Creation and Homosexuality: why Leviticus 20:13 still matters

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Image Credit: Leviticus and Homosexuality

When it comes to homosexuality, there are some people who think you can find all you need to know right here in the Bible. God said it, I believe it, that settles it. It’s true when we look to the Bible, we find some things that sound pretty negative when it comes to same-sex relations. The Book of Leviticus says “Man shall not lie with man as with woman; it is an abomination unto God.” Of course, Leviticus also condemns having tattoos or wearing clothing of mixed fiber, or even eating shellfish. Cotton wool blends? Not if you follow Leviticus. Shrimp cocktail? Out of the question. (John Corvino, “Homosexuality & The Bible 1: God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It”)

If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20:13, New King James Version)

John Corvino’s work has been on the Web for a few years, but I just encountered his work online several days ago. And yet, he reminded me of some discussion about homosexuality that I hadn’t encountered in a while. Corvino quotes Leviticus 20:13, then proceeds to dismantle its use by Christians to forbid homosexuality by saying that lots of things that aren’t sexual in nature are deemed an “abomination” by God. He’s right in one sense: other things, such as wearing clothing made of mixed fibers, eating shellfish, and having tattoos were all deemed “abomination” by God. Corvino and I agree that other things are called an abomination, not just homosexuality.

And yet, it hit me while listening to John that he appears to overlook the extension of Leviticus 20:13 to even the New Testament; for, contrary to the “abominations” of eating shellfish, wearing clothing of mixed fibers, and having tattoos, the Lord allows Paul to write words to the Romans about homosexuality in Romans 1. Corvino hasn’t side-stepped Romans 1, because, as his lectures show, he’s all too aware of the passages used by Christians to often browbeat homosexuals into submission to God’s Word.

While a number of things such as eating shellfish are deemed “abomination” in Leviticus alongside of homosexuality, homosexuality isn’t mentioned merely there. Paul, a Pharisee and devout Jew, took up this discussion in Romans 1 when he talks about God revealing Himself in creation. Where in the New Testament do we read that eating shellfish or wearing clothing of mixed fibers is an abomination? If anything, the Lord Jesus overturns that in the Gospel of Matthew and Mark:

Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”

He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:

‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”

10 When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” (Matthew 15:1-11)

Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches.

Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?”

He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men —the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”

He said to them, All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, 13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

14 When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15 There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

17 When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. 18 So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” 20 And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” (Mark 7:1-23)

Jesus made it clear that food, including shellfish, doesn’t defile a man, but rather, what comes out of his heart: evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. So, while Leviticus mentions shellfish as an abomination, the New Testament does not. Wearing clothing of mixed fibers isn’t mentioned in the New Testament as an abomination, either. On the other hand, God’s design for sexuality remains the same and is mentioned in both the Old Testament (Leviticus 20:13) and the New Testament (Romans 1:26-27).

Conclusion

There are many who wonder why it is that Christians appeal to Leviticus 20:13 when discussing homosexuality, but it’s clear to see: Paul himself held to the same thing in Romans 1 when he mentions men abandoning “the natural use of the woman” and having sexual intercourse with other men (Romans 1:26-27). Paul was a Pharisee who believed in God’s Law and studied it intensely, and he wouldn’t have made a complete change in his views in the New Testament when it came to God’s created sexuality design for mankind. In fact, he condemns the Gentiles in Romans 1 for homosexuality, then turns around and condemns the Jews in Romans 2 because “in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1). The Jews were also guilty of idolatry and homosexuality, and Paul chides them – once again, testifying to Paul’s heartfelt conviction that homosexuality is opposed to the divine design.

His discussion of God’s created design and nature’s revelation of God Himself in Romans 1 should match what we read in Leviticus 20:13 because the Epistle to the Romans is written by a former Pharisee, a man born of the tribe of Benjamin who was circumcised on the eighth day like every other Jewish male, a man who was thoroughly Jewish and still shaved his head to make vows even after Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 18:18-21). Paul’s reiteration in Romans 1:26-27 of what we find in Leviticus 20:13 gives Christians the motivation to continue lifting up this verse while having little concern over mixed clothing fibers, tattoos, or the eating of shellfish. Due to the New Testament’s recollection of the divine design, Leviticus 20:13 still matters.

You can find John Corvino’s own statement on Leviticus 20:13 in the video below.