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Vayikra/Leviticus 18:22 You shall not lie with a male the lying down of a woman, it is an abomination
This week's text falls to one of the more controversial verses in the Scriptures, in both the Jewish and Christian worlds. Let us take a close look at the words and make sure that we know what it really says. According to Brown-Driver-Briggs, the word can be used either as an adjective or as a noun; as an adjective, of humans only (cf. Jeremiah 20:15, B'Midbar 3:40,43), as a noun, of both animals and humans (cf. Shemot 13:12, Judges 21:12); in either case, it refers exclusively to those of the male gender. The verb comes from the root , which has three principle meanings: to lie down to sleep, to lie down in death and to have sexual intercourse; the second is clearly not in view and the third is the only possible reading in this context. is a construct, the first word being the noun , which can mean either a sleeping place, such as a bed (1 Kings 1:47) or the act of lying with someone sexually; coupled with the second word - woman - the English rendering "the sexual lyings of a woman" seems clumsy but unambiguous. Finally, , a noun which has the meaning of something abominable or detestable; Holladay gives D'varim 14:3, unclean animals as food, D'varim 32:16 and Isaiah 44:19, foreign gods, 1 Kings 14:24, detestable customs of foreign nations.
Coupled with the repitition, two chapters later in Vayikra 20:13, this text has traditionally been read as a prohibition on male homosexual activity and was joined by a rabbinic prohibition of female homosexual activity based on "Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, nor of Canaan, where I will be bringing you. Do not follow any of their customs" (Vayikra 18:3). A midrash, Sifra Aharei Mot 9:8, states that this refers to sexual customs, including same-gender marriages and is echoed in the Talmud (Yevamot 76a). Rav Sha'ul seems to speak clearly on the same issue: "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 bodies the due penalty of their error" (Romans 1:27, NASB). He states that homosexuals would not even enter the kingdom of G-d (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:9-10). The church has traditionally followed the synagogue in regarding both male and female homosexuality as being an abomination and a specific sin before G-d.
Richard Elliott Friedman suggests that is a society-relative term and that the prohibition should therefore be conditioned upon the knowledge available to mankind and the degree of acceptance within society. He argues that since the current consensus of medical opinion is that homosexuality may be genetic and so not a matter of choice, it would be illogical of G-d to condemn people for an orientation that was not of their choice and beyond their control. Moreover, he posits that society no longer regards homosexuality as being an abomination, that its practice does not exclude a person from full participation in society and so concludes that while the original commandment may have been necessary or appropriate in a day when homosexuality was an abomination - as if to prevent fragmentation in society - it is no longer applicable in these days of greater tolerance. Needless to say, these views are not universally accepted and the debate in both faith communities will doubtless continue until L-rd returns!
What is undeniable is that the gospel clearly prohibits discrimination, persecution or demonisation of homosexuals by heterosexuals or vice-versa. Much of the debate in recent years has been characterised by accusations of bigotry and hypocrisy, by name-calling and mud-slinging that is entirely inappropriate to those who claim to follow Messiah Yeshua. Arguments may be strongly held and passionately articulated, but only so far as we remember that we are all made in the image of G-d and are all accepted and loved in Messiah. "For we are not struggling against human beings" (Ephesians 6:12, CJB), "so it is with the fear of the L-rd before us that we try to persuade people ... from now on, we do not look at anyone from a worldly viewpoint" (2 Corinthians 5:11,16, CJB).
Further Study: 1 Corinthians 13:1-7; Philippians 2:1-12
Application: However much we may disagree with other members of the Body of Messiah, we are called first of all to love one another as Messiah Yeshua loved us. Do you find this difficult in either this particular area or even some other matter? We should pray that the L-rd will give us His love so that we may be able to overcome our differences and so be able to stand together on the common ground we have in Him.
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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