Many religious people say homosexuality is an abomination. They base their viewpoint on the words of the Bible. But is that what the Bible actually says?

The King James translation of Leviticus 18:22 says “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” But the translation from toevah to abomination is hardly accurate.

The word abomination makes me think of things that are unnatural and immoral. But toevah actually refers to breaking ritual law, or involving foreign ritual practices.

Toevah occurs 103 times in the Hebrew Bible. The term almost always refers to non-Israelite cult practices. The Bible instructs Israelites not to commit toevot because they are the practice of other nations, not because they are inherently immoral. Deuteronomy 18:9 commands Israelites not to copy the toevah of other nations. It is clear that toevot are a transgression of national and cultural boundaries, not an abomination.

But perhaps these cultural boundaries exist to prevent Israelites from abominations? Wrong.

Israelites aren’t the only people with toevot. Many things are toevah for Egyptians, despite being acceptable for Israelites. For example, Genesis 43:32 says it is a toevah for Egyptians to eat with Israelites. (Interestingly enough, the King James version of the Bible goes along with its translation of toevah meaning abomination. The passage states it’s an abomination for Egyptians to eat with Israelites. That in itself was enough to convince me that toevah was translated incorrectly.)

Toevah describes cultural prohibitions or taboos but certainly does not imply that something is vile or unnatural. Correctly translated, the Bible does not declare homosexuality an abomination; it is merely a cultural practice that was foreign to the Israelites.

Photo credit: Steve Snodgrass

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