Interpreting Leviticus 18:22 and

20:13

These verses are very similar and seem to be extremely clear. Leviticus 18:22 22  “‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable. Leviticus 20:13 13  “‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

Objection: Christians Cherry-pick

People say that Leviticus lists all sorts of other prohibitions that we no longer take seriously. Those prohibitions are part of the Holiness Code and so applicable only to Israel, they say. They cite the fact that Leviticus also teaches the Jews not to eat shellfish (11:9-12), not to wear clothes made of two different fibres (19:19d), not to plant a field with two kinds of seeds (19:19c), and not to cut the hair at the sides of the head (19:27). We don’t require people to live by those laws today. To focus on homosexuality, and not these others, is selective and dishonest. The argument is that Leviticus records laws that apply only to Israel because their purpose was to set Israel apart as a nation dedicated to God. In other words, these passages are about ritual purity not moral purity. They did not apply to the other nations and they do not apply to Christians today.

Response

It is true that some of the prohibitions in Leviticus were addressed specifically to Israel and served the purpose of making the nation distinct from the surrounding nations. The dietary laws, for example, did not apply to the other nations. But other matters in Leviticus apply to everyone and continue to be God’s law today. How do we discern the difference? We might ask questions such as the following: 1. Is it stated that a law applies only to Israel? 2. Are other nations judged for breaking this law (which they shouldn’t be if it didn’t apply to them)? a. For example, other nations are condemned for sins such as murder and violence and injustice but never for eating foods forbidden to Israelites. Some practices are universally wrong. Others did apply only to Israel. 3. Is the same law repeated and clearly more generally applicable, elsewhere in the Bible, especially in the New Testament? With regard to the Levitical prohibitions on homosexuality: 1. Leviticus 18 is, in its entirety, about sexual morality (other than a reference to child sacrifice). 2. Leviticus 20 also largely focuses on laws regarding sexual purity although the range is slightly wider, including child sacrifice, occultism and cursing one’s parents. 3. Many of the practices mentioned are condemned elsewhere and are condemned when practiced by other nations. 4. In fact, both of these chapters (18:24-25 and 20:22-23) state that other nations have been judged for these practices. 5. There is nothing in the passage that suggests it was a law only for Israel or that it was about distinctiveness or ritual purity. 6. On what basis would we say that the prohibition against homosexuality no longer applies but, for example, incest and child sacrifice are still against God’s law? It is that that would seem to be selective use of scripture. If gay activists want to separate out homosexual practice from the other offenses in the same passages, it is they who are cherry-picking. In other words, if they want to continue to say that incest and bestiality and child sacrifice are wrong but homosexual acts are somehow different, they are being highly selective. And if they avoid the charge of cherry-picking by arguing for the acceptance of all of those practices, then we simply see the depth of their immorality. 7. Homosexual practice is condemned in the New Testament. While some issues (e.g. the sacrifice system and food laws) are said to have been superseded by the coming of Christ, this prohibition explicitly remains in force. Continuing to apply some laws while ignoring others is not cherry-picking. It is understanding the difference between the ceremonial laws (which no longer apply) and the moral laws (that do). There are objective ways of determining which category a particular laws falls into. Let’s eat shellfish, for example Let us take eating shellfish as an example, since it is frequently cited. In fact, people will claim that the Bible says more about this than about homosexuality! I have asked some who say that to list the passages. No one has yet taken up the challenge. We have already cited the passages that speak about homosexuality. What passages prohibit the eating of shellfish? There are actually only two! Leviticus 11:9-12 9  ‘“Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams you may eat any that have fins and scales.  10  But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales – whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water – you are to regard as unclean.  11  And since you are to regard them as unclean, you must not eat their meat; you must regard their carcasses as unclean.  12  Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you. Deuteronomy 14:9-10 9  Of all the creatures living in the water, you may eat any that has fins and scales.  10  But anything that does not have fins and scales you may not eat; for you it is unclean. There are other relevant passages. For example, when He made a covenant with Noah, God said: Gen 9:3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I
now give you everything. Jesus also declared all foods to be clean. Mark 7:18-23 18  ‘Are you so dull?’ he asked. ‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19  For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) 20  He went on: ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21  For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22  adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.’ Peter also learnt a hard lesson about this. Acts 10:13-15 13  Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ 14  ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ 15  The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ And Paul declared all foods clean. 1 Timothy 4:1-5 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.  2  Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.  3  They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.  4  For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,  5  because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. In other words, the general teaching of the Bible is that people can eat shellfish. There are two prohibitions against it, amongst various verses that say that all that God has created is good. It is ironic that those who keep quoting this verse ignore the fact that Jesus said exactly the opposite and that, in that same passage, He specifically said that sexual immorality does defile. It is ironic too that the Acts 10 Peter incident is sometimes cited as an example of the Old Testament laws being overturned in the New Testament – suggesting that that is also true for the laws against homosexuality. Christians who recognise the difference between the ceremonial and the moral laws (and who therefore feel free to eat shellfish) have got it right. Acts 10 clearly counters a law that applied only to Israel. That is straight-forward but where is the equivalent passage that says that homosexual acts are now acceptable? So, how come we do have two prohibitions that seem to conflict with the other passages? The general commands apply to all mankind. Noah was the father of all who would follow. The New Testament reflects the new covenant, open to all and Jesus’ comment about what defiles applies to all. The Leviticus and Deuteronomy passages about shellfish are addressed only to Israel and are about what will make them distinctive. They are part of the holiness code. Look back at those passages. You will notice that they do not say that sea creatures without fins and scales are unclean, merely that “you are to consider them unclean” or “for you” they are unclean. In contrast to what is claimed, these passages provide a very good example of laws that do not have general applicability and that do not apply now, since Jesus Himself has fulfilled the law. Clearly, this is not a law that is reinforced in the New Testament. On the other hand, the commands about homosexuality do apply to all nations and are, very explicitly, re-affirmed in the New Testament. The shellfish example is one of those myths that is repeated often, probably by people who have heard it but never checked its truth. It really just shows great sloppiness. The same can be said about the prohibitions on wearing clothes made of more than one fibre.

