This page shows why the Bible’s prohibition and
criticism of penetrative sex between men
(homosexual activity) applied only to the ancient
Israelite and Greek-Roman cultures and so does
not apply to men today.

First, a fun letter to a famous American talk
radio host and commentator:

Dear ……

Thank you for doing so much to educate people
regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal
from your show, and try to share that knowledge
with as many people as I can. When someone
tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for
example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:
22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of

I do need some advice from you, however,
regarding some other elements of God's Laws
and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess
slaves, both male and female, provided they are
purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of
mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not
Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as
sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age,
what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a
woman while she is in her period of menstrual
uncleanliness (Lev. 15: 19-24). The problem is,
how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most
women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I
know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev.
1:9). The problem is, my neighbors. They claim
the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on
the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he
should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to
kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating
shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a
lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't
agree. Can you settle this?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the
altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have
to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my
vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-
room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed,
including the hair around their temples, even
though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27.
How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin
of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still
play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19
by planting two different crops in the same field,
as does his wife by wearing garments made of
two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester
blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a
lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the
trouble of getting the whole town together to
stone them? (Lev.24:10-16). Couldn't we just
burn them to death at a private family affair, like
we do with people who sleep with their in-laws?
(Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively
and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such
matters, so I am confident you can help. Thank
you again for reminding us that God's word is
eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan.


You can see that all the activities mentioned in
the letter are things which the ancient Israelites
could or could not do.  Some which they could
do, such as owning slaves, we now think are
wrong.  Others which they could not do, such as
planting two different crops in the same field, we
now think are okay.

all these activities are cultural and
their acceptance (slavery) or prohibition (2
crops, etc) does not apply to us today
.  This
includes the prohibition of penetrative sex
between men (homosexual activity) found in the
same biblical book.

Want to know more?   Then read on!

Cultural Bible texts

Why do we say that some Bible texts are

Each Bible author spoke or wrote to his audience
in a particular historical setting with its own
culture.  Sometimes an author stated views
based on that culture.  Such views could make
the Bible text cultural.

Why is it important whether a Bible text is

A Bible text can be either cultural or

A cultural text applies only to the society it was
written for,  e.g. the ancient Israelites.  A person
from a different culture might find it hard to
achieve the cultural text’s purpose because the
religious or practical reasons for the purpose are
culturally bound and don’t transfer well to other

However a transcultural text applies to all
societies at all times.

How do we know whether a Bible text is cultural
or transcultural?

One way of determining whether a Bible text is
cultural or transcultural is by finding the religious
or practical reasons for the statements in the text
or its attitude.  If the reasons apply to the
relevant Biblical culture (e.g. the Greek-Roman
culture) but not to most of today’s societies, then
the text’s statements or attitude is
cultural.  If the
reasons (or similar ones) apply to both the
relevant Biblical culture and most of today’s
societies, then the text’s statements or attitude is

The probability of a Bible text being cultural
increases when it reflects the cultural views of its
author or its original audience or the views of
nearby societies. [1]

Seven reasons why the Biblical prohibition
and criticism of male-male penetration is

  • One religious / social reason for the Biblical
    prohibition of male-male penetration was the
    view, in Bible times, that God (or nature)
    made men to penetrate in sex and women to
    be penetrated.  Therefore for a man to be
    sexually penetrated meant that he was
    acting like a woman and this was wrong and
    shameful and even an abomination.  This
    view underlies the Leviticus prohibition (Do
    not lie with a male as a woman would), the
    Romans criticism (males acted shamefully
    with males) and the Corinthians criticism  
    (males who have sex with males).  A similar
    view on gender roles, including penetrated
    adult males being despised for acting
    shamefully, was held in the cultures of the
    Ancient Near East, Greece and Rome,
    which valued highly the concepts of honor
    and shame.  Although this view of male
    gender roles is still held in some societies
    today, it is not held in many others.  This
    variation in societal attitudes over time and
    between cultures shows that the Biblical
    prohibition of male-male penetration is
    cultural. [2]

  • A further religious reason for the Biblical
    prohibition of male-male penetration was the
    possible practice, in Bible times, of males
    having sex with male temple prostitutes.  In
    so far as this occurred, and because this
    does not happen today, the Biblical
    prohibition of male-male penetration is

  • Another reason for the Biblical prohibition of
    male-male penetration was its use, in Bible
    times, by men exercising their power over
    others, including their raping of male
    strangers (as attempted in Sodom) and the
    raping of male prisoners of war to humiliate
    them.  This was also done in the cultures of
    the Ancient Near East, Greece and Rome.  
    Today such forms of raping are rare.  Again,
    this reinforces the conclusion that the
    Biblical prohibition of male-male penetration
    is cultural.

