Main page Leviticus
Leviticus 18 almost entirely consists of various laws on sexual relations, primarily as concerns illicit partners. The human author of Leviticus is evidenced herein as being Moses (Lv. 1:1; 7:37-38; 14:1-2; 27:34), and it provides covenantal “statutes and judgments and laws, which the LORD made between him and the children of Israel in mount Sinai given in mount Sinai by the hand of Moses” (Lv 26:46). This and other such statements  oppose the Documentary Hypothesis of authorship. Yet as the pagan nations were judged for disobeying the moral laws contained herein, (Lv. 18:24,27,28) and as the actions and laws of God established both the superior God and standard, (Dt. 4:7,8) the moral laws are seen as being universally applicable, directly or by adaptaton.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Chapter 18
- 3 See also
- 4 References
Christians generally have recognized the separation of Old Testament law into moral, civil/judicial and ceremonial/typological categories. Orthodox Jews in particular consider the latter to be binding, where possible, and as interpreted, though moral law is usually regarded by religious Jews as being the more emphasized and universally applicable. Typically, “Whenever Judaism entered into relations with other nations and religions, the moral laws were accentuated, and the ceremonial laws were put into the background.” The most prevalent Christian position is that literal obedience to the ceremonial laws is not enjoined, though faith and works in accordance with their principal is, (1Cor. 5:7; 2Cor. 7:1), while literal obedience to basic moral laws is required, as well as to behave in accordance to principles behind civil and judicial laws, as understood under the New Testament.
Leviticus as a whole is basically divided into three basic sections. The first of which is often called the Priestly Code. (1-16,25) in which are given ordinances regarding the Aaronic priesthood and its consecration and duties, laws of sacrifices and liturgical seasons, diet, and cleanliness. The second section is usually termed The Holiness Code. (18-26) which first deals with both basic moral laws which mainly forbid idolatry and illicit sexual partners. It is in the light of such foundational laws that we most basically understand how to obey, "love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lev. 19:18) In addition, various culturally applied civil and judicial laws are given, which are based on foundational moral principles but which usually require the particular culture of Israel at that time for their full literal obedience, though laws based upon their principles are seen to be in force today.
Historical background is an important consideration in interpreting Scripture, and which may be observed to have affected the institution of Levitical laws in all its categories, as well as laws given elsewhere. Israel was surrounded by idolatry, and for both practical and illustrative purposes their negative examples were often invoked as an example of how not to be, and of the punishment that such iniquities incurred. Revisionist writers seek to use these aspects to negate the universal scope and transcendence of Biblical laws against homosexual intercourse.
While collectively all Old Testament laws established a higher standard that made Israel distinctive, and certain laws directly target specific pagan practices, the often repeated admonition to the people of God not to be like pagans is usually in the immediate context of moral laws, or violations thereof, even in the New Testament (Lv. 18:24,27,28; 20:22,23; Dt. 6:14-18; 8:19,20; 11:28; 12:31; 18:9-12; 1Ki. 14:24; 2Ki. 16:3, 2Ki. 16:3; 17:8-12; 21:2; 1Chrn. 5.25; 2Chrn. 36:14; Jer. 7:6,9; Ezek. 16:50; 23:49; Eph. 4:17-19; 1Pet. 4:3,4). The predominant laws in this moral category are against formal idolatry and sexual immorality, and include certain practices referred to in the second category of derivative culturally applied laws, such as against killing children as an offering to their false gods, or against temple prostitution.
Basic moral laws
This category deals with basic moral actions and attitudes, such as against basic idolatry, murder, adultery, etc., and are based upon foundational moral principles, and establish moral separation. Idolatry is the mother of all deliberate sin, and though the formal institution of many of these laws may have been occasioned by formal contemporary pagan idolatry, such proscribed practices in this section are a direct expression of idolatry by nature, not simply a mere accompaniment, and both the practices and their prohibitions are literally applicable to all cultures. Yet the exact penalties for violations of such may be culture dependent. Laws against such things as child sacrifice to Molech are not simply restricted to the deity of the culture that occasioned it, but apply to any false god. Fathers and mothers are to be overall honored (and act honorably), murder is murder, and the injunctions against sex with an illicit partner are universal and transcendent from the time of their enactment. A thorough examination of laws in Lev. 18 yields only v. 19 (laying with one's wife during menstruation) as the only law that might belong outside purely moral laws.
Adam Clarke comments,
The Gospel proclaims liberty from the ceremonial law: but binds you still faster under the moral law. To be freed from the ceremonial law is the Gospel liberty; to pretend freedom from the moral law is Antinomianism.
Noted commentator Albert Barnes states
The laws of the Jews are commonly divided into moral, ceremonial, and judicial. The moral laws are such as grow out of the nature of things, and which cannot, therefore, be changed - such as the duty of loving God and his creatures. These cannot be abolished, as it can never be made right to hate God, or to hate our fellow-men. Of this kind are the Ten Commandments, and these our Saviour has neither abolished nor superseded. The ceremonial laws are such as are appointed to meet certain states of society, or to regulate the religious rites and ceremonies of a people. These can be changed when circumstances are changed, and yet the moral law must be untouched. A general in an army may command his soldiers to appear sometimes in a red coat and sometimes in blue or in yellow. This would be a ceremonial law, and might be changed as he pleased. The duty of obeying him, and of being faithful to his country, could not be changed.
