Examining Joel Hoffman's Arguments about Homosexuality and the Bible

Last time I posted, I began an examination of the claims of Joel Hoffman that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. I have already given my reasons for rejecting Hoffman's relativistic claim that those who argue that homosexuality is a sin are somehow arguing from preconceptions and not from the Bible. So, the question becomes: is the view of the individuals who believe homosexual marriage is Biblically proscribed more correctly understanding the Bible or is Hoffman? Hoffman argues that the incorrect reading of Leviticus shows that people who oppose homosexual marriage are wrong. He says,
The first comes from the many people who use Leviticus 18:22 — about a “man who lies with man as with a woman” — to defend anti-homosexual positions. (For some reason, this stance seems particularly popular among mega-church leaders, who really ought to know better: Rick Warren, for example, or Joel Osteen, who recently told CNN that the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin.)

It’s true that Leviticus 18:22 seems to discourage homosexuality, and though it stops short of specifically calling it a sin (which is why I think Pastor Osteen is wrong — more here), I’m not convinced by those who try to interpret the text as being about anything other than homosexuality.

But the very same section of the Bible also prohibits making clothes by combining different materials (Leviticus 19:19), technically known as sha’atnez.

So unless Pastor Warren, Pastor Osteen, and those of their ilk are willing to take a public and vehement position against wool-and-cotton clothing, I have no patience for their argument that they are locked into their anti-homosexual position by the Bible. They are not. They are choosing the verses they like, and, apparently, they like to hate homosexuality.

For a Biblical scholar, Hoffman's post shows a remarkable lack of discernment. First, let me acknowledge that Hoffman is correct: Leviticus 18:22 does not use the word "sin" in reference to homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 reads: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." The word "abomination" means "a vile, shameful, or detestable action, condition, habit, etc." The Hebrew word translated as "abomination" is "תּוֹעֵבָה" or "tow`ebah" which is tranlated "a disgusting thing, abomination, abominable." The same word is translated by the NASB in Leviticus 20:13 as a detestable act.

Now, I guess you can all me crazy, but I tend to think that an act that is called detestable, disgusting, vile or shameful can be categorized as a sin even if the word "sin" isn't used. I have already set forth my understanding of "sin" in a post entitled What is Sin and How Can I Explain It? As I said in that post, sin is "missing the mark", i.e., anything that a person does that is not perfectly consistent with what God would do in the same circumstances "misses the mark" and is therefore sin. Obviously, if the Scriptures (which are the Word of God) say that something is vile, detestable, disgusting and/or shameful, it cannot possibly not be a sin as I understand it.

Moreover, even Hoffman acknowledges that the Leviticus verse identifies lying with a man as one lies with a woman as a bad thing. Hoffman links an article in his blog entry entitled Who Says Homosexuality is a Sin? on a website that he apparently authors entitled God Didn't Say That: Bible Translations and Mistranslations as further support for his position. This article provides more of the same, but in more detail in a response to the New Living Translation translating tow`ebah as a "detestable sin" instead of abomination. Hoffman argues that translating tow`ebah in that fashion is an interpretation and not a translation. In other words, it is adding editorial comment to the verse rather than allowing the verse to speak for itself. But, at the same time, he admits that the verse is probably applying to homosexuality (although limited to male homosexuality in its lanugage) and he further agrees that the word "abomination" is probably appropriate for the description. He writes:
The Hebrew word to’evah occurs often enough that it’s not hard to figure out what it means. For example, in Genesis 43:32, the Egyptians don’t eat with the Hebrews because it is a to’evah for the Egyptians. Similarly, “every shepherd” is a to’evah to the Egyptians according to Genesis 46:34. Deuteronomy 14:3 helps us out further: “Do not eat any to’evah”; from context the to’evah is unkosher animals. Proverbs 21:27 teaches that the sacrifice of the wicked is a to’evah. In the moving lament in Psalm 88, verse 9 (also numbered verse 8, and in the LXX numbered Psalm 87:9) includes the woe that God has made the author a to’evah to his acquaintances.All of this evidence — and more — points in the direction of "undesirable thing" for to’evah. The standard translation "abomination" is probably mostly right. (I sometimes wonder if “taboo” was included in the meaning.)
Okay, so where is Hoffman really in disagreement with Osteen? Certainly, Hoffman correctly notes that the Bible doesn't use the word "sin", but his own argument shows that he agrees when Osteen attributes to the Bible the perfectly reasonable conclusion that it is a sin because it is clearly called an abomination which would seem to necessarily include sin. Okay, so the word sin isn't used in Leviticus 18:22, but is Osteen ultimately wrong if we don't split hairs?

But, Hoffman might respond, even if we don't split hairs, the Bible also identifies the combining of cloths as a sin, doesn't it? Obviously, Hoffman argues, we don't hold the same vehemence against wool-and-cotton clothing so homosexuality isn't a sin. With all due respect, this is a poor argument for several reasons.

