Leviticus 18 and 20 ~ Shellfish and Homosexuality

Over the passed few weeks there have been a flurry of articles debating the Bible verses which speak on Homosexuality. Do they ‘really’ talk about homosexuality? Are there ‘really’ any consequences for homosexual acts? Does Jesus ‘really’ ever mention homosexuality? Is the Bible ‘really’ against homosexuality? Interesting enough, there are six verses which have Shellfishbecome so popular in these articles that many have described these verses as ‘The Six Bullets in the Christian Revolver against Homosexuality’. And it has become the task of many bloggers and internet pastors to describe, in many different ways, why these verses do not ‘really’ talk about homosexuality or why these verses ‘really’ ought to be ignored.

I found one article on Huffington Post that was written by Adam Phillips, the Pastor of Christ Church, Oregon. While I do hope to one day write a response to each of his six claims, I will begin by responding to his claims against Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

Before Adam Phillips addresses the content of either Leviticus 18:22 or 20:13, he attempts to contextualize all of the Levitical Laws by claiming:

“The “Levitical laws” are important, foundational commandments for a people looking to survive. For a people on the move. For a people looking to make a way out of no way.

They’re literally on the run  –  an exodus  —  out of Egypt.”

It should first be noted that the laws of God were not handed to Moses between being freed from Egypt and fleeing to the Red Sea. It’s not as though they were being chased by Pharoh’s armies when Moses was commanded by God to tell Aaron to inform the Israelites their dietary regiment. It is not as though the Israelites were dodging arrows and spears while Aaron is yelling, “Johnny – er — Jeremiah, make sure you’re sexually pure while you’re running.” The Israelites are now in ‘the wilderness’, beyond the Red Sea Crossing, passed the armies of Pharaoh, after the completion of the Tabernacle, but before their continuing journey further into the wilderness. The inadequacy of this initial response isn’t only baffling but irrelevant. What if it were the case that while the Israelites were riding the edge of Pharaoh’s spear, God began issuing the Levitical Laws? How does ‘literally being on the run’ have anything to do with the relevancy of God’s command? Even if we were to suppose that the laws were issued in the context of being ‘literally on the run’, the laws themselves were never issued upon the condition of ‘being on the run’. They were the laws the Israelites were to abide by.

Adam Philips continues by claiming,

“And these passages have nothing to do with homosexuality either.”

and then, quoting Jeff Chu’s book Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America, he continues,

“This is not a verse about homosexual love, or being gay. This command is there with all kinds of connotations of adultery, promiscuity, and idol worship from the surrounding nations.”

In other words, the connotation was different sorts of sexual sin. But why don’t we read the both Leviticus 18:19-23 and 20:10-16.
Leviticus 18:19-23 reads:

19 ‘Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness as long as she is in her customary impurity. 20 Moreover you shall not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife, to defile yourself with her. 21 And you shall not let any of your descendants pass through the fire to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. 23 Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion.

and Leviticus 20:10 reads:

10 ‘The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death. 11 The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. 12 If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death. They have committed perversion. Their blood shall be upon them. 13 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. 14 If a man marries a woman and her mother, it is wickedness. They shall be burned with fire, both he and they, that there may be no wickedness among you. 15 If a man mates with an animal, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall kill the animal. 16 If a woman approaches any animal and mates with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood is upon them.

Adam Phillips’ interpretation of these passages appear to commit him to an ‘all or nothing’ approach. Either everything in these passages are “connotations of adultery, promiscuity, and idol worship from the surrounding nations” or they are not. If they are in those connotations, then would it be appropriate to interpret these passages as saying incest, bestiality, and adultery are ONLY prohibited if they are in connotation of adultery, promiscuity, and idol worship? Not only is Phillips’ interpretation hasty, but fails to do justice to the text. He appears to disregard the explicit prohibitions of acts concerning idol worship and acts concerning homosexuality – he blends them together and dismisses what he believes to be unfit for his theology.

Phillips’ concludes by reverting the infamous ‘shellfish ridicule’ by saying,

“And if we want to get all Levitical about it, the same laws dictate that shellfish cannot be eaten (there goes Boston clam chowder and Willapa Bay oysters), mixed fabric garments cannot be worn (I guess I need to burn my Portland Timbers jersey), and sex with animals is strictly forbidden (yep, I totally agree).”

Not only is this perhaps one of the most unsophisticated responses to these verses, there are two obvious objections.

First, allow us to assume Phillip’s is correct – shellfish, mixed fabric garments, and bestiality are equally heinous acts. His off the cuff response appears to say, “Well, since we’re sinning already, why not keep going?” How does this, in any way, form an adequate defense? If anything, this is a disservice to God and His church. What Pastor is ever ordained by God to tell his congregation, “Well, since we’re already sinning, let’s keep doing it.” The only explanation is that he’s an abject failure in meeting the minimum requirements of being a Pastor – knowing God’s word.

Second, why do we not locate these prohibitions in Leviticus and then search for what judgements are listed for the respective acts? The prohibition on Shellfish is found in Leviticus 11:10 and reads:

10 But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you.

The full list of dietary prohibitions in this section begins in Leviticus 11:1 and ends with verses 41-46,

41 ‘And every creeping thing that creeps on the earth shall be an abomination. It shall not be eaten. 42 Whatever crawls on its belly, whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet among all creeping things that creep on the earth—these you shall not eat, for they are an abomination. 43 You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps; nor shall you make yourselves unclean with them, lest you be defiled by them. 44 For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. 45 For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.

46 ‘This is the law of the animals and the birds and every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on the earth, 47 to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten.’”

Question… Where are the judgements? Let’s contrast this with the ending of Leviticus 18 with versus 24-29 (He quoted Leviticus 18:22).

24 ‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. 25 For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. 26 You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you 27 (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), 28 lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. 29 For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.

Have you found the differences? The consequences for the dietary prohibitions, versus the consequences for the sexual prohibitions, are different in two explicit ways. First, the sexual prohibitions are to be extended not only to themselves, but also to “any stranger among you”. Put another way, it appears that while foreigners are not bound by the dietary laws, the foreigners are bound by the sexual laws. And second, the judgment for disobeying the sexual laws is loss of their land (And in Leviticus 20, it is also death), whereas the consequences for disobeying dietary laws is ‘being unclean’ (Where there is a considerable section in Leviticus that deals with making oneself clean again).

Could it be possible the different types of Levitical Laws have different punishments? Is it ‘really’ that far-fetched of a theory? In the United States we have Infractions, Misdemeanors, and Felonies. If it is true that Levitical Laws have different levels of severity, then Adam Phillips’ response to Leviticus would be tantamount to us asking him, “Is murdering your neighbor wrong?” to which he would respond, “Well, don’t you drive over the speed limit?”


2 thoughts on “Leviticus 18 and 20 ~ Shellfish and Homosexuality

  1. That is a fantastic closing argument! I think your distinction among these laws is significant – especially the difference between actions for which atonement and purification could be made, and those for which a person became guilty of their own blood. Thank you for your thoughtful critique! I will be thinking further on the subject.

    Liked by 1 person

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