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Sex in Leviticus

Editor's note: This article appeared as a sidebar to Wright's "Learning to Love Leviticus," part of CT's July-August cover story on Grappling with the God of Two Testaments.

The law in Leviticus prohibiting sexual intercourse between men (18:22) comes in the same book that contains laws prohibiting foods that Israelites were to consider unclean (chapter 11). We eat shellfish today without any moral problems, so why should we treat this sex law as morally binding? Haven't we outgrown all of that Levitical law anyway? Christians who insist on the sexual laws of the Bible are being inconsistent in not keeping all the other laws too. So goes one line of argument in modern debates about homosexuality. To this, three things must be said.

First, as I note in "Learning to Love Leviticus," we no longer keep the food laws because the separation they symbolized (between Israelites and Gentiles in the Old Testament) is no longer relevant in Christ. But the ethical principles embodied in Old Testament laws on sexual relations (positive and negative) remain constant and are reaffirmed by Jesus and Paul in the New Testament.

Second, the argument would reduce the Bible to absurdity. The Ten Commandments come in the same book that commanded Israel not to climb the mountain. If we are told that we cannot with consistency disapprove of same-sex activity unless we also stop eating shellfish, then we should not condemn theft and murder unless we also ban mountaineering.

Third, and most important, the biblical discussion of homosexual behaviour begins not in Leviticus, as if the whole argument depends on how we interpret a single Old Testament law. When Jesus was asked about divorce, he would not let ...

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Sex in Leviticus
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July/August 2013

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