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Is Leviticus Negative about Gay Sex?

Although some gay activists, such as Matthew Vines, acknowledge that in the Bible, the book of Leviticus itself depicts gay sex as sinful, others dispute this. Some claim that the Levitical references to gay sex simply refer to gay sex in the context of pagan idol worship. And it’s true that the Bible does declare pagan idol worship and it’s associated sex rituals to be sinful. These declarations are included in the book of Leviticus, not far from the references to gay sex. So lets explore whether the Leviticus references to gay sex, are simply about sex during idol worship activities. Leviticus 18:8 begins with the words “Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife” and the verse finishes with what may be reasoning as to why this is sinful. How does that verse finish? Does it finish with a rationale of “because idol worship is sinful”? No. Does it finish with a rationale of “because I am a jealous god and will not tolerate pagan practices”? No. The verse about not having sex with your father’s wife, finishes with the words “that would dishonor your father.” Leviticus 18:16 begins with the words “Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife”. And how does that verse finish? Does it finish with the words “because I hate idol worship”? No. After warning against sex with your brother’s wife, the verse states “that would dishonour your brother.” And the wording does not state “temple sex” or “ritualistic sex” would dishonour your brother, but just simply “having sex” with his wife would do so. I dont know about you, but I get the sense that what is being presented as the principle in Leviticus 18 is that having sex with certain partners is dishonouring. Leviticus 18 lists around 20 types of sexual partners eg a man’s own mother, sister in law, and even an animal. If the chapter was simply opposing ritualistic sex practices, why are so many different potential partners mentioned rather than just ruling out sex in idol worship all together? And why is a man having sex with his wife not included in the blacklist, or should we conclude that God permits idol sex worship if it’s between spouses? A level-headed interpretation of Leviticus chapter 18 is that it lists unsuitable sexual partners, even when pagan idol worship is not involved. Postscript: Interestingly, Plato, a Greek philosopher, who lived approx 427–347 B.C.E., apparently stated (in Laws, 1.636c) that;

“… whether one makes the observation in earnest or in jest, one certainly should not fail to observe that when male unites with female for procreation the pleasure experienced is held to be due to nature, but contrary to nature when male mates with male or female with female …”

And he made no reference to idolatry in this statement. And here is some Gagnon –

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12 Comments on “Is Leviticus Negative about Gay Sex?”

  1. Tapman says:

    Good clobbering stasisonline, bet the Gay people haven’t heard that before. 😦

    • stasisonline says:

      Well yes I thought the Leviticus passages were fairly clear, but just today I came across someone who argued it was all about idol worship.
      NB I appreciate dialogue with you Tapman, but not when it is in a tone of ridicule.

  2. Tapman says:

    My intention is not to ridicule. When I read what you wrote it just filled me with sadness. Imagine being Gay.

    God destroys Sodom, God calls it an abomination and incurs a death penalty, God withdraws his salvation, God lists it as a depravity. Gay people have been hearing it for centuries, they don’t need another voice slamming them to the ground.

    The wording may seem clear to you but can you not see the horribleness in these verses when applied to a person. Yes the wording is clear but the way in which we would want to apply what we hear is entirely fuzzy. For whatever reason Leviticus is all about 100% purity and separation. Deformities, being born disabled, being a woman, missing a testicle (perhaps Gay is on the list)- all sorts of things are to be separated from God. Perfection in body(the way you are born – no disabilities etc) is a pre-requisite for the Priests entering the holy of Holies – and blood sacrifices clean the priest to avoid vapourization as he approaches the holiness of God. The ridiculousness of all this is meant to be apparent – that is precisely why Jesus had to come, the purity laws and animal sacrifices were never meant to be the way – the purity that God is, and what our current state is, are like white and black. Creation is affected by sin – we have death, we have lions eating lambs instead of lying with them as they were in Eden. We have thorns and weeds – we have genetic abnormalities like red hair, down syndrome and whatever stuff you would like to mention…..being born Gay, being born white, intersex, tumours, acne ……just stuff that makes us less than perfect. A blind person, a woman, a Eunich, a priest with one testicle, a mute person all had one thing in common – they were not allowed to experience the intimacy of God’s presence – can you hear that – if you were born blind or disabled you would never have the honour of entering into God’s presence which was in the cloud, in the fire, and in the most holy place in the temple.

