Have you ever heard anything like that? How do you respond? An old friend recently asked me why Christians use some laws in Leviticus to condemn homosexuality, but then we apparently disregard any of the laws in Leviticus or Deuteronomy that we don't like. So what's the deal?
First, let's start by agreeing. I totally agree that it’s not right to pick and choose parts of the Bible. Here are the parts I like and will follow and the rest can go in the garbage. That's no good! However, that's not what Christians are doing when it comes to Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
We Christians do believe the Bible is true and is God’s Word. But that doesn't mean we believe that every sentence in the Bible is supposed to be taken in the same way. Some portions are poetry, others are narrative, others are epistles, others are commands, moral laws, civil laws, prophetic, and so on. We run into problems when we open the Bible to a random verse or passage and read it without understanding what context it is in. We can end up taking the Bible in a way it wasn't meant to be taken.
So…what about the Levitical and Deuteronomical laws? What context are they in? These laws were given by God through Moses to the Israelites after that whole Red Sea thing. The Israelites had never been their own nation before and now they have emerged from slavery to Egypt as free people inheriting the Promised land. This is over a million people with no government or laws of their own. So God gives them civil laws by which to run a nation that’s purpose is to honor Him and be an example to the Gentiles. They were also given to point to Jesus, the perfect man who would uphold them all. The majority of the Levitical laws were given in that context. They are laws for the nation of Israel to follow. They were never imposed by God on Gentiles (those who aren’t Israelites). Even in the New Testament, when lots of Gentiles were becoming Christians, the older Jewish Christians eventually decided not to hold these new converts to the Jewish laws. Jesus fulfilled these laws and as a result, the Bible itself tells us we don’t have to live under them anymore in Colossians 2:16-17.
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. -- Colossians 2:16-17
If that’s the case, then what good are the Old Testament laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy today? Well, we don’t have to follow them to the letter, but they do teach us about the heart of God and give us principles for how we should treat one another. For example, one biblical law tells us not to move large stones on our neighbor’s property (Deut 19:14). What? Big stones in those days were ways of marking where your property starts and ends kind of like we use fences today. What we learn is that God cares about whether or not we are ripping our neighbors' off and we should respect their property.
What about the Levitical laws of not mixing clothing fabrics (Lev 19:19)? God was teaching the people to be different from the rest of the world and this reflects His own holiness (set-apartness or differentness) and His desire for His people to be holy. We aren't under the law anymore so we don’t need to avoid mixed fabrics but we should seek to dress in a way that sets us apart from the world and is holy and pleasing to God.
What about the Levitical laws of homosexuality? Well, as I’ve been saying, we aren’t under the law. So we don’t go around stoning homosexuals to death. But what does this law teach us about God and how He wants us to act? It teaches us that homosexuality is a sin and not part of God’s plan for human sexuality and marriage.
Is that a crazy interpretation? If all we had were the Levitical laws, then some might be able to argue that we aren't under the law and this law doesn't actually mean homosexuality is a sin. But we have lots more than these Levitical references. We have God’s clear design in Genesis of Adam and Eve. We have God’s condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sexual perversions. We have not one, not two, but three explicit and clear condemnations of homosexuality as sin in the New Testament in Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:10.
I’m not trying to harp on homosexuality or say it’s the worst or only sin. I’m just trying to explain how Leviticus is to be understood and why Christians still consider homosexuality a sin.
So there you have it. We don’t blindly point to any verse in the Bible and do what it says. We read the Bible in its context. If it is a command, then yes we obey! If it’s narrative, then we try to understand what God wants us to learn from the story. If it is national laws for Israel in Leviticus, then we understand we aren't under those laws but they can still teach us about God and how He wants us to behave. I hope you've found this helpful. Let me know if you have any questions!