I have heard some progressive Christians claim that Leviticus 18:22 was only condemning homosexual activities for idolatrous rituals. I know that 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 was using the word "arsenokoitai" which came from Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13.

In Leviticus 18:2-3 it says:

“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes."

There are some people who say that because of these verses, it was condemning the idolatrous practices in Egypt and Canaan which included homosexual sex. Therefore, in this context, it is only referring to homosexual activity that has idolatrous rituals involved. God was only prohibiting the rituals they did in Egypt and Canaan.

We also see in Leviticus 18:21, the verse before, it says:

"You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord."

Some have suggested that because of the context, Leviticus 18:22 is not prohibiting loving same-sex relationships but only ones that relate to pagan rituals. Is this true? If not, why?

  • 2
    Does Leviticus 18:21 allow the slaying of children outside of pagan worship ? If not, then why would the preceding verse allow for homosexual intercourse outside of pagan rituals ?
    – Lucian
    Apr 30, 2021 at 2:51

6 Answers 6


Let us be extremely clear about what Lev 18 is discussing which is explicitly stated in V3 -

You must not follow the practices of the land of Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not follow the practices of the land of Canaan, into which I am bringing you. You must not walk in their customs.

Thus, the series of prohibitions concerning sexual practices all concern the pagan practices of Canaan. The list of such prohibitions includes the following:

  • incest generally (v6)
  • sex with your mother (v7)
  • sex with your step-mother (v8)
  • sex with your sister of half-sister (v9)
  • sex with your children or step-children (v10)
  • sex with your half-siblings (v11)
  • sex with your aunt (v12, 13) or aunt by marriage (v14)
  • sex with your daughter-in-law (v15), sister-in-law(v16)
  • sex with your daughter (v17) or step daughter or grand-daughter
  • sex your sister-in-law (18)
  • sex during menstrual bleeding (v19)
  • sex with your neighbor's wife (v20)
  • sex with another man (v22)
  • sex with an animal (v23)

Now, whatever one claims about any one of these restrictions must be claimed about them all. Thus if one claims (incorrectly) that v22 is only about ritual sex but does not apply to domestic sex, then one effectively claims that about all the other types of incest.

Thus, a claim that these prohibitions only apply during pagan rituals is to essentially say that all these types of incest are acceptable, including what is now known as pedophilia!!. In the words of Rom 3:8, "Those who say such things deserve to be condemned."

The sexual prohibitions were to serve Israel well by keeping them free of the sexual practices in the surrounding pagan culture. Paul repeats these prohibitions in Rom 1:26, 27.

  • 3
    As long as it happened within the bounds of marriage, I doubt they'd had much problems with pedophilia. They had no age of consent and marriage was about joining families (not love) - if there only were children available to forge such an alliance, children would be married off. Incest however was something else. Apr 12, 2021 at 7:57
  • 18
    Where is pedophilia mentioned? Having sex with one's own adult son or daughter is not pedophilia, but still taboo in many if not (virtually) all cultures.
    – gerrit
    Apr 12, 2021 at 8:08
  • 10
    -1 The logic here does not follow. Interpreting this particular Scripture as not forbidding those things would not therefore mean that those things are allowed. It can always be forbidden in other parts of Scripture. They can also not be allowed based on Scriptural principles that don't directly mention the specific case. (For example, Jesus says that we are not to harm children. We know child sexual abuse harms children, therefore child sexual abuse is not allowed.)
    – trlkly
    Apr 12, 2021 at 14:33
  • 10
    @trlkly He doesn't say that; rather, he continues the reasoning of folks who say it is only permissible in the case of pagan ritual. If one (wrongly) postulates that this verse implies that homosexual acts are permissible outside of pagan acts, then he makes the case that this reasoning would hold for every command in the unit, thus meaning that incest and adultery outside of ritual acts are permissible, a contradiction. Apr 12, 2021 at 14:56
  • 6
    @mcalex - they clearly did not apply to Abraham who married his half-sister. They also did not apply to Adam and Eve's children who married their siblings.
    – Dottard
    Apr 13, 2021 at 7:15

What isn't addressed in other answers is where the claim comes from. Without understanding the claim, they fail to counter it. In particular, they all rely on the common English versions of the verses, where the claim arises from analysis of the original Hebrew.

