Monday, June 30, 2008

What does the Bible say: Homosexuality (pt 3)

Before carrying on, please read these items as they are essential to this discussion:
Part 1
Part 2
Comments on a Christians' attitude

Our discussion here is dealing with two questions: "What does the Bible say about homosexuality?" and "What is the appropriate application for Christians today?"

So far, we have seen two stories from Genesis that deal with the issue. Today's passages come from the books of the Law of Moses. These were written to give guidelines for the Israelites to follow when they entered the promised land. With that in mind, here are the passages I would like to reference today:
Leviticus 18:22
"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination."

Leviticus 20:13
"If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them." (ESV)
Take a second. Breathe. Let just talk about what it's saying for a sec.

The Law of Moses was written (under the inspiration of God) with a purpose. One motivation was to protect the health and society of the Israelites. Another equally important purpose was separation from pagan practices of other nations that would be living in the promised land.

In other words, the reason that many things in the Law were prohibited, was because people in the Promised Land (Canaan) and the land they just left (Egypt) were already doing them. However, this is not just a call to be different, but to do things in a manner that is pleasing to God.

Many who debate the way Christians use these passages say, "Read the verses around it. Do we follow those rules too?" And, they make a good point. It is never wise to read a passage outside of its literary or historical context; so, let's deal with that.

First, let's read the introduction to all of these rules, Leviticus 18:2-5. (Keep in mind, every instance of LORD is "Yahweh" in Hebrew, which means "I exist." This is to distinguish God, the one who exists, from the other gods who don't exist.)
Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD. (ESV)
This reinforces what we said earlier about being distinguished from the Canaanites and Egyptians. Then, the next section in both quoted passages lists several relatives one should not have sex with. In ch. 20, the quoted passage is right in the middle of commands against incest and against bestiality.

So far, there seem to be no debatable commands except for homosexuality. However, much of the debate comes from the chapter 18 quote.

Here are the commands immediately surrounding that quote: don't have sex during her period or with your neighbor's wife; don't sacrifice your kids to a king or other gods; don't "lie with a male as with a woman"; and, don't lie with an animal.

If I can speak for our culture at large, it seems that the only debatable commands in the entirety of Leviticus 18 and 20 are avoiding homosexuality and maybe the one about her period. Therefore, if you would like to contest the claims of this passage, these are really the only ones you have to go on.

Here are a few points for interpretation. If we are going to deal with this passage as a whole, as I believe we should, then we must either:
  1. Allow incest (even inter-generational), bestiality, and child-sacrifice along with homosexuality and menstrual sex.
  2. Reject homosexuality and menstrual sex along with incest, bestiality, and child sacrifice.
While I think most people would prefer point #2, many probably don't like it. So, what is the modern Christian to do with these commands?
  1. The principle remains, that if it is prohibited in the Old Testament, it is still probably at least a bad idea or at most still prohibited.
  2. Menstrual sex doesn't appear to be medically unhealthy beyond spreading STIs more easily. Honestly, I lack knowledge regarding present debate on this issue. Therefore, until I encounter a good argument to the contrary, I must "err" on the side of not recommending it for Christians. (In case that wasn't clear, I said "Don't do it.")
  3. Since there is a clear pattern developing in Scripture against the practice of homosexuality, certainly one could not reasonably construe the Bible as encouraging this practice. To do so would be a clear and direct misinterpretation of Scripture.
  4. Again, at least the Christian must recognize that all of these activities are things that God is opposed to. However, they are not unlike other sins.
  5. All sin is the same in that it is a rejection of God's purpose for us. In that, we are all guilty. So this is not a call for Christians to crusade against homosexuals. Instead it is a call for us all to recognize our sin and to run to God who "came to seek and save the lost." (Luke 19:10 ESV)
It is my hope that we will continue to see the consistency of the Bible regarding this issue. However, your response to these studies is in your own hands. Let us not look to the Bible solely in order to condemn others. Rather, we should use all passages that expose sin to remind us that all of mankind is sinful and in need of the Savior. People need to know that their attitudes are sinful, but only if we then point them to the one who loves them anyway.
John 3:17, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."


  1. By way of post-script, I would like to include an additional comment before you comment. You may have noticed that Leviticus 20:13 includes the phrase "they shall surely be put to death." In the period that the Israelites were in, they were to be ruled politically and theologically by God's Law and that Law alone. Therefore, most commands also include the necessary consequence.

    However, upon Christ's establishment of the church, it is apparent that that has changed. Jesus himself submitted to civil authorities while trying to maintain the same moral commands that the Law indicated. Paul suggests that we obey our governmental authorities (Romans 13) while still living under the commands of God.

    Therefore, the Christian is to live by a different standard from the rest of the world. However, when it comes to legal punishment, that is to be left in the hands of the government.

    Do I think homosexuals should be executed? Absolutely not.

  2. BJ from Maine1:53 PM

    Thank you for the thought provoking interpretation. I struggle with this issue. I would say I see no reason to think the bible promotes homosexuality as pleasing to the Lord. However, I react much more strongly against the destructive rhetoric in the name of the Lord that would knowingly harm people outwardly homosexual. I feel compelled to protect the person who is homosexual and rebuke the self righteousness and hypocrisy of the christian who would bear, at best judgment and at worst real harm.

    BJ from Maine


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