Homosexuality in the Hebrew Scriptures
The Mosaic Code & the Hebrew word To'ebah
(Often translated as "abomination")
The Mosaic code, and its applicability today:
The Torah is composed of the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). It contains numerous laws which make up the Mosaic code. Rabbi Simlai wrote in the Talmud (Jewish traditional commentary about the Hebrew Scriptures) that God gave 613 commandments to Moses. One list finds 3 commandments in Genesis, 111 in Exodus, 247 in Leviticus, 52 in Numbers and 200 in Deuteronomy. These included 365 prohibitions -- a number equal to the nominal number of days in the year. Also included are 248 positive commandments which Rabbi Simlai said corresponded "to the number of organs and limbs in the human body." Hundreds of these dealt with animal sacrifices and other topics that are not currently practiced. That leaves about 300 commandments that can be practiced today.
The Holiness Code in the Torah permits:
The code requires:
The code prohibits:
Of the 613 laws, most Christian denominations regard very few as binding on Christians today. Conservative Christians often accept:
They generally accept laws which prohibit:
21st century Christians are free to have sexual relations during the wife's monthly period, wear tattoos, eat shrimp, lobster, pork or meat cooked rare, wear polyester-cotton blends, seed their lawns with a grass mixture, and get their hair cut. But most conservative Christians consider homosexual behavior -- and sometimes merely having a homosexual orientation -- as taboo. At first, we were unable to find any logical explanation that would justify conservative Christians concentrating so much on these two laws against homosexuality while abandoning most of the remaining 611 Mosaic laws.
But further examination found the reason. Using an Protestant English translation of the Bible, conservative Christians believe that the validity of the two anti-homosexual "clobber" passages in Leviticus has been verified by passages in Paul's Epistles. The NIV and KJV of the Bible clearly condemn homosexual behavior at 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Romans 1:28 in the Christian Scriptures. These translations generally interpret the Greek words "malakoi" and "arsenokoitai" as referring to homosexuals.
We can be fairly certain that this is not the meaning that Paul wanted to convey. If he had, he would have used the Greek word "paiderasste." That was the standard term at the time for males who had sex with males. We can conclude that he probably meant something different from persons who engaged in male-male adult sexual behavior. Down through the years, Christians have interpreted these words as referring to people of lacking a high moral standing, or to masturbators, or to men who sexually abuse boys, or to boys who are the victims of sexual abuse. Interpreting these passages as referring to sexually active homosexuals appears to be simply the latest in a long series of attempts to make sense out of obscure words. The precise meaning is unknown; it was buried with Paul.
The meaning of To'ebah (often translated abomination)
The Hebrew word "to'ebah" (or a form of the word) appears over 100 times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):
It is often translated as "abomination" or "detestable" in English. It can refer to the breaking of either a moral or ritual law. 1 Examples of ritual codes involving "to'ebah" in the NKJ translation are:
When "to'ebah" refers to the breaking of a ritual law it might be better translated "ritually improper," or "involves foreign religious cult practice." Almost all of the "to'ebah" passages are considered without significance to Christians today. Many activities which were "to'ebah" transgressions to the ancient Israelites simply do not apply to modern cultures. However, most conservative Christians consider the Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 passages to be different from all the others, and still in force today.
Rabbi Gershon Caudill wrote that:
Although "abomination" is a clear mistranslation of the Hebrew word "to'ebah" we are probably stuck with it in English translations of the Bible for the foreseeable future. Bible publishers would be very reluctant to translate the word correctly because so many Christians expect to see "abomination" mentioned in Leviticus 18 and 20.
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