Homosexuality Class: Week 2 – Sodom, David, Jonathan, Ruth and…Naomi (?)

Preston Sprinkle —  February 5, 2014 — 4 Comments
This entry is part 2 of 8 in the seriesHomosexuality, the Bible, and the Church

This week’s class was devoted to a bit of house-cleaning—sweeping aside biblical arguments from both sides of the debate that seem to clutter, rather than help, the discussion. First, we talked about God’s wrath poured out on Sodom from Genesis 19. Was Sodom condemned because of homosexuality?

According to R. C. Sproul, yes. “In their total lack of shame they have embraced homosexuality and sexual violence,” says R. C. “Many scholars friendly to the liberalization of sexual morality will say the central sin of Sodom was inhospitality and not homosexuality.”sodom

But my question for Sproul is: what do you mean by “homosexuality”? Someone who struggles with same sex attraction? Someone who is in a monogamous, consensual, homosexual relationship? (There were none at Sodom.) Someone who is engaged in extra-marital sex with people of the same gender? As we learned from the first week of class, the term “homosexuality” is so broad that it’s rarely helpful for the discussion.

Plus, Sproul is correct that Sodom has embraced “sexual violence”—they tried to gang rape the two angels—and both Jude and 2 Peter talk about sexual immorality as part of Sodom’s crime. But I don’t know anyone in the LGBT community who would say that gang rape is okay. Somewhere in the middle of the night, there are two ships passing each other.

The question facing the church is: does the Bible permit same sex relations within the context of a consensual, monogamous, and loving relationship? In this regard, the story of Sodom is quite irrelevant.

Next, we looked at a few relationships in the Old Testament that some have taken to validate same sex eroticism. The late John Boswell, for instance, says in passing that “intense love relations between persons of the same gender figure prominently in the Old Testament—e.g. Saul and David, David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi.”

No footnotes. No argument. No evidence. Usually the editor catches such unsupported statements, but for some reason they missed this one. davidcensored1For Boswell, it’s self evident that Ruth and Naomi were lesbian lovers and that Saul and Jonathan were fighting for David’s erotic affections. Now, I’m really trying to read the Bible in an unbiased manner. I want to base my views on what the Bible actually says, not on what I want it to say. But Ruth and Naomi? Really? Would God sanction a lesbian love relationship between mother and daughter in law? I can’t think of a non-cynical response, so let me just move on to David and Jonathan, since there seems to be more evidence there.

You’ve got to admit, there are a few statements about David and Jonathan that raise some eyebrows. “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam 18:1; cf. 20:17). Jonathan also “delighted very much” in David and “took great pleasure” in him (1 Sam 19:1). On one occasion, David and Jonathan “kissed one another and wept with one another,” since they would not see each other again (1 Sam 20:41). Finally, when David gets news about Jonathan’s death, he cries out: “very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women” (2 Sam 1:26).

I’ve got to admit, I’ve never told my best friend that his love to me was better than the love of women, and if I did I might loose him as my best friend, and my wife would certainly have a few questions. So what do we do with these passages?

What we shouldn’t do is read them through the lens of our own hyper-sexed culture. We should interpret them in light of an ancient Near Eastern context where same gender relationships could be incredibly intimate without being sexual.

For instance, the phrase “soul being knit to…” is used by Jacob about his son Benjamin: “his (Jacob’s) soul is bound up with his (Benjamin’s) soul” (Gen 44:30-31). This, of course, does not mean that Jacob had david and jonathansexual interest in his son. They had a non-sexual close bond.

Also, the Hebrew word for “take pleasure in” (hapesh) sometimes has sexual overtones, but it usually only means loyalty. Friends could take pleasure in their friends without taking them to bed. And friends can kiss without taking it to second base. In fact, the Hebrew verb “to kiss” occurs 27 times in the Old Testament, but in only 3 of those 27 instances does it refer to erotic kissing. Most often, relatives are seen kissing with no sexual overtones (15 times), and on four occasions we see two men kissing, but again with no sexual connotation. It’s probably our culture (if you live in the west) that assumes that kissing is purely sexual. But ancient Hebrew culture had a much broader view of kissing, and the biblical evidence supports this.

