Jesus and Sexuality, Part VIII
The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.
We began looking at some very general scriptures regarding sexuality as found in the Hebrew Scriptures (also called the Old Testament) in part VI of this blog series and now we turn to some very specific verses. As you recall, the moral standards of the community of Israel was spelled out in "the law", given to Moses by God. That law is spelled out in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.
The book of Leviticus spells out a variety of laws regarding worship and community living. Within the community living section, it states the following:
"'Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable."
This law is a prohibition against men having sex with other men. The act is considered "detestable". The Hebrew word translated literally typically means dangerous and repulsive. Accordingly, this verse is often used to demonstrate the immorality of homosexuality.
It is important to understand the context of chapter 18 in order to have a clearer understanding of this command. The chapter begins by stating that the ethics of Israel will be different than the ethical standards of both Egypt (where they were slaves) and the Cananites (where they were going to live).
The purpose of these laws was not just separation for the sake of separation, but to demonstrate the ways of God himself to the world. These ways were not just unique, but also life giving:
You must obey all my regulations and be careful to obey my decrees, for I am the Lord your God. If you obey my decrees and my regulations, you will find life through them. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 18:4-5 NLT)
Life is not defined as procreative, but as that which provides vitality or true living. The Law was meant to honor God and promote the social wellbeing of the community in general.
Getting back to the commandment in Leviticus 18:22, we see that this command comes at the end of a long list of commands on relationships. Most of them forbid incestuous relationships but include things like not having sex with women while on their menstrual flows.
This command adds a descriptor: It is destable. The King James version calls it an abomination. Again, this means some dangerous or repulsive. Many Christians have interpreted this to say that God finds homosexuality particularly repulsive and possibly more sinful. However, a word search using the Hebrew word translated as destable found the following:
The righteous detest the dishonest; the wicked detest the upright. (Prov 29:27)
Do not eat any detestable thing. (Deut 14:3) [speaking of certain animals like pigs]
A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this. (Deuteronomy 22:5)
This word describes practices that God himself finds dangerous or repulsive. Interestingly, this describes things like foods and even to the cultural understanding of clothing (what men and women wear is culturally defined).
Some of these detestable things, are reinterpreted in Jesus day. For instance:
"Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.") (Mark 7:18-19).
So, how do we interpret this understanding of unclean foods, Initially, thought to be "destable", is now tolerable. Jesus specifically reinterpreted many of the ceremonial commands of the Law, such as what foods can be eaten and the understanding of the Sabbath. However, he is silent regarding issues of sexuality.
The question is whether God detests homosexual acts because of the inherrent nature of the act or because it was practiced by the cultures around Israel, is not clear. For that, we will need to turn to the Greek Scriptures (New Testament) for clarification.
In the next blog, we look at what the New Testament scriptures say, and don't say about homosexuality. Until then, understand that God created humanity to live fully. His law was not to restrict, but to help become fully human. In the greater story of God, we find that the law was not able to make humanity more human, because it could not help people do the right things, only point out the wrong things. It would take the intervention of Jesus to clarify and empower.
May God bless you,
Pastor M Traylor