Types of sin, as defined by the Mosaic Code in
the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament)
Part 2: Why do things & deeds pollute? (Con't').
Is Leviticus 18:22 a special case?
This is a continuation of an earlier essay.
Why do things and deeds pollute? (Continued from Part 1):
|They detract from the condition of the body as "a perfect,
unflawed, unblemished container:" Some examples are related to
bodily discharges, childbirth, alteration to the body, or disability.
||A bodily discharge, described as a "running issue" in the
King James Version, ritually polluted the person. His bed, his
saddle, and anything that he sat upon also becomes impure. He must
wash his clothes and bathe repeatedly for seven days. Finally, he
had to go to the temple and offer two turtledoves or young pigeons,
one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering. Any person
who touched him, his bed, or anything that he sat upon also
automatically became impure. (Leviticus 15:2-15).
||A man who ejaculated, presumably due to masturbation, must wash himself and
anything that his semen touched. Even then, he remained ritually
impure until the evening. (Leviticus 15:16-17)
||A man and women who engaged in sexual intercourse must both wash
their bodies. They remained ritually unclean until the evening.
||A menstruating women was automatically polluted for at least
seven days, as is anything that she sits or lies upon. Anyone who
touches her bed or anything that she sat upon is also unclean. After
her period, she had to take two suitable birds to the temple to have
them ritually sacrificed. (Leviticus 15:19-30)
||A man who engaged in sexual intercourse with a woman who is
menstruating was considered unclean for seven days. His bed was also
polluted. (Leviticus 15:24)
||Shaving or getting a hair cut caused ritual impurity. (Leviticus
||Getting a tattoo or other skin marking had the same effect.
||Rules for priests were considerably more stringent than for the
common people. A priest must not shave their head, trim their beard,
or cut their bodies. (Leviticus 21:5). A priest cannot have a
significant disability: No man who was blind or lame; who had a
disfigured hand or foot; who was hunchbacked or a little person, who
had an eye defect, damaged testicles, etc. could be a priest.
|Holiness required that an individual conforms "completely to
the class to which they belong." 1 The Hebrews were instructed to differentiate "...between
the unclean and the clean [animals], and between the beast that may be
eaten and the beast that may not be eaten." (Leviticus
11:47) Examples include:|
||Only those land animals who have a completely divided split hoof
and who chew their cud were considered of a class suitable for human
consumption. Camels, rock badgers, rabbits, and pigs were thus
examples of unclean animals that humans must not eat, or even touch
their carcasses. (Leviticus 11: 1-8)
||Sea creatures were a class of living things which should have
both fins and scales. Shrimp, lobsters, and any other fish without
fins or scales were considered unclean animals. (Leviticus 11:9-12)
||Other strict rules related to birds, flying insects, animals
that move about on the ground, many of which are unclean. (Leviticus
||Sowing a field with mixed seeds was not allowed. (Leviticus
||Wearing clothing made from two types of textiles was forbidden.
|Holiness also required that a person not engage in more than one
|There is an extensive list of prohibited incestuous
relationships in Leviticus 18:6-18: |
||A person cannot be both a sexual partner and a sibling of
the same person. For example, a man cannot have sex with his
sister. The King James
Version describes sexual intercourse as "uncovering their nakedness."
||A person cannot be a sexual partner and a child of the same
person. e.g. a woman cannot have sex with her father; a man
cannot have sex with his mother.
||A man cannot engage in sexual intercourse with both a woman
and her daughter.
|A man must not have sex with his neighbor's wife, apparently
because the woman would be, at least temporarily, the property of
two men. It is unclear how close a person's house has to be before the wife becomes a neighbor.|
|Sexual activity between species is forbidden:|
||Cross-breeding livestock was forbidden. (Leviticus 19:19)
||Bestiality -- a human having sex with an animal of another
species was forbidden. (Leviticus 18:23)
Is Leviticus 18:22 a special case?
Leviticus 18:22 appears just before the anti-bestiality passage cited
above. It, and a parallel verse in Leviticus 20:13, are two of the most
commonly used verses in the Bible to oppose homosexual behavior. The King
James Version of the Bible translates this as:
"Thou shalt not lie
with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."
This has been interpreted in many ways. Some are:
||Forbidding anal intercourse between two men.
||Prohibiting all sexual activities between two men.
||Forbidding sex acts between either two men or two women, irrespective of
the nature of their relationship.
||Prohibiting sex between two men as part of a ritual in a Pagan
||Forbidding two men from having sex together if they do it in a
||Forbidding two Hebrew men from performing anal intercourse; the law had
no impact on Gentiles.
||Forbidding anal sex because it could not result in a pregnancy. This prohibition is needed because a
high birth rate was was badly needed in a nation that was constantly
being attacked by foreigners. This is not hardly applicable today when overpopulation of the world is a problem.
Perhaps of even greater importance is that no consensus exists concerning
of what type this forbidden behavior was:
||Whether it is a moral sin. Some theologians, particularly
from the conservative wing of Christianity and Judaism firmly take this
||Whether it is a ritually impure act. Others, particularly
religious liberals, consider this verse as part of the preceding
Holiness Code. That is, it teaches that sex between two males makes both
of them ritually impure because one partner is leaving "the class to
which they belong." 1 One man is being penetrated instead of doing the penetrating;
they are adopting the role of a woman.
One key to the proper
interpretation may be the Hebrew word "to'ebah,"
translated as "abomination" in the King James Version and "detestable"
in the New International Version. Both English words seem to imply moral
sin. However, this word was translated in the Septuagint -- the Bible used
by Jesus' disciples and the early Christians -- into the Greek word "bdelygma," which meant ritual impurity. If the
writer(s) of Leviticus wished to refer to a moral violation, he/they
probably would have used the Hebrew word "zimah."
Another key to the puzzle is put forth by many religious conservatives.
These two verses in Leviticus are merely two out of
many Bible passages which mention homosexuality. They believe that the
others clearly condemn homosexual acts as immoral sins. Thus, it would be
more consistent to assume that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 also describe moral
However, many religious liberals and secularists take the opposite position. They interpret the other six or so references to same-gender sexual behavior as not being sins for persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation. Thus they might conclude that Leviticus 18:22 would be consistent to the other biblical passages if it does not condemn such behavior as a moral sin.
The difference between these alternatives is enormous.
||If sex between two males is a moral sin, then a good case can be
made that it is still immoral today, even if performed by a married same-sex couple.
||If it is merely an impure act, then it might have the status as
other polluting activities, such as getting a tattoo, planting a grass
seed mixture in one's front lawn, wearing a cotton-polyester shirt,
eating shellfish, munching on some barbequed pork ribs, or eating supper
with a person who follows another religion. That is, Leviticus 18:22 may
be an old prohibition that simply does not apply today.
We can safely reach one conclusion: the Bible passage of Leviticus 18:22 is ambiguous. Sincere, thoughtful, intelligent theologian read the passage in the original Hebrew or in English translations, and reach very different conclusions about its meanings.
The following information source was used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.
D.O. Via & R. A.J. Gagnon, "Homosexuality and the Bible: Two
views," Fortress Press, (2003), Page 5. Read
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Copyright © 2003 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-DEC-12
Latest update: 2014-MAR-06
Author: B.A. Robinson
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