Leviticus 18:22; 20:13 (New King James Version)
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.
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If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.
These two verses are a part of a group of hundreds of rules and regulations called the Law. It is always referred to in the singular form: the Law of Moses, the Law of the Lord, the Law of God, the Book of the Law, the Law. Jesus said “It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” These rules were to be taken as one Law — all or nothing.
Chapters 1-7, rules about different kinds of offerings and sacrifices, Chapter 8-10, rules for priests regarding the offerings, and other priestly duties, Chapter 11, rules about clean and unclean foods, Chapter 12, rules about purification of woman after childbirth, and circumcision for males, Chapter 13-14, rules related to skin disorders, Chapter 15, rules about purification of women after their period, and for men after seminal discharges, Chapter 16, more priestly rules, Chapter 17, not consuming blood, Chapter 18, rules about sex, Chapter 19, dealing fairly with others, no crossbreeding of animals or crops, no mixed fabrics in your clothes, no cutting sideburns or trimming beards, Chapter 20, more rules about sex.
These rules have to do with being clean or unclean and were only given to the Israelites. Exodus 19:5-6: Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine. And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
Israel was to be a kingdom of priests. The function of a priest is to lead in worship and offer sacrifices to God on behalf of sinners. This was the reason they were called by God. They had to be set apart from the other nations, and consecrated in order to be purified for worshipping and serving a Holy God. Leviticus 20:7-8: Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God. And ye shall keep my statues, and do them: I am the LORD which sanctify you. (or “who makes you holy.” NIV)
The only way to be purified for worship was by the blood of a lamb, sheep, goat or bull. Hebrews 9:22: In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Once they were purified for worship they worshipped at the Tabernacle. The heart of the Tabernacle was the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place. The heart of the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant. The lid of the Ark was the Mercy Seat. The plans for the tabernacle were given by God in great detail. Accuracy was very important because the tabernacle was an earthly copy of the Tabernacle in heaven. The Tabernacle was a model of the throne room of God and the Mercy Seat was His throne.
The only person who was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place was the High Priest. All of the laws and ritualistic cleansing and the sacrificial blood was so the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies where more blood was sprinkled so that God would forgive the sin of the people and accept their worship.
To enter the Most Holy Place the High Priest entered through a veil. While Jesus was on earth, the Law was still in effect. However, the moment He died the Law was fulfilled, because the veil that symbolized the separation between man and God was miraculously ripped open from top to bottom (see Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45).
Now, we can approach God with confidence and without fear of being ‘unclean’ because the blood of Jesus was shed for us. The blood of Jesus is the only lasting sacrifice required. Jesus fulfilled the Law because the purpose of the Law was to gain forgiveness for the people.
If observing the Law made us right with God, then Jesus would have died for nothing, (see Galatians 2:21 and 5:4).
A literal translation of Lev. 18:22 renders: “And with a male you shall not lay lyings of a woman, it is ritually unclean.” This is vague at best, and ancient Hebrew linguistics have shown that equally viable translations would be that a man shouldn’t have sex with a man with the woman present, or upon her bed.
Please see this article for more on this passage’s probable meaning.
The Bible says that the Law was set forth to prevent the Israelites from doing what the Egyptians and Canaanites did. Biblical historians say the Canaanite religions surrounding the Israelites at the time of Leviticus often included fertility rites consisting of sexual rituals. These rituals were thought to bring the blessing of the god or goddess on crop and livestock production. During the rituals, whole families, including husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, cousins, aunts and uncles would sometimes have sex. Also included was sex with temple prostitutes. In short, every kind of sexual practice imaginable was performed at these rituals, including homosexual sex.
We know that the Canaanites and Egyptians worshipped a goddess of love and fertility called Astarte or Ishtar. Within her temples were special priests called assinu, who were deemed to have special powers. Physical contact with the assinu was believed to ward off evil and promote good luck. Worshippers would often ritually touch them as part of their worship practices. Sexual intercourse was considered especially effective for gaining the goddess’ favor, because the male worshipper was offering his greatest possession, semen (which was thought to be the essence of life), to the goddess through her priests. Depositing semen in the body of a priest of the goddess was believed to guarantee one’s immortality. Similar cultic sexual practices flourished in connection with many other ancient deities.
This is what was going on in Canaan and Egypt at the time the law was given — homosexual ritual sex. Leviticus 18 and 20 specifically say they were written to address cultic religious practices. Leviticus 18 begins with “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 where I am bringing you.” Chapter 20 is even more specific and begins with an injunction against the cultic practices associated with the god Molech. Both chapters include long lists of sexual practices which are likely corresponding to the rituals mentioned above. It was important for the Israelites to separate themselves from, and keep from being absorbed by the larger cultures around them. By prohibiting foreign cultural elements (diet, dress and grooming) and emphasizing divergent social relations (who one may marry, how one farms) the Israelites would more easily avoid being enticed away from the worship of God to their neighbors’ idols.
Historians have found that loving, long-term homosexual relationships did not meaningfully exist in Canaanite culture. It was a tribal culture and offspring were essential to survival in their primitive agricultural economy. There were rigid distinctions between women’s work and men’s work. If two men had lived together as a couple, for example, one of them would have been placed in the position of doing women’s work, and the presence of a man working among the women of the village would not have been tolerated.
It is not reasonable to believe 18:22 or 20:13 were intended to prohibit a form of homosexual relationship that did not exist at the time. When read in textual and historical context, they are clearly directed at religious ritual sex.
Further, in the instances of both 18:22 and 20:13, the word “abomination” is translated from toebah or towebah (Strongs 8441) “toeyvah” which refers to the customs of idolatry. It is a Hebrew word for a ritually unclean thing, and appears over 100 times in the original text of the Old Testament.
And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.
...Can’t eat rabbit, pork or shrimp (11:6,7,10) ...Women unclean for 7 days or 14 days after birth; mandating circumcision for men (12) ...Pronounced clean or unclean for skin disorders including leprosy, eczema, pimples, and severe dandruff; and home cleaning mandates (13-14) ...Ritual cleansings for men’s seminal discharges, and for women after their period (15) ...No blood pudding or rare steaks (17) ...Not allowed to cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip the edges of your beard. (19:27) ...no mules, no tangelos, no mixed fabrics in your clothes, not allowed to eat fruit from your fruit tree until three years after planting (19) ...if a man has sex with his wife during her period, both are cut off from their people, and the penalty for adultery is death for both (20) ...banks are not to lend money while charging interest, and grocery stores are not to sell food at a profit (25) ...other cultural- and era-specific aspects.
With all of these in mind, it is not reasonable to believe that the Leviticus passages against men lying with men are more “toeyvah” than any of the others, when the vast majority of the Leviticus law is describing things which are ritually unclean, yet are practiced without either religious or social penalty today.
Both Eusebius of Ceasaria, and the Apostolic Constitutions state that the uncleanness that is derived from this behavior found in Leviticus 18 and 20 is ritual, not moral (Boswell (1980), pg. 102).
Further, there is no ‘thou shalt not’ in the Ten Commandments concerning homosexuality.
Even further, Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matt. 22:37b-40.
Colossians 2:13,14 (NKJV)