Tag Archives: abomination

A Lot of Things are an Abomination (LGBT 10)

The Hebrew translated “abomination” is tôêvah. Tôêvah is used in the Hebrew Bible for idolatry and practices related to it (Deut 7:25-26; 13:14; 27:15; Isa 44:19). It is also used for temple prostitution (1 Kings 14:24), child sacrifice (Jer 32:35; Ezek 16:20-22), adultery (Ezek 33:26), incest (Ezek 22:11) and illegal marriage (Deut 24:1-4). The word is also used for stealing and murder in Jeremiah 7:9-10 and a reaction violence and robbery, which are deserving of the death penalty, in Ezekiel 18:10-13. So the English word “abomination” does not fall far from the sense of the Hebrew. It refers to things and activities that are reprehensible, detestable, loathsome, and worthy of disgust. Upon first reading, it is hard to imagine allowing any LGBT person into the church. But texts read in isolation or out of context can be damaging and hurtful. This is also the case with the use of these texts in Leviticus.

The Hebrew tôêvah is used widely in the Bible for things that are not seen so reprehensibly in the modern context, and this needs to be taken into account as well. A crucial text is Proverbs 6:16-19: “There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination [tôavath—same Hebrew word with a different grammatical ending] to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” Here you find typical “abominations” like murder and evil, but also many “vegetarian” sins, widely practiced in church; looks of pride and superiority, planning actions that are wrong in God’s eyes, gossip, and falsehood. Committing “abomination” is not reserved for sins that are considered especially reprehensible, the word is used fairly broadly for things we often tolerate in the church and can easily recognize in ourselves; taking advantage of someone in shopping or business deals (Deut 25:13-16; Prov 11:1), falsehood of any kind (Prov 12:22), eating anything that isn’t “kosher” (Deut 14:3ff.—even clean meats today are not usually processed in the biblical fashion).

The takeaway is that using the “clobber texts” of Leviticus to single out homosexuals for disgust or hatred is to not tell the truth about God and His view of human failings. God does not arbitrarily pick out select practices for special disgust or hatred, He is stirred up by every violation of the created order, including the ones that we consider “white lies” or “vegetarian” sins. We must avoid the idea that God is deeply offended by sin because He is not getting His way. God is offended by sin because violations of the created order introduce a poison into human society and relationships that harms everyone and everything. Sin is sin because it is self-destructive, harming all the creatures God has made. Things that are not ideal are reprehensible because of the collective impact they have had on God’s creation. But the full picture of God is not summed up in these “clobber texts,” they need to be read in the context of the One who said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). That same One also washed the feet of Judas the traitor, and not only Judas, but Peter, the lovable screw-up we can all identify with, even the saintly ones among us. Whatever we have to say to LGBTIQ people, we need to say from a standpoint of common brokenness. I believe that to speak as if we are superior because of our orientation is to speak a lie and that is an abomination unto the Lord.

As we go through some difficult texts, we need to remember the biblical tension between the ideal and the real. The Bible is not shy about stating the ideal and the consequences of violating God’s ideal. But it also shows the compassion of Jesus Christ for those mired in the real (John 8:3-11). The Bible balances the ideal with deep grace and compassion for those violate the ideal, whether by inheritance or by cultivation. In all our dealing with LGBT people we need to remember that we all are souls for whom Christ died (Rom 14:15; 1 Cor 8:11).

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?