Considering Leviticus 18 and 20
Leviticus 18 and 20 are two portions of Scripture greatly despised by gay activist and their fawning allies in the mainstream media. In those two chapters, homosexual behavior is described as a man lying with a man like he would a woman (meaning sexual intercourse) and God condemning the activity as being an abomination.
Generally, the objection raised against those chapters argues that since eating lobster and wearing clothing made of both wool and cotton is also considered an abomination in the book of Leviticus, it is then hypocritical to pick and choose one abomination over another. Christians now-a-days cheerfully engage in eating lobster or wearing mixed fiber clothing. Why then do they call homosexuality an “abomination,” but eating shell fish and wearing mixed fibers is okay even though they are both called an “abomination” also.
Gay “Christian” apologists also raise similar objections, but do those objections hold up under any serious scrutiny?
Before we even begin a review of the gay apologist revision of Leviticus 18 and 20, it may be a bit helpful to offer a brief overview of the book of Leviticus itself. Leviticus is certainly one of the more foreign books to our modern era because there descriptions of animals being slaughtered, people having to heave chunks of meat over their heads, boiling hunks of meat and stabbing it with a flesh hook, and burning animal fat and hair. PETA certainly wouldn’t like this OT book.
However, the book has a significant purpose. That being, proclaiming God’s holiness and the requirements of holiness God demanded of His people Israel. Professor of the OT at Master’s Seminary, Dr. William Barrick, provides a helpful summary outline of Leviticus,
Leviticus reveals that God called the Israelites to holiness in their worship and daily living as His chosen people. Chapters 1-7 present a sacrificial system that established an outward manifestation of individual and corporate covenant communion consistent with the divine standard of holiness. The sacrificial system facilitated the preservation of fellowship between the people of the covenant and their holy covenant God.
Next, chapters 8-10 define the priestly ministry. The priests were the caretakers of the covenant relationship. Chapters 11-15 move on to describe the purity of Yahweh requires of His people so that surrounding nations might recognize Israel’s identification with Him. He summons His covenant community to a holy lifestyle distinct from that of neighboring nations. The annual renewal of this covenant relationship takes place on the Day of Atonement (chap. 16). That high holy day focuses on the sovereign rule of Yahweh over the nation of Israel. On the Day of Atonement the divine Suzerain blesses His covenant people by granting them His continued presence among them (16:16; cf. 1-2).
To ensure the covenant community’s holiness, chaps. 17-24 prescribe obligatory ordinances. This legislation affects their diet, social relationships, religious leadership, calendar, and center of worship. The calendar (chap. 23) focuses on the seventh month with its three major observances (vv. 23-43). Eschatological overtones in the realm of kingship and kingdom are especially prominent in the New Year celebration (also known as the Feast of Trumpts, vv. 23-25). Then chapters 25 and 26 emphasize the monotheistic and sabbatical principles that comprise the two pillars of the Sinaitic Covenant (cf. 25:55-26:3 and Exod. 20:2-11). [William Barrick, The Eschatological Significance of Leviticus 26, TMSJ, Vol. 16, Num. 1, spring 2005, pp. 95-96].
Chapters 18 and 20 that specifically describe the proper behavior of sexual ethics among God’s people fall into the section of the book prescribing community holiness. Personal holiness concerning individual sexual morality is emphasized in chapter 18, where as congregational holiness in the worship of Yahweh is emphasized in chapter 20.
So the prohibition of homosexual activity, along with a few other illicit sexual activities, is needful for preserving the purity of Israel’s covenant holiness on a personal, individual level, as well as in their corporate worship of Yahweh. God demands holy worshipers, and the reason a man lying with a man is an abomination is because it violates God’s holiness.
In order to press how serious He is with expecting holy living and worship from His covenant people, God contrasts his demands for Israel with the illicit lifestyles of the pagan nations and the worship they gave their false gods. Dr. Walter Kaiser describes these pagan religious customs,
The formal introduction (18:1-5) repeats the solemn words of Israel’s covenantal relationship three times, “I am the Lord your God” (vv. 2, 4, and in shorter form, v. 5). Obviously, the writer is alluding to Exodus 3:15 and 6:2-4 where God revealed his character in his name Yahweh, and to Sinai where God had called his people to be a “holy nation” and a “kingdom of priests.” But this introduction also warned about the customs of the pagan nations Egypt and Canaan. The Canaanite Ugaritic texts even speak of gods copulating with animals, much less referring to bestiality among men. In fact, in Egypt, Rameses II claimed to be the son of the goat-god Ptah. Moreover, incestuous relationships abounded, as the Hammurapi Code and the Hittite laws indicate by the fact that it is necessary to prohibit some of the relationships banned in Leviticus 18. Homosexuality was also attested in Canaan (Gen. 19) and in Mesopotamia. [Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics, p. 114]
What is clear in Leviticus 18 and 20 is the strong connection between the moral behavior of individual worshipers and the object they worship. Their religious worldview shaped their personal ethical conduct. False gods acting with depravity by engaging in sexual acts with men, or women, or even animals, will certainly beget followers who will likewise do the same.
Yahweh, on the other hand, is the direct opposite from such false gods. Whereas they are morally bankrupt, God is holy in character. Whereas the pagan nations who followed Molech and a host of other false gods led lives filled with illicit sexual behavior even apart from their worship of these gods, all Israel was to be separated unto the holy service of God in their personal conduct.