  • One practical reason for the Biblical
    prohibition of male-male penetration was to
    prevent this being an alternative to male-
    female penetration, thus encouraging more
    babies being conceived to increase the
    ancient Israelite population and strengthen
    the community.  As most societies would not
    see such action as necessary today, the
    Biblical prohibition of male-male penetration
    is cultural.

  • Note that the prohibition of male-male
    penetration in Leviticus 18 comes
    immediately after another cultural
    prohibition, i.e. on offering one’s seed
    (semen or children) to the god Molech.

  • Note also that the prohibition of male-male
    penetration in Leviticus 20 is to be enforced
    by the death penalty.  This reinforces the
    conclusion that the Biblical prohibition of
    male-male penetration is cultural.

  • Note further that the prohibition of
    penetration applies only when it is between
    males.  Any similar actions between females
    are not prohibited in Leviticus.  This
    restriction of the prohibition of same-sex
    penetration to one gender implies that the
    prohibition is cultural.

What about Paul’s criticisms of male-male

Paul’s criticisms of male-male penetration are
based on the Leviticus prohibitions of such
activity.  In turn, these prohibitions are mainly
based on the concept that a sexually penetrated
man is acting like a woman, which is shameful
and an abomination.  This concept reflects the
cultural views of Bible times.  Since these
prohibitions are culturally based, then Paul’s
criticisms are also culturally based and do not
apply to modern cultures.

Cultural reasons for each Biblical

Probable cultural reasons for each Biblical
condemnation of men having penetrative sex with

Genesis 19 – Men of Sodom using male rape to
show their power over strangers or their dislike of
them; inhospitality to strangers.

Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13 – Males acting sexually
like females by being penetrated; association of
male penetration with raping of male enemy;
wasting semen by giving to another man instead
of making babies; copying sexual practices of
other nations, including cult prostitution.

Romans 1:27 – Males acting sexually like
females by being penetrated; association of male
penetration with idolatry, perhaps including cult

1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 – Males
acting sexually like females by being penetrated;
possible association of male penetration with
rape of male enemy or with male prostitution.

Why slavery is also cultural but incest is

The Bible accepted slavery for the practical
reason that slaves overcame labor shortages.  
As this reason is not thought valid today, the
Biblical acceptance of slavery is cultural.

On the other hand, the Biblical prohibition of
incest was made for the practical reasons of
having stable families and societies, avoiding
inbreeding and resulting birth defects, avoiding
provoking family feuds, avoiding concentrating
lands and riches in the hands of a few families,
and ensuring clarity in parenthood and
inheritance.  These reasons generally still hold
today and so the incest prohibition is

Why a cultural Biblical prohibition or
command does not apply today

Theological doctrines and ethical rules cannot
be based on Biblical texts whose rationales and
plausibility are based on cultural perceptions,
values, and worldviews no longer held or
considered valid

Churches changed their attitude to slavery in the
18th and 19th centuries partly on the basis that
the Bible’s acceptance of slavery was cultural
and partly on the basis of the commands to love
(care for) one’s neighbor as oneself and to treat
others as you wish them to treat you.  The
principle of caring for others is stronger than the
principle of being able to own others.

Similarly, churches (and other people) could
change their attitude to male-male penetration
partly on the basis that the Bible’s prohibition
was cultural and partly on the basis that no harm
is done if the men act with love and care.

Effects of the Biblical prohibitions being

Because the Biblical prohibitions and criticisms of
male-male penetration are cultural, the
prohibitions and criticisms apply only to the
societies they were written for.  
They do not
apply to our societies today

However, here are
two alternatives for Bible

Alternative 1 – No-harm test

Some people say that it does not matter whether
a Biblical criticism or prohibition is culturally
based; it is still the Word of God and must be
obeyed.  This view faces difficulties when slavery
is looked at.  The
Bible approves of people
owning other people as slaves.  But despite the
Bible’s approval, we don’t say that people can
own other people as slaves today.  One
therefore can’t say that something is approved
(slavery) or prohibited (men having full sex with
men) just because the Bible says so.  We need
something more; and this is provided by the
no-harm test (which also shows how one
should act).

