The KJV Uses of ‘Abomination’
King James I of England
A lot is made of the word ‘abomination’ in connection with homosexuality; homophobes typically dismiss the subject by saying “because the Bible says it is an abomination” (after which they rarely are capable of discussing the issue). Such is the power of the language of the King James Version (and the New King James and 21st Century King James Versions, all three of which use the word 142 times). Because the KJV is so overwhelmingly well known, the notes below about how and where ‘abomination’ is used are specifically from that translation (though the use of the word has deeper roots).
On the other hand, the word does not occur at all in the New Living Translation, Contemporary English Version, New Century Version, or New International Readers’ Version. The American Standard Version and Darby Translation use it slightly more than the KJV; the Amplified Bible, New American Standard, and English Standard Version somewhat less, the Holman Christian Standard Bible relatively little, and the New International Version, The Message, and Today’s New International Version almost not at all. All bibles are indeed not created equal.
Before looking at all 142 of the KJV uses of the word, a look at the word itself is in order. The fact is that the word ‘abomination’ is at best a bad translation of what is in the Hebraic scriptures. In particular, the particular Biblical term itself to’ba (noun) or ta’ab (verb) is for a transgression that affects a prescribed ritual, not to designate a moral sin. It marks something that is forbidden, often because the religion considers it unclean. In contrast, the English word ‘abomination’ marks something that is repulsive and despicable to an extreme, and it is clearly used for the most detestable of moral sins. A more appropriate (not to mention accurate) translation would be the word ‘taboo,’ a word which in its original Polynesian sense marks something that must not be touched; even the word ‘forbidden’ would be more accurate.
Although largely chronological, the items below are grouped by what the word ‘abomination’ is applied to.
- Genesis (46:32 and 34). The previous Hyksos invaders/rulers of Egypt were basically nomadic, and Egyptians would have lumped Hebrew shepherds with them; so Egyptians regarded eating with them as ‘abomination.’
- Exodus 8:26. After the fourth plague the Pharaoh agreed to let Hebrews celebrate their festivals. This didn’t solve anything, however, because the animal that would have been sacrificed in the festivals was a cow or an ox, both of which were sacred to Egyptians. Thus Hebrews called this animal ‘abomination.’
- Leviticus uses the word 15 times, with four distinct targets:
- Leviticus 7:18. It was an abomination to eat sacrificial flesh three or more days after the sacrifice was made.
- Leviticus 11:10-12, 20, 23, 41. Anything in the sea that lacked fins and scales; eagles, ossifrages (vultures), and ospreys; fowls and any other flying things that have four feet (?); anything that creeps upon the earth on more than four legs; and anything that goes on its belly are ‘abomination’ (= not edible). (Zechariah 9:7 refers to this rule.)
- Leviticus 18:22, 20:13. Lying with mankind as with womankind is forbidden. (Supply your own interpretation here of what this means; fundamentalists have no trouble doing this, why should you?).
- Leviticus 18:26-27, 29. All of the previous rules also applied to strangers who were staying with Hebrews and who had done these things in the past. Doing them again would cause their souls to be cut off from the people.
- Many Biblical books refer to anything associated with the worship of idols as abomination: Deuteronomy 7:25, 26, 31; 18:9, 12; 17:4; 20:18; 13:14; 27:15; 29:17; 32:16. 1 Kings 11:5, 7; 23:13; 23:24. 2 Kings 16:3, 21.2, 11. 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:2; 34:33; 36:8, 14. Ezra 9:1, 11, 14. Isaiah 41:24, 44:19, 66:3. Jeremiah 4:1, 6:15, 7:10; 13:27, 32:34, 35. Ezekiel 5:11; 6:9; 7:20; 8:6, 9, 13, 15, 18; 11:21; 14:6; 16:36; 18:12; 20:7, 8; 23:36; 43:8; 44:13. Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 12:11. Hosea 9:10. Malachi 2:11. Matthew 24:15. and Mark 13:14 (these last two referring to the word in Daniel). Graven images of gods, the precious metals they were made of, and their makers were all ‘abomination’ and cursed. Anything done in worship of these idols was also ‘abomination’ – especially when done in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Scholars agree that few, if any, of the Hebraic texts were written either by a single author or by the names applied to them. For this reason they are referred to in this discussion as ‘books’ rather than as individuals.
- Some books deal with temple rituals. Deuteronomy 17:1 condemns sacrificing sheep or bullocks that are blemished; Proverbs 15:8 and 21:27 condemn sacrifices made by wicked people. Ezekiel 44:7 disallows permitting foreigners into the Temple. Isaiah 1:13 describes incense as an abomination.
- In addition to decrying idol worship, Ezekiel also applies the word many times to sum up the general immorality of the Israelites in God’s eyes (especially how they defiled the Promised Land). Ezekiel 5:9; 6:11; 7:3, 4, 8-9, 17; 12:16; 16:2, 22, 43, 47, 50, 51, 58; 18:24; 20:4, 8, 30; 22:2; 33:26; 36:31; 44:6. Jeremiah does the same in four passages: 2:7, 7:10; 8:12, 44:22.
Ezekiel uses the word 43 times total, more than any other book.
- Some references are gender/sexually related. In Deuteronomy 22:5, cross-dressing is an ‘abomination.’ So are unnatural sexual practices in 1 Kings 14:24. In Ezekiel 22:11, “committed abomination” is used to mean ‘have illicit sex with’ (for some reason, sex with a neighbor’s wife gets a stronger denunciation than incest with a sister).
- Some are related to money. In Deuteronomy 23:18, the price of a prostitute or the price of a dog (= male prostitute) are both abomination. So is usury in Ezekiel (18:13). Luke (16:15) says that things esteemed by man are ‘abomination’ (= worthless).
- There is a set of uses applied to fools and wicked people. Proverbs 6:16, 8:7, and 12:22 condemn lying or saying wicked things. Proverbs 15:9, 26; and Ezekiel 18:24 are more general; they condemn the way wicked people behave, the things they do, and even their thoughts. It is particularly bad for kings to do wicked things (Proverbs 16:12). Justifying the wicked and condemning those who are just is ‘abomination’ (Proverbs 17:15, 29:27); unjust people are ‘abomination’ to the just, as those who are just are ‘abomination’ to the wicked. For a self-confident fool, giving up a commitment to evil is abomination (Proverbs 13:19), and senseless fools intent on sin are ‘abomination’ (Proverbs 24:9), as are evil plans (Proverbs 26:25). Proverbs 28:9 includes those who don’t listen to the law.
- In Deuteronomy 25:16 and Proverbs 11:1; 20:10 and 23, balance weights that are not accurate are ‘abomination.’
- There are six remaining uses of the word with miscellaneous meanings:
- Deuteronomy 24:4. Remarrying a woman you had previously divorced was ‘abomination.’
- 1 Samuel 13:4. “Israel also was had in abomination with the Philistines” means Israel was in revolt.
- Psalm 88:8. “Thou hast made me an abomination unto them” means ‘you have made them reject me.’
- Proverbs 3:32, 11:20. Those who are froward (disobedient) are ‘abomination.’
- Proverbs 16:5. Pride in your hearts is ‘abomination.’.
- Revelation 17:4, 5; 21:27. The harlot of Babylon has a cup with immoral, filthy, defiled, and nasty things, obscenities and fornications.
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