For more than three thousand years Jews and Christians have understood the Bible to condemn homosex in no uncertain terms. Today, however, we are witnessing the rise of a gay hermeneutic that reinterprets the Bible’s teachings on homosex in a way that allows for at least some forms of homosex. While small in number, this movement has a handful of reputable scholars making their case. So what does the Bible really say? Have we misunderstood the Bible on this issue for millennia, or are the Scriptures being twisted by those who want the Scriptures to affirm homosex for various personal or social reasons?
Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics is a must-read for everyone who want to know what the Bible has to say on this topic. Gagnon examines the relevant OT (creation, cursing of Ham, concubine, Sodom and Gomorrah, Leviticus, cult prostitutes, David and Jonathan) and NT texts in depth, the cultural background of the Ancient Near East (ANE), and classic arguments offered against homosex (focusing on the argument from anatomical complementarity and natural function). He finishes the book by interacting with arguments against the Bible’s enduring authority on this issue, showing how none of them are successful.
The great thing about Gagnon’s book is that he interacts with the arguments of the scholars representing the gay hermeneutic and shows why their interpretations are found wanting. This feature of the book means you will not just hear one side of the debate, but both sides. I think you will find Gagnon’s research impressive, and his argument that the Bible unequivocally condemns all homosexual behavior because it violates God’s intention for human sexuality very persuasive. Gagnon has produced the standard work on this topic that is a must-read for those on both sides of the aisle.
Here are my notes from the book. They are far from exhaustive and admittedly fail to do justice to the detailed arguments presented in the book:
In his introduction, Gagnon begins by explaining why this issue is important, namely because of the social change we are seeing in regards to homosexuality, and the ways this is affecting public policy and the church. There are risks to discussing the issue as well, namely false charges of being homophobic, intolerant, exclusive, uncritical, and outdated. Be that as it may, it is important to speak out on this matter out of devotion to God, because it matters how humans act toward one another, the window of time for speaking out against the moral legitimacy of homosex is closing, and our personal relationships with homosexuals.
The objective of the book is to demonstrate the Bible clearly and unequivocally condemns homosex in any form, and that there are no good hermeneutical arguments or scientific reasons for overriding the Bible’s authority on this matter. “In sum, the Bible presents the anatomical, sexual, and procreative complementarity of male and female as clear and convincing proof of God’s will for sexual unions. Even those who do not accept the revelatory authority of Scripture should be able to perceive the divine will through the visible testimony of the structure of creation. Thus same-sex intercourse constitutes an inexcusable rebellion against the intentional design of the created order.”—37
Ch 1 – The Witness of the Old Testament
How did the Hebrews’ stance toward homosexuality differ from their neighbors? We know the most about ANE attitudes toward homosexuality from Mesopotamia. Sources include laws, magical texts, myth and ritual practice, and epic stories. The first law regarding homosexuality comes from the late second millennium B.C. Tablet A said that if a man coercively penetrates another man of similar social status, or if a man slanders another man by saying he has been repeatedly penetrated by another man, then he is to be castrated (since he denied his victim his manhood, his own manhood is to be forfeited).
In a Babylonian omen text, Summa alu (pre-7th century B.C.), five omens concern homosex. One omen speaks favorably of a man who penetrates another man of similar social status. Doing so gives him superiority over the other man. It also says that sex with a male prostitute can cause a hard destiny to leave the man. Another omen says that homosex with a courtier will result in personal terrors for a year. Two other omens deal with having sex with a fellow prison inmate or house-born slave. Both speak negatively of the behavior. In the Almanac of Incantations it speaks favorably of “love of a man for a man,” which indicates that homosex was not always viewed as a power play by a dominant partner.
It was also acceptable to have sex with male cult prostitutes. It was believed that the goddess had transformed such men into a man-woman. By having sex with such a person, the devotee was able to access the power of the goddess. Though it was socially acceptable to have sex with these cult prostitutes, they were treated with social disdain.
There were no laws criminalizing consensual homosex. They may have even permitted homosex between a superior with an inferior or with a man from a different clan.
In Egypt, the evidence is conflicting. There is no evidence of homosexual cult prostitution in Egypt. Some coffin texts speak of homosexuality in a positive way, while others do so in a negative way. There is even evidence of homosexual Pharaohs (Pep II, Niuserre, Ikhnaton). In the myth of Seth and Horus, homosexuality is depicted as a form of aggression. It’s clear that they viewed the receptive male partner as shameful.