Alternative 2 – Bible principles

Some people might reject the concept of
culturally based Bible texts not applying today
and also reject the
no-harm test.  For these
people, one way of obeying a culturally based
Bible text would be to find the principle behind
the command or prohibition in the text and obey
or implement the principle.  In the case of male-
male penetration, the principle seems to be that
men should act like men, not women.  The way
that men should act like men in modern societies
is often different to how Biblical societies thought
they should act.  Many people now see the male-
male sex act as being genderless with neither
participant acting like a typical man or a typical
woman.  Therefore a penetrated man can still be
thought of as acting like a (real) man and not like
a woman.  In this way, the principle of “men
acting like men” is being obeyed.

Now see the views of experts on the Bible
and culture:

We now accept that the Bible reflects the culture
and beliefs of the times it was written and of the
many different people who wrote and revised it. It
is an uncertain moral guide and much of its
teaching and many of its attitudes, have been
rejected as no longer acceptable. To suggest
therefore that we can uncritically base our own
standards of behaviour on the cultural attitudes
of Jews in the first century of the Christian era,
let alone on the attitudes of a semi nomadic
people [ancient Israelites] a thousand years
before that, is not plausible.
Difference is Not a Sin by Rev. Neil Dawson

The difference in social structures and cultural
horizons between Paul's world and the present
makes it difficult, if not impossible, to directly
apply Paul's exhortation and mode of
argumentation in 1 Corinthians 5 - 6 [including
his criticism of sex between men] to today's
scene in the USA.
Professor John H. Elliott

I am convinced that discussion of homosexuality
in the Bible is about men taking the position of
women, very demeaning to men in that culture
where women were in no way equal.
Susan Emeleus, a part-time assistant minister in
a Sydney parish

The Bible opposes homosexuality but is so time-
and culture-bound that its injunctions may and
should be discarded if other considerations
suggest better alternatives. …. If Leviticus and
Paul are addressing situations so foreign to our
own times, there is no reason to apply those
judgments as determinative in our own situation.
A common view as quoted by Professor Robin

If some biblical assertions [such as no remarriage
after divorce], which affect the majority of church
members, are dismissed because of
considerations of supposed cultural difference,
then cultural difference must be taken seriously
for all biblical mandates, even those affecting
only a minority within the church [such as no
same-sex holy unions].
Mary A. Tolbert, Professor of Biblical Studies,
Pacific School of Religion

I read the Bible's condemnation of same-sex
eroticism in the same way I read the biblical
mandate that a victim of rape must marry her
assailant. It's clear to me that both must be
understood as cultural artifacts that must be
abandoned. I know of no objective reason to
suggest one commandment may be ignored
while the other must be upheld.
Ben Daniel, pastor of Foothill Presbyterian
Church in San Jose

We have come to understand certain things as
acceptable in the biblical culture and time but not
in our own — among other things, polygamy and
slavery, which few Christians would promote
despite their acceptability in biblical times. As we
approach the biblical texts about homosexuality,
we must not conveniently change our stance to
one of asserting that every word of Scripture is
inerrantly true and universally binding on all
people for all time.
Gene Robinson, former Episcopal Bishop of New

A fun site

God Hates Shrimp


[1] This analysis of cultural and transcultural has
used, among other things, the criteria for
determining cultural components of Biblical texts
contained in William J. Webb,
Slaves, Women &
Homosexuals : - Exploring the Hermeneutics of
Cultural Analysis
, 2001.  However the
conclusions here are not those of Webb.

[2] Another example of the shame of men acting
like women is in 1 Corinthians 11:14 where Paul
says that it is a disgrace or dishonor for men to
have long hair.  In Paul’s culture, only women
had long hair.  Note also that Deuteronomy 22:5
states it is an abomination for a woman to wear
man's gear (clothing or armor) and for a man to
wear woman's clothing.  Again people would be
acting like the opposite sex.  Further, it is
significant that the author of 1 and 2 Samuel
seems to deliberately not say that David loved
Jonathan, despite saying a number of times that
Jonathan loved David.  This shows that it was
not desirable for a King (David) to be seen as
indulging in penetrative sex with another man, i.e
where one of the men was shamefully acting like
a woman.

[3] John H. Elliott, No kingdom of God for
softies? or, what was Paul really saying? 1
Corinthians 6:9-10 in context,
Biblical Theology
Spring 2004.

Author: Colin Smith
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