    When the curtain is torn in the Temple it marked an end to this separation – Gentiles, the blind and lame, eunichs, women, children, lepers are suddenly all granted access to the Father, and Jesus blood spilt replaces the blood of goats and rams. The way you are born no longer separates you from God.

    So yes, the wording in Leviticus is clear – so what? Do we want to return to a system of absolute purity? I have Ankylosing Spondilitis – a genetic problem – that counts me out. Most biblical scholars agree that the arguments stand or fall on what the New Testament has to say. We have a word “arsenekoite” that was widely translated to mean masturbation – I know you think it means homosexuality, perhaps it does – are you willing to ruin peoples lives on an ambiguous word. We have Romans 1 that most Christians regard as refering to Gay……but is it? I know I have discussed this with you before, it isn’t that clear cut – imho.

    Yes, God created us male and female – he also originally created us as herbivors and black – where does a person that doesn’t fit our male/female mould sit? I would suggest that God loves and accepts all of us – black, white, Gay, intersex, male, female, carnivour, vegetarian – as we are. This makes much more sense and I don’t see it as being in conflict with the rest of the bible – whereas your rendition of Leviticus conflicts with everything I know about Jesus.

    The question as always comes to sex – I know that even after all i have written – most readers will say – “but gay sex – Eeeuuw” there must be a law against that! Rather than write even more – perhaps drop in and read my post on disgust.

    • stasisonline says:

      Thanks Tapman. You raise many points in this comment. I guess, in the same way that you dont intend to ridicule, my intention towards gay people is not to be “slamming them to the ground”. I do not want to cause unnecessary offence. So what is the solution that you recommend? When people misrepresent what the Bible states, should Christians ignore this on the grounds that telling the truth is offensive?
      I dont think that’s the approach that Jesus would take. My perception of Jesus is that he loved peace, but that he prioritised truth (Matthew 10).
      I agree that it is sad that the imperfect were separated from God. I count myself as amongst those who would have been separated, since I have my own bodily set backs. You write regarding Leviticus “so what? Do we want to return to a system of absolute purity?” No, we dont want to return to living under Leviticus rather than under Jesus’ blood. But the book of Leviticus remains within the Bible for a reason. Are you saying it is completely irrelevant? My understanding is that it remains relevant. If it remains in the Bible, then we should at least correctly understand what it means.
      What grounds do you have for your claim that “Most biblical scholars agree that the arguments stand or fall on what the New Testament has to say”? That claim sounds very doubtful to me. Although the New Testament is supreme, as I inferred above, the Old Testament remains within the Bible for a reason – aspects of it remain valid and relevant.
      I disagree with your claim that the word “arsenekoite” was widely translated to mean masturbation. Granted some translated it to mean masturbation, but my understanding is that such a translation was in the minority. Whether the word “arsenekoite” is simply ambiguous, is perhaps a matter of opinion. I would say it has a degree of ambiguity, much like many contemporary English words that have various shades of meaning, but I would not say that it is simply ‘ambiguous’. Am I wanting to ruin peoples lives based on that word? Of course not! But does defining that word to mean homosexual sex, mean that people’s lives are ruined? Surely you are oversimplifying the situation?
      Your question of “where does a person that doesn’t fit our male/female mould sit” is a very good question, and one that Christians should think about more. I suppose intersex people are so invisible or uncommon, that it’s not something that many people think about, but we should.
      I agree with you that God loves and accepts all of us – black, white, Gay, intersex, male, female – as we are. Some suggest that the concept of a eunuch includes celibate homosexuals, and Scriptures do depict them as very much accepted into the fold (Isaiah 56, Acts 8:27). I think we see this particularly in the New Testament when women, non-jews and others are depicted as equals. Yes, God loves and accepts us all – it’s our behaviour and our attitudes that he seems more concerned about rather than our gender, race or things we have no control over.
      Thanks for pointing me to your post about disgust. Id actually read it yesterday and I was impressed.

      • Tapman says:

        I guess I feel your view misrepresents what the Bible says…….. the Gospel is offensive and truth remains truth – and the church has been slowly learning and changing over the last couple of thousnad years. Many see these modern changes (accepting gays) as a slippery slope to greater evils…..but that is what they have always said – I guess i should research the crusades, the abolition of slavery, racism etc and give specific examples,, I will probably post on this after a bit of research. God Bless as we both search for truth.

