The Perverse Stench in God’s Holy Nostrils

Evenhandedness Regarding Overlooked Divine Abominations

The word ‘abomination’ (Hb. tōēvah) refers pictorially to a stench in one’s nostrils or, more loosely, a cause of the gag reflex — the so-called Yuck Factor [1] in modern culture. That gives deeper linguistic meaning to warnings in the Law and the Prophets about the land “vomiting out” the people who fill it with abominations—whether apostate Israel or heathen Gentiles. An abomination to God is a generic or common object which evokes moral disgust [2].

For the faithful church in contemporary Western culture, there is only one commonly known and recognized abomination or class of abominations, i.e. homosexual acts or deviant sexual acts respectively. And scripturally speaking, this is not without merit. Focusing on sexual tōēvah, there are a variety of acts [3] described as abominations to Yahweh as they are clustered in Leviticus 18. The infamous one is sexual relations between two men (18:22 cf. 20:13). We find a literary parallel after the first instance (18:23) where sexual relations between a human and an animal is called confusion or perversion. However, careful examination of the bookend of this section (18:24-30) reveals that all of the sexual sins listed are collectively referred to as abominations, i.e. incestuous sexual relations, sexual relations during a women’s menstruation, adulterous sexual relations, dedication or sacrifice of offspring, same-sex sexual relations, and bestial sexual relations.

The faithful church confesses sexual immorality to be morally reprehensible. Anti-biblical civil divorce laws have institutionalized adultery for decades. Anti-biblical civil abortion policies have institutionalized infanticide for decades. State laws and recent court rulings on same-sex marriage have now institutionalized same-sex sexual activity. Only the prophets or the sons of the prophets can foresee if incestuous or bestial sexual unions will be the next form of sexual immorality to be institutionalized by civil government. With natural (creationistic) marriage at the heart of these attacks, the church must be a shrewd and gentle prophetic voice in the world for the institution of marriage as God established it: complementarian [4], sexually dimorphic [5], conjugally monogamous, covenantally committed, and normatively reproductive. The church must also teach the world what marriage is not, i.e. a casual, private, and sterile arrangement of convenience for romantic fulfillment, which lies at the heart of the cultural drift and decay regarding traditional marriage.

The present infamy of same-sex sexual relations (and their civil consecration though same-sex civil marriage) is a contentious issue in the ongoing culture war. However, it is my contention that the faithful church in contemporary Western culture has an exaggerated sensitivity toward this particular abomination which has less to do with resisting the godless cultural context and more to do with accepting the underlying thought-forms of that same cultural context while taking a position at the opposite pole on a completely misguided axis of thought. The church under modernism has a heteronormative [6] disposition and a matching exacerbated reactionary disposition against specifically non-heteronormative desires. I content this is a function of her uncritical consumption and incorporation of the sexual orientation paradigm of Freudianism into her thought-life. In other words, she is hypersexualized in conformity to the surrounding culture. She has sexual identity on her mind, and she reads the Holy Scriptures with selective emphasis through sexually supercharged spectacles.

Rather than expound on the distorting hypersexualization of the church under late modernist culture, I seek to demonstrate its presence by way of contrast with her relative lack of concern for other biblical abominations in the surrounding culture. My desire is that the church would show more evenhandedness and clarity (which is shaped by a more circumspect study of the Scriptures while actively endeavoring to remove her cultural eyewear) in her awareness of and prophetic ministry toward the otherwise overlooked abominations in the surrounding culture. I offer the following array of commonplace abominations in the eyes of our holy Lord for the church’s solemn consideration:

  • Civic apostasy (Deut. 13:12-18), i.e. public worship of false gods, as well as individual apostasy (Deut. 17:2-5) are called abominations.
  • Occult practices (Deut. 18:9-12), i.e. forbidden means of discerning the will of God, are denounced as abominations.
  • Sex-role confusion (Deut. 22:5) is called an abomination, e.g. women in combat appear to be in violation of taking up a man’s ‘military gear’.
  • Unjust (dishonest) weights and measures (currency and commodity units respectively) in business transactions are repeatedly marked out as abominations (Deut. 25:13-16; Prov. 11:1; 20:10; 20:23).
  • Idols are routinely denounced as abominations (Deut. 27:15; 32:16; etc.).
  • Devious people are called abomination (Prov. 3:32).
  • “There are six things Yahweh despises; more so, seven that are an abomination to him: arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” (Prov. 6:16-19)
  • Sacrifices performed by unrighteous people (Prov. 15:8; 21:27), as well as their ways (Prov. 15:9) and their thoughts (Prov. 15:26) are abominations.
  • One who justifies the wicked and condemns the righteous (Prov. 17:15) is called an abomination to the Lord.
  • Prayers of one who turns his ear away from the law of God (Prov. 28:9) are called abominations.

Virtually every abomination on this list has been institutionalized by our civil government or otherwise generally accepted in public life for quite some time. To be fair, the faithful church still speaks out against a good deal of the abominations listed. However, she is likewise deaf and blind to several forms of these abominations.

