Thursday, May 29, 2008

Homosexuality and the Bible (Part 5)

The Holiness Code found in Leviticus urged all Israelites to keep themselves and the land unpolluted through holy obedience to the commands. In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 we find explicit references that prohibit homosexual behavior:

With a male you shall not lie as though lying with a woman; it is an abomination.
- Leviticus 18:22

And a aman who will lie with a male as though lying with a woman, they have committed an abomination, the two of them; they shall certainly be put to death; their blood be upon them.
- Leviticus 20:13

Most scholars have long assumed an obvious meaning of these verses, however, revisionists (biblical liberals) have come along an tried to suggest a new understanding of these verses. Their argument rests on the interpretaion and object of the word "abomination" (in the Hebrew "Toebah"). Revisionists will suggest either or both arguments that the "abomination" referenced in each of these verses is 1, in relation to ritual purity (not sin) and/or 2. idolatrous cult practices (not homosexual practice as we understand it today).

1. Revisionists will suggest that "abomination" points to homosexuality as something unclean and against the purity laws on par with eating pork or engaging in intercourse during menstruation. They would argue that the "abomination" is being ceremonially unclean, not inherently sinful. There are three good counter arguments to this suggestion.

First, for the jew ceremonially unclean was synonomous with inherently sinful. The two were not separated in the minds of the Jewish people. One of the major reasons Leviticus exists is to show that God is holy and humanity isn't. Even through ceremonial purity, the Jews (and the rest of humanity) could not live up to God's standards.

Second, the fact that homosexuality is singled out as a form of sexual misconduct that is particularly worthy of the designation "abomination" suggests a seriousness to it that not all sins carry. It reminds me of 1 Corinthians 6:18 where Paul writes "Free from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside of his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body." Its not that sexual sin is worse than any other sin, but it is in a class of its own.

Lastly, the punishment of death found in Lev. 20:13 demonstrates the significance of the degree to which homosexuality is abhorrent.

2. The second argument revisionists use is that the "abomination" is a reference to the way homosexuality was practiced in the culture around the Israelites. They suggest that "abomination" in this context relates to Canaanite idolatry and the rituals - sexual or otherwise - practiced in it. They relate the sin not to homosexuality, but to the diety being worshipped while the sexual practice was engaged upon. The natural application is that the context does not speak to homosexuality as we understand it today: as two loving men or women who consensually engage in homoerotic behavior.

The majority of biblical scholars give this argument very little creedence. It is obvious from the text that it is not the cultic or idolatrous element that makes homosexual practice an "abomination" it is the sexual element. All one has to do is look at the context. These Levitical prohibitions fall within a greater pericope of all types of sexual prohibitions. Also, in the Ancient Near Eastern Culture, to ban cult prostitutes was to ban all homosexual intercourse. It wasn't just the sexual misconduct of prostitution, but also the type of prostitution practiced. One scholar (Robert Gagnon) wisely observes "the Levitical rejection of same-sex intercourse depends on Canaanite practices for its validity about as much as the rejection of incest, adultery and bestiality."

It is clear that these two verses clearly name homosexual practice as an abomination and against God's will for humanity.

2 comments:

Miller Family said...

Rich,

Thank you for all of your insights on this difficult subject. As a person who has a family member on this subject, I have complete peace and I praise God that all sins lay at the base of the cross and not one is excluded! Glory to God that all of our sins are covered by the blood of His Son!

In Christ,

Pastor Tommy said...

I know it's old (a couple months). I just found this. I'm doing some research for some congregation members. I am a UM Pastor in the same conference as Good Shepherd. Excellent thoughts on this subject. I'm still reading them through.
I'm new to the blogging thing and have found yours interesting.
thanks
tommy