The Shofar is the ancient trumpet which called the people of God to prayer, repentance, sacrifice and war.


Leviticus 18
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By Stephen Green

First published in Christian Voice March 2011

Click HERE for Leviticus 18, 19 and 20 in full (KJV).

Click HERE for an analysis of which Hebrew and Greek words are translated in the KJV by the word ‘abomination’ and to see what those words actually mean (some surprises in store).

Lev. 18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

Lev. 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

In the July 2010 edition of Christian Voice I looked at the Biblical account of Sodom, and contrasted homosexual behaviour with God’s institution of heterosexual love and marriage which was upheld by the Lord Jesus in Mark 10 and Matthew 19.

The next place in the Bible to mention the sin of sodomy is the book of Leviticus, as quoted above.  Some surprising objections are made to the universal application of these verses today and we need to be aware of what the objections are and why they cannot stand scrutiny.

The book of Leviticus, as its name implies, mainly concerns the religious observance of the Israelite nation and the duties of its Levites, the tribe from which came Moses, the inspirational and prophetic leader, and his brother Aaron, the first priest of Israel .

But to say that Leviticus applies exclusively to Israel , let alone solely to the Levites, does  not follow.  The expression, ‘Speak to the sons of Levi’ occurs not once.  To the contrary, the whole book of 27 chapters is addressed ‘to the children of Israel’ with the exception of chapters 6, 16, 17, 21 and 22 which have expressions like, ‘Speak unto Aaron and his sons.’  So less than a fifth of it contains commands explicitly for Aaron and his successors who will carry on the priesthood.

Now it is true that the contents of the book are overwhelmingly ceremonial.  We have what we should today consider as elaborate regulations for the conduct of sacrifices, dedications, priestly conduct, diet, purification, private and public health, the Sabbath, the feasts, the jubilee, bond-servitude, vows and tithing.  There are also blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.

But then amid all the ceremonial, two-thirds of the way through are three chapters of much more universal moral application.  These are chapters 18, 19 and 20.

The injunctions in these chapters were written initially to tell Israel to obey God’s law and not to follow the practices of Egypt whence they escaped nor those of Canaan whither they are headed, but the general equity of them is much wider.  The point is made that judgment is coming on the gentile nations of Canaan precisely because they did not follow God’s laws:

Lev. 18:3: After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances.

Lev. 18:4: Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God.

Lev. 18:5: Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD.

Lev. 18:30: Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.

Lev. 19:37: Therefore shall ye observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the LORD.

Lev. 20:23 And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.

Around this framework, the Lord provides a table of affinity to rule against incest, prohibits bestiality, sodomy, adultery and child sacrifice and in chapter 19 moves into more general laws governing society in other areas.

Pro-gay minister Robert W. Alexander wrote in 1993: ‘Although chapters 18 and 20 prohibit personal conduct which seems morally wrong also, verses 18:3 and 30 make it clear that God is talking about rituals of worship, not personal behaviour ,(sic) in these two chapters.’

Apologists for sodomy rarely quote actual scripture, and Alexander was no exception.  In the first place he would hate to admit that verse 3 spoke disparagingly of ‘doings’ and verse 30 of ‘abominable customs’.  Secondly, when we look at these two verses, (printed above) and do so without preconceptions, we see they don’t do what he says they do.  The word translated ‘ordinances’ in v3, ‘customs’ in v30 and ‘manners’ in 20:23 is chuqqah (Strong’s Dictionary H2708).  Elsewhere chuqqah (or its masculine form choq - H2706) is translated as ‘statutes’, for example, in Gen 26:5, where Abraham is said to have obeyed God’s commands (mitsvah), his statutes (chuqqah) and his laws (torah).  In Jer 31:35-36 chuqqah refers to the courses of the moon and stars.   It is translated ‘statutes’ in Lev 18:5.  So we see that chuqqah is not exclusively a religious word.  Furthermore, Alexander ignored the middle chapter, Leviticus 19, altogether.  We shall look at that chapter in a moment.  He also set himself up over scripture by pronouncing that the conduct forbidden in the two chapters merely ‘seems’ morally wrong.

Furthermore, we need to bear in mind that a nation’s religious observance forms part of its religious world-view, and determines its morality and from that its law-code.  A nation which has a cavalier attitude about sexual morality in its worship will carry that over into its daily life.  Whether it is talking about temple prostitution or whoredom in general, Leviticus gives an example of how evil spreads:

Lev. 19:29: Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.

It is the same with respect for human life.  A nation practising human sacrifice hardly views innocent human life with respect or sees each person as made in the image of God.  In paganism, human life becomes expendable and sex becomes promiscuous, which is why such societies have historically been short-lived from the moment they embarked on such a course.  We shall look at life in Canaan in more detail below.  Meanwhile, Ezekiel provides another powerful link between religious observance and general morality:

Eze. 8:17 Then he said unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit here (in the temple)? for they have filled the land with violence, and have returned to provoke me to anger...

We are drawn to see that because paganism has supplanted the worship of the true God in the temple, the whole nation has lost its respect for life and decency.   Does that remind us of western society today?

Israel’s religious life, in contrast, respected innocent human life and the bond of marriage, and so did her normal daily life.  We should not forget that Israel was God’s model nation.  Other nations were supposed to look to her for an example:

Deut. 4:6 ... this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.  7 For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for?  8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?

The prophet Isaiah tells us clearly that the judgments which God revealed to Israel should not only be observed universally, but that enacting and observing them causes people to behave righteously:

Isa. 26:9 With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.

This is the context in which we read the two verses which refer to homosexual acts.  Twenty-three and a half out of twenty-seven chapters of Leviticus deal with ceremonial observance.  And let us not forget that in those chapters, the New Covenant in the blood of the Lord Jesus is concealed.  Nowhere is this more so than in chapter 17 with its key principle: ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood ... For it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.’  (Lev 17:11)  These words were dramatically picked up by the Lord Jesus in John 6:53-58 and followed through to their logical conclusion by the Apostles (See Acts 20:28, Rom 5:9, 1Cor 11:27, Eph 1:7, Heb 9:12 etc).

But the three chapters 18-20 focus almost exclusively on timeless matters of general morality, and if the forbidden practices were also involved in pagan worship rituals, that seems merely to have provided a good reason to raise them.  To be specific, Leviticus 18 leads with a 5 verse reminder to the Israelites not to be like Egypt or Canaan .  Verses 6 to 17 are a table of prohibited incest with various relations, verse 19 concerns abstinence during the menstrual period, verses 18 and 20 prohibit adultery, verse 21 child sacrifice, verse 22 homosexuality and verse 23 bestiality.  The remainder of the chapter, 24 - 30 exhorts the Israelites not to ‘follow any of the abominable customs’ (chuqqah to’evah) and not to ‘defile your­selves with them.’

Leviticus 19 then expands into other areas of life (although there is some ceremonial in it), while chapter 20 concerns the punishments to be dealt to those who defile themselves with practices in the previous two chapters.

The late Rev Dr Norman Pittenger was part of the homosexual set at Cambridge University in the 1930s.  He was a friend of W H Auden and Christopher Isherwood.  In Time for Consent, published in 1969, he took the argument of context further.  ‘The Leviticus passages in the Old Testament,’ he said, ‘are found in contexts which make it clear that the primary concern is with prohibitions of acts which would violate the so-called “holiness code.”‘  Rev Robert Arthur made the same argument in his book, saying that practices such as bestiality, child sacrifice, idola­try, adultery, incest, weird haircutting, tattooing, sorcery and menstrual inter­course were all involved in the worship of the Canaanite god Molech and that the homosexual activity referred to in the same chapter must be seen in the same context.

Robert Arthur’s argument takes the lesser time of the two to demolish.  It is quite true that the city-nations of Canaan were doing all these things and more.  Archaeology has revealed the total depravity of the Canaanite culture.

Timothy Wilkinson writes: ‘Priests in Canaan were political and religious leaders with absolute power over their followers. They practised exorcism and various forms of divination. They were assisted by Kurgaru (castrato), Assinu (homosexual priests), Naditu (ritually neutered priestesses), Sinnishat Zikrum (lesbian transvestites), and Qadishtu (female temple prostitutes).

Among the most well-known of their practices was the invocation of “sympathetic magic.”

