Homosexuality: Why Christians Should Not Use Leviticus 18:22

October 15, 2017

This is going to be controversial for most Christians, but bear with me. I need to address the misuse of scripture when it comes to the topic of homosexuality. As a Christian invested into much of the ancient Near-Eastern (ANE) customs and contexts that the OT was written in, there are elements of data missing in this discussion that I feel would further solidify the homosexual references as pertaining only to an ANE context, thus never to be used as a universal application of condemnation toward all homosexuals (men or women).

 

This might come across as a shocking revelation (even though I do hold to a heterosexual covenant marriage within a Church context), but I think as Christians, we ought to embody the nature of truth, the way Jesus did. That being said, Leviticus 18:22 is a commonly used verse. To understand this, you have to understand that Leviticus is all about sacred space. What most Christians don't realize is that the people in the ANE had real reverent worship toward many deities, the types of which even Yahweh in the OT doesn't deny in regards to their ontological existence (Psalm 82). Thus we ought to acknowledge that the laws we read as Christians (within the Torah) do seem odd in certain places. For example, what Christian would hold to Deuteronomy 25:11-12? If this is divine scripture, then we must ask the question as to why it exists prior to Moses' own existence? Why does it appear in the following Middle Assyrian Law (that has no connection to Yahweh worship, or Israelite customs and religion):

 

If a woman should crush a man’s testicle during a quarrel, they shall cut off one of her fingers. And even if the physician should bandage it, but the second testicle then becomes infected along with it and becomes inflamed, or if she should crush the second testicle during the quarrel—they shall gouge out both her eyes and breasts.

 

In this Middle Assyrian Law, if in a fight between two men, a woman intervenes and crushes a testicle of one of them, one of her fingers is cut off. If the man suffers the damage or loss of the other testicle because of complications, then the woman's eyes were torn out (or, possibly, both breasts were ripped off). In the second case, in both Deuteronomy and the Middle Assyrian Laws, the penalty approaches lex talionis and the offender suffers punishment according to her deed.

 

So, is there something intrinsic to God that he would personally inspire people to practice such a law? Or is it more along the fact that God accommodates the common cultural practices of the ANE in order to (over time) bring about a particular ethic that will then overrule these man-made stipulations?

 

Certain schools of theology will have you learn artificial systematic ways in which we can organize these laws, placing them into ceremonial, civil, etc. Unfortunately no one in the ANE (including Moses) would even understand our artificial musings. We need to see the Torah as a whole package, just the way scholars do when they read any of the Ugaritic material from the ANE.

 

Therefore these laws are not inspired by God. Rather they stem from what was already commonly understood in the ANE. But in hindsight (as Christians), especially when we see God interact with future generations after King David (always curiously in the context of the Exodus), we see that he carefully orchestrates an evolution of ethics, transforming a primitive ANE perspective toward an ultimate goal: Jesus and the New Covenant.

 

Paul develops this argument beautifully in Hebrews 8. That's why we can relate with Jesus's teachings on the Sermon on the Mount more-so than any OT commandment. If these laws in the Torah are indeed God inspired, then why does Jesus continually say:

 

Matthew 5:21-44

(21) "You have heard that it was told those who lived long ago...

(22) But I say to you...

(26) I tell you with certainty...

(27) "You have heard that it was said...

(28) But I say to you...

(31) "It was also said...

(32) But I say to you...

(33) "Again, you have heard that it was told those who lived long ago...

(34) But I tell you...

(38) "You have heard that it was said...

(39) But I tell you...

(43) "You have heard that it was said...

(44) But I say to you...

 

Is Jesus (the incarnate divine Logos) going against his own OT laws? God forbid. Again, read the argument presented by Paul in Hebrews 8. See why Paul quotes specifically Jeremiah 31:31-34, where God himself makes the argument that the New Covenant is the Law of God, not the law of Moses by which was derived from an ANE perspective. That's why:

 

Jesus has now obtained a more superior ministry, since the covenant he mediates is founded on better promises.

(Hebrews 8:6)

 

Now with respect to this particular verse:

 

You are not to have sexual relations with a male as you would with a woman. It's detestable.

(Leviticus 18:22)

 

I have heard of attempts to explain this as some sort of sexual cult among men (male prostitutes in the temple of Molech). However, knowledge into the ANE context is required to fully understand why this is detestable.

 

First, notice that there is no mention of lesbians (anywhere in the bible or the ANE). All we read about is an absolute ban on anal intercourse between two men, and this is not unique to the bible. The entire ANE and classical world held to the same views. The reason for this ban had a common denominator: the emission of semen for the purpose of copulation, resulting in either incest and illicit progeny or, as in this case, lack of progeny.

 

Therefore, the murder or destruction of humans in the form of semen, thus in the case of Molech worship in v. 21. In other words, the theme is procreation. Semen emission is not forbidden. However, wasted semen is what defiles sacred space, resulting in purification rites. For example, why is masturbation (resulting in wasted semen) not condemned? As illustrated by the story of Onan, sin occurs if the semen is deliberately wasted during coitus (Genesis 38:9-10). Hence in Leviticus, the ejaculation of semen results in only a one-day impurity that requires laundering and ablutions (Leviticus 15:16-18), regardless of whether the act takes place during (legitimate) heterosexual intercourse, or by masturbation, or accidentally (nocturnal emission).

 

This can lead us to think of other issues like birth control. May a married couple practice coitus interruptus? The example of Onan (Genesis 38:8-10) is irrelevant. His act is condemned because he refused to act as the husbands brother and thus denied an heir to his deceased brother. Analogously to the case of masturbation, the silence of the topic in the bible would permit the inference that birth control was not prohibited as long as the couple reproduced itself.

 

Thus, curiously, female sexual relations are nowhere prohibited in the bible, nor anywhere else in the ANE. Why? Because women don't waste semen in the act (because they don't produce semen and thus murder the seed if it's wasted). Hence, the legal reason for interdicting male sexual relations is because of the wasteful nonproductive spilling of semen. If two men were to have anal intercourse, in the minds of the ancients, they are deliberately murdering their seed. Thus murder is detestable.

 

This is the context of Leviticus 18:22. Thus, as Christians, are we fair in the LGBT debate when we use Leviticus 18:22 to condemn the acts today? I don't think so. Allow Leviticus 18 to be where it should be: in an ANE cultural context, specifically in the context of how Israel was to reflect itself as a light to the nations, whereby they practiced what was common knowledge. The difference is that Israel embodied sacred space.

 

And this is why we see God steer history toward the ultimate ethic:

 

Jesus told him, "'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is exactly like it: 'You must love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments."

(Matthew 22:37-40)

 

And it is now that we Christians ought to embrace:

 

...the law of the Messiah.

(Galatians 6:2)

 

Finally, you might be thinking about Romans 1 as including the topic of homosexuality for both men and women, but in actual fact has nothing to do with homosexuality. Rather, Paul is recounting the Genesis story, starting with Genesis 1, migrating into Genesis 2-3, and then reiterates Genesis 6:1-4 when he says:

 

For this reason, God delivered them to degrading passions as their females exchanged their natural sexual function for one that is unnatural.

(Romans 1:26)

 

Nowhere in this passage does Paul allude to lesbianism. He calls what is unnatural the sexual union between divine beings and women, as he recalls this verse:

 

some divine beings noticed how attractive human women were, so they took wives for themselves from a selection that pleased them.

(Genesis 6:2)

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