Judicial and civil laws
A second category are termed judicial or civil laws, which are also part of moral separation. These contain moral civil laws and judicial penalties, but require the context of a certain type of culture for their literal application, and their penalties may be specifically mandated only for the theocracy of Israel. However, these are usually easily modified in accordance with their intent to be applicable today. A society may not have flat roofs where people regularly sleep and thus need fences, but they may have apartment building which require fire escapes. Or it may not need laws penalizing being gored by an ox, but it may need such for being struck by a snowmobile. In addition to such just laws by contemporary authorities, (Rm. :13-17; 1Pt. 2:13,16) obedience in accordance with the principle behind them is enjoined today (i.e., you may not need to help your brother lift up his donkey, (Dt. 3:4,5) but you should help him change his tire)
In contrast to laws regarding such things as illicit sexual partners are laws in the third section which are termed ceremonial laws. These may be seen as based upon the principle of separation. (Gn. 1:6) These laws deal with the sacrificial system, and priestly garments, the liturgical calendar, or merely touching, tasting, or handling unclean things or persons and related washings. (Lv. 11-15; Col. 2:16,17,21) As a class these find their fulfillment in Christ and realities wrought by Him under the new covenant. Literal obedience to ceremonial laws is not enjoined upon Christians, but faith and obedience according to the spiritual principle behind them is. (2Cor. 3) Christians do not need to use unleavened bread in the Lord's supper, but are exhorted to eliminate the “leaven of the Pharisees. (Lk. 12:1; 1Cor. 5:8)
More categorically controversial are certain laws which deal with blood (Lv. 18:19; 20:18; 17:14) and the 7th day or the Sabbath, (Exo 31:14-15) and even laws which forbid cutting or printing marks on one's flesh, or strange haircuts, (Lev. 19:26,27) sometimes referred to as “culturally applied laws,”
In comparison, while idolatry or murder, sex with the wrong person (first category) is unconditionally wrong in any context, regardless of motive, and using a flat roof as a living room without a fence (second category) can be seen as immoral (like driving recklessly today), yet a grove of trees near a church (third category), or how one shaves his beard, or eating pork are seen as essentially amoral practices, only conditionally wrong as part of idolatry, even though certain things like unnecessary mutilation of one's flesh (Lv. 19:28) may be a sign of demonic influence. For Christians this aspect of ceremonial law falls into the area of "Abstain from all appearance of evil." (1 Thes. 5:22), akin to wearing the Hindu Tilakum. Some make the same argument regarding holidays like Halloween.
"A parent might permit his children to have 50 different dresses at different times, and love them equally in all. The dress is a mere matter of ceremony, and may be changed. The child, in all these garments, is bound to love and obey his father. This is a moral law, and cannot be changed. So the laws of the Jews. Those designed to regulate mere matters of ceremony and rites of worship might be changed. Those requiring love and obedience to God and love to people could not be changed, and Christ did not attempt it, Mat. 19:19; 22:37-39; Lk. 10:27; Rom. 13:9.
The ceremonial law was fulfilled by the coming of Christ: the shadow was lost in the substance, and ceased to be binding. The moral law was confirmed and unchanged. 
Laws in this chapter are prefaced with the admonition, "After the doings [H4639] of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings [H4639] of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. [H2708] " (Lv. 18:3) Also Lev 18:30: "Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, [H2708] that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs [H2708], which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God." And in Lev 20:23: "And ye shall not walk in the manners [H2708] of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them."
The word for “doings” ma‛ăśeh [H4639] here is unique to Leviticus, and refers to works, as in Ps. 106:35, and additionally Israel is forbidden to follow after pagan ordinances (chûqqâh [H2708]), these being laws or statutes, indicating both general as well as religious practices are in view, the latter being made obvious as child sacrifice to Molech (v. 21), this being contrary to foundational law prohibiting murder.
This chapter begins with “The LORD spake unto Moses”, which usually prefaces the beginning of a chapter and sometimes a subsection, as a fuller outline will show. This is not said again until Lv. 19:1. In addition, Lv. 18:24-30 closes this chapter with a uniquely repetitious series of solemn warnings, being given directly after its list of sins, stating that these “abominations” (tô‛êbah,” the “abominable” word used more often to denote violations of immutable rather than ceremonial laws) are what caused the terminal judgment upon the inhabitants whom Israel was to conquer. Though not as extensive, such warnings or statements are also seen in such texts as Lv. 18:30; 20:22,23; Dt. 9:4,5; 12:30,31; 18:12; 1 kg. 14:24; 16:3, 2Ki. 17:34; Jer. 10:3, but which are not directly seen after laws simply regarding unclean foods and ritual uncleanness.
- 18:1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
- 2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the LORD your God.
- 3 After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances.
- 4 Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God.
- 5 Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD.
- 6 None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD.
- 7 The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
- 8 The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness.
- 9 The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover.
- 10 The nakedness of thy son's daughter, or of thy daughter's daughter, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover: for theirs is thine own nakedness.
- 11 The nakedness of thy father's wife's daughter, begotten of thy father, she is thy sister, thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
- 12 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's sister: she is thy father's near kinswoman.
- 13 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother's sister; for she is thy mother's near kinswoman.
- 14 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's brother, thou shalt not approach to his wife: she is thine aunt.
- 15 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter in law: she is thy son's wife; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
- 16 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother's wife: it is thy brother's nakedness.
- 17 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, neither shalt thou take her son's daughter, or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness; for they are her near kinswomen: it is wickedness.
- 18 Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her lifetime.
- 19 Also thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness.
- 20 Moreover, thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour's wife, to defile thyself with her.
- 21 And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.
- 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:
- 25 And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.
- 26 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:
- 27 (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;)
- 28 That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you.
- 29 For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people.
- 30 Therefore, shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.
