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What The Bible Says About Homosexuality
Were King David and Jonathan Gay? And Other Questions

Greg Thornberg       June 2, 2019

Among self-identifying Christian, 54 percent today say, “[H]omosexuality should be accepted, rather than discouraged, by society.”[1] Therefore, this article will critique the underpinning arguments for pro-homosexual theology. It will first evaluate attempts to explain away Scripture’s prohibitions and it will review the assertion of some that Scripture offers positive examples of homosexuality from the Bible (e.g., Jonathan and David).

Until recently, the church universally denounced homosexuality without exception. This position represents this paper’s thesis: That the Bible rejects all homosexuality because it is rejected in all its forms and not just certain forms of homosexuality (e.g., homosexual rape, incest, pederasty, etc.) and that, when debated texts are further examined, the biblical prohibition on homosexuality withstands scrutiny.

My method for addressing this thesis includes first examining the legitimacy of the “biblical” pro-homosexual arguments and of those offering “biblical” positive-affirming examples of homosexuality. Because most of this debate revolves around what Scripture “actually says,” we will examine the passages in light of Scripture itself. Since Scripture is already assumed to be authoritative on both sides of the evangelical vs. pro-homosexual theology debate, proving its authority is not addressed here.

How The Case is Made For Embracing Homosexuality

Defending Homosexuality in Light of Leviticus
Two of the most difficult passages for pro-homosexual bible scholars to interpret are found in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. These read,

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. [Lev 18:22]

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. [Lev 20:13]

Pro-homosexual scholar John Boswell says, “The only place in the Old Testament where homosexual acts per se are mentioned is Leviticus.”[2] Boswell offers an important admission. Every form of homosexuality is mentioned in these verses. So how does Boswell go from this admission to saying that homosexuality is acceptable? Boswell’s first answer is that,

The Hebrew word “toevah” . . . , here translated “abomination,” does not usually signify something intrinsically evil, like rape or theft (discussed elsewhere in Leviticus), but something which is ritually unclean for Jews, like eating pork or engaging in intercourse during menstruation, both of which are prohibited in these same chapters.[3]

So the primary issue in Leviticus, according to Boswell, is the ritual purity of Israel and not the morality of homosexuality per se. The second argument Boswell offers is that of Israelite distinctiveness and separateness from the nations. He argues,
Leviticus 18 is specifically designs to distinguish the Jews form the pagans among who they had been living . . . Although both chapters also contain prohibitions (e.g., against incest and adultery) which might seem to stem from moral absolutes, their function in the context of Leviticus 18 and 20 seems to be as symbols of Jewish distinctiveness.[4]

His underlying point could be summarized as, “These prohibitions were for Israel’s separateness, but they were never intended for us.” Distinctiveness of Israel is the primary goal for Boswell.

Boswell then points out that these homosexual prohibitions are found in the same context as ceremonial prohibitions—regulations concerning menstruation and unclean animals (Lev 20:25).[5] These regulations are clearly ceremonial prohibitions and not moral ones. This then begs the question if, for example, sex during menstruation is prohibited only on ceremonial grounds, why would homosexuality be prohibited on moral grounds? If ceremonial laws within Leviticus were done away with, would not homosexual prohibitions as well.

Thus the propositions Boswell lays out in favor of homosexuality are: First, homosexuality is not addressed as a moral issue in Leviticus. Second, where homosexuality was prohibited per se it was done to keep Israel distinct from the other nations. Third, these were prohibitions for Israel only, thus by implication, they were not required of other nations. Fourth, given the context of homosexual prohibitions among other clearly ceremonial prohibitions (eating pork, etc.), one must conclude that homosexual prohibitions were among now obsolete ceremonial requirements as well. Consequently, there are no legitimate grounds in the New Testament era for Christians to prohibit homosexuality based on Old Testament texts.

