If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. ~ Leviticus 20:13
This instruction from God in the law given to Moses (see 19:1) is part of a litany of sexual acts that are forbidden in chapter 20. It’s interdicted right there with adultery, various specifically-described forms of incest, bestiality, sexual relations with a woman during her period — as well as non-sexual proscriptions of child sacrifice, spiritism, and cursing parents.
Some infractions seem to be regarded as worse than others by being associated with words like “dishonor,” “disgrace,” “perversion,” and “detestable.” This last word — rendered “abominable” or “abomination” in some versions — describes homosexual relations.
Yet the punishment is death for disobeying all of the taboos in verses 9 through 13: cursing either parent, adultery, sex with daughter-in-law, homosexual sex, sex with a woman and her daughter, bestiality — this one specifically applying both to men and women.
And this verse simply reiterates and expounds upon what is said two chapters earlier in a similar listing of primarily sexual prohibitions:
Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable. ~ Leviticus 18:22
I believe God seeks to communicate in the strongest possible terms His disdain for the practice.
I know there are people who believe this is a codification of existing patriarchal mores by Moses. But if that is true, it weakens the case for the incident with Lot and his guests at Sodom as referring solely to rape. It opens the possibility to believe that much more — if not the entire law — was written by Moses rather than given by God and, as the New Testament writers say, put into effect by angels (John 1:17; Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19). I can’t go there. It was given by God.
We don’t have to go nuts about this.
It’s simply indicative that homosexual relations are not something that God wants for us. He doesn’t make His reasons explicit in scripture, and He’s not required to — least of all by us.
Yes, we have been released from the old law in order to serve in the Spirit, the way of grace (Romans 7:6; Galatians 5). But that doesn’t mean that the old law has lost all power to inform us about what God approves and disapproves; what has weight in the new covenant and what does not. Some things are specifically revoked (required Sabbath observance, for instance; and animal sacrifice). Other things are specifically emphasized (loving God with heart, soul, mind, strength; loving others as self). Still others are specifically reinforced by comparison (giving way to lust in the heart leading to adultery; being angry with another as judgement-worthy as murder).
But I don’t know of anything labeled “detestable” in the old law that suddenly becomes acceptable in the new covenant, no more than I know of anything that was previously permitted in the old law that suddenly becomes forbidden in the new covenant.
God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? ~Numbers 23:19
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. ~ Isaiah 55:9
Nor does He see things the same way we do. We may see some of these prohibitions and wonder why a penalty for transgressing them is so serious — deserving death. (I know I do, especially with regard to cursing parents, sexual relations during a woman’s period, and — yes — homosexual relations.)
But, as I have blogged and defended many times — our understanding is not a prerequisite to faith. God may be able to see harms to us in these things that go deeper than our understanding goes. Do we trust Him to make these restrictions? Or do we demand our own way right now and to be taught the entire knowledge of the universe while standing on one foot?
Of course we’ll have questions. I believe God expects that. But I also believe that he expects us to read His will for us and try to discern His nature from it: meditate, pray, reason, ask for His Spirit’s discernment.
So let’s ask a few:
Does homosexuality threaten the institution of marriage? Probably not at the institutional level, but there are marriages which have ended because one partner chose to end the marriage relationship to pursue the desire for someone of the same sex. The same can be said of heterosexual yearnings for someone besides one’s spouse, and to a much greater percentage. Neither is right, because covenants have been abrogated, commitments trashed, hearts broken, desires for one’s self glorified over God.
Are there lifelong homosexual relationships that put to shame some heterosexual marriages in the quality of commitment and mutual respect? Of course. But that’s not at issue. At issue is the sexual component that seals that relationship. It’s not what God wants for us.
Does God still love someone who experiences homosexual desires? Absolutely.
Can acting on those desires be forgiven? Christ died for all of us, and none of us is free of sin. But to repent of something means giving it up, and God expects us to give up self in order to live a Christlike life.
Is it possible for someone who experiences homosexual yearnings to have a satisfying, God-glorifying life that doesn’t involve sexual relationships at all? I would venture to say that it is just as possible for that person as it is for anyone experiencing heterosexual yearnings. It is as huge a commitment as marriage itself, because it is between a person and his/her God. I think this may be what Jesus is talking about in that enigmatic passage:
For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” ~ Matthew 19:12
It must be their own personal choice; no one can make that choice for them. And it’s a worthy choice.
There’s no indication in scripture that Jesus ever chose to engage in sexual activity with anyone; to have done so outside of a marriage relationship under the law would have been regarded as sin by the society in which He lived because it would have been regarded as sin by God. He made that difficult choice. I don’t believe Jesus had supernatural advantage over us in the area of self-control. I do believe that He was tempted in every way just as we are (Hebrews 4:1).
Let me tell you what that means to me.
I can’t tell you that I’ve ever been tempted by homosexual relations. (Okay, a friend made a pass at me once while extremely intoxicated, but it wasn’t the degree of intoxication that made the offer unattractive. It was his gender: the same as mine. ) I’m just not wired that way.
But the passage I cited in Hebrews tells me that Jesus could be tempted in that way, because He was.
To me, that means that He was wired to experience every temptation known to man.
While you and I get at least some degree of immunity from some of them.
To try to understand the same degree of sexual frustration experienced by someone with homosexual yearnings at this restriction, I have to imagine what it would be like if I read in scripture that God did not want me to have a sexual relationship with a woman. The whole notion of it just floors me.
I don’t think I will ever be “cured” of the attraction I feel toward my wife. I have no reason to believe that homosexual attraction is any less strong or less felt than heterosexual attraction.
At the same time, I survived several years of celibacy between my failed first marriage and the one that I hope will be my last and lasting one. I know it can be done. I know that God can bless the single lifestyle with many, many opportunities to serve Him that would be either impossible or much more difficult for a married person. I think that’s what Paul (a single servant of God) was talking about when he said:
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. ~ 1 Corinthians 7:32-35
The point I’m trying to make is that we need to be about what He wants above what we want.
As I’ve said in an earlier post,
I do not know why people have homosexual desires and temptations. Let me add, though, that I also do not know why people have heterosexual desires outside of marriage and temptations of every other kind. I don’t know why some people are born healthy and whole and bright and beautiful — and others are not. I don’t know why some are devastated by disease and accident and divorce and chronic pain and death of dear ones — and others escape some or most of these.
Except that we live in a fallen world, a world broken by sin, and what God asks of each of us is to be part of fixing the breaks and raising the world closer to Him — using the gifts, talents, abilities, time, resources, passion, love, faith and gratitude that He has put into our lives for that purpose.
That is what God wants for us. Each of us. All of us.