Friends World Committee for Consultation - Europe & Middle East Section


Biblical Analysis of Lev. 18:22 by Renato Lings, PhD

Dr. Renato Lings, of Denmark Yearly Meeting, has published an article in Theology & Sexuality, Dec. 2009 on: The “Lyings” of a Woman: Male–Male Incest in Lev. 18:22?

Few Quakers in the unprogrammed liberal tradition are avid Bible readers. Others may find scripture irrelevant to their religious life. However, in some Friends churches on other continents the Bible is regarded as the cornerstone of Quaker faith and practice. For this reason, biblical interpretation is paramount, even to Friends, whenever the issue of homosexuality is discussed. As is currently the case in Uganda, our reading of the Bible may well become an issue of life and death.

In such debates, Leviticus 18:22 is among the texts most frequently quoted. However, a close inspection of this short verse throws up a series of queries. Do we know for certain what it means? What exactly are “the lyings of a woman”? This arcane expression is found in the original Hebrew. Despite their unusual nature, these words belong to what many regard as a clear prohibition of homosexuality. In most Bible translations and commentaries Leviticus 18:22 is presented as such. For example, the New Revised Standard Version suggests, You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

In recent years several scholars have pointed out that Lev. 18:22 does not deal with female homosexuality. It is addressed to male Israelites only. In addition, there is considerable debate as to the specific nature of the sexual act in question. Some think the verse simply describes anal penetration. Others take the view that reproduction and the loss of valuable semen is the main concern of the Levitical legislator. The debate is far from over.

In his article, Danish Friend Kjeld Renato Lings has performed a close reading of the original Hebrew. He emphasizes that the wording is anything but straightforward. A literal translation may sound like this: And with (a) male you shall not lie (the) lyings (of a) woman. (An) abomination (is) that. To most English speakers such language is incomprehensible. To reach some form of clarity in accordance with modern English style, many translators have opted for a simple solution. They have taken the unfamiliar noun “lyings” and converted it to two familiar prepositions, namely, “as” and “with.” However, this procedure is problematic. Only at the very beginning of the sentence does the Hebrew feature the preposition “with” (Hebrew eth). The other preposition “as” (Hebrew ke) is entirely absent.

Renato focuses on a major issue that has been underresearched and ignored for years: incest. In a recent scholarly work, David T. Stewart has suggested that Lev. 18:22 addresses male–male incest. He bases his view on the fact that the primary concern of chapter 18 is precisely male–female incest: with mother, stepmother, aunt, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, etc. A supplementary clause in Lev. 18:22 proscribing male–male incest would make perfectly good sense. Renato backs up this hypothesis with supporting evidence located in Lev. 20 and the book of Genesis.

The original Hebrew phrase is extremely difficult to translate. However, the incest link provides valuable insight into its possible meaning. In this article Renato arrives at the conclusion that male–male incest is indeed a major factor. It should be taken into account whenever Lev. 18:22 is discussed.

The complete article is available for purchase via this link

Renato Lings may be contacted at:

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