This entry is part 16 of 145 in the series: Tough texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 1:27 – a hint of male headship?
- Genesis 2:23 – Does naming imply authority?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 3:16b – ‘Your desire shall be for your husband’
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 9:20-25 – the ‘Curse of Ham’
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 15:16 – ‘The sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit’
- Genesis 19 – What was the sin of Sodom?
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Leviticus 18:22; 20:13 – Homosexual acts prohibited?
- Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbour as yourself”
- Deuteronomy 23:6 – ‘Never be kind to a Moabite’?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- Ruth 3:6-9 – Did Ruth seduce Boaz?
- 1 Samuel 16:14 – ‘An evil spirit from the Lord’
- 1 Samuel 28:7-14 – Did Samuel visit from the grave?
- 2 Samuel 1:26 – ‘More special than the love of women’
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Isaiah 14:12 – Is Satan a fallen angel?
- Daniel 7:13 – ‘Coming with the clouds of heaven’
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:13-18 – The Flight to Egypt
- Matthew 2:16 – The Slaughter of the Innocents
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Mt 3:17/Mk 1:11/Lk 3:22 – What did the voice say?
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:22/Luke 9:60 – ‘Let the dead bury their dead’?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Mt 8:28-34; Mk 5:1-17; Lk 8:26-37 – Of pigs and demons
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Mt 10:28/Lk 12:4f – Whom should we fear?
- Matthew 10:28 – ‘destroy’: annihilation or everlasting punishment?
- Matthew 10:34 – ‘Not peace, but a sword’?
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Mt 12:30/Mk 9:40/Lk 11:23 – For, or against?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Mt 16:28/Mk 9:1/Lk 9:27 – “Some standing here will see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Mt 24:34/Mk 13:30 – ‘This generation will not pass away’
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Mt 27:3–10; Acts 1:18f – How did Judas die?
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10 – The unpardonable sin
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2 – Was Joseph from Nazareth, or Bethlehem?
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 2:39 – No room for a flight into Egypt?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 4:18 – “Good news to the poor”
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- Luke 14:26 – Hate your family?
- Luke 22:36 – ‘Sell your cloak and buy a sword’
- Luke 23:43 – “Today you will be with me in paradise”
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 1:51 – ‘Angels ascending and descending’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- Mt 1:24f/13:55/Jn 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- Mt 21/Mk 11/Lk 19/Jn 2 – When (and how many times) did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 3:5 – ‘Born of water and spirit’
- John 7:40-44 – Did John know about Jesus’ birthplace?
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 10:8 – “All who came before me were thieves and robbers”
- John 10:34 – “You are gods”
- John 14:2 – “Many dwelling places”
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 14:28 – “The Father is greater than I am”
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- Jn 20:22/Acts 2 – How many Pentecosts?
- John 21:11 – One hundred and fifty three fish
- Acts 1:6 – a misguided question?
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Acts 5:34-37 – a (minor) historical inaccuracy?
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Romans 1:26-27 – ‘Natural’ and ‘unnatural’ sexual relations
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 10:4 – ‘Christ is the end of the law’
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- Romans 16:7 – ‘Junia…well known to the apostles’
- 1 Corinthians 7:14 – Sanctified spouses, holy children
- 1 Corinthians 10:4 – a moveable rock?
- 1 Corinthians 13:10 – When will ‘what is perfect’ come?
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:28 – ‘The Son himself will be subjected to [God]’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Philippians 2:10 – ‘The name that is above every name’
- 1 Cor 11:3/Eph 5:23 – ‘Kephale’: ‘head’? ‘source’? ‘foremost’?
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Thessalonians 4:17 – a pre-tribulation ‘rapture’?
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:11f – ‘I do not allow woman to teach or exercise authority over a man’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 1:4 – ‘Partakers of the divine nature’
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- 1 Jn 5:16f – The sin that does, and the sin that does not, lead to death
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 7:4 – The 144,000
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
Lev 18:22 – “You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act.”
Lev 20:13 – “If a man has sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman, the two of them have committed an abomination. They must be put to death; their blood guilt is on themselves.”
It has been argued that these texts are not relevant to homosexual practice today.
(a) One argument is that the texts refer to acts performed in the name of religion, and therefore not relevant to the general question about same-sex relationships today.
According to Walter Barnett (cited by Kostenberger),
‘the whole context of these injunctions [in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13] is a polemic against the Israelites imitating the defiling practices of the Canaanites whom they displaced in Palestine. Thus again, the prohibition is probably directed against the practice of ritual homosexual prostitution as found in the Canaanite fertility cult. In any event the intent cannot be to condemn all homosexuality and homosexual behavior.’
