Leviticus 18 and 20
The ‘Holiness Code’ and homosexuality
A war has erupted in this nation against the Bible unleashed by those who persist in trying to normalize homosexuality. The reason? Scripture – and a church that faithfully upholds its teachings – is the lone remaining obstacle to a secular juggernaut that is sweeping away the moral foundations of America.
When homosexual activists and their sympathizers want to let loose an anti-biblical tirade, they seem to particularly delight in mocking the Old Testament.
There could hardly be a clearer passage regarding homosexual practice than the plain directive of Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with [i.e., have sex with] a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” (See also Lev. 20:13.)
How could a homosexual activist possibly evade the condemnation inherent within such a verse? Here are the main arguments made against the biblical teaching of Leviticus – and the answers to them:
(1) This is a part of the ‘Holiness Code’ and no longer applies.
The label “Holiness Code” is given to a specific section of the Pentateuch that emphasizes the distinction between Israel and the surrounding pagan nations. As Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, explained:
“The second half of Leviticus, from chapter 17 onwards, is sometimes called the Holiness Code because it’s all about how the Israelites were to live as God’s holy people. Leviticus 19:2 gives the theme for this whole section: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’ Chapter 18 in particular is about holiness as it relates to the family and sexual activity.”
Among the sins listed in these two chapters are the sacrificing of children to idols, taking God’s name in vain, practicing the occult, and sexual sins like adultery, incest, prostitution, bestiality, and homosexuality.
Many activists argue that the Levitical condemnation of homosexuality was only meant to keep Israel separate from the surrounding nations – and thus did not reflect God’s universal disapproval of such activity.
“The point is that The Holiness Code of Leviticus prohibits male same-sex acts for religious reasons, not for sexual reasons,” said former Catholic priest Daniel Helminiak in What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality. “The concern is to keep Israel distinct from the Gentiles.”
The problem with this assertion, however, is that God not only held Israel to these standards of sexual conduct but also the surrounding pagan nations.
In their excellent book, The Same Sex Controversy, James R. White and Jeffrey D. Niell insist that Leviticus simply codifies for Israel how God felt about homosexuality in a universal sense. The proof? The Lord had pronounced judgment upon the non-Jewish inhabitants of the Promised Land for committing these very same sins. Because the Canaanite nations had “done all these abominations,” the inhabitants had defiled the land (Lev. 18:25, 27), and were to be expelled.
Thus Israel was banned from practicing homosexuality, not just to differentiate itself from the Gentiles, but because by practicing homosexuality the pagans had defiled themselves in the sight of God and brought judgment upon their nations.
“[T]hese were nations that did not have the Law of God given to them on tablets of stone, yet God still held them responsible for their immoral behavior,” White and Niell argue. “Unquestionably, God’s prohibition of homosexuality wasn’t only a Jewish matter – it was something that transcended ethnic boundaries.”
Moreover, Helminiak’s argument proves too much. If the Levitical condemnation of homosexuality does not apply to all men everywhere, what about the other sins in Leviticus – such as adultery, bestiality, and incest?
Clearly, White and Niell suggest, “such practices are immoral and reprehensible wherever they may occur, whatever the address or the locale.”
(2) The context is idol worship, not committed gay relationships.
Some activists declare that the references to homosexuality in the Mosaic Law are only prohibitions against sexual acts committed in the context of idolatry and the temple prostitution that was rampant in pagan nations.
In a controversial sermon preached at First United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the pastor, Dr. Ken Dunivant, said, “God did not want His people to participate in the fertility cults of the land of the Canaanites, where there were [homosexual] temple prostitutes, male and female temple prostitutes. God did not want the Israelites to participate in this worship….”
Unfortunately, Dunivant’s exegesis is inexcusably shabby. Even though idolatry is mentioned in both Leviticus 18 and 20, it is only mentioned as one of a list of sins; it is never presented as the foundation of the remaining sins. There is no reference to sex with temple prostitutes in either chapter. Moreover, idolatry is never linked to any of the sexual sins – including homosexuality.
Ex-gay Joe Dallas, founder of Genesis Counseling and the author of three books on homosexuality, also discounts such arguments. “If the practices in Leviticus 18 and 20 are condemned only because of their association with idolatry,” he said, “then it logically follows they would be permissible if they were committed apart from idolatry. That would mean incest, adultery, bestiality and child sacrifice (all of which are listed in these chapters) are only condemned when associated with idolatry; otherwise, they are allowable. No serious reader of these passages could accept such a premise.”
(3) We don’t obey many of the other prohibitions in Leviticus, so why pick on homosexuals?
Dunivant was also guilty of parroting another ridiculous argument from gay activists. He said: “The passage [in Leviticus] has prohibitions against eating shrimp and lobster. And I had a little shrimp in my jambalaya last night – did I violate God’s law?”
The very idea of a preacher belittling God’s warnings against sexual sin is itself abhorrent. And make no mistake – he is belittling God’s holy and just commandments. He is equating eating “a little shrimp in my jambalaya” with the practice of sodomy.
Would he do the same with the other sins in Leviticus? Would he say eating “a little shrimp in my jambalaya” is no different than committing adultery? Incest? Bestiality?
Unfortunately, the pastor is probably just trying to be cute. Rev. Dunivant is a learned man. He graduated from Columbia School of Theology with a doctorate in ministry. So it is inconceivable that he wouldn’t know what the average Christian has probably been taught in Sunday school: The dietary laws in the Old Testament have been done away with.
In passages such as Mark 7:17-23, Acts 10:9-16, etc., the New Testament makes clear that the food prohibitions under the Old Covenant have been removed. This is clear even to first-year Bible school students. Why wouldn’t Dunivant know this? One suspects that he does, in fact, know it, but is being disingenuous in order to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.
On the other hand, nowhere in the New Testament have God’s prohibitions against sexual sin – adultery, incest, bestiality, and homosexuality – been repealed.
This is the church world in which many Christians find themselves, however. Well-educated ministers acting as shills for an insidious and immoral movement that berates preachers of holiness while declaring iniquity no different than eating “a little shrimp in my jambalaya.”
Truly the days have come upon us like those in the time of the Old Testament prophet: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20).