Homosexuality and the Old Testament.
AUTHOR: Ukleja, P. Michael
PUBLISHED ON: May 7, 2003
PUBLISHED IN: Bible Studies

                    Homosexuality and the Old Testament

                              P. Michael Ukleja
          Rossmor Grace Brethren Church, Los Alamitos, California

Only towering cynicism can pretend that there is any doubt about what the
Scriptures say about homosexuality.  The Bible has not even the slightest
hint of ambiguity about what is permitted or forbidden in this aspect of
sexual conduct.

God loves people and wants them to come to the wholeness and joy for which
they were made.  His prohibitions are not the house rules of a sadistic and
capricious Deity who mocks mankind by tormenting him with desires and then
forbidding him from doing anything about them.

Biblical prohibitions are bright signposts that point people straight toward
fullness and joy.  They warn people away from spiritual and emotional
detours, mires, quicksand, and cliffs.  All sexual sins represent some
failure on society’s part to stick to God’s path.  Fornication fails to honor
the image of God in the other person, for it sees the other only as a
commodity.  Adultery violates the shrine of marital fidelity which houses and
keeps sacred the sexual expression.  Incest is the effort to achieve union
with an image too close to oneself.  The relationship is not sufficiently
“other” to make the transaction valid.  Bestiality is the effort to achieve
union with an image too different from oneself.  Masturbation, while not
explicitly cited in Scripture as sin, involves a failure to appreciate fully
the use of sex which is surely more than a matter of mere orgasm.  And
homosexuality is a confusion, since it involves the effort of achieving union
with a “mirror” image of oneself.  This “other” is not sufficiently different
to permit the union for which mankind was so remarkably formed.

                    Homosexuality and the Sin of Sodom

Two angels who came to Lot in Sodom were threatened by a mob (Gen 19:4-11). 
What were the men of Sodom seeking when they called on Lot to bring out the
men “that we may know them” (19:5, KJV)?  Some conclude that the story has no
reference to homosexual acts at all.  Bailey seeks to justify homosexuality
from the Old Testament in his work “Homosexuality and the Western Christian
Tradition.” [1]  Others (for example, Boswell [2]) use Bailey’s arguments
concerning this passage.  Bailey was an Anglican scholar whose work
influenced the change in British law regarding this issue.  This work is fast
becoming a standard reference work for the prohomosexual viewpoint.

Bailey believes that much of Christian prejudice against homosexuality is the
result of misunderstanding the story of Sodom in Genesis 19.  He argues that
the men of Sodom were anxious to interrogate the strangers to find out if
they were spies.  Therefore, he argues, the story does not refer to
homosexuality at all.  The sin involved was not homosexuality, but gang rape. 
Lot had angered these residents by receiving foreigners whose credentials had
not been examined.  The men were angered by this omission, and were showing
extreme discourtesy to these visitors by demanding to know their credentials.
[3]  Bailey argues that the demand of the men of Sodom to “know” the
strangers in Lot’s house meant nothing more than their desire to “get
acquainted with” them.  The problem, argues Bailey, was nothing more than
inhospitality.  Others, including Blair, have expanded on this argument.

      The Biblical story demonstrates the seriousness with which these
      early Eastern people took the important customs of Oriental
      hospitality.  It appears that, if necessary, they would even
      allow their own daughters to undergo abuse in order to protect
      guests.  The sexual aspect of the story is simply the vehicle in
      which the subject of demanded hospitality is conveyed.  It is
      clearly interpreted in Ezekiel 16:49: “Behold, this was the
      guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride,
      surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor
      and needy.” [4]

The Hebrew word for “know” (yada), Bailey points out, can be translated “to
get acquainted with” or “to have knowledge of” or “to have intercourse with.”
The word “yada” appears over 943 times in the Old Testament and only 12
times does it mean “to have intercourse with.”  He also states that
intercourse, as a means to personal knowledge, depends on more than
copulation.  Therefore, he argues, the circumstances in Sodom could not fit
the sexual connotation of the word “know.”  He concludes by reasoning from
the fact that Lot was a “gur” (Hebrew word), a resident foreigner.  As such,
Lot had exceeded his rights by receiving two foreigners whose credentials had
not been examined. [5]

The first problem with this argument is the fact that the meaning of a word
in a given passage is not determined solely on the basis of the number of
times it is translated that way in the Bible.  The context determines how it
is to be translated.  Of the 12 times the word “yada” occurs in Genesis, 10
times it means “to have intercourse with.”  Kidner offers the following
rebuttal to Bailey’s arguments.