Consider dishonest weights and measures. The United States monetary system is built on a regular rate of currency inflation, which dilutes the value of the dollar day after day, year after year. This is the very definition and the institutionalization of unjust weights and measures in national monetary policy. Apart from a few staunch libertarian gold-standard advocates, there is no widespread unrest or moral outrage in this nation over the abomination wrought upon wages and savings. Or if not in the culture, then perhaps just in the church. Or perhaps church and culture are both largely ignorant of it and indifferent to it.

Dishonest weights and measures have a legitimate figurative meaning as well. Using double-standards in our judgments are also dishonest. As far as double-standards in judgment, there is a fair bit of grumbling about them coming from all directions in selective situations. This is a widespread abomination.

To the charge that the modern Western church has overemphasized sexual immorality, one may response by suggesting that not all sins are equal in their ramifications and that sexual sins are of a sort that is far more grievous than those offered in the preceding list of abominations. On the first point about variability in the resulting repercussions, I agree [7]. But on the second point about the categorical special severity of sexual sins, I must ask: how does one scripturally construct this especially ethically severe status of sexual immorality? What set of biblical texts establishes this subclass of abominations above the others as extremely immoral, not merely as deeply repercussive and injurious?

By using the term ‘abomination’ reservedly, Scripture already indicates they are a worse variety than other sins. But there is nothing in Scripture to elevate sexual abominations to the special ethical status they hold in the church in the contemporary Western world above and beyond other abominations to the Lord. It would be healthier to see the other abominations are equally repugnant in the eyes of the Lord our God and that the church has neglected to understand them as such. Hypersexualization and the sexual identity and sexual orientation paradigms of modern culture have trained the church to read the Scriptures with a selective emphasis toward sexual hypersensitivity. She needs retraining (re-formation) according to the word of God.


[1] The cultural Yuck Factor is certainly analogically reflective of the stench in God’s nostrils. However, as is the case with so many facets of our humanity, it is marred by sin and often is expressive of our prejudicial fears and revulsions more so than proper ethical convictions. This is likely why the Yuck Factor is losing its currency surrounding sexual ethics in Western culture as a point of moral argumentation. And insofar as the Yuck Factor truly is an expression of visceral prejudice toward persons, its dwindling traction in public moral debate is a beneficial and welcome loss.

[2] An abomination can be compared to a detestable thing (Hb. sheqetz), a sacred object which evokes moral disgust. These can both be contrasted with the soothing aroma (Hb. nikhōwakh reyakh) that goes up to Yahweh in burnt offerings. The Hebrew words tōēvah and sheqetz are not consistently rendered ‘abomination’ and ‘detestable thing’ respectively in English translations of the Bible.

[3] This list is not exhaustively detailed but covers the basic categories that are present. And here, I do not attempt to discern threads in the warp and woof of the historical theological fabric that may be the peculiar pedagogical ceremonial holiness code for ancient Israel as a juvenile church under the Old Covenant. However, regulations concerning sexual immorality are broadly carried forward into the New Covenant (Acts 15:28-29), and specific forms such as adulterous and homosexual acts are often named.

[4] This is admittedly quite contentious and perhaps not even the best terminology available. There is much room for debate about how far-reaching the complementarity of males and females extends (whether merely between husbands and wives, as it seems most immediately applicable, or generically between all men and all women), but the root issue is the qualitative acknowledgement of male and female as creational categories expressed in biology, behavior, and function. I would assert that male and female are largely procreative teleological descriptions and liturgical functions, but elucidating that thesis is beyond the scope of this essay.

[5] Sexually dimorphic marriage should not be confused with heterosexuality. Sexually dimorphic marriage is about the functional, ministerial, and teleologically procreative sexual union of one man with one particular woman and conversely one woman with one particular man. Heterosexuality is about the amalgamation of sexual and non-sexual desires and inclinations of a man toward women in general or of a woman toward men in general. Insofar as a man is sexually covetous toward any woman who is not his spouse, then he is expressing sin in the brokenness of his sexuality under the curse in Adam — and conversely so for a woman who covets a man. To speak of sexually dimorphic marriage is to indicate the marriage of a man and a woman as the only two sexes as God created them. It does not delve into the dark psychological inner workings of human beings.

[6] The concept of heteronormativity (the normalizing of heterosexuality) itself comes from the assumptions of an unbelieving culture and is foreign to Scripture as the thought-pattern and vocabulary of the church.

[7] Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:18 to “Flee from sexual immorality; every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins toward his own body.” Note the italicized translational correction of the otherwise common rendering as “against” in this passage. This text and its context could be invoked as evidence of the unique heightened ethical severity of sexual immorality. However, it more properly indicates the heightened consequential severity of sexual immorality, because sexual sins are committed using the body — the dwelling place of our personal presence and of the Holy Spirit in believers. Since sexual immorality is the unique category of sin that hits closest to home in the body, we experience the disturbance wrought by it most acutely.