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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic


The Bible and the Issue of Homosexuality - P. 1

The Bible and the Issue of Homosexuality - Part 1
The Bible and the Issue of Homosexuality - Part 2



Introduction

With the increasing acceptance of homosexuality in modern times, it was perhaps inevitable that some in the Christian community would begin to reexamine whether or not the Bible was actually prohibitive of all forms of homosexual behavior, which has been the traditional view. Given these trends toward reexamination of this question, in this study we will focus on the Bible's view of homosexuality in both the Old and New Testaments.

It is not our intention to single out homosexuality. In fact, in both the New and the Old Testament, homosexual behavior is given the same punishment as certain other sins, some sexual in nature, others not sexual in nature. Some of those other sins are discussed in other articles on this website, such as idolatry and adultery. So, in focusing on the specific issue of homosexuality in this article, we are not giving it unique emphasis. Instead, we are simply addressing the issue of homosexuality due to the current reevaluation of it in Christian circles in modern times.

The keys to the discussion of homosexual behavior in the Bible involved two essential arguments: 1) specificity of prohibition and 2) a change in the covenants.

Concerning the former, the foundational argument is that whenever the Bible mentions homosexuality, it is either not specific enough or perhaps too specific. For example, a passage might be characterized as a prohibition against pederasty, in which case this passage is "re-interpreted" as though it did not even address, let alone condemn, homosexual behavior involving two consenting adults.

By contrast, another passage might very simply describe sexual conduct between two men in the most generic of terms. For such passages, "re-interpreters" might suggest certain qualifiers or specifics that are not in the text, such as the commitment level between the two partners or the way that they feel toward one another. Under this scenario, such passages are reinterpreted so that the text only condemns certain types of homosexual relationship because the "interpreter" supplies qualifications and specifics not found in the text.

Concerning the latter, the foundational argument is that whatever the Old Testament rules for homosexuality might have been, with the arrival of the New Covenant under Jesus Christ those rules changed in a significant manner and more importantly in such a manner that made various types of homosexual behavior acceptable, which were prohibited in the Old Testament. For the purposes of such an argument, those who favor this point of view may prefer to categorize the Old Testament prohibitions of homosexuality as part of an overarching aspect of the Mosaic Law that was not carried over into the New Covenant, such as the ceremonial requirements.

Largely these questions can be answered by examining what God originally said about homosexual behavior, by examining if there was any change in God's standards over time in either Testament, and by comparing the language and vocabulary that are used concerning homosexuality throughout the Bible. And for this reason, we will divide our examination into two parts.

The first part will address the mentions of homosexuality in the Old Testament in order to establish if these prohibitions were part of some aspect of the Mosaic Law, which passed away under the New Covenant. The second part will address the comparative language between the Old and New Testaments to further examine if New Testament authors wrote in such a way as to indicate that a change had occurred from the Old Testament. And both sections will address the issue of specificity and whether or not the Biblical language in either Testament was meant to prohibit only certain "types" of homosexual behavior rather than all homosexual behavior in general.

With that said, we begin our study with the first section.


Moral Code vs. Purity Code in the Old Testament

Leviticus 18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. 23 Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion. 24 Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you.

Looking only at Leviticus 18, someone might say, "You see, homosexuality was regarded as a matter of ritual defilement or uncleanness, not a moral issue." The implication is that when regulations regarding ritual purification ended under the New Covenant, therefore, the prohibition of homosexuality did as well since it was regarded as a matter of ritual uncleanness or defilement.

But this is not correct. While it is true that homosexuality and bestiality and idolatry are considered defilements/acts of uncleanness, such a statement is a false portrayal of how the Old Testament used the word "unclean" or "impure." (Later we will look at how Leviticus 20 states these defilements mentioned in Leviticus 18 are to be dealt with and it is not with a purification ritual.)

The term "uncleanness" in the Old Testament referred to both sins as well as issues of germs and commonness. The reason for this is simple. This term "uncleanness" or "defiled" (depending on the translation) was meant to CONTRAST with God's holiness. God's holiness was righteous and it was not to be treated as a common thing. Thus, sin was a defilement, which made a person unclean because it made him unholy. And touching a dead body or having leprosy or giving birth were defilements, which made a person unclean because of the germs, which also made a person unholy and unfit for the things of God. This was the view in the Law of Moses.