Finally, when David says that Jonathan’s love surpasses the love of women, this probably means no more than David experienced a commitment, loyalty, and intimate relationship with Jonathon that he did not experience with his many wives. It was quite common, actually, for men to develop more intimate relationships with other men than they had with their wives. Interestingly, one of our auditors just got back from living in the Middle East and he said that the same is very true today in Arabic cultures. Men in the Old Testament times didn’t grow up learning the 5 love languages.

But let’s extend our exegetical leash as far as it will go; let’s just say that David and Jonathan had a steamy Brokeback Masada relationship going on behind the scenes. Would the Bible sanction this? Would the Bible set forth David and Jonathan’s extra marital, adulterous, promiscuous fling as an example to follow? Even if Jonathan was Janet, and the affair was heterosexual, the whole relationship would have been condemned, not celebrated, by the moral standards of the Bible.

So, the point of this week’s class was: don’t support the right doctrine (whatever you feel is the right doctrine) from the wrong texts. In my view, traditionalists have done this with the story of Sodom, and revisionists have done this with David and Jonathan.

Now that the deck has been cleared, we can move on to a text with a bit more relevance: Leviticus 18 and 20. Stay tuned!

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Preston Sprinkle

Preston Sprinkle

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I'm married to a beautiful wife and we have four kids (3 girls and a boy). I've been teaching college level Bible and Theology classes for a few years now (since 2007), and enjoy hanging out with my family, running, surfing, and life in SoCal. Before I became a teacher, I was in school. Lots and lots of school. I did a B.A. and M.Div here in SoCal, and then did a Ph.D. in Scotland in NT studies. Before coming to EBC, I taught at Nottingham University for a semester, and Cedarville University for a couple of years. Along with surfing, I also love to research and write, and I've written a few things on Paul, Early Judaism, and Hell.
  • josh

    The question to ask yourselves, is this: Do what we understand today about same sex marriages, look like the story of Jonathan and David, or does it look like Romans 1?

  • Julie

    You make a good point when you say that the Bible would not sanction an extra marital, adulterous fling. As you aptly suggest, even if Jonathan were Janet, the whole relationship would have been condemned by the standards of the Bible.

    As you move forward, is there any reason to believe that Paul speaks of anything other than extra marital, adulterous flings in Romans 1? Weren’t the majority of adults in his time married?

    Just something to think about.

    • Preston

      Hey Julie,

      Yup, that’s a common argument for Romans 1. And we’ll get to that later. But the moral logic of Romans 1 is rooted in the creational intention of God-given genders. It’s seems to be the “same-sex-ness” and not the “extra-marital-ness” of the act that Paul critiques in that passage. But we’ll get to that later. I’m still working through the various nuances of that passage.

      • Julie

        I’m not suggesting it was “against nature” because it was adulterous. I just think it’s interesting to recognize that most adults were married, and thus these sexual escapades were almost always adulterous.

        Even though Romans 1 is rooted in the creation account, that doesn’t necessitate that this is about rejecting gender design; it could be but it doesn’t /have/ to be. The early church could have gotten it right by thinking it was about rejecting the procreative
        design, which still aligns with the idea that Paul is pulling from Genesis 1-3 upon which to base his argument. If it’s true that the women encouraged the men into practicing sodomy with them, this could have been impetus for the men to practice sodomy with one another. In the text, Paul places “their” women first as if their act of disobedience was the stumbling block for the men. It makes a bit more sense that women insisting on this inappropriate “use” provoked the men to expand its scope rather than the idea that women sleeping with women would incite men to jump into bed with one another.

        This view doesn’t demand that birth control is a sin. The essence of this picture is that their women’s insistence on inappropriate “use” turned the men onto the idea of sodomizing each other. This view eliminates the disconnect between the total absence of mention of lesbianism in Leviticus with its apparent mention in Romans.

        I know you’re /reasonably persuaded/ by the argument relating to gender roles. You could be right…but you could be wrong. And I realize there are a lot of things in Scripture in which we can only be reasonably persuaded rather than absolutely certain. But those things aren’t conclusions that will rip another person’s life apart if we happen to be wrong about our educated guess.