexual partner be without violating God’s laws?
Some may argue these laws were established to prevent the birthing of babies with severe defects, since we know that both experientially and scientifically there can be great danger in excessively shrinking the gene pool of one’s family.
This is why we have our modern laws against incest.
But here’s the thing.
We hardly hear about babies being born with severe birth defects in the Bible due to marrying a super close relative.
Therefore, it must have been a rare phenomenon, at least among the Hebrews, or it would have been mentioned.
Again, as with the kosher food laws, sometimes there just isn’t a direct correlation between God’s rulings and human danger or human benefit.
To close, basically a good majority of these rulings in Leviticus 18 are instructions on what exactly constitutes incest.
Since these rules were introduced into an ancient Middle Eastern society that is far, far removed from our modern society, I think many of us miss the point of what was being established here.
These rules were not really about putting binders on a sex-hungry predatory man who was always on the lookout for willing women to have sex with.
No, these rules were more about defining who a man could marry and who he could not marry.