Lev. 18:6-17: Incest
"None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD." (v. 6)
To "uncover the nakedness" of someone is usually a euphemism for sexual relations (Ezek. 16:8), as it is for "lay with" (as H7901 with H854) someone (Gn. 19:33,34; 26:10; Lv. 18:22; 19:10; 20:11-13,18,20; Num. 5:13,19; Ezek. 23:8), and laws forbidding illicit sexual unions make up most of this chapter, which as a class and sometimes individually find confirmation in the rest of Scripture, from the time of their enactment and sometimes before, as literal sins, including in the New Testament
The primary type of illicit sex unions was that of incest, the prohibited degrees of which are specified from the 7th to the 17th verse. It is noted that incest was used and allowed in more ancient times, as God blessed Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) while he was married to Sarah, his half-sister. Adam Clarke comments, "i.e., his sister by his father, but by a different mother. Some suppose Sarai was the daughter of Haran, and consequently the grand-daughter of Terah: this opinion seems to be founded on Gen_11:29, where Iscah is thought to be the same with Sarai, but the supposition has not a sufficiency of probability to support it." Even if this was the case, as with Eve being “the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20), then their immediate offspring would have married each other and had offspring. In addition, in accordance with Genesis 9:1, Noah and his three sons and their wives repopulated the entire world following the great Flood,
The most warranted explanation for this allowance during the Patriarchal age was that the effects of the Fall of man (Gn. 3) were progressive, and the deleterious genetic effects which are often a result of intermarriage between close kin were not realized until much later. In addition, the great ages of the antediluvian peoples enabled a greater age difference between offspring and longer time of marriageability, thus likely reducing other possible negative aspects of such intermarriage. All of which served to greatly increase population, and to provide greater family security. However, as generations reproduced, and solar and cosmic radiation increased after the Noahic Flood (Genesis 6-9), a realization and or increase of chemical and viral mutagens, and DNA replication errors would have resulted in manifest genetic disorders. As the laws of God, who is said to need nothing (Acts 17:25), but who loves righteousness (Ps. 45:7; Heb. 1:9) are to our benefit, then God is seen as protecting His people by enacting universal injunctions against incestuous marriages under Moses.(conservative est. 1500 years).
Keil and Deitzch comment,
"Sexual intercourse is called uncovering the nakedness of another (Eze_16:36; Eze_23:18). The prohibition relates to both married and unmarried intercourse, though the reference is chiefly to the former (see Lev_18:18; Lev_20:14, Lev_20:17, Lev_20:21)
Intercourse is forbidden (1) with a mother, (2) with a step-mother, (3) with a sister or half-sister, (4) with a granddaughter, the daughter of either son or daughter, (5) with the daughter of a step-mother, (6) with an aunt, the sister of either father or mother, (7) with the wife of an uncle on the father's side, (8) with a daughter-in-law, (9) with a sister-in-law, or brother's wife, (10) with a woman and her daughter, or a woman and her granddaughter, and (11) with two sisters at the same time. No special reference is made to sexual intercourse with (a) a daughter, (b) a full sister, (c) a mother-in-law; the last, however, which is mentioned in Deu_27:23 as an accursed crime, is included here in No. 10, and the second in No. 3, whilst the first, like parricide in Exo_21:15, is not expressly noticed, simply because the crime was regarded as one that never could occur."
It is also noted that "The marriage laws and customs were much more lax among the Gentiles. With the Egyptians it was lawful to marry sisters and half-sisters (Diod. Sic. i. 27), and the licentiousness of the women was very great among them (see at Gen_39:6.).
Lev. 18:18: Marriage to wife's sister
A wife to her sister - Thou shalt not marry two sisters at the same time, as Jacob did Rachel and Leah; but there is nothing in this law that rendered it illegal to marry a sister-in-law when her sister was dead; therefore the text says, Thou shalt not take her in her life time, to vex her, alluding probably to the case of the jealousies and vexations which subsisted between Leah and Rachel, and by which the family peace was so often disturbed. Some think that the text may be so understood as also to forbid polygamy.
It is to be noted that Jacob did not plan to marry Leah, but in an example of poetic justice, he was the victim of a "bait and switch" plan by his cunning uncle Laban,(Gn. 29) brother to Jacob's mother, which indicates such cunning deceit ran in the family, though with Jacob it was to be weeded out.
Lev. 18:19: sexual relations during menstruation
Sexual intercourse with a woman possibly after child birth (Lev. 12:2-7) or during her period is forbidden, and the latter is specifically revealed to be a capital crime in Lv. 20:18 (if "cut off" is what is meant, versus "put to death"). In Lev. 15:34 the penalty for laying "with her at all" was only seven days separation, but that "laying" might signify simply sleeping with her, as the previous verses are only concerned with contact with a women having an issue of blood (for which no means of stoppage was indicated).
In any case, the man is held chiefly responsible, as to him this is primarily directed, and would serve to proctect the women. And consistent with other laws,(Dt. 22:23-29) the punishment here presumes consent by both parties.
Clarke comments Lv. 20:13 versus 15:34, "Moses speaks of the act when both the man and woman were acquainted with the situation: in the latter, he speaks of a case where the circumstance was not known till afterwards; at least, so it appears these two places should be understood, so as to be reconciled."
The related controversial aspect of this law is whether it falls into the class of ceremonial laws, and thus is no longer binding for Christians, or whether it belongs to the same class of transcendent moral laws which precede it. In favor of it belonging to the class of ceremonial laws is the nature of the proscribed acts, as unlike other sexual laws in this chapter laws, v. 19 does not deal with forbidden sexual partners, but the condition of the wife. Besides protecting the wife, the key aspect seems to that of touching blood, and in this regard v. 19 would be akin to other ceremonial laws regarding touching something.
