A couple of caveats again, as I state always before we deal with this subject. The church has traditionally been woefully inadequate in their treatment of this topic in terms of providing meaningful help and guidance. It is my belief that many Christians who want to honor God with their lives have previously been made to feel weird or awkward about dealing with this issue and as such have received little to no help. We are quite late as the body of Christ addressing this topic as it should be addressed, with love and compassion. Secondly, if I interpret the Bible correctly, homosexuality is a sin; but not any more or any worse of a sin than many others. Heterosexual adultery and fornication are just as much major issues, and yet some have gone out of their ways to rail against homosexuality to the exclusion of all other sins. Again, this is irresponsible and as well as inconsistent with the biblical data. Additionally, it does damage to the lives of others. Thirdly, I don't particularly enjoy addressing this topic. I wish we didn't have to fight about these issues or spend so much time discussing them. I would prefer to speak of other things, "about our common salvation," however this is certainly the defining issue of our age, and we would be lax in our duties if we did not deal with it fairly and appropriately. Finally, as I hope to keep driving at with these posts, where you land on this topic is ultimately going to be determined by how highly you value Scripture, and if you are determined to interpret it correctly, as God has given it.
Scripture has been used in illegitimate ways all throughout history, and our day is no different. If you approach the Bible with a preconceived notion or idea about what it says or ought to say, you can mostly find support for your position. Additionally, if you deal with texts in isolation from one another and seek to reinterpret them according to your perspective, you can mostly make the text say whatever you want it to. The Scriptures ought to be taken as a collective whole and additionally ought to be taken on their own terms. One who genuinely comes to the Scriptures with a submissive heart that desires to know what God has to say on any given topic and conform their lives to that truth will find the Bible to be a treasure trove of divine wisdom. However, those who seek simply to reaffirm their preconceived stance will shape the Bible as a wax nose to support whatever position they see fit.
In light of these facts, faithful Bible interpretation is roughly a two step process. First, we attempt to discover what the author intended to communicate to his audience in their original context. Secondly, we seek to pull the principle out of that teaching and apply it in whatever way is most faithful to out current situation. This fact is important. It is the principle that we are after for our own lives. However, we can only get at that principle by going through the texts themselves. Sometimes the principle that is applied to our current situation is very near to the original audience's principle. Sometimes however, that principle is vastly different. It all depends upon the purpose and original context and its relationship to our context today. Please realize that this hermeneutic principle approaches the text on its own terms. It allows the text to say whatever it wants to say first, and then seeks to understand how that may apply to our lives. This is not some idea that we have cooked up in order to try and get around or pick and choose our way through Scripture. This is how any and every book should be read. We should always strive to discover the author's original intent and meaning.
Given all of this background, I want to deal with two of the most clear biblical texts on the topic of homosexuality, Lev 18:22 and 20:13:
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.
Dear Dr. Laura,
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.
a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?
g) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?
i) I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)
I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.
Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.
Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.
The book of Leviticus is full of laws. This section of Scripture is often called the "Holiness Code," as it deals primarily with how Israel is supposed to remain pure before a holy God. Remember that the proper way to interpret any biblical text is by pulling out the meaning that was intended to the original audience, seeing the principle at work underneath all of it, and then applying that principle to modern times. To understand how to do that correctly requires a broader understanding of the biblical themes of who God's people are and how they are to live before him.
This topic has many more intricacies and complexities than we have time to deal with here. However I will give some general principles to set you on the right path of understanding. We ought not to be afraid of the book of Leviticus. It has much that is relevant for us today. However, we need to know how to deal with it correctly. In general realize this: the New Testament Church is the spiritual manifestation of Old Testament Israel. This isn't replacement theology, this is theology consistent with Paul's argumentation in Romans that says Israel is not primarily physical, but faith based, and that Gentiles are now grafted into the tree of Israel. What this means is that laws that are to be kept in a physical manner in the Old Testament often have a spiritual application in the New Testament. Every law that required someone to be stoned in the Old Testament, generally would require excommunication from the church in the New Testament for example. This understanding presupposes that said behavior is sinful in both testaments. So Old Testament laws all still apply, just many of them apply in new ways.
How do we distinguish how each of the laws apply to us? This is the heart of the Christian's faithful study of the book of Leviticus. However, a simple distinction makes the entire task much easier. Generally there are three types of laws in Leviticus.
