Did God Really Say? A Challenge To An Observers Analysis of Leviticus 18
Within Western culture there has been an increase to legitimize and validate what has become known as the LGBTQ movement, which has several objectives: To promote and advocate for equal rights for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer individuals, to change and nullify what was known as sodomy laws, which prohibited homosexual acts between men and women, and to end discrimination (and stereotypes) in social interactions in various institutions (e.g., business, academia, etc.). In addition, this movement, particularly, desires to challenge what promoters of this movement describe as “archaic and traditional social constructs” that are found in the body of Christ. As as result this has led to a translation of the Bible that alters the passages that discuss homosexuality, promoting the homosexual clergy in the church, and establishing what is being labeled as “inclusive” churches all over the world.
There are others who have chosen to take their pen and write against what they perceive as prejudices attempting to make their case from the Scriptures that homosexuality was a sanctioned practice in the Old Testament. One such scholar by the name of Dr. Idan Dershowitz, in an opinion piece titled, “The Secret History of Leviticus” asserts that chapter 18 of Leviticus, the chapter that prohibits homosexuality, was not written by the same author, but by several authors of a long period of time:
Like many ancient texts, Leviticus was created gradually over a long period and includes the words of more than one writer. Many scholars believe that the section in which Leviticus 18 appears was added by a comparatively late editor, perhaps one who worked more than a century after the oldest material in the book was composed. An earlier edition of Leviticus, then, may have been silent on the matter of sex between men.D.I. (2018). The Secret History of Leviticus. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/21/opinion/sunday/bible-prohibit-gay-sex.html
He attempts to provide an even stronger argument that earlier editions of a law found in Israel allowed this behavior. He adds there were “editorial interventions” in this chapter due to what he believes is a sudden break in the flow of the chapter involving what he refers to as “incest laws,” as he notes below
Each verse in Leviticus 18’s series of incest laws contains a similar gloss, but the others are merely emphatic, driving home the point. (For example, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife, you shall not uncover her nakedness.”) Only in these two cases — the father and mother, and the father’s brother — do the glosses alter our understanding of what is prohibited. A law prohibiting sex with one’s father fades away, and a law against sex with one’s uncle is reinterpreted as a ban on sex with one’s aunt…What we have here is strong evidence of editorial intervention.D.I. (2018). The Secret History of Leviticus. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/21/opinion/sunday/bible-prohibit-gay-sex.html
Based on Biblical evidence, I am convinced there are several counterpoints that make his argument concerning the explanation “editorial intervention” in the Book of Leviticus a risible explanation. They are described below:
The divine authorship of Leviticus: All throughout the Old Testament we observe the authoritative speech of God (i.e., “The Lord said” or “the Lord God said”) the term Lord (i.e. YHVH in Hebrew, usually written in all capital letters) is the divine personal Name of God Himself, and this name in particular highlights the supreme authority of God and His word. This personal name for God occurs 273 times in the book of Leviticus, and occurs five times in chapter 18:1-30. In this text, God makes it clear to the nation of Israel that it is Him who is passing down these commands on how the nation of Israel should conduct themselves before Him, not several authors over a period of time.
The consequences of the other nations due to these practices: The Lord, in outlining these prohibitions mentioned the overall reason why God does not desire this behavior. It is found in the proceeding verses in this chapter of the Book of Leviticus:
24‘ Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. 25 ‘For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitantsLev. 18:24-15 NASB emphasis mine.
God was removing all of the former inhabitants of the land that was given to the Israelite people because there were nations that were defiling themselves by doing these behaviors. This included all of the actions that were described above passage. In fact, God tells them that they were not to practice these customs and traditions that would defile them, or the land they were to live on, five times in this chapter (vs. 24, 26, 28, 29, 30). In addition, they were not to do these customs because He is their God, the Lord (YHVH). The reason why the nations that lived in the land were removed prior to the Israelite people because of their acceptable use of these practices, which were against God.
The word usage in the Septuagint in Leviticus 18 and the New Testament: The Septuagint is the translation from the Hebrew Old Testament to the Greek language. The word that is used for “one that lies” in Lev. 18 is the word koite (κοίτη) meaning “to bed.” (an idiom used for sexual intercourse). This same word is used of Paul, who was a proficient scholar and teacher of the Old Testament (c.f., Phil. 4:3-6). When addressing the churches of Corinth he writes:
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate , nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God 1 Cor. 6:9-11 NASB emphasis mine
The Greek word used here for “homosexuals” is the word arsenokoites (ἀρσενοκοίτης), which means “to bed men.” Paul used the same word found in the Septuagint and uses it to tell them that those who identify with this behavior will not inherit the kingdom of God.
An omission of historical precedent In his observation: In the context of Leviticus, the Lord was prohibiting behavior from the nation of Israel that was already a common practice in the ancient world. For example, there is history that the ancient Egyptians were involved with same-sex acts. This was not only true of Egypt but all of the other nations as well (as observed in the Leviticus passage above). In short the Lord was prohibiting them from conducting themselves with activites that were considered socially acceptable. This was also true of Corinth in the New Testament. The act of a male engaging in sexual acts with another was permissible during the time of the Roman Empire. Observing the context it does not make any sense that the Book of Leviticus would have an “editorial intervention” in an attempt to hide this behavior when it was acceptable and moral among the known world at that time.
This argument presented by Dr. Idan Dershowitz is similar to the serpent who deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden. The serpent approached Eve and the first statement to come out of the serpent’s mouth was the question, “Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the Garden?” (Gen. 3:1) (before the serpent could undermine what God communicated to Adam and Eve the serpent had to place a lack of assurance in their minds regarding the veracity of God’s word). This narrative Dr. Idan Dershowitz is presenting is not about homosexuality or tearing down traditional social constructs in society. This argument is really about the authority of God’s word and how one can undermine what God has clearly said to affirm or validate what God has not sanctioned. Tragically, it is these arguments within the culture that prevent an unbeliever from hearing and recieving the grace of God in the gospel that Christ has died for the sins listed in Leviticus 18 (and 1 Cor. 6:9-11). Furthermore, it may lead a believer to lack assurance in God’s eternal word concerning where one’s identity comes from, much to their own grief.
Let us as believers be confident in the word that God has revealed. promoting the truth as He has given it to us, knowing that by the promotion of this truth God is truly glorified. Amen.
Until next time…
Soli Deo Gloria!