Homosexuality Class: Week 3—Catfish, Blended Fabric, & Gay Sex in Leviticus

Preston Sprinkle —  February 20, 2014 — 4 Comments
This entry is part 3 of 8 in the seriesHomosexuality, the Bible, and the Church

Last Tuesday was our third class for “Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church,” and we continued to study what the Old Testament says about homosexuality.

First, we briefly looked at Genesis 1-2 to identify its relevance for the debate. Put simply: Does Genesis 1-2 show that a valid marriage is essentially heterosexual, or is heterosexual marriage simply the typical, though not essential, form of a valid marriage?

We quickly brushed aside the “God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” argument, since it ignores many aspects of the actual text. For instance, Eve was considered to be a suitable helper for Adam (Gen 2:20, godhatesshrimp222), but was that because she was a female (and not a male) or because she was a human (and not an animal; see 2:19)? Does the “one flesh” statement (2:24) refer to their biological complementarity, or to a new “kinship bond”? And is sex only valid if it has the potential to procreate? This, of course, would rule out homosexual sex. But it would also rule out contraceptives, sex in old age, and the sexual validity of infertile couples.

As you might be able to tell, some of our interpretive options necessarily rule out homosexual marriage, while others could allow for it. My point wasn’t to solve these questions, but to show that Genesis 1-2 doesn’t clearly end the discussion about what validates marital union. We need to look at the overarching biblical theology of gender, sex, and marriage, along with other passages that explicitly mention homosexual activity. Which is why we focused most of our evening on two verses in Leviticus:

Lev 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

Lev 20:13 “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

We began by observing several basic points about these verses. First, the statements are unqualified and absolute. That is, they don’t seem to talk about a specific form of gay sex (e.g. wartime rape, incest). Second, the verses use generic gender categories: male and female. They don’t only prohibit men from having sex with boys or with slaves, for example. Third, both verses use basic sexual terminology—the verb “to lie with.” Most often in Scripture, such terms refer to consensual sex, rather than, say, rape. For instance, Deut 22:22 condemns both man and woman for having an affair. Why? Because it was consensual. But Deut 22:25 only condemns the man because he “seizes” another man’s wife and “lies with her.” The verb “seize” connotes coercive sex, while “lie with” with no other qualifiers most often refers to consensual sex. Leviticus 18 and 20 only use the verb “to lie with.” And lastly, both parties are condemned in Leviticus 20:13, suggesting that the sex-act was mutual.

lee

Justin Lee

Now, some people have argued that Leviticus 18 and 20 are probably talking about male cult prostitution—men who had sex with other men out of devotion to a pagan deity. Justin Lee, for instance, leans toward this view in his book Torn (a book which I really like, BTW, and have assigned to my students). In fact, much of his analysis of what the Bible says about gay sex rests on the probability that Leviticus 18 and 20 are talking about cult prostitution.

However, not only does Lee misrepresent his primary source, Robert Gagnon (see Gagnon’s responses HERE and HERE), but he assumes the existence of an institution that most scholars now believe never existed; see Lynn Budin’s aptly titled book, The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). Even if there was such an institution as cultic prostitution in the ancient world, Leviticus 18 and 20 don’t use words related to this (probably mythical) practice (e.g. the Hebrew qadesh or qadeshim). The cult prostitution view has little credibility.

The most popular and persuasive counter argument for the traditional understanding of Leviticus 18 and 20 is that Christians are totally fine with eating catfish, wearing mixed clothing, and other things forbidden by Leviticus. Why, then, do they still observe the prohibitions against gay sex?

Instead of summing up this counter-argument, I let Matthew Vines do it himself. No, he wasn’t a guest speaker—unfortunately. Rather, we showed a clip of his lecture that went viral on YouTube last year. Vines is a gay Christian and he took a two year leave from college to study what the Bible actually says about homosexuality. This sermon represents the fruit of his findings and has been hailed as the most devastating critique of the traditional view of homosexuality.Vines

What I wanted the class to see first hand is that there are at least some gay Christians who are not sacrificing the Bible on the altar of sexual orientation. Rather, they are basing their views on the inerrant, authoritative word of God. And it’s because of, not in spite of, their view of God’s word that they believe that God does not prohibit monogamous, consensual, loving gay unions.

In any case, after working through Vines’ compelling argument, there are several things that don’t seem very accurate about his interpretation of Leviticus 18 and 20 (my response will only make sense if you first watch the 10 min section linked above).

