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Homosexuality in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)

Leviticus 20:13


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This verse is very similar to Leviticus 18:22 which we discuss in greater detail in another section. You might want to read the series of essays in that section first.


Overview of Leviticus 20:13:

This is almost identical to Leviticus 18:22. In transliterated Hebrew, the verse is written: "V'ish asher yishkav et zachar mishk'vei ishah to'evah asu shneihem mot yumatu d'meihem bam." However, it adds a compulsory death penalty to the participants. In various translation the passage has been translated:

  • ASV: (American Standard Version, 1901) "And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."
  • Darby: (J.N. Darby Translation, 1890): "And if a man lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall certainly be put to death; their blood is upon them."
  • ESV: (English Standard Version): "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them."
  • HNV: (Hebrew Names Version): "If a man lies with a male, as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."
  • KJV: (King James Version): "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them."
  • LB: (Living Bible): "The penalty for homosexual acts is death to both parties. They have brought it upon themselves."
  • NASB: (New American Standard Bible): "'If {there is} a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them. "
  • Net Bible: "If a man has sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman, the two of them have committed an abomination. They must be put to death; their blood guilt is on themselves." 1
  • NIV: (New International Version) "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."
  • NKJV: (New King James Version) "If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them."
  • NLT: (New Living Translation): "The penalty for homosexual acts is death to both parties. They have committed a detestable act, and are guilty of a capital offense."
  • RSV: (Revised Standard Version): "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them."
  • Webster: (Noah Webster Version, 1833): "If a man also shall lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood [shall be] upon them."
  • Young: (Robert Young Literal Translation, 1898) "And a man who lieth with a male as one lieth with a woman; abomination both of them have done; they are certainly put to death; their blood [is] on them."

Death is sometimes required by the Hebrew Scriptures as the punishment for ritual transgressions. These included the worshiping of other Gods, gathering sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36), improper eating of ritual offerings (Numbers 18:32), ineligible persons acting as priests (Num 3:10). 

Over the last few centuries, most Christians and Jews have rejected Leviticus 20:13.  They no longer call on the death penalty for homosexuals. Only Christian Reconstructionists and a few Christian hate groups wish to revert to mass executions of gays and lesbians today.


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Various interpretations of Leviticus 20:13:

  • Conservative Christians generally interpret the passage as condemning all male homosexual activity. Some would extend it to lesbians as well. A comment on the capital punishment aspect of this passage by an Evangelical authority is: 
    • T.Crater: stated that the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) are a covenant between God and Israel, which also set up a civil state and decreed its laws. The Christian Scriptures (New Testament) is an agreement "between God and a multinational body called the church. It is not a state, so it doesn't engage in state functions like capital punishment." 2 Thus, the death penalty called for in Leviticus 20:13 is no longer binding for Christians.
  • Liberal Christians Some comments on the death penalty aspect of this passage by pastors and academics taking a liberal position are:
    • J. Nelson: "It is grounded in the old Jewish understanding that women are less worthy than men. For a man to have sex with another man 'as with a woman' insults the other man, because women are to be treated as property." She added that this passage is not part of the 10 Commandments, but merely part of almost 600 additional rules put forth via Israel's religious leaders.
    • D. Bartlett: "Nobody I know, even the most conservative, is saying homosexuals should be executed. I think people who think they take the Bible literally don't take it so literally as to want to execute people."
    • Krister Stendahl: "If you look at the whole chapter, a lot of things come in for capital punishment that no Southern Baptist would argue that capital punishment is appropriate for. So their reading is a little selective." 2
Many religious liberals believe that this passage does not refer to all homosexual behavior, but only to a specific form of homosexual prostitution - that performed in a Pagan temple.
  • National Gay Pentecostal Alliance (NGPA) interpretation: They state that a word-for-word translation of this verse from the original Hebrew is:

 "And a man who will lie down with a male in beds of a woman, both of them have made an abomination; dying they will die. Their blood is on them." 3

In modern English this could be translated as:

"If two men engage in homosexual sex while on a woman's bed, both have committed an abomination. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."

This does not generally forbid homosexual behavior between two men. It only limits where the act can be done.


References:

  1. Net Bible® is a new translation by The Biblical Studies Foundation. It is available online and in printed form. See: http://www.netbible.com/
  2. Fred Tasker, "What does the Bible say about homosexuality?", Philadelphia Inquirer, 1997-JUL-13. The article was based on an earlier survey of religions opinion of six theologians and religious leaders covering the range from conservative to liberal thought:
    • David Bartlett, professor at Yale Divinity School
    • Rev. Timothy Crater of the National Association of Evangelicals
    • Reuven Kimelman, professor of near Eastern and Judaic studies at Brandeis University.
    • R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Seminary
    • The Rev. Jill Nelson, pastor of the Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church
    • Krister Stendahl, ex-dean of Harvard Divinity School.
  3. Anon, "What does Leviticus 18:22 really say?", Pamphlet, National Gay Pentecostal Alliance (NGPA), P.O. Box 20428, Ferndale, MI. 48220. Phone: 248-544-4442. They have an Internet presence at Yahoo Groups, at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ChristianandGay/

    The NGPA has merged with Apostolic Intercessory Ministry; both groups are now known as Apostolic Restoration Mission. See: http://www.apostolicrestorationmission.4t.com/


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Copyright © 1976 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-SEP-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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