Readings of Leviticus 20:13 vary

Guest Columnist

Outdated and inaccurate translations cause mis-judgement over sexuality


Students at SPU have varying beliefs about what’s acceptable when it comes to sexual practices.

The three authors of this blog are all straight, cisgendered women, so it is important to note that we cannot speak for the perspectives of other sexual orientations.

That being said, the three of us have diverse opinions on how Leviticus 20:13, which says “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads,” should be read.

We’ve decided to ease into this topic by first establishing where we agree.

First, we agree that Jesus came to redeem humanity, because God unconditionally loves all humanity.

Second, we agree that as followers of Christ we are called to wrestle with the text we are given, the experiences we have, and the context within which we are placed so that we can unveil what God is telling us today, in this very moment.

Finally, and with vital importance, we agree that sexuality is not bad.

Sexuality, or our identification as sexual beings, can often be a place of shame, embarrassment, hiding and captivity. We agree God calls us into freedom in every area of our lives — including our sexuality.

So, what are the arguments for and against homosexuality in Leviticus 20:13?

It is common theological doctrine that God’s freedom lies in God’s word to us. If we read this text literally, it commands us not to lie with people of the same sex — plain and simple.

In support of this argument, Leviticus 20:13 calls us into tension with our surrounding culture.

The Israelites are not to follow the customs of the other nations, but rather to hold holy the commandments in tension with the surrounding culture.

Many Christians use the excuse that the Old Law is outdated, and therefore pick and choose what to accept and reject from Leviticus; for example, it is no longer necessary to offer sacrifices to atone for our sins.

But this idea can’t accurately be applied here because Leviticus 20:13 is surrounded by other holiness commandments dealing with sexuality which are still held in the church today: not sleeping with one’s sibling, parent, or other relative; not committing adultery with another’s spouse; etc.

To view this verse in support of homosexuality, it is important to notice that most English translations don’t fully encompass what this verse says in Hebrew.

The verse literally says, “If there is a man, “ish,” who lies with a male, “zakar,” as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act.”

The Hebrew words describing man and male have vastly different meanings. “Ish” is a more common, literal term for man, but the term “zakar” is much more nuanced. “Zakar” can mean “male organ,” which would be an objectification of the man.

It can also mean “a male competent to worship,” which might connote idolatry of the body or sexual practices for worship. (Some pagan religions of that time practiced orgies as worship to their gods.)

Leviticus 20:13 might not be forbidding homosexual relationships at all, but might instead forbid objectification of the human body and idolatry through orgies.

With both arguments presented, where do we go from here? Even in Seattle we have diverse churches that believe and advocate for different doctrine.

This creates a gaping hole of isolation and confusion between the people of the Church, between the Church and God, and in how the Church loves others. If we turn our eyes back to Jesus, we see that he loved all people unconditionally.

If we turn our eyes back to Jesus, we might stop looking for a black and white answer, a way to prove others wrong, a way to stand higher than others.

If we turn our eyes back to Jesus, we stop looking at the issue of homosexuality, and start looking at the person.

Can we as the Church, admit that we have stopped looking at the person behind the issue, and have just seen the conflict?

If so, then can we bring God into our struggle, finding room in our theologies for conversation? When we turn our eyes back to Jesus, we see his heart for his people. In the process we learn how to love God and love others better.