First, Acts doesn’t actually say that the entire law is no longer applicable for Gentile Christians. In fact, Acts 15:20 says explicitly that Gentiles are to refrain from “sexual immorality” (porneia). This is an umbrella term that very well could include all the sexual prohibitions in Leviticus 18:6-23. At the very least, I’d need to be shown that porneia does not include homosexual sex. In any case, Vines’ doesn’t mention this important verse in his discussion of Acts 15.

Second, Leviticus 18-20 is a distinct literary unit. And the vast majority of the commands in this section are universally binding; they talk about things that are intrinsically good or evil and are not culturally bound.

Third, Vines does not represent the evidence very well when he talks about the Hebrew term “abomination.” Contrary to Vines, the Hebrew word does not occur in Leviticus 11. In fact, the Hebrew term toevot (“abominations” plural) only occurs 4 times in Leviticus 18:26, 27, 29, 30, and 2 times in the singular (toevah) to refer to the homosexual acts in 18:22 and 20:13. Now, Vines is correct that the term is used in Deut 14:3 of unclean animals, but most often toevah refers to things like murder, theft, lying, oppressing the poor, etc., things that are intrinsically evil. Not every time, but most of the time. Vines makes it sound like the word only refers to outdated purity laws that separated Israel from the nations. But he only points out uses of the word that support this view and ignores the rest—which are many—that work against his view.

Lastly, and most importantly, Paul seems to draw upon Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 when he coins the Greek word arsenokoites in 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10. This would suggest that the gay sex prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20 are still relevant for believers since they were repeated in the New Testament.

I hope this post doesn’t come off as impersonal and clinical. I don’t mean it to be. And if you’ve followed my other blogs on this topic you’ll see that I’m trying hard not to treat homosexuality as just an academic question about Hebrew words. But as I told my class, we have to both befriend people who are LGBT (get to know names and faces and stories) and rigorously study what the Bible says about same sex relations. In this last class, we focused on the latter.

Next class, we’re going to have a couple guest speakers who will help us with the former. Stay tuned! You won’t want to miss it.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Series Navigation<< Homosexuality Class: Week 2 – Sodom, David, Jonathan, Ruth and…Naomi (?)Homosexuality Class – Weeks 4 & 5: Jesus & Homosexuality >>
Preston Sprinkle

Preston Sprinkle

Posts

I'm married to a beautiful wife and we have four kids (3 girls and a boy). I've been teaching college level Bible and Theology classes for a few years now (since 2007), and enjoy hanging out with my family, running, surfing, and life in SoCal. Before I became a teacher, I was in school. Lots and lots of school. I did a B.A. and M.Div here in SoCal, and then did a Ph.D. in Scotland in NT studies. Before coming to EBC, I taught at Nottingham University for a semester, and Cedarville University for a couple of years. Along with surfing, I also love to research and write, and I've written a few things on Paul, Early Judaism, and Hell.
  • Kwader

    When is your next post? Appreciating the discussion…thanks!

  • Ond Bark

    How should we deal with Micheal Sam?

    • Peaceful hippy pacifist

      Why should “we” deal with Michael Sam? This is one of the problems here: even if the bible DOES say that homosexuality is a sin, that tells people to not engage in that activity. It doesn’t compel the rest of us to do anything to these people. If Christians are concerned about stopping the sinful behaviors of others and outlawing such behaviors, I would suggest starting with the sin of adultery. This sin is spoken about more than any other sin in the bible with the exception of turning our backs on God. And it is spoken of in no uncertain terms. Unlike the alleged sin of homosexuality, the sinfulness of adultery is irrefutable. And people are not born adulterers.

      This problem is FAR more rampant in our lives and churches than homosexuality and it’s very clear: people who initiate divorce for anything but infidelity or apostasy are adulterers. All of our churches are full of these people. Why pick on gays? Why are we not trying to enact laws against adultery? This is very hypocritical of us and we all know what Jesus said about hypocrites.

      Again: what are we TO DO about Michael Sam? LOVE HIM, that’s what.

  • Julie

    I suppose it’s possible that porneia includes some form of same-sex sex, but do you think pornos includes some form of same-sex sex when it’s alongside of arsenokoites in Paul’s two sin lists? Wouldn’t that be redundant? They’ve got to refer to two different things, right?

    I’ve been wondering. Does the Leviticus prohibition give the impression it’s limited to the act of male-male intercourse, or does it give the impression that it’s expanded
    to any and all forms of male-male sexual relations?