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The Bible and homosexuality

Same-sex relationships in the Bible

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Conservative and Liberal Views: Standard Disclaimer

We will attempt to give interpretations of key passages of the Bible from both a conservative (fundamentalist and other evangelical) and from a liberal position. Speaking generally:
bullet Conservative Christian theologians tend to accept English translations of the Bible, such as the New International Version (NIV) and the King James Version (KJV) as authoritative. They generally accept the inerrancy of the Bible. They interpret passages literally, unless there is a good reason not to. They consider all Bible passages as instructive in today's society. When they see any same-sex activity condemned, they believe that this applies to all homosexual activities, regardless of the nature of the relationship. Homosexuality is a chosen, unnatural, abnormal, changeable, and perverted lifestyle, which is hated by God.

bullet Liberal Christian theologians tend to follow a wider variety of translations, and to be more concerned with instances of copying errors in the original Hebrew or Greek, of forgeries, and of biases among the translators. They consider some passages (e.g. those referring to slavery, burning some hookers alive, forcing rape victims to marry their rapists, raping female prisoners of war, etc.) as not being valid today, as immoral, and against the will of God. They differentiate among various homosexual and heterosexual sex practices, treating some (rape, prostitution, temple sex rituals) as immoral and some (consesual activity within committed relationships) as positive. Homosexual orientation and behavior is seen as a normal human sexual expression among a minority of adults. It is discovered, not changeable or chosen. Like all sexual behavior, it can be a sin if it is exploitive,r manipulative, or not carried out safely within a committed relationship.

Summary:

The Bible describes three emotionally close relationships between two people of the same gender. They appear to have progressed well beyond a casual friendship. There is, however, no unmistakable evidence that they were sexually active relationships. The individuals are:
bulletRuth and Naomi

bulletDavid and Jonathan

bulletDaniel and Ashpenaz

Ruth and Naomi

Ruth 1:16-17 and 2:10-11 describe their close friendship Perhaps the best known passage from this book is Ruth 1:16-17 which is often read out during either opposite-sex and same-sex marriage and union ceremonies:

"Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." (NIV)

Ruth 1:14, referring to the relationship between Ruth and Naomi, mentions that "Ruth clave onto her." (KJV) The Hebrew word translated here as "clave" is identical to that used in the description of a heterosexual marriage in Genesis 2:24:

"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." (KJV)  

This book was probably included in the Hebrew Scriptures because King David was one of the descendents of Ruth. Although this same-sex friendship appears to have been emotionally very close, there is no proof that it was a sexually active relationship.

David and Jonathan

Passages in 1 Samuel & 2 Samuel describe, among other events, a extremely close bond between David and Jonathan. Jonathan was the son of King Saul, and next in line for the throne. But Samuel anointed David to be the next king. This produced a strong conflict in the mind of Saul.

Interpretation:
bullet Religious conservatives generally view the friendship of David and Jonathan as totally non-sexual. They find it inconceivable that God would allow a famous king of Israel to engage in same-gender sexual activity.

bulletSome religious liberals believe that David and Jonathan had a consensual homosexual relationship - in many ways, a prototype of many of today's gay partnerships. 7 Some important verses which describe their relationship are:
bullet1 Samuel 18:1

"...Jonathan became one in spirit with David and he loved him as himself." (NIV)

"...the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul" (KJV)

Most translations use the term "soul" rather than "spirit" to describe the bond. They speak of an "immediate bond of love", their souls being "in unison," their souls being "knit" etc. Genesis 2:7, as written in the original Hebrew, describes how God blew the spirit into the body of Adam that God had formed from earth, so that Adam became a living soul. This means that "soul", in the ancient Israelite times, represents a combination of body and spirit. Thus the two men appear to have loved each other both physically and emotionally.
 

bullet1 Samuel 18:2

"From that day, Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father's house." (NIV)

David left his parent's home and moved to Saul's where he would be with Jonathan. This is a strong indication that the relationship was extremely close. It echoes the passage marriage passage in Genesis 2:24: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."
 

bullet1 Samuel 18:3-4

"And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt." (NIV)

Since people in those days did not wear underwear, Jonathan stripped himself naked in front of David. That would be considered extremely unusual behavior (then and now) unless their relationship was sexual in nature.
 

bullet1 Samuel 18:20-21

"Now Saul's daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. 'I will give her to him', he thought, 'so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him'. Now you have a second opportunity to become my son-in-law" (NIV)

In the King James Version, the end of Verse 21 reads:

"Thou shalt this day be my son-in-law, in the one of the twain." (KJV)

Saul's belief was that David would be so distracted by a wife that he would not be an effective fighter and would be killed by the Philistines. He offered first his daughter Merab, but that was rejected, presumably by her. Then he offered Michal. There is an interesting phrase used at the end of verse 21. In both the NIV and KJV, it would seem that David's first opportunity to be a son-in-law was with the older daughter Merab, and his second was with the younger daughter Michal. The KJV preserves the original text in its clearest form; it implies that David would become Saul's son-in-law through "one of the twain." "Twain" means "two", so the verse seems to refer to one of Saul's two daughters. Unfortunately, this is a mistranslation. The underlined phrase "the one of" does not exist in the Hebrew original. The words are shown in italics in the King James Version; this is an admission by the translators that they made the words up. Thus, if the KJV translators had been truly honest, they would have written:

"Thou shalt this day be my son-in-law, in the twain."