Attempting to Defend Homosexuality in Light of Romans
When we come to the New Testament, there are only “two verses” that address the issue of homosexuality. At least that is what Robin Scroggs argues. Scroggs comments,

The major reference to homosexuality in the New Testament (all two verses!) is found in a carefully crafted section of Romans (1:18-32). Here, as we shall see, Paul has a major theological goal in mind; ethical concerns or admonitions lie far from his purpose.[6]

Scroggs implies with his “all two verses!” remark that there is no moral case to see here. If there were, Paul would have devoted many more verses to the topic. Hence the conclusion, “Ethical concerns or admonitions lie far from his purpose.” How can Scroggs claim that Paul has a “theological goal” absent of ethical concerns? Because Paul is utilizing arguments from “Hellenistic Jewish propaganda” that the Jews use “against Gentiles.”[7] In other words, do we seriously think Paul would be siding with the Jews who are unjustly harsh and judgmental towards homosexuals? He would not. Paul is, as it were, using their arguments against them (though pederasty is still condemned[8]). Thus Scroggs concludes,

The New Testament church was not very much concerned about homosexuality as a problem, at least to judge from the evidence of the texts . . . No single New Testament author considers the issue important enough to write his own sentence about it![9]

What is Paul’s main goal since it is not ethics? His goal is to show the Jews that they, like the Gentiles, are sinners and utterly dependent on God’s grace. God’s grace is the issue, not ethics. Scroggs writes,

The argument could be summarized in one sentence: Since the entire world, both Jew and Gentile, is guilty of sin, grace (salvation) is entirely God’s gift and extends equally to Jew and Gentile.[10]

So Scrogg’s argument can be summed in the following assertions: First, the negative statements concerning homosexuality are found in only two verses. Second, Paul is using the Jewish arguments against the Jews. It is thus unlikely that he agrees with them. Third, Paul’s ultimate goal is to help the Jews understand that God is more concerned about grace than he is about ethical matters. Finally, not one “single New Testament author considers the issue important enough to write his own sentence about it!” That means, according to Scroggs, not even Paul is really writing about it, he is merely quoting the Jewish arguments.
Attempting to Defend Homosexuality by Positive Biblical Example
Episcopalian priest Tom Horner argues that David and Jonathan were in a same-sex relationship. But his list of possible homosexual relationships does not end there. Even Ruth and Naomi fall under suspicion. He writes,

Whether there existed a relationship of physical love between Ruth and Naomi cannot be demonstrated. However, the right words are there.[11]

Of David and Jonathan, Horner says,

There can be little doubt however, except on the part of those who absolutely refuse to believe it, that there existed a homosexual relationship between David and Jonathan. We are told that Jonathan loved David “as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1) and . . . David said of Jonathan, “Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” (II Samuel 1:26).[12]

Thus the “Old Testament’s greatest hero, David,” is an example of a “noble” homosexual lover. Even “Christ, the Man for All People, displays no phobia about homosexuality; nor does the Bible as a whole...”[13] Horner even suggests that it was possible Jesus was a homosexual,

But when the leader and, probably, most members of his group were single, it is only natural that some observers of primitive Christianity are going to suspect that homosexuality could have been a factor in this little group to a greater or lesser degree.[14]

The implications of Horner’s work are obvious. If David, a man after God’s own heart, was approved of God and a homosexual, then surely homosexuality is not something God disapproves of. Second, if Ruth and Naomi were possible lesbians, lesbianism has God’s approval. Finally, if Christ Himself, the key figure of the Bible, was possibly a homosexual, then the church needs to set aside its homophobia and embrace the lifestyle as it embraces Christ.

Summary of Pro-Homosexual Theology
Above are three broad reasons why the church should not prohibit homosexuality: First, the Old Testament prohibitions were temporary ceremonial commandments with no ethical concern. Second, if the New Testament has only two tiny verses about homosexuality where Paul made no moral assertions, the church should likewise drop its moral assertions. Third, since the most praised figures of the Old and New Testament were positively or possibly identifiable as homosexuals, surely Christians should embrace such relationships themselves.

Why Pro-Homosexual Arguments Fails

Why Leviticus Actually Condemns Homosexuality
Boswell’s argument that homosexual prohibition is merely an Israelite separateness code and not a moral issue fails for a number of reasons. He at least admits that all homosexuality was prohibited for Israel and partially agrees with evangelical commentators on the scope of homosexual behavior restricted.[15] But his claim that homosexual prohibition is simply a ceremonial prohibition struggles to make sense of the immediate contextual clues.

