Leviticus 18:18
Verse (Click for Chapter)
New International Version
"'Do not take your wife's sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.

New Living Translation
"While your wife is living, do not marry her sister and have sexual relations with her, for they would be rivals.

English Standard Version
And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.

New American Standard Bible
'You shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness.

King James Bible
Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.

Holman Christian Standard Bible
You are not to marry a woman as a rival to her sister and have sexual intercourse with her during her sister's lifetime."

International Standard Version
"You are not to marry a woman and then have sexual relations with her sister as a rival when your wife is still alive.

NET Bible
You must not take a woman in marriage and then marry her sister as a rival wife while she is still alive, to have sexual intercourse with her.

New Heart English Bible
"'You shall not take a wife to her sister, to be a rival, to uncover her nakedness, while her sister is yet alive.

GOD'S WORD® Translation
While your wife is living, never marry her sister as a rival wife and have sexual intercourse with her.

JPS Tanakh 1917
And thou shalt not take a woman to her sister, to be a rival to her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her lifetime.

New American Standard 1977
‘And you shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness.

Jubilee Bible 2000
Neither shalt thou take a woman together with her sister, to make her a rival, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her lifetime.

King James 2000 Bible
Neither shall you take as a wife her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.

American King James Version
Neither shall you take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.

American Standard Version
And thou shalt not take a wife to her sister, to be a rival to her , to uncover her nakedness, besides the other in her life-time.

Douay-Rheims Bible
Thou shalt not take thy wife's sister for a harlot, to rival her, neither shalt thou discover her nakedness, while she is yet living.

Darby Bible Translation
And thou shalt not take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness beside her, during her life.

English Revised Version
And thou shalt not take a woman to her sister, to be a rival to her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.

Webster's Bible Translation
Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness besides the other in her life-time.

World English Bible
"'You shall not take a wife to her sister, to be a rival, to uncover her nakedness, while her sister is yet alive.

Young's Literal Translation
'And a woman unto another thou dost not take, to be an adversary, to uncover her nakedness beside her, in her life.
Study Bible
Unlawful Sexual Relations
17'You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, nor shall you take her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness; they are blood relatives. It is lewdness. 18You shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness. 19'Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness during her menstrual impurity.…
Cross References
Leviticus 18:17
'You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, nor shall you take her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness; they are blood relatives. It is lewdness.

Leviticus 18:19
'Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness during her menstrual impurity.
Treasury of Scripture

Neither shall you take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.

wife. or, one wife to another

Genesis 4:19 And Lamech took to him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and …

Genesis 29:28 And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel …

Exodus 26:3 The five curtains shall be coupled together one to another; and other …

to vex her

Genesis 30:15 And she said to her, Is it a small matter that you have taken my …

1 Samuel 1:6-8 And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because …

Malachi 2:15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And …

(18) A wife to her sister.--That is, a man is here forbidden to take a second sister for a wife to or in addition to the one who is already his wife, and who is still alive. This clause therefore forbids the Jews, who were permitted to have several wives, a particular kind of polygamy, i.e., a plurality of sisters. According to the administrators of the law during the second Temple, the expression "sister" here not only denotes a full sister by the same father and the same mother, but a half-sister either by the same father or the same mother. The marginal rendering in the Authorised Version, "one wife to another," which makes this a prohibition of polygamy, and which was first proposed by Junius and Tremelius in 1575, is (1) contrary to the expressions "wife" and "sister," which, in every verse of these prohibitions (see Leviticus 18:8-9; Leviticus 18:11-17), invariably mean wife and sister. (2) Whenever the phrase, "a man to his brother," or "a woman to her sister," is used metaphorically in the sense of "one to" or "one with another" (Exodus 26:3; Exodus 26:5-6; Exodus 26:17; Ezekiel 1:9; Ezekiel 1:23; Ezekiel 3:13, &c.), the words have always a distributive force, and are invariably preceded by a plural verb, and the things themselves to which they refer are mentioned by name. Thus, for instance, in Ezekiel 1:23, it is, "their wings were straight one toward the other," which is not the case in the passage before us. (3) This rendering is at variance with the Mosaic code, which bases its legislation upon the existence of polygamy, and thus authorises it, as will be seen from the following facts. It permits a father, who had given his son a bond-woman for a wife, to give him a second wife of "freer birth," and prescribes how the first is to be treated under such circumstances (Exodus 21:9-10). It ordains that a king "shall not multiply wives unto himself" (Deuteronomy 17:17), which, as Bishop Patrick rightly remarks, "is not a prohibition to take more wives than one, but not to have an excessive number"; thus, in fact, legalising a moderate number. The law of primogeniture presupposes the case of a man having two wives (Deuteronomy 21:15-17), and the Levitical law expressly enjoins that a man, though having a wife already, is to marry his deceased brother's widow (Deuteronomy 25:17). Hence we find that the judges and kings of Israel had many wives (Judges 10:4, Judges 12:9; 1Samuel 1:2; 2Samuel 3:7). David, the royal singer of Israel, "their best king," as Bishop Patrick remarks, "who read God's word day and night and could not but understand it, took many wives without reproof; nay, God gave him more than he had before by delivering his master's wives to him" (2Samuel 12:8), and the case adduced in the previous verse plainly shows that polygamy continued among the Jews after the destruction of the second Temple (Leviticus 18:10). (4) The Jews to whom this law was given to be observed in their every day life, and to whom the right understanding of its import was of the utmost importance, inasmuch as it involved the happiness of their families, the transgression of it being visited with capital punishment, have, as far as we can trace it, always interpreted this precept as referring to marriage with two sisters together. Hence the ancient canonical interpretation of it is embodied in the Chaldee Version, "a woman in the lifetime of her sister thou shalt not take," in the LXX., Vulg., the Syriac, and all the ancient versions.