Leaning towards moral law is the fact that the sanctity of blood precedes the Mosaic ceremonial dietary laws, as immediately after the flood, while God sanctioned the eating of all meat (Gen 9:3; cf. 1:29), eating it with the blood not drained was strictly forbidden. This was later abundantly confirmed in Leviticus. (Lv. 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-14; 19:26) As the purpose of the law is to save life and not destroy them (cf. Mk. 3:4), such a restriction would not forbid the ingestion of pure blood in such dire circumstances. However, it is a matter of controversy whether blood (as in mainly blood or blood products) is considered a food that would place it in the area of liberty for Christians, (1Tim. 4:3-5) or whether it is forbidden due to its inherent sanctity, perhaps with Acts 15:20 being upheld as part of the Jewish Halakha, in addition to causing a possible offense to others.(1Cor. 8,10)
Applying this sanctity of blood as relates to Lv. 18:19, many Christians hold that Heb. 13:4 sanctifies all benevolent sexual intercourse between man and wife (male and female), or as affirming their sexual relations in contrast to those which forbid sex in marriage (1Tim. 3:5) Others disagree, perhaps seeing Lev. 18:19 as still applicable out of regard for the sanctity of blood and or the procreative process.
Lev. 18:20: Adultery
"Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour's wife, to defile thyself with her."
This is a basic and universally immutable moral law, which is condemned as far back as Gn. 20.
Lev. 18:21: Child sacrifice to false gods
"And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD."
While the name of the false god may be culturally specific, this is clearly an immutable universal moral law, as idols represent anything a person lives for, ultimately finds their security in, or sets their chief affection on. To sacrifice one's offspring to any false god, including a lifestyle, is sin. Spiritually speaking, all Christians are called to forsake the foolish and live, (Prv. 9:6) to be dead to the word and alive to Christ, (Gal. 2:20; 6:14) to surrender themselves entirely as living sacrifices to God, to be made more like Christ. (Rm. 12:1,2; 2Cor. 4)
Keil and Delitzsch comment: "Moloch was an old Canaanitish idol, called by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians Melkarth, Baal-melech, Malcom, and other such names, and related to Baal, a sun-god worshipped, like Kronos and Saturn, by the sacrifice of children. It was represented by a brazen statue, which was hollow and capable of being heated, and formed with a bull's head, and arms stretched out to receive the children to be sacrificed."
Yet they note that Rabbinic commentary and certain theologians hold that, '“causing to pass through the fire” denoted primarily going through the fire without burning, a februation, or purification through fire, by which the children were consecrated to Moloch; a kind of fire-baptism, which preceded the sacrificing, and was performed, particularly in olden time, without actual sacrificing, or slaying and burning."
However, this is doubtful, as the internal evidence seems to indicate that literally sacrificing children was a practice by certain pagan cultures contemporary with Israel, or even by Israel itself. "They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind:" (Jer 19:5; cf. 2Chr. 16:3; 28:3; 2Ki. 16:3; 17:17; 21:6; 23:10; Ps. 106:37,38; Jer. 7:31; 32:35; Ezek. 16:20,21,31; 23:39)
While in Gn. 22 Abraham was tested by God to literally sacrifice his son, his only real son of promise (and which may indicate a cultural practice then existed), that was God's prerogative, who prevented it from happening. (Abraham, for his part, reasoned that as God supernaturally enabled the birth of Issac, so He was able to raise him up again: Heb. 11:17-19.) The vow of Jephthah (Judg. 11) is controversial, not only its utterance, but whether it was most literally carried out. In any case, simple historical narratives do not necessarily confer sanction.
Lev. 18:22 and 20:13: Male homosex
For a more detailed treatment, see Homosexual misinterpretation.
(Lev 18:22) "Thou shalt not lie [shâkab] with mankind [zâkâr], as with womankind: it is abomination [tô‛êbah] ."
(Lev 20:13) "If a man ['îysh] also lie [shâkab] with mankind [zâkâr], as he lieth [mishkâb] with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination [tô‛êbah]: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."
While these commands explicitly condemn homosexual intercourse between males and are presented as general commands given to all Israel, relatively recently these have become the subject of an intense attack by pro-homosex polemicists. While most admit that sexual moral codes are transcultural and transhistorical, attempts are made to find grammatical, categorical and cultural aspects that would disallow the injunctions which prohibit homosexual intercourse.
Most of these prohomosex writers usually first assert that the Hebrew word tōʻēḇā for abomination, which describes male sex with men here, does not usually signify something inherently evil, like adultery or theft, but something which is ceremonially unclean for Jews, such as the dietary laws. (Lv. 11). The Hebrew word “zimmâh” (Lv. 19:29) is instead sometimes suggested as the word which would have been used if the prohibitions, of Lv. 18:22, were not intrinsically evil.
Such revisionists generally conclude that these Levitical injunctions against homosexual intercourse only prohibit pagan temple prostitution, or were only concerned with the waste of sperm, though even noted prohomosex author Robin Scroggs thinks the latter explanations to be conjecture which are best not to speculate about, rather than being universal and transcendent injunctions, such as the other laws against illicit partners are.
An attempt is also made to create a division between Lv. 18:20, which prohibits adultery, and the next verse, which forbids child sacrifice to Molech, which is supposed to render the next law (v. 22) as only forbidding homosex in that type of idolatrous context.
Examining the first basis for their claim manifests that this argument is not substantiated by the original language, as the Hebrew word tōʻēḇā is actually not used in Leviticus for dietary violations, and is only used 2 or 3 times elsewhere to refer to such things as being abominable for Israel, (Dt. 14:3; Jer. 16:18) while it is the word most often used in denoting grave moral abominations, including clearly universally sinful practices. (Dt. 7:25; 18:9-12 13, 2 kg. 21:2-7; 2Chr. 33:2,3; Is. 1:13; 44:19; Jer. 7:10; 32:35) And which includes illicit sexual unions. (Dt. 24:2-4; 1 kg. 14:24; 2Ki. 16:3; 21:2,11; Ezek. 16:22,58; 18:10-13; 22:11; 33:26) Collectively, it is also used for all the sins of Lv. 18 + 20. (Lv. 18:27-30) In contrast, the word most used, and only used for ceremonial violations, is “sheqets” (Leviticus 7:21; 11:10-13,20,23,41,42; Is. 66:17; Ezek. 8:10), and then “shâqats,” from which it is derived, which is only used in Leviticus for dietary violations (Leviticus 11:11,13,43; 20:25; Dt. 7:26; Prv. 22:24).
