Time For Some Clear Thinking on Homosexuality and the Bible, Part Two

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: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/03/28/time-for-some-clear-thinking-on-homosexuality-and-the-bible-part-one/

[1558 words]

14 Replies to “Time For Some Clear Thinking on Homosexuality and the Bible, Part Two”

  1. As always Bill, your exposition was valuable and much appreciated. I think that the quote from Kenneth Mathews “The …practices of the Gentiles were a great affront to God because they were a rejection of God as Creator” says a lot about the times we live in and about the house that the 60’s built.
    Terry Darmody

  2. Notice one section was glaringly missing, Sodom and Gomorrah. Their sexual deviance was the primary reason for their destruction. They practiced every form of perverse sexual practice, which I presume is everything besides heterosexual sex.

    Neil Waldron

  3. Hi Bill, I was passing Koorong the other day so I purchased a copy of Strained Relations. If its any good I’ll buy a second copy for my vicar!!

    I’m currently reading a book from my local library…Modern science in the Bible by Ben Hobrink. (a biologist) It’s a fascinating insight into some of the very practical aspects of Mosaic law.
    Quoting from part of chapter one..
    “Few people realize that the principles of toilets, of leper colonies, municipal sanitation, quarantine, and combating epidemics are taken from the Bible. It seems that the books of the Law of Moses are meant especially for people who live in primitive, unhygienic conditions. Actually until two centuries ago everyone lived in such conditions. This was also the case in Canaan, where almost everyone met with a premature death due to contagious diseases especially venereal diseases and the plague. Hundreds of millions of people died in the most appalling conditions due to VD, leprosy, bubonic plague and an abundance of fatal intestinal diseases. All this misery could have been avoided simply by following the laws of Moses, which show how infection and the spread of disease can be prevented.”

    All this as many as 3,500 years ago, which is the basis of many public health measures today. So, the Old Testament appears to somewhat still very modern.

    Dallas James

  4. Bill, the three-fold division of the law you mention (moral, civil and ceremonial) is sound and well established by historical theology. I suggest it is the task of hermeneutics to determine which Old Testament laws belong in which categories. This is not always easy or straightforward and much work in this area of Biblical studies remains to be done. Yet, while it may be difficult to categorise some OT laws, there can be no doubt that sins such as bestiality and homosexuality clearly belong in the moral law category for the reasons given in your excellent article. Sound exegesis of the relevant passages can yield no other outcome. It follows that these laws have enduring relevance in the New Testament era.

    Secondly, I wish to make a brief comment on your statement that ‘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.’ I urge that cooler heads prevail here! Chapter 19 of the historic Westminster Confession of Faith, while affirming that the ‘sundry judicial laws’ that God gave to the people of Israel ‘expired with the State of that people’, goes on to state that such judicial (or civil) laws do not oblige ‘any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.’ While a lot of ink has been spilled (especially by Presbyterians) over what those words actually mean, my point is that there is much to learn from the civil laws of Israel that is relevant to 21st century nations and governments, e.g. the case laws. Thus we should not be quick to bundle the civil laws with the ceremonial laws under the broad heading of ‘obsolete’, for there is yet much wisdom to be mined from God’s Word.

    Graeme Mitchell, Sydney

  5. Thanks Graeme

    Yes I fully realised that as is, that one line would provoke some reaction from certain theological quarters. But I have dealt with those matters more fully elsewhere, and I will likely do so again. Here I was focusing on just one particular moral issue, so was rather limited and selective in what I said. Much more can be said, and I am aware of the way in which those in the Reformed camp in general and the theonomy camp in particular will want to run with all this – and I am sympathetic to much of their thinking.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. On the matter of interpreting the Bible about homosexuality I recommend a book by Robert A.J. Gagnon, “The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics,” ISBN 978-0-687-02279-3.
    John Flynn

  7. Bill, you stated that,

    “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.”

    Maybe this is the problem. My own personal assessment would say that ‘very few’ Christians understand what you outlined above, and because of such, struggle to understand how and what Christ has fulfilled from the Old Testament (apart from the odd Prebyterian and Reformed Church).

    We need to go back to basics- faithful exegesis of texts understood within the confines of biblical theology. Unfortunately, it seems to be lacking from the pulpits resulting in immature understanding, and hence, distorted theology and ethics. Preachers are not given their congregations solid food and so naturally the sheep are capitulating to secular ethics.

    Mark Topping

  8. One *could* make the argument that the entire Mosaic Law – whether civil, ceremonial or moral – is not applicable to Gentile Christians, as it is for the Jews.

    Even if one were to accept this, two things are worth noting:

    – In Acts 15 and 21, the Gentile Christians are not instructed to become Jews, but instead are instructed to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, blood, meat of strangled animals, and sexual immorality. They do not lay upon them the entire law of Moses, but instead focus on paganism and sexual sin.

    – Meanwhile, when Jesus and Paul teach on sexual immorality, they do not primarily call on the authority of Moses, but on creation itself. Rules for moral sexual behaviour are from creation, not an outworking of Mosaic law.

