BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 140 (1983): 259-66

Copyright © 1983 Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.

 

 

 

 

 

Homosexuality and the

Old Testament

 

 

 

   P. Michael Ukleja

 

 

Only towering cynicism can pretend that there is any doubt

about what the Scriptures say about homosexuality. The Bible

has not even the slightest hint of ambiguity about what is per-

mitted or forbidden in this aspect of sexual conduct.

God loves people and wants them to come to the wholeness

and joy for which they were made. His prohibitions are not the

house rules of a sadistic and capricious Deity who mocks man-

kind by tormenting him with desires and then forbidding him

from doing anything about them.

Biblical prohibitions are bright signposts that point people

straight toward fullness and joy. They warn people away from

spiritual and emotional detours, mires, quicksand, and cliffs. All

sexual sins represent some failure on society's part to stick to

God's path. Fornication fails to honor the image of God in the

other person, for it sees the other only as a commodity. Adultery

violates the shrine of marital fidelity which houses and keeps

sacred the sexual expression. Incest is the effort to achieve union

with an image too close to oneself. The relationship is not suffi-

ciently "other" to make the transaction valid. Beastiality is the

effort to achieve union with an image too different from oneself.

Masturbation, while not explicitly cited in Scripture as sin, in-

volves a failure to appreciate fully the use of sex which is surely

more than a matter of mere orgasm. And homosexuality is a

confusion, since it involves the effort of achieving union with a

"mirror" image of oneself. This "other" is not sufficiently differ-

 

 

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260                 Bibliotheca Sacra -July-September 1983

 

ent to permit the union for which mankind was so remarkably

formed.

 

Homosexuality and the Sin of Sodom

 

Two angels who came to Lot in Sodom were threatened by a

mob (Gen. 19:4-11). What were the men of Sodom seeking when

they called on Lot to bring out the men "that we may know them"

(19:5, KJV)? Some conclude that the story has no reference to

homosexual acts at all. Bailey seeks to justify homosexuality from

the Old Testament in his work Homosexuality and the Western

Christian Tradition.1 Others (for example, Boswell2) use Bailey's

arguments concerning this passage. Bailey was an Anglican

scholar whose work influenced the change in British law regard-

ing this issue. This work is fast becoming a standard reference

work for the prohomosexual viewpoint.

Bailey believes that much of Christian prejudice against

homosexuality is the result of misunderstanding the story of

Sodom in Genesis 19. He argues that the men of Sodom were

anxious to interrogate the strangers to find out if they were spies.

Therefore, he argues, the story does not refer to homosexuality at

all. The sin involved was not homosexuality, but gang rape. Lot

had angered these residents by receiving foreigners whose

credentials had not been examined. The men were angered by

this omission, and were showing extreme discourtesy to these

visitors by demanding to know their credentials.3 Bailey argues

that the demand of the men of Sodom to "know" the strangers in

Lot's house meant nothing more than their desire to "get ac-

quainted with" them. The problem, argues Bailey, was nothing

more than inhospitality. Others, including Blair, have expanded

on this argument.

The Biblical story demonstrates the seriousness with which these

early Eastern people took the important customs of Oriental hospi-

tality. It appears that, if necessary, they would even allow their own

daughters to undergo abuse in order to protect guests. The sexual

aspect of the story is simply the vehicle in which the subject of

demanded hospitality is conveyed. It is clearly interpreted in Ezekiel

16:49: "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her

daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did

not aid the poor and needy."4

 

The Hebrew word for "know" (fdayA), Bailey points out, can be

translated "to get acquainted with" or "to have knowledge of" or



Homosexuality and the Old Testament                               261

 

"to have intercourse with." The word fdayA appears over 943 times

in the Old Testament and only 12 times does it mean "to have

intercourse with." He also states that intercourse, as a means to

personal knowledge, depends on more than copulation. There-

fore, he argues, the circumstances in Sodom could not fit the

sexual connotation of the word "know." He concludes by reason-

ing from the fact that Lot was a rUG, a resident foreigner. As such,

Lot had exceeded his rights by receiving two foreigners whose

credentials had not been examined.5

The first problem with this argument is the fact that the

meaning of a word in a given passage is not determined solely on

the basis of the number of times it is translated that way in the

Bible. The context determines how it is to be translated. Of the 12

times the word fdayA occurs in Genesis, 10 times it means "to have

intercourse with." Kidner offers the following rebuttal to Bailey's

arguments.