This argument turns on the meaning of the word translated ‘abomination’. According to proponents of this view, the word usually refers to ritual impurity associated with idol worship. The prohibition, here and in Lev 20:13, is not against homosexual activity per se, but rather against homosexual acts performed as part of the idolatrous Canaanite religion.
The Queen James Bible, which claims to be the world’s first gay Bible translation, renders this verse:-
‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womenkind in the temple of Molech; it is an abomination.’
This ‘clarification’ has, however, been achieved at the expense of changing the text of Scripture itself, by conflating the present verse with the previous one. As Greg Downes remarks,
‘this flagrant distortion and twisting of scripture in an attempt to make the text say what it patently does not will fail to convince anyone committed to the authority of the Bible.’ (Christianity, Feb 2013, p31)
As Sam Alberry writes:
‘“An abomination” is often used to describe idolatry, and so some suggest these verses are not prohibiting homosexual behaviour in general, but only the cultic prostitution associated with pagan temples. But the language used is not that specific; the passages refer in general to a man lying with a man “as with a woman”, without specifying a particular context for that act. Moreover, the surrounding verses in both Leviticus 18 and 20 forbid other forms of sexual sin that are general in nature, such as incest, adultery and bestiality.’ (Is God Anti-Gay?, p29)
Ian Paul notes:
‘The prohibition on same-sex activity is set alongside prohibitions on incest, bestiality and the sacrifice of children. The whole list of prohibited activities is called ‘detestable’ (Hebrew toevah, translated ‘abomination’ in the AV) in the summary comment in 18.30, but in 18.22 same-sex activity is singled out with this term, and in the following verse bestiality is similarly highlighted as a ‘perversion’ (NIV). As with other regulations, these are not narrowly cultic but form part of a shared, national life for all who reside in the land (Lev 18.26), including ‘resident aliens’ who do not participate in cultic activity.’
Ian Paul adds that the term translated ‘detestable’ is by no means limited to cultic prohibitions:
‘The strong term toevah is used in a cultic sense of unacceptable sacrifices, or idolatry, both of which are ‘detestable.’ But its use is not limited to that. It is applied to distinct eating habits (Gen 43.32), more general racial antipathy (Gen 46.34), prohibited foods (Deut 14.3), magic and spiritism (Deut 18.12), remarrying someone you have divorced (Deut 24.4) and the use of dishonest weights and measures (Deut 25.16). It is quite striking in Lev 18 and 20 that the term qadesh, meaning male shrine prostitute (as in Deut 23.17–18), is absent. The context in Leviticus is everyday and particularly family life as the holy people of God. If there are hints of cultic language this is not because the prohibitions are located in cult but because the whole of life is to reflect the purity and holiness of Israel’s God.’
Ian Paul quotes Steve Schuh:
‘The homosexual acts prohibited in Leviticus 18 and 20 are described in the immediate context of idolatry and therefore very likely refer to ritual acts of male homosexual prostitution.’
But, responds Ian Paul: these prohibitions are not focused on the cult, but on the family. Moreover, it is illogical to claim that because cult prostitution was a notable instance of ‘detestable’ practice (see 1 Kings 14:24, for example), it was the only form of homosexual activity. The text here does not use the language of cult prostitution: rather, it draws on the language of Genesis 1-2.
(b) A further argument is that these prohibitions reflect the assumptions of a patriarchal society, in which a man taking the submissive (female) role in sexual activity was considered shameful and demeaning.
But, as Ian Paul observes,
‘The prohibition in Lev 18.22 is not on acting as a woman with a man, but on acting with another man who is taking the role of the woman. To put it crudely, the prohibition is not on being penetrated (by another man) but on penetrating. In other words, the verse gives no suggestion that the act is seen as a breach of manliness or the man’s honour; rather, the issue appears to be the failure of this act to match the divinely given creation order from Genesis’
(c) Another argument is that the prohibitions belong to that part of the OT law that has not binding on Christians. Like the prohibition against sex with a menstruating woman in Lev 18:19, this prohibition is ceremonial, rather than moral, in nature.
