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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 4: Harmony of the Law, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Leviticus 21

Leviticus 21:1-6, 10-12

1. And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto the priests the sons of Aaron, and say unto them, There shall none be defiled for the dead among his people:

1. Et dixit Jehova ad Mosen, Alloquere sacerdotes filios Aharon, et dicito eis, Super animam non contaminabit se quisquam vestrum it, populis suis:

2. But for his kin that is near unto him, that is, for his mother, and for his father, and for his son, and for his daughter, and for his brother,

2. Sed super propinquo suo, propinquo sibi, nempe super matre sua, et super patre suo, et super filio suo, et super filia sua, et superfratre suo.,

3. And for his sister a virgin, that is nigh unto him, which hath had no husband; for her may he be defiled.

3. Et super sorore sua virgine propinqua sibi, quae non fuerit viro: super ea contaminabit se.

4. But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself.

4. Non contaminabit se in principe in populis suis, ut polluat sese.

5. They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.

5. Non decalvabunt calvitium in capitc suo, et extremitatem barbae suse non radent, et in carne sua non incident ullam incisuram.

6. They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the name of their God: for the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and the bread of their God, they do offer: therefore they shall be holy.

6. Sancti erunt Dco suo, neque polluent nomen Dei sui: quia oblationes ignitas Jehovoe, et panem Dei tui offerunt, proinde erunt sancti.

10. And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes;

10. Sacerdos autem praecipuus inter fratres suos super cujus caput fusum fuerit oleum unctionis, et consecraverit manum suam ut induat vestes, caput suum non discooperiet, et vestes suas non scindet.

11. Neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother;

11. Et ad omnes animas mortui non ingredietur, ne super patre quidem suo, ant matre sua, contaminabit se.

12. Neither shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God; for the crown of the anointing oil of his God is upon him: I am the LORD.

12. Et de sanctuario non ingredietur, neque polluet sanctuarium Dei sui: quia corona olei unctionis Dei sui est super eum. Ego Jehova.


7. They shall not take a wife. The third kind of purity is in marriage itself, that the priests’ home may be chaste and free from all dishonor. At this time also God commands by the mouth of Paul, that pastors should be chosen, who rule well their own houses, whose wives are chaste and modest, and their children well-behaved. (1Ti 3:2; Titus 1:6.) The same cause for this existed under the Law, lest those appointed for the government of the Church should be despised and looked down upon on account of their domestic vices. But God most especially had regard to the priesthood of Christ, that it should not be exposed to contempt. It was indeed permitted that men should marry with impunity a woman divorced from her husband; though in the sight of God such an union was unlawful. No law forbade private individuals from marrying a deflowered woman; but what was permitted to the multitude God condemned in the priests, in order to withdraw them from every mark of infamy. And this reason is also expressed when he says that He would have the priests holy, because He has chosen them for Himself; for if the people had not reverenced them, all religion would have been contemptible. Therefore that their dignity might be preserved, He commands them to take diligent heed not to expose themselves to ignominy. Finally, still more highly to commend reverence to their holy office, He reminds them that it related to the welfare of the whole people: “I the Lord (He says) do sanctify him,” Le 21:15. In these words He intimates that the grace of adoption, whereby they were chosen as His heritage, was based on the priesthood.

13. And he shall take a wife in her virginity. More is required in the high priest, viz., that he should not marry a widow, nor a woman of any other tribe than his own. A question may indeed arise as to the latter clause, whether the plural word ought to be restricted to one tribe,  189 whereas it is elsewhere applied to all. But, if we examine it more closely, it is plain that “his peoples” is equivalent to “of his people,” (populares.) But nothing peculiar will be here required of the priest, if his wife is to be taken only from the children of Abraham. I admit that the chief priests married wives of Other tribes, as Elizabeth, sprung of the tribe of Judah, married Zacharias; but, since the high priest is here distinguished from all others, I do not see how it would follow that a law or privilege referring to him should be observed by the whole posterity of Aaron. On this point, however, I will not contend, if any one thing is otherwise. But assuredly, since he presented the brightest type of Christ, it was right that superior and more perfect holiness should be beheld in him.  190 For this was the tendency of the restriction, that his wife, not having known another man, should manifest the modesty worthy of her station and quality of sacred honor. If any should object that the marriage of, an old priest with a young girl was ridiculous and somewhat indecorous, as well as liable to many inconveniences; I answer, that special regulations should be so expounded as not to interfere with general principles. If a decrepit old man falls in love with a young girl, it is a base and shameful lust; besides he will defraud her if he marries her. Hence, too, will jealousy and wretched anxiety arise; or, by foolishly and dotingly seeking to preserve his wife’s love, he will cast away all regard for gravity. When God forbade the high priest to marry any but a virgin, he did not wish to violate this rule, which is dictated by nature and reason; but, regard being had to age, He desired that modesty and propriety should be maintained in the marriage, so that, if the priest were of advanced years, he should marry a virgin not too far from his own age: but, if he were failing and now but little fitted for marriage on account of his old age, the law that he should marry a virgin was rather an exhortation to celibacy, than that he should expose himself to many troubles and to general ridicule.

9. And the daughter of any priest. The moderation and chastity (required in the priest  191 ) is extended also to his daughter; and by synecdoche all that relates to good discipline is comprised under a single head; viz., that his children should be educated in the study of virtue, and in decent and pure morality. A heavy punishment is denounced against a priest’s daughter if she should play the harlot, because sacrilege would be combined with her disgraceful licentiousness. But it is no light crime to violate God’s sanctuary; and, if the priest had tolerated such an iniquity in his daughter, he would have been no severe avenger of the same turpitude in strangers; nay, he would not have been at liberty to punish crimes, unless he made a beginning in his own house.



Ainsworth’s literal translation is “a virgin of his peoples.” Fr., “Ailleurs il se prend pour tout le corps de la lignee d’Abraham:” elsewhere it is taken for the whole body of the race of Abraham.


It is surely strange that C., who here seems to draw out the Christology of the ordinances of the Law with unusual fullness and precision, should have omitted to mention “the mystical union which is between Christ and His Church,” as most luminously set forth in this type. Vide Song, passim. Psalm 95; 2Co 11:2; Eph 5:27; Re 19:8, etc.


Added from Fr.

Next: Leviticus 21:16-24