To this we may reply: (a) Statistics are no substitute for contextual

evidence (otherwise the rarer sense of the word would never seem

probable), and in both these passages the demand to "know" is used

in its sexual sense (Gn. 19:8; Jdg. 19:25). Even apart from this

verbal conjunction it would be grotesquely inconsequent that Lot

should reply to a demand for credentials by an offer of daughters. (b)

Psychology can suggest how "to know" acquired its secondary

sense; but in fact the use of the word is completely flexible. No one

suggests that in Judges 19:25 the men of Gibeah were gaining

"knowledge" of their victim in the sense of personal relationship, yet

"know" is the word used of them. (c) Conjecture here has the marks

of special pleading for it substitutes a trivial reason ("commotion

. . . inhospitality") for a serious one for the angels' decision. Apart

from this, it is silenced by Jude 7, a pronouncement which Dr.

Bailey has to discount as belonging to a late stage of interpretation.6

 

The whole scene in Genesis 19 takes on near-comic propor-

tions if Lot, on hearing the demand of the crowd that they wished

to "get acquainted with" the men in his house, said, "Please, my

brothers, do not act wickedly. Now behold, I have two daughters

who have not known a man; please let me bring them out to you

and do to them as is good in your sight, only do nothing to these

men. . ." (author's translation). In verse 8 the same verb, fdayA,

with the negative particle is used to describe Lot's daughters as

having "not known" a man. The verb here obviously means "have

intercourse with." It could hardly mean simply "be acquainted

with." In narrative literature of this sort it would be very unlikely

to use one verb with two different meanings so close together



262                 Bibliotheca Sacra -July-September 1983

 

unless the author made the difference quite obvious. In both

verses 5 and 8 fdayA should be translated "to have sexual inter-

course with." The context does not lend itself to any other credi-

ble interpretation.

Jude 7 gives a commentary on this passage. It clearly states

that the sin of Sodom involved gross immorality and going after

strange or different flesh (sarxo<j e!teraj). It is no accident that

Jude describes their actions by using e]kporneu<sasai. The verb

porneu<w definitely refers to sexual immorality and the preposi-

tion e]k explains that it means that "they gave themselves up

fully, without reserve, thoroughly, out and out, utterly."7 The

term "strange flesh" could imply unnatural acts between men or

even of human beings with animals. The inhabitants of Canaan

were guilty of both of these sins (Lev. 18:23-29). This definitely

includes the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. History and

archaeology confirm these same conditions. Josephus, who

wrote around A.D. 99-100, said that the Sodomites "hated stran-

gers and abused themselves with sodomitical practices."8

Boswell says that Lot was following local customs in offering

his daughters to appease the angry mob. "No doubt the surren-

der of his daughters was simply the most tempting bribe Lot

could offer on the spur of the moment to appease the hostile

crowd. . . . This action, almost unthinkable in modern Westem

society, was consonant with the very low status of female chil-

dren at the time. . . ."9 But what Lot did was not right. Just

because Lot offered his daughters to them in accordance with

local customs does not mean that his action was morally accept-

able in God's sight. It is much more probable that Lot's offer was

motivated by the thought that however wrong rape is, homosex-

ual rape was even worse. Lot's offer was simply what he thought

to be the lesser of two evils.

 

Homosexuality and the Mosaic Law

 

THE INJUNCTIONS IN THE LAW

God's command concerning homosexuality is clear: "You

shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an

abomination (Lev. 18:22). This is expanded in Leviticus 20:13.

"If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a

woman, both of them have committed a detestable act. . . ." These

passages are set in the context of God's judgment on sexual

crimes and are an expansion of the seventh commandment.



