Biblical Affirmation

After looking at the verses passages that people think oppose same-sex relationship, it is time to look for affirmation in scripture. But does it matter if there are positive affirmations of same-sex relationships?

No it doesn't matter if there are. Affirmations are nice to have, but they are not essential. The Bible is clear about what behaviours are unacceptable, and if something isn't unacceptable then it is OK. We all do things every day that have no affirmation in the Bible.

On the other hand, affirmations do have value. A Biblical affirmation of a same-sex relationship is a thousand times more inspiring than understanding the true meaning of the passages traditionally used to oppose same-sex relationships.

Are there affirmations in Scripture? We are going to look at three possible positive affirmations, all from the Old Testament. Remember that it is perfectly possible for, and perfectly plausible that, two men can be in a sexual relationship without violating the prohibitions in Leviticus, and remember that the Old Testament does not have any negative comment about or prohibition against two females being in a sexual relationship.

How Do We Know?

Before we can look for examples of loving same-sex relationships, we need to look at some loving opposite-sex relationships. When we know how to identify loving opposite-sex relationships, then we will be in a better position to identify loving same-sex relationships.

Children, and the Lack of Children

The easiest way to know that an opposite-sex couple is in a sexual relationship is when they have children together, or when they have difficulty in having children together.

Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. (Genesis 21:2, NIV)

Hannah's childlessness distressed her, until she conceived.

Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, "Because I asked the LORD for him." (1 Samuel 1:19-20, NIV)

Obviously, same-sex relationships never produce children. That does not make them any more or less moral, but it does make them much harder to see in the Bible.

Sinful Liaisons

Sometimes we are told that a sexual relationship existed specifically because it was a sinful sexual relationship, and that sin was part of the larger narrative. Consider the story of David and Bathsheba.

Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home. (2 Samuel 11:4, NIV)

We know of one occasion where the Bible mentions attempted homosexual activity—in Sodom—but non-sinful same-sex relationships obviously do not fall into this category.

A Couple's Love

Most of the time when a couple is in a loving sexual relationship, the Bible tells us about the love, and not the sex. There is no doubt that Michal loved and married David, with all that entails.

Now Saul's daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. (1 Samuel 18:20, NIV)

When we read this verse, we have no difficulty in seeing sexual, romantic love. Michal was in love with David. This was not friendship, it was love. In this verse the Hebrew word love is aw-hab. This word is used in many places in the Old Testament, and it often describes the love between a man and his wife (e.g. Genesis 24:67, Genesis 25:28, 1 Samuel 1:5).

When searching for Biblical affirmation, it is a couple's love that we look for. It is love that makes the relationship, and it is the love that makes the relationship visible.

Daniel and Ashpenaz

Some people think there is the possibility of a same-sex relationship between Daniel and Ashpenaz.

Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs. (Daniel 1:9, KVJ)

The argument is that "tender love" means "physical love", which would have been possible as some eunuchs do have a sex drive. There isn't really sufficient information to know what their relationship was really like. It is an intriguing possibility, but no more than that.

Ruth and Naomi

One of the most poignant declarations of love in the Bible is found in the book of Ruth, and it is made by one woman to another.

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. (Ruth 1:16,17, NIV)

These words are used at weddings throughout the world as a celebration of love. These words are used as a description of the unity that should exist between a husband and wife. If we were to imagine a woman saying these words to a man we would correctly see that she loved him, and their relationship was much more than friendship.

But who said these words? Ruth said them to Naomi. One woman to another. Does their meaning change because of this? No. The way Ruth loved Naomi was the same as the way wives love their husbands.

David and Jonathan

The most convincing example of a same-sex relationship in the Bible is found in 1 Samuel, between David and Jonathan, between the man who would become King and the man who was the son of the King. David and Jonathan's relationship provides a strong positive affirmation for same-sex relationships.

