from one Seventh-day Adventist's point of view
© 2009 by Carrol Grady
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
—St. Francis of Assisi
© 2009 by Carrol Grady
“Present truth” is a significant phrase for Seventh-day Adventists that dates back to the founding of the church. The expression implies truth that is particularly appropriate in a current historical situation – a fuller understanding of truth that was not available previously. Originally found in 2 Peter 1:12, (Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth), it referred especially to the truth about Jesus as the Messiah. In early Adventist history, pioneer Joseph Bates defined “present truth” as the sanctuary and Sabbath doctrines. Church founder James White wrote, “In Peter’s time there was present truth, or truth applicable to that present time. The Church have [sic] ever had a present truth. The present truth now, is that which shows present duty, and the right position for us.” The church has always paid lip service, at least, to the possibility that new truth may be revealed.
Is our human understanding of truth progressive?
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” John 16:12-13
“There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation.” Ellen G White, “Christ Our Hope,” Adventist Review and Sabbath Herald, December 20, 1892, p. 785.
What biblical examples can we find of changes in perception of God’s truth or will?
"The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai.” Gen. 11:29
“Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.” Gen. 16:3
"Abraham was now old and well advanced in years, and the Lord had blessed him in every way.” Gen. 24:1
Note: Abraham was blessed in spite of having more than one wife.
"Jacob said to Laban, Give me my [four] wives and children...” Gen. 30:25-26
“After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him.” Gen. 35:9
Note: Jacob also was blessed despite having four wives.
“If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.” Ex. 21:10
“If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other...he must not give the rights of the
“If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her.” Deut. 25:5
Note: Brothers were even commanded to take a second wife in this circumstance.
“[Elkanah] had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah.” 1 Sam. 1:2
Note: God blessed the barren second wife with a child who became a leader of the Children of Israel.
“The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart...” (Samuel speaking of David) 1 Sam. 13:14
“Then Saul gave [David] his daughter Michal in marriage.” 1 Sam. 18:27
“Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife.” 1 Sam. 25:39
“After the time of mourning was over, David had [Bathsheeba] brought to his house, and she became his wife.” 2 Sam. 11:2
Note: God blessed David and made him king and a forebear of Jesus, although he had several wives.
“Now the bishop must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife.” 1 Tim. 3:2
Note: this text indicates that although some men in the early Christian church may have had more than one wife, monogamy was recognized as the ideal.
2. Women as inferior to men, or as chattel, belonging to their husbands or fathers.
“If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other...he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love.” Deut. 21:1
Note: Moses gave laws to protect a second wife.
“Laban replied, ‘It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also in return for another seven years of work.’” Gen. 29:26
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Ex. 20:17
“A woman who gives birth to a son...must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding.” Lev. 12:1, 4
“If she gives birth to a daughter...she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.” Lev. 12:5
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal. 3:28
Note: Jesus and Paul introduced a new paradigm concerning the equality of women, although it has been slow to be accepted by a male church hierarchy.
3. Ceremonial purity laws
“When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period...she will be unclean...and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening.” Lev. 15:25,19
“A woman...who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years...touched the edge of his cloak....’Who touched me?’ Jesus asked....Then he said, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you.’” Luke 8:43-8
Note: Jesus did not consider himself unclean until evening.
“Whoever touches the dead body of anyone will be unclean for seven days.” Num. 19:11
“Then [Jesus] went up and touched the coffin.” Luke 7:14
“They laughed at him, knowing that [Jairus’ daughter] was dead, But [Jesus] took her by the hand.” Luke 8:53-4
Note: Jesus did not recognize the defilement of touching a dead body.
“So he said, ‘I am Abraham’s servant.” Gen. 24:34
“The seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work,... nor your manservant or maidservant.” Ex. 20:10
“If you buy a Hebrew servant;...If a man sells his daughter as a servant...” Ex. 21:2, 7
Note: Although the Bible appears to condone and regulate the practice of slavery, Christians today recognize that God’s will is for all men to be free.
Is there Scriptural precedent for the church changing its mind and accepting those previously considered unclean and unacceptable?
“And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem , to the apostles and elders about this question.” Acts 15:1, 2.
“And when they had come to Jerusalem , they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.’” Acts 15:4-6.
Note: After hearing the testimony of Paul and Peter and their work among the Gentiles, the Council, in direct conflict with the accepted interpretation of the Torah, decided that Gentiles could be Christians without becoming Jews. Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson, professor of New Testament at Chandler School of Theology, Emory University, affirms that the question of accepting homosexuals as full members of the church “is analogous to the one facing earliest Christianity after Gentiles started being converted.”1
Jeffrey Siker, associate professor of New Testament at Loyola Marymount University and ordained Presbyterian (USA) minister, says “Just as Peter’s experience of Cornelius in Acts 10 led him to realize that even Gentiles were receiving God’s Spirit, so my experience of various gay and lesbian Christians led me to realize that these Christians have received God’s Spirit as gays and lesbians and that the reception of the Spirit has nothing to do with sexual orientation.”2
6. Scientific understanding
“Joshua said to the Lord: ‘O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon. So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped.” Josh. 10:12-14
“It [the sun] rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other.” Ps.9:6
When early scientists discovered that the earth revolves about the sun rather than vice versa, Christians who understood from the above verses that the earth was the center of the universe resisted this scientific belief fiercely, but today we accept it without question.
Might there be some reasons why we should be listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in discerning a better understanding of God’s will for homosexuals?
1. Homosexuality is a prominent issue in our world today. Christians in many churches are being led to study the Bible’s truth regarding it.
2. Many thousands of hurting homosexual church members feel rejected by God. Many more thousands have left their churches because they feel there is no place for them there.
3. Jesus gravitated toward the outcast and marginalized. If we follow His example we will feel a responsibility to learn how to reach out to homosexuals and learn what His will for them is.
4. Recent scientific discoveries have helped us understand homosexuality more fully.
1Scripture and Discernment: Decision-Making in the Church, Timothy Luke Johnson. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996, 147
2Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture, Robert Brawley, Ed., Louisville : Westminster John Knox Press, “Gentile Wheat and Homosexual Christians” by Jeffrey Siker, 146
How Do We Read The Bible? Part 1
© 2009 by Carrol Grady
How do we understand biblical inspiration and interpretation?
I don’t think very many Adventists believe that God dictated every word of the Bible. If we read the Bible with our eyes open and our minds engaged, we realize that, while it is written by many different people in various walks of life, who were inspired by God, it was also written from within the confines of their particular worldview, scientific understanding, and cultural perceptions.
Moses was raised among the Egyptian elite and given a royal education; Solomon also grew up in a palace. Samuel, Ezra, and Jeremiah wrote as members of the priesthood. David was a shepherd and a man of war before becoming king. Amos was an uneducated herdsman. The Gospels were written by a despised tax collector invited to join Jesus’ band of disciples, an insignificant young man who recorded what he had heard from Peter, a gentile physician, and a former fisherman who became Jesus’ closest disciple. Paul, the author of many letters preserved in the Christian Testament, was raised in the extreme legalism of the Pharisees.
