Welcome back to part two of my series studying what the Bible says about Homosexuality. I’m continuing with my study of the scriptures most used in the Bible to condemn or condone Homosexuality because I want to find out what scripture is saying about this issue. I’m not interested in parrot-like hearsay that I’ve become accustomed to hearing from people in the church. I welcome your comments for a charitable discourse together as we do our best to be faithful to our Lord and the people we serve.
Scripture Section #2: Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13
Since these scriptures go hand in hand I wanted to deal with them together. These passages are usually used as indisputable proof that the Bible and God condemn homosexuality as sin. Below I am quoting them from the New American Standard Version of the Holy Bible.
Again, we want to look at these passages from the scripture writer’s perspective. Scholars will tell you that the ancient culture which the Bible was written in had no concept of homosexuality as a defined lifestyle in the way it has been defined today. These passages are addressed specifically to males since the Old Testament doesn’t address same-sex acts between females. Before Lesbians everywhere start to cheer because they aren’t mentioned, I’m not entirely sure that gay men aren’t mentioned here either.
It seems that women, who were seen as little more than property, may have very well been in bounds of being used in this type of sexual behavior, unless it was their time of the month (Lev. 18:19). If they were menstruating then it would be the same “abomination” as it was to have intercourse a male. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon on that, nor have I seen it on a picket sign.
The words that the NASB translated in 18:22 as abomination and in 20:13 as detestable are the same Hebrew word; תֹּועֵבָ֖ה (tō·w·‘ê·ḇāh). Most versions of the Bible translate it to the word Abomination. So what is an abomination?
This is what Strong’s concordance says about the word תֹּועֵבָ֖ה: “something disgusting (morally), i.e. (as noun) an abhorrence; especially idolatry or (concretely) an idol — abominable (custom, thing), abomination.”
It’s interesting to me that the word has to do with worship, specifically idols and idolatry. Proverbs 16:5 uses the word abomination to describe arrogant people. The word is also used in scripture to condemn lying, unjust business practices, and pride.
These verses in Leviticus I’m highlighting, including the verses before and after them, have to do with Israel’s holiness code. This code was to distinguish the people of Israel from the other surrounding nations that practiced idolatry. If Israel did not take a stand and do things differently then they would be seen as just another nation of idol worshipers, not the followers of the One true God.
These laws were given for specific purposes in a specific time. Some rules such as the 10 commandments will never expire. Certain other laws related to the criminal justice system of that time. There were specific penalties for murder, rape, and adultery which would seem cruel and unusual to many of us today. For example, Deuteronomy 25:11 tells us that if a woman tries to rescue her husband during a fight with another man and in the process attacks his genital area, then her hand must be cut off (maybe that’s not such a bad one, right guys…I’m kidding).
There were also instructions about the treatment of slaves, divorce and remarriage, paying fair wages, not lending with interest, and harvesting your fields. I doubt God followers today still harvest their fields in the same manner as the Old Testament instructs them to. Most believers would say that owning a slave is immoral, or at least I hope they would. Imagine the picket signs that could come out of this: “God hates farmers”, “God hates loan officers”, or better yet “God hates slave owners (but just the bad ones, regular slave owners are fine)”. These are all abominations in scripture, but unfortunately owning a slave isn’t. (It is abominable to me though).
Likewise, some laws were established to keep temple worship ceremonially pure so that the people of Israel would clearly be seen as different from the nations around them. These rules were complex and were filled with rich symbolism that had to do with being set apart or holy. There were rules about clean and unclean foods, how to shave, tattoos, women’s menstruation after childbirth, and a man’s emission of semen. When was the last time those things came up in our Sunday morning worship times? Let’s be clear, back then, people who paid their employees poorly, farmed with different kinds of seeds, or wore two kinds of threads were all considered abominations. If you plowed with an ox and a donkey yoked together you were an abomination. If you had sex with your wife while she was on her period you and she both were abominations.
I’m not going to name any names but I’ve read writings by Christian authors that called homosexuals an abomination while encouraging husbands and wives to have intercourse during the wife’s menstrual cycle (I lied, Tim LaHaye is one of them, but if you read the Left Behind books you will see that he knows very little about what the Bible really says).
So, here’s my big question: Why are some things still considered abominations but others are not?
The word Abomination is a temple word. It simply denotes that something isn’t pure enough to be acceptable in the house of worship. This whole debate all comes down to our worship. What will we worship? What will be allowed to be a god in our lives? What will we submit to? For what will we lay down our lives? What makes us an abomination? to say it a different way, what makes us unfit to come to worship? How could things like having two different kinds of cows grazing in the same field make you unfit for worship? Why is man on man intercourse the only one people remember and quote?
Maybe if we look at the context we might see things a little more clearly. The writer of Leviticus was well aware of the worship of Baal, Ashtoreth, and Molech. These were known as fertility cults and part of the worship ceremonies involved same-sex activity. The context of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 might not be addressing homosexuality as we know it today. Instead, the context of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 could be the spiritual prostitution that accompanied worship of the fertility gods.
I’m not sure I have any answers after reading this passage. Most people of faith realize that the purity laws given to the people of ancient Israel served a purpose for a particular time and place. In light of the New Testament and Jesus’ teachings we see that many of those laws are no longer applicable to our present day. We have to be very careful about taking one or two scriptures out of context and turning them into absolute laws for all times and places. If we do this for one thing then we better be willing to do it for all of them. If you are going to blindly follow everything in scripture, just be prepared to stone your rebellious children to death when they disobey you. That is after all what Deuteronomy 21: 18-21 instructs us to do. Anything less than that would be an abomination.
In my view, the focus of these scriptures is not homosexuality, but worship. What is this passage trying to say about worship? Do all the people who wear two kinds of threads need to be banned from the fellowship of believers? Are farmers to be condemned? Should loan officers be cast out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth? I guess so if we are going to condemn homosexuals based on these two passages. I’m not saying I’ve arrived at a conclusion yet about what the Bible is saying on the topic homosexuality, I just don’t think we can make any kind of judgement based on these scriptures that I’ve dealt with in parts one and two. What we can do is begin thinking about worship and how our worship is pleasing or displeasing to our Lord. How do we submit to Him and love Him more? How do we stop serving self so that we can serve Him? How do we find the courage to throw out the welcome mat to other creations of God who we don’t understand?
Holy Spirit breathe your breathe into our conversations. Let us seek Your heart on these maters together that we would not use Your name in vain by putting words in Your mouth.