They (the priests) shall not take a woman who is a harlot

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or one who is defiled,

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nor shall they take a woman who has been put away from her husband for the priest is set apart to his ELOHIM.


The priests shall not marry a woman who is a prostitute, or a woman who is defiled in any way, or one who has been sent away by her husband, for the priest is to be an example of what it means to live only for his God not for self.



This word can mean a prostitute that works for money, a shrine prostitute associated with a fertility cult, or simply a woman that is known to sleep around. It probably meant prostitute in this case, though we do not know which kind. Technically, an Israelite woman was not allowed to be a prostitute and live. If the law were followed strictly, all prostitutes would be foreigners.


There are two possible roots for the word used here. One root means “to be pierced, to be fatally wounded, or to be slain.” It also meant “to be defiled.” The other root means “to be profane, defiled or to be deflowered.” If the first root I describe above is the correct one, defilement was associated with death, was close to death, or would lead to death if the person continued down that path into greater sin. If nothing else, a defiled person would be rejected by the community and thus be outside the protection the community offered. The second root word is not as strong because it is not associated with death. It is difficult to know which root word is the correct one because they both use the same consonants (called radicals) and they did not write the vowels, thus the two root words look identical but have different emphases.

Does “defiled” describe “harlot” or is this its own category? The various English translations are divided; some list “defiled” as its own category of woman (“is a harlot or is defiled”), some translate it as “one who is defiled by harlotry.” Either way is acceptable grammatically and lexically and either way has its difficulties. I choose to make it a separate category largely because the intent is to communicate that the priest should not marry anyone who is improper or defiled by having had sex already.

In what other ways could she be defiled? Several commentators think these verses are saying that a priest should not marry a woman who was defiled due to improper birth, e.g. an illegitimate child due to incest, rape, prostitution, or premarital sex with a betrothed, or the daughter of a foreigner. If those commentators are right, the priests were to look for a woman who was a virgin, and also for one who was pure and proper in every way. That fits the intent of the passage very well, especially when you consider verse 14 which even disallows widows from being the wife of the High Priest. There was nothing defiled about a widow, rather this was God’s way of highlighting the truth that His ideal plan was that marriage be between one man and one woman for life.