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All too often I have heard people attacking gays and lesbians, saying that they are an abomination to God. I wonder if such people have ever bothered to check their Bibles for the meaning of the word. I did, and this is what I found.

abomination, noun, abhorrent, adjective, translate four Hebrew words, the most common being tow’ebah. The word is used to describe an object, behavior, custom or cult practice that evokes disgust, hatred, loathing, revulsion or even nausea. People use the term to differentiate themselves from other religious groups or cultures and to show their superiority to them. Tow’ebah appears in Genesis and Exodus describing the attitude of the Egyptians toward the table manners (Gen. 43:32), the most common occupation Gen. 46:34), and the worship of the Hebrews.

“And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land. And Moses said, It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the LORD our God: lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us?” (Exodus 8:25-26, KJV)

In a similar fashion, the books Leviticus and Deuteronomy illustrate how the Hebrew-speaking people attempted to differentiate themselves from the Canaanites. They employ tow’ebah to declare the superiority of their culture and religion to the indigenous culture and the fertility cults in Canaan, which they had conquered. Examples:

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22)

“The images of their gods you shall burn with fire. Do not covet the silver or the gold that is on them and take it for yourself, because you could be ensnared by it; for it is abhorrent to the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 7:25)

“You shall not eat any abhorrent thing . . . Yet of those that chew the cud or have the hoof cleft you shall not eat these: the camel, the hare, and the rock badger, because they chew the cud but do not divide the hoof; they are unclean for you. And the pig, because it divides the hoof but does not chew the cud, is unclean for you. You shall not eat their meat, and you shall not touch their carcasses.” (Deuteronomy 14:3, 7-8)

Christian groups, in order to show their superiority to outsiders, pick and choose among the practices that were abominations for the Hebrews living among the Canaanites. They may see nothing wrong with wearing silver jewelry with native American symbols or eating pork, but they viciously denounce lovemaking between people of the same sex. They ignore the context of the abominations, which had to do with ritual purity rather than with morals. The people of Israel were not to participate in Canaanite fertility rites, which could include both heterosexual and same-sex intercourse. When later books of the Bible use tow’ebah in describing God’s reaction to unethical behavior, sex does not appear to be an issue. For example, in the Book of Proverbs God loathes violence, lying, arrogance, and cheating in business:

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that hurry to run to evil, a lying witness who testifies falsely, and one who sows discord in a family.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)

“All those who are arrogant are an abomination to the Lord; be assured, they will not go unpunished.” (Proverbs 16:5)

Although I do not think that the Bible gives us everything we need for establishing modern norms of morality, I do think that we do well to take the Bible seriously. A serious reading of the Bible includes a study of the context in which key words and phrases appear. People who want to teach “Biblical morality” might be well advised to notice that abomination has nothing to do with domestic partners but much to do with arrogance.

Resource Types: Articles.

Review & Commentary