To vex her.--That is, by marrying also the younger sister, the first, who is already the wife, would be roused to jealousy, and the natural love of sisters would thus be converted into enmity, thus precluding the occurrence of a case like that of Jacob with Leah and Rachel. (See Genesis 29:30.)

In her life-time.--This limits the prohibition to her lifetime, that is, as long as the sister who was first married is still living, he must not marry another of her sisters, but he may marry her when the first one is dead. According to the authorities during the second Temple, "in her lifetime" also includes a woman who had been divorced from her husband, and though she is no longer his wife, yet as long as she lives he is forbidden to marry her sister. When the wife died, he was not only free to marry her sister, but in case the deceased left issue, it was regarded as a specially meritorious thing for the widower to do so. Hence the Jews from time immemorial have afforded the bereaved husband special facilities to marry his deceased wife's sister, by allowing the alliance to take place within a shorter period after the demise of his first wife than is usually the case.

Verse 18. - Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time. Do these words refer to the marriage of two sisters or not? It has been passionately affirmed that they do, by those who are opposed to permission being granted for marriage with a deceased wife's sister, and by those who are in favour of that measure, each party striving to derive from the text an argument for the side which they are maintaining. But Holy Scripture ought not to be made a quarry whence partisans hew arguments for views which they have already adopted, nor is that the light in which a commentator can allow himself to regard it. A reverent and profound study of the passage before us, with its context, leads to the conclusion that the words have no bearing at all on the question of marriage with a deceased wife's sister, and thus it may be removed from the area and atmosphere of angry polemics. It is certain that the words translated a wife to her sister may be translated, in accordance with the marginal rendering, one wife to another. The objections made to such a version are arbitrary and unconvincing. It is in accordance with the genius of the Hebrew language to take "father," "son, brother," "sister," in a much wider acceptation than is the case in the Western tongues. Anything that produces or causes is metaphorically a "father;" anything produced or caused is a "son;" any things akin to each other in form, shape, character, or nature, are "brothers" and "sisters." This is the name given to the loops of the curtains of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:3, 5, 6), the tenons of the boards (Exodus 26:17), and the wings of the cherubim (Ezekiel 1:11, 23). Indeed, wherever the expression, "a man to his brother," or "a woman to her sister," is used (and it is used very frequently) in the Hebrew Scriptures, it means not two brothers or two sisters, but two things or persons similar in kind. This does more than raise a presumption - it creates a high probability - that the expression should be understood in the same way here. But a difficulty then arises. If the right reading is, Neither shalt thou take one wife to another, does not the verse forbid polygamy altogether, and is not polygamy permitted by Exodus 21:7-11; Deuteronomy 21:15-17; Deuteronomy 17:17? Certainly, if so important a restriction was to be made, we should expect it to be made directly, and in a manner which could not be disputed. Is there any way out of the difficulty? Let us examine each word of the Law. Neither shalt thou take one wife to another, to vex, to uncover her nakedness upon her in her life time. The two words, to vex, have not been sufficiently dwelt on. The Hebrew, tsarar, means to distress by packing closely together, and so, to vex, or to annoy in any way. Here is to be found the ground of the prohibition contained in the law before us. A man is not to take for a second wife a woman who is likely, from spiteful temper or for other reasons, to vex the first wife. Rachel vexed Leah; Peninnah vexed Hannah; the first pair were blood relations, the second were not; but under the present law the second marriage would in both cases have been equally forbidden, if the probability of the provocation had been foreseen. It follows that polygamy is not prohibited by the text before us, but that the liberty of the polygamist is somewhat circumscribed by the application of the law of charity. It follows, too, that the law has no bearing on the question of marriage with a deceased wife's sister, which is neither forbidden nor allowed by