We can find a number of minor discrepancies between different authors. Realizing this does not detract from the inspiration and authority of the Bible. I believe God expects us to employ the reasoning powers He gave us in searching what was written by and for people living in a very different time, in order
To find principles which can guide us in our lives today. The Bible’s great power comes from the way God can speak to us today from an ancient text.
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
“’I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.’” John 16 12, 13
We also need to remember that words and ideas are not simple, concrete, and unchangeable. Two people can read the same passage and understand it differently. Words have different nuances of meaning, both to the one who writes and the one who reads, and their meanings can change over time. We tend to think that our own understanding is the only correct one, but our particular upbringing and experiences give shades of meaning to biblical stories and passages that may never have occurred to the author.
Everyone “interprets” what they read. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find two people whose beliefs and understandings agree on every single point. Absolute conformity should not be our goal; rather, we should find delight in the enrichment brought by others’ viewpoints. God glories in diversity. No two snowflakes or flowers are exactly alike, and neither are any two persons God created.
Can we read the Bible in a way that justifies our own prejudices?
Many people do not want to recognize the parallel between the way we read Scripture relating to homosexuality today and the way Scripture used to be read regarding slavery and racial segregation. In the case of slavery Christians slowly came to recognize a different aspect of biblical teaching. Let’s take a look at how the Bible was once used to justify slavery:
“Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.’” Genesis 9:20-25
Although the Bible never says that Ham was the progenitor of the black race, our western theological tradition has so designated him and used this curse as justification for slavery of Africans.
Jack Rogers, Professor of Theology Emeritus at San Francisco Theological Seminary, and Moderator of the 213th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mentions several prominent leaders of his church who, prior to the Civil War, were “absolutely confident that Africans were cursed and deserved slavery both for their nature and their willful sin.” These men “were not evil people per se. They were among the best thinkers and church leaders of their day.”1
Until the time of the Civil War, Presbyterian church leaders believed that, from its beginning, the Bible asserts God’s judgment against Ham and Canaan, implies the black races are morally inferior to white Christians, and judges black people to be willfully sinful, often sexually promiscuous, and thus deserving of punishment for their sins. Similar charges are brought against homosexuals today.2 These same views were typical of most Christian denominations.
Although I can’t pinpoint just where I heard it, I was aware of the view about the “curse of Ham” and it must have come from my Adventist environment, since I grew up near church headquarters in Takoma Park, Maryland, and went to Adventist schools all my life.
Southern slaveholders’ appeal to the Bible for their right to own slaves could not be denied.
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” Colossians 3:22
“Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about
God our Savior attractive.” Titus 2:9-10
However, the Holy Spirit led thoughtful Christians to understand that it was not in God’s will for one person to own another.
Although Mrs. White spoke against slavery and encouraged work among former black slaves in the South, the Adventist Church has a less than perfect history in race relations. When my parents were workers at Washington Sanitarium (now Washington Adventist Hospital) back in the 1940s, a Black woman was brought to the emergency room, but they sent her to another hospital that accepted Black patients, and she died on the way there.
In the 1950s, when the Seminary requested Washington Missionary College to allow pastors from the Caribbean islands to stay in their dormitories during the summer, college officials refused because their white students would be unwilling to live in rooms that had been occupied by blacks. Although Christians today look back at these positions with abhorrence, they reflected the general opinions of the culture at the time.
We are now seeing a change in how the Bible is read regarding the place and role of women, as cultural values in our society change. The Bible was written in a cultural and historical context that regarded women as inferior and treated them as property to be owned by men. This gave men a sense of superiority and power that was not easily relinquished.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not cover your neighbor’s wife.” Exodus 20:17
“’Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them.’” Genesis 19:8
“’I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.’” Genesis 29:18
Paul had the first glimmer of understanding that Jesus’ followers were to regard women as having the same value as men. But it was not easy for him to accept this new paradigm and, even today, many still struggle with it.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
“As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.” 1 Corinthians 14:33-34
Today some Christians are beginning to see that there is a different way to understand the Bible’s principles as they relate to homosexuals. How can we discern what the Bible says that applies to people living today with a homosexual orientation? James B. Nelson, Professor of Christian Ethics at United Theological Seminary, Minneapolis, suggests that, first of all, we need to determine what the biblical author was trying to say – what questions he was addressing and what the cultural and historical context was – and then we should consider what the text means for us today.3
He says, “We receive no guidance whatsoever about the issue of sexual orientation. The issue of “homosexuality” – a psychosexual orientation – simply was not a biblical issue. Indeed, the concept of sexual orientation did not arise until the mid-nineteenth century. Certainly, biblical writers knew of homosexual acts, but they apparently understood those acts as being done by heterosexual people (they assumed everyone was heterosexual. . .it is clear that our understanding of sexual orientation is vastly different from that of the biblical writers.”4
There is difficulty in looking to the Bible for definitive sexual counsel. The Hebrew Scriptures accept polygamy as normative. Not only are there are no prohibitions against it; Moses gave laws for multiple wives (Exodus 21:10; Deuteronomy 21:15-17). Levirate marriage, concubinage, and prostitution were other practices taking place among the Israelites that we would not condone today. On the other hand, remarriage to the same partner and intercourse during menstruation, which were specifically forbidden in the Old Testament, are not considered sinful today.
Hebrew sexual ethics were framed in terms of purity and property systems that no longer prevail among us. Even “on such a major issue as sexual intercourse between unmarried consenting adults there is no explicit prohibition in either Hebrew Scripture or the New Testament (which John Calvin discovered to his consternation). Indeed the Song of Solomon celebrates one such relationship.”5
1Jack Rogers , Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality ( Louisville :
Westminster John Knox Press) 2006, 19.
3James B. Nelson, “Sources for Body Theology: Homosexuality
as a Test Case” in Homosexuality in the Church: both sides of
the debate, Jeffrey S. Siker, ed. ( Louisville : Westminster John
Knox Press), 1994. 79.
4Ibid., 79-80. 5Ibid., 81.
How Do We Read The Bible, Part 2
© 2009 by Carrol Grady
Does the Bible give us an example of how the early church handled differing opinions on how to interpret biblical laws?
Here is an example from the early church. It is instructive to read the entire story.
“Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question… Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.’ The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God, by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.’ The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up: ‘Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself… It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.’” Acts 15:1-2, 5-14, 19-20.
How important was circumcision in the culture of Jesus’ and Paul’s day? Would they have been circumcised?
Circumcision was considered an essential religious covenant by the Jews, a sign of one’s commitment to God, instituted by God. Converts to Judaism were required to undergo circumcision. Jewish Christians naturally expected that Gentile converts would follow this important commandment of God.
“Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner–those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14 (emphasis added).
What reasoning did Paul offer in deciding that Gentile followers of the circumcised Jesus were exempt from entering into this everlasting covenant with God?
“A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Romans 2:28-29 (emphasis added).
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6
We can imagine that the Jews who opposed Paul thought he was ignoring and disagreeing with God’s Word, itself. But he insisted that physical circumcision was merely a symbol of circumcision of the heart. He said the underlying principle was loving obedience to God. This is a pattern of Spirit-led discernment.1
How can we apply this experience to the debate in the church today about homosexuality?
