Homosexuality: Some Beginning Thoughts (Leviticus 18:22)

For over a year now, God has been speaking to me about the topic of homosexuality.  I am now waiting anxiously for a book on "Gay Theology" to arrive in the mail.  This morning I read the 5th chapter of 1 Corinthians which addresses a sexual immorality "that does not occur even among pagans" and that is of a Christian man having intercourse with his father's wife.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a co-worker about homosexuality.  She asked me about the passage in the Old Testament that is dismissed by people because it is "just an Old Testament law and we don't follow those anyways."  I believe she was referring to Leviticus 18:22.

SACRIFICIAL LAW SYSTEM

I find it a bit amusing when people choose to discredit this verse.  Yes, there are different types of laws in the Old Testament and many Christians choose to no longer follow those laws.  For example, Christians believe they are released from the priestly laws of the sacrificial system because of the promises of Hebrews 7 which tell us that Jesus is our forever priest who offers a greater sacrifice.  Verse 18-19 reads, "The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God."  Later in 22, "Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant."  And in 24-25, "but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them."  And the verse that stands out the most is the 13th verse of chapter 8, "By calling this covenant 'new,' he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear." Thus, Christians accept the idea that we no longer need to follow the sacrificial law system of the Old Testament.

MORAL LAW SYSTEM

Interestingly though in the Sermon on the Mount, we don't hear Jesus abolishing the law, but rather fulfilling and giving new meaning to it.  In Matthew 5:17 we read:
 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 
And then Jesus moves forward by re-explaining the moral codes of the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament Law. Thus he gives credibility to these moral commandments, while in many ways making it far more difficult to fulfill them by one's own strength. (An entire blog entry could be written on the role of the Holy Spirit in helping us to fulfill these moral codes.)

DIETARY LAW SYSTEM

So in one place we have Jesus completing the sacrificial law system and in another place we have Jesus upholding the moral law system.  But what about those dietary laws? The ones that tell us what we should not eat and those practical living laws that tell us how we are to handle mold?  Well, Mark 7 very clearly addresses the idea of what makes a person clean or unclean.  Jesus teaches that it is the heart of the law that matters.  He explains in 7:18-23:
 "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.") 
He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'
And we learn more about the food restrictions being lifted in Peter's vision recorded in Acts 10 and the new explanation of when and when not to eat certain foods in 1 Corinthians 8.

This is all to say that there are different types of Old Testament laws and the different types were reinterpreted in different ways with the dawn of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

SEXUAL IMMORALITY

Throughout the New Testament moral laws are upheld and even further explained. Sexual immorality often finds its place beside greed and envy in lists of sins.

So, when someone suggests that perhaps we can dismiss the law against homosexuality found in Leviticus 18:22, I am reluctant to agree.  The New Testament clearly states that sexual immorality is forbidden.  In chapter 18 of Leviticus we get a lengthy list explaining what God defines as sexually immoral. The list begins with these words of the LORD speaking to Moses:

Speak to the Israelites and say to them: "I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.

From there begins the list defining sexual sin:

  • Having sex with a close relative:  your father's wife, your mother, your sister, your half-sister, your grandchild, your aunt, your uncle's wife, and your child's spouse (18:1-16).
  • Having sex with two people who are related to one another: a mother and her daughter, a mother and her grand-daughter (18:17).
  • Claiming as one's wife two sisters while both are still living (18:18).
  • Having sex with a woman during menstruation (18:19) - Note: this is the first of the laws included in this list that we as a society consider unnecessary.  Although, it should be recognized that many couples do abide by this law because of their own negative feelings or pain associated with intercourse for some women during this stage of her cycle.
  • Having sex with your neighbor (18:20). - Note: this one may be disputed in our culture if both you and your neighbor are single and uncommitted.  But there are clear parameters of acceptability around this (concern about what happens if a break-up occurs).  Here we see the influence of the television series FRIENDS and Desperate House Wives. 
  • Sacrificing your child to Molech (18:21).  - This law seems a bit out of place in this series. The way that it fits is that it was a "detestable" sin that the people (Canannites) who had previously lived in the land performed.  It also fits in that it is a sin committed against another human being - a family member.
  • Having sexual relations with another man (18:22). - Note: Although this type of sexual relationship has occurred for thousands of years, it hasn't been until the last twenty years that this sexual act has gained some acceptance in North American culture. It is still not accepted in many countries/cultures around the world.
  • Having sex with an animal (18:23).
Following the list of sexual restrictions, the LORD speaks the following:
Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you. 
Everyone who does any of these detestable things--such persons must be cut off from their people. [Sounds like 1 Corinthians 5].  Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the LORD your God.
CONCLUSION

When I read through this list, the only items that were forbidden that we now to some degree consider acceptable are the following: 1) having sex during menstruation, 2) having intercourse with one's neighbor, 3) having sexual relations with a person of the same sex.  The rest of the list of sexual sins most of us still consider to be "detestable."  So the argument that Leviticus 18:22 can be dismissed because it is an Old Testament law is invalid.



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