The Book of the Dead contains two confessions in which the dead assert their innocence of pederasty. In this text, the active male partner is clearly condemned – not just the passive partner.
The evidence suggests that Egypt was more tolerant of homosex in its earlier history rather than its later history.
The only Hittite law regarding homosexuality was a law forbidding sex between a father and son. It’s not clear whether this was due to the incestuous nature of the sex or because it involved two males. There are other laws related to bestiality, adultery, rape, and the like, but none that speak to homosexuality in general. This could be due to the cultural rarity of homosex or due to a cultural acceptance of the behavior.
There is no extra-biblical evidence of homosexual practice in Ugarit and Canaan, but the Bible speaks of homosexuality as one of the abominations for which God drove the people out of the land (Lev 18:1-5,24-30; 20:22-26; 1 Kings 14:24).
In summary, there is no uniform opinion of homosex in the ANE. Different people groups had different opinions, and opinions shifted over time.
The Bible goes well beyond any other ANE cultural in condemning homosex in any and all forms.
While the opening chapters of Genesis do not speak to homosex, they do provide us with a general understanding of human sexuality related to God’s purposes in creation. This has huge ramifications for what sexual practices will be acceptable.
God made humans male and female. The fullness of God’s image is displayed in the union of male and female. They are created as anatomical complementarities. The female is the appropriate and only sexual other to the male. Male and female are to unite, or more precisely re-unite, because the woman was taken out from the man. The male-female union restores the original wholeness of man. The bond is so strong that it even takes precedence over the parental bond (the man and wife are to leave their parents). While procreation is the typical result of such unions, interestingly the text focuses on the relational complementarity of the two rather than their procreational responsibilities.
The legitimacy of same-sex relationships would require an entirely different creation story. There is no basis in creation for affirming same-sex relationships.
The periscope of the cursing of Ham is to show how the Canaanites came to be subject to the Israelites. Ham, is said to have seen his father’s nakedness while he was drunk. The brothers, trying to rectify the situation, took their father’s garment, and walking backwards into his tent, covered their father with his garment so that they would not see his nakedness. When Noah woke up, he realized what Ham had done to him and cursed him for it.
Gagnon argues that this story is about Ham’s homosexual and incestuous rape of his father. On its face this seems implausible. After all, if Noah was raped by Ham, why would Ham’s brothers try to rectify the situation by covering their father? How would that solve the problem? It would only solve the problem if the problem was nakedness. Furthermore, the text makes it clear that Shem and Japheth did not see their father’s nakedness. How did they avoid doing so? It’s because they walked in to Noah’s tent backward to lay Noah’s garment over him. They didn’t avoid seeing his nakedness by not having homosexual relations with him. The text seems to make the issue about what is seen, not about sex.
The problem with this interpretation is that it doesn’t explain why Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan rather than Ham himself. Also, it doesn’t make sense of Noah’s reaction. Would it be appropriate to describe voyeurism as something that Ham “had done to” Noah?
We know from other passages that “uncovering” and “seeing the nakedness” are euphemisms for sexual intercourse (Lev 18:6-18; 20:11,17-21; 18:19). Since Ham had brought out his father’s garment from the tent, it appears that he was bringing it out as proof for bragging rights. We know from other ANE texts that homosex was used to claim superiority over another. Ham may have been attempting to usurp his father’s authority and lay claim to succeed his father as patriarch.
Only incestuous rape can make sense of the severity and recipient of punishment. While seeing one’s father naked would have been shameful, subjecting his child to slavery for it is a bit extreme. Also, if Ham committed the evil deed, why did Canaan get cursed. “Just as Ham committed a heinous act with his ‘seed’ (sperm), so too the curse fell on his ‘seed’ (son, descendants).”
Leviticus 18:24-30 and 20:22-26 cite the reasons God vomited the Canaanites out of the land. This included incest and homosex. The author of Genesis, in reciting the periscope of Ham and Noah, is attempting to show that the very origin of the Canaanites began with such abominations. Not only did Ham commit rape, but homosexual rape; and not just homosexual rape, but incestuous rape; and not just incestuous rape, but the rape of one’s own father – a man to whom the greatest respect was due.
This interpretation of the periscope has a long pedigree. It seems to be reflected in three translations of the LXX and part of the Babylonian Talmud.
