By Rev. Jim Richards
Revised, May 1, 1998
Metropolitan Community Church of Knoxville, Tennessee
1059 Tranquilla Dr., Knoxville, TN 37919
(Copyright permission to duplicate is hereby granted only if the text remains exactly as is, without editing, with credit, and without cost to any recipient. The church is to be notified upon the duplication and use of this text. Footnotes appear as endnotes at the end of the text.)
The Christian seeks to understand faith and life taking the Bible seriously. Everyone who relies on or otherwise quotes the Bible has a canon within the canon---a Bible within the Bible. Certain books, passages or verses have power and meaning for each person, to the exclusion of some other passages. That is not necessarily symptomatic of narrowness. The power of the Bible to speak with authority to generations across four thousand years is generated, in part, by the diversity of that book, never mind that at a variety of places it contradicts things written at a variety of other places. The book issues out of a diversity of experiences through which the people of God have drawn conclusions about God's Word for them in their own time. What they have learned is instructive to succeeding generations facing similar realities and can be the conduit for God's Word to those successors. Thus, as events change, locally, regionally, internationally, different parts of the Bible become especially relevant and helpful.
The hazards are great, though, when readers decide before coming to the book, what they intend to find there. Then they are tempted to pick and choose, quoting a verse here and another there in order to construct, rather than be instructed. Selecting part of a truth from one generation, part of a truth from another and still other parts from other truths, such persons blend a body of parts of truths which, together, are not the truth.
"For many centuries the church ostracized homosexual people from church and community life and gave its blessing to civil persecutions, including killing discovered homosexuals. The theology of this position rests on selective literalism," in reading the Bible.1 It is incumbent upon the student of the Bible to come to terms with the original cultural situation and with the biblical writer's use of language and its nuances.
Perhaps the most important cultural reality at play in the Hebrew community, for our purposes, is the presence of a patriarchal family model. A phrase popular today is "Traditional Family Values." A "Leave it to Beaver," ideal family is the image the term is usually intended to convey, but that imaginary family not only does not exist in reality today, it never has and least of all in biblical times. The traditional family values of the early Hebrew people included a perception of women and children as property. Their functions were to provide labor, care of parents in their old age, and progeny. Only men had power, authority and control over their own lives. Moreover, polygamy was part of the Hebrew "traditional family values." Polygamy, that is, for men only. Multiple wives were not only legal, but common.
STARTING AT THE BEGINNING
Examination of the two stories of creation2 is where we start. The first story (Genesis 1:1-2:4a) depicts God creating Adam (Hebrew meaning: the "earth person," I..e. the person made from the dust.) This one person, it turns out, is divided into two persons by God, one male, one female. They are each part of a single act of creation. Their sex differentiates them, but there is no difference in status.
The second story (Genesis 2:5-4b-25) specifically notes that the woman, ishah and the man, ish, [Gen. 2:23] are part of one creation "flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone," are the words the story teller puts in the mouth of ish, describing his female companion. The purpose of the creation of her is to be a partner. The poetic tone of the nouns, ish/isha , indicates "one source," i.e., equality. Only their gender differentiates them. Moreover, in this account, the purpose of the creation of the woman is not so the two can have children, but so that they can be partners---an answer to loneliness. Any contention that their genital differentiation means men cannot lie with men, or women with women, adds a turn to the account which is just not there. It adds the reader's agenda to the biblical story.
The nation of Hebrew people is tiny, so procreation was to become very important if for no other reason than survival of the race. If the Hebrew people were to have political strength and security in a hostile world, they had to grow numerically. Thus a multitude of laws emerged dictating that every ounce of available semen be spent directly on the creation of babies and nothing else. So the cultural ambiance of Leviticus is antagonism toward any sexual activity that is not directed to population growth.
THERE IS NOTHING GAY ABOUT A STORY OF GANG RAPE
Picture a little town in Canaan at a time in history when a plethora of kings reigned over tiny city-states which often waged war against each other. Invasion was always a danger so aliens were not to be trusted. In one such town, Sodom, lived Lot, his wife and his family. They were Chaldeans, aliens, outsiders. They were to be carefully watched and not trusted.