Today we understand what the writers of the Bible did not – that some people are born with their brains hard-wired to be attracted to the same sex, instead of the opposite sex. As Paul decided that God did not require Gentiles to be physically circumcised, it also makes sense to understand that God would not require those who, through an accident of birth, are not physically attracted to the opposite sex, to spend the entire lives alone.
One of the underlying principles of marriage is to form a committed, lifelong union in order to appreciate the loving relationship of the Trinity and God’s love for us. Although same-sex couples cannot produce their own children, they can be loving parents to orphans, and thus learn to understand God’s love for us – the important lesson of parenthood.
1Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI) 2009, 133-136.
Creation and the Fall
© 2009 by Carrol Grady
Those who oppose homosexuality like to say that “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Does the story of Creation tell us that homosexuality is sinful? First of all, we have to say that Genesis 1-3 was not written for the purpose of answering our questions about homosexuality, so whatever we may draw from these chapters will be implicit, rather than explicit.1
The two Creation accounts give distinct perspectives on the Creation event. In Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a, the Creation of this earth is described in poetic fashion as an orderly and well-planned process, with God speaking order and beauty to chaos, the earth obeying, and God pronouncing His work “good.” Time is divided into day and night, seasons and years. Vegetation, birds, fish, animals, and humans are classified as distinct species and each produces after its own kind. God’s sovereignty is emphasized.
On the other hand, the account in Genesis 2, from verse 4b onward, places an emphasis on relationships, between God and humans, among humans, and between humans and other created things, and highlights human freedom. Genesis 3 introduces the confusion and ambiguity that result from human decisions and choices, not only for the humans, but for the rest of the earth and its inhabitants. These differing perspectives give us a fuller picture of Creation and its implications concerning homosexuality.
What difference is noted about the creation of humans?
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
Humankind, unlike animals, is created in the likeness of God.
What does the “image of God” actually mean?
“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:28
Some have seen the reference to male and female and reproduction as the meaning of “the image of God,” but this is unlikely, because “male and female” are biological classifications that elsewhere in the Bible refer only to animals, and other species are also given procreative powers.
“There is no indication…that sexual distinction is a part of the divine character. Although God identifies with both male and female roles in Scripture, in contrast to all the ancient Near Eastern deities, Israel’s God was regarded as asexual. The only thing that clearly distinguishes humanity from the other species is that humanity has dominion over all the other creatures.” 2 God delegated to humans the stewardship of the earth.
What relationships are mentioned in the second Creation account?
“No plant of the field had yet sprung up. . .There was no man to work the ground. . .the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden, and there he put the man he had formed.” Genesis 2:4-5, 8
A symbiotic relationship existed between humans and the earth. Plants needed man to till and water so they could flourish and man needed the food thus yielded, as well as the rewards of useful labor.
“So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.” Genesis 2:20
Animal life was also formed from the dust of the ground by God, but not in His image. This verse illustrates the freedom God gave humans to name and classify what He had created.
“But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Genesis 2:21-24
The suggestion is that man needed a companion, another human to help him with the responsibility of caring for the garden and the animals, a partner in sexual reproduction. This is a complex relationship, not fully defined by the ability to reproduce. “It may be observed that when the adam saw the woman, what he recognized was not a sexually differentiated creature, but someone just like himself; she is his “own bone,” his “very flesh.”3
What was the result of Eve and Adam’s choice to disobey God?
“So the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock…To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rules over you. To Adam he said,…”Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.” Genesis 3:14, 16, 17
Genesis 3 shows us a disordered world in which things are not as they should be, not as they were created to be. The humans’ choices have affected their relationships with God, each other, the earth and other created beings. “The effects of mortality upon humankind as tillers and as procreative beings are profound. They will die without food and they will cease to exist as a species without procreation.”4
Questions for Reflection
What is the assumption about the purpose of male/female union, as traditionally drawn from the Creation story?
Many Christians assume that God created humans male and female for the primary purpose of reproduction and continuation of their kind. Yet in many families today, the relational dynamics described in Genesis 2 (companionship, shared work, enjoying together the fruits of labor) take precedence over the need for procreation. For instance, few “would argue that childless couples share an ‘unnatural’ relationship. Even fewer would consider it unnatural for couples who are beyond the childbearing age to have sexual relations…Must the sexual distinctions between humans have a primary function of reproduction?…the danger of extinction faced in antiquity due to shortage of labor and resources is no longer a serious threat. Our danger comes from overpopulation, not underpopulation.”5
Is there evidence that God had another purpose for the marital relationship?
“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.’” Genesis 2:18
When God created humans in His image, He made them social, relational beings, reflecting the relationship of the Godhead. He placed within the heart of mankind the desire and need for a close, intimate and vulnerable relationship with another person.
Is the male-female relationship described in Genesis 1 descriptive or proscriptive?
We can assume that the description of male/female creation and relationship is the only kind of relationship God intended. Some say that the Bible leaves out so many details that would help us better understand it, because they were not important in the time and culture of the writer; therefore, it might be possible that the story, as written by men in a patriarchal society, did not mention any variations on the dominant pattern. However, my conclusion is that the perfect world and relationships described in Genesis 1 and 2 were blessed and intentional.
What changes do we see in the world of Genesis 3 and beyond?
In the post-Fall world, everything was changed. No longer did the man and woman regard each other as equals. Their relationship was damaged. We see that men wielded their power over women, treating them as they did their animals and other possessions, though that was not God’s intention as described in Genesis 1.
Heterosexual marriages today fall far short of the Edenic ideal. Over the centuries, we see other signs of things that are not the same as they were at Creation. Variations from the dominant sexual patterns in nature gradually appeared. Today we see people who are unable to procreate, as mandated by God. We see people born with indeterminate genitals or with sexual organs of both male and female. We see people with the body of one sex, who understand themselves to be the other sex. And we see people who are not attracted to the opposite sex, but rather to their own gender. We see these changes not only in the world of humans, but in the animal world, where same-sex pairs court, mate, and rear young.6
"It is true that humanity is, as a rule, created whole and fully able, but it is a reality that there are people who are not born that way We affirm that mortals are supposed to procreate, but we recognize at the same time that many people are biologically incapable of bearing children."7
Can we find a certain beauty even in some of the results of sin on our world?
The snow that softly wraps our world in the winter, the dying leaves that turn brilliant colors before they fall from the trees, the halo of silvery hair that adorns an elderly person—none of these were part of the original Creation, yet we enjoy them as a part of our fallen world. Can we not also appreciate the tender love between two homosexuals as a form of beauty, though a part of our fallen state?
What conclusions may be inferred from the story of Creation and the Fall?
- In the perfect world created by God, man and woman were made for each other. They were to be close companions, helping each other in their God-given work of were made for each other. They were to be close companions, helping each other in their God-given work of caring for the earth. They were bonded intimately through their sexuality, given the gift of procreation, and commanded to increase and fill the earth.
- God gave humans the freedom to make decisions and choices. Although He told them what choices would bring them happiness, He did not force them to follow his advice.
- When Adam and Eve chose to disobey, their decision affected the whole Creation. No longer was this a perfect world. Relationships were damaged and grew more so, as humankind continued to make wrong choices. Yet God did not forsake the world he had made. He promised a future when perfect relationships would be restored, but until then He would continue to stay with his flawed and broken children.
