Homosexuality is all over the news these days. The U.S. military was forced to lead the way in accepting this perversion of God’s ideal sexuality. Not long after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down certain provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act, effectively legalizing (forcing) federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Other local and state court decisions have expanded “rights” to homosexuals while taking them away from Christians and others who believe homosexuality is immoral; essentially forcing businesses and organizations to accept and approve of homosexuality or face the consequences of legal and/or civil litigation.
We live in a different world than did our parents and grandparents. The default view of morality is no longer biblical, but could be drawn from any “sacred” source, religious or secular or it could even be dependent only on one’s own personal view. Therefore, it is incumbent on Christians to know and understand what Scripture says about marriage and sexuality to avoid being sucked into our culture’s acceptance of an “anything goes” lifestyle, whether it’s monogamous homosexual relationships or promiscuous heterosexual encounters. Additionally, as more and more pressure is being applied to the Church to accept homosexual relationships as moral, members of the Church need to be prepared to have an answer as to why the Church should maintain its centuries-long condemnation of homosexual activity.
Looking at Scripture’s discussion of marriage, most passages do not declare that marriage is to be between a man and a woman but it is clearly implied. By implication it seems that it is a reasonable assumption that heterosexual marriage is the norm. In the creation narrative, God does not ponder whether to create another man or a woman to be a mate for Adam, but simply and authoritatively creates woman to be Adam’s mate.
Throughout the Old Testament, any discussion or narrative of a marriage relationship is revealed as between a man and a woman. Grant it, there are examples of multiple wives and the use of concubines, but even in these examples (that are not necessarily prescriptive) they are heterosexual relationships and not homosexual.
Later in Genesis in the narrative of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19-20), with which we can relate the similar story found in Judges 19, homosexual activity (along with other sexual perversions) appears to be the reason that Sodom and Gomorrah were so completely destroyed by God. Some argue that it was the desired forced sexual relationship of those seeking to have sexual relations with the visiting angels and guests or even a lack of hospitality, but reading the text in context, it is the homosexual activity which is condemned. Such words as wicked (Genesis 19:7), vile and disgraceful (Judges 19:23) lend themselves to acts more severe than not showing hospitality, getting to know, or wanting merely to be introduced to travelers.
Derrick Bailey and others suggest that the use of the Hebrew word yadha, defined as know, which can mean sexual intercourse, should not be understood as implying homosexual sexual activity in the context of this passage. Bailey states, “Linguistic considerations alone, therefore, lend support to Dr. G. A. Barton’s view that ‘there is no actual necessity’ to interpret ‘know’ in Gen. xix. 5 as equivalent to ‘have coitus with’, and that it may mean no more than ‘get acquainted with’.” However, John Stott successfully challenges this position when he points out that “Although the verb yadha is used in the Old Testament only ten times of sexual intercourse, Bailey omits to mention that six of these occurrences are in Genesis and one in the Sodom story itself about Lot’s daughters, who had not ‘known’ a man (v.8)” indicating that the probability is high that yadha should be understood as meaning sexual relations in these passages.
The New Testament clarification of the Sodom and Gomorrah incident seems to clearly indicate that it was unnatural sexual relations which were the primary sin. For example, Jude 7 states “…Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire” (NIV). According to Stott, for those “… who take the New Testament documents seriously, Jude’s unequivocal reference to the ‘sexual immorality and perversion’ of Sodom and Gomorrah … cannot be dismissed as merely an error copied from Jewish pseudepigrapha.”
The two times that homosexual activity is specifically mentioned in the Old Testament, it is strictly forbidden, adding that it is “detestable” and that the consequence is death (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13). These passages use the Hebrew word Sakab which can mean to lay down on a bed, to recline, to sleep, to lodge, to humble oneself, to die or to have sexual relations. Considering it in context, this passage clearly uses Sakab as “to engage in sexual relations.”
Proponents of homosexuality argue that these Levitical texts refer to ritualistic or idolatrous sexual behavior, so therefore do not apply to committed, monogamous homosexual relationships. However, Flavius Josephus, writing in the first century, supports the belief that this prohibition goes beyond mere ritual or casual homosexual activity when he writes, “But, then, what are our laws about marriage? That law owns no other mixture of sexes but that which nature hath appointed, of a man with his wife, and that this be used only for the procreation of children. But it abhors the mixture of a male with a male; and if any one do that, death is his punishment.”
Derrick Bailey adds, “It is hardly open to doubt that both the laws in Leviticus relate to ordinary homosexual acts between men, and not to ritual or other acts performed in the name of religion.” William J. Webb continues, “A comparison of homosexuality with other sexual-intercourse prohibitions in Scripture reveals that the lack of covenant or the lack of equal-partner status is simply not a substantive issue.” Webb goes on to explain how the Levitical texts on homosexuality as well as those on incest and bestiality are to establish appropriate “sexual boundaries—between humans and animals, between parents and children, as well as between same-sex participants.”
There is little doubt that these verses forbid the practice of homosexuality for the Jewish people. Conflict arises, however, as to whether this prohibition applies to non-Jews, or even to Christians, today. As for enforcing Levitical law on non-Jews and non-Christians, the use of Scripture would be rejected in most cultures. However, it is no secret that the basis of civil law in the West is Judeo-Christian law so it should be seen as foundational to identifying what is right and wrong. Nevertheless, the move of cultural values in many Western societies is away from those espoused by Judeo-Christians so the search for a foundation for moral living in civil society needs to go beyond that of Scripture to natural law and other authoritative sources.
As for Christians applying these Levitical texts to themselves, even if Old Testament law is dismissed by the Christian claiming to be under grace, still the principle can be applied that in God’s eyes, homosexual activity has been established as being “detestable” which in itself should lead one to denounce it as an unacceptable practice. According to William J. Webb:
The cultural environment and Israel’s theocratic setting may have influenced the severity of the Old Testament penal code, which called for the death penalty for homosexual behavior. Yet, the inherent negative assessment of homosexual activity itself retains a transcultural dimension. Thus, at least this prohibitive aspect of the homosexuality texts should be viewed as transcultural and applied as such within the Christian community today.
The sexuality norms of the Jewish culture which either influenced, or were influenced by, the Old Testament texts remained a part of the Jewish and early Christian culture of the first century. In the next section, it will be shown how the New Testament writers and the teachings of Jesus build upon the events and prohibitions of the Old Testament as they relate to sexuality.
 Derrick Sherwin Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (Hamden, CT: Archon Book, 1975), 3.
 John Stott, Same-Sex Partnerships? (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1998), 22.
 Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 275.
 Stott, 22.
 W.E. Vine et al., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), 135.
 Flavius Josephus, “Against Apion, Book II,” in The Works of Josephus, trans. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), 632.
 Bailey, 30.
 William J. Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 250.
 Ibid., 251.
Same-sex kiss: http://www.flickr.com/photos/perspective/7707762058/
Sodom & Gomorrah: http://jimlwright.files.wordpress.com
Hebrew text: http://www.ynet.co.il