Note well that God had already decided to destroy Sodom before the incident our story depicts ever took place (Gen. 18:20). Whatever the story of outrageous behavior on Lot's doorstep is about, it is not the precipitating incident for Sodom's destruction.
The prophet Ezekiel says: "This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor, and needy." (Ezekiel 16:49). A definition of "sodomy," then, would have to be failure to meet the needs of the poor. Those who use the destruction of Sodom as evidence that God abhors homosexuality are finding something in the Genesis account which is not there.
God's decision having already been made, God sent two messengers to warn Lot and his family to flee the condemned city. Imagine the reaction of the town folks when two strangers appear on the dusty road into town and disappear into Lot's house, aliens going into the home of the already suspect aliens!
Male enemies, defeated in battle or otherwise apprehended, were commonly raped anally as a measure of security.3 In a culture where women are powerless, property, good only for purposes of procreation, and where a central symbol of subservience is being penetrated by the male penis, total emasculation is achieved when a man is sexually penetrated by a man. The men of the town surround Lot's home and demand to "know" these strangers. If the verb "to know" means, here, sexual intercourse, and it most likely does,4 it refers to the goal of the men in town to insure the safety and security of their village by forestalling any invasion. They remove the manhood of potential assailants. This is not a story about sex. It is a story about the stratagems of male defenders of their town's security.
Neither is this an account of a city filled with homosexual men. It is remarkably similar to the rationalization of U.S. internment of Americans of Japanese descent during the Second World War. Characterized as a necessary security measure, it is, in fact, the account of incredible inhospitality to foreigners. In Sodom the male citizens intend degrading, disgraceful and emasculating bodily harm to strangers within their gates.
Jesus confirms this understanding of the Sodom incident when he explains to the seventy disciples whom he commissioned that they should exit any city, casting the dust of that place from their sandals, if the town's folk treat them inhospitably. "Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town." (Matthew 10:15). Clearly, Jesus' understanding of the "sin of Sodom" has nothing to do with homosexuality, but with rudeness and inhospitality.
BUT IT'S THE LAW!
At the 1993 March on Washington a woman carried a hand lettered sign which describes the matter well, from a gay male, lesbian, bisexual and transgender point of view:
Do Not Talk to
Me about Leviticus
Unless You Have
Sacrificed a Goat
Homosexuality is a word unknown to biblical writers. The word was coined during the last half of the nineteenth century.5 The concept of a same gender couple loving each other, each choosing to spend his/her life with the other in Holy union is not even distantly implied in the two Levitical prohibitions of "...a man lying with a man as with a woman" (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) Most of the Levitical laws are aimed at prohibiting monotheistic Jews --- Jews who worship One God alone, YHWH --- from participating in any of the pagan rites common to the nations around them, in the midst of whom they find themselves living. Pagan fertility rites, aimed at insuring the growth of crops or the fertility of a wife, included sexual intercourse with a pagan priest, male or female. What is being identified as abhorrent in Leviticus is pagan same-gender fertility rites. Homosexuality is not the issue and is not addressed by these verses.
Moreover, as the sign carrier's placard suggests, the two verses in question are planted among numerous other directives long since discarded by even the most fundamentalist. Directives such as prohibition of sex with a menstruating woman, wearing garments made from two kinds of fabric, cross-breeding two kinds of cattle, sowing a field with more than one kind of seed, marring the edges of a beard (presuming a requirement that all men wear beards!), rounding off the hair of the temples, eating pork, rabbit, or any kind of shell fish: shrimp, lobster, crab. And, lo and behold, "You shall also offer one male goat for a sin offering." (Lev. 18-23)
THE GOOD NEWS FOR GAYS IN THE GOSPEL
The New Testament is premised on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. It is critical that this fact be kept uppermost in any examination of Christian biblical teachings. Neither the Apostle Paul nor any other writer in the New Testament, is the originator of the Christian faith. Jesus is. The early church considered much material written about Jesus when it selected the four written accounts chosen for inclusion in the Bible. Clearly the early church intended to be as exhaustive as possible in providing authentic accounts of Jesus' life and ministry. In those exhaustive accounts not a single writer, not Matthew, not Mark, not Luke, not John, record anything on the subject of homosexuality. In fact, the gospels say nothing even on the subject of same gender sex. It cannot be overemphasized that the writers who were intent upon leaving to history a complete and accurate account of Jesus' life and teachings, record him saying nothing that would condemn or even criticize same gender love.
