It Is an Abomination (LGBT 9)

I turn now to what some have called the “clobber texts” of the Bible (Gen 19:1-15; Lev 18:22; 20:13; Rom 1:18-32; 1 Cor 6:9-11). These are the one’s people use to clobber anyone they perceived as different, particularly in terms of gender or sexuality. Two of these texts are in the book of Leviticus.

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (tôêvah– Lev 18:22). Clearly this text is speaking to men, calling male to male sex and “abomination.” That is a very loaded and negative word in today’s English. A similar text is Leviticus 20:13: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination (tôêvah); they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” Here the word “abomination” is combined with a death sentence. The immediate impression is that there is something uniquely reprehensible about same sex activity, at least male to male activity. I note, first of all, that the text does not address same sex orientation, it addresses a specific activity, a sexual act similar to that of a man with a woman. And it clearly calls such an act an “abomination” (Hebrew: tôêvah).

In English the word “abomination” originated in the Latin and means a thing or an activity that causes disgust or hatred, detestable things or actions, something exceptionally sinful, vile or loathsome. There is no sugar-coating the English term. The activity described in these texts is considered reprehensible. There is no getting around it. Read without context or nuance, it would seem to justify the kinds of hateful reactions toward gays that have arisen from certain extremist churches in the news. But is abomination an appropriate translation of the Hebrew in these texts? Or does the English term color the situation in ways that might surprise us?

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