Homosexuality and 1he Old Testament                  263

 

Moses was not trying to establish an exhaustive code on the

subject of sexuality; rather he was dealing with certain gross

offenses of the seventh commandment that were common in the

nations surrounding Israel at the time.

Prohomosexual advocates usually dismiss these passages by

relegating them to simple religious prohibitions rather than tak-

ing them as moral prohibitions. Blair exhibits this line of

reasoning.

That the very pronounced Old Testament judgment against a man's

having sexual relations with another man is included in the priestly

Holiness Code of Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) is significant because

the concern of the priests was one of ritual purity. It was not the

moral preaching of the prophets. From this priestly point of view, it

is clear that above all else, Israel was to be uncontaminated by her

pagan neighbors. In all things, she was to remain a separate "pure

vessel unto the Lord." At this time, male prostitutes in the temples

of the Canaanites, Babylonians, and other neighboring peoples,

were common features of the pagan rites. There, it is understand-

able that this "homosexuality" connected with the worship of false

gods would certainly color Israel's perspective on any and all

homosexual activity.10

 

Blair, and those who follow his line of thinking, assume that

ritual purity and moral preaching are always distinct. Therefore

the passages in Leviticus, they argue, are not really speaking

against homosexuality as such, but only against identifying with

the practice of alien religions. The issue was religious identity,

not the righteousness of God.

But this type of reasoning begs the question on several

counts. The first major fault is in assuming that ritual purity and

moral purity are always distinct. Those who make this dichot-

omy argue that Leviticus 18 and 20 cannot be of an ethical or

moral nature. Blair states this when he divides the priests with

their ritual purity and the prophets with their moral teaching

into two groups that were not to transgress each other's territory.

But the prophets preached to the needs of their day. Anything

not included in their teaching is more logically explained by that

particular sin's absence among the sins of that generation,

rather than by a rigid distinction between ceremonial and moral

purity. To hold to such a distinction one would have to conclude

that adultery was not morally wrong (18:20), child sacrifice had

no moral implications (18:21), and that nothing is inherently evil

with bestiality (18:23). The point is that ceremonial purity and

moral purity often coincide.


 


264                 Bibliotheca Sacra -July-September 1983

 

These passages, again, are consistent with God's purpose for

human sexuality, as presented in Genesis 1-3. When these pas-

sages are studied, it becomes obvious that God's purpose is to

preserve the sanctity of marriage and the home.

 

THE RELEVANCE OF THE LAW

Prohomosexual advocates spend much effort and time trying

to show the irrelevance of the Law to Christians today. Scanzoni

and Mollenkott are an example of this. “Consistency and fairness

would seem to dictate that if the Israelite Holiness Code is to be

invoked against twentieth-century homosexuals, it should like-

wise be invoked against such common practices as eating rare

steak, wearing mixed fabrics, and having marital intercourse

during the menstrual period."11 Blair follows Scanzoni and Mol-

lenkott in arguing that the Old Testament Law must be thrown

out when seeking a guide to the issue of homosexuality.

 

It is interesting how lightly evangelicals have taken other proscrip-

tions found in the same Old Testament Code, e.g.: rules against the

eating of rabbit (Lev. 11:26), oysters, clams, shrimp, and lobster

(Lev. 11:10ff), and rare steaks (Lev. 17:10). Evangelicals do not

picket or try to close down seafood restaurants nor do we keep

kosher kitchens. We do not always order steaks "well-done." We eat

pork and ham. The wearing of clothes made from interwoven linen

and wool (Deut. 22:11) does not seem to bother us at all. Evangeli-

cals do not say, in accordance with these same laws of cultic puri-

fication (Lev. 20: 13), that those who practice homosexual activity

should be executed as prescribed. Evangelicals do not demand the

death penalty for the Jeane Dixons of this world (Lev. 20:27) nor do

we "cut off" from among the people, as is demanded by this same

Code, those who have intercourse with women during menstrua-

tion (Lev. 20:18) and those who marry women who have been

divorced (Lev. 21:14). Evangelicals do not keep out of the pulpit

those who are visually handicapped or lame or those "with a limb

too long" (Lev. 21:18ff).12

 

These statements expose a great ignorance of how the Law

fits into the total scheme of the Scriptures. When taken to their

logical conclusion these assertions make it possible to say that

having sex with animals or engaging in incest is okay for today

simply because homosexuality is sandwiched between these two

prohibitions. These writers pay a great price in trying to justify

their position. It would have been easier for them to say that

Christ brought an end to the entire Law (Rom. 10:4). The Ten

Commandments are also included in this termination (2 Cor.