And one of the complications is that nearly every English translation adds a key word that may be substantially changing the reading of the verse. As per enegue's answer, the common translation is something like "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." - but the word "as" is an English addition. A literal translation of the Hebrew reads something like this:

With (a) male you shall not lie (the) lyings of a woman. (An) abomination is that.


This does not fully capture the meaning, of course, but it demonstrates the issue. Without that joining word, "as", it could just as easily be read as "lying with a man is wrong in the same way as lying with a woman"... which has led some to suggest that it's extending the previous rules against incest to apply equally to male relatives, something like "Sexual intercourse with a close male relative should be just as abominable to you as incestuous relationships with female relatives" (as a paraphrase, not a translation).

To make matters more complex, the context must also be accounted for. As you have noted, the verse immediately before it has nothing to do with sex - instead, it has to do with sacrifice of children to Moloch. Its presence in the middle of a list that seems otherwise to be a list of sexual acts that are forbidden is curious, and any valid interpretation must account for this. If the intent was to rule out things that Canaanites were doing, you would think that sacrifices to Moloch would come either before or after sexual prohibitions, not in the middle.

Moloch was, according to some interpretations, a fertility god. It is not unusual for pagan fertility rituals to involve sex and sacrifice of children. There is also good reason to think that bestiality would fall into the same category, given that Moloch was represented as a man-bull hybrid. It has therefore been proposed by some that the verse (and all of the others in the same chapter) is referring to ritual sexual acts.

Another observation that has been made is that the verse does not use the Hebrew word for Man, but the word for Male. This is unusual, and while it could be read as an intent to separate "adult women" from "girls" but applying the prohibition to all men and boys, it is still an unusual choice of wording. More notably, it doesn't prohibit boys sleeping with boys, only men sleeping with males. What's interesting about this is that, at least according to some, in Greek culture at the time, pederasty was quite common... but they would refer to it as "men sleeping with males" (in Greek). The parallel is certainly suggestive; whether it's meaningful or not is certainly up for debate. This theory has also been suggested.

To specifically address something said by Dottard - the fact that Leviticus 18 (and Leviticus 20) may only apply to some subset need not mean that all other cases are acceptable. To assume otherwise is to assume that incest with your niece is acceptable, as it is not included in the extensive list provided in Leviticus. More specifically, Deuteronomy provides a much more restricted list of incest that are prohibited.

What's more, contrary to Dottard's assertion, there is nothing in the Bible addressing paedophilia, directly or indirectly. Nothing in Leviticus, or Deuteronomy, or other books establishes any form of paedophilia as an abomination. Interpreting Leviticus 18 to refer to ritual acts doesn't change this in any way. Meanwhile, Deuteronomy and Exodus both address bestiality.

The final piece of evidence for why Leviticus 18 (and 20) might not be referring to general sexual activity is that, despite incest being clearly marked as bad in these chapters, some very important people in the bible committed what we would now call incest, including Abraham and Sarah (who was either Abraham's half-sister or niece).

Of course, there are counterarguments to all of this, too. The truth is not as clear-cut as the English translations would have you believe.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 13, 2021 at 6:21
  • 1
    "To assume otherwise is to assume that incest with your niece is acceptable..." Do you have any reason to assume that marrying one's niece in indeed prohibited? I know that classic Jewish law permits marrying a niece (though not an aunt marrying a nephew). I didn't know that any group does prohibit it on based on biblical law.
    – Binyomin
    Apr 13, 2021 at 13:31
  • @Binyomin - I wasn't asserting that it's acceptable or prohibited, but pointing out that the failure for it to be mentioned specifically in this listing does not automatically mean it's acceptable. It wasn't intended as a general statement, but as a counterpoint to Dottard's assertion that reading this specific chapter as only prohibiting ritual incest means all other incest must be acceptable.
    – Glen O
    Apr 22, 2021 at 6:34

The OP has only given half the context. Verses 3 and 4 spell it out completely:

3You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. 4You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God.
Leviticus 18:3-4 (ESV)

And God clearly spells out HIS rule concerning same sex union:

22You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
Leviticus 18:22 (ESV)

If one truly wishes to seek to please the LORD God, then they will seek to obey and advertise HIS rules, not the rules of those who dwell around them.