      • stasisonline says:

        Discerning what the Bible says, is one of my top passions, Tapman. So Im always interested to hear from anyone who feels my view misrepresents what it says.
        In terms of a slippery slope, I suggest that for Christian conservatives, the embracing of gay sex as being acceptable for Christians, is rarely perceived to be a step along a long slippery slope. Rather it is perceived to be the end of the slippery slope, where the Bible has been discarded and people feel free to indulge without regard for God’s word.
        May God bless and guide you too.

  3. Nicole Kirby says:

    Now… Lets a revise the Verse again. It states that 1 man must not lie with another man, as THE SAME MAN lies with a woman…. It never says that a Man must not lie with a woman like other men lies with a woman. Hence forth…. This verse does not condemn gay sex acts between 2 men… But as per the word ABOMINATION (Hebrew word = Toevah) means something that is Unclean in Idol worship. TOEVAH doesnt mean something wicked or sinful… But it means something that is sin in idol worshiping.

    • stasisonline says:

      Nicole I just discovered your message in my spam filter. Ugh. I wonder how many other (now auto-discarded) messages I have missed because the system put the message in there! Thanks for your feedback.

      Im not certain of what you are claiming in regards to your comment “THE SAME MAN”. Are you saying that Leviticus 18:22 is actually just outlawing bisexual behaviour and not homosexual behaviour? My favoured Bible translation is the NIV, and the most recent version words it as “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” That wording would not allow for the interpretation that you have made. I dont have a reference for it at present, but Ive heard that the Jews interpreted the verse to rule out sex between members of the same sex. And I’d say that the Jews would be the experts on how to interpret it.

      In regards to the word ‘toebah’, I agree that the word is sometimes used to declare idol worship as sinful. But this is not the only use of the word. It is also used in Genesis 43:32 and Deuteronomy 24:4 for example, to refer to abominations that are not related to idol worship.

  4. Angela says:

    actually toeveh is culturally. What was cultural.

    With reference to the Torah term “toevah”, referring to homosexuality and other practices (see the quoted portion below):

    >>Now, whole books have been written about this stuff, but basically Leviticus 18:1-3 and the Deuteronomy 23:17-18 set the scene for arguing that the other Levitical passages are based on idolatrous, same-sex pagan temple prostitution. Scholars argue that the word for “abomination” (toevah) is used to refer to the pagan practices of other nations. You brought evidence from Leviticus and Deuteronomy. I will likewise only refer to Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Leviticus 18:26, 27, and 29 refers to all of the sins in the chapter (incest, relations when the woman is menstruating, adultery, sacrificing children to Molech, sex between two men, and bestiality) as “toevot”. Deuteronomy 14:3 refers to forbidden foods (animals that don’t chew their cud and have split hooves, aquatic animals that don’t have fins and scales, certain birds, animals that die of themselves, and cooking a kid in it’s mother’s milk) as “toevah”. Deuteronomy 17:1 terms as “toevah” bringing an animal sacrifice that isn’t physically perfect. Deuteronomy24:4 describes as “toevah” a situation where a man divorces his wife, she marries another and is again divorced or widowed, and he remarries her. Deuteronomy 25:16 calls dishonest business practices “toevah”. Is it the opinion of the scholars that all sexual offenses (not just male-male ones), forbidden foods, maimed sacrifices, remarrying a divorcee who has been married to someone else, and cheating in business are also only prohibited in the context of pagan temples?

    The first instance of the use of the term occurs when Moses, speaking to Pharaoh, describes the form of ritual that the Hebrews will practice (if only allowed to do so) as “toevah” to the Egyptians (Exodus 8:22). The second occurrence, also in the exodus story, is similar.
    It would be absurd to suggest that Moses considered our practices as “abomination”. He does, however, recognize that they are foreign to the Egyptians.

    The list of things described as “toevah” (see the quote above) are of a similar nature, They are foreign, in this case to the Hebrews. The translation of “toevah” as “abomination” is clearly wrong. While it may be that Jews have been instructed not to practice male homosexuality or remarrying your ex, it doesn’t follow that these things are inherently evil, disgusting, perverse or whatever other baggage the incorrect term “abomination” implies. It is also true that some foreign practices on the banned list (eg- passing your children through fire) seem pretty self-evidently wrong. However, the Torah often instructs us to avoid wrong action (see some of the ten commandments) without using the term “toevah”. Toevah is not identical to ethics – it is related to culture.

    Folks may legitimately use the Torah to criticize homosexual practice as “toevah”, but only if those same folks are prepared never to indulge in the “toevot” of eating shrimp, having sex while the woman has her period, etc. That would appear to rule out most Bible-thumping Christians, as well as a lot of Jews.

