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:
|All homosexual behavior, by either men or women, or |
||Same gender sexual behavior, by either men or women who are heterosexual, or |
|All sexual behavior between two men, or |
||All sexual behavior between two men who are heterosexual, or |
|Only anal sex between two men, or|
|Only anal sex in a Pagan temple ritual, or |
|Sexual activity between two men in a woman's bed?|
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.
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:
|ESV: (English Standard Version): "You shall not lie with
a man as with
a woman; it is abomination." |
|KJV: (King James Version): "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with
womankind: it is abomination". |
|LB: (Living Bible): "Homosexuality is absolutely forbidden, for it is an
enormous sin" |
|Net Bible: "You must not have sexual intercourse with a
male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act."
|NIV: (New International Version) "Do not lie with a man as one lies with
a woman; that is detestable." |
|NLT: (New Living Translation): "Do not practice homosexuality; it is a
detestable sin." |
|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:
|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.|
||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.|
|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.|
Various interpretations of this verse:
|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."
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Net Bible® is a new translation by The Biblical Studies Foundation. It is
available online and in printed form. See:
- Mark E. Howerter, "The Homosexual Lifestyle is Not Normal," at:
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