Thursday, February 25, 2010

Leviticus 18

Today's reading from the One Year Bible includes a controversial passage in Leviticus 18 (especially verse 22, which declares homosexual acts to be an "abomination" (Heb: to'ebah, Grk: bdelugma, Lat: abominatio).

This passage is often mocked and discounted as irrelevant because of various arcane laws (such as dietary restrictions and various codes of ritual purity) cited elsewhere in the Book of Leviticus that are not considered binding upon New Testament believers. This famous Letter to Dr. Laura is one particularly snarky example.

Today's postmodern moral code that there is no absolute right and wrong, and that nothing is abominable (with exceptions for politically incorrect issues like "global-warming denial" or lack of sufficient reverence for "diversity") does not deal well with the notion that some of the Levitical laws are indeed universal statements of morality that still speak authoritatively today.

Leviticus 18 spends a good bit of ink on prohibiting incest (verses 6-18). And yet with few exceptions, most people (at least viscerally) indeed find such behavior abominable and disordered. Verse 19 deals with sexuality involving the woman's menstrual cycle (in terms of ritual uncleanness) - blood being a highly symbolic religious image to the Israelites - calling to mind the curse given to Eve in Genesis 3:16 that reproduction would become a matter of pain for her. This is an example of ritual law. Interestingly, the woman suffering from the issue of blood who touched Jesus (e.g. Matt 9:20-22), instead of being berated by Him for making Him "unclean," our Lord praised her for her faith (verse 22). A few verses later, Jesus touched a dead body without becoming "unclean" (verse 25). Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial laws of "clean" and "unclean" - while at the same time continuing to uphold the timeless moral laws of sanctity of marriage and chastity (Matt 5:32) - which Jesus argues is a universal matter (e.g. Mark 10:9) based on God's created distinction between male and female and the biological realities involved in procreation.

Interestingly, in verse 21 - just one verse prior to the much-maligned homosexuality reference - the Levitical code prohibits child sacrifice (as worshipers of Molech were wont to do). And while most people would tend to agree that this is a universal moral principle, the modern law of the land allows for children to be sacrificed to the god "Choice," so long as the child is little and helpless enough. Out of sight and out of mind.

Immediately after verse 22, Leviticus addresses yet another sexual abomination: bestiality.

So, to recap, the Leviticus 18 declaration that homosexuality is an abomination is sandwiched between the condemnation of incest, child sacrifice, and bestaility - but we are to somehow believe that verse 22 is not a universal moral law related to the sanctity of marriage, but is more along the lines of Jewish dietary restrictions or things like not weaving two different fabrics together? Come on!

This is the kind of self-delusion caused by a hardness of heart and a desire to draw conclusions out of thin air for self-serving reasons.

It's important to read the Word of God in context and not just quote a verse here and a verse there as though the Bible were a collection of individual cookie fortunes pulled at random.

1 comment:

Jon M. Ellingworth said...

Fr. H., thank you for this post! I'm preparing to teach Leviticus and appreciate your insights on how admonitions should be understood. Very clear indeed.