THE NEW CHURCH AND THE OLD LAW
From the date of its birth on the Day of Pentecost, the new church wrestled with a variety of issues, but especially with the application of the new freedom Jesus had introduced and the relevance of that freedom to the old laws. Jesus is recorded having broken some of the old laws. He said that law is for the service of human beings, not vice versa. The young church debated the application of the old laws and wrestled with whether or not new Christians needed to obey them and by that means become Jews in order to become Christians. In what has jokingly been called the first General Conference meeting, Paul and Barnabas confronted the leadership in the "headquarters" city of Jerusalem and won Peter's support. The law is a burden, the gospel is about freedom and the only laws to be retained in the new church, this conclave concluded, are those against eating foods sacrificed to idols, eating the meat of animals killed by strangulation, or containing any residue of blood and the laws against fornication, that is sexual relations outside of a committed relationship. (Acts 15). It is not true, as some have argued, that this early Church decision dealt only with the food laws. This benchmark decision by the earliest disciples and apostles of Jesus lifts the old food laws and specifically retains only the sexual laws against promiscuity.
APPEALING TO PAUL
Since it was Paul, with Barnabas, who negotiated this consensus with the original disciples in Jerusalem, it must be concluded that Paul concurs with the elimination of all other laws.
Romans 1:18-32 - Paul's references to same gender sex in Romans are seen by some6 as an argument against participating in the male prostitution available in Pagan temples. More accurately, Paul inveighs against pagan practices in general and says that persons who worship humans, birds, animals and crawling creatures instead of God, "therefore," i.e. as a result of this idolatry, are given over, by God, to degrading passions. "Men burned in their desire" toward men, and women toward women. Two things are clear from this passage: (1.) Those who practice idol worship are given up by God to their worst desires, in Paul's view. It is not their sexual practices which condemn them, but their idol worship. This passage does not speak to gay Christians who are not idol worshipers. (2.) Nothing is said here about two men or two women who love each other, who share a committed relationship with each other. "...The persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual: what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual persons."7
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 - Two words in 1 Corinthians and one in 1 Timothy have been translated from the original Greek, commencing in this century, to indicate that homosexuals will not enter the Dominion of Heaven. 1 Corinthians 6:9: "Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the dominion of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes (malakos), sodomites (arsenokoitai)..." 1 Timothy 1:10: "...fornicators, sodomites (arsenokoitais) traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching..."
"English versions unanimously give some reference to homosexual behavior (in translating these words), but the best foreign translations do not."8 Malakos literally means "soft," as a wearer of soft cloth. Having soft skin, thus might mean "effeminate." Some gay persons are effeminate. So are some straight persons. To translate malakos "homosexual," (RSV), "abusers of themselves with the mankynde" (Tyndale), "Catamites, sodomites" (Jerusalem Bible), "sodomites" (NAB), "who are guilty of homosexual perversion (NEB) simply highlights the homophobia of the translators.9
Arsenokoitai occurs only in these two places. It is found nowhere else in the New Testament. Scholars believe that 1 Timothy was not written by the Apostle Paul. "...The vocabulary, theology, and morality... moves away from the distinctive vocabulary of Paul. Careful study... reveals that words or phrases... may be used in a recognizably different way."10
Moreover, several "authors who wrote soon after Paul, did use the word (arsenokoitai) and they did not use it to mean homosexual. In one case it was used to mean child molesting, and in another case, anal intercourse between husband and wife. When the Bible was translated into Latin in the 4th century (the Vulgate), the word arsenokoitai was translated as male prostitute."11
It is clear that to construe these passage as anti-gay is to abuse the biblical texts.
