Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, homosexuality, shellfish, mixed fabrics, and not being under Old Testament Law

by Matt Slick

Leviticus says not to eat shellfish (Lev. 11:9-12), use mixed seed or fabrics (Lev. 19:19), harvest the corners of fields (Lev. 19:9), and that homosexuality is wrong (Lev. 18:22; 20:13).  If homosexuality is wrong because Leviticus says so, then shouldn't we also obey the other laws about shellfish, seed, fabrics, and fields because that is in Leviticus as well?  If not, then why not?  Why would Christians pick and choose what parts of the Bible to follow?

First of all, not all of Leviticus is written to everyone.  There were abominations that applied only to the Jews such as eating shellfish, rabbit, and pork, etc., which were things that typologically represented purity before the Lord.  We know this because God says, "Speak to the sons of Israel saying..."  He gives instructions to the Israelites, not to the rest of the nations.

Here is a list of instances when the occurrence of the phrase "Speak to the Sons of Israel saying..." is found in Leviticus, the book under consideration.

  • Lev. 4:2, atonement for unintentional sins
  • Lev. 7:23, don't eat fat from ox, sheep, or goat
  • Lev. 7:29, procedures for peace offering to the Lord
  • Lev. 11:2, list of animals the Israelites may eat
  • Lev. 12:2, uncleanness after giving birth
  • Lev. 23:24, rest on 1st day of 7th month
  • Lev. 23:34, Feast of Booths on 15th day of 7th month
  • Lev. 24:15, the one cursing God will bear his sin

So, we can see a host of things that dealt only with Israel.

However, there are abominations that did not apply only to Israel, but to everyone else also.  Again, let's look at Leviticus.

Lev. 18:22-30, "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 25 ‘For the land has become defiled, therefore I have visited its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants. 26 But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you 27 (for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled); 28 so that the land may not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you. 29 ‘For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who do so shall be cut off from among their people. 30 ‘Thus you are to keep My charge, that you do not practice any of the abominable customs which have been practiced before you, so as not to defile yourselves with them; I am the Lord your God.’"

What abominations is Lev. 18:22-30 speaking of?  Contextually, chapter 17 is about blood atonement procedures, so that is for Israel, not for everyone.  In Chapter 18 God says to Israel, "You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you," (Lev. 18:3).  So, now instead of it applying only to Israel, God mentions things that are done by Egypt and the land of Canaan.  What were the things those nations did?  The chapter contains the following.

  • Lev. 18:6-18, don't uncover the nakedness of various relatives.
  • Lev. 18:19, don't have sexual relations with woman on her period
  • Lev. 18:20, don't have intercourse with your neighbor's wife
  • Lev. 18:21, don't offer children to Molech
  • Lev. 18:22, don't lie with a male as with a female
  • Lev. 18:23 don't have intercourse with animals.

So, we see there are requirements in Leviticus only for the Israelites, and there are lists of abominations spoken of that were for the non-Israelites as well.  It is in the latter group that homosexuality is listed.  It is a mistake for people to mix topics intended only for Israel with topics that included the non-Israelites.  Furthermore, when we see that the New Testament condemns the idea of homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27, we could see the continuity between Old Testament moral law and New Testament moral law.

Three divisions of the Law in Leviticus

A common mistake made by homosexual proponents when discussing the Old Testament, in particular, Leviticus, is the failure to understand the three main divisions of the Law:  civil, ceremonial, and moral.  This is important because the civil and ceremonial law are not in effect now, but the moral law is.  Let's take a look at these divisions within the book of 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. 19:11)
    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)

Homosexuality is under the moral law category.  In addition, as stated earlier, it is an abomination practiced by all people (Egypt and Canaan), not just the Israelites.  Therefore, we see that the moral aspects of the Law are still in effect, but not the civil or ceremonial.  Again, there were things addressed to Israel only where God said: "speak to the sons of Israel saying..."  These things included atonement for unintentional sins, eating habits, uncleanness, feast days, rest days, etc., which do not apply to us today.

Should we also dismiss the commands not to lie, steal, or commit adultery?

If, as some argue, we are not under the Law and therefore we can dismiss 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 (Lev. 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 (Lev. 20:11-14), and the practice of bestiality (Lev. 20:15-16)?  Of course not.

Furthermore, if we are to basically dump the book of Leviticus because it is Old Testament law, then why are parts of Leviticus quoted in the New Testament as still being valid?

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 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 the Law displays deep theological ignorance and exegetical prejudice. There are certainly aspects of Leviticus which are no longer applicable to us today (civil and ceremonial), but there are other parts that still are, as is stated above in the moral aspect of the Law that was intended as admonitions not just against Israel but the other nations as well.

Finally, when we see that the New Testament also condemns homosexuality, it is clear that we cannot just dismiss Leviticus as a whole along with its moral regulations on sexual activity.  Homosexuality is clearly condemned in Leviticus and its condemnation cannot be dismissed by saying we are no longer under Old Testament Law.


About The Author

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