First, Boswell’s arguments omit much of the textual data. For example, ceremonial laws were not the only prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20. Among the things prohibited were major moral prohibitions concerning incest (Lev 18:6-18), adultery (v 20), child sacrifice (v 21), and bestiality (v 24). While homosexual prohibition is listed among some ceremonial laws, it is also listed among many moral prohibitions. Boswell may attempt to argue that homosexual prohibition is a ceremonial law in light of other ceremonial laws, but the opposite could easily be argued in light of the greater number of moral laws found within the same context.

Also, the fact that the other nations were driven out of the land for these very same violations implies that these codes were intended for all people. As Leviticus 18:24-25 says,

[24] “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, [25] and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. [Emphasis added]

If these laws were only for Israel, why then did God punish the former inhabitants for these same sins? And does not punishment imply that these people broke God’s moral codes? James White rightly asserts,

Furthermore, these were nations that did not have the Law of God given to them on tablets of stone, yet God still held them responsible for their immoral behavior. Unquestionably, God’s prohibition of homosexuality wasn’t only a Jewish matter—it was something that transcended ethnic boundaries.[16]

Which brings us to the next point, if homosexuality was not a moral issue, why does
God prescribe death for it? In Leviticus 20, all of the following receive the death penalty: child sacrifice (v 2-5), rebellion (v 9), adultery (v 10), incest (v 11-14, 17), bestiality (15-16), and homosexuality (v 13). The death penalty makes them all self-evident moral codes. What’s more is that homosexuality is especially singled out. As Robert Gagnon point out,

The degree of revulsion associated with the homosexual act is suggested by the specific attachment of the word . . . “abomination” . . . in the preceding list of specific commands in [Leviticus] 18:6-23 the word is mentioned only in conjunction with same-sex male intercourse.[17]

In conclusion, Leviticus 18 and 20 prohibit homosexuality on clear and universal moral grounds. This conclusion makes the best sense of the data for a few reasons: First, God drove out the other nations because of homosexual acts. Hence, it is universal. Second, homosexual acts per se receive the death penalty. Thus it is a moral issue. And finally, homosexual acts alone are mentioned in conjunction with the word “abomination.” Consequently, it is a more grievous sin than incest and bestiality.
Why Romans Actually Condemns Homosexuality
Scrogg’s claim that there are only two anti-homosexual verses in the New Testament is misleading for a few reasons. There are actually three clearly anti-homosexual verses in the New Testament (each by Paul: Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10), there are likely references to homosexuality (e.g., Jude 7),[18] and there are a few allusions to Leviticus.[19] It is simply not true that not one “single New Testament author considers the issue important.”[20]

Regarding Romans 1:24-27, the claim that Paul is not concerned about ethical matters requires a closer look at the context. First, Romans 1:18 precedes Paul’s discussion on homosexuality stating, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” Paul then proceeds to explain what provokes God’s “wrath” by citing “ungodliness” and “unrighteousness” as the cause. The fact that Paul cites “unrighteousness” as what provokes God’s judicial “wrath” is our big clue that he is talking about ethical matters.[21] Also, when Paul starts the letter to the Romans he writes that he “received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom 1:5). Paul desires ethical behavior. So from the beginning Paul has major ethical concerns. For Scroggs to say, “ethical concerns or admonitions lie far from [Paul’s] purpose,”[22] is inaccurate.

Also, to claim that Paul is merely using an argument of the Jews against the Jews as a means to point to grace and not to ethics[23] is inconsistent with the entire message of Romans and the meaning of grace. What else is grace except God’s response to sin? Without ethics in Romans there is no grace since grace is God’s response to sin—“Since all have sinned [ethically] . . . they are justified [judicially declared ethical] by his grace as a gift” (Rom 3:23-24).[24] If Paul is not condemning homosexuals in Romans 1, why then do they need grace? Further, if Paul is not condemning homosexuality in Romans 1, then we would be required to believe “that when Paul spoke of ‘degrading passions,’ ‘indecent acts,’ and how those committing them would receive the ‘due penalty of their error,’ these are not indications of sinfulness.”[25] Finally, after Paul speaks against homosexuality he never once denies his initial judgment on the matter. The reader is left assured that this is Paul’s position.