- The story of our once-perfect world gives us a goal to strive for, and God’s grace encourages and sustains us when we fall short. When, because of limitations from being born in a sin-damaged world, we are unable to live up to the ideal we have the assurance that God understands and accepts our best efforts.
1Richard E Whitaker, "Creation and Human Sexuality" from Homosexuality and Christian Community, Choon Leong Seow, ed., (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 3.
2Ibid., p. 6.
3Ibid., p. 9.
4Ibid., p. 10. 5Ibid., p. 11.
6Bruce Bagemihl, Biological Exuberance: animal homosexuality and natural diversity (New York: St. Martins Press, 1999)
7Choon-Leong Seow, "A Heterotextual Perspective" from Homosexua ity and Christian Community, Choon-Leong Seow, ec., (Louisville:
Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 18
Old Testament “Clobber Texts”
© 2009 by Carrol Grady
There are six biblical passages Christians have traditionally used to condemn homosexuality. Gays and lesbians, who have been repeatedly bashed by them, have taken to calling them the “clobber texts.” In the light of today’s increasing knowledge, let’s take a closer look at these verses to see if they might be read differently than they have in the past.
The Story of Sodom
As far back as the 12th century, this story has been interpreted as evidence that God destroyed Sodom because of homosexuality.1 Is this view warranted?
When did God decide to destroy Sodom?
“Then the Lord said, ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.’” Genesis 18:20-21
God was already planning to destroy Sodom before the incident with the angels, but in response to Abraham’s pleading, He agreed not to destroy it if ten righteous people could be found in Sodom.
What was Lot’s response to the two strangers (angels) who came to Sodom?
“The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and his face to the ground.
“‘My Lords,’ he said, ‘please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.’
“‘No,’ they answered, ‘we will spend the night in the square.’
“But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate.” Genesis 19:1-3
Who then surrounded Lot’s house?
“Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom – both young and old – surrounded the house. Genesis 19:4
This mob included every man in Sodom. It is unlikely that most of these men were homosexual in orientation. For there to have been a continuing population in the city, most of them must have been heterosexual men – husband and fathers.2
What was the mob’s intention?
“And they called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally.’”
“So Lot went out to them through the doorway, shut the door behind him, and said, ‘Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly! See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof.’”
“’Get out of our way,’ they replied. And they said, ‘This “’Get out of our way,’ they replied. And they said, ‘This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge. We’ll treat you worse than them.’ They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.” Genesis 19:5-9
The Hebrew verb “to know” occurs 943 times in the Old Testament, but in only ten of those instances is it used in the sexual sense. This is apparently one of them.3 By offering his daughters instead of his guests, Lot confirms that the mob’s intention was sexual in nature.
However, the mood here seems to be one of violence rather than sexual desire. Lot seems to indicate that he had offered the strangers shelter in his house because he knew how the Sodomites might treat them. And it is likely that when Lot, himself an alien, brought the strangers to his home, the men of Sodom may have suspected them of being spies. Their threatening, “We’ll treat you worse than them” also indicates violent intent. Their intention seems to have been homosexual gang rape.
There is a similar story in Judges 19, where a traveling Levite and his concubine are offered shelter in Gibeah and wicked men of the city demand that the host turn the Levite over to them. Instead the man’s concubine is pushed out the door, and the evil men rape her all night long until she is dead.
What is the meaning of homosexual rape?
Rape is not motivated by sexual desire, but by a need to show power over someone disdained as weak and vulnerable. In ancient times women were looked down on and were considered as property owned by men. To rape a man was to humiliate him by treating him as a woman. Captives of a conquering army were often subjected to this act of contempt. This helps to explain Lot’s act of trying to save his male guests, who he saw as more important than his daughters, and it also explains why the men of Sodom wanted to show their power over the men, rather than Lot’s daughters. We can understand this by looking at what takes place in prisons today, where the most powerful inmates sexually assault those who are weaker, asserting their dominance by subjugating others.3
How do other biblical passages describe the sin for which Sodom was destroyed?
“In the first chapter of Isaiah, the nation of Judah is rebuked through a comparison with Sodom and Gomorrah. The specific sins mentioned are greed, rebellion against God, empty religious ritual without true devotion to God, failure to plead the cause of orphans and widows, failure to pursue justice, and failure to champion the oppressed. There is no mention of homosexuality.”5
“In Jeremiah 23:9-15, Jeremiah expresses dismay over the behavior of the prophets of Jerusalem and says that God considers these leaders to have ‘become like Sodom’ and the inhabitants of Jerusalem ‘like Gomorrah’ (verse 14). Again, nothing is mentioned about homosexuality. Instead, the focus is on adultery, lying, and cooperating with evildoers rather than urging people to turn away from wickedness.”6
“Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before me. Therefore I took them away as I saw fit.” Ezekiel 16:49, 50.
Some have speculated that abomination refers to homosexual acts, but the word for abomination has also been applied to many other actions, such as “haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that hurry to run to evil, a lying witness who testifies falsely, and one who sows discord in a family.” Proverbs 6:16-19
“But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.” Luke 10:10-12
Jesus referred to Sodom in the context of inhospitality. Ironically, Christians use this story that condemns uncharitable attitudes toward strangers to justify their inhospitable treatment of gays and lesbians.
“In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” Jude 7
In this reference, sexual immorality and perversion is mentioned, but not specified. Some have translated this as “fornication,” (heterosexual relations outside of marriage). Jeremiah mentions adultery as one of Sodom’s sins. There is no reason to assume that it refers to homosexuality.7
The Holiness Code
Holiness Code, because they define how the Israelites were to keep themselves pure or holy before their holy God. Two verses, a law and its penalty, are of interest in our study of what the Bible says about homosexuality.
“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; It is an abomination.” Leviticus 18:22
“If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Leviticus 20:13
At first glance, these texts seem quite clear and straightforward. But let’s try to understand the context and the cultural norms of that day and see if they shed any light on the reason for this command. There are several possible explanations for why this particular type of male-male intercourse was condemned.
Chapter 18 begins with these words:
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites, and say to them: I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt , where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.” (verses 1-3)
There follows a long list of practices, mostly sexual in nature, which they are to avoid. They are commanded to keep themselves distinct and separate from the idolatrous nations around them.
It may have been considered part of the fertility rites of idolatrous nations.
The command directly preceding the one we are considering forbids sacrificing one’s children to Molech, which may indicate that both behaviors prohibited are idolatrous practices.
Edwards provides a number of reasons for not ruling out Although we may not have much direct evidence that same-sex behavior was part of pagan worship, “biblical scholar George Edwards provides a number of reasons for not ruling out entirely the possibility that homosexual acts may have been included among the functions performed by male cult prostitutes. He bases his arguments on the male-centered nature of worship under patriarchy and the fact that in the fertility religions ‘intercourse with the deity was supposed to effect, in a magical way, the divine cosmic mystery of fructification, even among crops and animals.’ It was the symbolic union with a deity that mattered, not the fact that actual reproductive capabilities were lacking in the physical act (which some have argued would make sexual contact between two males seem strangely out of place in fertility rites). ‘The cultic act transcended the biological union of the parties engaged in the ritual event,’ writes Edwards.”8 It has been suggested that in ancient fertility religions which understood that creation came out of chaos, sexual orgies without traditional boundaries were seen as a reenactment of the creation process and would result in fertility of land, livestock and people.