Objection: Leviticus is really about ritual impurity, not moral

impurity

A lot of debate centres around the word to’evah (plural to’evot) that is translated “abomination” or something similar. It is argued that to’evah is used only of ritual impurity, not moral impurity. The person involved is ritually unclean, not morally unclean. That person could not enter the tabernacle and worship without first washing and purifying himself. It is a religious thing, not a moral thing. It therefore only applies to Jews in the conduct of their religion. It is not a moral law applicable to all. In other words, although God’s ritual law was important to Israel, for the rest of the world, matters of purely ritual purity could be seen as relatively minor – or, in fact, not even applicable. Moral matters would be weightier and universally applicable. It is argued that to’evah is used of practices that were unacceptable to a certain culture. That does not make them more generally unacceptable, or unacceptable to God. For example, in Genesis 46:34, Moses told Pharaoh that shepherds were to’evah to Egyptians. (See also Gen 43:32 where eating with Hebrews was to’evah to Egyptians and Exodus 8:22 where Hebrew worship is to’evah to Egyptians.)

Response

To’evah is sometimes used of practices that were merely culturally abhorrent or were related to pagan cultic activity. However, if we test that theory by seeing how the word is used, we find that the word is also frequently used for practices that are abhorrent to God and are therefore universally applicable. Again, we do not have to look much beyond the chapters in question. The Leviticus 18 list includes sex with close relatives (incest), sex during menstruation, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality and child sacrifice. Leviticus 20 is similar although the list of sins is slightly broader. It is difficult to believe that those practices were minor and purely a matter of religious purity, not morality. Most cultures would agree that these laws apply to all. Indeed, as we have already seen, God says they apply to all. The other nations had been judged for breaking them. Leviticus 18 finishes by describing all of the sins listed as to’evot (detestable things, abominations). Leviticus 18:26-27 26  But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things (to’evot), 27  for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. Leviticus 18:29-30 Everyone who does any of these detestable things (to’evot) – such a person must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of these detestable customs (to’evot) that were practised before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God. All of these forms of sexual immorality are said to be detestable to God not just those associated with pagan worship. And homosexual acts are singled out in the chapter for special mention as an abomination. They are an abomination among abominations. What is more, the death penalty (20:13) (although certainly not applicable today and probably not even practised at the time) clearly emphasises the severity with which God views this sin. Jay Michaelson has written an often-quoted article entitled “Does The Bible Really Call Homosexuality An “Abomination”?” He concludes that “abomination” is not an accurate translation. He prefers “taboo” because it reflects foreign, cultural, religious practices, not universal moral ones. He lists a large number of passages using to’evah, arguing that they are overwhelmingly related to pagan religious practices that Israel was not to adopt, and not about morality. But let us consider some of the examples he gives. It is true that many of the practices that are described as to’evah are pagan religious practices but that proves nothing. It simply shows that those practices were seen as abominable. It is completely understandable that child sacrifice, prostitution, the worship of false gods, etc. would, and should, be considered abominable. It is only natural that many detestable practices would arise in pagan nations. That is precisely why Israel was instructed not to engage with them and why Christians today should not. They weren’t practices that only Israel was to avoid. They were actions that were abominable when practiced by foreigners as well and for which those nations were judged. They are abominable but is the meaning restricted to only foreign