Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13

Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13

“Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Lev. 18:22)

“If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (Lev. 20:13)

Taken at face value these two verses of Scripture seem condemning of homosexuality as a whole.  But let’s take a closer look at what the Bible is talking about in the entire context of these passages of Scripture.

First, it’s important to know and understand who the audience is and the culture that existed at the time of the events taking place here.

After the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were camped at Mt. Sinai on their way to the land of Caanan.  The Israelites were God’s chosen people and their spiritual holiness was key in remaining in God’s presence. They were a nomadic people and, until this time, had no outside influence.  But now, they were facing the influences of the sophisticated Caananite city life.

Caananite life was deeply interwoven with idol worship.  The Canaanite gods were sexual gods and therefore, sexual rites were a large part of their worship.  These sexual rites included various types of sexual intercourse in the temples, including orgies amongst family members and sex with temple prostitutes, both male and female. These sexual rites involved same-sex intercourse.

In the face of this idolatrous influence, it became vitally important to support and maintain the Hebrew religion and holiness unto God, and to keep the Israelites from adopting these Baal worship practices.  So, a code of laws and regulations were written, which became known as the Levitical Laws or the Holiness Code.

The Holiness code included rules and regulations for worship along with prohibitions regarding the religious, communal, and personal lives of the Israelites.  These rules provided instruction on how the priests were to dress and spiritually prepare for worship along with rules directing the Israelites in physical cleanness and spiritual purity.

Spiritual holiness was symbolized by physical perfection.  Physical perfection meant without bodily defects. Examples of defects included sores, burns, and even baldness.  It also included a woman’s hemorrhaging after giving birth, a man ejaculating, or a woman having sex while on her period.  All of these activities were considered defects or unclean and broke one’s spiritual wholeness. Consequently, they were considered impure and were oftentimes ordered outside the camp area and banned from the tabernacle. The regulations in the code, however, prescribed how to remedy these defects to become spiritually whole once again.

Some of the prohibitions of the code included food laws, mixing of kinds, and other unclean acts.  Some of the food laws prohibited the Israelites from eating pork, shellfish, or rare meat.  The mixing of kinds prohibited them form planting two different kinds of seeds in the same field.  They were not to wear clothing made of two different kinds of fabric.  Other laws restricted the men from cutting their hair at the sides or shaving their beards.  These were all considered unclean acts, which broke the purity of the Israelites.

In addition to these prohibitions, there were the moral laws. These laws addressed activities, primarily sexual activities, associated with idol worship.  These laws included incest, adultery, orgies, and same-sex acts.

Here is where we find the prohibition against the same-sex act, calling it an abomination.

“Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Lev. 18:22)

It is first of all, important to understand that these were prohibitions against acts that were performed as a part of sexual rituals in the practice of worship to Canaanite gods. The word “abomination” is translated from the Hebrew word “toevah”, meaning that which God found displeasing because it was unclean, disloyal, or unjust and is associated with idolatry.  These acts were displeasing to God because they were associated with idolatry.  They had nothing to do with relational love or committed loving relationships between two people – they were solely for the purpose of idol worship.  The wrongness of the same-sex act was in its use in worship of idol gods.

Leviticus 20 states the punishments for these acts.

“If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (Lev. 20:13)

Leviticus 20:13 states the punishment associated with the act, which was death.   It’s interesting to note that this verse is lumped together in a series of prohibitions that are punishable by death.  For example, death was also the punishment for cursing one’s parents (v. 9), and for those caught in adultery. (v.10).

What these particular verses of Scripture speak about are regulations that were put in place to keep the Israelites from engaging in Baal worship. The activities listed in these particular verses were done as part of sexual rites and cult prostitution for idol temple worship.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the relevance of these laws in today’s culture.  First and foremost, we are no longer required to offer animal sacrifices to atone for sin and obtain spiritual purity.  God has given us Jesus who was the final sacrifice and through the work of the cross we have been redeemed which gives us right-standing with God. Because of Jesus we are forgiven and have the right to be called children of God.

People today eat pork and shellfish and rare meat.  There is no need for the food laws of this time any longer. We plant different kinds of seeds in our fields.  And we wear clothing made of cotton and polyester mix. Some of the food laws had to do with the food spoiling because of no refrigeration. Some of the cleanness laws dealt with lack of hygiene and sanitation.  Today, we have refrigeration and running water.  We don’t put people to death for disobeying their parents or adultery as was the law in Lev. 20:13.

The Holiness code was necessary for the people of ancient Israel to keep the Israelites from straying under the influences of the Canaanites and to help them remain loyal and true unto God.  The book of Leviticus refers to a set of laws and regulations for worship of God.  It was a code used to set God’s people apart and keep them from idolatry, uncleanness, and imperfection.  The same-sex acts in this law are referring to cult prostitution and idolatrous worship. These laws no longer apply in today’s environment.

The writers of Leviticus did not know or understand homosexuality as a sexual orientation.  They were concerned with keeping their people from idolatry, impurity, and uncleanness.  These verses of Scripture are part of a code of rules and regulations to do just that – keep the people pure and clean and away from idolatrous Canaanite influence.

The Holiness Code and the Levitical laws were a necessary piece of ancient Israelite culture to guard their tradition, providing for good hygiene and sanitation, and keeping them pure and holy unto God.  Today, we have been given the ultimate gift in Jesus Christ, in which a new covenant has been created.  This new covenant has done away with the Levitical law and we have become children of God and heirs to the throne.

Homosexuality, as we know it today, is a sexual orientation that involves romantic attraction and love between two people of the same sex.  It is not about sex for the purpose of idol worship or temple prostitution.  It is about love – love between two people.

Next – Romans 1:16-31