    More generally, I find arguments on whether or not specific sexual behaviours are prohibited in specific passages and whether those passages apply post-Christ to be a waste of time. The correct way to approach this topic is to look at what the Scriptures promote as holy, not the fine details of what they forbid. The Scriptures themselves teach that the Law’s detailed prohibitions against sin exist only because we are so sinful that we need to be explicitly told what ought to be obvious. To put it another way: if we reach the fence, it’s because we’re already heading in the wrong direction.

    Andrew White

  9. I know I am no biblical scholar in the league of many who comment here, but the key example I look to that the moral law still applies after the crucifixion of Jesus is the death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 for lying to the Holy Spirit. If we were supposedly ‘under grace’ with no reference to the OT law whatsoever, I would like these people to explain to me why both of them ended up dying on the spot just a few weeks after the rending of the temple curtain.

    Because sounds terribly like the ‘Old Testament God’ these revisionists usually affect to despise, as if He was any different.

    Mark Rabich

  10. The Laws in Leviticus 18 and 20 are twofold, they both attack the religion and the morals of the Caananites. It is interesting that we have two chapters that are basically identical in the way they are written. It is also interesting that we have all these laws about sexual morality and yet we also have a laws against child sacrifice. Normally you would think those two issues are separate, but it is important to note that God links these two areas due to the paganism of the time. Here is God’s warning at the start of Chapter 18:

    “After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD.”

    Those are verse 3 to 5 and here God is warning the Jews not to follow in the other nations footsteps and follow their religious and moral behaviours. You can certainly see from the behaviour of the Gods that sexual immorality was strife amongst them, so the fusion of religious practice and sexual morality are practically the same thing in the pagan world. We can start to see that happening now as the world rejects our values and thus it can only go back to it’s pagan roots.

    But unfortunately as we read the rest of the OT that we see that Israel did follow the ways of the nations around them and as a result he had to judge them according to what he said near the end of chapter 18 (18:24-30):

    “Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you. For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.”

    In those verse God prescribed what his judgement will be upon the nation as a whole, so not only were these laws to be personal but when a whole nations falls into these sins it corrupts them right down to the core and God will always punish nations as well as people for their sins. Of course the personal penalty for all of these sins was death, but due to sin becoming common in the nation God will eventually have to punish nations for their sins. As it says in Proverbs 14:34 “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.”

    There is plenty of warning in the Bible that God will judge those nations and individuals that allow such horrendous sin to develop. We know that God punished the Caananites and many of them moved away from the area and they formed the city of Carthage and from archaeological digs of the site that they still followed these religious practices until they were eventually destroyed by the Romans, which was God’s way of punishing them for continuing their sinful behaviour.

    Ian Nairn

  11. Andrew, I love your argument, I think, it is profound and foundational and hits the nail right on the head. For we are tempted away from the One who is the centre of our lives by our own lusts, James 1. I have personally found that every law, even those we call ceremonial have an application that is, should we still abide by them will do us good in some way. I must admit though the beard and the cloth with mixed yarn, linen and wool, I am not sure that I know the good application of that – yet I expect there will be one though.
    The unclean food, well, pork and shellfish are not good for us, it has now scientifically been proven and someone else mentioned the hygienic applications of some of the others.

    I am not sure that Jesus changed any of them though he reestablished their correct value and relationship to each other. He said something very interesting when he was talking to the pharisees. He noted they were tithing their kitchen herbs. And yet, he said they should not neglect the weightier matters of the law such as justice, but suggested they could do both. Maybe if we just trusted God and that he is not arbitrary, maybe we could put these arguments of those to shame who want to major on the minors and thereby try to discredit us in our insistence that we should continue to keep the moral law.
    Hope that wasn’t all too confusing.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  12. I must agree with Mark. Most Christians seem to know that we obey these and not those OT laws but don’t know why. I certainly still struggle with knowing which is which without guidance.
    Kylie Anderson

  13. I have only just found your excellent site. Thank you and keep up the good work.
    If homosexuality had only been condemned in the OT there may have been a small amount of credence to the false claims of the miscreants but of course we have Paul’s words in 1Cor 6:9 and in Rom 1:24->.
    All throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation fornication is condemned including Jesus’ words in Mat 15:9 and Mark 7:19-21. Unlike the food laws etc. there is no scripture that redefines homosexuality as not being fornication and therefore acceptable to God, quite the contrary. Paul’s words make it patently clear that homosexuality is on par with extortion, murder, idolatry etc. Nowhere does Jesus contradict Moses nor does Peter contradict Paul and Jude. The scriptures are all in accord on this matter.
    I think Jude 1 and 2 Peter 2 make it patently clear. What astounds me as that people can claim to be Christians and yet contradict Jesus words in Matt 19:4-6. How could you possibly pray “let Thy will be done…” while actively promoting the opposite?

    Michael Weeks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *