Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, and a "man who lies with a man"

by Matt Slick

Lev. 18:22

  • ‘You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination." (NASB)
  • "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." (ESV, NKJV)

Clearly, the Old Testament condemns homosexuality.  What else does it mean when it says "you shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female"?  The term "lie with" here refers to sexual intercourse in the phrase "lie with a male as one lies with a female."  It is an abomination.  The word here is תֹּועֵבָה towʿebah, toʿebah.

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. ).1

Lev. 20:13

  • "If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them." (NASB)
  • "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them." (ESV)

The word "detestable" is the same Hebrew word found in Lev. 18:22, "abomination."

There can be no doubt that the Old Testament condemns homosexuality as a detestable act worthy of death.  But we might ask, why such harsh penalty for a simple "sexual orientation"? The answer lies in the overall context in which the Old Testament is written.  God had promised the Messiah who would be the Savior, the Deliverer of people from the judgment of God.  If homosexuality was to run rampant, it would threaten the arrival of the Messiah and thereby make God's Word invalid (essentially making God a liar), and this cannot be.  Since God works through people, he provided the harshness of the law in order to guard people from their own sins, the sins of others, and ultimately provide a way by which the Messiah would come and die on the cross for our sins. 

Of course, the Old Testament Law is no longer in effect in this area because the Messiah has come, and we are not under a theocratic governmental system.  Therefore, we are not to execute homosexuals.  We are to pray for them and their repentance, so they might find salvation in Christ.

We are not under the Old Testament Law

God created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  This signifies that God ordained order of male and female--not male and male or female and female.  This is important because it was before the Mosaic Law was given.  The Mosaic Law properly reflects the created order of God that excluded homosexuality.  Therefore, the argument that homosexuality is not for Christians because it was intended for Israel under the Old Testament law does not apply.

Also, this argument fails to see the difference between civil, ceremonial, and moral divisions of The Law.  In addition, some laws were for Israel only, while others were for everyone.  First, let's look at Leviticus since it is the book under examination.

  1. Civil--Expired with the demise of the Jewish civil government
    1. Justice practices (Lev. 24:17-23)
    2. Law of property redemption (Lev. 25)
    3. Be just with the poor (Lev. 19:15)
    4. Do not hate in your heart (Lev. 19:17)
    5. Retain just scales in commerce (Lev. 19:35f)
    6. Robbery, extortion, false witness, and restitution (Lev. 6:1-7)
  2. Ceremonial--Expired with the fulfillment of priestly work of Christ (Matt. 3:15)
    1. Various sacrificial offerings for sin (Lev. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
    2. Priestly duties (Lev. 7:1-37)
    3. Laws on animals for food (Lev. 11:1-47)
    4. Cleaning house of leper (Lev. 14:33-57)
    5. Law of Atonement (Lev. 16:1-28;17:1-16)
    6. Regulations for Priests (Lev. 21,22)
    7. Festivals (Lev. 23:1-25)
  3. Moral--No Expiration because it is based on God’s character.  “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy,” (Lev. 19:2)
    1. Do not steal or lie (Lev. 19:12)
    2. Do not oppress your neighbor (Lev. 19:13)
    3. No idolatry (Lev. 26:1-13)
    4. Don’t sacrifice children to Molech (Lev. 20:1-5)
    5. Don’t commit adultery, incest, bestiality, homosexuality, etc. (Lev. 20:9-21)
    6. You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18)

The moral law of God is still in effect, and homosexuality is part of the moral law.  So, the argument that we are not under the law fails to recognize the divisions of the law: civil, ceremonial, and moral.

Some laws were for Israel only, while others were for everyone

There were abominations that applied only to the Jews such as eating shellfish, rabbit, and pork, things that were typologically representative of purity before the Lord. God says “Speak to the sons of Israel saying . . . "  God then lists out the creatures which they may eat and not eat and mentions the camel, rock badger, rabbit, pig, etc., . . . God specifically addresses the dietary laws “to the sons of Israel” (Lev. 11:2) and people he has chosen out of all the nations on the earth (Deut. 14:2)--not the rest of the nations.

However, there are abominations that did not apply only to Israel--but everyone. 

  • “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. 23 Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion. 24 Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled.”

The land became defiled due to the abominations of homosexuality and bestiality from those who lived in the land before the Jews, so it is not just an issue for the Jews under the Law (Lev. 18:22-29).  God considered their homosexuality to be an abomination for everyone.  So, the argument that we Christians are not under the Law doesn’t work because the non-Jews of ancient times were not under Jewish law, and their homosexuality was called an abomination.

Should we also dismiss avoiding lying, theft, and adultery?

If, as some argue, we are not under the Law and so we can dismisses Leviticus--along with its clear condemnation of homosexuality--then shouldn’t we also dismiss Levitical teachings that warn against lying (Lev. 19:11), theft (Lev. 19:13), bearing false witness (19:16), hating your fellow man (Lev. 19:17), exacting vengeance (Lev. 19:18), avoiding unjust balances (Lev. 19:36), sacrificing children (Lev. 20:1-5), committing adultery (Lev. 20:10), committing incest (20:11-14), and the practice of bestiality (Lev. 20:15-16)?

Furthermore, Leviticus is quoted in the New Testament. 

Leviticus New Testament

Lev. 19:2, “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”

1 Pet. 1:16, “because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”

Lev. 19:18, “‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”

Matt. 22:39, “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Lev. 26:12, “I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.”

2 Cor. 6:16, “Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’”

Are we also to dismiss Leviticus along with the idea of being holy, of loving our neighbor, and that God will walk among us in the person of Jesus?  Of course not. To do so by saying we are not under law displays deep theological ignorance. There are certainly aspects of Leviticus which are no longer applicable to us (civil and ceremonial), but there are others that still are--those things that apply to all nations and also that are reiterated in the New Testament--the prohibition of homosexuality being one of them.

  • 1. Strong, J. (1996). The exhaustive concordance of the Bible : Showing every word of the text of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurrence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.