Question: "Does the Bible require the death penalty for homosexuality?"
Answer: After the June 2016 terrorist attack by an Islamic extremist against a gay night club in Orlando, Florida, some have claimed that Christians are just as guilty as the terrorist because, after all, the Bible pronounces the death penalty against homosexuals. It is true that in Leviticus 20:13 the Bible says, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” So, does the Bible require us today to put homosexuals to death?
It is crucial to understand that Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17–18). Romans 10:4 says that Christ is the end of the Law. Ephesians 2:15 says that Jesus set aside the Law with its commands and regulations. Galatians 3:25 says, now that faith has come, we are no longer under the guardianship of the Law. The civil and ceremonial aspects of the Old Testament Law were for an earlier time. The Law’s purpose was completed with the perfect and complete sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So, no, the Bible does not command that homosexuals should be put to death in this day and age.
Also important to understand is that the civil laws within the Mosaic Law were meant for Israel under a theocracy. God’s chosen people, living in the Promised Land, following God as their King, were to adhere to a system of civil laws with divinely prescribed punishments. The priests taught the laws, the rulers enforced the laws, and the judges meted out punishments as necessary. The rule of Leviticus 20:13, “They are to be put to death,” was given to duly appointed government officials, not to ordinary citizens or vigilantes. The civil laws of the Old Testament were never intended to apply to other cultures or other times. There’s a reason why the nightclub attacker was not Jewish or Christian. Jews and Christians understand the intent and limits of the Old Covenant Law. By contrast, the Koran does not qualify its command to kill homosexuals, and many Muslims see that command as enforceable today.
Another consideration is that the Old Testament Law did not allow for vigilantism. One of the reasons for the cities of refuge was to protect those accused of murder until they could receive a fair trial. The Mosaic Law said that only civil government was allowed to implement capital punishment, and that only after a fair trial with at least two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6). So, even during the time the Old Testament Law was in effect, the mass murder of homosexuals by a vigilante was not what the Law prescribed.
So, the Bible no longer requires the death penalty for homosexuality. But the question still arises as to why the death penalty was required in the Old Testament Law in the first place. The answer is this: all sin is an affront to a holy God. God hates all sin. And while God only required a civilly administered death penalty for some sins, all sins are ultimately worthy of death (Romans 6:23) and eternal separation from God. The Bible describes homosexuality as an abomination, an immoral perversion of God’s created order. The purity of God’s people in the Promised Land was vitally important, as was the continuance of bloodlines (one of which would lead to the Messiah). That is why God demanded the death penalty for those who engaged in homosexual intercourse.
Homosexuality is still immoral and unnatural. But we are no longer under the ancient Jewish system of governance. In terms of obtaining forgiveness from God through faith in Jesus Christ, homosexuality is no greater sin than any other. Through Christ, any sin can be forgiven. Salvation is available to everyone by faith (John 3:16). And when that salvation is received, the indwelling Holy Spirit will provide the means to overcome sin through a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).