Could it just be that Moses was merely condemning incest and/or rape? This is doubtful. None of the Levitical prohibitions against incest include male-male pairings (father-son, brother-brother, uncle-nephew, grandfather-grandson). The most straightforward explanation for this is that the condemnation of homosex in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 was understood to be so sweeping that it did not warrant calling out specific forms of homosexual relationships, incestuous or otherwise. Any male-on-male sexual activity was wrong, period.—70-1
Does it matter that Ham’s act of homosex was motivated out a desire for power rather than love? No. The Bible condemns the acts, not the motivation. Questions of sexual orientation and love are just as irrelevant for homosex as they are for incest, adultery, or bestiality.—70
Because this passage does not explicitly condemn homosex, and does not speak to consensual, loving homosexual relationships, many want to argue that it doesn’t have anything to with either homosexuality, or at least the kind of homosexuality expressed today (loving, consensual relationships). Some argue that what is being condemned is inhospitality or rape. Derrick Bailey, John Boswell, and John McNeill argue that “know” in Genesis 19:5 means to “get acquainted with” rather than “have intercourse with.” It’s true that the Hebrew yada doesn’t normally refer to sex, but it is used that way in at least 15 other places, and the context warrants it here. After all, when the men of Sodom were beating down Lot’s door to get their hands on the angels, Lot offers them his daughters who are said not to have “known a man.” Clearly he is referring to their virginity, not their social integration.—73
Some will point to texts outside of Genesis that speak of Sodom’s sins, noting that none mention homosexuality (Is 1:7-17; Ezek 16:49-50; Lk 10:10-12; Jude 7). None may reference it explicitly, but the “abominations” described by Ezekiel is likely a reference to homosexuality, as is the sexual immorality spoken of by Jude. Of course, nobody has ever believed that the only sin for which Sodom was judged was the sin of homosexuality. Clearly there were other sins they were guilty of as well. While the sin of Sodom is never named in Genesis 19, Moses is retelling the story to illustrate why God was judging the city so harshly. Not only were they inhospitable towards strangers, but they were guilty of rape. Not only were they guilty of rape, but they were guilty of homosexual rape. Homosexuality was not their only sin, but one of the most egregious of a wide range of sins.—75
Some will point to the fact that homosex was often a tool of aggression in the ANE – used to show one’s power over an inferior. That is true, but that does not void the element of sexual desire. After all, if the aggressor did not find it at all sexually pleasurable, how would he get or maintain an erection?—77,97
This story of the Levite and his concubine in Gibeah is amazingly similar to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Like the story of Sodom, the men of the city want to gang rape the Levite, his host tries to dissuade them from doing this “wicked thing,” and offers the mob his daughter and his guest’s concubine for sex. The Levite thrust his concubine outside, and the mob had their way with her all night long, resulting in her death.
Some have argued that just as no one concludes form this story of heterosexual rape that heterosex is immoral, one should not conclude from this story (or the Sodom story) of attempted homosexual rape that homosex is wrong. All that is clearly wrong is the coercive nature of the sex; i.e. the rape. The problem with this argument is that it ignores the historical and literary context of the book of Judges, namely the Levitical law. Leviticus 18:24-30 and 20:22-26 make it clear that homosexual intercourse is immoral. That is why the text twice refers to the mob’s desire for sex with the Levite as a “wicked thing.” No comparable statement was made of sex with the women, though that would have been immoral as well. Same-sex intercourse was viewed by the host and the narrator as worse than the rape of women.—95
Homosexual cult prostitution in Israel
During the divided monarchy a number of texts speak of male cult prostitutes: qedesim (Dt 23:17-18; 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7; Job 36:14). In Revelation 22:15 John lists “dogs” as those that would be outside of the New Jerusalem. He can’t be referring to Gentiles because Gentiles will be in the New Jerusalem. In a parallel vice list in Revelation 21:8 the term used is “abominable.” These texts are drawing on Deuteronomy 23:18 which calls cult prostitutes “dogs,” and refers to their acts as abominations.—105
Some will argue that the condemnation of male cult prostitutes is irrelevant to the modern practice of loving homosexual practice today, but this ignores the fact that in the ANE, the most accepted form of homosexual practice was in the context of cult worship. If the authors of Scripture even condemned this form of homosex, then there is no conceivable way they would approve of same-sex behavior in any other context.—108-9
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13
Unlike the stories we have examined thus far, these are proscriptive commands. Four things should be noted about these passages:
- The context in which homosexuality is condemned. It is surrounded by condemnations of other forms of sexual sin including incest (18:6-18), adultery (18:20), and bestiality (18:23). The only “sexual” sin mentioned in Leviticus 18 that does not have enduring authority for us today is the command against sex with a woman during her menstrual period (18:19).
