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Another View of Homosexuality

By Charles David Isbell
Louisiana State University
December, 2009

See also: The Bible and Interpretation Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Rabbis

Last month I surveyed the biblical attitude toward male homosexuality and noted that the punishment for its practice was execution. I also noted the rabbinic attitude in support of the biblical condemnation of homosexuality along with their surprising interpretation of the sin of the citizens of Sodom as the failure of basic societal hospitality with no mention of homosexuality. In this installment, I want to explore two aspects of these teachings in light of the current debate on the issue.

I begin with an observation based on my own experience of teaching courses in Bible for almost forty years. Whenever I have posed the question, “Do you believe that homosexuality is a sin?” I have invariably received an answer of “Yes” from a majority of my students. The reason offered for such belief is constant: “The Bible says it is a sin.” And, of course, this is an accurate statement, based on two verses in Leviticus (18.22 and 20.13) and two New Testament passages (Romans 1.26-32 and 1 Corinthians 6.9-10), discussed last month. But my following question has not been so uniformly answered: “Which method of execution do you prefer as punishment for the practice of homosexuality?” I pose these two questions together to illustrate what I call “selective literalism.” If one’s opposition to homosexuality is simply that “the Bible says it is a sin,” then one cannot merely ignore the equally plain Scriptural teaching of both testaments, once in the same verse (Lev 20.13) and once in the same short passage (Romans 1.26-32) that death is the only appropriate response to that sin. Thankfully, to date I have never received the obvious biblical answer to my second question, and so far, no student has advocated the death penalty for homosexuality. Should this happen in the future, I am fully prepared to recommend a concomitant call for the death penalty to be applied to witches, adulterers (although, come to think of it, this might solve some of our current legislative difficulties nicely), disobedient sons, and non-believers.

My second observation is based not merely on four verses from Leviticus and Paul but on a wider view of biblical teachings coupled with a more sophisticated modern application of biology and genetics. Let’s take these in order. One of the thirteen basic principles of interpretation1 followed by the early rabbis demanded that attention be paid to “context.” However, the rule that “a thing is taught by its context” [דבר למד מענינו] is complicated by the fact that context may refer to the immediate surroundings of the text, or may be extended to a far broader appeal including the whole of biblical narrative. Using a broad contextual approach, we note that some of the sternest admonitions in the Bible relate to the responsibility of a covenant society to “widows, orphans, and alien residents” (see Deut 10.18; 26.12; Jer 49.11; Ps 68.5 inter alia passim), the elderly, the weak, and the physically handicapped (Lev 19.14).2 Now suppose that we had the opportunity to discuss these issues with the authors of Leviticus. And let us further suppose that we explained the following to them. For reasons that we cannot explain or defend, we now know scientifically that the good Lord in His wisdom chooses to create approximately eight to ten per cent of us with a pre-disposition to be attracted to members of our own gender.

Surely no one would argue that a widow chooses the death of her husband, orphans choose for their parents to die, or a crippled man walking slowly with a cane and a service dog (of whom I am one) chooses his physical condition. I believe the Levitical authors would have been surprised to learn that no one of us chooses either our heterosexuality or our homosexuality either, and I believe such new knowledge would have had a drastic effect on their interpretation of the issue. In my view, armed with a more adequate understanding of human sexuality, the biblical authors might well have added homosexuals to the list of those whom Israelite society was obligated to protect along with a short statement that the way we treat our homosexual brothers and sisters says more about the kind of people we are than it does about them.

Further, if we could explain to Paul that his monolithic view of Leviticus needed to be broadened, would he understand that his opposition to homosexuality had no clear basis in Scripture?

What if we could explain to the rabbis that homosexual relationships were not chosen in an attempt to disobey the clear call of God to “be fruitful and multiply” but were the natural expression of DNA wiring decreed by the Creator in His wisdom? Since the rabbis held the biblical view that the primary purpose of marriage was the production of children, it may be doubted whether they would have sanctioned homosexual marriage.3 But in my view, it is a reasonable assumption that the authors of the Torah who gave us the absolute dictum—“There must be only one law (torah) and one standard of justice (mishpat) among you”4—might have surprised us with their response.

