A Question I Was Asked:

Did God Allow Incest in the Old Testament?

Did God allow incest in the Old Testament? I have heard it said that He did. Surely that is wrong...how can this ever be explained?

UK Apologetics Reply:

How can this ever be explained? Actually, it can be explained remarkably simply: Fairly close relations had to marry in order to build up the human race! This, right at the beginning, but again right after the Flood. However - later - when the population had built up, incest was barred. This is the way God planned it. Who are we - as ignorant, sinful humans to accuse God of doing this wrong? He did not do it wrong, it is supremely logical.

So at times of higher population, all incest was soon barred. In Leviticus 18:6-30, 20:11-12, and Deuteronomy 27:20-23, one learns that sexual relations between close family members were sinful and punishable by death: "None of you shall approach anyone who is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness." (Leviticus 18:6).

Today, in a very high population setting, incest should certainly be considered unthinkable.

Incest in Genesis

In Genesis, before the ratification of the old covenant, God tolerated incest among His people, and even blessed those involved in such relationships. Abraham married Sarah, his half-sister (Genesis 20:12; Genesis 17:15-16; 22:17), while Abraham's son, Isaac, married Rebekah, his second cousin (Genesis 22:20-23; 24:4,15), and Jacob, Abraham's grandson, married his first cousins, Rachel and Leah (Genesis 24:29; 29:15-30). Even Moses' father, Amram, "took for himself Jachebed, his father's sister, as wife." (Exodus 6:20; Leviticus 20:19).

The first indication of God forbidding incestuous marriages is not until after the Israelites departed Egypt (when Moses was already 80 years old - see Exodus 7:7). Prior to Mosaic Law, men could lawfully marry close family members. Indeed, God blessed Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) while he was married to Sarah, his half-sister. What's more, implied in the creation of Adam, the first man (1 Corinthians 15:45), and Eve, "the mother of all living" (Genesis 3:20), is that their immediate offspring married each other and had children. Furthermore, following the great Flood, the entire Earth was repopulated by Noah, his three sons, and their wives (Genesis 9:1). Thus, in the beginning God allowed incest. We have to face this and not shy away from it. God has supreme jurisdiction in such areas. Of course, when we speak of "incest," we are referring to one choosing a marriage partner who is fairly closely-related, it should go without saying that especially evil forms of incestuous sexual relationships (seducing children, for instance) are utterly and totally banned, not only under the laws of God but under the laws of almost every nation upon earth.

The Later Problem of Genetic Disorders

During the period of Genesis, no harmful genetic traits had emerged which could have caused problems in the children of closely related partners. However, after many generations, and perhaps especially after the Noahic Flood (see Genesis 6-9 in this regard), various problems led to the multiplication of genetic disorders. So God stepped in to protect His people by instituting strict laws against incestuous marriages in the eighteenth chapter of Leviticus. These laws became part of the old covenant.

So laws regarding incest were given only during the Mosaic dispensation. Obviously those living prior to this period, or since this age ended (Colossians 2:14) have not been bound by its laws on incest anymore than we are bound by other Mosaic laws (such as the ban on eating pork - Leviticus 11:7). Yet today even more genetic problems can affect families so Christians would certainly want to separate themselves from all signs of the practice. Actually, it is Christianity more than anything else which has ensured that incestuous marriage has continued to be barred in most parts of the world. Today to marry one who is not directly related helps keep the human gene pool relatively healthy.

Robin A. Brace. October 24th, 2015.