Does Leviticus 18:22 Condemn Homosexuality?
Leviticus 18:22 says, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” This has been interpreted as the biblical condemnation of all homosexual intercourse. More often than not it’s the single passage that will be thrown in the face of a gay person to show he cannot be a Christian and be gay.
But has anyone ever asked if the traditional interpretation is correct? Is it possible that there is another way to look at the passage? I think there is and offer an alternative explanation here:
- The verse says you shall not lie with a male AS with a woman. My pastor has told me that the Hebrew means you are not to have sex with a male in the same way you do with a female. So the verse is condemning someone who normally has sex with a woman, but for some reason is also having sex with a male… in the same way he does with a woman. So this can’t be referring to a gay person, because a gay man is attracted exclusively to males and is not having sex with them in the same way he does with a woman. So there’s already a problem applying this verse to truly gay people.
- So why is this male having sex with men like he normally has sex with women? The context has to be considered to answer this. The verse is preceded by a reference to an idolatrous religious practice in v. 21. Molech worship is mentioned and it’s practice of child sacrifice is forbidden. Then the verse that follows refers to having sex with an animal. The reference in v. 23 is very likely to an idolatrous religion brought into Canaan from Egypt. It was a religion in which women especially would allow a goat to mount them for sex. So v. 22 is in this context of cultic religious observances. And in Canaan a common religious practice was for men to have sex with male cult prostitutes as a part of their worship. And God is forbidding the Israelites to do this in their worship!
- The practice in Lev. 18:22 is called “an abomination.” A study of this word will show that it is used in a very specialized way in the Old Testament to refer to specific practices the Lord hates. It is not referring to just any sin, but to a very specific kind of sin. What is that specific sin referred to?
- 1 Kings 14:24 says, “There were even male cult prostitutes in the land. They imitated all the abominations of the nations the LORD had dispossessed before the Israelites.” Notice that the use of male cult prostitutes is called an abomination. This is exactly what the practice referred to in Lev. 18:22 is called…an abomination! So it is not condemning same-sex relations per se, but homosexual activity performed with male cult prostitutes in the performance of religious worship.
- It should also be noted that the emphasis in Lev. 18:22 is on conduct. It is focused on what someone does, not what he is. The verse is not referring to the same-sex attraction that characterizes gay people. It is all about sinful acts, and as we’ve seen these acts are homosexual acts done with male cult prostitutes in religious worship.
So I have offered here an alternative way to look at Lev. 18:22. The traditional interpretation has real problems when we start to analyze the verse. It should not be used as a blanket condemnation of all same-sex intercourse. It is not dealing with same-sex couples who are in a loving and committed relationship. It is dealing rather with males who are attracted to women naturally but have indulged in homosexual acts done in the context of idolatrous religious practice.