SAME GENDER RELATIONSHIPS IN THE BIBLE?
There are remarkable evidences of same gender love in the Bible. Love between David and Jonathan, and between Ruth and Naomi are two examples. We must also look at the loving relationship between John and Jesus.
1. David and Jonathan
David is a central and key figure in Old and New Testaments. He, the lad who slew the giant, and was selected by God through Samuel to succeed Saul, Israel's first King, came to be the preeminent figure in the ancestry of Jesus. An evidence to support the claim of Jesus as messiah would be descendence from the genetic line of David. Jesus was a grandchild of David's, several times removed. Born in the city of David, Jesus was heralded as the Son of David upon his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
David, who got himself into heterosexual trouble with Bathsheba, also loved a man. In fact he said of Jonathan, "...your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women."12 Jonathan was King Saul's son, and when Saul took David into his own home to make use of his gifts as a poet and musician. Brought together in the same home, the young men grew very close. Scripture declares that "...the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul."13 Such relationships were not unusual between a man of Jonathan's princely status and a male of his choosing.14 This relationship was clearly made of deeply loving and devoted commitment.
King Saul finally confronts his son about the young man's gay relationship with David. "Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan. He said to him, ‘You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother's nakedness?"15 It is clear that there is a loving relationship between Jonathan and David that is "shameful" to Jonathan's mother and when Jonathan's father, Saul, enraged by the ongoing love affair, set out to have David murdered, a poignant, if melancholy scene ensues. When Jonathan verified the fact of his father's murderous intentions he went to an isolated field where he met David, by prearrangement, to report the ominous news. Hearing the news, "David rose from beside the stone heap and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He bowed three times, and they kissed each other, and wept with each other; David wept the more."16
Only those coming with blind homophobia will not see the physically expressed love and the ritual commitment these two men felt for each other.
Later, when Jonathan and his father were killed in battle David, the poet of Psalmic fame, delivered a powerfully moving elegy concluding it with the revealing description of his love for Jonathan. The poem commences with these memorable words:
Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!
and concludes with David's poignant words of adoration for Jonathan:
Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
The Hebrew word used in this passage, ahabat, is commonly use to describe the love that exists between husband and wife. It is translated later in the same book, as "lust." In the Song of Songs, a book rarely quoted by prudish preachers it is so erotic, sensual and carnal in its content, the same Hebrew word David uses is translated more than once in very erotic terms. "He brought me to the banqueting house," writes the female poet of the Song of Songs, "and his intention toward me was (ahabat)." That is, "lust," or "love," or "love making." David loved (ahabat) Jonathan, "passing the love (mahabet) of women"17 One of the students of this biblical love affair puts it well:
"When...two men come from a society that for two hundred years had lived in the shadow of the Philistine culture, which accepted homosexuality; when one of them---who is the social superior of the two---publicly makes a display of his love; when the two of them make a lifetime pact openly; when they meet secretly and kiss each other and shed copious tears at parting; when one of them proclaims that his love for the other surpassed his love for women---and all this is present in the David-Jonathan liaison---we have every reason to believe that a homosexual relationship existed."18
2. Ruth and Naomi
This story, like that of David and Jonathan, presents a character of major importance to the Christian faith. Ruth is the grandmother, several times removed, of Jesus. This is not merely a side bar story in the history of the faith.
Naomi and her husband had come from Judah to the land of Moab to live. Soon, Naomi's husband died. Her two sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth, but within ten years these two men had died also. Naomi was without any means of support. In a patriarchal society she had no husband to provide for her nor male progeny to care for her in her old age. She, therefore, instructed her two daughters-in-law to remain in Moab where they could marry again and insure their own security. She was returning to Judah. Orpah obeyed but Ruth refused to leave the side of the older woman. Declaring in words that are repeated to this day in marriage ceremonies, Ruth said, "Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die---there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!" (Ruth 1:17). Is that not a vow that goes far deeper, in love, than in-law dedication? It is a pledge between two women, in a patriarchal culture where women are only free to bind themselves to men; only permitted to give away their freedom to those who have the power to save, nourish and protect, namely males. It is, in fact, a pledge stronger than that included in most heterosexual weddings, today, i.e. `not even will death part us,' so clearly a statement of marriage bonding it is.
