Question: "Is it true that the biblical condemnations of homosexuality are actually referring to pedophilia?"

Answer: There some supporters of the homosexual movement who are interested in finding biblical justification for homosexuality. One tactic used to try to justify homosexuality is to claim that the Bible doesn’t actually condemn homosexuality and that passages often interpreted as critical of homosexuality are in truth denouncing pedophilia. The claim is not supported by a careful reading of the Bible.

One passage usually cited in the argument that the Bible’s references to homosexuality actually refer to pedophilia is Leviticus 18:22: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” The specific claim, made by some apologists for homosexual behavior, is that the word translated “man” should be translated “boy.” The “detestable” act, then, is having sexual relations with a boy, not with an adult male.

The Hebrew word in question is zakar. Strong’s defines this word as “male, man, the gender of a species that is not female, with no focus on the age or stage in life.” In other words, the focus of the word is the gender (male), irrespective of age. Zakar refers to any male, young or old. To choose the definition of “boy” instead of “man” or “male” reveals an interpretive bias. There’s nothing in the context that would demand limiting the word to refer to a youth. The clear meaning of Leviticus 18:22 is that God forbids sexual relations with those of one’s own gender—the age of the participants has no bearing on the command—and that’s the way the verse has always been understood.

Another passage cited in regards to this issue is Leviticus 20:13: “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” Again, some claim that the word translated “man” in the phrase with a man is more correctly translated “boy,” making the “detestable” thing pedophilia.

In Leviticus 20:13, there are two different Hebrew words translated “man.” The first is ish, the most common Hebrew word for “man”; and the second is zakar, which emphasizes the specific idea of gender (male, as opposed to female). We could put it this way: “If a man (ish) has sex with another male (zakar). . . .” As in the case of Leviticus 18:22, there is nothing in the context that would narrow the meaning of zakar to “underage male.”

Reading the whole of Leviticus 20:13, we do have good reason for insisting that zakar is rightly translated “man,” as in “an adult male.” Here is the verse in the CSB translation: “If a man sleeps with a man as with a woman, they have both committed a detestable act. They must be put to death; their death is their own fault” (emphasis added). Note that the detestable act is committed by “both” men. Both are equally guilty, and the punishment for both is the same. This is clearly not a case of an adult preying upon a child; these are two consenting adults (both of whom are males) who are having sex with each other.

A careful reading of the entire Bible shows unity on the issue of homosexuality (along with other sexual sins, like adultery). It is wrong. See 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 and Romans 1:22–26; in neither passage can the practice of homosexuality be referring to pedophilia. To keep everything in perspective, we are no longer under the Mosaic Law. Sin is still sin, but Christ has died for sinners, and for the one who confesses his sin and turns to Christ, redemption is promised. “Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11, NLT).