The Holiness Code
Text: Leviticus 18:22 (Leviticus 20:13)
Traditional viewpoint: In these two passages, the law tells us that a man lying with a man “as with a woman” (KJV) is an abomination. This shows us God’s (extreme) negative attitude toward homosexuals // homosexual activity.
These verses are regularly quoted to expose homosexuality as a sin, and quoted as a blanket condemnation of same-sex male sexual activity. (Lesbians get a pass on this one!) The sweeping application of these verses has been elevated to a place far beyond the context. Gay people are condemned with this verse, vilified as less than human. They are told God is sickened because of their feelings. The kind of contempt that comes from this passage cannot be not found in the denunciation of any other sin in our modern form of religion. It is out of proportion and unjustified.
Here are some reasons why I think this long-established understanding is, well...abominable:
1. Leviticus establishes laws and practices that would build a nation different (i.e., “holy” or “separate”) from those in the surrounding regions. The key concept in the book is “holiness” and the resulting penalties for violating the laws. In the “Holiness Code," the word "abomination" primarily connotes a religious meaning—an absolute prohibition against idolatry and associated cultic practices, including those of a sexual nature. It is less about morality, and more about idolatry. (e.g., eating shellfish is not immoral, but it is an abomination)
cf: Genesis 43:32; Leviticus 19:5-8 (v.7); Deuteronomy 7:25,26; 18:19; I Samuel 13:4; I Kings 11:5, 14:24; II Kings 21:2, 11; II Kings 23:13; II Chronicles 28:3; 33:2; Ezra 9:1, 11, 14; Jeremiah 6:13-15 (v.15)
2. The obvious context of this passage is a condemnation of idolatry and cultic worship. (cf: v.2-3) What’s being addressed here is God’s command that Israel not participate in or pattern their worship after the Canaanites, who worshiped the god Molech. Their ritual often involved men engaging in sexual activity involving anal penetration. In all likelihood, the abomination was not so much the sex acts, but the idolatry. (And it’s probably why female sex acts are not mentioned.) It’s a stretch to associate this passage with loving, committed, healthy homosexual relationships.
3. The foundation of this notion—that this verse is somehow applicable today, when other aspects of the Levitical law is not—rests solely on an attempt to assign greater weight to select passages by an arbitrary categorization of the Levitical law into three “types” of law in the Old Testament:
Civil/Judicial law which was limited to the Jewish nation, therefore we are not obligated to follow.
Ceremonial law (e.g., burnt offerings, dietary restrictions) was done away with by Christ’s sacrifice, so we don’t do those today. (Though some Christian groups still abide by the dietary restrictions)
Moral codes (e.g., Ten Commandments and the passage declaring two men having sex an abomination) are universal and eternal, and must be obeyed today.
This subjective approach presents several of its own problems:
- Since the determination of categories is not outlined anywhere in the Bible, how do we assign a particular law to its proper category? (Is the command to stone a rebellious child considered a moral, sacrificial or ceremonial law? How about the command against wearing two different fabrics?) Who gets to make those determinations, and assign categories?
- Jesus never used any such demarcation when He spoke of the law. He merely referred to “the law” and asserted that He came to fulfill it. (cf: Matthew 5:17)
- No divisions or categories are taught in the New Testament, especially the Apostle Paul, who said if you choose to live under “the law,” you must keep all the law. (cf: Galatians 3:10)
- Even within this imposed structure, there is a clear selectivity on which of the (so called) moral laws to apply and emphasize. Coveting has never been as big an issue as homosexuality. Keeping the Sabbath Day is substituted for Sunday worship, based on the example of the first-century church.
4. There is an obvious inconsistency with applying passages within the same chapter (Leviticus 20). Those who are so adamant about the sin of male homosexuality are silent about the other commands:
- Children who curse their parents should be put to death (v.9)
- Those who commit adultery should be put to death (v20
- Having sex during a woman’s menstrual cycle results in being cast out of the faith community (v.18)
- Psychic practitioners must be put to death (v.27)
5. Those who are adamant about the “abomination” of homosexual sex ignore other Scriptures which includes the word “abomination.” (Again, it elevates this issue to a level of weightier importance or severity, without merit, reason or theological consistency).
- Eating shellfish (cf: Leviticus 11:10)
- Eating certain birds (cf: Leviticus 11:13)
- Woman wearing a “man’s clothing” (cf: Deuteronomy 22:5)
- Remarrying an ex-wife (cf: Deuteronomy 24:4)
- Unjust business activities (“false balance”) cf: Proverbs 11:1; 20:23
- Proverbs 6:16 lists “seven [things] which are an abomination” to God. Here the word is used to describe unacceptable ethical and social issues (e.g., lying, gossip, cheating, extortion, etc.). However, we rarely find the same passion seeking to condemn these “abominations!”
6. Using the Bible (especially Old Covenant Law) as a “manual” for sexuality, sexual ethics, sexual behavior or sexual expression presents inherent obstacles, since the Bible presents perspectives and allows, condones and commands practices which are not acceptable today, including polygamy, sex with slaves, women as property, marriage at a very young age, marriage to rapist, concubines, and women marrying their dead husband’s brother. Moreover, the Bible condemned some behaviors/attitudes which today, with an enlightened understanding of human sexuality, we see in a different way, such intercourse during menstruation, nudity, birth control, uncleanness of semen and masturbation.
7. On those occasions where the word “abomination” is clearly used in context with sexual activity, it’s always connected to heterosexual activities, such as adultery, re-marriage, etc. cf: Deuteronomy 23:17-18 (v.18); 24:1-4
In the end (pardon the pun), even if these verses do mean exactly what the strict Fundamentalists preach (and I do not believe they do!), the LGBT Christian is no more subject to the Levitical/Old Covenant law than we are to the dietary proscriptions or the sacrificial system. We are under grace, not under law! The Apostle Paul compares such attempts to witchcraft (cf: Galatians 3:1), and informs us succinctly that love is the fulfillment of the law! (cf: Romans 13:8, 10; Galatians 5:14)