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Homosexuality in Leviticus 18:22

Context and analysis of Leviticus 18:22

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The context of Leviticus 18:22:

This is a passage from the Mosaic Code that is often used to condemn all sexual behavior between two men. Although it obviously refers to male-male sex, it is sometimes also used to condemn lesbian activity.

The chapters before and after chapter 18 deal extensively with idolatry. We can therefore expect that much of chapter 18 will deal with the same topic.

Leviticus 18, verses 6 to 21, contain a whole series of forbidden forms of sexual behavior with::

  • Verse 6: relatives that are "near of kin."
  • Verse 7: one's mother.
  • Verse 8: father's wife.
  • Verse 9: sister or step sister.
  • Verse 10: granddaughter.
  • Verse 11: sister or step sister.
  • Verse 12: aunt on the father's side of the family.
  • Verse 13: aunt on the mother's side of the family.
  • Verse 14: father's brother's wife..
  • Verse 15: daughter-in-law.
  • Verse 16: sister-in-law.
  • Verse 17: both a woman and her daughter, or her granddaughter
  • Verse 18: wife's sister as long as your wife is still living.

Verses 19 and 20 leave the topic of incest but continue the theme of forbidden sexual activity:

  • Verse 19 forbids sexual activity with a menstruating woman.
  • Verse 20 forbids adultery with a neighbor's wife.

At this point, there is a break in topic being discussed. The chapter switches to a condemnation of false forms of worship in general, and the worship of the Pagan god Molech in particular. Like many other Pagan temples, those dedicated to Molech had temple prostitutes on staff. His followers believed that engaging in sexual activity with these prostitutes would please Molech and "... increase the fertility of themselves, their spouses, their livestock and their fields." 1

  • Verse 21 forbids ritual child sacrifice and names a Pagan god Molech to whom children were believed to have been sacrificed. The verse also forbids blasphemy against Yahweh.

Verse 22 is translated in the King James Version as: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."

  • If the verse is considered in isolation -- as it is most often done -- then a logical interpretation is that the verse condemns all sexual activity between two males.

  • If Leviticus 18:22  is considered in the context of its surrounding chapters and previous verse, then one might expect that it refers to some forbidden idolatrous activity in a Pagan temple from which the ancient Israelites must separate themselves.
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Analysis of Leviticus 18:22

"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." 2

In transliterated Hebrew, the verse is written: "V'et zachar lo tishkav mishk'vey eeshah toeyvah hee."

  • The first part of this verse is literally translated as "And with a male you shall not lay lyings of a woman" Many, probably most, theologians, Bible translations and biblical commentators agree that the verse is directed at men who engage in at least some form of anal sex with other men. But they do not agree on the full scope of the forbidden activities. For example:

    • The Living Bible greatly widens the scope of the original Hebrew to include all homosexual acts by both men and women. They confuse the matter further by not differentiating between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior. They render the first part of this verse as: "Homosexuality is absolutely forbidden."

    • On the other hand, many religious liberals have interpreted the beginning of this verse as referring only to sexual activities between two males during a Pagan temple ritual. If there were a liberal translation of the Bible, it might say "Ritual anal sex between two men in a Pagan temple is forbidden."

  • The second part of this verse explains what type of sin this transgression falls under. There are two types of sin in the Mosaic Code:

    1. Moral sin is produced by rebellion against God. This seems to be the interpretation of most biblical translations imply when they translate the Hebrew "toeyvah" in this verse into English words such as "abomination," "enormous sin," or "detestable."

    2. Ceremonial uncleanliness is caused by contact with a forbidden object or by engaging in a behavior which might be quite acceptable to non-Hebrews, but which was forbidden to the Children of Israel. Eating birds of prey, eating shellfish, cross breeding livestock, picking up sticks on a Saturday, planting a mixture of seeds in a field, and wearing clothing that is a blend of two textiles are examples of acts of ritual impurity which made a Child of Israel unclean. These were not necessarily minor sins; some called for the ancient Israelite to be executed or expelled from the tribe.

Religious conservatives and Bible translators tend to interpret this transgression as a moral sin. The King James Bible is typical; it calls sex between to men to be an "abomination." However, others interpret it as a ceremonial uncleanliness -- as an impurity, ritual impurity, or act that results in ceremonial uncleanliness.

The verse is, unfortunately, incomplete. Its precise meaning is ambiguous. The phrase "lay lyings" has no obvious interpretation. Attempts have been made to make sense out of the original Hebrew by inserting a short phrase into the verse. For example:

  1. The Net Bible® translation 3 inserts two words to produce "And with a male you shall not lay [as the] lyings of a woman." A man must not have sexual intercourse with another man as he would normally have with a woman. i.e. anal intercourse between two men is not permitted. From this literal, word for word translation, they produce a smoother English version: "You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman."

  2. An alternative translation would insert a different pair of words to produce: "And with a male you shall not lay [in the] lyings of a woman." That is, two men must not engage in sexual behavior on a woman's bed. Presumably, they must go elsewhere to have sex; a woman's bed was sacred and was to be reserved for opposite-gender sexual behavior.
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References:

  1. Paul Turner, "Seeds of Hope: 'But Leviticus Says," Whosoever, at: http://whosoever.org/seeds/letter84.shtml
  2. King James Version
  3. Net Bible® is a new translation by The Biblical Studies Foundation. It is available online and in printed form. See: http://www.netbible.com/
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Copyright © 1976 to 2014 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2014-MAR-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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