As regards zimmâh, unlike tōʻēḇā, this word is not not often used for specific sexual sins, but is generally seen in reference to sexual "lewdness" (Jdg. 20:6; Jer.13:27, Eze. 16:43, 58; 22:9; 23:21,27,29,35,48-49; Eze. 24:13; Hos. 6:9). It often is another word to describe the vile nature of many clearly universal sins which are also categorized as tōʻēḇā, (Lv. 18:17; 19:29; Jer. 13:27; Ezek. 22:11: adultery=tōʻēḇā, incest= zimmâh ). Yet, it is not always used for all universal sexual sins, and the absence of zimmâh in relation to a sexual sin cannot necessarily negate the intrinsic evil of its nature, while sins which tōʻēḇā refers to include such.
In addition, ceremonial dietary and ritual cleansing laws overall do not target pagan cultic activity. However, there are practices which evidently are a direct expression of formal idolatry, such as temple prostitution (Dt. 23:17), versus amoral things which merely accompany idolatry activity, such as a grove of trees in worship (Dt. 16:21). The Bible makes these categories discernible, as it lists the type of sins which were ceremonial, (Gal. 4:10; Col. 16,17; Heb. 9:10) while explicitly reincorporating many basic moral commands in the Mosaic code into the New Testament code, upholding basic universal moral laws by type and often individually. (Rm. 13:8-10; Heb. 10:28; Ja. 4:11; 1Cor. 10:7; 2Cor. 6:16,17; 1Jn. 5:21; Rv. 9:20; 13:14,15 14:11; 1Tim. 6:1; Eph. 6:1-3; 1Cor. 9:8,9) with unlawful sex between outlawed partners or outside marriage being prohibited in the N.T. (Mat. 5:32; 15:19; 19:9; Mk. 7:21; Jn. 8:41; Acts 15:20; 15:29; 21:25; Rom. 1:29; 1Co_5:1; 1Co. 6:9,13, 18; 7:2; 2Co. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1Ths. 4:3; Heb. 12:16; 13:4; 1Pet. 4:3; Rev. 9:21; 14:8, 17:2, 4; 18:3; 19:2) The prohibitions against homosexual intercourse clearly fit in this category by type, and it is only condemned and never sanctioned wherever such is dealt with (Rm. 1:16,27) while things such as simply where to worship or eat would only be contextually wrong. (1Cor. 8,10)
Secondly, neither the grammar nor any categorical division or cultural context warrants relegating these Levitical commands to merely being prohibitory of idolatrous temple homosex.
As part of extensive substantive documentation evidencing that the prohibitions against homosexual intercourse are immutable and universal, scholar Robert A. H. Gagnon, provides seven reasons for their contemporary relevance of the Leviticus 18:22.
- Part of an interconnected Old Testament witness
- Grouped with incest, adultery, and bestiality. There is no evidence to suggest that ancient Israelite society, acting in fidelity to Yahweh, would ever have approved of any form of homosexual practice.
- A first-tier sexual offense. Male homosexual practice is listed among first- tier sexual offenses in Lev 20:10-16, which incur a capital sentence.
- Framed absolutely. Like the prohibitions of incest and adultery, it takes in all acts of intercourse of the type specified, not merely intentionally oppressive or coercive forms.
- Contains the marks of moral impurity. Contrary to those who dismiss these prohibitions as antiquated ritual purity law, the prohibition bears the marks of a moral purity issue. Unlike impurity of a merely ritual sort (e.g., corpse impurity, genital discharges, scale disease), moral impurities such as the prohibitions of incest, adultery, male-male intercourse, and bestiality are not (a) contagious through physical contact and (b) rectified by ritual bathing; moreover, (c) moral impurities concern only intentional acts. They also do not involve merely an exchange of fluid (as does menstrual impurity)
- Adopts a creation/nature model. The prohibition leads the hearer back to a foundational creation/nature model (cf. also the prohibition of bestiality as illicit "mixing" of creation boundaries)
- Appropriated by the New Testament. The term arsenokoitai ("men who lie with a male") in 1 Corinthians 6:9, is formulated from the Septuagint translation of Lev 18:22 and 20:13, which refers to not 'lying' (koite) with a 'male' (arsen). Paul's critique of homosexual relations in Romans 1:24-27 also echoes Lev 18 and 20 by using two terms that appear in Septuagint translation of these chapters: akatharsia ("uncleanness, impurity" in Romans 1:24 and Lev 18:19; 20:21, 25) and aschemosune ("indecency, indecent exposure" in Rom 1:27 and twenty-four times in Lev 18:6-19; 20:11, 17-21).
As regards the attempts to negate the universality and transcendence of v. 22 by creating a divisional break from universal laws to culturally-bound laws, beginning in v. 21 due to the culturally specific aspect of child sacrifice to Molech, this also cannot be established, as that law is not restricted to child sacrifice to only one specific idol, and cannot be relegated to merely being ceremonial. Rather, it is based upon foundational moral law (Gn. 9:5,6; Ex. 20:2; 34:15) and is literally applicable in principal and by modification to all cultures and times. In addition, consistent with the prohomosex hermeneutic behind their attempt, v.19 (intercourse during menstruation, which is more akin to ceremonial law) would disallow the intrinsic sinfulness of the next verse (adultery). While types of laws are sometimes grouped together, Biblical laws codes as a whole are not strict categories of laws, but types are more manifest by their nature and foundational principals.
