This is the final part of my ongoing series on the Bible and homosexuality. In part 1 I set up my project, and parts 2 – 5 have so far covered the first 6 of my 7 categories of biblical passages which address homosexuality. For the record, my thesis is that the Bible does not condemn either homosexual acts or homosexual people.
- Homosexual Love
My last section of this rather long series, I actually did not intend for it to be this long but needs must, will be about homosexuals in love in several biblical passages. Although my list is not comprehensive I do want to take a look at 3 different couples and show how the Bible actually condones homosexual love. I will look at the story of David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and the Centurion and his servant to make this point.
My own problem here is that I have just spent several days trying to argue that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. Although I think I have been successful in arguing against condemnation it would be impossible to argue that the Bible encourages homosexual relationships, quite simply because there is not enough evidence for this claim. However I can at least make my case based on the strongest cases in favor of homosexual love, if not quite homosexual relationships.
By homosexual love I understand the affection, acceptance, desire, and commitment which exists between two people of the same sex who are actively engaged a sexual relationship. It is important for me to say that not all of my examples would have identified as homosexuals, though at least one of the examples does. This is partly due to a lack of place and social space in which to identify as gay, and also in the first case because at least one of the partners in the relationship would have more appropriately identified as bisexual.
David and Jonathan
Perhaps the best and clearest example of couple motivated by homosexual love would be the pairing of David, the future king of Israel as a young man, and Jonathan, the son of the then king of Israel Saul.
Soon after David’s well known defeat of Goliath, Saul decided to take the young boy David into his confidence, his palace, his army, and ultimately his family. The story of David and Saul is a long one, but the story of David and Jonathan is all too brief, though it takes up chapters 18-20 of the book of 1 Samuel. While David is living in Saul’s house Jonathan falls deeply in love with David, and this appears to be a love which David genuinely reciprocates. Evidence of their love is clear when you read the following passages.
1 Samuel 18: 1-4 “And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.” (KJV)
Jonathan falls in love with David the first time they meet, and Jonathan loves David as his soul-mate. Jonathan and David make a covenant together because of Jonathan’s deep love. Now all of this so far could be the work of a deep and powerful, albeit platonic, love. Yet what is most telling here is that in order to seal the covenant and prove his love Jonathan does the following, in order.
First he takes off his outer garments, undressing before his beloved, and gives his robe to David. Then he takes off the rest of his clothes and gives them to David. He goes so far as to give to David his sword and bow, the symbols of his masculinity and his honor. He finally gives David his girdle, also translated as belt. The last gift is most telling because last of all Jonathan takes off the garment which girds his loins, he gives this garment to David and reveals himself naked and without a doubt in an erotic pose.
There are other passages which speak of the love that David and Jonathan have for each other. They continue to meet even when David is given in an arranged marriage to Michal, Jonathan’s sister. Jonathan intercedes on David’s behalf before Jonathan’s father, King Saul. Jonathan puts his own life at risk to save David. Saul spends many years seeking to kill David, but he tries to hide this from Jonathan. In 1 Samuel 20:1-4 David reveals to Jonathan that Saul is trying to kill David, and the reason that Saul has hidden this from Jonathan is stated as follows in verse 3, “Jonathan, I swear it’s true! But your father knows how much you like me, and he didn’t want to break your heart. That’s why he didn’t tell you. I swear by the living Lord and by your own life that I’m only one step ahead of death.” (CEV) Saul knows that Jonathan’s heart will break, and although various translations try to downplay the language here they all agree that Jonathan shows David a special favor, and has a special love for him.
Indeed when Jonathan tries to inquire of his father what David’s crime is, Saul responds by throwing a spear at his son. Luckily for Jonathan Saul misses, but Saul very tellingly also accuses Jonathan of siding with David and bringing shame on himself and on Jonathan’s mother. “Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother’s nakedness?” 1 Samuel 20:30 (KJV) The sexual connotations are clear, it is not merely that Jonathan chose David for a friend, but that this also strikes at Jonathan’s legacy. The idea of the mother’s naked shame raises all of the subtle cues and metaphors which it ought to raise. Saul is angry with Jonathan for being gay, for not carrying on the family legacy, and even more for falling in love with a man who threatens Saul’s power.
Jonathan helps David to escape, and their parting is as tragic as it is beautiful. They will never see each other again, and they make the strongest vows they can make to each other.
Years later Saul and his sons are fighting a losing battle, and Saul despairs of victory and commits suicide, and Jonathan is slain in this battle also. Although this defeat paves the way for David to take the kingdom of Israel and ascend to the throne, David still weeps over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.
David makes a public lament over their deaths, and what he says of Jonathan is as moving as it is loving. “How I weep for you, my brother Jonathan; How much I loved you! And your love for me was deeper than the love of women!” 2 Samuel 1:26 (NIV) David makes a strong point that Jonathan’s love was more important to him than the love of any woman ever could be or was.
