Father-daughter incest: is it prohibited in the Bible? This is not a stupid question.
[July 19, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
Leviticus has several verses that forbid father-daughter incest. Despite this, the ESV Study Bible’s note on Leviticus 18:6-18 reads as follows (bold emphasis mine):
These laws prohibit sexual relations (approach….to uncover nakedness), and therefore marriage, between people who are too closely related by blood (mother, sister, granddaughter, aunt) or by marriage (stepmother, stepsister, stepdaughter, stepgranddaughter, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, aunt by marriage). The clause “to uncover nakedness” can at times merely refer to voyeurism (cf. Gen 9:22-23), but in the Old Testament it is most commonly used for sexual intercourse. No mention is made of the daughter, probably because that needs no comment (cf. Gen 19:30-38) and this prohibition is already well known in the laws of other cultures.
To demonstrate that Leviticus has verses forbidding father-daughter incest, I will mostly be citing the KJV. I am citing the KJV because it uses the term “uncover the nakedness” whereas many modern translations use the term “have sexual intercourse”. I think “uncover the nakedness” is a better term because in addition to connoting penetration of a person’s bodily orifice (e.g. mouth, vagina, anus), it also connotes voyeurism, indecent exposure, etc..
You might find it helpful to bear in mind that when the KJV uses the word woman or wife in the verses I will be citing, it is translating a Hebrew word that can mean woman or wife or female. When translating the Hebrew Bible, the translator has to decide whether to render that word as “woman” or “wife” or “female”.
I will also be citing the Apostolic Bible Polyglot (ABP) which is an English translation of the Septuagint. When I cite the ABP, I will give a link so you can check that I’m not pulling the wool over your eyes.
Leviticus 19:29 ABP (link)
You shall not profane your daughter to fornicate her. And you shall not fornicate the land and the land be filled of lawlessness.
Leviticus 19:29 KJV
Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.
Leviticus 20:14 KJV
And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you.
Leviticus 20:14 ABP (link)
Whoever should take a woman and her mother, it is a violation of the law; in fire shall they incinerate him and them, and there shall not be a violation of the law among you.
Leviticus 18:17 KJV
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, neither shalt thou take her son’s daughter, or her daughter’s daughter, to uncover her nakedness; for they are her near kinswomen: it is wickedness.
Leviticus 18:15 KJV
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter in law: she is thy son’s wife; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
Leviticus 19:20 KJV
And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free.
Note: by extension the above verses could be applied to father-daughter relationships. In “Quiverfull Theology” the daughter is not free of her father’s authority until he hands her over in marriage to a husband. The daughters are akin to servants and bondmaids in such families.
I would argue that daughters who are subjected to father-daughter incest should NOT be ‘scourged’ or punished, because those daughters were not willing participants in the sexual relationship — rather, they were coerced, controlled, intimidated, and assaulted (see here). The punishment ought to be laid on the father, not the daughter. Paul did not say that the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife should be incinerated; rather he said that the man should be put out of the church, handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Cor 5).
The ESV is notorious for its bias in favour of male headship and for translating in ways that oppress women and which obfuscate the legitimate needs and dignity of women. In my opinion, the ESV Study Bible notes need to be read with caution. The notes can be valuable when giving historical background; but when it comes to abuse and gender issues, the notes can be dangerous.
[July 19, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to July 19, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to July 19, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to July 19, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (July 19, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]