‘During the dry summer season vegetation died when Mot triumphed over Baal, forcing him to withdraw into the depths of the earth. Baal (and the rain) would return only after Anat conquered Mot and Baal could mate with Ashtoreth, ensuring fertility for the coming year. To encourage Baal to do so, Canaanites held huge sexual orgies in which the priests had sex with any and all women they desired.

‘The priests might also re-enact Baal’s copulation with cows, and offer sacrifices of infant children. In some cases, Canaanites would appeal to their dead relatives for help in overcoming Mot; this was done by having sex with one’s closest living fleshly relative.

‘Evidence indicates that Canaanites lived in morbid dread of their priests. Marriages and families were shattered by their practices, and the unwanted children of these unions were often slaughtered on altars to Baal or Dagon. Sexually transmitted disease was likely epidemic; rape was perhaps as common as it is in the worst of today’s war-ravaged nations. According to Merrill F. Unger: “Excavations in Palestine have uncovered piles of ashes and remains of infant skeletons in cemeteries around heathen altars, pointing to the widespread practice of this cruel abomination.” (Archaeology and the Old Testament, 1964, p. 279) Halley’s Bible Handbook (1964, p. 161) says: “Canaanites worshipped, by immoral indulgence, as a religious rite, in the presence of their gods; and then, by murdering their first‑born children, as a sacrifice to these same gods. It seems that, in large measure, the land of Canaan had become a sort of Sodom and Gomorrah on a national scale. . . . Did a civilization of such abominable filth and brutality have any right longer to exist? . . . Archaeologists who dig in the ruins of Canaanite cities wonder that God did not destroy them sooner than he did.”‘

Julian Spriggs adds the following:

‘Through archaeology, the second millennium BC Canaanite religious system has become notorious for its depravity. The Phoenician and Canaanite religions were almost identical. It was essentially a nature religion, in which the gods and goddesses were closely associated with the natural cycle of the seasons.

‘The religion was a crude and debased form of ritual polytheism, the sensuous fertility cult, involving worship of a particularly lewd and orgiastic kind. It proved to be more influential than any other nature religion in the Near East, ensnaring the nation of Israel .

‘Sacrifices were offered to the gods for two purposes: The first was to appease the god’s wrath, an act of propitiation. The second was to strengthen the god, to enable him to bless those who worshipped him. Prized gifts resulted in greater blessing from the god, particularly when first‑born male children were sacrificed.

‘The sordid and debased nature of Canaanite religion stood in marked contrast to the high ethical ideals of Israel . The absolute lack of moral character in the Canaanite deities made such corrupt practices as ritual prostitution, child sacrifice and licentious worship the normal expressions of religious devotion and fervour.’

So archaeology supports the Biblical witness that the Canaanites were involved in all the practices listed in Leviticus 18.  We know that the Bible condemns these things.  We know that the Canaanites did them.  But to say these things were only wicked because or when they were committed in the cause of Canaanite religion neither necessarily nor logically follows.

Are we really being asked to believe that God will not hold us guilty of sin if instead of committing bestiality, incest, sodomy and adultery (let alone child sacrifice) out of worship for Molech or Baal, we do them through following Wicca, or liberal humanism, or middle‑class tolerance, out of lust or because we really think we cannot help ourselves?

Pittenger’s ‘Holiness Code’ idea is picked up by Dr Mel White, co-founder of a pro-gay group called ‘SoulForce’, in his pamphlet, ‘What the Bible says - and doesn’t say - about homosexuality.’  He signed a holiness code at school, he says.  He promised not to drink, smoke or chew.  His mother signed one in her day in which she promised not to dance.  The Levitical Holiness Code is of equally status, he suggests.  It merely proscribes ‘behaviours that people of faith find offensive in a certain place and time’.

But when he rehearses the prohibitions from Leviticus 18 and 20, he lists some and omits others. Funnily enough, he invites his readers to disagree with things with which modern liberal-minded people will easily disagree: prohibitions on dodgy haircuts, tattoos, Sabbath-working, eating pork or shellfish, wearing garments of mixed fibres, fortune telling, playing with pig-skin, stoning for adultery and having intercourse during a woman’s period.