On a related note, once you understand that the relationship between Jonathan and David was based on homosexual love, the relationship between David and Saul also becomes rather clear. Then you understand how Saul shows great affection for David and takes him into his home to have him play and sing music for Saul. You also understand why Saul becomes so insanely jealous of David’s growing fame. You begin to see the relationship between them as one based on abusive desire. Saul even tries to fix things by marrying David to his daughter Michal, which does not work since David is bisexual enough to manipulate Michal’s affections.
The story is long and tragic, but this is clearly a case of homo-erotic affection and love between Jonathan and David.
Ruth and Naomi
There is an excellent exposition and analysis on the relationship between Ruth and Naomi here at wouldjesusdiscriminate.org. You would do well to read the article since it explains that Ruth felt the kind of love for Naomi which is the same as the love between husbands and wives. The story of Ruth and Naomi has a much happier ending than the one of David and Jonathan, and though I cannot add much to what the above linked article says I do want to explain something about love.
One of the strange myths about whether a person is gay or not, for Christians at any rate, centers on whether or not a person actively engages in sexual acts of a homosexual kind. The argument goes that if homosexuality is a sin, then it is only the sin of engaging in certain kinds of sexual activities. So if one simply avoids having homosexual sex, then one is not a homosexual and thus is free from sin.
There are numerous problems there but what I want to raise, in the context of Ruth and Naomi, is that actually having sex is not what defines you as a homosexual, any more than it defines you as a heterosexual.
Unlike David and Jonathan, who clearly do engage in homosexual activities with each other, we do not ever actually get the sense that Ruth and Naomi have an active sex life. They certainly have the opportunity for it, but the Biblical account does not contain any strong hints at how active their sex lives were. Naomi goes so far as to explain that she is past her sexual prime and has lost all interest in sexual activity. This may only refer to her lack of desire to reproduce, or the idea that she is post-menopausal, but her insistence is worth noting. Also we do know that Ruth, and her eventual husband Boaz, do have a sex life since they end up having children.
However it is not acts which form an identity, but rather an identity which informs and directs our actions. To be sure our sense of self is influenced by numerous social and biological cues. Yet if a person could only become gay from social conditioning, then in our society the sheer weight of heterosexual influence should have long ago reconditioned all potential gays into actual straights. This is not to say that we are delivered over helplessly to some primitive naturalistic drive, over which we exert no influence or power. Instead it would make the most sense to argue that I have a natural drive to engage in sexual activities with partners who are attractive to me, and to whom I am attractive. Yet beyond that I have a great deal of social freedom in choosing a partner who fits the other aspects of my life just as well as they fit the sexual aspect.
So to put it all in perspective, when Naomi encourages Ruth to return to her homeland, Ruth cleaves to, the idea here is she loves Naomi with a deep and abiding passion, and will not abandon Naomi. Instead in Ruth 1: 16-17 Ruth vows to always stay with Naomi and never leave her, to convert to and worship the God of Naomi, and to stay with Naomi, till death. This is the language we often see employed in wedding vows, and Ruth’s vows carry the same weight of love and desire. Ruth is acting from her identity and sense of who she is in loving Naomi and desiring to be with her. This is not counted as a sin, nor is it explained away as mere affection.
To paraphrase David’ it would seem that Ruth would say of Naomi, “her love for me is deeper than the love of men.” It is Ruth’s choice to come out to Naomi and identify as loving and being in love with Naomi which also makes this a clear instance of homosexual love being portrayed in a positive way in the Bible.
The Roman Centurion and his Pais
There is one notable story from the New Testament where a homosexual relationship based on love is commended. In Matthew 8:5-13 and in Luke 7:1-10 tells the story of how a Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus was impressed by the man’s faith since the man explained that all Jesus would need to do is simply say the word and the servant would be well. The centurion is congratulated for understanding the authority and power Jesus had over illness.
In both accounts, Matthew and Luke, the word for servant is pais. Although pais can mean simply boy, or can be used simply to denote an inferior person, it can also refer to the younger partner in a homosexual relationship. What is different about this word and the words that Paul uses, is that pais does not imply some necessary inferiority on the part of the younger, it simply marks them as younger. The scholarly consensus is that this word was frequently used to refer to the younger member in a homosexual relationship and that surely the writers of Matthew and Luke would have been aware of its connotations.
Since that seems to be the case then what we have is a good example of Jesus not chastising or punishing, or even telling the centurion to “sin no more”. Instead Jesus rewards the faith of the centurion and heals the centurion’s pais. In the account from Luke the writer even explains that this pais was valued highly by the centurion. The idea here is clear, the value of the pais who is about to die is not merely monetary, nor even really sentimentality, it is love, pure and simple.
A centurion risks his reputation and is humble before a man who he has the right to kill if he so desires. The centurion does all this because he believes in the power of Jesus to heal the pais whom he so greatly values.
Conclusion to 7: The Bible details several relationships based on homo-erotic love and desire. The people in these relationships are not condemned, and in fact all of these people are praised for various reasons. Even though the partners in some of these relationships may have been bisexual, still they did all experience homosexual love, a love which God does not condemn, but rather a love which He seems to praise.