In Leviticus 19:20, the ESV reads:

Leviticus 19:20–22 If a man lies sexually with a woman who is a slave, assigned to another man and not yet ransomed or given her freedom, a distinction shall be made. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free; but he shall bring his compensation to the LORD, to the entrance of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven for the sin that he has committed.

However, the KJV reads:

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.21 And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, even a ram for a trespass offering. 22 And the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his sin which he hath done: and the sin which he hath done shall be forgiven him.

The scourging of the woman is omitted from the ESV. Is there a textual reason for this?

  • The scourging of the woman is omitted from the ESV. - And from pretty much any other version I am aware of (Romanian Orthodox, Romanian Protestant, German Lutheran, and Douay-Rheims), all of which read they shall both be punished, but not by death.
    – Lucian
    Sep 8, 2019 at 5:09

1 Answer 1


There is some difference of opinion about what the Hebrew of Leviticus 19:20 in the MT means. There is also some difference of opinion with respect to case law, if the bondswoman in this verse is an Israelite or is she is a Canaanite bondswoman intended for being the wife of a Canaanite servant.

The MT is:

וְאִישׁ כִּי יִשְׁכַּב אֶת אִשָּׁה שִׁכְבַת זֶרַע וְהִוא שִׁפְחָה נֶחֱרֶפֶת לְאִישׁ וְהָפְדֵּה לֹא נִפְדָּתָה אוֹ חֻפְשָׁה לֹא נִתַּן לָהּ בִּקֹּרֶת תִּהְיֶה לֹא יוּמְתוּ כִּי לֹא חֻפָּשָׁה

The word translated as "a distinction shall be made" in the ESV and as "she shall be scourged" in the KJV is בִּקֹּרֶת, bikoret.

The KJV, as usual, translates like the Rashi on this verse. Rashi, following the Sifra (Section 54) understands the second half of the verse to mean, "[A court] shall investigate if she was not freed, and if so (was not freed) then she shall receive lashes rather than death".

That is, the word בִּקֹּרֶת means "investigation" or "inquiry" by a duly appointed court, which, when concluded finds that the bondswoman as not completely freed, and returns a verdict of lashes. Rashi and the KJV then fast-forward to render בִּקֹּרֶת as the verdict "lashes" (scourged)! This reveals just how deep the influence of Rashi was on the men of King James. They are in fact rendering the OT through the eyes of Jewish tradition.

The ESV provides a slightly more immediate translation of בִּקֹּרֶת, without bringing in the conclusions of Jewish tradition, rendering it as "a distinction" - that is, there will be an inquiry who's purpose is to distinguish this case from the default case of a free woman and if in this case she was not completely free then she shall not be put to death (but with no other punishment specified). Note that there is still a level of indirection in this translation selection - a distinction that is the result of an inquiry, where "inquiry" would be the literal translation of בִּקֹּרֶת.

So neither the ESV nor the KJV translate this verse literally, which would render it unintelligible to the common reader. They both provide a measure of interpretation.

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