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.”
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. For 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 sexual 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!