So we see that this prohibition against male-male sexual acts may have centered on its being part of idolatrous rites. God’s people were strictly warned not to have anything to do with idolatry and commanded never to serve, nor to let their children serve, as temple prostitutes. (Deuteronomy 23:17, 18)
It may have been considered a mixing of gender roles that resulted in impurity or uncleanness.
“The “underlying theme [of the Holiness Code] was that they [Israelites] must be separate, different from the Egyptians from whom they had escaped and unmixed with the Canaanites into whose land they had now come.
“[T]hey could not mix with any other kind of people or adopt alien customs if they were to remain pure. Practically, this meant no intermarriage with non-Israelites. However the[y] generalized this aspect of the code to mean no mixing of any kind. Thus the Holiness Code forbids such things as sowing a field ‘with two kinds of seed’ and wearing a garment ‘made of two different kinds of materials.’…When a man took the passive role of a woman he was, in effect, mixing genders.”9
In that patriarchal society where male superiority and authority was supreme, a man who played the role of a woman by being penetrated by another man, was demeaning the male role. This law is particularly concerned with sexual penetration. “The very Hebrew word for woman, naqeba, means “orifice bearer” – as if there were no orifices in the male body. The fundamental image of a woman was someone who was there to serve the man in sexual intercourse. So for a man to sexually penetrate another man in anal intercourse was to mix and confuse the standards of maleness and femaleness. It was to use a male in the function of a female. It was precisely this mixing of kinds, this confusion of accepted gender roles, that Leviticus 18:22 forbade – but not other kinds of male-male sex.”10
What was the ancient understanding of reproduction?
The ancients believed the “seed” that produced life was contained in male semen, and females provided the “nest” where life was incubated. Therefore, “wasting” semen in male-male intercourse was seen as destroying the seed of life.
What is the meaning of "abomination"?
The Hebrew word toevah, translated as “abomination,” can ”also be translated ‘uncleanness’ or ‘impurity’ or 'dirtiness.’ ‘Taboo,’ what is culturally or ritually forbidden, would be another accurate translation. The significance of the term toevah becomes clear when you realize that another Hebrew term zimah could have been used – if that was what the authors intended. Zimah means not what is objectionable for religious or cultural reasons, but what is wrong in itself. It means an injustice, a sin.”10 In the Greek Septuagint toevah in Leviticus 18:22 is translated as bdelygma, meaning a ritual offense, rather than other Greek words such as anomia (violation of law, a wrong or a sin), poneria (evil practice), and asebia (ungodliness), indicating that the command was against a purity violation, not a clear ethical or moral violation.11
Anal penetration of a male by another male may have been forbidden because it was part of idolatrous fertility rites, because it symbolized impurity through a mixing of genders, because it was thought of as destroying life, or because it violated the patriarchal notion of male superiority.
But whatever the reason, we have not been given the authority to choose some of the laws in the Holiness Code as binding today, while ignoring others, such as eating meat that still has blood in it (Lev. 17:13), having sexual relations during a woman's period (Lev. 18:19), mating different kinds of animals, planting a field with two kinds of seed, wearing clothes woven from two kinds of material (Lev. 19:19), cutting the hair at the side of the head or clipping off the edges of the beard (Lev. 19:27) or not rising in the presence of the aged (Lev. 19:32). The sexual ethic articulated in the first five books of the Bible relates to a purity system and property laws that do not apply.
1Daniel A Helminiak, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality
( New Mexico : Alamo Square Press), 2000, 44.
2Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Is the Ho-
mosexual My Neighbor? ( San Francisco : Harper-Collins), 1994, 58.
4Scanzoni and Mollenkott, 58, 59.
9Jack Rogers . Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths,
Heal the Church (Louisville : Westminster John Knox Press) 2006,
New Testament “Clobber Texts”
© 2009 by Carrol Grady
There are three New Testament passages that specifically mention same-sex behavior.
“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way, the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” Romans 1:26-27 (NIV)
“For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” Romans 1:26-27 (RKJV)
What is the context of these two verses?
The point Paul is making in these first chapters of Romans is that everyone, whether pagan or Jew, is a sinner and in need of God’s grace. In chapter 1 Paul describes the pagan world, which knew of God through His creation but refused to show Him honor and thankfulness, making images of created things and worshiping them instead. In their self-sufficiency they turned from the truth to a lie, so God left them to the results of their darkened minds.
It is generally accepted that Paul wrote this letter while in Corinth,1 where sexual orgies were a well-known part of the worship of Aphrodite, and he uses this as an example of where idolatry can lead. In Greek mythology, Aphrodite and Hermes were the parents of Hermaphrodites, a god/goddess that was both male and female; confusion of sexual roles was also part of these sexual orgies.2
Paul goes on to list other forms of unrighteousness that those who trust in their own professed wisdom, but whose minds were debased, were filled with: sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, envy, murder, strife, deceit, disobedience to parents, gossip, slander, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness, faithlessness, heartlessness, and ruthlessness.
Then, just as his Jewish readers are nodding their heads in agreement, Paul says, “You Jews, to whom God has given His law – when you condemn others, you are guilty of the same things!” Paul’s reference to idolatrous sexual orgies, which include the “unnatural” mixing of gender roles, is not a condemnation of homosexuality, per se, but simply a well-known example of the behavior of pagans, who refused to recognize God as Creator.
What is the implication of “natural” and “nature” in this passage?
There are some who argue that because Paul mentions men and women who turn from what is natural to what is unnatural sexually, he is referring to heterosexual people engaging in homosexual behavior. However, there was no concept of sexual orientation until the mid-19th century, so people in Paul’s day assumed that all people were naturally attracted to the opposite sex. This was considered the natural order of Creation and behavior that departed from that order was considered unnatural. There was also no awareness at that time that homosexual behavior occurs many times in the natural world among birds, animals, fish and insects.3
How do these verses apply to Christian homosexuals today?
This reference is to same-sex behavior in its relationship to idolatrous worship. It is about sexual acts in which lust is the defining characteristic, not about loving relationships. The people involved do not worship God, and they exhibit all sorts of evil behavior. There is no recognition that some people are born with a homosexual orientation. Paul's condemnation of immoral sexual behavior should not be applied "to faithful gay and lesbian Christians, who are not idolaters, who love God, and who seek to live in thankful obedience to God."4
Paul’s “Vice Lists”
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes (homosexuals – NKJV; effeminate – KJV) nor homosexual offenders (abusers of themselves with mankind – KJV) nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10 (NIV)
“We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts (them that defile themselves with mankind – KJV; sodomites – NKJV), for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” 1 Timothy 1:9-10 (NIV)
What is behind the different way these words have been translated?
