Leviticus 20:11,20,21; (DRB):

11If a man lie with his stepmother, and discover the nakedness of his father, let them both be put to death: their blood be upon them.

20If any man lie with the wife of his uncle by the father, or of his uncle by the mother, and uncover the shame of his near akin, both shall bear their sin. They shall die without children. 21He that marrieth his brother's wife, doth an unlawful thing: he hath uncovered his brother's nakedness. They shall be without children.

The question is so easy:

If the Man who lies with the wife of his uncle shouldn't be killed, then, what is the difference between:

  • shall die without children.
  • shall be without children.?

If ""die" doesn't equal "be killed"="be put to death", then, why didn't the text make Leviticus 20:20 like Leviticus 20:21?

Why did it mention "die"?


2 Answers 2


In these two legal cases ([#1] a nephew had sexual relations with his by-marriage aunt [vs. 20]; and [#2] a brother had sexual relations with his sister-in-law [vs. 21]), we – first of all - have not to conclude that is envisaged a death-sentence for the new couple, because the Bible global context and the logic (not the plain text, regrettably) urge us to conclude that the ‘woman’ at issue was a widow, really.

Besides, if the uncle/brother were living, these two cases would be rightly situated within the bounds of adultery > death-sentence, it is not?

Moreover, the case #2 was desirable – from God’s viewpoint - in a given situation (this case was called יבם [ibm], see e. g. Gen 38:8).

Finally, the verse 21 does not speak about a ‘death’ at all, but says: “They will become without sons (or, ‘descendants’) [oririm ieiu]".

So, where we may spot the infamy/filthy thing/impurity (נדה [nde], vs. 21) in these two legal cases?

The only discriminant I see – I might be wrong, obviously – is the presence, or the absence of any sons of the ‘original couple’.

Then, if the ‘original couple’ had not any sons, in both cases (#1, or #2) the new marriage union was perfectly legal. They suffer no consequences. In other words, the verses 20 and 21, did not speak about these legal unions.

If – instead – the ‘original couple’ had any sons, these cases (#1, or #2) represent a ‘filthy thing’ (נדה). So, the verses 20 and 21 do speak about these illegal unions, only.

However, it seems to me, that also in these cases the ‘new’ couple were not sentenced to death (as I say before, this is demonstrated also by the fact that the verse 21 does not mention ‘death’, at all). The sole consequence is penned in the TANAKH with the term ערירים (oririm), that means ‘without sons’, or, ‘heirless’.

But, what involves this term?

Avoiding the cruel and bizarre explanation of some commentator (the sons of the ‘new’ couple must be killed along with their parents...), the only conclusion in harmony with the God’s justice and love (as it is described in the Bible) is that – in these cases – every sons of the ‘new’ couple (where the woman had yet son/sons from the previous marriage, as I say before) were not considered their legal descendants, but they did legally belong to the dead uncle/brother, with all the inheritance-related consequences.

I hope these information will be useful for your research.


I think the two verses are saying pretty much the same thing, without using the same wordage. The intent was distinguish the difference between the other unnatural/unapproved sexual relationships between close family members.

Almost every other "uncovering of the nakedness" was seen in the light of a unauthorized relationship. At this point of the Israelites journey, there was no reason to engage in any kind of sexual/romantic relationship with someone so close to you. God had expanded them, allowed them to take wives from other people they come in contact with or the sojourner that stayed with them. There was no real reason for them to engage in anything of that matter.

The only distinction I see between verse 20 and 21 is that 20 the uncle's nakedness was uncovered as the person "lies with" the woman, while 21 the brother "takes" his brother's wife (signifying a relationship). Verse 20, the person is put to death/ shall die (mut) before they can have children... but verse 21, their relationship shall be fruitless, bare of children (ariri) (although they can continue on in the relationship). Seeing the procreation of male children was super big, this is a MAJOR blow to their lineage and the consequence for the rebellion.

So, verse 20, the people are being killed before they can have kids, while in verse 21 they get to live, just without children.

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