Thus, we cannot classify homosexuality as being either a matter of "purification" or "morality." The reason for this is simple: the Law of Moses referred to moral matters as matters of "cleanness" as well. So, in the sense of "uncleanness vs. purity" moral matters were considered matters of purity or uncleanness also. Thus, immoral acts such as adultery were also considered defilements, "uncleanness," or "impurity."

In short, morality and purity were not considered separate categories in the Law of Moses. So, we cannot construct arguments about homosexuality based upon assertions that it is a matter of purity in the Old Testament rather than a matter of morality. Many moral matters were described as matters of purity.

Therefore, because morality in the Old Testament WAS a matter of cleanness and purity, the question is not, "Was homosexuality treated as an issue of purity or an issue of morality in the Old Testament?" It's not an either/or scenario.

Since "cleanness" or "uncleanness" in the Old Testament included both issues of germs, like touching a dead body or having leprosy, and issues of morality such as adultery or bestiality, we need to figure out which one of THESE TWO categories (germs or sin) that homosexuality fell under in the Old Testament.

Was homosexuality an issue of being unclean/defiled because of germs? Or was homosexuality an issue of being unclean/defiled by immorality/sin?

The indication for this is quite simple. When "uncleanness" was caused by germs, such as touching a dead body or leprosy, there is given a method or ritual for purification. This typically involved quarantine, a waiting period, changing clothes, offering some sacrifice, and washing whereby the potential sickness is removed and kept from contaminating others or the holy things of God, such as the tabernacle. By contrast, when "uncleanness" was caused by sin, some sin could be atoned for by offering sacrifices, thus purifying the man, while other sins could not be atoned for by sacrifice and the guilty party was to be stoned.

Essentially, we have 3 categories:

1) Germs and Health - for which purification was prescribed.
2) Sins - for which purification was prescribed.
3) Sins - for which no purification was available under the Law of Moses and for which death was prescribed.

So, when examining the Old Testament statements about homosexuality, we must determined if homosexual behavior is regarded as 1) an issue of germs and health in which case a purification process would be prescribed 2) an issue of a sin for which a sacrifice is prescribed to make the person clean 3) or an issue of a sin for which death is prescribed and no purification is given.

Below are some examples of actions involving germs that made a person unclean and the requirements for purification to make them ceremonially clean again. These things include touching a dead body of man or animal, a woman giving birth, touching a person who has a wound, or having leprosy (Leviticus 13 and 14, which are too long to include below.)

Leviticus 11:39 And if any beast, of which ye may eat, die; he that toucheth the carcase thereof shall be unclean until the even. 40 And he that eateth of the carcase of it shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: he also that beareth the carcase of it shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.

Leviticus 12:2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean. 3 And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4 And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled. 5 But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days. 6 And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest: 7 Who shall offer it before the LORD, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female. 8 And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.

Leviticus 15:2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When any man hath a running issue out of his flesh, because of his issue he is unclean. 3 And this shall be his uncleanness in his issue: whether his flesh run with his issue, or his flesh be stopped from his issue, it is his uncleanness. 4 Every bed, whereon he lieth that hath the issue, is unclean: and every thing, whereon he sitteth, shall be unclean. 5 And whosoever toucheth his bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 6 And he that sitteth on any thing whereon he sat that hath the issue shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.7 And he that toucheth the flesh of him that hath the issue shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.

Leviticus 17:15 And every soul that eateth that which died of itself, or that which was torn with beasts, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger, he shall both wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even: then shall he be clean.

Numbers 19:11 He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days. 12 He shall purify himself with it on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean: but if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean.

Numbers 19:16 And whosoever toucheth one that is slain with a sword in the open fields, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. 17 And for an unclean person they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel: 18 And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave: 19 And the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day, and on the seventh day: and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even.

The goal of these things was to be clean for communing at the tabernacle, which was the tent sanctuary that existed before there was a temple. Clean persons could commune spiritually at the tabernacle. Unclean persons could not. But unclean persons could become clean again for communing IF they followed these prescriptions for purification. ONLY IF an unclean person entered the tabernacle without purification would they die.