it. Are we then to conclude that the Law of Moses leaves the case of the wife's sister untouched? Not so, for the general principle has been laid down, None of you shall approach to any, that is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness, and, as we have seen, the expression, near of kin, includes relations by affinity equally with blood relations; as therefore the wife's sister is in the canonists' first degree of affinity (and in the second according to the civilians), it is reasonably inferred that marriage with her is forbidden under the above law, and this inference is confirmed by marriage with the other sister-in-law - the brother's wife - being, as the rule, prohibited. It can hardly be doubted that marriage with the grandmother and with the niece - both in the second degree of consanguinity according to the canonists, and the third degree according to the civilians - and incest with a daughter are forbidden under the same clause. The present verse completes the Levitical code of prohibited degrees. The Roman code of restrictions on marriage was almost identical with the Mosaic tables. It only differed from them by specifically naming the grandmother and the niece among the blood relations with whom a marriage might not be contracted, and omitting the brother's wife among relatives by affinity. In the time of Claudius, a change was introduced into it, for the purpose of gratifying the emperor's passion for Agrippina, which legalized marriage with a brother's daughter. This legalization con-tinned in force until the time of Constantius, who made marriage with a niece a capital crime. The imperial code and the canon law were framed upon the Mosaic and the Roman tables, and under them no question arose, except as to the marriage of the niece, the decreased wife's sister, and the first cousin. Marriage with the niece was forbidden by Constantius, as we have said, in the year 355, on penalty of capital punishment for committing the offense, and marriage with a deceased wife's sister was declared by the same emperor to be null. The canons of Councils and the declarations of the chief Church teachers are in full accordance with the imperial legislation, condemning these marriages without a dissentient voice. The only ease in which no consensus is found is that of the marriage of first cousins. By the earliest Roman law these marriages had been disallowed (Tacitus, 'Annal.,' 12:6), but in the second century B.C. they had become common (Livy, 42:34), and they continued to be lawful till the year A.D. or 385, when Theodosius condemned them, and made them punishable by the severest penalties possible. This enactment lasted only twenty years, when it was repealed by Arcadius, A.D. 404 or 405. No adverse judgment respecting the marriage of first cousins was pronounced by the Church until after the legislation of Theodosius, but it appears that that legislation was promoted at her instance, and from that time forward the tendency to condemn these marriages became more and more pronounced. See the canons of the Councils of Agde, Epaone, Auvergne, Orleans, Tours, Auxerre, in the sixth century, and of the Council in Trullo in the seventh century. The reformers of the sixteenth century in England, entrenching themselves, as usual, behind the letter of Scripture and the practice of the primitive Church, forbade marriages of consanguinity and affinity in the first, second, and third degrees according to the reckoning of the civil law, and in the first and second degrees according to the reckoning of the canon law, excepting those of first cousins, on which the early Christians pronounced no decisive judgment. Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister,.... Both of them together, as Jarchi; two sisters at one and the same time; so the Targum of Jonathan,"a woman in the life of her sister thou shall not take;''that is, in marriage, that sister being his wife; for the sense of the Targumist can never be that a man might not take a woman for his wife, she having a sister living, but not to take one sister to another, or marry his first wife's sister, whether, as Maimonides (s) says, she was sister by father or mother's side, in marriage or in fornication:

to vex her, to uncover her nakedness; two reasons are given, why, though polygamy, or having more wives than one, was connived at, yet it was not allowed that a man should have two sisters; partly, because they would be more apt to quarrel, and be more jealous and impatient of one another, if more favour was shown or thought to be shown to one more than another; and partly, because it was a filthy and unbecoming action to uncover the nakedness of one, or lie with one so nearly related to his wife:

