233. What relevance do Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 have to changing the definition of marriage in Australia? Should I vote “Yes” or “No” to same sex ‘marriage’?

As I mentioned in the previous article, the ABC on its website published an article by an Australian theologian which examined some of the Bible’s teaching relating to marriage. Part of that article had these words, “Two of the laws of Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) are the sum total of what the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) says about same-sex activities. They call a man lying with another man instead of his wife an “abomination”. The imagined scenario is a married man committing adultery with another male. Again, we need some context. Yes, this verse clearly condemns adulterous homosexual sex in calling it an “abomination” (to’ebah), but here are all the other things also called an “abomination” in the Bible.” The writer then listed many of those abominations. She concluded, “As you can see, there is quite an assortment of ancient laws, some of which seem to make good sense (such as no child sacrifice) and others of which the majority of Christians no longer keep (such as eating pork and wearing a wool-silk blend). To claim one set as timeless truths while ignoring the others is patently hypocritical and goes against the grain of the text itself.”

Well let’s take the advice of that writer and look at the context for these verses, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. The writer of the article unfortunately [and most probably unintentionally] gives the impression that there are only a few occurrences of the word “abomination” (Hebrew to’ebah) which are those mentioned above. However, a quick look at a concordance gives the number as 126 occurrences. Admittedly they are not all translated as “abomination” but have similar meanings. The reference in Lev 18:22 in its context is immediately followed by these verses which include the same Hebrew word for “abomination”. The words are underlined as follows. Lev 18:26 “But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 27 (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), 28 lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. 29 For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. 30 So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.”

We note the seriousness of what God saw as “abominations” in these verses. God’s people had to follow the laws He had given them. That meant everybody, including those strangers sojourning among them. They were not to live in the same way as the nation in that area lived before them, for their sin polluted both the people and the land [because they had done all of the abominations mentioned in chapter 18.]   The warning is given to the people of God that if they did “any” of those abominations they would be cut off from the people.  Note it says “any” not some or a few but “any!” In other words they were to do none of those abominable things. They were never to practise any of those abominations and never to make themselves unclean by doing any of them. Stern words! God could not be clearer in saying to His people, you must do none of these things that I have called an abomination, not one, ever!  What was included among the abominations? The practice described as an abomination in verse 22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

The author of the article on the ABC website seemed to be suggesting that the abomination occurred when a married man had homosexual intercourse with another man, “We should note first that the imagined scenario is a married man committing adultery with another male.” To some that would seem to be reading into the text what is not there. It does indeed appear to be an “imagined scenario”. The “You” in “You shall not lie with a male” seems to be referring to all males, not just married males. The abomination seems to be in the male to male action itself and not simply when a case of adultery occurred. That is made clearer in the passage from Leviticus 20:13.

The reference in Lev 20:13 to abomination also seems to be in relation to same sex encounters,  “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” Again in this reference there is no need to see this as just a married man having sex with another man. It seems to refer to any man. The Hebrew word here for “man” is [‘ı̂ysh] which can be translated as ‘man” or husband.” But it is pushing the boundaries of common sense to say it should be translated as “husband’ in this verse. Why? Because the same word is used in this passage to say that a “man” [‘ı̂ysh] should not lie with or have sex with the following, Lev 20:10 with the wife of his neighbour. 11 with his father’s wife, 12 with his daughter-in-law, 13 with a male as with a woman 14 with a woman and her mother also, 15 with an animal, 17 with his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, 18 with a woman during her menstrual period 19 with his mother’s sister or father’s sister, 20 his uncle’s wife, 21 his brother’s wife.

In this verse, Lev 20:13, the action is described as an abomination committed by both parties and a penalty is also added. Both were to be put to death. Why was such severe punishment to take place? The answer may be found in the context where God declared in the final verses of the chapter that He wanted His people to be holy and set apart for Him. His people were privileged to be His people but they had the following obligations.

  • To live by all His rules and statutes so that when they came to the land God had given them, they would not be vomited out, Lev 20:22 “You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out.”
  • To not walk in the customs of the nations that God would drive out before them. He detested their practices. His own people were not to do them. Lev 20:23 “And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.”
  • They were to live for Him and be separate from the culture and practices of other nations, Lev 20:24 “But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples.”
  • To not mix that which God declared clean and unclean. Lev 20:25.
  • To be His and His alone as His holy [separated] people. Lev 20:26 “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”

The laws in Leviticus give us an indication of the character of our God. He describes what He dislikes as being contrary to His holy nature. He expects His people to be holy like Him and that means not participating in practices that He has deemed to be abominable or detestable in His sight. That was particularly so as He led His people towards their promised land, and tried to protect them for being contaminated by adopting the customs of the peoples through whose lands they would journey.

We may not agree with or understand His reasoning in all His statutes and rules and commands, but this is His world and He sets the rules for His creatures and especially for His people to follow. He has told us in His word what He likes and what He dislikes, even calling some of those dislikes, “abominations.” The amazing thing is that He is gracious and wants to fulfil His promises for His people, 2Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” [NOTE 1] 

In the meantime, we are to live for Him as Peter went on to write in 2Peter 3:14 “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” Seeking to become spotless and blameless before Him certainly means doing nothing He dislikes. If God expressed His displeasure with male to male sexual encounters as He appears to do in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, then there seems to be no way of broadening the definition of the God given institution of marriage to include same sex relationships.  That should mean a resounding “NO!” vote in any plebiscite to change the definition of marriage to include same sex relationships.


[NOTE 1] In a series of articles I wrote on “repentance” (summarised in blog No. 230 ) I made the point that repentance [metánoia, μετάνοια] means a change of mind accompanied by a change in attitude and in behaviour. It means turning from sin to God to ask Him to forgive us and to give us the grace to help us overcome the temptation to sin in that way (or in any other way) again. It is a sobering thought to realise that the so-called delay in the coming of the Lord in judgment is not a sign of weakness. Rather it is a sign of His grace being extended to all of us to give us time to repent of our sins and to turn to Him in true repentance and faith. Sadly that time is coming to an end for those who have not yet heeded His call to repent.

Blog No.233. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Saturday 26th August 2017

About Jim Holbeck

Once an Industrial Chemist working for the Queensland Government but later an Anglican minister in Brisbane, Armidale and Sydney. Last position for eighteen years before retirement in 2006 was as the Leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew's Cathedral Sydney.
This entry was posted in BIBLE PASSAGE OUTLINES, Bible verses. Comments, Faithfulness, Forgiveness, Healing, Sexuality, Temptations and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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