1 Middot shənidreshet ha-torah bahen, “the rules by which the Torah is interpreted.”

2 And note the specific curse invoked against anyone who mistreats a blind person (Deut 27.18).

3 Neither the Bible nor the early rabbis opined on this specific question.

4 See Numbers 15.16, and note also Numbers 9.14; 15.29.

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Comments (10)

A very good post on this question. You might be interested in something I wrote recently on Romans and Leviticus
#1 - Michael Carden. - 12/09/2009 - 07:39

Believers are concerned that there is no written sanction of homosexuality. however there is in matthew 19. They are also concerned by what they believed to be is a negative inference in scripture. The truth is that homosexuality is quite distinct from same sex relations. Because one is solely about physical sexual practices motivated by lust, etc and the other is about bonding and marriage.

lev .................not all the prohibitions of themselves were sins.

Num 15: 32 While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, 34 and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." 36 So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses

romans...................(not about homosexuality) homosexuals have never had women, not from their first sexual memory, that is why they are called homosexual.

tim and corr.......... (not about homosexuality) allude to acts that are not of the fruit of the spirit or are against the 2nd commandment(love your neighbor....). paul a highly educated man created a compound word, which in no way is a reiteration of the separate word phrase of lev.

what is interesting is that believers would be looking for a sanction of anything thru regulation under the new covenant, when under the new covenant, there is no relation to god thru regulation as in deut 28, because it is directly to the one who lives in each believer.

the entire law of the new covenant is summed up in the 2nd commandment(love your neighbor....)

apart from that "everything is permissible, but not everything is constructive"

believers are given to determine what is constructive...........................

consider that what is constructive is what is of the fruit of the spirit……………, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, patience, self-control, goodness, faithfulness.

Homosexuals have never been found wanting in any sector of society compared to heterosexuals. They are not less a friend, neighbor, soldier, counselor, teacher, engineer, administrator, father, friend, etc.

Homosexuals bond in the same way as heterosexuals. that is thru mutual love, devotion, affection, trust, and respect for a shared committed life together.
#2 - john r - 12/09/2009 - 14:23

Excellent article. Certainly it is time that we recognize that modern knowledge would have impacted the admonitions about homosexuality that were based on the assumption that such activity was the result of "choice."
#3 - Howard Major - 12/10/2009 - 12:10

"For reasons that we cannot explain or defend, we now know scientifically that the good Lord in His wisdom chooses to create approximately eight to ten per cent of us with a pre-disposition to be attracted to members of our own gender."

So? The good Lord predisposes people to be alchololics also. Is daily drunkenness therefore not a sin? Does the fact that we do not execute drunk drivers, as is done in some countries at the second or third offense, mean drunk driving is not a reprehensible act in America? It is possible to maintain that homosexual acts remain sinful, without demanding, as Christians, the death penalty. If your students have not responded with a New Convenant based answer to such a weak OT-based challenge, admissions qualifications must be low.

But the above claim is false, anyway, for even the APA has been forced to admit that the eitology of SSA is still unknown, and that it is clearly more than just genetics. No one can actually claim, based on the science, what is claimed above. The APA's most recent statement has been out for months, why is this claim still being made?

Moreover, is is legally indefensible, for the Federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals has recently ruled against the NEA's discrimination against "ex-gays." The NEA said "ex-gays" do not exist; the court, said otherwise. SSA is NOT immutable; so arguments like the above are disingenuous, at best.

This piece also willfully conflates the orientation with the act; and it is the act that is condemned. We are not designed for anal sex, and any health book, magazine or website, gay or otherwise, makes the dangers of the act clear. One can minimize risks, but not eliminate them - sex acts are not surgery, and not even ORs are error free. One cannot lovingly sodomize another human being, male or female. The sodomizer must always be willing to accept the possibility of doing harm to the other, and for what? - fleeting sexual gratification.

Male-male sex acts account for over 50% of all new HIV infections, according to both the CDC and the WHO; these acts are keeping the pandemic alive. Men who have sex with men are 50 times more likely to have AIDS, again according to the CDC: Who would send their children to a summer camp with a Lyme's disease infection rate 50 times higher than other camps? Why is the Bible being re-interpreted at LSU to make a destructive lifestyle "kosher"?

What would the rabbis say now? The same as they did then. Sodomizing another person is a sin. And by the way, I am bisexual in my "orientation," but as a Christian do not engage in sodomy. Why? Aside from not wishing to harm any one I claim to love, it IS a sin. Your students understand that much; one wonders why you do not.
#4 - John K. - 12/11/2009 - 15:41

I am sorry, this is the statement that is abuses the known science:

"What if we could explain to the rabbis that homosexual relationships were not chosen in an attempt to disobey the clear call of God to “be fruitful and multiply” but were the natural expression of DNA wiring decreed by the Creator in His wisdom?"

