Continuing with answering one more of the “frequently asked questions” I have received concerning my series answering gay “Christian” apologetics.
The Bible names many things as being “an abomination” to God, including eating certain foods and mixing fibers. Modern Christians are picking and choosing which “abominations” to accept and which to reject. So why don’t they have any problem eating shellfish, but have a problem with gays?
This question is drawn from the lists of regulations recorded specifically in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that were implemented by God in order to keep the people of Israel culturally and morally separate from surrounding pagan nations. Throughout the book of Leviticus, for example, God tells His people what is to be considered an abomination to them. Some of those “abominations” are particular animals declared unclean by God (Leviticus 11), and specific sinful behaviors like idolatry and homosexual practice (Leviticus 18, 20).
Advocates for a homosexual lifestyle seize upon what they mistakenly view as an inconsistency among Bible-believing evangelicals. They argue evangelicals who claim to believe the Bible is God’s Word are hypocrites if they openly eat from the unclean animals listed as being an abomination, while at the same time condemn homosexual practice which is also called an abomination in the very same biblical book.
Interestingly, even conservative groups who would be against gay marriage often steer away from the Bible as the source for their objection of gay marriage simply because of this falsely perceived contradiction. Obviously we live in modern times where no one except maybe traditional, kosher keeping Jews recognize the food laws in Leviticus. Thus, it is believed that building a case against gay marriage from biblical passages containing regulations which were relevant only to Jews 1400 years before Christ will only serve to unnecessarily shackle any argument against the gay marriage agenda for our day.
However, those objections are built upon some faulty notions.
Let’s consider the word abomination. The English word abomination as found in the OT Torah is translated from two primary Hebrew words, (sqs) sheqets and (t’b) to’ebah. Both words have the general idea of something detestable, loathsome, or abhorrent. Both words are also used interchangeably with reference to those things considered an abomination to people. For example, the Jews were considered an abomination (to’ebah) to the Egyptians (Gen. 43:32), where as the unclean animals listed in Leviticus 11 were to be an abomination (sheqets) to the Jews.
But, the word to’ebah was used by the Hebrews for the highest degree of abomination, or that which offends the religious sense of the people [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia vol. 1]. That is because to’ebah is used exclusively to describe those people, things, or acts detestable to God because they are contrary to His holy nature.
An important distinction to notice between these two words is the penalty suffered for one who commits sheqets as opposed to one who commits to’ebah. A person who commits an abomination (sheqets) by touching an unclean animal would be ritually unclean until the evening (Leviticus 11:24 ff.). In other words, the person would not be able to participate in religious services for a brief period of time and in some cases had to go through a series of purifying rituals. However, one who commits an abomination (to’ebah) violated the character and nature of God and would receive the death penalty. That is exactly what we have described in Leviticus 20:13 of a man who has sexual relations with another man.
Walt Kaiser lists at least 16 violations of the law which could result in the death penalty [Toward an Old Testament Ethic, p. 91]. Those violations could be grouped under four headings:
1) violations against the image of God in man: murder, kidnapping;
2) sexual sins: unchasity, adultery, rape, incest, bestiality, homosexuality;
3) rebellion against one’s parents and civil authorities;
4) and high-handed sin against God Himself: blasphemy, idolatry, profaning the Sabbath, false prophecy, practicing witchcraft and magic.
A couple of things to note from the penalty of committing to’ebah:
First, there most certainly is a distinct difference between eating shellfish and pork and engaging in homosexual behavior. Though Leviticus 11 declares unclean animals as being an abomination for the people of Israel, a person would not be put to death for handling a catfish. The severity of the penalty demonstrates the severity of the sins listed in each of those 4 groups. Those sins are a direct act against God’s person and holiness. Hence, it is wildly inaccurate to equate the abomination of homosexuality with the abomination of wearing clothes made from two different fibers.
Secondly, this clear distinction is the reason why the Leviticus 11 clean and unclean animal laws can be laid aside in the NT, yet the condemnation of homosexual behavior remains an abomination. That is because the food regulations were only meant for a specific group of people, the theocratic nation of Israel in order to keep them separated from the other pagan nations surrounding them. It is also the reason why God can end the food laws after the coming of Christ (Peter’s vision in Acts 10). There is no longer a specific theocratic nation of Israel God has established as His unique people.
The abomination of homosexual sin, however, transcends both testaments, because it is a sin that violates God’s holy character. Whereas the purity laws governing the nation of Israel can come to an end, God’s holiness always remains and will never come to an end.