In modern English, this might be written: "Today, you are son-in-law with two of my children" That would refer to both his son Jonathan and his daughter Michal. The Hebrew original would appear to recognize David and Jonathan's homosexual relationship as equivalent to David and Michal's heterosexual marriage. Saul may have approved or disapproved of the same-sex relationship; but at least he appears to have recognized it. The KJV highlight their re-writing of the Hebrew original by placing the three words in italics; the NIV translation is clearly deceptive.
 

bullet1 Samuel 20:41

"After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with is face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together - but David wept the most." (NIV)

Other translations have a different ending to the verse:
bullet"...and they kissed one another and wept with one another, until David exceeded." (KJV)

bullet"...and they kissed one another and wept with one another until David got control of himself." (Amplified Bible)

bullet"and they sadly shook hands, tears running down their cheeks until David could weep no more." (Living Bible)

bullet"They kissed each other and wept together until David got control of himself." (Modern Language)

bullet"They kissed each other and wept aloud together." (New American Bible)

bullet"Then David and Jonathan kissed each other. They cried together, but David cried the most." (New Century Version)

bullet"Then they kissed one another and shed tears together, until David's grief was even greater than Jonathan's." (Revised English Bible)

bullet"...and they kissed one another and wept with one another until David recovered himself." (Revised Standard Version)

The translators of the Living Bible apparently could not handle the thought of two adult men kissing, so they mistranslated the passage by saying that the two men shook hands! This is somewhat less than honest. The original Hebrew text says that they kissed each other and wept together until David became large. The word which means "became large" in this passage is "gadal" in the original Hebrew. The same word is used elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to King Solomon being greater than all other kings. Some theologians interpret "gadal" in this verse as indicating that David had an erection. However, the thoughts of David becoming sexually aroused after kissing Jonathan may have been too threatening for Bible translators. They either deleted the ending entirely or created one of their own.
 

bullet2 Samuel 1:26

"I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women."

In the society of ancient Israel, it was not considered proper for a man and woman to have a platonic relationship. Men and women rarely spoke to each other in public. Since David's only relationships with women would have been sexual in nature, then he must be referring to sexual love here. It would not make sense in this verse to compare platonic love for a man with sexual love for a woman; they are two completely different phenomena. It would appear that David is referring to his sexual love for Jonathan.


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Daniel and Ashpenaz

Daniel 1:9 refers to Ashpenaz, the chief of the court officials of Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon.

Various English translations differ greatly:
bullet"Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel" (NIV)

bullet"Now God had brought Daniel into favor and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs" (KJV)

bullet"Now God made Daniel to find favor, compassion and loving-kindness with the chief of the eunuchs" (Amplified Bible)

bullet"Now, as it happens, God had given the superintendent a special appreciation for Daniel and sympathy for his predicament" (Living Bible)
bullet"Then God granted Daniel favor and sympathy from the chief of the eunuchs" (Modern Language)

bullet"Though God had given Daniel the favor and sympathy of the chief chamberlain..." (New American Bible)

bullet"God made Ashpenaz want to be kind and merciful to Daniel" (New Century Version)

bullet"And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs" (Revised Standard Version)

bullet"God caused the master to look on Daniel with kindness and goodwill" (Revised English Version)

Interpretation:
bullet Religious conservatives generally view the friendship of Daniel and Ashpenaz as totally non-sexual. It is inconceivable that God would allow a famous prophet of Israel to engage in a same-gender sexual relationship.
 
bulletSome religious liberals detect the possibility of a homosexual relationship here. The Hebrew words which describe the relationship between Daniel and Ashpenaz are chesed v'rachamim The most common translation of chesed is "mercy". V'rachamim is in a plural form which is used to emphasize its relative importance. It has multiple meanings: "mercy" and "physical love". It is unreasonable that the original Hebrew would read that Ashpenaz "showed mercy and mercy." A more reasonable translation would thus be that Ashpenaz "showed mercy and engaged in physical love" with Daniel.

Of course, this would be unacceptable to later translators, so they substitute more innocuous terms. The KJV reference to "tender love" would appear to be the closest to the truth. One might question whether Daniel and Ashpenaz could sexually consummate their relationship. They were both eunuchs. Apparently, when males are castrated after puberty, they still retain sexual drive. It is interesting to note that no other romantic interest or sexual partner of Daniel was mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.

A related essay on this web site:

bulletEight types of marriages and families in the Bible...

Copyright © 1997 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-FEB-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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