Leviticus 15:31 Thus shall ye separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness; that they die not in their uncleanness, when they defile my tabernacle that is among them.

There were also CERTAIN sins for which purification was prescribed.

Leviticus 19:20 And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free. 21 And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, even a ram for a trespass offering. 22 And the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his sin which he hath done: and the sin which he hath done shall be forgiven him.

Numbers 15:27 And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering. 28 And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the LORD, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him.

However, there were other sins for which there was to be no purification. Any individual who committed these sins under the Law of Moses could not be purified or atoned for but had to be put to death.

People were to be stoned for idolatry, fornication, adultery, bestiality, cursing your parents, etc. as the following passages indicate. There was no purification for such crimes. Instead of purification, stoning was prescribed, thus indicating that these were not issues of ritual purity or sacrifice but of morality. As such, the ending of purification rituals and sacrifices under the New Covenant would not affect these things, which were never dealt with by purification rituals or sacrifices to begin with.

Leviticus 20:2 Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones. 3 And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name.

Leviticus 24:15 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. 16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death.

Numbers 35:15 These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them: that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither. 16 And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. 17 And if he smite him with throwing a stone, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. 18 Or if he smite him with an hand weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. 19 The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him, he shall slay him. 20 But if he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by laying of wait, that he die; 21 Or in enmity smite him with his hand, that he die: he that smote him shall surely be put to death; for he is a murderer: the revenger of blood shall slay the murderer, when he meeteth him.

Deuteronomy 13:6 If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; 7 Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; 8 Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: 9 But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

Deuteronomy 22:22 If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.

Deuteronomy 24:7 If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you.

Exodus 21:15 And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death. 16 And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. 17 And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.

Exodus 22:19 Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death. 20 He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed.

And this brings us of course to the significant passage concerning homosexuality, which also falls under this category.

Leviticus 20:8 And ye shall keep my statutes, and do them: I am the LORD which sanctify you. 9 For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him. 10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. 11 And the man that lieth with his father's wife hath uncovered his father's nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. 12 And if a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death: they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them. 13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. 14 And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you. 15 And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast. 16 And if a woman approach unto any beast, and lie down thereto, thou shalt kill the woman, and the beast: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

In all of these cases, there was no purification ritual or sacrifice for such offenses. Instead, those who committed such acts were to be killed for these behaviors. Not surprising is that the items on this list are closely overlapping with the 10 Commandments, which forbid idolatry, adultery, coveting your neighbor's wife, blaspheming God, murder, and cursing your parents - all of which we find offenses for which a man is stoned. (Although those who stole were to pay back what they had stolen - Exodus 22:7-9.)

And of course, listed among these offenses for which there is no purification or sacrifice, we find Leviticus 20:13, which states in simple terms that any man who lies with another man as men lie with women shall be put to death. The phrase "a man lying with a man as a man lies with a woman" is a clear and simple depiction of a sexual act, which normally takes place between a male and female. And we know what is meant by "lie" in verse 13 from the use of this same word in the surrounding context where it refers to sex between a man and his father's wife in verse 11 and a man and his daughter in law in verse 12. Not to mention that these sins of a man "lying" with various women are mentioned after adultery in verse 10. So, in this context, when verse 13 states, "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman," we know that this phrase is talking about sexual acts just as it is in the surrounding verses.

There is no mention of "love" or "circumstance" or "how the two men feel about each other." No consideration or exception is granted for any of these things. Instead, the prescription here is all-encompassing. If two men engage in sexual activity, both men are to die. It is that simple. No consideration of any other details is given.

So, in our 3 categories, two men engaging in sexual conduct with each other falls into category 3 - a sin for which there was no purification or sacrificial atonement but for which death was prescribed.

1) Germs and Health - for which purification was prescribed.
2) Sins - for which purification was prescribed.
3) Sins - for which no purification was available under the Law of Moses and for which death was prescribed.

Consequently, the ending of purification rituals and sacrifices under the New Covenant would not affect the prohibition against homosexuality, which was never dealt with by purification rituals or sacrifices to begin with.