The prohibitions in Leviticus don’t apply to Christians.
Leviticus 18:22 prohibits male same-sex intercourse, and Leviticus 20:13 prescribes the death penalty for violators. But Christians have never lived under the Old Testament law.
- The Old Testament contains 613 commandments for God’s people to follow. Leviticus includes rules about offerings, clean and unclean foods, diseases, bodily discharges, sexual taboos, and priestly conduct.
- But the New Testament teaches that Christ’s death and resurrection fulfilled the law, which is why its many rules and regulations have never applied to Christians. Romans 10:4 says, “Christ is the end of the law.” Colossians 2:13-14 says that God "forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.
"By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear." -Hebrews 8:13
Prohibitions of things like mixed fabrics were part of the ceremonial law, but wasn’t the prohibition of male same-sex relations part of the moral law?
- Some argue that all laws related to sexual conduct carry over to the New Testament, but Leviticus also prohibits sex during a woman’s menstrual period (Leviticus 18:19), which most Christians do not regard as sinful.
- Others suggest that the term “abomination” indicates that same-sex behavior is particularly egregious, but we widely accept other practices that were called abominations: charging interest on loans (Ezekiel 18:13), burning incense (Isaiah 1:13), and eating pork, rabbit, and shellfish. (Deuteronomy 14:3-21).
- Even the death penalty applied to some practices we now accept: working on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2) and charging interest on loans (Ezekiel 18:13). The Old Testament doesn't distinguish between “ceremonial” and “moral” laws.
Doesn't Leviticus prohibit male same-sex behavior for a reason that hasn't changed — God's complementary design of men and women?
- As Hebrew scholar Saul Olyan and rabbinic scholar Daniel Boyarin have argued, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 specifically prohibit male same-sex anal intercourse—not all same-sex acts. That act was seen as uniquely degrading to men, as it placed them in the socially inferior, “female” role.
- In a first-century commentary, Philo inveighed against pederasty, warning that males might suffer “the affliction of being treated like women.” The active partner, too, was “a guide and teacher of those greatest of all evils, unmanliness and... effeminacy.”
- The Talmud, a collection of rabbinic commentaries from the early centuries AD, distinguishes between anal intercourse and other sexual acts between men. Only the former is prohibited in Leviticus, the writers of the Talmud said. They treated other same-sex acts as separate, lesser issues of lust.
- Male same-sex intercourse was prohibited because it subverted patriarchal gender norms of male dominance in a society that devalued women.
Leviticus doesn’t distinguish between active and passive partners. Why?
- Leviticus 24:22 says the Israelites “are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born.” Old Testament scholars Richard Elliott Friedman and Shawna Dolansky argue that the prohibitions of male same-sex relations exist because “by cross-cultural perception, such intercourse would necessarily denigrate the passive partner and violate his equal status under God’s law.” Consequently, both partners would be culpable.
- Leviticus also doesn’t address female same-sex relations, which undermines the belief that male same-sex relations were prohibited because they violate gender complementarity.
Does this mean the Bible is a misogynistic text?
- While patriarchal norms certainly shape the Old Testament text, patriarchy wasn’t unique to ancient Israel. But even though the Old Testament law does not treat men and women equally, there are countercultural elements within the Old Testament, including the presence of women leaders.
- In the New Testament, women like Lydia, Phoebe, Euodia, and Syntyche also hold leadership positions.
"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus." -Galatians 3:28
- In Matthew 19:8, Jesus said, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.”
- As John Piper wrote, “There are laws in the Old Testament that are not expressions of God’s will for all time, but expressions of how best to manage sin in a particular people at a particular time.” That’s also how Christians view slavery and polygamy — and it should be how we view patriarchy as well
- The New Testament witness moves Christians away from patriarchy and toward gender equality (see Galatians 3:28), which means that the rationale for the Leviticus prohibitions does not extend to Christians.