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
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 debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding
some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow
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 Canadians?
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 them?
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
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.
Therefore 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 cultural?
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 cultural?
A Bible text can be either cultural or transcultural.
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
However a transcultural text applies to all societies at all
How do we know whether a Bible text is cultural or
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 transcultural.
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. 
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. 
- A further religious reason for the Biblical prohibition
of male-male penetration was the practice, in Bible
times, of males having sex with male temple
prostitutes. 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
- 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
- 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 penetration?
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 men:
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
Romans 1:27 – Males acting sexually like females by
being penetrated; association of male penetration with
idolatry, perhaps including cult prostitution.
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
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 transcultural.
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 literalists.
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
Biblical no-harm test (which also shows how one should
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
Now see the views of experts on the Bible
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
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
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
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
A common view as quoted by Professor Robin Scroggs
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
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
Ben Daniel, pastor of Foothill Presbyterian Church in San
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
Gene Robinson, former Episcopal Bishop of New
A fun site
God Hates Shrimp
 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.
 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 clothing 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.
 John H. Elliott, No kingdom of God for softies? or,
what was Paul really saying? 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 in
context, Biblical Theology Bulletin, Spring 2004.
Author: Colin Smith