Matthew Vines on Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 and Christians not being under the Law

by Matt Slick

  • "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination," (Lev. 18:22, NASB).
  • "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," (Lev. 20:13, NASB).

Mr. Vines says, "Hebrews 8:13 states that the old covenant is now “obsolete,” because Christ is the basis of the new is true that Leviticus prohibits male same-sex relations, it also prohibits a vast array of other behaviors, activities, and foods that Christians have never regarded as being prohibited for them. For example, chapter 11 of Leviticus forbids the eating of pork, shrimp, and lobster, which the church does not consider to be a sin. Chapter 19 forbids planting two kinds of seed in the same field; wearing clothing woven of two types of material; and cutting the hair at the sides of one’s head. Christians have never regarded any of these things to be sinful behaviors, because Christ’s death on the cross liberated Christians from what Paul called the 'yoke of slavery.' We are not subject to the Old Law." (underline added)

Matthew Vines has failed to understand an important principle in the book of Leviticus.  He does not realize that God addresses certain things only to the nation of Israel, while some things are addressed to other nations as well.  By looking at who God is addressing, we can find a response to Mr. Vines' interpretation--or should I say "homogesis," the interpretation of Scripture in line with homosexual presuppositions.

For The Jews Only
"speak to the sons of Israel . . . "

"speak to the sons of Israel . . . " is a phrase designating instruction only to Israel.  It occurs in many places and is followed by statements and instructions such as . . .
For Everyone
" . . . you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall drive out before you . . . "

In many places there is condemnation of the behaviors of the other nations, and their sins are often listed.
  • Lev. 7:28-29, "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 29 'Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘He who offers the sacrifice of his peace offerings to the Lord shall bring his offering to the Lord from the sacrifice of his peace offerings.'"
  • Lev. 12:1-3, "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 "Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of her menstruation she shall be unclean. 3 And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.'"
  • Lev. 18:1-3, "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 "Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘I am the Lord your God. 3 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; you shall not walk in their statutes.'"
  • Lev. 18:24, "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."
  • Lev. 20:23, "Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them."

The context is that God is speaking to the people He has chosen.  In other words, He is addressing Israel and not all the nations on the earth (Deut. 14:2).  It is to Israel that we find special restrictions.  God was speaking only to Israel (Lev. 11:2) about forbidding them to eat pork (Lev. 11:7), shrimp (Lev. 11:10-12), and lobster (Lev. 11:10-12).  Then again in Lev. 19:2, God continues in the same vein and says, "speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them . . . "  It is here again that God tells them not to plant two kinds of seed in the same field (Lev. 19:19), wear two types of material (Lev. 19:19), and not to cut the hair on the sides of their heads (Lev. 19:27).  These restrictions are not for everyone (all nations) but only for the people of Israel.  However, God does speak to Israel about the other nations and condemns their sinful actions, and it is within this list of condemnations that homosexuality is listed.  "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination." (Lev. 18:22).  Quite simply, Mr. Vines has failed to recognize this critical differentiation; and because of it, his argument is invalidated.  

Let me reiterate.  There are abominations that did not apply only to Israel but to everyone.  Consider this:

“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." (Lev. 18:22-24, NASB).

As you can see, the sins of the previous non-Jewish nations of the land included homosexuality and bestiality.  God considered their homosexuality to be an abomination for everyone.  So, the argument that Christians are not under the Law (and that Leviticus' condemnation is dismissed) doesn’t work because the non-Jews of ancient times were not under Jewish Law (don't eat shrimp, mix clothing, etc.,), but their homosexuality was still called an abomination.  Not only that but other things are also called abominations.  Are we to discard those, too, because they are under Old Testament Law?  Consider the following:

  • Abomination of idolatry (Deut. 7:25-26; 27:15).
  • Gender confusion is an abomination (Deut. 22:5).
  • Male cult prostitutes are an abomination (1 Kings 14:24).
  • Crooked man is an abomination (Prov. 3:32).
  • A false balance is an abomination (Prov. 11:1).
  • “and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it [The New Jersualem], but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Rev. 21:27, NASB).

Furthermore, Mr. Vines admits that Leviticus "prohibits male same-sex relations."  Then what he does is attempt to disregard its prohibition by lumping it with dietary laws that we don't follow now--implying we don't need to follow the sexual purity laws either.  Let me reiterate.  Matthew Vines fails to see the difference between commands given only to Israel (i.e., dietary laws) and commands about other nations (homosexuality, bestiality, etc.). This alone is huge, but there is yet another failing on Mr. Vines' part.  He apparently does not understand the aspects of the Old Testament Law--namely, civil, priestly, and moral. 

Following is some of the verses from the book of Leviticus that deal with these three categories of the Law.