3:7-11). Christ is now the Christian's High Priest, which shows



Homosexuality and the Old Testament                   265

 

that a radical change in the Law has come about (Heb. 7:11). The

Law has been superseded (Heb. 7:11).

When the statement is made that the Law had ended, this

does not mean that God no longer has any laws or codes for His

people. This does not mean that there are no moral precepts to be

followed. The New Testament speaks of the "law of the Spirit"

(Rom. 8:2), the "law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2), and the "royal law"

(James 2:8). This "law" includes numerous commands, both

positive and negative, which form a distinct code of ethics for

today.13 It is here that the prohomosexual exegetes have made

their mistake. As a unit the New Testament code is new, but not

all the commands in the New Testament are new. There is over-

lap, deletion, and addition. Some of the commands in the Mosaic

code have been reincorporated into the New Testament code.

But if the Law was done away, how can parts of it be repeated

in the New Testament? The answer lies in the distinction be-

tween the Old Testament code and the commandments which

were contained in that code.

 

The Mosaic law has been done away in its entirety as a code. God is

no longer guiding the life of man by this particular code. In its place

He has introduced the law of Christ. Many of the individual com-

mands within that law are new, but some are not. Some of the ones

which are old were also found in the Mosaic law and they are now

incorporated completely and [are] forever done away. As part of the

law of Christ they are binding on the believer today.14

 

This throws much light on the statements made by those

who would justify homosexuality from a biblical standpoint. It

serves to bring their emotional rhetoric into proper focus. The

laws concerning diet, punishment by stoning, or wearing mixed

fabrics have been abrogated. However, the proscriptions against

homosexual behavior have been repeated in the New Testament

code (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:9-10). This should be

a major concern of prohomosexual advocates simply because it

totally destroys the point they attempt to make with regard to the

Old Testament law. It is false to say that something which was sin

under the Law is no longer sin under grace.

What this all means is that the commands dealing with

homosexuality in Leviticus 18:23 and 20:13 are still highly rele-

vant because they have been reincorporated into the New Testa-

ment code. A moral unity exists between the Old and New Testa-

ments. It has always been wrong to murder, rape, steal, to have

sexual relations with animals, and to have sexual relations with

 



266                 Bibliotheca Sacra -July-September 1983

 

persons of the same sex. God has dealt with people in different

ways at different times, but His standard for righteousness has

never changed. If morality has changed then the character of God

has changed, because the basis of morality is in the charac-

ter of God who is immutable (Mal. 3:6).

 

Notes

 

1   D. Sherwin Bailey. Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition

(London: Longmans, Green & Co.. 1955: reprint, Hamden, CT: Shoestring Press,

1975).

2   John Boswell., Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 1980).

3   Bailey, Homosexuality. p. 5.

4   Ibid., p. 4.

5   Ibid., pp. 3-5.

6   Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old

Testament Commentaries (Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1963), p. 137.

7   Richard Wolff, A Commentary on the Epistle of Jude (Grand Rapids: Zonder-

van Publishing House, 1960), p. 75.

8   Josephus, quoted in Wolff, ibid., pp. 76-77.

9   Boswell. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. p. 95.

10  Ralph Blair, An Evangelical Look at Homosexuality (Chicago: Moody Press,

1963), p. 3.

11  Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. Is the Homosexual My

Neighbor? (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978), pp. 60-61.

12  Blair. An Evangelical Look at Homosexuality, p. 3.

13  Charles C. Ryrie, The Grace of God (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963), pp.

105-13.

14  Charles C. Ryrie, "The End of the Law," Bibliotheca Sacra 124 (July-

September 1967):246.

 

 

 

 

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