Scripture and Homosexuality: Leviticus


Our series continues on understanding what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about homosexuality.  All references made by other authors can be found here.

Leviticus 18:22 / 20:13

Moving from Genesis, we head towards Leviticus, where twice God speaks out against same-sex partners.  And once again, we find a passage of scripture heavily debated in regards to homosexuality being a sin.

For the most part, the pro-gay side interjects against Leviticus 18 and 20, stating that these passages hold no relevance for today.  Their premise is that these passages specifically talk about temple prostitution between men.  While pro-gay proponents don’t deny that homosexuality is being referenced, they do claim that, as in Genesis, what was happening here is not what we see today: healthy, monogamous, same-sex relationships.  This belief makes a big assumption that Leviticus is talking about a different version of homosexuality.  Clearly the writers of the Bible, and therefore God as well, did not understand homosexuality as we know of it today, thus making the Bible’s anti-gay passages irrelevant for today’s same-sex relationships.  This assumption, however, is wrong on many levels.

The book itself

The Book of Leviticus basically details the sacrifices Jewish people had to perform in order to be forgiven, the Jewish feast (holy) days, and the laws people had to follow.  Leviticus can be divided into three categories of laws: ceremonial, dietary, and moral.  In essence, the book of Leviticus is a “works-orientated” guide to salvation, which finds its fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Today, we are no longer held to the standards of the ceremonial or dietary laws, for what was once deemed “unclean” is now “clean.”  However, we are still bound by the moral law, which throughout the New Testament is upheld by Christ and His disciples, as Jerry Kirk notes:

Why should we take these passages of Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) seriously for our day and not the surrounding passages of rituals and dietary laws … because of the numerous New Testament passages that pointedly speak to and set aside the dietary laws (Matt. 15:10-19; Acts 10:9-16; Rom. 14:1-4, 13-21) … (and) the ceremonial laws (Gal. 3:1-14, 5:1-12; Heb. 8-10).  By contrast, the moral law of God in the Pentateuch is strongly reaffirmed and even stressed in the New Testament – not as a way of salvation nor as the means for being right with God, but as a revelation of God’s unchanging and righteous will for His people to bring us to Christ (Matt. 5:20; Rom. 3:19-20). (pg. 55-56)

The Law is there to reveal our sin and point us towards the work of Christ (Romans 6-7).  It is compared to shining a light in the darkness: the light shows us where we are and in what direction we need to walk.  To dismiss the Law is to walk through life in blind ignorance.

The context of Leviticus 18 and 20

As already mentioned, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are found within the Holiness Code.  Throughout the chapters, God is calling His people to “be holy, for I the LORD your God is holy” (Lev 19:2 ESV).  God’s objective in this was to separate His people from the nations around them.  They were not to conform to the standards of the nations, but rather to His standards (i.e. image), as Romans 12:1-2 still calls us to do.  In this context, we need to read the passages against same-sex relationships/partners:

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

Again, pro-gay theology teaches that Leviticus is speaking out against temple prostitution and idolatry between males.  They contend that the Hebrew word for “abomination” (toevah) is usually connected with idolatrous practices.  While in some cases it is (Deut. 7:25-26), this is not always the case (Prov. 6:16-19).  Furthermore, if God was strictly limiting this sin, and the others mentioned in both chapters, to idol worship, then these sins are permissible to commit outside of idolatry.  Joe Dallas explains:

Pro-gay authors refer to the heathen rituals of the Canaanites … as reasons God prohibited homosexuality among His people.  They contend that homosexuality itself was not the problem, but its association with idolatry and … idol worship [was].  In other words, God was not prohibiting the kind of homosexuality we see today … (But) scriptural references to these sexual practices, both before and after Leviticus, show God’s displeasure with them whether or not any ceremony or idolatry is involved.  If the practices in these chapters are condemned only because of their association with idolatry, then it logically follows … incest, adultery, bestiality, and child sacrifice are … allowable (and would not go against God’s standards). (p. 192-193)

However, all of these sins violate His standards – yesterday and today.  Therefore, they are still sinful acts that He calls us to avoid, including homosexual practices.

The Knowledge of God

In Leviticus, God was not talking about two different forms of homosexuality – a good and bad kind.  He was speaking about it as one.  As we will talk about in the next passage (Romans), pro-gay theology argues that “yesterday’s” homosexuality is unlike “today’s” homosexuality; the authors of the Bible had no understanding of same-sex orientation as we know of it today.  However, as I said before, this is a faulty premise with a foundation that asserts God is not all-knowing.

Either God knows everything, or He doesn’t.  Either God created everything and thereby understands how all things function, or He doesn’t.  The argument that there are two types of homosexuality – then and now – is an argument based on wishful thinking.  God knew full well what He was talking about in regards to homosexuality being a sin.  And the writers of the Bible understood as well, being led by God’s all-knowing Spirit.

A word about “they shall surely be put to death”

In Christ, we are afforded the forgiveness of sins by the payment of His death.  All sin must be accounted for, and while we all deserve death for our sins, Christ has credited our account with His free gift of Grace.  In Him, our sins are wiped away, and death is no longer our apportionment.  There is forgiveness for gays and lesbians, just as there is for straights.  Salvation is not discriminatory.  Neither should Christians be.  Unfortunately, Christians have used this passage in Leviticus to bring harm, and even death, to gay people.  Those actions were not Christ-like, and such actions should never be deemed Christ-like by any Christian.  God no longer calls for the death of mankind as a payment or result of sin, instead He calls us to be dead to sin and alive in Christ (Romans 6:11).


5 responses to “Scripture and Homosexuality: Leviticus

  1. Pingback: Scripture and Homosexuality « Six:11 Ministries·

  2. My approach to the arguments based on the context of these verses (“But then you can’t eat shrimp or wear clothing from blended fabrics” or things like that) has been to fast forward to Paul and say something along the lines, “Even if we concede for the sake of argument that these passages alone are insufficient to prove the case, there are the several places where St. Paul — who says we are not obliged to perform the works of the law, like keeping kosher — clearly states that homosexual acts are immoral. IOW, we know that it’s wrong because the New Testament tells us so, and that’s enough.”

    Not saying my approach is better; and it is good to be reminded that the passages don’t distinguish between pagan temple prostitution and other homosexual acts.

  3. Pingback: Scripture and Homosexuality: Romans « Six:11 Ministries·

  4. Pingback: Our Most Popular Posts in 2012 « Six:11 Ministries·

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