One in Spirit

When we read 1 Samuel 18:20, above, we had no difficulty in seeing sexual, romantic love between Michal and David, described using the Hebrew word aw-hab, "love". This word is also used to describe the love that Jonathan felt for David.

After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father's house. 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. (1 Samuel 18:1-4, NIV)

To be sure, aw-hab can be used to describe other types of love as well, but look again at the way it is used in 1 Samuel 18:1-4. This love made Jonathan one in spirit with David. This love meant Jonathan loved David as himself. This love made Jonathan enter into a covenant with David. The love that Jonathan had for David was not the love of a friend. It was the love that exists between a couple.

Because of the love that they shared, David and Jonathan made a covenant between themselves: "Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself." They formalised the loving relationship between them. When a man and a woman formalise a loving relationship like this we call it marriage. When two men formalise a loving relationship it is equivalent to marriage.

Saul's Anger

The situation between Saul, the King of Israel, and David was often tense, and one one occasion, Jonathan was caught between them.

Saul's anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, "You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don't I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? (1 Samuel 20:30, NIV)

In the KJV:

Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness?

In this verse Saul seems to accuse Jonathan of being in an intimate relationship with David. The phrase "to your own shame"/"to your own confusion" implies sexual shame or sexual confusion. It is common for gay men to be told that they are bringing "shame" to their mother.1 Some scholars argue that "Don't I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse" can be translated as "Don't I know that you have chosen the son of Jesse as an intimate companion."2

On it's own this verse is unconvincing proof of a relationship between David and Jonathan. After all, it is part of a furious outburst from Saul. But remember what 1 Samuel 18:1-4 said about Jonathan's feelings: "he loved [David] as himself". In this context we have to consider that Saul may have been right. 3

The Covenant and the Love

For the first time since it was made in chapter 18, the covenant between David and Jonathan is mentioned in chapter 20. In a secret meeting, David and Jonathan discuss the situation with Saul.

[David Said to Jonathan] "As for you, show kindness to your servant [David], for you have brought him into a covenant with you before the LORD. If I am guilty, then kill me yourself! Why hand me over to your father?" (1 Samuel 20:8, NIV)

This covenant took precedence over the relationship between Jonathan and his father. We can see that the covenant binds David and Jonathan together closer than the biological tie between Jonathan and Saul. The covenant, made because Jonathan loved David as himself, supersedes biological family relationships, just like a marriage covenant between a man and a woman.

Sometimes people say that the covenant between David and Jonathan was a political covenant, designed to secure David's place in the royal household. This ignores the basis of the covenant—love. And it ignores the commitment that David made to Jonathan's family.

[Jonathan said to David] "But show me unfailing kindness like that of the LORD as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the LORD has cut off every one of David's enemies from the face of the earth."

So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, "May the LORD call David's enemies to account." And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself. (1 Samuel 20:14-17, NIV)

Jonathan knew that his family were in decline, and David was rising. Jonathan wanted David to promise to protect his, Jonathan's, family. David agreed. If the covenant in chapter 18 was political, then David could not have agreed to the covenant in chapter 20, because Jonathan's family would have been David's enemies. A husband and wife care about each other's biological families, and here we can see that David cared about Jonathan's biological family.

And in verse 17 we are reminded of the love between Jonathan and David: "he loved him as he loved himself." The relationship was not a political one. It was a loving relationship between two men.

Tearful Parting

Jonathan investigated the situation, and he concluded that Saul wanted to kill David, and David had to flee. They met once again, for what they both knew might be the last time.

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

Jonathan said to David, "Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, 'The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.' " Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town. (1 Samuel 20:41-42, NIV)

Their emotional meeting and tearful parting is much more like two lovers being separated than two friends being split apart. The NIV uses the word "friendship" to describe their relationship, but most other translations do not. In verse 42, the KJV says "The LORD be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever," a phrase which shows that Jonathan recognised the unity that existed between their families because of their covenant, just like a marriage creates unity between the biological families of a husband and wife.

Jonathan, Second in Israel

David and Jonathan did meet again, at Horesh.

