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Mercy To All Blog



The first five books of the Old Testament are called the Pentateuch (literally 5 tools).  They are traditionally attributed to Moses’ authorship and contain the Law (Torah).  The Law contains more than six hundred regulations governing everyday living for the Children of Israel. They cover everything from instructions on how to wear clothes and prepare ceremonial foods to laws concerning the observance of holy days and the prescribed punishments for certain crimes.  The Law was specifically given to the ancient Israelites and was never intended to be the law for the Gentiles.  In that sense, no one living today ever has been under the Law and there is no need for anyone to be under it now. 

The Apostle Paul observed that the ones who have fallen away from grace (Galatians 5:4) are the ones who have put themselves under the Law.  The belief that Christians need to be governed by the Law was perpetuated by a sect known as the Judaizers.  The Law was given to show that the righteousness of God (right standing relationship) could not be obtained by legalistically keeping rules.  It gave the people knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20) and demonstrated the impossibility of anyone being able to measure up and be accepted by God on the basis of keeping it. 

The major source of condemnation today against homosexuality and other social moral issues, has come from those who have not fully grasped the significance of the law of Grace as opposed to the Law of Moses and their belief that homosexuality is a violation of God’s Law.  Nearly every argument against homosexuality has at its root the Law of Moses.  They mistakenly believe that sodomy is forbidden by the Law.  This is not true.  The word sodomy is a modern word, coined under the mistaken belief that Sodom was destroyed because of rampant homosexuality. The word sodomy does not appear in any of the main translations (KJV, RSV, NASB, or NIV).  It has took on new meaning in the twentieth century referring to any sexual act other than copulation between a man and a woman who were married to each other. It varies from state to state in its legal definition.  This variance illustrates one of the prime difficulties in understanding the Scripture in its original language.  To understand and explain what the writer has written, one must understand the words the writer used as the writer understood them.  Word meanings change over time and the unlearned can come away from passages with a total misunderstanding of the writer’s meaning. 

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are the traditional condemnation passages against homosexual acts and appear in our modern English translations to be clear cut prohibitions.  Some have said these passages would justify capital punishment of homosexuals; but would these same people also bring judgment against adulterers (Leviticus 20:10) and stone them to death?  Following suite, would they also prescribe the death penalty for their stubborn and rebellious sons (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)?  One thing is clear from Paul’s teaching: anyone who puts themselves under any one point of the Law obligates themselves to keep the whole Law (Galatians 5:3) or they are guilty of violating the whole Law and are worthy of death. 

In truth, it is uncertain what Leviticus 18:22 is saying.  The literal transliteration reads: 

“You must not sleep the sleep of a woman

with a man; it is ritually impure.” 

Some scholars believe this saying represents an idiom that has lost its meaning over time due to cultural traditions of the era that have long since been forgotten.  Dr. John Boswell makes a case in Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, 1980, that this prohibition cannot be a blanket condemnation of homosexuality, because the writer uses the Hebrew word toevah (#8441) referring to the act as being “detestable” or an “abomination”.  The Hebrews used special words to condemn specific wicked or abominable misdeeds.  If this passage had been referring to sexual misconduct, the writer would have instead of toevah used the word zimmah (#2154). 

The land was full of idolatry.  The Palestinian god of the sun, Baal and his consort, the fertility goddess Ashtoreth, were commonly worshipped in the area and the word toevah appears throughout the Law to denounce these idolatrous practices.  But zimmah is used specifically wherever immoral acts such as prostitution or rape are the subject.  Conclusion: whatever detestable act here is prohibited has something to do with idolatry. 

In the New Testament, we find that Jesus said nothing we can identify clearly about homosexuality; but homosexual relationships in the Greco-Roman world were common place at the time of Jesus.  Had these relationships been so very detestable to God, certainly Jesus would have commented on them.  Surely Paul would have commented on them; and some believe he did.  In our next section we will consider Paul’s writings. 

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