Leviticus 21-22a: The Bachelor: OT Priest Edition

Leviticus 21-22a: The Bachelor: OT Priest Edition

Every wonder what an Old Testament priest’s love life was like?

Me neither.

But Leviticus 21 answers the question for us anyway.  At least, it regulates who a priest could and could not marry.  (Keep in mind—we’re talking about OT priests, not Catholic priests.  The latter do not have a love life, as they take vows of celibacy and remained unmarried.)

An OT priest was not allowed to marry a prostitute or a woman who had been divorced (Lev 21:7).  The text also says a priest was not allowed to marry “a woman who has been defiled” (ESV).

What does that mean?

There are a few possibilities.  The NET translation takes “prostitute” and “defiled” as a hendiadys, meaning the two terms coincide to refer to a singular thing – “a wife defiled by prostitution.”  That’s certainly a possibility.

Others believe the word comes from a root meaning “to pierce,” which would then euphemistically refer to a non-virgin.  Others think “defiled” is a better translation and refers to either a woman who was raped, or a woman profaned by some sort of cultic pagan sexual practice.

It’s very difficult to determine with any certainty which of these options is best.  At best we can say that a priest’s wife had to be “above reproach” with her past relationship history.  There could be no question about her morality or about any children she had with the priest.  The Levite bloodline had to be kept pure and putting restrictions on marriage for the priests was the best way to do so.

May we all be as careful in choosing our spouse as a Levitical priest was in choosing his!


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