A more detailed examination of Leviticus 18-19 is in order as we look at how some so-called Christian leaders mangle the Bible to push the homosexual agenda. Somewhat more general considerations were found in Part One of this article.
As noted there, the theological revisionists attack the passages on homosexuality found in Leviticus, arguing that in the same passages are verses which also forbid men from cutting the corner of their beards, (19:27) or warn of menstrual uncleanness (20:18), and so on. They say that we obviously no longer obey passages on beard trimming and the like, so we can ignore the ones on homosexuality as well.
Most evangelical scholars recognise that the passages in question (18:22; 20:13) are both prohibitive of homosexuality and normative for today. The holiness code, of which these passages are a part (chapters 17-26), was a clear reminder to Israel to maintain distinct ethical practices from the surrounding Canaanite nations. “Seven times [in chapter 18] it is repeated that the Israelites are not to behave like the nations who inhabited Canaan before them (vv. 3 [2x], 24, 26, 27, 29, 30).” As such it contains numerous prohibitions, some of which are still normative for today, and some of which are not. The whole of Scripture offers the context in which we make such distinctions.
How do we decide which are still normative? James De Young is worth quoting at length here:
“Although some instructions and prohibitions of chapters 18 and 20 are limited to Israel (distinguishing clean and unclean animals and having sexual relations with one’s wife during her menstrual period), most are not. The context itself distinguishes limited, cultic prohibitions from universal prohibitions. The reader is able to discern which laws are universal. In addition, the similarity of these chapters to the Ten Commandments and the New Testament’s applications of this section warrant consideration of most of these rules as valid. Prohibitions of homosexuality elsewhere in the Old Testament, ancient Judaism, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, and in the New Testament also justify the interpretation that the prohibition is universal.”
Moreover, there are other interpretive clues. For God to assign the death penalty to homosexuality obviously means that he takes it very seriously indeed. However, there is no death penalty for a women’s monthly period. Instead, the woman was considered ceremonially unclean for a seven-day period (Lev. 15:19). Most of the other ceremonial purity laws also have much lighter penalties. As Grenz remarks, “under the Old Covenant the severity of the penalty was an indication of the importance of the precept.” Thus the penalties imposed tell us something of the nature of the various laws in the Holiness Code.
Of interest, it should be noted that bestiality is also condemned here (Lev. 20:15-16), and it also carries the death penalty. The same reasoning applies to bestiality as to homosexuality: In both cases God’s original intention for human sexuality is being violated. “With bestiality, as with homosexuality, one is breaking the ‘boundaries’ of biological design and sexual order. Reproduction of species does not take place between an animal and a human; nor does it take place between humans of the same sex.”
As Norman Geisler explains: “The prohibition against homosexuality is moral, not merely ceremonial. Simply because the Mosaic prohibition against homosexuality is mentioned in Leviticus does not mean that it was part of the ceremonial law that has passed away. If this were so, then neither would rape, incest, and bestiality be morally wrong, since they are condemned in the same chapter with homosexual sins (Lev. 18:6-14, 22-23).”
He continues, “Homosexual sins among Gentiles, who did not have the ceremonial law, were also condemned by God. It was for this very reason that God brought judgment on the Canaanites (18:1-3, 25). Even in the Levitical law for the Jews, there was a difference in punishment for violating the ceremonial law by eating pork or shrimp, which was a few days’ isolation, and that for homosexuality, which was capital punishment (18:29). Jesus changed the dietary laws of the Old Testament (Mark 7:18; Acts 10:12-15), but moral prohibitions against homosexuality are repeated in the New Testament (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9: 1 Tim.1:10; Jude 7).”
Old Testament scholar Walter Kaiser also examines the argument that says the law against homosexuality is a part of the ceremonial law, and so is done away with the coming of Christ: “Nothing in its proscription points to or anticipates Christ, and the death penalty demanded for its violation places it in the moral realm and not in temporary ceremonial legislation.”
