Liberating Leviticus

Ask and ye shall receive…

I asked a blogger on this thread to offer me some specific scriptural citations that indicate that homosexuality is a sin. So, somebody pointed out that in Leviticus 18.22 and 20.13, two men having sex “as with a woman” is clearly condemned.

leviticus3.JPGThis got me thinking, because it is also true that Leviticus is full of mandates, rituals, and practices that, for a variety of reasons, are no longer considered to be instructive for how we ought to live our daily lives today. (See Lev 11, 12, 15, 19.20-28 for particularly choice examples.) I frankly don’t see any standard by which Lev 18.22 and 20.13 should be literally applied in lieu of these others, per se.

Furthermore, I don’t agree that Lev 18.22 and 20.13 necessarily represent God’s final word for gay and lesbian people. To the contrary, according to Jesus, the social relevance of Levitican law actually suggests the exact opposite.

In Matthew 22.34-40, Jesus is presented with the very question of which Old Testament law is the most important to follow. He responds:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Turns out, Jesus is referring to Leviticus 19.33-25 here:

“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

(Funny how you don’t hear THIS scripture being thrown around these days–even though Jesus says it’s the second most important commandment!)

I have great faith in Jesus’ ability to distill Old Testament law into contemporary relevance. Thus, to truly love my ‘alien’ neighbor, means joining them in fighting for the same rights and freedoms I believe I am entitled to under the state law–and also God’s eternal promise. This is just as true if my neighbor happens to be gay. I am compelled to advocate precisely because of my Christianity–not in spite of it.

That’s why it’s curious to me that Leviticus (and Paul) are often quoted in defense of the notion that gay and lesbian people are unrepentant sinners. True, there are a handful of biblical quotes that mention ‘same-sex activity’ in passing. However, am I really supposed to believe that these isolated biblical references somehow override Jesus’ crystal clear mandate to put love of our neighbors above nearly all else? Not in my book.

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2 Responses to “Liberating Leviticus”

  1. Cindi Knox Says:

    The two great commandments are the yardstick by which I gauge my understanding of other commandments.

    For example, in the time of the exodus, women were not considered equal to men and were not given equal say as to whether to engage in sexual intercourse. In that context, it would be wrong to “treat a man like a woman”.

    Also, it was not uncommon for soldiers to use sex to humiliate their vanquished opponents.

    In the cases above, we’re talking about serious violations of the second commandment. However, I don’t think the same-sex relationships we’re seeing today mirror that sort of behavior.

  2. Tom Hoberg Says:

    “In the cases above, we’re talking about serious violations of the second commandment. However, I don’t think the same-sex relationships we’re seeing today mirror that sort of behavior.”

    Cindi, that’s a really important distinction that I think too often is ignored. Context, as they say, is everything. The Bible simply doesn’t address the context of most same-sex relationships today, until we are able to get away from the hetero-centrist notion that only man/woman relationships can be holistic. Once we can do this, some of the Bible’s relationship advice is actually quite on-point.


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