Posted by: Alicia | December 9, 2008

Homosexuality and the Bible – The Law

As we will see later in our study, there are some passages in the Bible that seem pertinent to the issue of homosexuality, but are actually irrelevant.  And there are some that are ambiguous at most.  However, there are four references to homosexuality that clearly seem to condemn it.  Three of these are in the Old Testament, and one is in the New Testament.  For now we will focus on the three sets of scriptures in the Old Testament:

  • Leviticus 18:22
  • Leviticus 20:13
  • Genesis 38:1-11

Leviticus 18:22

“You [masculine] shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” NRSV.

Such an act was regarded as an “abomination” for several reasons.  The Hebrew pre-scientific understanding was that male semen contained the whole of nascent life.  With no knowledge of eggs and ovulation, it was assumed that the woman provided only the incubating space. Hence, the spilling of semen for any non-procreative purpose – in coitus interruptus (Genesis 38:9-11), male homosexual acts, or male masturbation – was considered tantamount to abortion or murder. One can appreciate how a tribe struggling to populated a country in which its people were outnumbered would value procreation highly, but such values are rendered questionable in a world facing uncontrolled overpopulation. Additionally, when a man acted like a woman sexually, male dignity was compromised. It was degrading, not only in regard to himself, but for every other male. The patriarchal culture of Hebrew society displayed itself in the formulation of this commandment, since no similar stricture was formulated to forbid homosexual acts between females.

Whatever the rationale for the formulation of the commandments concerning this type of sexual act, the text leaves no room for maneuvering. Persons committing homosexual acts are to be executed. So anyone who wishes to base his or her beliefs on the witness of the Old Testament must be completely consistent and demand the death penalty for everyone who performs homosexual acts. (This may seem extreme, but there are actually some “Christians” who are calling for this very thing today).

Leviticus 20:13

“If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

These two Old Testament passages clearly take a negative view of homosexual activity. But this conclusion does not solve the problem of how we are to interpret Scripture today. For there are other sexual attitudes, practices, and restrictions which are normative in Scripture, but which we no longer accept as such.

Hebrew Sexual Mores:

  1. Old Testament law strictly forbids sexual intercourse during the seven days of the menstrual period. (Leviticus 18:19, 15:19-24). In fact, anyone in violation of this law was to be “extirpated” or “cut off from their people” (kareth, Lev. 18:29, a term referring to execution by stoning, burning, strangling, or flogging or explusion; Lev 15:24 omits this penalty). Today, many people on occasion have intercourse during menstruation and think nothing of it.
  2. The punishment for adultery was death by stoning for both the man and the woman (Deut 22:22). However, adultery in this passage is defined by the marital status of the woman. In the Old Testament, a man could not commit adultery against his own wife; he could only commit adultery against another man by sexually using the other’s wife.
  3. A bride who is found to not be a virgin is to be stoned to death (Deut 22:13-21), but male virginity at marriage is never even mentioned. It is one of the curiosities of the current debate on sexuality that adultery, which creates far more havoc, is considered less “sinful” than homosexual activity. Perhaps this is because there are far more adulterers in the churches. Yet no one, to my knowledge, is calling for their stoning, despite the clear command of Scripture. And yet the churches ordain adulterers.
  4. Polygamy (more than one wife) and concubines (a woman living with a man to whom she is not married) were regularly practiced in the Old Testament. A man could become “one flesh” with more than one woman, through the act of sexual intercourse. We know from Jewish sources that polygamy continued to be practiced within Judaism for centuries following the New Testament period.
  5. Social regulations regarding adultery, incest, rape and prostitution are, in the Old Testament, determined largely by considerations of the males’ property rights over women. Prostitution was considered quite natural and necessary as a safeguard of the virginity of the unmarried and the property rights of husbands (Gen 38:12-19, Josh 2:1-7). A man was not guilty of sin for visiting a prostitute, though the prostitute herself was regarded as a sinner.
  6. In many other ways we have developed different norms from those explicitly laid down in the Bible. For example, “If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, you shall cut off her hand; show no pity.” (Deut 25:11f). We on the contrary, might very well applaud her for trying to save her husband’s life!
  7. The Old Testament regards slavery as normal, and nowhere categorically condemns it. Part of the heritage was the use of female slaves, concubines and captives as sexual toys, breeding machines, or involuntary wives by the male owners, which 2 Sam 5:13, Judges 19:21 and Numbers 31:18 permitted. And as many American slave owners did some 150 years ago, citing these and numerous other Scripture passages as their justification.

– The above was taken from “Homosexuality and the Bible” by Walter Wink.



  1. […] does god like to put people to death?? isn’t the thou shall not kill still in effect? | S1Homosexuality and the Bible – The Law « Overcome Hate With Love […]

    • Not sure what your question has to do with topic. Sorry.

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