Leviticus 18:22 – Homosexuality in the 21st Century
Leviticus 18:22: Homosexuality in the 21st Century
by Benjamin Copple
Leviticus 18:22 reads like this: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination” (KJV). No twelve words have ever been as misunderstood or misused as these. Traditionally used as the foundation for the biblical stance against homosexuality, this verse has been used to justify violent hatred towards homosexuals, but also to justify hatred towards those who take a stand against homosexuality. Today this verse is cited with increasing frequency as a hurricane of political and social action supporting same-sex marriage buffets our world. As the LGBTQ community and its supporters push against some of our country’s most sacred institutions, Christians are being forced to go back and strictly define their stance on those institutions, in order to weather the offensive that is being brought against them.
This offensive is especially strong for those who are walking the college campuses across the nation. Special interest groups know that colleges wield tremendous influence on the next generation of Americans, so they hit these places hard with their agendas.
The LGBTQ community is no exception. College classes are rife with material urging students to accept homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender redefinition as normal and healthy. Campus forums are full of individuals proclaiming their acceptance of any sexual preference, and denouncing anyone who would disagree as a “bigot” or “homophobe.” For a Christian student who believes the biblical position of sexuality, the college campus can appear stifling and hostile. An explicit verse like Leviticus 18:22 can provide security in the face of opposition, if understood correctly; the question that needs to be asked is what does Leviticus 18:22 mean for us today?
The first thing to understand about Leviticus 18:22 is that it is a commandment. God commanded his people to avoid homosexuality in all its forms: “thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind.” This commandment is in line with all the other “thou-shalts” and “thou-shalt-nots” in the Ten Commandments. There is nothing to suggest that God esteems this commandment any lower than his first ten.
Jesus showed that the first ten commandments are not inherently any more important than the others when he placed the commandment, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” (Lev. 19:18) before nine of the others, second only to the first commandment, “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark 12:28-31). The second half of Leviticus 18:22 calls homosexual behavior “an abomination.” An abomination is something that should not exist. Thus, Leviticus 18:22 clearly states God’s feelings about homosexual behavior: it should not exist.
For such a straightforward verse, it is surprising how many people try to explain it away as simply a regulation under the Law of Moses, or an old rule that Christians are no longer required to obey. While it is true that the death and resurrection of Jesus made the older law of Moses no longer necessary, there is a distinct difference between the regulations of the law, and the moral code upon which it was built. The Apostle Paul referred to these two things as the “letter” and “spirit” of the law (Romans 2:27, 7:6, II Cor. 3:6). The letter of the law refers to the regulations that no longer have to be followed because their purpose was fulfilled by Jesus, but the spirit of the law – what’s right and what’s wrong – refers to a moral basis upon which God operates and does not change.
Paul spent much of his time explaining this concept to the early Christian churches. In Galatians 3:24 he calls the law a “schoolmaster” or teacher, to bring people to Christ, so that they can then be justified by faith. The law was intended to teach right from wrong so that faith in Jesus would not be voided by sinful actions. If Jesus had died for everyone’s sins, yet never defined what sin was, his death would have been meaningless because no one would know how to stop sinning. Paul further clarifies this in the third chapter of Romans. He writes “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law… Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (emphasis added).
True faith in Jesus Christ, which includes faith in the redemptive power of His blood as applied through water baptism, establishes the spirit of the law, making the deeds of the law no longer necessary. By applying these concepts to Leviticus 18:22, it is obvious that the spirit of this regulation is that God does not want His people to practice homosexuality; the deed of this law, as outlined in Leviticus 20:13, is that anyone who practices homosexuality is to be put to death. The sacrifice of Jesus means that homosexuals no longer must to be put to death, because the redemptive power of His blood means that their sin can be washed away.
Paul demonstrates his understanding of this in I Corinthians 6:9, where he condemns homosexuality, among other sins, but then, in verse eleven, writes, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God.” His meaning is clear: God saves us from the sin of homosexuality, but his moral command against it is still in effect.
This sword cuts both ways. If we as Christians are no longer bound by the letter of the law, we are also no longer able to use the law to judge. Leviticus 20:13 gives the death penalty as punishment for the sin of homosexuality. But the sacrifice of Jesus paid the price for our sins, lifting us out from under the law and making such punishments no longer necessary. Therefore, no human being has the moral authority to judge or punish anyone else for the sin of homosexuality, except Jesus Christ. This means that the hateful and violent acts that have been committed against homosexuals are wrong, and the individuals that perpetrate them are twisting the Word of God to fit their own sinful views.
The Bible has many harsh judgements for those sorts of people (Jude 1:4-8, II Peter 3:16). To take the place of Jesus – the only one worthy to judge the sins of the world – is very dangerous, for as the scriptures say, “he is a jealous God,” and will share His power and authority with no one (Ex. 34:14). Even as heirs to His kingdom, Christians have no right to judge or punish anyone, regardless of the sin.
Furthermore, Jesus instituted a higher commandment when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Jesus called us to love everyone – saints, sinners, liars, cheater, murderers, and homosexuals. Loving the sinner doesn’t mean that we have to love the sin. In fact, one of the purposes of the Church is to judge sin, and to point it out so others can see and avoid it. But we do not have the right to judge the sinner – the Word of God already does that. When people persecute homosexuals, and attempt to punish them through unkindness, hatred, or violence, they break God’s law just as much as any sinner. Paul said that the wages of all sin is death (Romans 6:23), and that all have sinned (Romans 3:23), meaning everyone deserves death. But by the grace of God we do not have to die, and can repent of our sins to gain eternal life.
However, it’s hard to put this principle of love into practice, especially when those on the other side are so aggressive. Though we should be kind to everyone, it’s getting harder and harder to stand up for the biblical definition of sexuality. Christians are afraid of being sued, or of losing their jobs, or of being ridiculed by their peers. Yet supporters of the LGBTQ community are becoming increasingly bolder in promoting their agendas. It permeates our education, media, and entertainment. One of the gay community’s biggest advocates is British actor Sir Ian McKellen, an openly gay man who has portrayed some of the world’s most iconic characters on film and on stage. In an interview with TIME magazine he said that when he stays in hotels, he rips the pages that contain Leviticus 18:22 out of the bedside Bible.* Clearly, McKellen and others like him are not shy about standing for what they believe.
So, then what are we to do? We must continue to stand for what the Bible says, no matter the cost, and we must continue to resist the rise of what the Bible calls sin. Deuteronomy 7:26 says not even to allow an abomination into your house. But we must remember that the sin is an abomination, not the sinner. We must continue to show the love of Jesus to all his children, no matter who they are, or what shape they are in. Let’s continue to proclaim the Gospel to everyone who will listen, and pray that they will hear it, turn from their ways and seek the face of God. Let’s continue to be true Christians, in this world, but not of it.
*Luscombe, Belinda. “10 Questions for Ian McKellen.” TIME, Vol. 180, Issue 26 (2012): p. 62.