A Theology of Sex: Leviticus and Homosexuality (Part 2)

Christians do not say, “Leviticus said it, we obey it!” It’s not that we, as conservative Evangelicals, don’t believe that Leviticus is the inspired and authoritative Word of God. We most definitely do. But it’s important to note that the way we read the Old Testament affects how we apply its teachings. Not all that Leviticus says is to be applied strictly and literally by the New Testament Christian.

The Apostle Paul taught that the Law of Moses, which was a temporary and contingent revelation of God to His people, was abrogated in Christ. The Holiness Code in Leviticus, then, is to be tested against the witness of the New Testament. When it comes to reading Old Testament Law we must recognize three different kinds of laws exist: (1) Civil, (2) Ceremonial, (3) Moral. The only laws with direct continuation into the New Testament are the moral laws, repeated by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. This doesn’t meant that Leviticus 18-20 is completely irrelevant to us, for it contains a mixture of all kinds of laws. The question we must wrestle with is whether or not the New Testament repeats the commands of Leviticus on the subject of homosexuality, and it does.

In fact, Paul actually alludes to Leviticus in at least two instances when referring to same-sex intercourse. Robert Gagnon writes that “Paul himself, the very apostle who proclaimed salvation in Christ ‘apart from the law,’ clearly believed that there was considerable continuity in the divine will across the two covenants in matters of sexual ethics” (The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 121). For example, Paul clearly has Leviticus 18:6-18 in mind when he speaks against incest in 1 Corinthians 5. The language echoes that of the Holiness Code. Likewise, his stance on the punishment for same-sex intercourse found in Romans 1:32 parallels the same stance in Leviticus 20:13. In Romans 1:27 he uses the word “indecency” or “indecent exposure” which is used some 24 times in Leviticus 18:6-19 to refer to all sorts of sexual acts. The word translated as “impurity” or “uncleanness” is used in Romans 1:24 and appears also in Leviticus 18:19 20:21, 25. And the term that Paul created in 1 Corinthians 6:9 “arsenokokoites,” which has some meaning of “men who take other males to bed”, is a compound formed from the words “male” and “lying” in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. These are not just coincidences in vocabulary, these parallels are part of an univocal picture of the Bible’s sexual ethic (see Gagnon, 121-122).

Christians are often accused of picking and choosing their verses. Leviticus is used as a case study. Clearly Christians don’t argue that sexual intercourse with your spouse during menstrual cycle, or sewing with two different kinds of seed. So why, it is asked, do we hold so tightly to the passages that speak against homosexuality. The answer lies in our understanding of the ways in which the New Testament addresses matters of Old Testament law. The Civil and Ceremonial laws do not apply to us in a direct one-to-one relation. We may draw principles from such laws about how we ought to conduct ourselves in life, with our spouses, with our neighbors, etc. But they will be general, not specific and not literal to the command. But the moral laws are carried over by Jesus, by Paul, by the New Testament as a whole and those still have application to us in a direct manner. If the authors of the New Testament had reiterated commands about seed and sideburns then we would expect to obey such things. But Christ has changed our relation to that law.

I will be glad when this series is over. I don’t like writing for weeks about what I stand against. I love my gay and lesbian friends, and I want them to know and have healthy relationships with God above all other matters of sexuality. But here is what I believe the Bible clearly teaches on the matter of homosexuality, and so I must stand by it. Leviticus isn’t an ideal passage for treating the subject, but Paul certainly found it solid enough ground to stand on. Those of us who hold to the authority of Scripture must stand with him.

Comments

  1. Is there any other Scriptural language in addition to Paul’s writings that speaks to homosexual behavior? I ask because you suggest Paul’s language refers to Levitical text and is therefore morally applicable yet you state, “The only laws with direct continuation into the New Testament are the moral laws, repeated by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.” What does Jesus have to say about homosexual behavior?

    Journeying together,
    Travis

    • Pastor Dave Online says:

      Actually, I intend to address the “Jesus never spoke about homosexuality” trope in the coming weeks. I certainly didn’t intend to suggest that Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon the Mount is the only place to identify the moral law in the NT. As with traditional Evangelicalism, I would hold Paul’s teachings to be of equal authority. Thanks for the question.

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