Moreover, when homosex or illicit heterosexual sex as a formal part of idolatrous activity is targeted, then the context makes that evident (Dt. 23:17,18), (“with dogs” likely referring to the manner of homosex relations). The historical fact is that in Canaanite culture, homosexuality was practices as both a religious rite and a personal perversion...Israel's pagan neighbours knew both secular and sacred homosexuality."  Though some argue that there is no evidence to suggest these texts refer to Canaanite cultic practices
D. Sherwin Bailey, whose primary revisionary work seeking to justify homosex is looked to by succeeding prohomosex polemicists, himself stated, "It is hardly open to doubt that both the laws in Leviticus relate to ordinary homosexual acts between men, and not to ritual or other acts performed in the name of religion."
Another grammatical argument to relegate Lv. 18:22 and 20:13 to a unique cultic context, is one that sees a radical significance in the use of zakhar [Strong's, H2145] the Hebrew word normally translated male/males, or the lesser used word for such, zekhur [H2138]
However, extensive examination reveals that zakhar/zekhur are strictly gender specific words which are primarily used to differentiate between males and females in general, as well as those in special classes of people, and that is the only special significance it provides. These word provide a distinction between genders without signifying a difference in what the Levitical injunctions proscribe. The reason for their most prevalent use being within special classes of males is simply because that is most often the subject, from sacrificed animals to Jews returning from exile.
However, as v. 22 is substantially evidenced as being based upon foundational design and decree, just as the forbiddance of bestiality in the next verse is, in principle its application is not restricted to only male homosex but same gender sex as well. Male sex with another male represents an illicit partner, contrary to all Biblical marriages, just as Molech represents an illicit object of worship, contrary to all statements relative to such, and the respective injunctions against both are universal based upon inherent qualities which disallow the forbidden functions.
More psychological attempts seeking to make these Levitical laws motive or disposition dependent. However motive (love, hate, consensuality) does not play a part in determining the forbiddance of homosex, nor whether sex outside marriage or with any unlawful partner is valid in either Testament, in contrast with sexual legislation which stipulates such, (Dt. 22:13; 24:3; Num. 35:20; Dt. 22:23-29). Neither the mention of such or lack of mention of it establishes a factor which may sanctify an otherwise illicit union (adultery, incest etc., and all fornications are unequivocally sinful: cf. Gn. 34).
Lev. 18:23: Bestiality
"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."
"A female one, as Aben Ezra notes, as a mare, cow, or ewe, or any other beast, small or great, as Ben Gersom, or whether tame or wild, as Maimonides; and even fowls are comprehended, as the same writers observe:
"'It is confusion'"; a mixing of the seed of man and beast together, a blending of different kinds of creatures, a perverting the order of nature, and introducing the utmost confusion of beings, from whence monsters in nature may arise.
"Lying with animals was connected in Egypt with the worship of the goat; at Mendes especially, where the women lay down before he-goats (Herodotus, 2, 46; Strabo, 17, p. 802). Aelian (nat. an. vii. 19) relates an account of the crime being also committed with a dog in Rome; and according to Sonnini, R. 11, p. 330."
The venerable Matthew Henry comments
"A law against unnatural lusts, sodomy and bestiality, sins not to be named nor thought of without the utmost abhorrence imaginable, Lev. 18:22, Lev. 18:23. Other sins level men with the beasts, but these sink them much lower. That ever there should have been occasion for the making of these laws, and that since they are published they should ever have been broken, is the perpetual reproach and scandal of human nature; and the giving of men up to these vile affections was frequently the punishment of their idolatries; so the apostle shows, Rom. 1:24."
"The only form of consensual sexual behavior that was regarded by ancient Israel, early Judaism, and early Christianity as more egregious than same-sex intercourse was bestiality. It is no accident that bestiality receives even less attention in the Bible than same-sex intercourse—it is mentioned only in Exod 22:19; Lev 18:23 and 20:15-16; and Deut 27:21."
Related to Lv. 18 are punishments for these crime in Lv. 20. The terms used in that chapter for capital punishment are.
- 1. the clear command to "put to death" (Lev. 20:2,10-13,15,16,27; cf Lv. 19:20; 24:16,17,21,29) which is most often used for universal immutable grave sins, (Ex. 21:15-17,29) and not for ceremonial/purity laws, except for unholy presumption, (Ex. 19:12; Num. 1:51; 3:38) and for breaking the Sabbath; (Ex. 31:14,15; 35:2; Num. 15:35)
- 2. "cut off", (Lv. 20:17,18) which is used to prescribe the punishment for ritual purity offenses, (Gn. 17:14; Ex. 12:15,19; 30:33; Lv. 7:20,21,25-27; 17:4,9,14; 19:8; 22:3; 23:29; etc.) but is rarely used by itself for grave moral sins, though it is sometimes used for the same sins which "put to death" is stipulated for, including all of Lv. 18 (v. 29)
- 3. "his blood [shall be] upon them (or him)", (Lv. 20:9,11-13; 16,27; Josh. 2:19; 1Ki. 2:27; Ezek. 18:13; 33:4,5)
- 4. "burnt with fire", (Lv. 20:14; cf. Lv. 21:9), for taking a wife with her mother, which sentence Joshua 7:15,25 indicates is burning after death by stoning.