- The degree of revulsion associated with homosex is clear from its identification as an abomination, which means something detestable, repugnant, and disgusting. While all of the sins mentioned in Leviticus 18 are summed up as “abominations” (18:26-27,29-30), only homosex is specifically singled out as an abomination within the list itself. The same is true of the passage in Leviticus 20. It is the only forbidden act in the entire Holiness Code that is specifically designated as an abominations.
- The severity of the moral crime is evident from the punishment: death.
- Unlike other ANE laws, these laws are unqualified and absolute. They do not just proscribe the receptive homosexual partner, or just condemn coercive homosex. No limitations of reference are provided. All homosex is prohibited.—113-6
John Boswell et al argue that “abomination” doesn’t refer to something intrinsically evil, but just something ritually unclean for Jews. While it’s true that the word can be used in that way, the context of Lev 18/20 makes it clear that it is not being used that way. Is bestiality and adultery simply a ritual no-no or intrinsically evil? Why should we think that homosexuality is any different given the context? The vast majority of the uses of this word refer to things that are intrinsically immoral.—117-9
Some try to argue against these Levitical passages by pointing to an underlying motive or assumption that no longer holds true today. Some argue that Moses’ concern was idolatry. They note that the prohibition against homosex is immediately preceded by the condemnation of child sacrifice (18:21). In the context of cult worship, homosex is condemned – not just any homosex, but that associated with idolatrous worship practices of the Canaanites. The problem with this interpretation is four-fold. First, the prohibition of Leviticus 20:22 is not in the context of condemnations of idolatrous cult worship, but other sexual sins. Secondly, do these interpreters suggest that child sacrifice is also morally acceptable so long as it is not associated with pagan cult worship? What about the other sexual sins listed in Leviticus 18 and 20? Is adultery morally permissible so long as it is not adultery with a temple prostitute? Thirdly, had Moses wanted to condemn male temple prostitution he could have specifically condemned sex with qedesim. Instead, he condemned sex between males in general. Fourthly, as noted earlier, in the ANE, to condemn the most accepted form of homosex (cult prostitution) implies the condemnation of all other forms of homosex as well.—129-131
Others argue that Moses condemned homosexual behavior because it wastes seed and does not lead to procreation (a problem in light of God’s command to multiply). That was a problem in days past when tribes struggled for survival in light of disease, war, and famine, but is no longer a concern in our own day in which we are facing over-population. This fails to explain the whole of Leviticus 18/20, however. Incest and adultery would surely lead to procreation, and yet they were forbidden as well. While a woman having sex with an animal (18:23) doesn’t lead to procreation, it doesn’t waste any human seed either. Also, if Moses’ concern was with sexual activities that do not result in procreation, why didn’t he condemn masturbation or sex with a pregnant woman?—133-4
Saul Olyan argues that the issue was contact between semen and feces. If this was Moses’ motivation, then why only condemn man-on-man sex? Why not also condemn anal sex between a male and female? Also, this explanation ignores the rationale provided by Moses. He was not concerned with the mixing of semen and feces, but the discomplementarity of the genders involved. The problem with homosexuality was that a man was using another man as if he were a woman.—134-5
The prohibition of having sex with a menstruating woman may have been identified as an abomination due to the mixing of a life-giving fluid (semen) with a death-bearing fluid (menses). The menstrual cycle was the period of time for a woman’s body to cleanse itself in preparation for the next fertility cycle. It was a time of death, and thus “not the time for men to intrude with procreative designs.”—138
Homosex denies the creative design of God for sex and gender. It denies the complementarity of male and female. The penis is designed to fit in the vagina, not an anus. Not only does homosex use another male as if he were a female (thus confusing gender), but it also confuses the function of the anus. It is designed to excrete feces, not as a receptacle to receive sperm.—139
Why doesn’t Moses refer to female homosexuality? It may be that it was virtually unknown and therefore did not require legislation. No other ANE legal text mentions it either. It may be because the sexual sins listed are defined in terms of penetration, and females cannot penetrate each other.—144-5
David and Jonathan
Some have appealed to the relationship between David and Jonathan as an example of a loving homosexual relationship found in the OT (1 Samuel 18—23; 2 Samuel 1). The text speaks of “the soul of Jonathan” being “bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul (1 Sam 18:1). This no more intimates a romantic connection than when Judah refers to Jacob and Benjamin’s (father and son) souls as being bound up with each other (Gen 44:30-41). What about the use of “love”? We must remember that this was a political alliance as much as it was a friendship. Although Jonathan was the heir apparent to the throne, he recognized that David was God’s chosen. That’s why he gave David is armor and sword – it was an act of political investure. He aligned himself with David in a way typical of the covenant-treaties of the ANE. For example, the vassals of the Assyrian king were told to “love him [King Ashurbanipal] as yourselves.” King Tyre is said to “love” David (1 Kings 5:1), as did all of Saul’s servants (18:22). Are we to believe they were all homosexuals too?