      To this we may reply: (a) Statistics are no substitute for
      contextual evidence (otherwise the rarer sense of the word would
      never seem probable), and in both these passages the demand to
      “know” is used in its sexual sense (Gen 19:8; Jdg 19:25).  Even
      apart from this verbal conjunction it would be grotesquely
      inconsequent that Lot should reply to a demand for credentials
      by an offer of daughters. (b) Psychology can suggest how “to
      know” acquired its secondary sense; but in fact the use of the
      word is completely flexible.  No one suggests that in Judges
      19:25 the men of Gibeah were gaining “knowledge” of their victim
      in the sense of personal relationship, yet “know” is the word
      used of them. (c) Conjecture here has the marks of special
      pleading for it substitutes a trivial reason (“commotion . . .
      inhospitality”) for a serious one for the angels’ decision. 
      Apart from this, it is silenced by Jude 7, a pronouncement which
      Dr. Bailey has to discount as belonging to a late stage of
      interpretation. [6]

The whole scene in Genesis 19 takes on near-comic proportions if Lot, on
hearing the demand of the crowd that they wished to “get acquainted with” the
men in his house, said, “Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly.  Now
behold, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please let me bring
them out to you and do to them as is good in your sight, only do nothing to
these men . . .” (author’s translation).  In verse 8 the same verb, “yada”
with the negative particle is used to describe Lot’s daughters as having “not
known” a man.  The verb here obviously means “have intercourse with.”  It
could hardly mean simply “be acquainted with.”  In narrative literature of
this sort it would be very unlikely to use one verb with two different
meanings so close together unless the author made the difference quite
obvious.  In both verses 5 and 8 “yada” should be translated “to have sexual
intercourse with.”  The context does not lend itself to any other credible

Jude 7 gives a commentary on this passage.  It clearly states that the sin of
Sodom involved gross immorality and going after strange or different flesh
“sarkikos heteras” (Greek).  It is no accident that Jude describes their
actions by using “ekpornusasai” (Greek).  The verb “pornuo” definitely refers
to sexual immorality and the preposition “ek” explains that it means that
“they gave themselves up fully, without reserve, thoroughly, out and out,
utterly.” [7]  The term “strange flesh” could imply unnatural acts between
men or even of human beings with animals.  The inhabitants of Canaan were
guilty of both of these sins (Lev 18:23-29).  This definitely includes the
cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  History and archaeology confirm these same
conditions.  Josephus, who wrote around A.D. 99-100, said that the Sodomites
“hated strangers and abused themselves with sodomitical practices.” [8]

Boswell says that Lot was following local customs in offering his daughters
to appease the angry mob.  “No doubt the surrender of his daughters was
simply the most tempting bribe Lot could offer on the spur of the moment to
appease the hostile crowd . . . .  This action, almost unthinkable in
modern Western society, was consonant with the very low status of female
children at the time . . . .” [9]  But what Lot did was not right.  Just
because Lot offered his daughters to them in accordance with local customs
does not mean that his action was morally acceptable in God’s sight.  It is
much more probable that Lot’s offer was motivated by the thought that however
wrong rape is, homosexual rape was even worse.  Lot’s offer was simply what
he thought to be the lesser of two evils.

                      Homosexuality and the Mosaic Law

                        THE INJUNCTIONS IN THE LAW

God’s command concerning homosexuality is clear: “You shall not lie with a
male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” (Lev 18:22).  This is
expanded in Leviticus 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.”
These passages are set in the context of God’s judgment on sexual crimes and
are an expansion of the seventh commandment.

Moses was not trying to establish an exhaustive code on the subject of
sexuality; rather he was dealing with certain gross offenses of the seventh
commandment that were common in the nations surrounding Israel at the time.