- 5. "he shall bear his iniquity" (Lv. 20:17) for consensual incest with one's sister, which meant death (cf. Dt. 27:22; Ezek. 22:11; 2Sam. 13:12)
Stoning the law breakers by the community was the prescribed mode of death, as seen in Lev. 20:2,27; 24:14,23; Num.15:35,36; Dt.13:10,11; 17:5-7; 21:21; Act. 7:58,7:59
This list of capital punishments is by no means complete, (cf. Ex. 21; Lv. 24; Dt. 27) nor is the death penalty mentioned more than once for every every capital crime in the Bible, especially as "cursed" in Dt. 27:15-26 may not always signify a command to execute the offender.
The reason for more mentions of the death penalty for one sin over another is not necessarily due to its degree of wickedness, but as the law itself was "added because of transgressions", (Gal. 3:19) the condemnation of the most prevalent sins and their penalty is repeated most often, with the chief one, idolatry, being addressed over 100 times, and illicit heterosexual sex dozens of times, while rarer ones such as bestiality and extreme forms of incest are rarely mentioned.
Keil and Deitzch comment,
"Sins mentioned under Nos. 1 [mother], 2 [stepmom], 3 [sister; half sister], 8 [daughter-in-law], and 10 [with a woman and her daughter, or a woman and her granddaughter] were to be followed by the death or extermination of the criminals (Lev_20:11-12, Lev_20:14, Lev_20:17), on account of their being accursed crimes (Deu_23:1; Deu_27:20, Deu_27:22-23). On the other hand, the only threat held out in the case of the connection mentioned under Nos. 6 [with an aunt, the sister of either father or mother], 7 [wife of an uncle on the father's side], and 9 [sister-in-law, or brother's wife], was that those who committed such crimes should bear their iniquity, or die childless (Lev_20:19-21). The cases noticed under Nos. 4 [granddaughter, the daughter of either son or daughter] and 5 [daughter of a step-mother] are passed over in ch. 20, though they no doubt belonged to the crimes which were to be punished with death, and No. 11 [two sisters at the same time], for which no punishment was fixed, because the wrong had been already pointed out in Lev_18:18."
Male homosex is classified as a first tier offense requiring the death penalty, which stipulates that they shall “be put to death”.
J. P. Holding notes:
"The punishments range from "worst to best", from death to expulsion to barrenness. This suggests that the crimes are in a "worst to best" range as well, and our verse of concern is smack in the middle - and one of those that gets the death penalty! The context, the structure of the commands, and the punishment together suggest that what we have here is a universal condemnation of all such behavior!"
The use of the term 'lie' (here and in Lev 18:22) without qualifying verbs such as 'seize and (lie)', along with equal punishment for both parties, and two motive clauses 'Both of them have committed an abomination ... their blood is upon them', further evidences the unconditional and universal nature of the ban, and not simply against forcible homosexual intercourse as the Assyrians did, or with youths (as did the Egyptians).
Commission to keep commands, and cause of being conquered
Israel here is enjoined to keep both the statutes and judgments of God, and not to know walk in the manners of the nation which God determined to cast out due to the practices He condemned. Similar cause and effect statements occur elsewhere, but not immediately after ceremonial laws, such as in Lev. 11-17.
Lv. 18:24: "Defile not ye yourselves...."; The word which describes the moral condition of the land of the pagans, defiled, is ṭâmê', which can be used to signify ritual or moral defilement. Its first three occurrences in Scripture is to denote the latter, that of Jacob's daughter Dinah, whom Shechem defiled by committing fornication with her, (Gn. 34:5, 13, 27). A sexual cause is the case in other places (Num. 5:13; Dt. 24:4; Ezek. 22:11; 23:7,13,17; 33:26; Hos. 6:10), as well for idolatry. It is used most often in the Levitical chapters on ceremonial ordinances (Lv. 11-17,19).
Lv. 18:25: "the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants." The word used in the KJV for vomiteth, qô'/qâyâh, is used twice in both Lev_20:22 and in Lev. 18:28 and as spue, and once in the latter verse as spued. Outside these occurrences it is only used in Job 20:15, Prov. 23:8, 25:16 and Jonah 2:10. The Lord Jesus used a corresponding word in Rv. 3:16 to describe what He would do with the lukewarm unrepentant church. And which judgment ("spue", "cut off") the LORD repeatedly will happen to Israel, if they follow the way of the heathen (vs. 28-30)
Keil and Delitzsch comment,
"The land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants - This is a very nervous prosopopoeia or personification; a figure by which any part of inanimate nature may be represented as possessing the passions and reason of man. Here the land is represented as an intelligent being, with a deep and refined sense of moral good and evil: information concerning the abominations of the people is brought to this personified land, with which it is so deeply affected that a nausea is produced, and it vomits out its abominable and accursed inhabitants...The land is personified as a living creature, which violently rejects food that it dislikes. "
Paradoxically, the land is metaphorically said to do the opposite in Num. 14:32, in which the faithless spies of Israel said it was one that "eateth up the inhabitants thereof".
Lv. 18:26: "Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments..."; The word for "statutes" (chûqqâh'[H2708]) is also often rendered "ordinances" in the KJV and other translations, and usually refers to the general commands of God, as well as those of pagans and their ways (religion and culture being inseparably intertwined), and even the laws of the universe. (Jer. 31:35; 33:25)
The word for "judgments" (mishpâṭ [H4941]) usually denotes a decree or decision of justice or qualities thereof (Ex. 23:6; Dt. 17:8,9; 32:4)
Albert Barnes comments,
"And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation which I cast out before you,.... Nation seems to be put for nations, for there were seven nations cast out for them; though the Canaanites may be intended, being a general name for the whole: some think the Amorites are meant, who were a principal nation, and notorious for their wickedness: hence we often meet with this phrase in Jewish writings, "the way of the Amorites", as being exceeding bad, and so to be avoided, and by no means to be walked in, Gen_15:16,
Lv. 18:27: "For all these abominations..."; in the original language the word use here (and in vs. 27 and 30) for abominations, tōʻēḇā, collectivity referring all of the condemned practices in this chapter, is not used in Leviticus for dietary and ritual cleanness violations, and is only used 2 or 3 times elsewhere to refer to such things as abominable for Israel (see “sheqets” and “shâqats” for such), and in contrast it is the word most often used in reference to grave moral abominations."