What about the comment that Jonathan “delighted very much” and “took great pleasure” in David (19:1)? This has no sexual connotation, as is evidenced by the fact that Saul is also said to delight in David (18:22). So does God (2 Sam 15:26; 22:20; Ps 18:20; 1 Kings 10:9; 2 Chron 9:8). It refers to favor.—146-9
What do we make of David and Jonathan kissing and weeping with each other (1 Sam 20:41-42)? This is in the context of their last meeting together. The two related to one another as brothers (2 Sam 1:26), not lovers. Anticipating that you would not see your own brother again would be an emotional experience. In the ANE, there was nothing inherently erotic or homosexual about two men kissing each other. That was a regular form of greeting. Of the 27 occurrences of the Hebrew word “to kiss,” 24 have no erotic overtones and usually refer to male relatives.—151-2
But what about David’s claim that Jonathan’s love was more wonderful to him than the love of women (2 Sam 1:26)? “Jonathan’s repeated display of (non-sexual) kindness to David at a time when Jonathan was in a position of power, selflessly risking his own life and certainly his own kingdom, surpassed anything David had ever known from a committed erotic relationship with a woman.”—152-3
No text mentions sex between Jonathan and David, and both men were married. The sexual vigor of David toward females was hardly in question (1 Sam 18:17-29; 25:39-43; 2 Sam 3:2-5,13-16; 5:13-16; 11). Lest anyone say David was just doing his duty as king, David’s sin with Bathsheba makes it clear that he was sexually attracted to women. Why was the narrator so keen on speaking of David’s sexual exploits with women, but be so mum on any sexual activity between he and Jonathan? It seems that modern readers are reading something into the text that is simply not there, imposing modern forms of male-male friendship onto the ANE.—153-4
In summary, “marriage in general and sexual intercourse in particular is thus evaluated as an attachment of two complementary beings into ‘one flesh,’ a reunion with one’s sexual ‘other.’ … [S]ame-sex intercourse was fundamentally incompatible with the creation of men and women as complementary sexual beings. For a man to have sexual intercourse with another male as though the latter were not a male but a female violates God’s design for the created order.”—155,157
Ch 2 – Same-sex Intercourse as “Contrary to Nature” in Early Judaism
To place the NT teaching on sexuality in its context, we must examine what Jewish authors had to say about homosexuality between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200. In the Letter to Aristeas 152 (200-100 B.C.) the author claims Jews are morally superior to the Gentiles because the Gentiles “draw near to males” whereas “we are quite separated from these practices.” The Sibylline Oracles 3 (163-145 B.C.) says “male will have intercourse with male and they will set up boys in houses of ill-fame” when Romans take over the world. In contrast, Jews “are mindful of holy wedlock, and do not engage in impious intercourse with male children, as do … many nations…transgressing the holy law of immortal God.” Jews “avoid adultery and indiscriminate intercourse with males.” The Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides 190-92, 212-214 (50 B.C. – A.D. 100) says “the limits of sexual intercourse set by nature” should not be transgressed by “intercourse between males”…”nor should females imitate…the sexual role of men.” The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (date uncertain, 150 B.C. – A.D. 200) speaks ill of “corrupters of boys” and charges Sodom because they “exchanged the order of its nature.” The Mishnah Sanhedrin 7:4 (A.D. 200) says “These are they that are to be stoned: he that has sexual intercourse with his mother, his father’s wife, his daughter-in-law, a male, or a beast….”