ritual practices? No. Except possibly for the reference to child sacrifice, Leviticus 18 and 20 do not describe religious, cultic practices but moral practices. Ezekiel 18 lists many practices, summed up in v.13 by the phrase “all these detestable things”. The list does include references to pagan worship but also sexual immorality, oppression, theft, lending at interest, doing wrong, mistreatment of the poor. The issues are far broader than merely foreign religious practices. It makes it very hard to believe that to’evah therefore refers only to that category of actions. On the contrary, to’evah primarily refers to ethical issues that are universally applicable. Are we seriously to think that these issues do not apply to us? Are we free to oppress the poor, steal, and be sexually immoral? Likewise, Ezekiel 22 refers to “all her [Jerusalem’s] detestable practices” and then lists many, most of which are ethical; very few of which are about pagan worship. In particular, v.11 refers to adultery as being to’evah. Even Michaelson says that Proverbs uses to’evah 21 times “to refer to various ethic failings”. The argument that it is only foreign, pagan religious practices or cultural sensitivities that are to’evah is simply not supported by the evidence. Many godless and wicked acts are an abomination in God’s sight. Amongst those, homosexual activity is specifically identified as being an abomination to God.

Objection: Christians are no longer under the law

Matthew Vines, in his book, God And The Gay Christian, takes a different tack. He acknowledges that Leviticus says that male same-sex sexual intercourse is prohibited and described as an abomination. His argument though is that the Old Testament no longer applies. In support of that, he quotes the following: Romans 10:4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Vine’s translation says that Christ is the “end” of the law. Hebrews 8:13 By calling this covenant “new”, he has made the old one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Response

This clearly misunderstands some very significant truths. Jesus did say that He had come to fulfil the law but that doesn’t mean that He threw it out. On the contrary, ponder what Jesus did say. It is very relevant to this discussion. Matthew 5:17-20 17  ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.  18  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19  Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  20  For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Could Jesus have made it any clearer? The law remains. Not the slightest detail will pass away. It is not to be disregarded. Jesus fulfilled the law, not by abolishing it, but by keeping it perfectly and becoming the spotless sacrifice that allows us to no longer have to offer lambs and bulls but simply trust in Him. Paul is equally emphatic in Romans, the book that Vines quotes from. Having said that we are now made righteous by God’s grace through faith, he asks, “Do we then nullify the law by this faith?” The answer: “Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (3:31). We are not under the law in the sense of being obligated to fulfil it to be saved. Jesus has become the means of our salvation. Nevertheless, the law remains God’s will. Paul describes it as “holy, righteous and good” (7:12) and “spiritual” (7:14). He says that in his inner being he delights in God’s law (7:22). The value of the law is that it convicts of sin (3:19-20, 7:7). If only those who dismiss it would instead listen to God’s word describing righteousness. There is a certain irony in suggesting that Hebrews 8 says the Old Testament law is obsolete when that statement follows a long quote from the Old Testament! Clearly the author of Hebrews believed the Old Testament still had authority. As a means of salvation, the old covenant is obsolete. But as a revelation of God’s will it remains as relevant today as it was when it was written.

Conclusion

There is no reason to think that the Levitical prohibitions on homosexual acts are limited to Israel only or are only an aspect of ritual purity. They apply universally because they represent a departure from God’s design for sex. Despite attempts to muddy the waters, they are as straight-forward and as clear as they appear to be. A man having sex with a man is an abomination in the eyes of God. That is still true.