Henry states that,
"Sinful customs are abominable customs, and their being common and fashionable does not make them at all the less abominable nor should we the less abominate them, but the more; because the more customary they are the more dangerous they are."
Lv. 18:29-30: God has elsewhere declared His good will for them and the blessings of obedience, (Ex. 3:,16-18; 6:8; 13:1-5; 19:5,6; 33:1-3) and will do so more, (Lv. 20:24; Dt. 14:12) but here the consequences of disobedience are made clear by varied repetition. Tragically, Israel did not learn obedience for long, but learned the way of the heathen which the prophets pleaded with them not to do, and to turn from (Jer. 6:16; 10:2ff; Is. 1:5; Hos. 6:1-3; 10:12). After much Divine long suffering, they thus realized great destruction in chastisements, and were scattered into the "four corners of the earth" (Lam. Ezek. 7:1-4ff). And to await the promised regathering of Israel (Is. 11:2ff) and redemptive enlightening, (Rom. 11) though divergent positions are held on such.
- Ex. 24:4,27; Num. 4:37,45,49; 9:23; 33:2; Dt. 31:9,22; Josh. 8:32; 14:2; 20:2; 21:2,8; 22:9; 23:6; Jdg. 3:4; 1Ki. 2:3; 8:53,56; 2Ki. 14:6; 2Chr. 23:18; 33:8; Neh. 9:14; Mk.7:10; 10:3–5; 12:19,26; Lk. 5:14; 16:29–31; 20:28; 24:27, 44; Jn. 5:45–47; 7:19, 23; Acts 3:22; Rm. 10:5
- The 'Documentary Source Hypothesis
- [The Bible As Law, Gerald R. Thompson http://www.lonang.com/foundation/1/f17.htm]
- Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1977), p. 214. Bahnsen points out that the early third century church document Didascalia Apostolorum clearly distinguished between the Decalogue and the temporary ceremonies.
- Ceremonies and the ceremonial law, Kaufmann Kohler
- John Gill, Mt. 5:17; Col. 2:16
- Leviticus An Economic Commentary, by Gary North http://www.entrewave.com/freebooks/docs/a_pdfs/gnlv.pdf
- Hermeneutics - A Guide To Basic Bible Interpretation, By Darryl M. Erkel; V. The Basics of Bible Interpretation http://www.theologue.org/HERMENEUTICS-DMERKEL.html
- Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. pp 100-01
- Clarke, Gal. 5:13
- Albert Barnes, (Mt. 5:18)
- John Gill, Mt. 5:17
- Does Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 Flat-Out Condemn Homosexuality?. J. P Holding
- Halloween Origins and Customs http://www.jeremiahproject.com/culture/halloween.html
- Albert Barnes, (Mt. 5:18)
- Thompson and Major, 1987, 7:7
- Adam Clarke
- Adam Clarke
- The Chemistry Of The Blood, M.R. DeHaan, M.D. http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/BTP/Dr_MR_DeHaan/Chemistry/05.htm
- John Gill, Ezek. 22:10; Acts 15:20
- Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. pp 100-01
- Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality By Jack Bartlett Rogers, p. 72.
- Horner, David loved Jonathan, p.73, 85.
- Daniel Helminiak, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, pp. 46-47, http://www.reformed.org/social/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/social/hodges_response_helminiak.html
- The New Testament and Homosexuality, p. 73.
- Homosexuality and the Old Testament, P. Michael Ukleja http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/OTeSources/03-Leviticus/Text/Articles/Ukleja-Homsex-BS.htm
- Charles C. Ryrie, "The End of the Law," Bibliotheca Sacra 124 (July–September 1967):246.
- By this it is not meant that Christians are "under law" as though being saved on account of his works, in contrast to imputed righteousness by faith, (Rm. 3-5), or that we look to the letter of the law as the standard, over its intent and foundational basis, but because of faith in the Lord Jesus, Christian are mandated and rightly motivated and enabled to fulfill the righteous intent of the law (Rm. 8:4), which goes beyond the letter of it (though it is evident that this results in keeping the letter of basic universal moral laws as well)
- "That Which is Unnatural" Homosexuality in Society, the Church, and Scripture by Joseph P. Gudel -ICR http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/cri-jrnl/web/crj0108a.html
- Gagnon, Why the disagreement over the Biblical witness on homosexual practice? http://www.westernsem.edu/files/westernsem/gagnon_autm05_0.pdf
- Greg Bahnsen p 45
- Homosexuality Revisited in Light of the Current Climate, by Calvin Smith http://www.theologicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/homosexuality_revisited.pdf
- Bailey, "Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition p. 30.
- Wrestling with God and Men, pp. 80-93; by Steven Greenberg
- The New Testament and Homosexuality, Palestinian Judaism Scroggs
- Homosexuality in the Church, Richard B. Hays, (Lev. 18:22; 20:13)
- Hilchot Issure Biah, c. 1. sect. 16. (c) Geograph. l. 17. p. 551. (d) De Animal. l. 7. c. 19. (e) Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 46. (f) Hierozoic. par. 1. l. 2. c. 53. col. 642.
- John Gill
- Keil and Delitzsch
- Keil and Deitzch
- The Old Testament Attitude to Homosexuality Gordon J Wenham http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_attitude_wenham.html
- The Millennial Kingdom By John F. Walvoord