Most of the texts speak of males having sex with other males because that is the prohibition in Leviticus, but there is little doubt that the form of male-male sex most had in mind was man-boy sex since that was the dominant form of homosex at the time.—162-3
Jewish and Roman critics of homosex had four primary arguments for thinking homosex was against nature:
- Homosex cannot lead to procreation (reproductive incapacity)
- Gender sameness is an affront to God’s design for sexuality (no anatomical fittedness)
- Homoerotic desires are due to an excess of passion
- Even animals don’t practice homosex—163
Interestingly, age-disparity in the case of pederasty was never a critique of homosexual practices (as it is in our day).
Cannot lead to procreation / against nature
Plato wrote in Laws 636c: “When male unites with female procreation, the pleasure experience is held to be in accordance with nature, but contrary to nature when male makes with male or female with female.” The first-century Stoic philosopher, Musonius Rufus wrote: “But of all sexual relations, those involving adultery are most unlawful, and no more tolerable are those involving males with males, because the daring and flagrant act is contrary to nature.”—165
Josephus wrote, “The law recognizes only sexual intercourse that is in accordance with nature, the [intercourse a man has] with a woman, and that only for the procreation of children” (Against Apion 2.199). He later describes “sexual intercourse with males which is contrary to nature and without restraint” and says stories of homosex between the gods was invented for “an excuse for their pleasures, which were disgusting and contrary to nature” (2.273-5).
Philo understood the Mosaic law to be condemning the active homosexual partner, and saw this as justified because “he pursues a pleasure that is contrary to nature and does his part to make the cities desolate and empty of inhabitants by destroying the procreative sperm” (On the Life of Abraham 136-7).
“The fact that the semen ejaculated by the penis ‘takes root’…and nurtures life only when penetration of a woman’s vagina occurs is clear and convincing proof of God’s exclusive design in nature for heterosexual intercourse. God/nature obvious intended the female vagina to be the complementary sex organ for the male penis.”—169
The male penis and female vagina are anatomical compliments. There is no compliment between two male penises or two female vaginas. For two males to have sex requires that one male use the other’s males anus as if it were a vagina, contrary to its natural function. Mounting a male as if he were a female is to emasculate the passive partner. In that day, it was particularly loathsome for a man to act as if he were a subordinate female.—169-70
In Plato’s Phaedrus 250e, quoted in Plutarch’s Dialogue on Love 751d-e, he writes: “If union contrary to nature with males does not destroy or curtail a lover’s tenderness, it stands to reason that the love between men and women, being natural will be conducive to friendship developing in due course from favor. … But the union with males, either unwillingly with force and plunder, or willingly with weakness and effeminacy, surrendering themselves, as Plato says, ‘to be mounted in the custom of four-footed animals and to be sowed with seed contrary to nature’—this is an entirely ill-favored favor, shameful and contrary to Aphrodite.”
The first-century A.D. author of Pseudo-Phocylides says, “Don’t transgress the limits of sexual intercourse set by nature with unlawful love. Not even to animals themselves is intercourse between males pleasing. Nor should females imitate in any way the sexual role of men. … Having long hair is not appropriate for males, but for voluptuous women. Guard the youthful beauty of a well-formed boy; for many rage for sexual intercourse with a male” (190-92, 212-14).
Philo described Sodom’s homosexual activities as “throw[ing] off from their necks the law of nature.” He goes on to say: “For not only in being madly desirous of women where they destroying the marriages of others, but also, although they were men, [they began] mounting males, the doers not standing in awe of the nature held in common with those who had it done to them…” (On the Life of Abraham 135-6)
In Contemplative Life 59-61, Philo comments on Plato’s Symposium as follows: “Nearly the whole of Plato’s Symposium is about love, not simply about men mad after women or of women after men – for these desires pay tribute to the laws of nature – but about men [mad] after males, differing from them only in age.” He goes on to say that homosex turns the passive partner into a male-female hybrid, and corrupts the active partner by consuming him with passion that detracts from his social obligations. It also results in depopulation of cities.
In another place Philo writes: “There has barged into the cities like a raucous religious procession another evil, greater by far than the one just mentioned [men marrying women known to be sterile], pederasty, which formerly was a matter of great reproach even to be mentioned, but now is a matter of boasting not only for the doers but also for those who have it done to them…. And let the pederast recognize that he remains under the same penalty, since he pursues a pleasure that is contrary to nature and does his part to make the cities desolate and empty of inhabitants by destroying the procreative sperm” (On the Special Laws 3.37-42).