The curious thing is, when we look at such a list with a reverent rather than a mocking spirit, trying to see the righteousness of God in his laws, there is more than one item in that list where we can draw modern lessons from the ceremonial.  I happen to believe that God is showing us that fortune telling is from the occult, tattoos dishonour the body, sexual intercourse during menstruation is dirty, and making Sunday trading legal dishonours God’s first ever statute and oppresses the workers.  By the way, it is not a garment of any old mixed fibres which is prohibited in Lev 19:19, just wool and linen.

But there is a lot more from Leviticus 18-20 which he misses out.

A brief comparison with Leviticus reveals the omissions, and those demonstrate the weakness of his argument.  What Mel White is too embarrassed to mention are the following prohibited practices: child sacrifice, adultery itself, bestiality and incest.  Nor does he mention the social laws of Leviticus 19 upon which much of our law is based.  They include being respectful to parents (v3) and the elderly (v32), having care for the poor (vs 9-10) and the stranger (vs33-34), keeping food fresh (v6), paying workers on time (v13), loving your brother enough to warn him of his sin (v17) and keeping the Sabbath day of rest (vs3,30).  There are prohibitions against stealing (v11), lying (v11), cursing the disabled (v14), gossip (v16), injustice (v15), vengeance (v18a), witchcraft (vs26,31) and using false weights and measures (vs35-36).

Above all, Mel White omits the second great commandment which is found in Leviticus 19 and which is quoted by the Lord Jesus: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ (Lev 19:18b, Mark 12:31)

All of a sudden, Leviticus doesn’t look quite so out-of-date.  It is impossible to dismiss the statutes of these three chapters as merely part of some trivial ‘holiness code’.  We may object to the penalties, although Christian people should be striving to see the righteousness of God reflected in these, but the laws mandating some practices and prohibiting others just seem sensible and timeless to anyone with an open mind.

It is obviously ridiculous, given both the content and the context to claim that such a law-book is a mere ‘a ritual for Israel’s priests’, as the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (L&GCM) attempt to do in their pamphlet ‘Abomination? - A short introduction to what the Bible says about same-sex relationships’.

The same publication goes on to claim that the word ‘abomination’ means ‘that which God found detestable because it was unclean, disloyal or unjust.’  This leads us to look at the word in the Hebrew.  When we look at what the word actually means we shall see it was bigger and more present-tense than that.  They go on to say, correctly, that one word translated ‘abomination’ is ‘To-evah’ but then they claim it ‘is usually associated with idolatry’.

As this is standard ‘gay Christian’ fare which we have already seen Alexander, Pittenger, Arthur and White wheeling out, it is important to look at the Hebrew.

To-evah (Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary no. 8441) is indeed the most common Hebrew word in the Bible translated as abomination, abominations or abominable.  It accounts for 132 of the 175 uses of those three words in the Old Testament.  It means something morally disgusting, an abhorrence.  Sodomy is referred to as to-evah in Lev 18:22 and 20:13.  Sometimes to-evah has religious connotations and sometimes it does not.  For example, to-evah is widely used throughout Proverbs to mean anything which is morally reprehensible.

The runner-up as a word translated ‘abomination’ is shiqquts (H8251) with 20 occurrences.  Shiqquts really does mean idolatrous and we find it used, for example, when Daniel refers to the abomination (shiqquts) that maketh desolate (Dan 9:27, 11:31, 12:11).  In Leviticus 11, by the way, shellfish and other ‘unclean’ foods are described with a completely different word, sheqets (H8263), which means fetid or unclean.  (There will be a study on these words, with all the verses in which they occur, on the Christian Voice website, together with Lev 18-20 in full, linked off this article in the ‘Bible’ section.)

To-evah is so widely used that the contention that it only ever refers to idolatrous practices is not sustainable.  More accurate would be to say it refers to rebellious practices.  For example, from Proverbs:  ‘A false balance is abomination (to-evah) to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight  (Pro. 11:1) and ‘He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination (to-evah)’  (Pro. 28:9).