SSA is more complex than just DNA, and it is wrong to claim otherwise for the sake of argument. It is certainly not immutable; again, even the APA has been forced to conceded this. And NO ACT, like sodomy, is ever decreed by our Creator.
#5 - John K. - 12/11/2009 - 15:54

consider that romans 1:21 -32 describes the basis for all sin

1.they did not thank or glorify god for all things and thus were given over to foolish minds

2.they exchanged glory that was god for images of the created.......they exchanged their created relationship of being in the image of god for the mortal images of the created and thus were given over to degrading their bodies in all manor of excesses with one another.

3.they exchanged the truth of god's love for them for a lie and worshipped and served the created(powers and principalities) rather than the creator and thus were given over to shameful passions such as lust,greed,etc...... those things that served the created (power and principalities). this caused men to commit indecent acts with one another of destruction(halocaust, etc). they received the due penalty..................self hatred and self loathing.

4.they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of god and were given over to a depraved mind, full of all manner of wickedness and evil.

5, although they knew that to do such things brings death, not only did they continue to do them, but gave approval to others who did the same.

that is why romans 2:1 reads "1You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things."
whether one is a murderer, slanderer, or thief, etc, to do so requires that he has indulged in the above 5 points of sinful behavior. one thinks it is not worthwhile to retain the knowledge of god, and he becomes a murderer, another does the same and he becomes a thief, another a slanderer. one does not thank or glorify god he becomes bitter, another becomes a unforgiving, another unloving. one exchanges the glory of god for images of the created, and he no longer lives in faith, another becomes idol worshipper, another a philanderer.
#6 - john r - 12/12/2009 - 14:19

It is my opinion based upon years of studying Jewish hermeneutics and exegesis that if the knowledge that we have now of genetics and psychology were had by the writer of Leviticus, he would not have written these passages so that they would have been misconstrued to condemn homosexual behavior rather than the substitutional sex acts by heterosexual men that are indeed condemned. See my article at
#7 - Rabbi Gershon Steinberg-Caudill - 12/26/2009 - 15:20

If you would care to research it further, you would find that there is absolutely no evidence that homosexuality is genetic. Until recently being forced to change its definition of homosexuality, The American Psychiatric Association had defined homosexuality as being a behavioral disorder brought on by certain events during the development of such a person's sexual awareness that can lead to deviation from the sexual norm, such as sexual abuse by an older male. There is also society's perception of what is maleness and what is femaleness. For example: During the formative years in high school, if a male is not athletic or is thin and timid with some features that could be exagerated into appearing feminine, such a person gets mislabeled, and treated with such contempt by peers as to convince this person that how he views himself can become distorted. If he is convinced in such a way, (brain-washed)then this is an instance of others having sinned against God and this individual by having led him astray. The sad thing in all of this is that, while trying to force a society to believe that such behavior is acceptable both loudly and "in your face" it can be proclaimed by its advocates, they will never convince God or even themselves.
#8 - Steve - 12/30/2009 - 15:54

Cute academic con games,

So, do you believe stealing is sin?

If so, which hand should you chop off?

No chopping off of a hand? Therefore, stealing is not sin.

False analogy leads to false conclusions.

This is known as distraction from the truth. A murderer can be a loving being to all but the one he murdered. So can a thief. Each has to face the consequences of their respective society.

And don't forget that homosexuality was acceptable by many pagan societies. That does not change what is acceptable by Christ or G_d. Christ disciples made it very clear that homosexuality was not accepted from Jude to Paul and that Christ himself said marriage is between a man and a woman.

You make abuse of scripture however when you try to enforce your opinion or assertions as law and employ punishment.

Whereas Christ himself showed mercy to an adulteress, so do we this day, show mercy to all people, not just homosexuals.

Our society is breaking down today. One of the evidences of that is the breakdown of marriage, the pornification of our nation and the false teachings to our children that sex outside of marriage is healthy, when in fact it is not.

That you try to defend homosexuality based upon false analogy and false pretences is more evidence of a decaying society when elites and academics twist the truth.
#9 - Joshua - 12/31/2009 - 10:54

There is no passage in the Bible against homosexuality as an orientation.

While the Bible does prohibit sex between men (homosexuality), it can nevertheless be shown that the prohibition does not apply today because it applied only to the ancient Israelite and Roman cultures. Also, the prohibition does not apply today when the sexual activity causes no harm.

Further, the Bible criticizes, but does not prohibit, sex between women.

So sex between men and sex between women is okay if no one is harmed.
#10 - Raycol - 01/10/2010 - 17:02

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