Are Biblical Laws About Homosexuality Eternal?

The linked post is especially interesting in the articulation of the passages about homosexuality in Leviticus:

So we sought to contribute another perspective that we believe can be helpful on this subject. The text identifies male homosexual acts by the technical term to’ebah, translated in English here as “an offensive thing” or in older translations as “an abomination.” This is important because most things that are forbidden in biblical law are not identified with this word. In both of the contexts in Leviticus (chapters 18 and 20), male homosexuality is the only act to be called this. (Other acts are included broadly in a line at the end of chapter 18.) So this term, which is an important one in the Bible in general, is particularly important with regard to the law about male homosexual acts.

The question is: Is this term to’ebah an absolute, meaning that an act that is a to’ebah is wrong in itself and can never be otherwise? Or is the term relative — meaning that something that is a to’ebah to one person may not be offensive to another, or something that is a to’ebah in one culture may not be offensive in another, or something that is a to’ebah in one generation or time period may not be offensive in another — in which case the law may change as people’s perceptions change?

When one examines all the occurrences of this technical term in the Hebrew Bible, one finds that elsewhere the term is in fact relative. For example, in the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis, Joseph tells his brothers that, if the Pharaoh asks them what their occupation is, they should say that they’re cowherds. They must not say that they are shepherds. Why? Because, Joseph explains, all shepherds are an offensive thing (to’ebah) to the Egyptians. But shepherds are not an offensive thing to the Israelites or Moabites or many other cultures. In another passage in that story, we read that Egyptians don’t eat with Israelites because that would be an offensive thing (to’ebah) to them. But Arameans and Canaanites eat with Israelites and don’t find it offensive. See also the story of the Exodus from Egypt, where Moses tells Pharaoh that the things that Israelites sacrifice would be an offensive thing (to’ebah) to the Egyptians. But these things are certainly not an offensive thing to the Israelites.


The authors have written a book, and this post is both a response to a critique, as well as an explanation. I think this is a book, I’d enjoy reading and will be looking for it.

Very true: the Bible isn’t going away, nor is its role or the way it is used by people who believe it to be “the word of God.” So, the more we can understand about it, the better. On the other hand, does this old text really deserve the force given to it? Is it really relevant today, or do those who seek to keep it relevant do so out of their own human motives?

Theologically, what does it say that a God who is al powerful, all knowing, and all loving stopped communicating with human beings some 2000 years ago? How is it that this book is supposed to contain the fullness of the revelation of god’s word?

As we seek to understand the Bible, isn’t it also time to put it into perspective and see it as a history of the faithful (or not so faithful) and their quest to understand the Divine? Is it possible that if we stopped claiming that these translated (sometimes poorly) words from so long ago are the only revelation of the Will of the divine, we might actually start to find the divine?




via Richard Elliott Friedman: Are Biblical Laws About Homosexuality Eternal?.

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