besides her in her life time; from whence some have concluded, and so many of the Jewish writers (t), that a man might marry his wife's sister after her death, but not while she was living; but the phrase, "in her lifetime", is not to be joined to the phrase "thou shall not take a wife"; but to the phrases more near, "to vex her in her lifetime", or as long as she lived, and "to uncover her nakedness by her" (u), on the side of her, as long as she lived; for that a wife's sister may be married to her husband, even after her death, cannot be lawful, as appears from the general prohibition, Leviticus 18:6; "none of you shall approach to him that is near of kin to him"; and yet it is certain that a wife's sister is near akin to a man; and from the prohibition of marriage with an uncle's wife, with the daughter of a son-in-law, or of a daughter-in-law, Leviticus 18:14; now a wife's sister is nearer of kin than either of these; and from the confusion that must follow in case of issue by both, not only of degrees but appellation of kindred; one and the same man, who as a father of children, and the husband of their mother's sister, stands in the relation both of a father and an uncle to his own children; the woman to the children of the deceased sister stands in the relation both of a stepmother, and of a mother's sister or aunt, and to the children that were born of her, she stands in the relation both of a mother and an uncle's wife; and the two sorts of children are both brethren and own cousins by the mother's side, but of this See Gill on Leviticus 18:16 for more; some understand this of a prohibition of polygamy, rendering the words, "thou shall not take one wife to another"; but the former sense is best; polygamy being not expressly forbidden by the law of Moses, but supposed in it, and winked at by it; and words of relation being always used in all these laws of marriage, in a proper and not in an improper sense: there is a pretty good deal of agreement between these laws of Moses and the Roman laws; by an edict of Dioclesian and Maximian (w), it was made unlawful to contract matrimony with a daughter, with a niece, with a niece's daughter, with a grandmother, with a great-grandmother, with an aunt by the father's side, with an aunt by the mother's side, with a sister's daughter, and a niece from her, with a daughter-in-law to a second husband, with a mother-in-law, with a wife or husband's mother, and with a son's wife; and several of these laws are recommended by Phocylydes, an Heathen poet, at least in a poem that hears his name; and the marriage of a wife's sister after her death has been condemned by several Christian councils (x).

(s) Hilchot Issure Biah, c. 2. sect. 9. (t) Misn. Yebamot, c. 4. sect. 13. Vajikra Rabba, sect. 22. fol. 164. 1. Peaicta, Ben Gersom in loc. (u) "apud vel prope eam"; so is sometimes used; see Nold. part. Concord. Ebr. p. 691. (w) Apud Mosaic. & Roman. Leg. Collat. ut supra. (Titus 6. a Pithaeo) (x) Concil. Illiber. can. 61. Aurat. can. 17. Auxer. can. 30. 18. Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her—The original is rendered in the Margin, "neither shalt thou take one wife to another to vex her," and two different and opposite interpretations have been put upon this passage. The marginal construction involves an express prohibition of polygamy; and, indeed, there can be no doubt that the practice of having more wives than one is directly contrary to the divine will. It was prohibited by the original law of marriage, and no evidence of its lawfulness under the Levitical code can be discovered, although Moses—from "the hardness of their hearts" [Mt 19:8; Mr 10:5]—tolerated it in the people of a rude and early age. The second interpretation forms the ground upon which the "vexed question" has been raised in our times respecting the lawfulness of marriage with a deceased wife's sister. Whatever arguments may be used to prove the unlawfulness or inexpediency of such a matrimonial relation, the passage under consideration cannot, on a sound basis of criticism, be enlisted in the service; for the crimes with which it is here associated warrant the conclusion that it points not to marriage with a deceased wife's sister, but with a sister in the wife's lifetime, a practice common among the ancient Egyptians, Chaldeans, and others.18:1-30 Unlawful marriages and fleshly lusts. - Here is a law against all conformity to the corrupt usages of the heathen. Also laws against incest, against brutal lusts, and barbarous idolatries; and the enforcement of these laws from the ruin of the Canaanites. God here gives moral precepts. Close and constant adherence to God's ordinances is the most effectual preservative from gross sin. The grace of God only will secure us; that grace is to be expected only in the use of the means of grace. Nor does He ever leave any to their hearts' lusts, till they have left him and his services.
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