Then, when we come to Romans chapters 6, 7, and 8 we see Paul commanding people to turn from sin and live holy lives. Ethical living is the goal. Again, Scroggs’ saying that ethics is not Paul’s concern ignores the entire book. Romans 6:12 says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.” Paul concludes his command to obey with this reminder, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). Therefore, ethics is not thrown out on account of grace but rather affirmed and bolstered by it. As Gagnon says,

Rom 6:1—8:17 provides an emphatic response to those who might conclude from Paul’s earlier argument regarding the abundance of divine grace in Christ (Rom 5) that one need not change one’s sin-controlled, pre-Christian life.[26]

In conclusion, Romans 1 is based on ethical concerns because the entire book is ethically driven and motivated. In its ethical focus, it clearly condemns homosexual behavior along with all other sin.
Why David and Jesus Were Not Homosexuals
Horner’s assessment of Jonathan and David tells us that he has a sex agenda. This is a plain from the fact that the language of sex (“to lie” and “to know”) is “never employed” in this story.[27] Regardless, Horner still conflates the “love” and the “heart” between David and Jonathan to be sexual. In doing this he is missing is the entire plot of this narrative, which is, whoever has the Spirit has the hearts of the people. This biblical plot is obvious from the beginning. When Saul was anointed king and received the Spirit the people loved him (1 Sam 10:26). This is why Samuel said to Saul, “And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you and for all your father's house?” (1 Sam 9:20; emphasis added). After the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul (1 Sam 10:10), “Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts God had touched” (1 Sam 10:26; emphasis added). Saul had the people’s hearts because Saul had the Spirit. Does that mean Saul was in a sexual relationship with all of them? Nonsense. The people’s love and loyalty was the result of the supernatural work of God.

When the “Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul” (1 Sam 16:14) and rested on David (1 Sam 16:13), David became the object of the people’s affections.[28] Again, whoever has the Spirit has the hearts of the people. In fact, it was not until after David received the Spirit that it was said, “[T]he soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam 18:1). Not only that, the people loved David (1 Sam 18:5) and the women sang his praises (1 Sam 18:6-7) because “David had success in all his undertakings, for the LORD was with him” (1 Sam 18:14). It was even said, “Saul was afraid of David because the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul” (1 Sam 18:12). Does this universal love mean that David was having sex with everyone? No. But that is the kind of nonsensical interpretation Horner offers for David and Jonathan. Jonathan loved David for one simple reason: “[He] recognizes that the Lord is on the side of David.”[29] The Spirit had touched his heart.

In conclusion, all of this has enormous implications for the narratives of Ruth and Naomi and Jesus and his Disciples. One would expect that the most Spirit-filled and anointed King of kings (John 1:32-33) would draw the affections of his followers more powerfully than David. If they loved Christ, they would be loyal to him (John 14:15). Whoever has the Spirit remain on him (John 1:32-33) has the loyalty of his people forever (Gen 49:10). And why did Ruth love Naomi? It was none other than the favor of God and the work of God.
The attempts to justify homosexuality by Boswell, Scroggs, and Horner each fail for one common reason—their interpretations of various passages cannot withstand further examination of the immediate context. Boswell denies the Leviticus prohibitions by claiming that they are ceremonial and non-universal. But the language of Leviticus on this issue is clearly moral. Death is required and homosexuality is singled out as an abomination. This is God’s universal law because other nations are punished for it. Scroggs fails in Romans when he says that Paul is far from expressing ethical concerns. From opening line to conclusion, the entire concern of Paul is ethical. Man is not ethical, so he requires grace. Upon receiving grace man is freed, empowered, and required to become ethical. Paul clearly condemns homosexuality and calls men to repent. Finally, Horner twists the supernatural narrative of the Spirit into a sexualized story of David and Jonathan. That he sees sex in every detail is our first clue that he has an agenda to force upon the text. Upon examining the stories one finds that love and loyalty are the result of the work of God. The Lord is doing no ordinary work with David thus the hearts of the people are bound to him. He is a sign of the Messiah to come. In every case, condemnation of homosexuality remains and attempts to create positive and noble homosexual examples fail.

