One of the common arguments brought against the traditional understanding of Leviticus 18:22 is the claim that the Hebrew word “toebah” (abomination) only refers to pagan temple practices and not things that are revolting in and of themselves. I was recently presented with an opportunity to respond to this argument, and I took the time to look up every occurrence of the word “toebah” in the Bible. I found that the above claim cannot be supported by the facts and that the English term "abomination" is an accurate translation of the word "toebah."
The English word "abomination" refers to a thing which is revolting, repugnant, disgusting. An abomination is something that you back away from with horror or dread. It is something so revolting that it causes you to vomit. This is the idea which is expressed in English with the word "abomination," and I have found that this is the same concept which is expressed in Hebrew with the word "toebah."
There are many passages of Scripture which use the word "toebah" in a manner that does not refer to pagan temple practices but rather to things that are revolting. For example:
Deut 24:4 says that it is "toebah" for a woman to divorce one husband, marry a second husband, and then divorce the second husband and remarry the first. This passage has nothing to do with pagan temple practices. It is merely describing something that God finds disgusting.
Deut 25:16 uses the word "toebah" in reference to cheating someone in the marketplace. The context has nothing at all to do with pagan temple practices. It is simply describing something revolting to God.
Psalm 88:8 speaks of God making a man a "toebah" to his own acquaintances, even while he was calling upon the Lord for deliverance. Would God actually make someone become involved in pagan temple practices?
Prov 11:1 refers back to Deut 25:16 and repeats the fact that unjust practices in the marketplace are "toebah" to God. There is nothing here about pagan temple practices. The same could be said of Prov 20:10 and 20:23.
If "toebah" refers to pagan temple practices, then Prov 13:19 becomes nonsensical. This verse speaks of a fool's revulsion to departing from evil. It has nothing to do with pagan temple practices.
Similarly, Prov 29:27 would mean that the upright are pagan temple practices to the wicked if that is the proper understanding of "toebah." It is much more sensible to view this passage as saying that the righteous are revolting to the wicked.
And when we consider the use of the word “taab” which is the verb form of "toebah," the meaning of revolting, repugnant and disgusting becomes even more apparent. For example:
If "taab" means "to make like or view as a pagan temple practice," then Deut 7:26 would essentially be telling the Jews to not bring a pagan temple practice into their homes but rather view it as a pagan temple practice. It makes much more sense to understand this verse as saying that the Jews were not to bring something revolting to God into their homes but were instead to view all such things as revolting to themselves also.
Deut 23:7 would make no sense at all if "taab" were to be translated as "to make like a pagan temple practice." Did God really feel the need to tell the Jews not to view the Edomites and the Egyptians as pagan temple practices? Or did He actually tell them that they should not view the Edomites and the Egyptians with revulsion or disgust?
And what could Job 9:31 possibly mean if "taab" refers to making something a pagan temple practice? Could Job's clothes really treat him in that manner, or is he instead saying that he had become revolting?
And what of Job 19:19? Jobs inward friends turned against him by viewing him as someone disgusting and by staying away from him rather than by viewing him as a pagan temple practice.
The pagan temple practice view of the word "taab" would make Psalm 107:18 say that fools draw near to death because they view eating meat as a pagan temple practice, but viewing "taab" as meaning "revolting, repugnant or disgusting" would make a lot more sense.
Isa 49:7 uses "taab" to speak of the pagan nations finding Jesus disgusting. It makes no sense whatsoever to say that the pagan nations found Jesus to be a pagan temple practice.
Similarly, Amos 5:10 and Micah 3:9 both speak of the wicked viewing the righteous and God's judgement as something repugnant and revolting. Neither passage would make sense if this term referred to pagan temple practices.
These passages and many more reveal to us that the Hebrew word "toebah" does not refer to pagan temple practices as many defenders of homosexuality claim. It is true that many of the uses of "toebah" in the Bible occur within the context of pagan temple practices, but that is because many of these practices (such as tossing living children into a fire to be burned to death) are repugnant and disgusting in and of themselves. The association with paganism is incidental to the revulsion.
It makes much more sense to view "toebah" as a reference to something revolting, repugnant or disgusting, and this is how the term has been consistently understood for thousands of years. The claim that it refers to pagan temple practices is merely an ad hoc response from the modern homosexual movement to passages describing homosexual intercourse as "toebah." In reality, these passages are claiming that such intercourse is revolting, and so it is.
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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