Prohomosexual advocates usually dismiss these passages by relegating them to
simple religious prohibitions rather than taking them as moral prohibitions. 
Blair exhibits this line of reasoning.

      That the very pronounced Old Testament judgment against a man’s
      having sexual relations with another man is included in the
      priestly Holiness Code of Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) is 
      significant because the concern of the priests was one of ritual
      purity.  It was not the moral preaching of the prophets.  From
      this priestly point of view, it is clear that above all else,
      Israel was to be uncontaminated by her pagan neighbors.  In all
      things, she was to remain a separate “pure vessel unto the
      Lord.”  At this time, male prostitutes in the temples of the
      Canaanites, Babylonians, and other neighboring peoples, were
      common features of the pagan rites.  There, it is understandable
      that this “homosexuality” connected with the worship of false
      gods would certainly color Israel’s perspective on any and all
      homosexual activity. [10]

Blair, and those who follow his line of thinking, assume that ritual purity
and moral preaching are always distinct.  Therefore the passages in
Leviticus, they argue, are not really speaking against homosexuality as such,
but only against identifying with the practice of alien religions.  The issue
was religious identity, not the righteousness of God.

But this type of reasoning begs the question on several counts.  The first
major fault is in assuming that ritual purity and moral purity are always
distinct.  Those who make this dichotomy argue that Leviticus 18 and 20
cannot be of an ethical or moral nature.  Blair states this when he divides
the priests with their ritual purity and the prophets with their moral
teaching into two groups that were not to transgress each other’s territory. 
But the prophets preached to the needs of their day.  Anything not included
in their teaching is more logically explained by that particular sin’s
absence among the sins of that generation, rather than by a rigid distinction
between ceremonial and moral purity.  To hold to such a distinction one would
have to conclude that adultery was not morally wrong (18:20), child sacrifice
had no moral implications (18:2 1), and that nothing is inherently evil with
bestiality (18:23).  The point is that ceremonial purity and moral purity
often coincide.

These passages, again, are consistent with God’s purpose for human sexuality,
as presented in Genesis 1-3.  When these passages are studied, it becomes
obvious that God’s purpose is to preserve the sanctity of marriage and the

                          THE RELEVANCE OF THE LAW

Prohomosexual advocates spend much effort and time trying to show the
irrelevance of the Law to Christians today.  Scanzoni and Mollenkott are an
example of this.  “Consistency and fairness would seem to dictate that if the
Israelite Holiness Code is to be invoked against twentieth-century
homosexuals, it should likewise be invoked against such common practices as
eating rare steak, wearing mixed fabrics, and having marital intercourse
during the menstrual period.” [11]  Blair follows Scanzoni and Mollenkott in
arguing that the Old Testament Law must be thrown out when seeking a guide to
the issue of homosexuality.

      It is interesting how lightly evangelicals have taken other
      proscriptions found in the same Old Testament Code, e.g.: rules
      against the eating of rabbit (Lev 11:26), oysters, clams, shrimp,
      and lobster (Lev 11:10ff), and rare steaks (Lev 17:10). 
      Evangelicals do not picket or try to close down seafood
      restaurants nor do we keep kosher kitchens.  We do not always
      order steaks “well-done.”  We eat pork and ham.  The wearing of
      clothes made from interwoven linen and wool (Deut 22:11) does
      not seem to bother us at an.  Evangelicals do not say, in
      accordance with these same laws of cultic purification (Lev
      20:13), that those who practice homosexual activity should be
      executed as prescribed.  Evangelicals do not demand the death
      penalty for the Jeane Dixons of this world (Lev 20:27) nor do we
      “cut off” from among the people, as is demanded by this same
      Code, those who have intercourse with women during menstruation
      (Lev 20:18) and those who marry women who have been divorced
      (Lev 21:14).  Evangelicals do not keep out of the pulpit those
      who are visually handicapped or lame or those “with a limb too
      long” (Lev 21:18ff). [12]

These statements expose a great ignorance of how the Law fits into the total
scheme of the Scriptures.  When taken to their logical conclusion these
assertions make it possible to say that having sex with animals or engaging
in incest is okay for today simply because homosexuality is sandwiched
between these two prohibitions.  These writers pay a great price in trying to
justify their position.  It would have been easier for them to say that
Christ brought an end to the entire Law (Rom 10:4).  The Ten commandments are
also included in this termination (2 Cor 3:7-11).  Christ is now the
Christian’s High Priest, which shows that a radical change in the Law has
come about (Heb 7:11).  The Law has been superseded (Heb 7:11).