Arnold, Bill T. 1 and 2 Samuel: The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.
Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Gagnon, Robert A. J. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Gane, Roy. Leviticus, Numbers: The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
Horner, Tom. Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times. 1st ed. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978.
Moo, Douglas J. Romans. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.
Scroggs, Robin. The New Testament and Homosexuality: Contextual Background for Contemporary Debate. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.
White, James R and Niell, Jeffrey D. The Same Sex Controversy: Defending and Clarifying the Bible's Message About Homosexuality. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2002.

[2]John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 100.
[3]Ibid, 100.
[4]Ibid, 100 - 101.
[5]John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 101.
[6]Robin  Scroggs,. The New Testament and Homosexuality: Contextual Background for Contemporary Debate (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 109. Emphasis added.
[7]Robin  Scroggs,. The New Testament and Homosexuality, 109 - 110.
[8]Ibid, 121.
[9]Ibid, 121. Emphasis added.
[10]Ibid, 110.
[11]Tom Horner, Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times. 1st ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978), 20.
[12]Ibid, 20.
[13]Ibid, 25
[14]Ibid, 117.
[15]Roy Gane, Leviticus, Numbers: From Biblical Text ... to Contemporary Life. The Niv Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 2004). 315. Gane says, “Verse 22 reads: ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.’ The language is devastatingly untechnical, leaving no room for ambiguity.”
[16]James R White and Jeffrey D Niell, The Same Sex Controversy: Defending and Clarifying the Bible's Message About Homosexuality (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 2002), 66.
[17]Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001), 113.
[18]Ibid, 87. Ganon says, “Jude 7 characterizes Sodom and Gomorrah as cities ‘that committed sexual immorality . . . and went after other flesh.’ The reference to sexual immorality is ambiguous (though it probably refers to homosexual acts) . . .”

[19]Ibid, 191. Gagnon, for example, comments, “In Mark 7:21-23, Jesus interprets his saying about what defiles a person as follows: ‘for it is from . . . the human heart that evil intentions come: sexual immoralities (porneiai) . . . adulteries . . . licentiousness . . . All these things come from within and defile a person.’ No first-century Jew could have spoken of porneiai (plural) without having in mind the list of forbidden sexual offenses in Leviticus 18 and 20 (incest, adultery, same-sex intercourse, bestiality).”
[20]Robin  Scroggs,. The New Testament and Homosexuality, 121.
[21]Douglas J. Moo, Romans. The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 62. Moo explains the sense of justice Paul is communicating, “Some modern translations use the term ‘anger’ instead of ‘wrath” for the Greek word used here (orge). But ‘wrath,’ while a bit old-fashions, preserves the more objective sense the Greek word has when applied to God. God’s reaction to sin is not the ‘anger’ of an emotional person; it is the necessary reaction of a holy God to sin.”
[22]Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality, 109.
[23]Ibid, 110.
[24]Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 729 – 730. Grudem describes grace as “unmerited favor” in light of man’s sinfulness and inability to be declared righteous apart from God’s gift of salvation.
[25]James R White and Jeffrey D Niell, The Same Sex Controversy, 134.
[26]Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 281.
[27]Ibid, 153.

[28]Bill T. Arnold, 1 and 2 Samuel: The NIV Application Commentary from Biblical Text to Contemporary Life. The Niv Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 262-263. Arnold takes the same interpretive tact, commenting, “However, at the core of this text is not David’s relationship with the royal family but the narrator’s explicit statement of theological causes behind historical realities. Events are moving ahead, irreversibly now, because Yahweh has abandoned Saul and is instead “with” David, a theme repeated three times . . . All of Saul’s efforts to stop David’s rise in popularity serve only to propel David further into the limelight. When we come to the end of the unity, the narrator informs us that Saul himself has not come to understand the two recurring elements of the text: Yahweh is with David and Saul’s family loves David (18:28).”
[29]Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 150.


Greg Thornberg

Greg is the father of 13, grandfather, husband, author, and itinerant speaker.
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