God revealed His strong condemnation of homosexual sex by placing Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 in the same category as His condemnation of the first tier sin of bestiality per Leviticus 18:23 and Leviticus 20:15. God characterized bestiality in strongly negative language and imposed the death penalty for this sexual offense. God characterized male-male homosexual sex in strongly negative language and imposed the death penalty for this sexual offense.
No one questions that God’s condemnation of bestiality (except for the death penalty) per Leviticus 18:23 and Leviticus 20:15 transcends into the 21st Century. Because of the close association of male-male homosexual sex with bestiality, there is no legitimate argument against the truth that God’s condemnation of homosexual sex (except the death penalty) per Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 transcends time and cultural boundaries into the 21st Century so as to apply today.
Therefore, the pro-LGBTQ faction of the UMC is wrong to discard Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 from the Bible for the 21st Century.
BRIEF BACKGROUND FOR LEVITICUS 18 AND 20
The listing of offenses (most all of them are sexual in nature) in Leviticus 18 is bookended by verses 1-5 and 24-30. These verses display God’s purpose statement for Leviticus 18; namely, that He does want His people committing the sexual sins of the people in the land God is giving to them. God does not want the land to become unclean and vomit out His people like what happened to the previous inhabitants. Leviticus 20:22-23 (NASB95) presents a similar theme:
22 ‘You are therefore to keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them, so that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out. 23 ‘Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them.
GOD’S CHARACTERIZATION OF MALE-MALE HOMOSEXUAL SEX AND THE PENALTY
God condemned the first tier sexual sin of male-male homosexual practice per Leviticus 18:22 (ESV), which reads:
22 You shall not lie with a male [zā·kār] as with a woman [‘iš·šā(h)]; it is an abomination [tôʿēbâ].
The punishment was death per Leviticus 20:13 (ESV):
13 If a man [‘ĩš] lies with a male [zā·kār] as with a woman [‘iš·šā(h)], both of them have committed an abomination [tôʿēbâ]; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.
The Bible calls male-male homosexual practice an abomination (tôʿēbâ). To characterize homosexual practice as a tôʿēbâ is serious because the word is so very negative. One lexicon [Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship] defines tôʿēbâ as follows:
8441 תֹּועֵבָה [towʿebah, toʿebah /to·ay·baw/] n f. Act part of 8581; TWOT 2530a; GK 9359; 117 occurrences; AV translates as “abomination” 113 times, “abominable thing” twice, and “abominable” twice. 1 a disgusting thing, abomination, abominable. 1a in ritual sense (of unclean food, idols, mixed marriages). 1b in ethical sense (of wickedness etc).
One Hebrew dictionary [Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.] defines the term:
9359 תּוֹעֵבָה (tô·ʿē·ḇā(h)): n.fem.; ≡ Str 8441; TWOT 2530a—1. LN 25.186–25.188 detestable thing, abomination, repulsion, i.e., an object which is loathsome and abhorrent (Dt 7:26), note: the object may be a concrete “thing” or a “way” or “practice,” as lifestyle behavior;
The LXX (the Septuagint which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) uses the Greek word βδέλυγμα to correspond to the Hebrew wordtôʿēbâ:
Leviticus 18:22 (Logos LXX) – 22 καὶ μετὰ ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικός, βδέλυγμα γάρ ἐστιν.
Leviticus 20:13 (Logos LXX) – 13 καὶ ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός, βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι, θανατούσθωσαν, ἔνοχοί εἰσιν.
According to Louw et al. [Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 308) New York: United Bible Societies] βδέλυγμα means:
25.187 βδέλυγμα, τος n: (derivative of βδελύσσομαι ‘to abhor,’ 25.186) that which is utterly detestable and abhorrent—‘what is detestable, what is abhorrent.’