Also, we must understand how the New Testament appropriates these portions of the Old Testament. Most Christians understand that the Old Testament laws can be divided into civil law (pertaining to the civic culture of ancient Israel), ceremonial law (ritual cleanness and dietary laws, for example), and moral law (timeless and universal moral truths). Civil laws, relating to Israel as a nation, are not applicable today, as the nation of Israel no longer exists as God’s sole covenant people. The ceremonial laws too have been rescinded in the New Testament. But transcultural moral laws remain in force.
Admittedly, confusion can arise at times when all three types of laws are found in the same passage. But again, the context often determines how to proceed. Scripture usually tells us what are timeless moral truths and what are cultural and temporal regulations. As Webb remarks, the “homosexual prohibition is not tied to mere ceremonial impurity. . . . The homosexuality laws are not part of ceremonial law, as can be seen from its severe penalty and the New Testament handling of homosexuality, in contrast to its treatment of ceremonial law.”
As to the specific passages, the revisionists want to argue that only certain types of homosexuality are being proscribed, such as cultic prostitution or idolatrous practices. But as Wold summarises, after a detailed examination of the terms and the texts, “all same-gender sexual relations are categorically forbidden by the Hebrew terms. The biblical writer leaves no room for compromise. The language is emphatic. . . . The inference is clear: only heterosexual intercourse is normal and normative.”
And as one Old Testament scholar points out, what is being condemned here is not just outward actions but inward lusts. Nobuyoshi Kiuchi is worth quoting at length here in this regard:
“It is not just that the fate of one’s soul is seriously affected by his conduct, but v. 29b explicitly states that the souls who do (‘violate’) them will be cut off. Herein lies the deepest cause of the abominations: the desire to violate a prohibition springs from the innermost part of the human, which is why the soul is said to be cut off. Despite the chapter’s apparent emphasis on outward but hidden acts, an inner desire such as lust is assumed to be the source of the misconduct. Furthermore, the phrase ‘the souls that do’ stresses the inseparable bond between one’s inner motives and outward conduct. And this opens up the possibility that all the acts prohibited in this chapter are merely manifestations of the human soul: the prohibitions assume no room to exist between what a person desires in the heart and how he or she behaves. It is only a small step towards Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Matt.5:28 NRSV).”
Finally, as mentioned previously, God’s unchanging purposes for human sexuality have to be taken into account here. Many commentators highlight the creation account and how homosexuality is a violation of God’s fundamental purposes for mankind. As Radner says, homosexual coupling is a “rejection of the created and creative purposes of God by which life is received, nurtured, and passed on”.
Or as Goldingay notes, “If we again consider how things were ‘at the beginning of creation,’ then Genesis 1-2 note that ‘God made them male and female’ (Mk 10:6) and envisage sexual relationships only between a man and a woman. It seems likely that the Torah’s ban on homosexual acts is based not just in rules about cleanness and taboo, but on the purpose of creation.”
Veteran Old Testament scholar Kenneth Mathews connects this passage with the New Testament: “We have the reasoning of why homosexuality is unlawful provided in Romans 1 when the Apostle Paul addressed the universality of human sin and guilt (vv. 18-30, esp. 26, 27). The Gentiles had rejected the testimony of nature and chose sinful idolatry and sexual perversions to honor their gods. The sexual practices of the Gentiles were a great affront to God because they were a rejection of God as Creator.
“He made men and women to play their appropriate sexual roles whereby they would propagate and dominate the world as stewards of the Lord’s creation (Genesis 1:28). Heterosexuality outside the bounds of marriage is no less a sin, but the nature of homosexuality has more serious repercussions since it is a repudiation of the Lord’s claim on his created order.”
The foolish and disingenuous attempts to twist these texts to further the homosexual cause is intellectually and theologically deficient, and we need to reject this reckless and harmful theological revisionism and stay true to Scripture.
Note: Most of this article is found – with complete references – in my new book, Strained Relations: The Challenge of Homosexuality, which is available from these outlets:
Part One of this article can be found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/03/28/time-for-some-clear-thinking-on-homosexuality-and-the-bible-part-one/