Related pages

Other resources

Aren’t we just picking which bits of the Old Testament law apply today? (Living Out)
© 2017 Peter Cheyne
A Christian’s Guide To Homosexuality
Truth In Love
Main sections Main sections

Interpreting Leviticus

18:22 and 20:13

These verses are very similar and seem to be extremely clear. Leviticus 18:22 22  “‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable. Leviticus 20:13 13  “‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

Objection: Christians Cherry-pick

People say that Leviticus lists all sorts of other prohibitions that we no longer take seriously. Those prohibitions are part of the Holiness Code and so applicable only to Israel, they say. They cite the fact that Leviticus also teaches the Jews not to eat shellfish (11:9-12), not to wear clothes made of two different fibres (19:19d), not to plant a field with two kinds of seeds (19:19c), and not to cut the hair at the sides of the head (19:27). We don’t require people to live by those laws today. To focus on homosexuality, and not these others, is selective and dishonest. The argument is that Leviticus records laws that apply only to Israel because their purpose was to set Israel apart as a nation dedicated to God. In other words, these passages are about ritual purity not moral purity. They did not apply to the other nations and they do not apply to Christians today.

Response

It is true that some of the prohibitions in Leviticus were addressed specifically to Israel and served the purpose of making the nation distinct from the surrounding nations. The dietary laws, for example, did not apply to the other nations. But other matters in Leviticus apply to everyone and continue to be God’s law today. How do we discern the difference? We might ask questions such as the following: 1. Is it stated that a law applies only to Israel? 2. Are other nations judged for breaking this law (which they shouldn’t be if it didn’t apply to them)? a. For example, other nations are condemned for sins such as murder and violence and injustice but never for eating foods forbidden to Israelites. Some practices are universally wrong. Others did apply only to Israel. 3. Is the same law repeated and clearly more generally applicable, elsewhere in the Bible, especially in the New Testament? With regard to the Levitical prohibitions on homosexuality: 1. Leviticus 18 is, in its entirety, about sexual morality (other than a reference to child sacrifice). 2. Leviticus 20 also largely focuses on laws regarding sexual purity although the range is slightly wider, including child sacrifice, occultism and cursing one’s parents. 3. Many of the practices mentioned are condemned elsewhere and are condemned when practiced by other nations. 4. In fact, both of these chapters (18:24-25 and 20:22-23) state that other nations have been judged for these practices. 5. There is nothing in the passage that suggests it was a law only for Israel or that it was about distinctiveness or ritual purity. 6. On what basis would we say that the prohibition against homosexuality no longer applies but, for example, incest and child sacrifice are still against God’s law? It is that that would seem to be selective use of scripture. If gay activists want to separate out homosexual practice from the other offenses in the same passages, it is they who are cherry-picking. In other words, if they want to continue to say that incest and bestiality and child sacrifice are wrong but homosexual acts are somehow different, they are being highly selective. And if they avoid the charge of cherry-picking by arguing for the acceptance of all of those practices, then we simply see the depth of their immorality. 7. Homosexual practice is condemned in the New Testament. While some issues (e.g. the sacrifice system and food laws) are said to have been superseded by the coming of Christ, this prohibition explicitly remains in force. Continuing to apply some laws while ignoring others is not cherry-picking. It is understanding the difference between the ceremonial laws (which no longer apply) and the moral laws (that do). There are objective ways of determining which category a particular laws falls into. Let’s eat shellfish, for example Let us take eating shellfish as an example, since it is frequently cited. In fact, people will claim that the Bible says more about this than about homosexuality! I have asked some who say that to list the passages. No one has yet taken up the challenge. We have already cited the passages that speak about homosexuality. What passages prohibit the eating of shellfish? There are actually only two! Leviticus 11:9-12 9  ‘“Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams you may eat any that have fins and scales.  10  But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales – whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water – you are to regard as unclean.  11  And since you are to regard them as unclean, you must not eat their meat; you must regard their carcasses as unclean.  12  Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you. Deuteronomy 14:9-10 9  Of all the creatures living in the water, you may eat any that has fins and scales.  10  But anything that does not have fins and scales you may not eat; for you it is unclean. There are other relevant passages. For example, when He made a covenant with Noah, God said: Gen 9:3 Everything that lives and moves about
will be food for you. Just as I gave you
the green plants, I now give you
everything. Jesus also declared all foods to be clean. Mark 7:18-23 18  ‘Are you so dull?’ he asked. ‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19  For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) 20  He went on: ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21  For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22  adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.’ Peter also learnt a hard lesson about this. Acts 10:13-15 13  Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ 14  ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ 15  The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ And Paul declared all foods clean. 1 Timothy 4:1-5 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.  2  Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.  3  They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.  4   For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,  5  because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. In other words, the general teaching of the Bible is that people can eat shellfish. There are two prohibitions against it, amongst various verses that say that all that God has created is good. It is ironic that those who keep quoting this verse ignore the fact that Jesus said exactly the opposite and that, in that same passage, He specifically said that sexual immorality does defile. It is ironic too that the Acts 10 Peter incident is sometimes cited as an example of the Old Testament laws being overturned in the New Testament – suggesting that that is also true for the laws against homosexuality. Christians who recognise the difference between the ceremonial and the moral laws (and who therefore feel free to eat shellfish) have got it right. Acts 10 clearly counters a law that applied only to Israel. That is straight-forward but where is the equivalent passage that says that homosexual acts are now acceptable? So, how come we do have two prohibitions that seem to conflict with the other passages? The general commands apply to all mankind. Noah was the father of all who would follow. The New Testament reflects the new covenant, open to all and Jesus’ comment about what defiles applies to all. The Leviticus and Deuteronomy passages about shellfish are addressed only to Israel and are about what will make them distinctive. They are part of the holiness code. Look back at those passages. You will notice that they do not say that sea creatures without fins and scales are unclean, merely that “you are to consider them unclean” or “for you” they are unclean. In contrast to what is claimed, these passages provide a very good example of laws that do not have general applicability and that do not apply now, since Jesus Himself has fulfilled the law. Clearly, this is not a law that is reinforced in the New Testament. On the other hand, the commands about homosexuality do apply to all nations and are, very explicitly, re-affirmed in the New Testament. The shellfish example is one of those myths that is repeated often, probably by people who have heard it but never checked its truth. It really just shows great sloppiness. The same can be said about the prohibitions on wearing clothes made of more than one fibre.