For Matthew Vines, therefore, these laws are no more binding on believers today than the law of circumcision. The debate was settled long ago by the apostles (Acts 15; Gal 6; Col 2; Rom 10:4; Heb 8:13, etc.). Leviticus prohibits many things that we no longer avoid, and, claims Vines, homosexual relations belong in the same category:
‘Christians have always regarded the Book of Leviticus, in particular, as being inapplicable to them in light of Christ’s fulfillment of the law. So while it is true that Leviticus prohibits male same-sex relations, it also prohibits a vast array of other behaviors, activities, and foods that Christians have never regarded as being prohibited for them. For example, chapter 11 of Leviticus forbids the eating of pork, shrimp, and lobster, which the church does not consider to be a sin. Chapter 19 forbids planting two kinds of seed in the same field; wearing clothing woven of two types of material; and cutting the hair at the sides of one’s head. Christians have never regarded any of these things to be sinful behaviors, because Christ’s death on the cross liberated Christians from what Paul called the “yoke of slavery.” We are not subject to the Old Law.’
I should note that Vines recognises that there are some OT laws that are still binding on Christians – the Ten Commandments, for example. But he does not, in my view, provide an adequate explanation of why homosexual behaviour does not belong in this category (along with laws about adultery, incest and bestiality), but belongs rather in the category of laws that were limited to a certain people at a certain times (along with laws about eating shellfish and so on).
‘The default Christian approach for nearly two millennia now has been to view the particular hundreds of rules and prohibitions in the Old Law as having been fulfilled by Christ’s death, and there is no good reason why Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 should be exceptions to that rule.’
But if valid, this argument would also undermine other laws relating to sexual practices in the same chapter. Moreover, ceremonial laws were binding on Israel but not on the nations, and yet Lev 18:27 and Lev 20:23 demonstrate God’s moral repugnance of incest and homosexuality. Then again, Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 6:9 echoes the LXX of Lev 20:13, suggesting that Paul presupposes and reaffirms the earlier text’s condemnation of homosexual acts.
‘As Lev 20:13 makes clear, it is consensual sex that is in view. In short, sexual relations are meant to occur between a man and a woman, not between two men (and not, by implication, between two women). This was in keeping with the theological backdrop against which Israelites would have read this law: namely, the Lord’s design that sexuality be expressed in marital, heterosexual relationship (Gen. 1:27–28; 2:22–24; cf. Matt. 19:4–5).’ (Sklar)
According to Livingout,
‘“an abomination” is often used to describe idolatry, and some suggest these verses are not condemning homosexual behaviour in general, but only the cultic prostitution connected to pagan temples. It is also often claimed that the fact that these prohibitions appear in a book full of other laws which no Christians think they are expected to follow today suggests that they should not be taken as having abiding moral relevance. But to take the first objection, the language used is not that specific; it refers to lying with a man “as with a woman,” – that is, in very general terms. Secondly, the surrounding verses in each instance describe other forms of sexual sin (such as incest, adultery and bestiality), none of which is anything to do with pagan temples or idolatry, and which we would take as being applicable to Christians today. It is moral, rather than just pagan religious behaviour that’s in view. Furthermore, Leviticus 20:13 highlights both male parties equally, again suggesting general, consensual homosexual activity (as opposed to gay rape or a forced relationship).’
A variation on this theme is the suggestion that these texts (and many others like them) are concerned not with issues of sin and holiness, but with matters of ‘cleanness’ and ‘defilement’. This would mean (comments Ian Paul)
‘that same-sex relations belong to a pattern of cleanness versus defilement to which we no longer subscribe, rather than the pattern of holiness versus sin which we do.’
But, as Ian Paul remarks, there is, in biblical thinking, considerable overlap between the two sets of category:
‘To be impure might not imply sin, but to sin does make one impure—so these terms can, in fact, overlap. And that is precisely the case in Leviticus 18 and 20. Although ‘be defiled’ (tame‘) is the most common term in Leviticus 18, at 18.25 this is identified with sin, and being the reason for the land ‘vomiting out’ its inhabitants as a sign of God’s judgment. This forms part of the wider concern of the whole of the ‘holiness code’; it places the whole question of ethics under the question of purity, so that wrong action is seen as an offense against God’s holiness, not just against his justice. Purity is concerned with moral action, not ritual action alone.’
(d) We come, then, to consider the view that these texts prohibit homosexual intercourse of every kind.
John Stott comments:
‘As William J. Webb points out in his recent work on hermeneutics, the issue here is primarily one of sexual boundaries. The incest laws protect the boundary between parent and child; the bestiality laws protect the boundary between human and animal. Similarly, the homosexual boundaries prohibit intercourse between members of the same sex. These boundaries are not cultural in that they change as Scripture develops, but transcultural, prohibiting such activities in any place at any time.’
Sprinkle, art. ‘Sexuality, sexual ethics’ in DOT:P).
Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today 4th Edition (Kindle)
Kostenberger, Andreas J. God, Marriage, and Family (Second Edition). Crossway. Kindle Edition.