What the Bible says about ‘Sex’!
Leviticus 18: 1 – 24; Romans 1: 16 – 27
I had a strong sense that I should focus on a growing concern I have. Every time I switch to a news commentary programme on TV or talkback radio the subject comes up. Well, it seems like every time and the same claims are made. The insulting denigrations of the Bible are uttered. And what the Bible doesn’t say is trotted out as something that it does say. It concerns and annoys me that a half-truth becomes a full truth resulting in belittling the Bible. I’m referring to the alleged claim of Israel Folau who has stated that homosexuals will go to hell.
I put up a post on my ‘Facebook’ stating that the Bible doesn’t say that homosexuals are going to hell; that the Bible doesn’t understand the concept of homosexuality; that I am saddened by the silence of Church leaders on this matter and it has nothing to do with religious freedom. In the four passages of Scripture in Leviticus [18 & 20], Genesis , Judges  and Romans  hell is not mentioned in connection with sexual acts between same-sex people. Now we can easily dismiss the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 and Gibeah in Judges 19. They are not stories about homosexuality, as we know it today, but about the custom of heterosexual men raping men as an act of terror. We call that buggery and it is not uncommonly used as a weapon of terror in war zones even in our time.
The Leviticus and Romans references certainly aim at same-sex intercourse. Not surprisingly the act is condemned. That has been true right up to the end of the 20th Century. However by the end of the 20th Century many Western countries decriminalised homosexuality as we had come to understand that homosexuality is not a matter of choice but a natural sexual orientation for some of the population. A simple test is to ask yourself if you chose to be heterosexual. What homosexual people choose is to declare what they have known since their awareness of sexuality. They have had to struggle against the conventional wisdom of a heterosexual society. That is, if your gender is male then you are sexually male and vice a versa. Today homosexuality refers to a same-sex oriented person desiring a relationship with another of a similar orientation, just as heterosexual people desire heterosexual relationships.
What is the Bible talking about when they refer to same-sex coupling? We can’t get away from the fact that such an act was taboo, but still the references in the Bible are specific. The references in Leviticus [18:22; 20:13] and Romans [1:27] are respectively about ritual cleanliness for worship and eroticism. Leviticus 18 is all about how God’s people should behave and keep themselves pure to worship God. In the opening verses of Leviticus 18 God’s people are told not to behave like the Egyptians and the Canaanites. In Canaan the popular religion was the worship of fertility gods. Part of the fertility cult’s worship involved sexual acts which were both hetero and homo-sexual. They also conducted sexual acts with animals. The context is a wild erotic culture. It is a step too far to conclude that this is a condemnation of homosexuality as we understand it today. It is a condemnation of fertility cult practices.
Romans 1 also condemns same-sex relationships and sex with animals! The context is about seeking erotic experiences [See Plato’s ‘Symposium]. Let us hear what Scripture says. In Leviticus we read; You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. You shall not have sexual relations with any animal and defile yourself with it, nor shall any woman give herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it: it is perversion. [Lev 18:22,23] In Romans we read: Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. [Rom 1: 26,27] To simply conclude from these texts that God condemns homosexuality is a step too far.
Notice too, that hell is not mentioned. Such behaviour taking place for fertility cult rites and erotic experiences is condemned along with touching a woman with a menstrual flow and child sacrifice. What I find interesting is the list of sexual activities carrying the death penalty in Leviticus. Yes, same-sex sexual activity carries the death penalty for both and equally so for a man who lies with his daughter-in-law, his father’s wife, or his mother-in-law or an animal. In each case both the man and the woman or other person or animals are to be put to death. Adultery carries the death penalty! We also read that a man shall be excommunicated from the community if he uncovers the nakedness of others and if he lies with a woman who has her menstrual flow [Lev 18:20]. If we are going to jump to literal conclusions about one thing shouldn’t we include the others?
Adultery in the Bible is rightly condemned because it is an unfaithful and a selfish act. However the Bible is a complex book and we cannot avoid the episode of adultery and murder committed by David with Bathsheba. For all of King David’s dastardly acts he remains a revered Biblical figure. And there is that instance of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. Jesus says to those who would stone her – the Law at that time allowed this and I am not sure where the man was – those who are without sin can throw the first stone. No one dares to pick up a stone and Jesus sends her away with just a word not to do it again [Jn 8:1-11]. It seems that Jesus wasn’t ready to respond to the letter of the Law, but rather to respond with grace and mercy.
I hope you can see three things here. Firstly, these references refer to a very primitive time in the development of God’s people where faith in the One God was corrupted by fertility cults, which encouraged eroticism. Secondly, we are not talking about homosexuality. Thirdly, ‘hell’ is simply not mentioned in connection with these instances implying no eternal punishment.
The second issue is the silence of the Church. In the current public conversation Church Leaders have been silent. I am mystified as to why they haven’t come out and at least modified or corrected what Folau has said and what the media promuilgated about homosexuals going to hell. Is it that the media decided not to publish the voice of the Church? Or, is it because the Church leaders don’t care or don’t understand the issues?
The third issue is the matter of religious freedom. It seems that one group in the Church wants to claim the religious freedom to make hurtful and offensive statements. This is worrying and we should pay particular attention to what the Government will do. The last thing we need is a law that permit hurtful comments erroneously based on religious beliefs.
Finally, a word about God’s Judgement. Firstly, we all will be judged. No one will escape judgement. God has always set up standards to meet and it is logical that we will face some form of assessment regarding our response to what God expects of us. Does that mean we will get a score-card and those who fail go to some eternal punishment? I haven’t a clue. No one has. But I strongly suspect it won’t be like that. What I do know, partly because the Bible tells me and secondly because I have experienced it, is that God will forgive and give us life if we sincerely turn to God. I know I am saved by faith in Jesus, not by my own doing. My salvation rests entirely upon the gracious love of God in Christ Jesus. I understand that a merciful God will judge all both the person who has accepted Christ Jesus into their life and those who have rejected Christ Jesus or don’t know him.
As I said, I don’t know more than that. However I do know from Scripture about God ‘s judgment. Psalm 30: 5 tell us that God’s anger lasts but a twinkling of an eye, but his mercy endures forever. I know that Jesus judged the tax collectors to be worthy of his company. The Jewish population saw tax collectors as traitors and thieves because they collected taxes for the enemy. I know that Jesus judged that the untouchables like lepers and women with a flow of blood could be touched, that a woman who had five husbands and was living with another man was worthy of his company and conversation, and that a woman caught in an adulterous act was treated with mercy. What is worrying is that Jesus reserved his harshest condemnation for religious leaders who were legalistic in their application of God’s law. What is worrying is that Jesus expected much from his followers and we need to see we love our neighbour.
With respect to hell, the following insight came to me this week. We have a choice to either enter eternity either in a spirit of thankfulness to God, or enter eternity with a spirit of regret because we did not trust God. I am not at all convinced by an eternal fiery damnation, but I am entirely convinced that God is merciful and that God in Christ Jesus was crucified and raised because of an overwhelming and indescribable love for the likes of me.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC: 07/07/2019