In Leviticus 18:5, what is being promised with regard to "life"?

Is "shall live in them" another way of saying "shall live because of them"? Or "shall live in accordance with the ordinances"?

As a bit of background to my question I note that Paul seems to appeal to this verse from the LXX in a way that is unclear to me:

YLT Gal 3:11 and that in law no one is declared righteous with God, is evident, because "The righteous by faith shall live"; Gal 3:12 and the law is not by faith, but--"The man who did them shall live in them."

What does he understand this to mean?:

  • that the doer will conduct himself in the keeping of the statutes?
  • that the doer will escape death because of keeping the statutes?

There is no consensus among translators into English:



Westcott and Hort / [NA27 variants] ὁ δὲ νόμος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ πίστεως, ἀλλ' Ὁ ποιήσας αὐτὰ ζήσεται ἐν αὐτοῖς.

(Brenton) So ye shall keep all my ordinances, and all my judgments, and do them; which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord your God.

(LXX) καὶ φυλάξεσθε πάντα τὰ προστάγματά μου καὶ πάντα τὰ κρίματά μου καὶ ποιήσετε αὐτά, ἃ ποιήσας ἄνθρωπος ζήσεται ἐν αὐτοῖς· ἐγὼ κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὑμῶν.


The Hebrew text of Lev. 18:5 states,

ה וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם אֲנִי יַהְוֶה

The phrase in question is וָחַי בָּהֶם. This consists of the conjunction ו prefixed to the verb חַי, followed by the preposition ב suffixed with a plural, 3rd person pronominal suffix ("them").

According to Gesenius,1 regarding the verb חָיָה (chayah),

Gesenius, p. 273, hayah

Hence, וָחַי בָּהֶם would be understood as "and he shall live by them." That is, doing and obeying the commandments is the means by which he lives.

To be clear, however, the verb "lives" does not mean "lives eternally," for the Torah never states that one inherits eternal life in the world to come by doing and obeying the commandments. Rather, by doing and obeying the commandments, the individual is only promised according to the covenant prolonged life in this world in the land of Canaan.

For example, in Deu. 30:15-18, it is written,

15 See, today I have set before you life and good, and death and evil, 16 in that I command you today to love Yahveh your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, so that you may live and multiply, and so that Yahveh your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.

On the other hand, if the Israelites did not do and obey the commandments, rather than prolonged life in the land of Canaan, their days (life) in the land of Canaan were not prolonged and they would perish.

17 But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter to possess it.


1 p. 274


Gesenius, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm. Gesenius’s Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. Trans. Tregelles, Samuel Prideaux. London: Bagster, 1860.

  • Good answer. If the Torah does not state or imply one can inherit eternal life, where does that idea originate? Mark (10:17) and Luke (10:25 & 18:18) describe men asking Jesus what they must do to inherit eternal life. This timing of the question means the concept was present before crucifixion. May 24 '16 at 5:31
  • 1
    @RevelationLad I would argue that eternal life is implied in the Torah, but just traditionally understood as the everlasting promise of children - like the promise to Abraham and his generations 'olam' (Gen 9:12, 13:15, 17:7,8,13,17). Also see Lev 25:34, the olam possession of the land they were given. They inherited eternal promises and eternal possessions for their eternal offspring. Post-exile and especially by Jesus' time with the loss of their Kingdom and occupation, I would speculate that there was a growth in spiritual readings of these concepts towards individual 'eternal life'.
    – Steve Taylor
    May 24 '16 at 8:35
  • @RevelationLad: Great question. I would say eternal life originates from elsewhere in the Tanakh, e.g., Dan. 12:2. However, Matt. 19:16 (cp. Mark 10:17, etc.) is interesting and warrants further investigation on my part.
    – user862
    May 25 '16 at 0:12

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