Others in L&GCM maintain that they do not have sex with a man as they would with a woman, but that is nitpicking although curiously revealing.  They are really admitting that a man cannot enter into a one-flesh union with a man as he can with a woman.  They are showing the futility of homosexual behaviour, but it is not the point being made in Lev 18:22 and 20:13.  The verses say: ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind’ (Lev 18:22) and ‘If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman’ (Lev. 20:13).  The Hebrew word shakab (H7910) means to lie down for rest or for sexual activity.  The expression ‘as with a woman’ is there to make certain we draw a sexual meaning from shakab.

Another possible objection to the universal application of Lev 18:22, which is a refinement of the ‘Leviticus is just for the priests’ idea, is that we find the adultery, incest, bestiality and child sacrifice prohibitions restated in Exodus and/or Deuteronomy, but not the law against sodomy.  In this minority view, these restated injunctions apply to all the people, but the law against sodomy is just to be observed by the Levites.

That argument falls as well.  In the first place, although we find various forms of incest prohibited elsewhere in the Pentateuch, we do not find such detail and a complete table of affinity anywhere else.  Secondly, when the Israelites curse evil-doers in Deut 27, indeed they include incest and bestiality and exclude sodomy, but they conclude:

Deut 27:26: Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of the law to do them.

Thirdly, the argument ignores the following verse from Deuteronomy:

Deut. 23:17: There shall be no whore (H6948) of the daughters of Israel , nor a sodomite (H6945) of the sons of Israel .

Ritual temple prostitution may be in mind here, but any form of prostitution was against the law of God in Israel , so it is perfectly valid for such a general prohibition to be extended to the male variety.   The next verse says the wages of a whore or a dog (slang for a sodomite) are not to be brought into the temple.  If the word ‘sodomite’ only means a male prostitute, someone might argue, ‘well, that doesn’t apply to loving homosexual relationships’.  The position taken in Christian Voice is that all homosexual relationships are disordered and that the act of sodomy is an act of violence and abuse.  But the fact is, prostitution is an integral part of homosexuality and we never find apologists for sodomy condemning it in the form of the rent-boy culture and the description of casual contacts as ‘trade’ which are indispensable to the ‘gay scene’. 

Lastly, should we really require every law of God to be restated?  How many times does the Bible tell us not to curse the deaf?  Just once, in Lev 19:14.  How many times does it tell a man not to dress as a woman?  Just once, in Deut 22:5.  How many times are we told that a man’s tools may not be taken as a pledge?  Only once, in Deut 24:6.  How many times are we told the Lord washed the disciples’ feet?  Just once, in John 13.  For that matter, how many times did God tell Adam not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?  That’s right, just once (Gen 2:17).

The final objection is the seemingly high-minded warning against ‘biblical literalism,’ which is the liberal get-out-of-jail card when all textual argument has failed.  But those who object to ‘biblical literalism’ are quite happy to quote Bible texts with which they agree in order to suggest conflict with those they don’t.  I make no apologies for taking the whole Bible literally.  If I don’t take every word as inspired and infallible, I set myself up to decide what is and is not true in the Bible, and I become my own god.  It is just not tenable for a Christian to do that, so I shall believe the whole Bible, literally.

To sum up, Leviticus chapters 18, 19 and 20 encompass a wide range of moral behaviour.  The prohibitions on homosexual acts are found in chapters 18 and 20 which are dominated by laws against incest and adultery and are side-by-side with injunctions against bestiality and child sacrifice.  They flank chapter 19 which contains laws for areas of human life other than sexual conduct.

I do hope we can take it that the pro-sodomy advocates are in favour of loving thy neighbour, caring for the poor, judging righteously, and against stealing, lying, gossip, incest, adultery, bearing grudges (come on, be charitable to them!), cursing the disabled, child sacrifice and bestiality.  If so, it seems, to quote the late Norman Pittenger himself, ‘preposterous to single out one set of texts, dealing with sexual contacts between males’ and to say that these are the only verses in these chapters dealing with morality that God did NOT really mean to be taken literally and for all time by all people.


Robert W. Alexander, Seeking God’s Wisdom about Christian Homosexuality, 1993

Rev Dr William Norman Pittenger, Time for Consent, SCM Press, London, 1969, p83

Rev Robert L Arthur, Homosexuality and the Conservative Christian,  STI Publications, Los Angeles, 1982: p2

Rev Dr Mel White, What the Bible Says - and Doesn’t Say - about Homosexuality, Soulforce, California, 2003