When the statement is made that the Law had ended, this does not mean that
God no longer has any laws or codes for His people.  This does not mean that
there are no moral precepts to be followed.  The New Testament speaks of the
“law of the Spirit” (Rom 8:2), the “law of Christ” (Gal 6:2), and the “royal
law” (James 2:8).  This “law” includes numerous commands, both positive and
negative, which form a distinct code of ethics for today. [13]
It is here that the prohomosexual exegetes have made their mistake.  As a
unit the New Testament code is new, but not all the commands in the New
Testament are new.  There is overlap, deletion, and addition.  Some of the
commands in the Mosaic code have been reincorporated into the New Testament

But if the Law was done away, how can parts of it be repeated in the New
Testament?  The answer lies in the distinction between the Old Testament code
and the commandments which were contained in that code.

      The Mosaic law has been done away in its entirety as a code. 
      God is no longer guiding the life of man by this particular
      code.  In its place He has introduced the law of Christ.  Many
      of the individual commands within that law are new, but some are
      not.  Some of the ones which are old were also found in the
      Mosaic law and they are now incorporated completely and [are]
      forever done away.  As part of the law of Christ they are
      binding on the believer today. [14]

This throws much light on the statements made by those who would justify
homosexuality from a biblical standpoint.  It serves to bring their emotional
rhetoric into proper focus.  The laws concerning diet, punishment by stoning,
or wearing mixed fabrics have been abrogated.  However, the proscriptions
against homosexual behavior have been repeated in the New Testament code (Rom
1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9-11; 1 Tim 1:9-10).  This should be a major concern of
prohomosexual advocates simply because it totally destroys the point they
attempt to make with regard to the Old Testament law.  It is false to say
that something which was sin under the Law is no longer sin under grace.

What this all means is that the commands dealing with homosexuality in
Leviticus 18:23 and 20:13 are still highly relevant because they have been
reincorporated into the New Testament code.  A moral unity exists between the
Old and New Testaments.  It has always been wrong to murder, rape, steal, to
have sexual relations with animals, and to have sexual relations with persons
of the same sex.  God has dealt with people in different ways at different
times, but His standard for righteousness has never changed.  If morality has
changed then the character of God has changed, because the basis of morality
is in the character of God who is immutable (Mal 3:6).


1  D. Sherwin Bailey, “Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition”
(London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1955; reprint, Hamden, CT: Shoestring Press,

2  John Boswell, “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality”
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).

3  Bailey, “Homosexuality,” p. 5.

4  Ibid., p. 4.

5  Ibid., pp. 3-5.

6  Derek Kidner, “Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary,” Tyndale Old
Testament Commentaries (Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1963), p. 137.

7  Richard Wolff, “A Commentary on the Epistle of Jude” (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), p. 75.

8  Josephus, quoted in Wolff, ibid., pp. 76-77.

9  Boswell, “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality,” p. 95.

10 Ralph Blair, An Evangelical Look at Homosexuality (Chicago: Moody Press,
1963), p. 3.

11 Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, “Is the Homosexual My
Neighbor?” (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978). pp. 60-61.

12 Blair, “An Evangelical Look at Homosexuality,” p. 3.

13 Charles C. Ryrie, “The Grace of God” (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963), pp.

14 Charles C. Ryrie, “The End of the Law,” Bibliotheca Sacra 124 (July-
September 1967):246.

This article appeared in “Bibliotheca Sacra” Volume 140, July-September 1983,
Number 559.  For more information write Bibliotheca Sacra, Subscription
Services, 3909 Swiss Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75204.

Transcribed by:

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