First, the argument is logically flawed. If I read a book that correctly identifies a Corvette as a car in one chapter, but wrongly identifies a John Deere as a car in another chapter, does that mean that a Corvette is not a car? No, of course not. So, even if it were the case that the combining of two materials in clothing is identified as a sin when it really is not a sin (which I think is a wrong reading of the text), does that mean that homosexuality is also not a sin? It does not appear to follow.

Along the same line, why does Hoffman have to search for the two different materials verse to show that homosexuality is wrong? What Hoffman calls "the very same section of the Bible" (Leviticus 19:19) is actually the next chapter, Why doesn't he choose some of the nearby verses in chapter 18 such as the verses that says the children should not be offered as sacrifices to Molech (verse 21), the verse that says you shouldn't sleep with your neighbors wife (verse 20), the verse that says you shouldn't have sex with animals (veres 23) -- all of which are closer to the homosexuality verse than the two types of cloth verse? Well, obviously, it is because these activities are almost universally acknowledged as wrong.

Moreover, Hoffman is not even right in suggesting that the wearing of clothing made of two different materials somehow applies to 21st Century Christians. Leviticus 19:19 says, "You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material." So, is the cross-breeding of cattle and planting two different types of seeds in a single field a prohibition of these same things in the 21st Century? Pastor Warren, Pastor Osteen "and others of their ilk" would seem to be justified in saying that this is not the same thing. Here's why: The laws of the Old Testament can roughly be put into three categories. According to the New Advent Encyclopedia,

The Divine Law of the Old Testament, or the Mosaic Law, is commonly divided into civil, ceremonial, and moral precepts. The civil legislation regulated the relations of the people of God among themselves and with their neighbours; the ceremonial regulated matters of religion and the worship of God; the moral was a Divine code of ethics.

The ceremonial law was clearly designed to separate the Hebrew people from the other, pagan societies that would be surrounding them. These laws in include the Verse 19:19 seems quite clearly to be a shadowing or type of God's desire that the people of Israel should remain separate and distinct from the cultures around them. Thus, there are verses against mixing of certain things (two different seeds in the same field, two different breeds of cattle, and two different types of cloth in the same garment) which seem to be a ceremonial law which emphasizes the idea that God's people should not mix with the pagan cultures around them.

Allow me make a brief side note: in saying that homosexuality is identified as a sin, I am not saying that it is a worse sin than any other. While I think that an argument can be made that the word "abomination" makes it worse sins (and it seems that Jesus makes it clear that some sins are considered worse than others in Matthew 18:6), I am not certain that I agree with those arguments and am not advancing them here. So, by saying that homosexuality is a sin, I am not saying that people who claim a homosexual orientation or engage in a homosexual act should be treated any worse than a person who commits the sin of giving to the needy for show and not out of love which is also a sin (Matthew 6:2).

So, it seems to me that the very foundation of Joel Hoffman's argument is flawed. While I am no fan of Osteen, Hoffman's definitely loses this battle.


JB Chappell said…
The Torah applies to Jews. It does not apply to Gentiles, period. Never did. The expectations of Gentiles were different: these were found in the Noahide Laws, which were also reflected in the instructions James gives at the Jerusalem Council in Acts & Galatians.

However, one of the expectations was that you would not be sexually immoral. So, it is relevant to discern here whether or not it was a moral universal, or just a ceremonial/civil precept.

I agree that given the context, the law is probably moral. After all, it follows child sacrifice and precedes bestiality. I'm pretty sure those are not ceremonial concerns. However, I've also heard convincing arguments made that the concept here could be referring to pederasty, not homosexuality in general. But that seemingly ignores Chapter 20, where the same language is used in metering out the punishment: death. So, one would think that God, in His wisdom, would not rule that a child should have to die for being abused. Right?

Well, except for all the other passages where people can't really be held for responsible for things (bestiality, for instance), but they still have to die. So, there's no reason to think why that wouldn't be the case. Man has sex with animal? Kill them both. Man has sex with boy? Kill them both. Man marries both his wife and her mother (neither of whom probably had any say)? Burn 'em. Oh, and don't forget the other moral universal mentioned in the same context (in Ch. 20): having sex with a woman on her period. At least there's no death penalty for that one, though.

So, if we're going to say that the context here dictates a moral law, then we have to be prepared to that homosexuality *IS* a worse sin than others... so much so in fact, that those who commit it need to be executed. Oh, and anyone who has sex with a woman on her period needs to be exiled.

Or, are we going to say that the rules are moral, but the consequences are civil? Seems to me that's just picking and choosing.
JB Chappell said…
Sorry, just realized I referred to animals as "people" above... my bad. I think my point was still apparent, though... which is that we wouldn't necessarily consider an animal morally culpable for bestiality, yet apparently they need to be put to death for having taken part in the act. With that logic... well, yikes...
BK said…
Interesting comment, JB. TO answer your question, I think that the punishment was set to meter out the fact that God does take it seriously. In fact, this is probably the strongest argument for saying that homosexuality is a more reprehensible sin than others in God's eyes. And there is, in addition, a purification involved which is why both of the parties pay -- even the non-responsible party.

Interesting comment.

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