Another criticism of homosex is that it is “an insatiable overflow of lust beyond heterosexual intercourse.” In other words, it was the problem of those who had become bored with heterosex. In their sexual perversions, they needed something more to satisfy their sexual appetites. While the homosexuality we face today is often “constitutional” and exclusive, even today there are those who engage in homosex out of sexual perversion and a lustful appetite for something new.—177-8
The Athenian speaker in Plato’s Laws wished to follow nature and outlaw the “joining with males and boys in sexual intercourse as though with females, adducing as evidence the nature of animals and point out that male does not touch male for sexual purposes, because that is not natural. … Our citizens must not be worse than birds and many other animals which…when they reach [the] age [for breeding] pair off male with female according to instinct and female with male and for the remaining time they…[remain] firm to their first agreements of love (836c, 840d-e).
The first-century A.D. author of Pseudo-Phocylides says, “Don’t transgress the limits of sexual intercourse set by nature with unlawful love. Not even to animals themselves is intercourse between males pleasing.” (190-92).
While the ancients thought sex should be for procreation, and while they saw the role of women in sex as inferior to the male, the core of their insights remain viable today, namely that only male and female are anatomically fitted for each other sexually, and that the natural purpose of sex cannot be achieved by two people of the same sex – which evidences that it is unnatural. The fittedness of the male penis for the female vagina is evidenced not only by the dimensions and shape of each organ, “but also by the tissue environment of the vagina (its relative sturdiness against rupture and its cleanliness when compared to the rectal environment), they capacity of both penis and vagina for mutual sexual stimulation (penial glands and the clitoris), and their capacity for procreation.”—181
Ch 3 – The Witness of Jesus
Jesus made no direct statements regarding homosex per se, but that does not mean He approved of it (any more than His silence on incest and bestiality means he approved of those—228), nor does it mean He is silent on the issue. We can infer Jesus’ position on the matter from four points of data:
- Given Jesus’ view of the Mosaic Law and his cultural milieu, it is unlikely that Jesus’ position on homosex would have differed from his contemporaries’.
- Jesus’ appeal to the creation texts of Genesis 1 and 2 in his discussion of marriage and divorce make it clear that his view of appropriate sexual expression was limited to the confines of male-female marriage that was monogamous and endured for life.
- On other sexual matters, Jesus’ ethic was stricter than the prevailing culture, not more lenient.
- Jesus’ demand for righteousness makes it unlikely that he would have been lax on this area of sexual ethics.—187-8
Jesus’ cultural context
It’s unlikely that Jesus’ silence on the matter of homosexuality should be taken as acceptance. Jesus was never hesitant to express views contrary to the prevailing religious thought, and yet he never expressed approval of homosexuality in a culture that disapproved highly of it. It’s better to take his silence as his endorsement of the Mosaic Law and cultural opinion.—188
Jesus does speak of the evil that is within men’s hearts, and one such evil was sexual immoralities (porneiai). For the Jew, this hearkened back to the full list of sexual sins in Leviticus 18 and 20, one of which was homosexuality.—191
Jesus’ appeal to the creation texts on marriage
While discussing marriage and divorce in Mark 10:1-12, Jesus appealed to Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 to support his contention that marriage is meant to be monogamous and last for a lifetime. He accepted the view of human sexuality presented in these creation texts as binding. The pattern for Jesus was limited to one man and one woman – not two men or two women, or any other combination. Given the creative purpose for human sexuality expressed in marriage, there was no reason for Jesus to comment on homosexuality. It is excluded on the basis that it is not a one-flesh union. Jesus’ didn’t broaden the sexual ethic, but restricted it based on the creation narrative of God’s ideal for human sexuality and relationships. If the union was something other than a male-female, life-long marriage, it was not sanctioned by Jesus or God.—193-4
Jesus’ sexual ethic was more conservative than His contemporaries’
When it came to divorce and remarriage, Jesus’ ethic was more conservative than the Mosaic Law (Dt 24:1-4) as well as His contemporaries’ views. They allowed for divorce and remarriage, whereas Jesus did not (Mk 10:11-12; Lk 16:18). “Jesus forbade divorce and did so on the grounds that (1) divorce invariably led to remarriage and (2) remarriage while one’s first spouse was still alive constituted adultery.”—200 Jesus’ only exception was for sexual sin (Mt 5:31-32; 19:9). If a man’s spouse committed adultery, he could justifiably divorce her and marry another woman. Any other scenario, however, would be de facto adultery. “We know that Jesus thought that if a person remarried while the first spouse was alive such a person committed adultery. The inference here is that sex with more than one person currently alive is an egregious sin.” Jesus’ teaching was seen as so strict that His own disciples concluded that, if true, it is better to never get married (Mt 19:10).—201-2,223
