Some surprising passages
edited from material prepared by Rev Jeff Miner of LifeJourney Church, Indianapolis
The way the Bible is interpreted is very much influenced by the culture and world views of those who do the interpreting. In recent years more LGBT people have been reading the Bible in different ways, questioning the assumptions that previous generations have made and wondering if some characters in the Bible were in same sex relationships. This page looks at some Biblical passages and asks whether we can see homoerotic relationships in Scripture. It is a way of looking at the Bible with new eyes.
Jesus Affirmed A Centurion's Love For His Male Lover
There is a passage in St Matthew's (8:5-13) and St Luke's (7:1-10) gospels where Jesus healed the "servant" of a Roman centurion. In St Matthew, we are told that the centurion came to Jesus to plead for the healing of his "servant". Jesus said he was willing to come to the centurion's house, but the centurion said there was no need for Jesus to do so — he believed that if Jesus simply spoke the word, his "servant" would be healed. Marvelling at the man's faith, Jesus pronounced the "servant" healed. Luke tells a similar story.
In the original language, the importance of this story for gay, lesbian, and bisexual Christians is much clearer. The Greek word used in St. Matthew's account to refer to the "servant" of the centurion is "pais". In the Greek of the time, "pais" had three possible meanings depending upon the context in which it was used. It could mean "son or boy"; it could mean "servant"; or it could mean a particular type of slave — one who was "his master's male lover."
Often these lovers were younger than their masters, even teenagers. To our modern minds, the idea of buying a teen lover seems repugnant. But we have to place this in the context of ancient cultural norms. In ancient times, commercial transactions were the predominant means of forming relationships. Under the law, the wife was viewed as the property of the husband, with a status just above that of slave. Moreover, in Jesus' day, a boy or girl was considered of marriageable age upon reaching his or her early teens. It was not uncommon for boys and girls to marry at age 14 or 15. Nor was it uncommon for an older man to marry a young girl.
Fortunately civilization has changed, but these were the norms in the culture of Jesus' day. In that culture, if you were a gay man who wanted a male partner you achieved this, like your heterosexual counterparts, through a commercial transaction —often purchasing someone to serve that purpose. A slave purchased to serve this purpose was often called a 'pais'. Jesus doesn't condemn the centurion for having a male lover, but heals the lover and tells the crowd that the centurion is full of faith.
Ruth and Naomi
The same Hebrew word that is used in Genesis 2:24 to describe how Adam felt about Eve (and how spouses are supposed to feel toward each other) is used in Ruth 1:14 to describe how Ruth felt about Naomi. Her feelings are celebrated, not condemned.
Throughout Christian history, Ruth's vow to Naomi has been used to illustrate the nature of the marriage covenant. These words are often read at Christian weddings and used in sermons to illustrate the ideal love that spouses should have for one another. The fact that these words were originally spoken by one woman to another tells us a lot about how God feels about same-gender love.
This context makes the next scene almost unbelievable. Naomi, grieving and recognizing her fate as a widow, decides to return to Bethlehem where her father's family is, and where she hopes to find food. She counsels her daughters-in-law to do the same — to return to their own families. She knows she can't offer them any support as a woman, and she fears she'll only be a burden. One, sensibly, returns home. But the other, Ruth, cannot bear to do so. Her feelings run too deep. The Hebrew word used in Ruth 1:14 to describe those feelings is quite telling. The text says, "Ruth clung to [Naomi]." The Hebrew word for "clung" is "dabaq." This is precisely the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 2:24 to describe how Adam felt toward Eve.
The Book of Genesis draws an important theological conclusion from Adam's experience. It says that, for this reason (i.e., the need for companionship), a man should leave his father and mother when he grows up and "cling" ("dabaq") to his wife. And, of course, for the vast majority of human beings, that is God's will for them — for a man and woman to leave their parents home and form a relationship with each other that is so close, so intimate, that they can be described as "clinging" to one another.
Ruth 1:14 shows that — without apology, embarrassment, or qualification — Ruth felt the same way toward Naomi as spouses are supposed to feel toward each other. Far from being condemned, Ruth's feelings are celebrated. In fact, so as to remove any doubt about how Ruth felt toward Naomi, the Scriptures go on to record the details of the vow that Ruth made to Naomi. Here are her words:
"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 1:16-17)
The passage shows that God affirms committed love between two people of the same sex.
David and Jonathan
You may have heard Jonathan and David's story, but if you're like most people, you have probably never looked at it closely.
Some Christians point to Jonathan and David as an example of idealized male bonding — a type of "brotherly love" not "stained" by the romantic entanglements of male-female relationships.
The Bible however, is completely inconsistent with this strained interpretation.
We can see in three passages the great romantic love David and Jonathan had for each other:
"When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father's house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt." (1 Samuel 18:1-4)
To give another all one's goods and symbols of power is a sure sign of love. If Jonathan's name had been substituted by a woman's name, everyone would see that this is the start of a love story.
Then we have the family dinner from hell when Jonathan gets home....
"You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen [David] the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother's nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives upon the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established." (1 Samuel 20:30)
References to "nakedness" indicate a sexual subject and clearly Saul, Jonathan's father who is speaking, is disturbed. Saul is, of course, concerned that Jonathan, the heir to the throne, is submitting to David - who was popular with the people. Saul had not consolidated his hold on the throne and was clearly worried that he was not starting a dynasty. One implication is that Jonathan's love for David is bringing sexual shame on the family and there is the problem that Jonathan's love for David threatens his own place in the succession. This is no normal friendship.
After the dinner Jonathan ran to see David:
"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." (1 Samuel 20:41)
Clearly each needed comfort. After Jonathan's death in battle David laments:
"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."(2 Samuel 2:27)
Here it is in simple language - David saw Jonathan's love as better than that of women. We know that David married twice and had various female concubines. In modern terminology we would call him a bisexual - though these terms are meaningless in antiquity.
Want to Know More?
Visit www.wouldjesusdiscriminate.com to look at these, and other, passages in more detail. Or come along one Sunday to your local Metropolitan Community Church and see a church full of lgbt Christians simply getting on with living lives of Christian discipleship, using the Bible as a friend and valuable resource in our spiritual journeys.