And Saul's son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. "Don't be afraid," he said. "My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this." (1 Samuel 23:16-17)

Like 1 Samuel 20:30, above, this verse does not tell us much on its own. However, when considered in context it does raise some interesting questions. When David became King, why would Jonathan, the son of the previous king, expect to be second to him? Why would Saul expect Jonathan to be second? Who do we normally expect to be second to the King? His spouse? Jonathan knew his position in relation to David, and Saul knew as well.

David's Lament

Before we look at the final—and most convincing—piece of evidence, we will have to look at two other books, The Song of Solomon, and Tobit, from the Apocrypha.4

You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have stolen my heart
with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace. (Song of Solomon 4:9, NIV)

In the Song of Solomon the bride is sometimes called the sister of the groom. Addressing your spouse as if he or she was a sibling is a feature of Hebrew literature.

Raguel [Sarah's father, speaking to Tobais] answered "Very well ... I therefore entrust your sister to you. From now on you are her brother and she is your sister ... I entrust her to you; the law and the ruling recorded in the Book of Moses assign her to you as her wife" (Tobit 7:11-12, New Jerusalem Bible)

Although I do not regard Tobit as inspired, it is useful, in conjunction with the quote from Song of Solomon, to show that "brother" and "sister" are sometimes used as synonyms of "husband" and "wife" in ancient Hebrew literature.

And now for the most convincing evidence of the relationship between David and Jonathan, David's lament for Jonathan:

How the mighty have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
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
. (2 Samuel 1:25-26, NIV)

Note that David refers to Jonathan as his "brother", just as the husband in the Song of Solomon called his wife his sister, and just as Raguel in Tobit called Tobias and Sarah brother and sister. David spoke of Jonathan as one spouse spoke of another in ancient Israel.

Look at what David compares Jonathan's love to. David doesn't compare it to the love of his family, or the love of his other friends. Jonathan's love for David is compared the love that exists between a man and a woman. Why David have made that comparison if the love between them was not the same sort of love that exists between a man and a woman?

Reviewing the Evidence

Let's review the evidence:

The clearest, simplest understanding of this evidence was that Jonathan loved David as one spouse loves another. The clearest, simplest understanding of this evidence show us that David and Jonathan were in what we would today call a same-sex relationship.

What Does This Mean?

We cannot tell if David and Jonathan ever had sex with each other. We do know that they had a passionate, intense, emotional relationship. Can they be used as an affirmation for same-sex relationships?

Of course we can. A man and a woman can love each other as spouses. A man and a woman can have their souls knit together by love. We don't have to know that they have sex to recognise the relationship for what it is. Two men can love each other as spouses. Two men can have their souls knit together by love. We don't need to know that they have sex to recognise the relationship for what it is.

What of Ruth and Naomi? People use Ruth's words of devotion as an example of how a married couple should love each other. Like David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi had an intense, passionate relationship. That love isn't defined by, or created by, or changed by sex.

Can we accept that David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Naomi were God-fearing people? Of course. Then we must also accept that men in a relationship like David and Jonathan's can be God-fearing, and women in a relationship like Ruth and Naomi's can be God-fearing.

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1. By referring to Jonathan's mother's nakedness, Saul may have been saying "Your behaviour proves you are not my son, and thus exposes your mother's adultery".

2. Jonathan Loved David by Tom Horner, ISBN0-664-241859

3. In section 7.4.1 of his book, From Milk to Meat, Duncan Heaster says that "Saul implied David and Jonathan were homosexual (1 Sam. 20:30)."

4. The quote from Tobit is used because it is a good example of "brother" and "sister" being applied to a husband and wife in ancient Hebrew literature. It was used in the same way as the quote from the Penitential attributed to John the Faster: just to illustrate a point about how a word was used.

Christadelphians do not think the books of the Apocrypha (or the Penitentials) are inspired.

Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world
Matthew 25:34, NIV