Objection: Leviticus is really about ritual

impurity, not moral impurity

A lot of debate centres around the word to’evah (plural to’evot) that is translated “abomination” or something similar. It is argued that to’evah is used only of ritual impurity, not moral impurity. The person involved is ritually unclean, not morally unclean. That person could not enter the tabernacle and worship without first washing and purifying himself. It is a religious thing, not a moral thing. It therefore only applies to Jews in the conduct of their religion. It is not a moral law applicable to all. In other words, although God’s ritual law was important to Israel, for the rest of the world, matters of purely ritual purity could be seen as relatively minor – or, in fact, not even applicable. Moral matters would be weightier and universally applicable. It is argued that to’evah is used of practices that were unacceptable to a certain culture. That does not make them more generally unacceptable, or unacceptable to God. For example, in Genesis 46:34, Moses told Pharaoh that shepherds were to’evah to Egyptians. (See also Gen 43:32 where eating with Hebrews was to’evah to Egyptians and Exodus 8:22 where Hebrew worship is to’evah to Egyptians.)

Response

To’evah is sometimes used of practices that were merely culturally abhorrent or were related to pagan cultic activity. However, if we test that theory by seeing how the word is used, we find that the word is also frequently used for practices that are abhorrent to God and are therefore universally applicable. Again, we do not have to look much beyond the chapters in question. The Leviticus 18 list includes sex with close relatives (incest), sex during menstruation, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality and child sacrifice. Leviticus 20 is similar although the list of sins is slightly broader. It is difficult to believe that those practices were minor and purely a matter of religious purity, not morality. Most cultures would agree that these laws apply to all. Indeed, as we have already seen, God says they apply to all. The other nations had been judged for breaking them. Leviticus 18 finishes by describing all of the sins listed as to’evot (detestable things, abominations). Leviticus 18:26-27 26  But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things (to’evot), 27  for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. Leviticus 18:29-30 Everyone who does any of these detestable things (to’evot) – such a person must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of these detestable customs (to’evot) that were practised before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God. All of these forms of sexual immorality are said to be detestable to God not just those associated with pagan worship. And homosexual acts are singled out in the chapter for special mention as an abomination. They are an abomination among abominations. What is more, the death penalty (20:13) (although certainly not applicable today and probably not even practised at the time) clearly emphasises the severity with which God views this sin. Jay Michaelson has written an often-quoted article entitled “Does The Bible Really Call Homosexuality An “Abomination”?” He concludes that “abomination” is not an accurate translation. He prefers “taboo” because it reflects foreign, cultural, religious practices, not universal moral ones. He lists a large number of passages using to’evah, arguing that they are overwhelmingly related to pagan religious practices that Israel was not to adopt, and not about morality. But let us consider some of the examples he gives. It is true that many of the practices that are described as to’evah are pagan religious practices but that proves nothing. It simply shows that those practices were seen as abominable. It is completely understandable that child sacrifice, prostitution, the worship of false gods, etc. would, and should, be considered abominable. It is only natural that many detestable practices would arise in pagan nations. That is precisely why Israel was instructed not to engage with them and why Christians today should not. They weren’t practices that only Israel was to avoid. They were actions that were abominable when practiced by foreigners as well and for which those nations were judged. They are abominable but is the meaning restricted to only foreign ritual practices? No. Except possibly for the reference to child sacrifice, Leviticus 18 and 20 do not describe