  1. Civil--Expired with the demise of the Jewish civil government
    1. Property rights (Ex. 21, 22, 25)
    2. Justice practices (Lev. 24:17-23)
    3. Law of property redemption (Lev. 25)
    4. Be just with the poor (Lev. 19:15)
    5. Do not hate in your heart (Lev. 19:17)
    6. Retain just scales in commerce (Lev. 19:35f)
    7. 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)
    3. Laws on animals for food (Lev. 11)
    4. Cleaning house of leper (Lev. 14)
    5. Law of Atonement (Lev. 16, 17)
    6. Regulations for Priests (Lev. 21, 22)
    7. Festivals (Lev. 23)
  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)
    4. Don’t sacrifice Children to Molech (Lev. 20)
    5. Don’t commit adultery, incest, bestiality, etc. (Lev. 20)
    6. You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18)

As you can see, the book of Leviticus has many topics.  If, as Mr. Vines states, we are not under the Law and so he dismisses Leviticus' clear condemnation of homosexuality--then shouldn’t he 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 to Molech (Lev. 20:1-5), committing adultery (Lev. 20:10), committing incest (20:11-14), and the practice of bestiality (Lev. 20:15-16)?  It is easy to casually dismiss an entire book in order to be rid of its teaching against homosexuality, but it is not easy to biblically and rationally justify it.  Now, I am not saying that Christians are under the Law; we are not.  The Bible says that those who have died in Christ are not under law (Romans 6:6; 7;4).  However, the principle of picking and choosing is laid at the feet of Mr. Vines who fails to understand the biblical text sufficiently and fails to recognize the different aspects of the Law.

Mr. Vines says, " . . . the prohibitions on male same-sex relations only appear in Leviticus, among many dozens of other prohibitions that Christians have never viewed as being applicable to them."

Whether or not same sex relations are prohibited “only” twice in Leviticus (Lev. 18:22; 20:13) and not anywhere else in the Old Testament does not negate the fact that it is condemned.  The Bible says that by two witnesses is a thing established (2 Cor. 13:1).  Still, homosexuality is mentioned in the Old Testament in places other than Leviticus, and it is never in a favorable context.

  • Gen. 19:5, “and they [homosexual men of Sodom] called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them.”
  • Judges 19:22, “While they were making merry, behold, the men of the city, certain worthless fellows, surrounded the house, pounding the door; and they spoke to the owner of the house, the old man, saying, “Bring out the man who came into your house that we may have relations with him.”
  • 1 Kings 14:24, “And there were also male cult prostitutes in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations which the LORD dispossessed before the sons of Israel.”

If Leviticus condemns homosexuality, as it clearly does, then are we to assume that the rest of the verses in the O.T. which mention it negatively are really supporting homosexuality?  It makes no sense, and Mr. Vines paints himself into a corner.  He says that homosexuality is indeed condemned in the Old Testament, but is he saying it's okay in the New Testament?  Furthermore, there is never a single instance of homosexuality being spoken of in a positive context in the entire Bible.  The fact is that it is condemned universally therein.

  • Rom. 1:26-27, “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”
  • 1 Cor. 6:9, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals,”
  • 1 Tim. 1:10, “and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching,”
  • Jude 1:7, “Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example, in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”

Mr. Vines is not accessing the whole of Scripture, nor does he have a sufficient understanding of biblical theology.  I am not insulting him.  I am simply informing the reader of the situation.  Though I applaud Mr. Vines' attempt to deal with biblical issues in an intelligent manner, he has simply missed the mark.  Nevertheless, he continues in the same vein of trying to dismiss Leviticus' condemnation of homosexuality by relating it to dietary laws.

Mr. Vines says, "The default Christian approach for nearly two millennia now has been to view the particular hundreds of rules and prohibitions in the Old Law as having been fulfilled by Christ’s death, and there is no good reason why Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 should be exceptions to that rule."

Yet again, Mr. Vines fails to distinguish between what is specifically commanded by God for the nation of Israel (i.e., Lev. 11:2; Deut. 14:2), and what is not restricted to just Israel--the latter including homosexuality by which the nations before the Israelites had defiled the land (Lev. 18:24).  Therefore, homosexuality is a sin that is universally applied to all nations where dietary laws, sex during menstruation, ritualistic purity, etc., is not.  Mr. Vines has failed to recognize this distinction.  Therefore, his argument is not valid. 

Another problem for Mr. Vines

Furthermore, as Mr. Vines tries to get Leviticus not to apply to Christians, he has yet another problem. 

Mr. Vines says, "Well, now, it seems, the case is finally closed. Even though the verses in Leviticus don’t apply to Christians, here we have Paul in the New Testament explicitly teaching the unacceptability, the sinfulness of same-sex relationships. And even though he only speaks of lustful behavior, and not of loving relationships, he labels same-sex unions unnatural. They are outside of God’s natural design, which was set forth in Genesis 1 and 2 and is exclusively heterosexual. So even if a same-sex relationship is loving and committed, it is still sinful. That is the traditional interpretation of Romans 1:26-27."

Mr. Vines says "the verses in Leviticus don't apply to Christians."  If that is the case, then why does the New Testament quote from Leviticus in several places as applying to Christians today?

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 (in the way Mr. Vines does it) displays deep theological ignorance.  There are certainly aspects of Leviticus which are no longer applicable to us (as was explained above), but there are others that still are; and they are reiterated in the New Testament.  They are the moral admonitions that apply to all nations--the prohibition of homosexuality being one of them.


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About The Author

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