The Greek word which has been translated variously as “male prostitutes,” “homosexuals,” or “effeminate” is malakos. Its basic meaning is “soft ones” and it has also been translated to mean “lazy,” “wanton,” or “undisciplined,” so its meaning is not specifically linked with sexual matters. However, many biblical scholars suggest that in this instance it probably refers to young men who were prostitutes, wore soft, silken clothing, painted their faces and perfumed their bodies in order to solicit sex with both male and female clients.5
Another Greek word used in these two verses, arsenokoites, is a combination of the words for male and bed. This is the first known time it has appeared in literature. It may be that Paul coined the word. The second part of the word is commonly used for “lying with” and refers to the “active” or penetrating partner. It is not clear whether “male” is meant to indicate “a man who is the active partner in intercourse with anyone, male or female,”6 or whether it means a passive male who is penetrated by another male.
Helminiak says “Language is not always logical,” and gives the illustration of the expression lady killer, which “means neither knows how to charm women.”7
In subsequent literature, this word almost always appears in vice lists similar to Paul’s, and is found adjacent to words having to do with economic exploitation, (for example, “thieves” in 1 Cor. and “slave traders” in 1 Tim.).
Many biblical scholars believe that it likely refers to some form of prostitution. Malakos and arsenokoites are thought to be pair words, so arsenokoites probably means the man who makes use of the prostitute’s services.
Does Paul indicate that homosexuals can change their orientation?
Some have concluded that because Paul says, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified…,” this means that they had been homosexuals, but had become heterosexual, proving that orientation can be changed. But of course, Paul had no knowledge of orientation. Obviously, people who had been involved in prostitution, could change their behavior. But they may not even have been homosexual in orientation. In Paul’s world, a free, male Roman citizen had the privilege of finding sexual gratification with anyone, male or female, who was considered his inferior – women, and male or female slaves.
These few passages indicate that New Testament condemnation of homosexual behavior was made in a specific context, either idolatrous worship or exploitative sex.
1SDA Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, 407.
2This worship [of Aphrodite] was degraded by repulsive practices (e.g. religious prostitution, self-mutilation), which subsequently made their way to centres of Phoenician influence, such as Corinth and Mount Eryx in Sicily. In this connexion may be mentioned the idea of a divinity, half male, half female, uniting in itself the active and passive functions of creation, a symbol of luxuriant growth and productivity. Such was the bearded Aphrodite of Cyprus, called Aphroditos by Aristophanes according to Macrobius, who mentions a statue of the androgynous divinity in his Saturnalia. The moon, by its connexion with menstruation, and as the cause of the fertilizing dew, was regarded as exercising an influence over the entire animal and vegetable creation. http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Aphrodite (Classic Encyclopedia based on 1911 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica).
3Bruce Bagemihl, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and
Natural Diversity(New York: St. Martins Press) 1999.
4Jack Rogers, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press) 2006, 79.
5Daniel Helminiak, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality (New Mexico : Alamo Square Press) 2000, 108.
Same-Sex Love in Scripture?
© 2009 by Carrol Grady
Let’s take a look at three stories in the Bible that might possibly be examples of same-sex love.
David and Jonathan
“Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself….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:”1,3,4.
When Jonathan told Saul that he had given David permission to be absent from the New Moon celebration, “Then Saul’s anger was aroused against Jonathan [realizing that he had protected David from Saul’s intent to kill him], and 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?” 1 Samuel 20:30
“Then they kissed each another; 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.’” 1 Samuel 20:41-42
“’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 1:26
This has traditionally been understood as the story of an especially close friendship between two men. And indeed that may well be what it is. But we could also read these verses as describing a relationship involving more than simple friendship.
In favor of this being simple friendship, we know that Middle Eastern men of today are not averse to physical contact. They hug and kiss each other as a form of greeting. We also know that both David and Jonathan had wives; in fact, David had several.
But there also seem to be sexual overtones to this story, particularly in Saul’s angry outburst against Jonathan. The terms “shame” and “nakedness” commonly refer to sex in the Bible. And Saul’s outraged insult about Jonathan’s “rebellious and perverse” mother might be a way of calling her a “whore” and Jonathan a “bastard.”
“The Hebrew of this verse (verse 30) is ambiguous and, following the Greek Septuagint translation, could also be rendered, ‘Do I not know that you are an intimate companion to the son of Jesse?’”1
Their heterosexual marriages may have been what was expected of them by society, but would not necessarily indicate heterosexual attraction, just as it does not today. Perhaps, in today’s understanding, they were bisexual. Whether or not their relationship was sexual, it certainly is described in very emotionally intimate terms.
Ruth and Naomi
"But Ruth said: ’Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people you and me.’” Ruth 1:16,17
“Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a near kinsman; and may his name be famous in Israel! And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.’” Ruth 4:14, 15
Although this story is less convincing, and doesn’t have the sexual overtones of David and Jonathan’s story, yet it is an example of unusual devotion between two women. Consider the fact that Ruth’s beautiful pledge of love and commitment to Naomi has often been used in heterosexual wedding ceremonies. Ruth’s marriage to Boaz, like many marriages of that time, may have been more of a business contract, made to continue Naomi’s line, than a romantic attachment. The other women of the village attested to Ruth’s deep love for Naomi.
The Centurion’s Servant
“And a certain centurion’s servant who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was worthy, ‘for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.’ Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, ‘Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’ When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, ‘I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel !’ And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.” Luke 7:2-10
It was customary in Roman society of the time for householders to have sexual access to both male and female servants. It was also common for Roman soldiers who were serving far away from home to take a servant with them to serve as their sexual partner. It is interesting that the Greek word translated here as “servant” is doulos, except when the centurion is being quoted. The word he uses for his sick servant is pais which means “my boy,” although he uses doulos when referring to others under his authority. In non-biblical literature pais can sometimes refer to a young male lover.
Note also that this servant was entimos, dear or valuable, to the centurion. This might indicate that the centurion had paid a high price for the servant and so did not want to lose him. However, the centurion was obviously wealthy, since he had built a synagogue for the Jews, and he could have easily paid for another servant. It might also indicate a servant who was valuable for his skill and experience, but again that is unlikely since he was just a boy. Finally, it could indicate an emotional bond between the centurion and his servant, and this is the most likely meaning.2
Although we cannot be certain, it seems likely that this was a loving same-sex relationship. Undoubtedly, Jesus was aware of this possibility, yet he healed the servant and commended him for his great faith. Nor did Jesus have anything to say about the morality of same-sex relationships, as recorded elsewhere in the New Testament.
These three stories suggest that there may have been loving same-sex relationships, whether overtly sexual in nature or not, that are recorded in a positive way in the Bible
1Daniel A Helminiak, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexual-
Science and Scripture
© 2009 by Carrol Grady
Does the Bible tell us everything there is to know about our world?
Scripture reflects the understanding of the people at the time it was written, including the idea that the earth was flat and covered by a dome across which the sun moved. God created our brains with the ability to learn and discover new realities, although we must humbly remember that our finite understanding cannot begin to comprehend everything God knows.
“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” Isaiah 55:8-9
Does the Bible suggest that we can learn about our world independent of the Bible?