The Gay Revision of Leviticus
The typical way gay “Christian” apologists interpret these two chapters condemning homosexual behavior is that the prohibition against male same-sex intercourse written about in 18:22 and 20:13 is in the context of Molech worship. The men describe here are not lovingly committed same-sex couples who truly want to worship God, but are perverts involved in sexual prostitution commonly found in many false religions during that time. Thus, it is inaccurate to conclude this is merely homosexuals and same-sex intercourse being condemned in these two passages. What is an abomination is men giving themselves to sexual prostitution in the worship of a false god. Thus, loving, same-sex partnerships are not being condemned, but it is specifically shrine prostitution that was perverting true worship of God.
Gay revisionists will even appeal to the word sodomy as it is used in other passages of Scripture and cite some language studies — albeit, by liberals who deny the infallibility of the Bible — of the Hebrew word qedesh, which is the word translated in the KJV particularly as “sodomite” or “sodomy.” A truly faithful Bible student, they argue, will clearly see that nowhere in Scripture does God condemn in any fashion lovingly committed. same-sex partnerships. The true re-interpreters of the Bible, then, are misguided and bigoted evangelicals of the Focus on the Family stripe.
So How Does One Respond to That Argument?
Allow me to offer up five thoughts in response.
1) First, it needs to be noted that gay apologist rarely, if ever, present a positive defense for a biblical, sexual ethic. Their polemics are for the most part reacting to plain biblical texts like Leviticus 18 and 20, and re-interpreting them to justify their chosen lifestyle.
As I noted in my first article, in the whole of Scripture God has given clear, direct, and sufficient revelation as to who the participants are in a marital relationship. They are one man and one woman. Moreover, the Bible is clear as to what behavior constitutes sexual sin and what behavior doesn’t. All illicit sexual activity mentioned in Scripture like premarital sex, adultery, bestiality, and homosexual sex, is always described as being unholy and detrimental to the community of believers. For example here in Leviticus 18, a man lying with a man as with a woman is connected to a lifestyle as defined by a false god.
2) Along those lines, the Scriptures never contrast ungodly same-sex behavior with what would be God-honoring committed same-sex partnerships. Scripture always directs the standard for marital relationships back to God’s creation of man and woman in Genesis 2. A marriage between one man and one woman is the God ordained pattern. Christ affirms this to the Pharisees in Matthew 19, and Paul reiterates it to his readers in Ephesians 5.
Thus, all sexual sin discussed in Scripture like fornication, rape, incest, adultery, homosexuality, etc., is shown as a departure from that ordained pattern. It is extremely telling to see a complete absence from the Bible of God defining a so-called lovingly committed same-sex partnership, and that model being contrasted with the perverse idol worshiping shrine prostitution gay apologists say the Bible is really condemning in Leviticus 18 and 20.
3) There is also a significant internal inconsistency with the gay apologist argument from Leviticus. According to them, what is considered an abomination in Leviticus 18 and 20 is the fact that the homosexual sex act is performed in the worship of the false god Molech. This homosexuality IS to be rightly condemned because it is shrine prostitution. It is then concluded that homosexual sex between a God honoring, committed same-sex couple is not to be condemned.
However, listed with homosexual sex in Leviticus 18 and 20 are the sins of bestiality, adultery, incest, and other degrading sex acts. Are we to conclude then, that what makes those other listed activities sinful is because they are performed in the worship of the false god Molech? That anywhere else those sins are condemned, say for example adultery by Jesus in Matthew 5:27, 28, that what is in mind is adultery performed during the worship of a false god? In other words, are we to conclude that as long as a person isn’t copulating with an animal or committing adultery in the worship of a false god, such behavior is fine with God?
In this instance, the gay apologists are cherry-picking which sins are truly sinful and which ones are not. In a manner of speaking, they are doing exactly the same thing they accuse evangelicals of doing with the book of Leviticus.
4) One major troubling part of the gay revisionist argument for Leviticus 18 and 20 is the dependence upon liberal, higher critic scholarship by individuals who certainly do not consider the Bible inspired, inerrant, or infallible in any fashion. In fact, liberal scholarship is commonly appealed to by gay revisionists who wish to make the Bible say something entirely different than what it is saying.
They never build a pro-gay apologetic from Scripture that considers the vast body of research and literature on the original biblical grammar and the history of the interpretation of the Torah by both Jews and Christians who would be conservative and evangelical in their convictions. Instead, they appeal to “scholarship” from people who, a) don’t believe the Bible is reliable to begin with, and b) produce contorted linguistic studies which conclude the opposite of what the Bible really teaches regarding homosexuality and human sexual ethics in general.
5) Then lastly, gay revisionists of Leviticus do not seriously consider the emphasis of holiness of God presented in the entire book. As I cited above, Leviticus establishes God’s holy character. His holy character is revealed by describing those behaviors and actions He deems as an abomination, or odious to His person and the attributes which define who He is as God.
On account of God’s holy character, He demands holy worship from His people. Being the creator of humanity, God has determined through the creation ordinance the expression of human sexuality in a marital relationship between a man and a woman as the first book of the Torah, Genesis, describes. Thus, any expression of sex that falls outside those divinely determined parameters violates God’s holiness. Whether or not the abomination is temple prostitution is really irrelevant to the overall picture of God revealed in the book. God has determined the participants and the boundaries for a true sexual relationship. Homosexual sex, either in the context of shrine prostitution, or in a so-called committed same-sex partnership, is a departure from God’s ordained creation of men and women.
Gay “Christian” revisionists diminish the significance of God’s holiness as presented in Leviticus. They further diminish the discussion of those sins in light of God holiness in other sections of Scripture like Romans and 1 Corinthians by attempting to apply a similar interpretation to those NT passages as well. But, homosexual sex is still an abomination to God because even though much of the legislation which governed the OT theocratic nation of Israel has been laid aside at the coming of Christ, God’s holy character transcends both testaments, and those sinful actions that were described as an abomination to His character in Leviticus are still an abomination today.