The abhorrent abominable sin of sodomy named after the Sodomites who practiced sodomy was not restricted to religious activities.


sexual intercourse involving anal or oral copulation

This means that sodomy is NOT limited to homosexuals but like in the case of Lot’s daughters, they were offered to the mob to be sodomized. Hence a heterosexual extramarital act but sodomy none the less.

Lot’s visitors were in Lot’s house and yet the residents of Sodom were interested in sodomizing them in a non ceremonious manner, non religious, non temple-like context.

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.” ‭‭Ezekiel‬ ‭16:49-50‬ ‭

“But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.”” Jeremiah‬ ‭23:14‬ ‭

“For the look on their faces bears witness against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves.” ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭

The people of Sodom were not involved in pagan rituals, they were burning in lust for Lot’s visitors.

“And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.”

In what manner were they asking to know the men?

Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭19:5, 8‬ ‭

It is obvious sexually and as per Isaiah 3:9. It was out in the open, it was not a religious act, not a pagan ritual.


It is sodomy that God sees as an abomination and a sin. Therefore since homosexuals can practically only practice sodomy sexually, they can’t have regular coitus, homosexuality is a sin as it’s sodomy based.

Furthermore given heterosexuals can also practice sodomy, heterosexual, consensual sodomy even in the context of a monogamous marriage is still an abomination and a sin.

  • 11
    Downvoted for "sodomy". The sin of Sodom was rape and abuse of hospitality, not homosexuality.
    – nick012000
    Apr 12, 2021 at 10:07
  • 3
    @nick012000 “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” ‭‭Lev18:22‬ the MEN of Sodom wanted to rape the MEN visiting Lot and according to you God was only upset about the rape part and being inhospitable. “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” ‭‭Lev20:13‬ “just as Sodom and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” ‭‭Jude‬ ‭1:7‬ Apr 12, 2021 at 11:13
  • 1
    @nick012000. “And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this OUTRAGEOUS thing.”” ‭‭Judges‬ ‭19:23-24‬ ‭by your logic it was lack of hospitality (yet the man was received well) rape was the issue, but it was okay to sodomize the women? You have no leg to stand on. Apr 12, 2021 at 13:19
  • 1
    @nick012000 when you can show it in the text you’ll have something to go by until then it’s your opinionated interpretation and it doesn’t have historical backing either Apr 13, 2021 at 1:46
  • 3
    @nick012000 when YOU can show your claim in the Scripture then you’ll have something to go by, until then it’s just opinionated interpretation and it doesn’t have history backing either Apr 13, 2021 at 12:28

In The "Lyings" of a Woman: Male-Male Incest in Leviticus 18.22?, a philological/literary analysis of Lev 18.22:

If the text is analysed and translated carefully, there are reasons to believe that Lev. 18.22 is proscribing incest between male family members.

the paper argues the original meaning was, while hard to translate, something akin to

(a) You shall not lie with close relatives, whether male or female.
(b) With a male relative you shall not engage in sexual relationships prohibited with female relatives.


There are argumentations that support the sense that this prohibition is to be seen in the context of Canaanite practice, probably first discussed by John E. Hartley.

An exhaustive discussion supporting this theses is published by Luis Quinones-Roman, I cite

If indeed v. 21 referred to the practice of temple prostitution among the Canaanites; then the assumption is to say that v. 22 outlawssuch temple prostitution. This might be suggesting that if homosexual intercourse is performed within the parameters of temple prostitution then is an abomination because YHWH cannot cohabit among other gods or forms of worships—there is no documented evidence whether the Israelites were practicing or not temple prostitution — as the final clause in v. 21 reads. For Grünwaldt* these two verses of the Law are the only legal sentences in the Old Testament that prohibit non-cultic homosexuality.

Is this true?

There is no evidence that in ancient times Lev. 18:22 has ever been interpreted in the sense that it refers only to homosexual practise in Canaanite cult.

*Klaus Grünwaldt, 1999, p. 192

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.