One theological lexicon (Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (p. 103). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans) explains the word group:
The basic stem means “to cause abhorrence” and the group is often used for an improper or shameless attitude. bdelýssomai in the middle passive with the accusative means “to abhor” or “to censure” and is common in the LXX; in the active it means “to make abhorrent” and in the perfect passive “to be abhorrent.” bdélygma denotes a subject of abhorrence and bdelyktós means abhorrent. The biblical point is that God finds some things abominable, e.g., idols (Ezek. 5:9, 11; 6:9) or wickedness (Prov. 8:7; 11:1, etc.).
It is beyond legitimate argument to dispute the foundational principle that God described male-male homosexual practice using the very derogatory term tôʿēbâ. It is beyond legitimate argument to challenge that God considered male-male homosexual sex a serious first tier sexual offense, otherwise He would not have imposed the death penalty for this offense.
GOD’S CHARACTERIZATION OF BESTIALITY AND THE PENALTY
God condemned bestiality per Leviticus 18:23 (ESV), which reads:
23 And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman [ ‘iš·šā(h)] give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion [tebel].
Bestiality was a capital offense per Leviticus 20:15 (ESV):
15 If a man [ǐš] lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall kill the animal. 16 If a woman [‘iš·šā(h)] approaches any animal and lies with it, you shall kill the woman [‘iš·šā(h)] and the animal; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.
Referring to Leviticus 18:23, Rooker [Rooker, M. F. (2000). Leviticus (Vol. 3A, pp. 242–243). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers] explains the nature of the Hebrew word tebel which the ESV translates as “perversion” (boldfacing added):
The last prohibited sexual practice is bestiality. This activity is labeled a perversion (tebel). The term tebel is from the root bll, which means “to mix” and indicates that this sexual practice involves an improper mixing together of the different species, stepping over the boundaries God has established (Gen 1:1–2:3). The only other occurrence of the word occurs in regard to another sexual offense, that of sex relations with a daughter-in-law (Lev 20:12).
Another language resources [Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship] defines tebel [boldfacing added]:
8397 תֶּבֶל [tebel /teh·bel/] n m. Apparently from 1101; TWOT 248d; GK 9316; Two occurrences; AV translates as “confusion” twice. 1 confusion (violation of nature or divine order). 1A perversion (in sexual sin).
As still another example of a language resource, Swanson reads [boldfacing added]:
9316 תֶּבֶל (tě·ḇěl): n.[masc.]; ≡ Str 8397; TWOT 248d—LN 53.33–53.40 perversion, abominable confusion, i.e., something defiling and detestable based on the idea of improper sexual mixing kinds or clans (Lev 18:23; 20:12+)
No one can rightly dispute the fact that God described bestiality as a detestable sexual practice when He employed the word tebel. It is beyond legitimate argument to challenge the fact that God considered bestiality to be a serious first tier sexual offense, otherwise He would not have imposed the death penalty for this offense.
THE COMMON THREAD BETWEEN HOMOSEXUAL SEX AND BESTIALITY
There is a common thread between bestiality and homosexual practice (male-male and female-female) because each one is contrary to God’s original transcendent plan for human sexuality. Bestiality and homosexual sex each comprise a detestable improper mixing. Bestiality, which comprises the improper sexual mixing between humankind and animal, violates God’s original plan. Homosexual sex is improper sexual activity between persons of the same gender that violates God’s original plan.
The sexual offenses of male-male homosexual practice and bestiality were violations of a moral nature sufficiently detestable to God that He levied the death penalty on those offenders. These first tier sexual offenses ran counter to God’s desire that His people be holy per Leviticus 20:7-8 (ESV):
7 Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. 8 Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you.
God’s incommunicable attribute of holiness still stands today. Dr. Wayne Grudem [Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 201). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House] defines God’s holiness:
9. Holiness. God’s holiness means that he is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor. This definition contains both a relational quality (separation from) and a moral quality (the separation is from sin or evil, and the devotion is to the good of God’s own honor or glory). The idea of holiness as including both separation from evil and devotion to God’s own glory is found in a number of Old Testament passages
God’s desire that His people be holy still exists today. After all, God is immutable meaning that He does not change (See Grudem at p. 163):
2. Unchangeableness. We can define the unchangeableness of God as follows: God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations. This attribute of God is also called God’s immutability.