First, there are general moral laws that Israel is supposed to keep. These laws have the most direct application to God's people because these are the standards God generally requires his people to conduct themselves by. The principle behind moral laws is generally the law itself. Interestingly enough, there is some biblical evidence that God also requires Gentile nations to keep these as well, and punishes them when they do not. They have consciences that reveal these standards to them. The Ten Commandments are pretty typical examples of laws that fall into this category.
Additionally, there are civil laws. Remember that Israel was a nation of people and they had a governmental system that God established for them. These laws are to be kept by Israel in their time as part of their civil society. It is important to recognize that these laws are given in the context of how people in a theocratic society are to conduct themselves. They are primarily meant to communicate how judges should view case laws. Sometimes these laws make sense for us today, but more often than not they simply give good principles and insight into what is just and fair. Various laws regarding property and ox goring fall into this category. While the principle applies, often the exact law is irrelevant to us. We don't eat and socialize on our rooftops any longer, so we aren't required to place handrails on it to prevent someone from falling off. However we do have pools at our homes, and it would be quite negligent if a family did not install fencing to keep young children from falling in. This is a perfectly consistent application of Deuteronomy 22:8, and it faithfully deals with the text's principle.
Finally, there are ceremonial laws. Many of these laws have to do with things that are made ceremonially clean or unclean based upon violating these laws. Quite a few if not all of these laws have been explicitly repealed, as Christ is the perfect fulfillment of the entire Old Testament ceremonial system. Laws in this category include just about everything relating to Levites, weird prohibitions involving blood, etc. It is not that the law is no longer helpful or applicable. It is simply that they were shadows of a greater fulfillment that was to come. That fulfillment has come in Jesus Christ. Every time we read one of these laws it points us to Jesus, and it was supposed to point the original audience to Jesus as well.
While these breakdowns are not explicitly spelled out in the Old Testament. They are honest attempts to deal faithfully with the biblical data. Further, it makes sense that all of these texts would still apply to us in some sense. It is all God's Word after all. This proper method of interpreting said laws allows us to be faithful to the biblical mandates while at the same time recognizing that we live in a different period of biblical redemption. Ceremonial laws no longer apply directly, but every time we read of a scapegoat, sacrifice, or atonement we think of Jesus, just as the law was originally intended. Civil laws no longer apply directly because we are not theocratic Israel, but the principles of equity and justice still apply and these requirements give us an idea of what that looks like. Moral laws still apply mostly directly because God's standards of living for his people are the same forever.
Please recognize that this method of interpretation is not some theological trickery to allow us to pick and choose what laws we would like to keep and which ones we wouldn't. Rather it seeks to interpret each law as it was originally intended and apply consistently those laws to a New Testament framework. This is standard hermeneutics, and if churches would start teaching people how to read their Bibles again then maybe we wouldn't have so many Christians shocked when they hear about these things. Maybe we wouldn't have so many professing believers abandon the faith when they get pressed because nobody ever taught them how to consistently understand all of God's Word.
Which category then does Lev 18:22 and 20:13 fall under? It is quite clearly a moral law. It certainly isn't simply ceremonial, it applies to more than just the priesthood, and is broader for the nation of Israel than just when they are presenting sacrifices. Additionally, it is a capital offense, which is typically more consistent with moral offenses (they also mirror behavior that is unacceptable for NT believers as well under the judgment of NT church discipline up to and including excommunication). The law is likely not civil either. The primary argument for this lies in the fact that gentile Sodom and Gomorra was destroyed for this crime, a group of people clearly outside of the civil realm and authority of theocratic Israel (a community that didn't even exist yet). As such this is a moral command that is still binding upon God's people (and unbelievers as well) today. God clearly identifies homosexuality as a sin with the punishment that those who unrepentantly pursue such behavior will be cut off from their people.
Let us not fall victim to the tactics of the secular humanists. An honest and straightforward reading and understanding of the text reveals that God's moral command against homosexuality is binding for all people everywhere. Where does our ultimate authority lie? Will it be with God and his Word? Or will it be with secular man and what he deems is appropriate behavior? Ultimately, your stance will either be with God and his Word or with man and his opinions, regardless if you try to apply a religious veneer to it after the fact. I hope and pray that we will not feel that we must succumb to the pressure of the unbelieving majority. May God's people stand firmly upon his truth even though the whole world may assail them.