Eventually Ruth, having moved with Naomi to Judah, seduces Boaz, a male relative of Naomi's deceased husband. Through that, and a land purchase agreement with Naomi, Boaz fulfilled a moral and legal obligation to marry Ruth and provide for her's and Naomi's security and well being. Thus Naomi and Ruth contrived to secure their livelihood and safety through a marriage of obligation. The child born of that marriage, Obed is his name, the Bible reports, "...shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him." (Ruth 4:15) The Hebrew word translated "daughter-in-law," here, can also be translated "bride."19
That marriage provides not only for care and protection by a husband but the potential of children to care for these three in their old age. The son of Boaz and Ruth, Obed, will be the grandfather of David and thus part of the lineage of Jesus. Ruth is a grandmother, several times removed, of the messiah!
Is this an account of a homosexual relationship? It is clearly an account of two women who are quite happy to be each other's companion; two women who are committed to each other's well being. Ruth is clearly willing to risk even death in destitution for the sake of Naomi. And isn't it significant that so many, even in our own day, want the magnificent vow of love expressed by Ruth to Naomi used in their marriage ceremonies? What is a loving relationship about if not this?
3. Jesus and John
John, in his gospel, never refers to himself by name. He only describes himself as "the one whom Jesus loved." We know virtually nothing about the women who traveled with the disciples. We do know that Peter was married, for Jesus healed his mother-in-law. Clearly there were women among the crowd whom Jesus referred to as disciples, besides the twelve. Sexual activity of Jesus and the disciples is not given any attention in the gospels. Any conclusions on that subject are pure speculation. Nonetheless John feels the need to draw the reader's attention to a special affection which Jesus demonstrated toward him. In the description of the Last Supper he is depicted reclining next to Jesus, with his head near or on Jesus' "bosom" (John 13:23, KJV).
It is clear that John understood Jesus to have a unique affection for him, an affection which must be described as same gender.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty faced by Christians who have finally acknowledged their own homosexuality or that of a child, spouse, sibling or friend, is the weight of condemnation heaped by fellow Christians upon those who are homosexual. The Bible never condemns committed love between two persons. Where it is critical of same-gender relationships it is referring to persons who are otherwise presumed to be heterosexual, acting against their heterosexual nature to obtain pagan benefits.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is central to any Christian understanding and Jesus' message, in addition to never touching the subject of homosexuality, it is a gospel premised on love, grace and forgiveness.
You may call MCC Knoxville if you have any questions.
- Robert Crooks and Karla Baur, Our Sexuality, Fifth Edition, Redwood City, CA: The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Inc., 1992, P. 276.
- Genesis 1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25.
- George R. Edwards, Gay/Lesbian Liberation a Biblical Perspective, NY: The Pilgrim Press, 1984, P. 26..
- George R. Edwards, Gay/Lesbian Liberation a Biblical Perspective, P. 34.
- George R. Edwards, Gay/Lesbian Liberation a Biblical Perspective, P. 14.
- John J. McNeill, The Church and the Homosexual, Boston: Beacon Press, 1988, P. 55.
- John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985, P. 108.
- John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, P. 338. cf.. N. 7.
- John Boswell Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, P. 338; and George R. Edwards, Gay/Lesbian Liberation, P. 82.
- George R. Edwards, Gay/Lesbian Liberation, a Biblical Perspective, P. 83.
- Tim Miller, The Bible on Homosexuality, a manuscript produced for use by MCC-Knoxville, 1985, P. 8.
- 2 Samuel 1:26.
- 1 Samuel 18:1.
- Tom Horner, Jonathan Loved David, Phila: Westminster Press, 1978, Pp. 15-25.
- 1 Samuel 20:30
- 1 Samuel 20:41.
- Holladay, Wm. L., A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), P. 5.
- Tom Horner,Jonathan Loved David, Pp. 27-8.
- Hebrew: "Hallah" (Ruth 4:15)