    • stasisonline says:

      Angela, thanks for your detailed comment. Ill respond in the order in which you presented various points.

      I can see that Lev. 18:1-3 does suggest a theme of cultural difference. But those verses do not specify idolatrous, pagan temple prostitution. Rather I think verses 1-3 speak much more broadly, and seem to be discouraging the adoption of the sinful sexual habits of the locals. I perceive the focus on pagan idolatry as more isolated to verse 21.

      Does the word that is often translated as ‘abomination’ refer to to the pagan practices of other nations? Yes, often it does. But it would seem that this is not exclusively the case. Apparently, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines the word as “properly, something disgusting (morally), i.e. (as noun) an abhorrence; especially idolatry or (concretely) an idol — abominable (custom, thing), abomination.”

      You ask “Is it the opinion of the scholars that all sexual offenses (not just male-male ones), forbidden foods, maimed sacrifices, remarrying a divorcee who has been married to someone else, and cheating in business are also only prohibited in the context of pagan temples?” My guess is ‘no’. My guess is that the scholars would tend to say that these things were considered sinful whether in the context of pagan temples or outside the context of pagan temples.

      Ive looked up Exodus 8:22, but I see neither the English word ‘abomination’ there nor the equivalent in Hebrew. Were you referring to Exodus 8:26? I think the first occurrence is in Genesis, perhaps 43:32. I dont understand your comment that it would be absurd to suggest that Moses considered our practices as ‘abomination’. Which practices, and why not? I would think that there are practices today that could be described as an abomination.

      I think it’s unlikely that the translation of “toevah” as “abomination” is clearly wrong. If it was, surely modern Bibles would not translate it that way?

      The question of whether male to male sexual relations was depicted as sinful in Leviticus, does not rest simply on the definition of that one Hebrew word. Lev. 18:22 begins with a command not to do it. I perceive the depiction of it as an abomination, as basically a comment at the end of the sentence, after the act has already been outlawed to the Jews. But Im no expert in Hebrew.

      Finally in your comment you raise the issue of eating shrimp and engaging in intercourse during menstruation. I have little insight into Jewish systems, but for Christians, the issue of kosher foods differs from the issue of homosexual sexual activity, because Jesus said that eating any food is fine (Matthew chapter 15), but he didnt say any sexual activity is fine. IE it seems that Jesus overruled the old Kosher food laws, but didnt overrule the old sexual activity laws. Jesus reinforced the requirement for sexual purity (Mark 7:21). You might have a good point about intercourse during menstruation. I guess many Christians regard that old law as no longer valid, but I see that some do consider it to remain valid, and do consider it to be sinful. But youre right that there are few Christians who are good at complying with every single one of the many many rules in the Bible about what is sinful.

  5. angela says:

    However the word for sin wasn’t used Zimah. Which is sin but toveah is more tabbo especially when you look at the greek., Toevah was something something impure or unclean” for Jews and only jews. Many of the things are repeat but not the shrimp or the mixing of fabric in New Testament.he Septuagint, Greek version of the Old Testament, reveals the same distinction between “toevah” and “zimah.” The Greek word “bdelugma” (transliterated) means a detestable thing, i.e. idolatry; the Greek word “anomia” (transliterated) means transgression of law. Bdelugma translates the Hebrew toevah; anomia translates the Hebrew zimah.

    • stasisonline says:

      Thanks for your further feedback, Angela.
      On my computer, the transliteration shows as ‘toebah’. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance apparently defines this word as “properly, something disgusting (morally), i.e. (as noun) an abhorrence; especially idolatry or (concretely) an idol — abominable (custom, thing), abomination.” There is no mention there of it applying to Jews only. And the word is used in Genesis 43:32 and again in Genesis 46:34 in regards to the Egyptians, suggesting that the word does not only apply to Jews. It is also used in Proverbs 6:16, referring to various sins that the New Testament also portrays as sinful for non-Jews.
      But I dont think the meaning of the word is central to the interpretation of Lev. 18:22. As I have written above; “The question of whether male to male sexual relations was depicted as sinful in Leviticus, does not rest simply on the definition of that one Hebrew word. Lev. 18:22 begins with a command not to do it. I perceive the depiction of it as an abomination, as basically a comment at the end of the sentence, after the act has already been outlawed to the Jews. But Im no expert in Hebrew.”


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