Leviticus

The discussion regarding homosexuality in Leviticus hinges on two verses:

“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” – Leviticus 18:22 KJV

“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.” – Leviticus 20:13 KJV

First, Robinson frames his argument on the terms natural and normal. He writes:

“It is ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ for men to desire women, and therefore men who have sexual relations with other men are not ‘normal’ and indeed are acting ‘against their nature.’ It never occurred to the ancient Israelites that a man might naturally be affectionally, erotically drawn toward other men . . . Because everyone was understood to be ‘heterosexual’ (presumably, this word did not even exist at the time, since it only has meaning in contrast to ‘homosexual’), and same-gender sexual activity was unclean and prohibited as acting against one’s own nature. Indeed, it would have been an ‘abomination’ to God and God’s natural order . . . The psychological construct of a homosexual orientation was not posited until the late nineteenth century – the notion that a certain minority of humankind is affectionally oriented toward people of the same gender, rather than the opposite gender. For people so oriented, intimate physical contact with people of the opposite gender would be ‘against their nature.'”1

Robinson contends that because the ancient Israelites were unaware of homosexuality, any same-gender conduct was forbidden because it was not “natural” or “normal.” Because of the modern understanding of homosexuality Robinson argues that a homosexual’s nature is to desire the same sex, so therefore it is not “against their nature.”

To look at this from the biblical standpoint, we must first ask the question – who determines the nature of a human being? Is it determined by mankind’s perception of his nature? Or did God determine it?

To answer this question, let’s go back to creation:

“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul . . . And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him . . . And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” – Genesis 2:7, 18, 21-25 KJV

We find in Genesis 2 that God created man from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into him. But knowing that it was not good for man to be alone, God took a rib from him and created the woman. An important thing to consider – did God leave it to Adam to determine what his nature would be or what would be considered natural? Or did God design man’s nature according to His sovereign purpose? God did not leave it to Adam, but rather created the male/female unit as He saw fit. Hence why God said “therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (v. 24).

But what about mankind’s nature? What was the innate purpose of the man and woman?

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” – Genesis 1:27-28 KJV

God’s command to mankind was to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.” The nature of man and woman is, among other things, to be fruitful and multiply through sexual reproduction, and as such are physically designed for this purpose. Some may argue the fact that some animals in nature are homosexual or exhibit homosexual behavior. This fact cannot be ignored, but we must ask – are human beings animals? For example, do human beings eat their children? Is the brutal hunting and killing of one another commonplace in human society? Certainly not, but why are humans an exception from the animal kingdom? Because human beings were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Human beings were created with a body, soul, and spirit, whereas animals were not. We cannot compare the behaviors of animals with the behaviors of humans.

The Old Testament Law

Robinson writes:

“In practice, we modern-day Christians have regarded most of the injunctions in the Holiness Codes of Leviticus and Deuteronomy as culturally bound to the ancient times of the Hebrews – not binding on us. These same purity codes forbid eating shellfish, planting a field with two different kinds of seeds, or wearing simultaneously two kinds of cloth. They would prohibit us from ordaining to the priesthood any handicapped person – not to mention women. We cannot, then, isolate these passages about homosexual acts and impute to them the kind of enduring authority that we ascribe to nothing before or after them.”2

For a review on the interpretive method used when approaching the Old Testament law, see the foreword on Biblical Hermeneutics. Let’s analyze these two verses using sound hermeneutics and determine if they are relevant today.

The Interpretive Journey3

“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” – Leviticus 18:22 KJV

“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.” – Leviticus 20:13 KJV

Step 1: Grasp the text in their town. What did the text mean to the original audience?

“The central teaching of the book [of Leviticus] is summarized in the command to ‘consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy . . .’ (Lev. 11:44-45). The first part of Leviticus outlines the requisite procedures for worshiping Yahweh (chaps. 1-10), and the second section prescribes how the covenant people of God are to translate the idea of holiness into daily living (chaps. 11-27).”4

It is important to identify the placement of the chapters in question (18 and 20). Leviticus chapters 11-15 concern the laws about “clean” and “unclean” things, whereas chapters 16-26 concern the laws of holiness.

What did text mean to the Israelites? Both Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are clear that homosexual behavior was not permitted. Did this only apply to the Israelites? Consider the context of Leviticus 18:22:

“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. 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. Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you.” – Leviticus 18:22-28 KJV

We find that these laws in Chapter 18 did not only apply to the Israelites, but also to foreigners. This is an important consideration.

Again in the context of Leviticus 20:13, we read:

“And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.” – Leviticus 20:23 KJV

What are “all these things” referenced in Leviticus 20:23? These are the abominations listed in the preceding text, which would encompass the verse in question (v. 13). Another important observation – God did not only abhor these abominations when committed by the Israelites, but also when they were committed by foreigners not under the covenant.

Step 2: Measure the width of the river to cross. What are the differences between the biblical audience and us?

Today, we are not under the Mosaic covenant where we must maintain purity and holiness according to the covenant. Rather, we are under the new covenant of Jesus Christ. As such, we are not subject to the laws or their penalties as set forth in the book of Leviticus.

Step 3: Cross the principlizing bridge. What is the theological principle in this text?

In order to establish the theological principles of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, we must take into account several considerations. First, the prohibition of homosexual conduct is clearly in the text. Was this prohibition tied to a specific situation? By situation I do not mean the Mosaic covenant, but rather a specific situation at a specific time. No, these laws were not situation specific but rather binding throughout the duration of the Mosaic covenant. Was the prohibition of homosexual conduct culturally bound? Or was it a higher reflection of the holiness of God and His creation? Considering the laws of Leviticus 18 and 20 were not only abominations by the Israelites but also the surrounding foreigners, I conclude that this was not a Hebrew-only cultural principle. Furthermore, the concept of homosexual conduct was relevant to the biblical audience and is still relevant to the contemporary audience today.

Step 4: Consult the biblical map. How does our theological principle fit with the rest of the Bible?

How does the prohibition of homosexual conduct fit with the rest of Scripture? God created man and woman to become one flesh (Genesis 2:24) and for the purpose of multiplying the earth (Genesis 1:27-28). The apostle Paul identifies homosexual conduct as an act of unrighteousness in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1 which are addressed in another section.

Step 5: Grasp the text in our town. How should individual Christians today live out the theological principles?

Considering the above, I will let the reader take my exegesis of Leviticus 18 and 20 and let them make their own determination of its validity.


1. Robinson, God Believes in Love, p. 72
2. Robinson, God Believes in Love, p. 74
3. Duvall & Hays, Grasping God’s Word, p. 47
4. Hill, A. E., & Walton, J. H., A Survey of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, ©2009) p. 130