God and Homosexuality: Part 1 – Lev 18:21 and 20:13

Leviticus 18:21
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

Leviticus 20:13
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.

First,  Scripture must be read it in light of its context and the culture in which it was written. When we look at the beginning of chapter 18:2-3 we read:

“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God.You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes.

The context of the chapter is that the Israelites are not to do as the Canaanites or Egyptians did when worshiping their gods. Chapter 20 is more specific saying not to take part in the rituals done in worship of a god named Molech. Both chapters set forth long lists of sexual practices common in the cultic worship of the cultures mentioned.The question then arises, what were the practices of the Canaanites and Egyptians? Biblical historians tell us that Canaanite’s worship often included sexual rituals. During the rituals, whole families, including husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, cousins, aunts and uncles would engage in sexual activities, including some homosexual activities . There were also temple prostitutes involved in the worship of some of the gods. Having sexual intercourse with them was thought to bring you favor with the god or goddess of that particular temple.

Historians also tell us that homosexual relationships were untenable in such tribal cultures. Men and women were largely kept separated and men’s and women’s work clearly delineated. They simply would not have been familiar with a meaningful long term sexual relationship between members of the same sex. Wouldjesusdescriminate.org puts it this way:

It simply is not reasonable to believe the author of Leviticus intended to prohibit a form of homosexual relationship that did not exist at the time. When read in textual and historical context, the prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20 are clearly directed at homosexual temple prostitution, and that is how they should be applied.

Some people may object, saying, “But if you ignore the context and just read the words of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in black and white, they appear to prohibit all sex between men, not just sex in pagan rituals.” But that is the whole point: The meaning of words depends on context. Remember, the words of 1 Corinthians 11 also appear to require long hair and head coverings for all women in all circumstances. But, because we have studied the context, we know that is not what was meant. A text taken out of context is pretext. Let’s apply the same common-sense rule here.

The Leviticus passages were clearly written in the context of pagan religious ritual. Since we are not bringing a question about the appropriateness of cultic sex practices for modern Christians, we can safely set aside these clobber passages.

The holiness codes had a purpose; to help keep Israel from falling into idol worship because of the land they came out of and the land they were entering. They were rules to keep them from falling into the ways of the people of those lands who worshiped false gods. These laws were not and are not universally applicable. Indeed, prior to these laws being given, God blessed several relationships forbidden in these two passages.

  1. Abraham and Sarah – an incestuous, brother-sister marriage.
  2. Amram and Jochebed – an incestuous, nephew-aunt marriage.
  3. Judah and Tamar – an incestuous, father in law-daughter in law marriage.
  4. Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah – a polygamous marriage.

These examples illustrate that the Levitcal laws had a beginning. These laws also had an end. Jesus. The only law that remains is the law of love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. The law of love has overturned other things the church used to say were abominations: Interracial marriage, slavery and the subjugation of women, among others. The Levitical laws were given,

  1. to a specific people (Israel & resident aliens),
  2. in a specific location (Palestine),
  3. under specific rules (the Holiness Code),
  4. for a specific purpose (to bring them to Christ their Messiah),
  5. during a specific time period (1450 BC to AD 30).

If you intend to follow them, you must follow them all. Galations 5:1-3 says:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.

There are many specific acts commanded in the Old Testament that we ignore and many that are prohibited that we enjoy. These are a few of my favorites noted in an open letter to Dr. Laura from several years back:

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15:19- 24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? – Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted fan,

Oh yes, don’t forget your tattoos.