The wisdom literature of the Old Testament – Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes – is a recounting by Israel’s sages of observations from the natural world and society, representing “a practical knowledge of the laws of life and of the world, based upon experience, [and] the characteristic of practically all that it says about life is this starting point in basic experience”1 rather than “Thus saith the Lord.” This “series of practical admonitions for living and how to cope with the vicissitudes of life” represents a “theology from below,” instead of the “theology from above” discerned elsewhere in the Bible.2
“Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on the one who starts it rolling.” Proverbs 26:27
“If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success.” Ecclesiastes 10:10
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up…Also, if two lie down together they will keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12
How does this suggest that we regard scientific understanding?
These writers do not deny the existence of God, but their “unspoken assumption. . .is that some things may be explained in nonreligious language. Not all events can or need be explained in terms of divine causes and effects. . .the sages turn to the study of nature itself. . .recogniz[ing] that there is truth one can learn from natural sciences and human experiences.” The wisdom writings of the Bible may be seen as “scriptural authority for human beings to make ethical decisions by paying attention to science and human experience.”3
Are there some things human wisdom cannot explain or change?
In the wisdom literature, we also find recognition that there are unexplained mysteries in this world that has been created by God. Although Job is described as righteous, as one who fears God, his three friends assume, according to accepted wisdom, that his suffering is the result of something he has done wrong. His claimed innocence is affirmed by God at the end of the book, thus implying that human wisdom cannot answer or explain everything.
“What is crooked cannot be made straight, what is lacking cannot be counted.” Ecclesiastes 1:15
“The point is that some things in creation are contrary to what human beings may expect, but they are so by God’s will and no amount of human effort will change their nature.”4
Is this not, then, a biblical precedent for paying attention to what science discovers about homosexuality? Although research continues, more and more evidence points to various elements, including genetic, that influence the production of fetal hormones as the cause of some fetus' brains being wired differently from normal. Even a number of conservative Christians who have long claimed that homosexuality is a sinful choice or a curable emotional illness, caused by environmental influences, are beginning to recognize that it probably has a biological cause.
1Choon Leong Seow, “Textual Orientation” in Biblical Ethics
and Homosexuality: listening to Scripture, Robert Brawley, ed.
(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 28
How Should the Church Respond?
© 2009 by Carrol Grady
That the church has not always responded in helpful ways is evident from the many gays and lesbians who feel that religion has rejected and abandoned them. Let's look at biblical attitudes that might bring about reconciliation.
Quoting from Isaiah's prophecy about the "Suffering Servant," Matthew applies this description to Jesus: "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." Matthew 12:20
Few people who have not had close experience with homosexuality understand the deep feelings of perplexity and fear that grow in the heart of a young person who recognizes internal feelings that he/she has heard strongly condemned by church leaders, about which he/she has heard expressions of disgust and revulsion. When he/she prays incessantly for God to remove these feelings and make him/her normal, but the feelings remain, the sense of condemnation and futility create further distress.
Certainly, our gay and lesbian young people, as well as those who are older and whose faith and self-respect have been even more greatly damaged, are "bruised reeds" with aching, confused hearts, and "smoldering wicks" about to flicker out. They need to be treated with great tenderness and gentleness - something that usually does not happen.
With so many church members, and even leaders, who have not carefully studied homosexuality, there are many misconceptions and much prejudice that hinder a sympathetic response to homosexuals in the church. Education is greatly needed, before the church is able to "Bear one another's burdens," as Paul instructed in Galations 6:2, in the area of homosexuality. Perhaps these verses from Proverbs could also apply here.
"Turn your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding. Call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding." Proverbs 2:2, 3
"Get wisdom! Get understanding! Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding." Proverbs 4:5, 7
"The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly (rumors? or prejudice?)." Proverbs 15:14
"It is not good to have zeal without knowledge." Proverbs 19:2
Inclusiveness and Acceptance
The feelings of rejection, driven so deeply into the soul at an early age, are not easily overcome. An attitude of coolness, making deprecating remarks, or outright condemnation, only reinforces these feelings. It is not an easy matter to make such people feel real acceptance. A lukewarm, live-and-let-live attitude will not suffice. The church family needs to make warm, genuine, repeated efforts to help its homosexual members feel truly accepted and included as important and valued individuals. This involves coming alongside them, listening to their stories and struggles, and resisting the urge to tell them what they ought to do. One who has not walked in their shoes cannot effectively help them.
"Accept one another...just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." Romans 15:7.
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:17
"Whoever comes to me I will never drive away." John 6:37
Compassion and Love
Jesus said that the entire Law could be summed up as love for God and love for each other. Yet that is the very area we so often find the most difficult. If we truly loved each other as we love ourselves, this earth would be very close to heaven.
Here is a sweet story that illustrates true love: Forgetting that one little boy had been born without a left hand, the Sunday school teacher showed her students how to put their hands together for the finger play, "Here is the church, here is the steeple. Open the door and see all the people." The little boy's friend, sitting next to him, reached over with his own left hand and said, "Let's do it together." So the two joined their hands and made the church, the steeple, and all ten people.
"Dear Friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." 1 John 4:11
"Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Romans 13:10
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Ephesians 4:32
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." Colossians 3:12-14
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4
"[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." 1 Corinthians 13:7, 8
Many of Christ's followers seem to be infected with spiritual pride when they single out homosexuality as "the worst sin." and homosexuals as the worst sinners. Yet surely committed love between two people of the same sex is not harmful and damaging in the way that adultery, promiscuity, pornography, incest, rape, etc., are. True Christian humility should keep us from judging others, when we ourselves are sinners, too. We need the special gifts of the gay and lesbian people in our midst; there is much that they can teach us about acceptance and love.
“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” Romans 14:13
'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'" 1 Peter 5:5
"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited." Romans 12:16
"The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. . .If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it." 1 Corinthians 12:22-24, 26
At the 2005 General Conference Session in St. Louis, one of the topics of discussion was membership loss. In his sermon on the last Sabbath of the session, Elder Paulsen made a plea for our church to have an open door, to be a safe family, open to all – a family that values and welcomes everyone and turns no one away – a church that values justice and compassion.
When parents, family members, and friends see their gay and lesbian loved ones leaving the church in droves it breaks their hearts. If they cannot find a safe community where the Holy Spirit has an opportunity to speak to their hearts, what will be the judgment on those who drove them away? Our churches need to be reconciling communities of love. Whatever our understanding may be on this issue, we need to open our arms, our hearts and our churches to our gay and lesbian members and reassure them that God loves them.
Elder HMS Richards’ daughter, Virginia Cason, had two gay children. When another mother would ask her what she should do about her gay child, Virginia would answer, “Just keep them and love them!” We need to keep them and love them, and leave the convicting to the Holy Spirit, and the judging to God.
How can we answer God in the Day of Judgment if we have turned a deaf ear to the cries of our own gay and lesbian children?
Suggested Further Reading
Balch, David, ed. Homosexuality, Science and the "Plain Sense" of Scripture, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000.
Ten essays that elucidate the pros and cons of current Christian discussion on the issue of homosexuality by major scholars on both sides of the topic who care enough for the church to engage each other in a real dialogue about a very explosive topic. Well-reasoned and highly competent, these essays are not likely to solve the debate, let alone make it go away, for they demonstrate how intractable many of the issues remain, but they will challenge partisans on both sides to rethink their positions once more. They provide a stirring model of how the church can disagree with itself publicly and responsibly, passionately and respectfully. Analyses parallels with current Jewish debate on the topic.
Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, University of Chicago Press, 1980.
A basic text for those who affirm committed gay/lesbian relationships. Winner of the 1981 American Book Award for History, Boswell's work is seen by many as being both objective and scholarly. Of particular interest are his exhaustive word studies on specific disputed terms.
Brawley, Robert L., ed. Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.
What are the most important biblical texts for modern Christians to read in order to arrive at responsible decisions regarding the ethics of human sexual behavior? How should the Bible be used in this enterprise? How should those texts be translated for today's reader? The contributors to this book, all noted biblical scholars, confront these questions as they deal with issues surrounding the ethics of sexual behavior. . .They provide for the reader a deeper understanding of the Bible, its intentions, and its variety. This book offers a challenge to the church to give heed to the multiplicity of voices that are engaged in biblically responsible and constructive debates about the volatile issues regarding sexual behavior.
Ferguson, David, Fritz Guy, and David Larson, eds. Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives. Adventist Forums, 2008.
A unique contribution to faith discussions of homosexuality, this book first presents the stories of Adventist church leaders whose lives have been impacted, then considers the perspectives of biomedical and behavioral science professionals, before looking at the theological issues from a variety of viewpoints, and finally noting pastoral concerns and religious liberty principles. Each section includes a response and each chapter ends with a series of thought questions, making it a valuable study guide for small groups. Valuable not only to Seventh-day Adventists but to all who take their faith seriously, this book should challenge thinking and generate discussion.
Gomes, Peter. The Good Book, William Morrow & Co., 1996
Peter Gomes, the minister of Harvard's Memorial Chapel since 1970, says the theme of this book is the risk and the joy of the Bible; risk in that we might get it wrong, and joy in the discovery of the living Word becoming flesh. Around this theme, he formulates three basic questions which the thoughtful reader brings to the Bible: What is it? How is it used? and What does it have to say to me? In the second section of the book, he shows that the Bible is undeniably inclusive if it is read with the mind and heart and discusses those biblical texts used by those who wish to alienate others from the Bible - texts that have been used to justify prejudice against race, women, homosexuals, and Jews.
Greenberg, Rabbi Stephen. Wrestling With God and Men, The University of Wisconsin Press, 2004.
Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox Jewish rabbi, writes from that tradition for gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews who are struggling to reconcile their faith with their Hebrew scriptures seriously, as well.
Helminiak, Daniel. What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, Alamo Square Press, 1994.
Does the Bible really condemn homosexuals? Father Helminiak, who received his Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, holds two PhDs and currently teaches at State University of West Georgia, believes that, just as the Bible has been used to justify slavery, inquisitions, apartheid, and the subjugation of women, it is faulty translation and poor interpretation that leads many to perceive biblical passages as condemning homosexuality.
Holben, L. R. What Christians Think About Homosexuality, Bibal Press, 1999.
This is an important foundational book and I suggest that it be one of the first books you read. The author summarizes six representative viewpoints which cover the spectrum of current Christian thought on homosexuality. He does not try to convince you that any one viewpoint is correct, but presents the arguments for each in an unbiased manner, shows how it has been criticized, and explains how the proponents of that viewpoint answer their crtics. The author's stated goal is to "synthesize and popularize the extensive scholarly and theological work that has been done on the question of Christian faith and the homosexual person and to render the complexity and breadth of that material accessible to others who, for pastoral or personal reasons, seek to move beyond polemics and absolutist pronouncements to a thoughtful consideration of the scope of Christian thinking on this issue."
McNeil, John J. The Church and the Homosexual. Sheed, Andrews and McMeel, Inc., 1976
McNeill, a Jesuit priest at the time the book was published, articulates his view from the perspective of traditional Roman Catholic moral theology. This work, for which he was expelled from his order, has national organization for gay and lesbian Catholics,
Miner, Jeff and John Tyler Connoley. The Children Are Free. Jesus Metropolitan Community Church, 2002.
Challenges the traditional understanding that the Bible condemns homosexuality.
Rogers, Jack. Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church, Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.
Moderator of the 213th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Professor of Theology Emeritus at San Francisco Theological Seminary, Rogers says he has "gone through a change in [his] mind and heart... from being a silent spectator to actively working for change." This book describes his journey in understanding and was written because he is "a Christian who cares deeply about Christ's church." He sees the church "being torn apart by controversy" over the issue of homosexuality and wants "the church to be healed of this great wound in the body of Christ."
Sample, Tex and Amy E. DeLong, eds. The Loyal Opposition: Struggling With the Church on Homosexuality, Abingdon Press, 2000.
No issue more polarizes American Protestants today than the church's stance on homosexuality. A number of denominations have engaged in prolonged and divisive debate on the subject in recent years, and it appears that it will occupy their attention for some time to come. While numerous attempts have been made to change these denominations' official stance on the issue, most have failed to do so. This leaves those who favor full inclusion of persons of gay and lesbian orientation into the life of the church with difficult choices. Should they remain within their denomination and keep silent, or should they leave it in protest? The answer, say contributors to this book, is neither. Those whose conscience leads them to disagree with their church must continue to work for change, forming a "loyal opposition" within the denomination. The authors call for a principled and disciplined response to the official condemnations of homosexuals, one that is serious in its commitment to the difficult process of reconciliation and forgiveness. Faithfulness to the gospel, they remind us, requires nothing less than that we be committed to the full inclusion of all persons in the Body of Christ - not least of all those who disagree with us
Scanzoni, Letha and Virginia Mollenkott. Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? Harper Collins, 1994.
A classic work calling Christians to love and acceptance, it was first published in 1978 and has been revised to reflect more current and crucial issues. Looking at homosexuality from scientific, psychological, and biblical perspectives, this book is both informative, compassionate and a helpful resource for Christians struggling with this sensitive issue. It focuses particularly on the painful experience of gays and lesbians in relation to a church which has, in the authors' view, violated the gospel imperative of inclusive love by rejecting and demonizing them.
Leow, Choon-Seong, ed. Homosexuality and Christian Community, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.
Contributors to this book, all members of the Princeton Theological Seminary faculty, address the various exegetical, interpretive, and practical issues pertaining to the issue of homosexuality in the church. As theological educators, ministers, and committed Christians, they ask, What do the scriptures say about homosexuality and related issues? How should the scriptures inform our theological reflection? How do we live faithfully in regard to this matter? Like the Christian community at large, the contributors are not of one mind on any of these issues; many times they are in considerable disagreement. This book will help the reader think more clearly about this important issue.
Wink, Walter, ed. Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches, Fortress Press, 1999.
This resource presents short pieces from church leaders - women and me, Protestant and Catholic, mainline and evangelical - who address fundamental moral imperatives about homosexuality. Through personal testimony, factual clarification, and moral suasion they invite the reader to open his or her heart to the Spirit and to Gospel values. The preface states: "Today churches are undergoing fratricide over the issue of homosexuality, and the irony is that not just gays and lesbians, but the churches themselves, are likely to become victims. The level of pure hatred, bitterness, closed-mindedness, and disrespect is staggering, going beyond any form of acrimony I have witnessed over any issue since the struggle against racial segregation."