Hi, Nate! I came across this letter written by a challenger to Dr. Laura on the issue of homosexuality and Old Testament commandments. Does this guy have a point? How would you respond to this letter? – Merle

On her radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.  The following response is an open letter to Dr. Laura, written by a U.S. man, and posted on the Internet. It’s funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura:

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 them.

  1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are 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? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?
  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’m confident you can help.  Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan,

James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus, Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia

P.S.  It would be a damn shame if we couldn’t own a Canadian.

I should say it does not surprise me that someone as credentialed as James Kauffman would make such a foolish mistake but I suppose this is what happens when you let an education professor wander too far away from the classroom; and that’s not to denigrate the man. I’m simply being about as tongue-in-cheek as he was with Dr. Laura.

All jokes aside it’s important to flesh out what it is that he is saying; which is, since there are other Old Testament laws that don’t make a lot of sense in 2014, all the laws (or at least the ones he doesn’t like) are no longer valid. But if we were to press him on this issue, I’m sure he would agree that murder is wrong (Exodus 20:13), stealing is wrong (Exodus 20:15), and lying is probably not a good idea either (Exodus 20:16).

So I would assume that he would agree that there are laws (in the Jewish law) that do make sense even in 2014. The question now is: Who gets to decide which Old Testament laws make sense and, more importantly, are still valid: this professor or the Creator?

Now, he does point out something that is true. The Old Testament laws do not apply to Christians today. We are under a new covenant that Christ initiated at the cross which renders the old covenant obsolete (Hebrews 8:7-13).  A question we could ask at this point is: If these Old Testament laws don’t apply to us anymore, then why did God give them to the Israelites in the first place?

Thankfully, the answer is not all that complicated: God was the President (so to speak) of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Another way of putting it is that the Israelites were under a theocracy (i.e. a God-led government).  Their laws were dictated by God, they paid their taxes to God (by giving it to the Tabernacle – then later – the Temple), and they took their marching orders against other nations from God. But God had a very specific purpose for leading these people in the particular way that He did in the Old Testament: They were to be people who were “set apart” or qadosh from all the other nations of the world (Deuteronomy 14:2).  God’s law, the Torah, reflected this theme of “setting apart” the Israelites from these other pagan nations who were their close neighbors.

We can’t forget that the other nations of the world were polytheistic and committed atrocities in the name of their gods to compel them to do their bidding.  For example, certain nations performed ritualistic orgies in front of their altars because they believed that, when it rained, it was like the gods ejaculating from the sky, so to speak. So, in order to get the gods “in the mood”, they performed these rituals. Some of these nations set their children on fire in ovens in the name of their god, Molech; others killed people that were set aside for sacrifice and then drank their blood. So, God had a very specific ideal in mind by setting the Israelites apart from the rest of the world that was committing such horrific acts.

This is why you’ll see God setting the bar extremely high in terms of corporal punishment for objectively immoral acts. Whether or not we would deem some of these acts “not so bad” today is irrelevant. The point is they are wrong; and, if we (as Professor Kauffman does) consider some of these acts “not so bad” then that only shows that God cares much more deeply about certain issues then we do.

In one of his examples (#10), Professor Kauffman pointed out that if incestual sex (or sex within families, period) were to occur, both man and woman were to be killed. Well that’s true but incest was a feature of pagan nations and God expressly forbid it in the Jewish nation for that very reason. It certainly would seem weak-willed if God said, “I want to separate you from the rest of the nations as my representatives… but if you do what they do, meh, live and let live.”  No, this project was very important to God and we see it reflected in the severity of the punishments for the Israelites if they began to resemble the pagan nations surrounding them. Now, I don’t have a problem with that. It’s not like God is saying something arbitrary like: if you sneeze on a Tuesday you should be killed. No, we would agree (even in 2014) that a polygamous relationship between a man and a mother and her daughter (Leviticus 20:14) is not only wrong but just plain gross; and God sets the bar extremely high against such acts.

The professor also talks about slavery in his #1 and 2 and how the Israelites clearly owned some.  The problem is Kauffman seems to think that “slavery” in the Old Testament is the same antebellum slavery we find in early America where Africans were shipped overseas to wait on their masters hand and foot only to be whipped and tortured if they did not comply. But that’s not what happened in the Old Testament. What was going on was indentured servitude where an Israelite (or other) would enter a contractual agreement for a stated period of time, often to pay off his or her debt.

One example of this is when Jacob works for Laban for seven years so that he might marry his daughter Rachel in Genesis 29. There we see two equal parties entering an arrangement so that Jacob’s goals would be accomplished and Laban would receive labor for that period. In Old Testament history there never was this notion that the “servants” or ‘ebed were inferior to their “employer”; rather it was looked at as an honorable, dignified term of service that many Israelites (and foreigners) participated in. Even when we read of these ‘ebed couched in such terminology as “property” (in Leviticus 25:46) we have to understand that this is not “property” in the sense of antebellum slaves but rather employees who belonged to their employer, much like how baseball players belong to their team and are occasionally “traded” to another team but never owned.[1] Even in this regard, Kauffman should have read a few verses further in Leviticus 25:53 where God expressly articulates that indentured servants should be treated humanely and not “rule[d] over ruthlessly.”

Also, in several areas Kaufmann is using the wrong Scripture to make his claims. Look at his #10 where he wonders, since his uncle plants two different crops and his aunt wears two different threads, whether he should bother getting the whole town together to stone them. He points to Leviticus 20:14 which has nothing to do with crops or threads. Also, in his #8 and #4, he attributes punishments that don’t even exist if you actually look at the passages he cites. So, in order to make his points, he is resorting to blatant mischaracterizations.

The other issues that Kauffman raises are non-issues. Is he really worried about his neighbor sacrificing to the Lord in his #4? No, of course not, because the old covenant obligations of sacrifice to the Lord are no longer necessary. Or is he worried about approaching the altar of God when he has a defect in his eye (#7)? Of course not, these are just absurd examples.

The real question is: Since we are not under the old covenant, is homosexuality, therefore, no longer wrong? No, homosexuality is still wrong and Paul points this out rather vociferously in Romans 1 & 2. The Torah (law) for the Israelites pointed to the universal law, i.e. the objective moral standard that we all are accountable to, that has always existed.  This is the thrust of Paul’s argument in Romans 2:12-16. Only the Jews have God’s law in its complete written form but all people have the “law” of God, i.e. God’s basic moral requirements, written on their hearts so that no one is without excuse. Lying, murder, cheating, stealing, these are all universally wrong acts that we can directly transplant straight out of the Torah into our lives on a daily basis.

However, farm provisions like owning property and goats, entering the Tabernacle/Temple a certain way, or doing no work on the Sabbath are examples of situational laws for the Jews at that time. So there are certain laws from the Torah that reflect the universal moral code that has always existed and there are others that do not. Think of it this way: There are certain situational laws regarding wildlife in the state of Alaska that are useless in my state of Nevada. However, both Alaska and Nevada agree that speeding is a dangerous concern for everyone whether in Alaska, Nevada, or anywhere in the country. Likewise, homosexuality is a violation of God’s intentions for men and women that applies not just to Israelites in the Old Testament but to everyone for all time. Paul speaks on this issue in several places in the New Testament so that there is no confusion over how the Creator feels about men and women who “exchanged [their] natural sexual relations with unnatural ones. (Romans 1:26-28)” See also 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11.

So, long story short: Dr. Laura is right and Professor Kauffman has no idea what he’s talking about.
Thanks for the question, Merle!

[1] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 124-125.