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Homosexuality in Leviticus 18:22

Part 1 of 2:

Translations and interpretations of
same-sex behavior in Leviticus 18:22

Which is the correct translation?

Obviously, it is important for a student of the Bible to resolve exactly what behavior is forbidden: is it:

bullet All homosexual behavior, by either men or women, or

bullet Same gender sexual behavior, by either men or women who are heterosexual, or

bullet All sexual behavior between two men, or

bullet All sexual behavior between two men who are heterosexual, or

bullet Only anal sex between two men, or

bullet Only anal sex in a Pagan temple ritual, or

bullet Sexual activity between two men in a woman's bed?
bullet etc.

Also, is the behavior forbidden to ancient Israelites, or modern-day Jews, or all males regardless of their religion, or all males and females, or some combination of the preceding.

Unfortunately, there is no consensus on the meaning of this verse. Many people tend to select that interpretation that most closely reinforces their initial biases about the Bible and homosexual behavior.

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English translations of this verse:

These are not a great deal of help. Bible publishers are under strong economic pressures to turn a profit. If a translation of Leviticus 18:22 were included that did not generally condemn at least male homosexual behavior, confidence in the translation would drop precipitously and their sales would drop equally fast. They are unlikely to deviate from traditional interpretations, unless they were preparing a translation specifically for Christian and Jewish liberals.

Some translations are:

bullet ESV: (English Standard Version): "You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is abomination."

bullet KJV: (King James Version): "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination".

bullet LB: (Living Bible): "Homosexuality is absolutely forbidden, for it is an enormous sin"

bullet Net Bible: "You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act." 1

bullet NIV: (New International Version) "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable."

bullet NLT: (New Living Translation): "Do not practice homosexuality; it is a detestable sin."

bullet RSV: (Revised Standard Version): "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination."

The LB and NLT translations use the term "homosexuality" That is unusually deceptive for three reasons:

bullet The passage in the ancient Hebrew is clearly talking about male-male sex acts. By using the word "homosexuality," the English translation appears to condemn lesbian activity as well. The latter behavior is definitely not mentioned in the original Hebrew text of this passage. In fact, lesbian behavior is not mentioned anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures.
bullet The term "homosexuality" has two distinct meanings in English. Sometimes it refers to sexual behavior (what some people do; their actions). Sometimes it relates to sexual orientation (what some people are; their feelings). One reader might conclude from an English translation that to simply have a homosexual orientation is condemned by the Bible. Others might assume that only homosexual behavior is criticized.
bullet The word "homosexual" was first used in the very late in 19th century CE. There was no Hebrew word that meant "homosexual." Thus, whenever the word is seen in an English translation of the Bible, one should be wary that the translators might be inserting their own prejudices into the text.

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Various interpretations of this verse:

bullet The most common conservative Christian Interpretation: This verse condemns homosexual behavior of all types including consensual sex between two adults and  monogamous sexual activity within a committed relationship. Its meaning is clear and unambiguous. This verse is often quoted in Evangelical churches and on religious radio and TV programs. "Abomination" is defined in Webster's New World dictionary as "nasty and disgusting; vile, loathsome." It is a strong word indeed!

Mark Howerter writes:

"The American Heritage Dictionary says this is what abominate means: 'To detest thoroughly; abhor.' A thesaurus uses : a. hate b. despise c. loathe d. detest and e. execrate as synonyms for abominate. Lest we should ever forget how God feels about homosexuality, i.e., sodomy, the whole story of Lot in Sodom as found in Genesis chapters 18-19 should be read by every person in America at least once a year." 2

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This topic is continued in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Net Bible® is a new translation by The Biblical Studies Foundation. It is available online and in printed form. See:
  2. Mark E. Howerter, "The Homosexual Lifestyle is Not Normal," at:

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Copyright 1996 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. That is not an error; this web site first went online during the infancy of the Internet.
Latest update: 2016-JAN-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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