religious, cultic practices but moral practices. Ezekiel 18 lists many practices, summed up in v.13 by the phrase “all these detestable things”. The list does include references to pagan worship but also sexual immorality, oppression, theft, lending at interest, doing wrong, mistreatment of the poor. The issues are far broader than merely foreign religious practices. It makes it very hard to believe that to’evah therefore refers only to that category of actions. On the contrary, to’evah primarily refers to ethical issues that are universally applicable. Are we seriously to think that these issues do not apply to us? Are we free to oppress the poor, steal, and be sexually immoral? Likewise, Ezekiel 22 refers to “all her [Jerusalem’s] detestable practices” and then lists many, most of which are ethical; very few of which are about pagan worship. In particular, v.11 refers to adultery as being to’evah. Even Michaelson says that Proverbs uses to’evah 21 times “to refer to various ethic failings”. The argument that it is only foreign, pagan religious practices or cultural sensitivities that are to’evah is simply not supported by the evidence. Many godless and wicked acts are an abomination in God’s sight. Amongst those, homosexual activity is specifically identified as being an abomination to God.

Objection: Christians are no longer under the

law

Matthew Vines, in his book, God And The Gay Christian, takes a different tack. He acknowledges that Leviticus says that male same-sex sexual intercourse is prohibited and described as an abomination. His argument though is that the Old Testament no longer applies. In support of that, he quotes the following: Romans 10:4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Vine’s translation says that Christ is the “end” of the law. Hebrews 8:13 By calling this covenant “new”, he has made the old one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Response

This clearly misunderstands some very significant truths. Jesus did say that He had come to fulfil the law but that doesn’t mean that He threw it out. On the contrary, ponder what Jesus did say. It is very relevant to this discussion. Matthew 5:17-20 17  ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.  18  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19  Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  20  For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Could Jesus have made it any clearer? The law remains. Not the slightest detail will pass away. It is not to be disregarded. Jesus fulfilled the law, not by abolishing it, but by keeping it perfectly and becoming the spotless sacrifice that allows us to no longer have to offer lambs and bulls but simply trust in Him. Paul is equally emphatic in Romans, the book that Vines quotes from. Having said that we are now made righteous by God’s grace through faith, he asks, “Do we then nullify the law by this faith?” The answer: “Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (3:31). We are not under the law in the sense of being obligated to fulfil it to be saved. Jesus has become the means of our salvation. Nevertheless, the law remains God’s will. Paul describes it as “holy, righteous and good” (7:12) and “spiritual” (7:14). He says that in his inner being he delights in God’s law (7:22). The value of the law is that it convicts of sin (3:19-20, 7:7). If only those who dismiss it would instead listen to God’s word describing righteousness. There is a certain irony in suggesting that Hebrews 8 says the Old Testament law is obsolete when that statement follows a long quote from the Old Testament! Clearly the author of Hebrews believed the Old Testament still had authority. As a means of salvation, the old covenant is obsolete. But as a revelation of God’s will it remains as relevant today as it was when it was written.

Conclusion

There is no reason to think that the Levitical prohibitions on homosexual acts are limited to Israel only or are only an aspect of ritual purity. They apply universally because they represent a departure from God’s design for sex. Despite attempts to muddy the waters, they are as straight-forward and as clear as they appear to be. A man having sex with a man is an abomination in the eyes of God. That is still true.

Related pages

Other resources

Aren’t we just picking which bits of the Old Testament law apply today? (Living Out)
© Peter Cheyne 2017.
A Christian’s Guide To Homosexuality
Truth In Love
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