In this regard, God commanded New Testament believers, which includes 21st Century believers, to be holy as shown by what the Apostle Peter wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in 1 Peter 1:15–16 (ESV), which reads:
15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
While Jesus may have removed the death penalty for sexual offenses (e.g., the account in John 7:53-8:11 of the woman caught in adultery), Jesus did not lower the bar for sexual ethics. Dr. Robert Gagnon explains Jesus’ rescue of the woman caught in adultery from the death penalty [see page 216 of The Bible and Homosexual Practice (2001) Abingdon Press, Nashville, Tennessee]:
The problem with capital punishment is that it is terminal,: it does not provide the offender with a second chance to demonstrate repentance. Anyone who has sinned ought to know the importance of being given a second chance; hence, only the one who is without sin has the right to cast a stone. Jesus’ rescue of the woman from a fate stipulated by the Mosaic law itself (Deut. 22:23-24; cf. Lev. 20:10) constitutes an extraordinary gesture of mercy, obviously designed to stimulate gratitude and obedience in the woman. His parting words to her, “from now on sin no more” (8:11), demonstrate two critical points: (1) Jesus and the Pharisees agree fully on the evaluation of adultery as sin; and (2) Jesus expects this acts of incredible mercy, this making alive again of a woman who for all intents and purposes was as good as dead (as with the prodigal son), to deter the woman from ever committing adultery again.
Per the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus raised the bar for the sxual offense of adultery per His teaching in Matthew 5:27–30 (NET):
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell.30 If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.
Dr. Gagnon writes (p. 209) about Jesus’ attitude toward sin [boldfacing added]:
The impression one gets from Matt. 5:27-32 is that Jesus took sexual sin very seriously – in some respects more seriously than the prevailing culture in first-century Palestine. He regarded all sexual activity (thoughts and deeds) outside of lifelong marriage to one person of the opposite sex as capable of jeopardizing one’s entrance into the kingdom of God. In relation to our own cultural context, Jesus’ views on sex represent on the whole a staunchly conservative position. Those who find in the Gospels a Jesus who is a prophet of tolerance, who forgives and accept all (except, perhaps, the intolerant), regardless of behavioral change, have distorted the historical reality.
The fact that cultural norms have changed does not change the serious first tier sexual sin of homosexual practice that is an abomination in God’s eyes and deserving of the death penalty into an acceptable behavior.
God’s condemnation of bestiality (except for the death penalty) per Leviticus 18:23 and Leviticus 20:15 transcends into the 21st Century. Because of the close association of male-male homosexual sex with bestiality, there is no legitimate argument against the biblical principle that God’s condemnation of homosexual sex (except the death penalty) per Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 transcends into the 21st Century so as to apply today. Rooker writes that the condemnation of homosexual sex per Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 reflects normative morality [boldfacing added]:
This moral teaching regarding this practice cannot be contextualized but should be viewed as normative morality. As Kaiser has well stated:
To prohibit homosexuality today, some would argue, would be like forbidding unclean meats. It is admitted, of course, that there is a category of temporary ceremonial laws, but I do not agree that homosexuality is among them. Nothing in its proscription points to or anticipates Christ, and the death penalty demanded for its violation places it in the moral realm and not in temporary legislation.
Dr. Gagnon writes at p. 121:
Obviously, one cannot simply say: it is the book of Leviticus so obey it. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to regard the statutes in the Holiness Code as consisting of largely irrelevant purity regulations. … Ritual and moral, eternal and contingent, are combined in the profile of holiness developed in Leviticus 17-26. Christians do not have the option of simply dismissing an injunction because it belongs in the Holiness Code. The same God who gave the laws of the Mosaic dispensation continues to regulate conduct through the Spirit in believers. A substantial case must be made for affirming conduct that was regulated with such revulsion.
It is clear that because of the close association between bestiality and homosexual practice, the pro-LGBTQ faction of the UMC is wrong to discard Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 from the Bible for the 21st Century.
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