God designed and created human sexuality, and He prescribes how sexuality is to be expressed. Leviticus 18:22 mandates that men shall not lie with men, for example. This passage and its context invite readers to understand whether or not Leviticus 18:22 refers to homosexuality and, if so, what the implications are for contemporary human sexuality.
Much of Exodus and Leviticus focuses on the communication of God’s law for Israel through Moses. The Law of Moses (or Mosaic Law) consists of more than six hundred rules for Israel to follow in order to be separate from surrounding nations, to illustrate God’s holiness, and to show how problematic sin is. Leviticus 18 includes rules to keep the people of Israel from behaving like the peoples of Egypt and Canaan (Leviticus 18:3). Instead, the people of Israel were to obey God’s law—because He was the Lord their God (Leviticus 18:4).
Leviticus 18 includes a number of restrictions on sexual behavior, including these:
• a prohibition of “uncovering the nakedness” of blood relatives and close relatives (Leviticus 18:6–17)
• a prohibition of sex with women who are menstruating (Leviticus 18:19)
• a prohibition of marrying a woman and her sister (Leviticus 18:18)
• a prohibition of adultery (Leviticus 18:20)
• a prohibition of bestiality (Leviticus 18:23)
• a prohibition of sacrificing to the false god Molech (Leviticus 18:21)
• an instruction that men shall not lie with men as a man would lie with a woman (Leviticus 18:22)
The context seems plain enough that the command “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman” in Leviticus 18:22 refers to acts of homosexuality, since Leviticus 18:6–23 only includes offenses of a sexual nature. While the prohibition of sacrifice to Molech is not explicitly sexual in nature, the implication by inclusion in this context is that such a ritual involved sexual activity. Some suggest that the reference to Molech-worship somehow implies a prohibition of homosexual prostitution and not of committed homosexual relationships. However, Leviticus 18:22 in this context seems to be a clear reference to homosexuality in general. Some translations make this unambiguous: “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman” (NLT).
Leviticus 20 adds specificity to these sexual regulations and prohibits adultery (Leviticus 20:10), lying with one’s mother (Leviticus 20:11), lying with one’s daughter-in-law (Leviticus 20:12), and males lying with males (Leviticus 20:13). The same terminology is used in Leviticus 18:22 as is used in Leviticus 20:13. If these two passages are referring to prostitution only, then the prohibitions only forbid prostitution with a neighbor’s wife, a mother, a daughter-in-law, and a man—in other words, sexual activity within those relationships is not actually prohibited in this section of the Law of Moses. But the context of both passages clearly restricts sexual activity and not commerce. Homosexuality is characterized as “detestable” and is distinctly prohibited in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.
While the Law of Moses was fulfilled by Christ on the cross (Ephesians 2:15) and that Law is no longer in effect (Galatians 3:24–25), it is evident that God’s view of homosexual acts has not changed—homosexuality is still a violation of God’s design for humanity (see Romans 1; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10). It is also important to recognize that God’s love for humanity (John 3:16) is greater than our failings, and Christ died for all—including those who struggle with homosexual desires and those who have acted on those desires. While God’s design for men and women does not include homosexuality, in His grace He saves all who believe in Christ—including those who are homosexual (1 Corinthians 6:11). God has provided for salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9) and then asks all who have believed to walk in a manner worthy of that calling (Ephesians 4:1). As children of God, we no longer walk in our old ways of sin.