Paul cites the Jesus tradition in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. Paul understands Jesus’ prohibition against divorce to apply to both the husband and wife. If the wife has divorced her husband anyway, she should remain unmarried (which seems to confirm that the concern is more about remarriage than divorce). Both Jesus and Paul agree that if a divorced person remarries, they commit adultery. This applied both to the initiator of divorce as well as the innocent victim of divorce.—198-9,204
“Not only did he [Jesus] not condone adultery, he also expanded the definition of adultery to embrace the remarriage of divorced men and women.”—203
“[A]ll the sayings presuppose that the dissolved marriage is still in force. In God’s eyes the divorced woman and the divorced man are still married to their previous spouses. Hence sex with a divorced woman, whether in the context of remarriage or not, is the same as sex with a married woman; it is adultery. … The wording in in Matthew speaks precisely to the question of a woman who is divorced on grounds other than sexual immorality…; the expression ‘causes her to be led into adultery’ suggest that the woman had not previously committed adultery. It matters not why the woman was divorced; a woman divorced for burnt toast would still be committing adultery if she remarried. To spare her this fate, Jesus (according to Matt 5:32a) forbade the husband from divorcing his wife for any reason (except, Matthew inserts, in cases where the wife has committed an act of sexual immorality; he cannot make her into an adulteress because she has already made herself an adulteress). In other words, in all the sayings Jesus’ fundamental concern starts with the definition of adultery itself: sex with another person while one’s spouse (former or current) is still alive. The issue of victimization is a concern, as 5:32a suggests. But it is not the paramount concern. The woman victimized by a husband’s frivolous divorce does not escape the charge of adultery when she remarries. In our contemporary context our first concern is the rights of the victim. Jesus’ first concern was sexual purity.”—204-5
What was Jesus’ view of polygamy? He doesn’t say, but given his use of Genesis 1 and 2, coupled with his teaching on divorce and remarriage, he clearly would condemn it. “The divorce sayings express concern about a person having sex with another person while a former sexual partner was still alive. Given that concern, Jesus could hardly have approved of sex with multiple married partners in a polygamous relationship.”—203
Another example of Jesus’ conservativism in sexual ethics is his teaching in Mt 5:27-28. Jesus taught that adultery is not limited to the sexual act, but the spirit of adultery is even present in lustful thoughts toward a woman that is not your wife. Not only must one confine sex to their wife, but their sexual thoughts as well.—205
Jesus’ emphasis on righteousness
While Jesus had compassion on the sinners, that did not result in a lowering of God’s moral ethic for their lives.
Ch 4 – The Witness of Paul and Deutero-Paul
Paul speaks of God “giving them over” to something on three occasions: to unclean passions that dishonor their bodies (1:24), dishonorable passions of homoeroticism (1:26), and to an unfit mind that seeks that which is not proper (1:28). Each handing over is preceded by an exchange: exchanging the glory of the imperishable God for perishable idols (1:23), the exchange of the truth of God for the lie of idolatry (1:25), and the exchange of the natural sexual function of male-female pairing for same-sex intercourse (1:26). The first two exchanges are identical. The same is likely true of the first two giving overs. —251-2
Paul’s argument is that just as idolatry is an inexcusable sin because it suppresses the truth that creation makes clear: God transcends the creation and is not an object within the creation. Those who worship idols do so because they suppress this obvious truth that is made clear in creation. Likewise, homosexuality reveals their suppression of the truth because the material structures within creation, namely the anatomical and procreative complementarity of male and female sexual organs, make it obvious as to their purpose. Those who use male sexual organs with other males are denying the obvious, and thus suppressing the truth of human sexuality. Even those who do not have access to the Law of Moses know that homosexuality is contrary to nature, and immoral.—254
Some will claim that Paul’s appeal to nature was just an appeal to how things are normally done rather than to the material structures of creation. That this is wrong is evidenced by his former case against idolatry. Paul said idolatry is a suppression of the truth because idolatry can be seen to be false based on what can be seen in creation. In other words, what we perceive visually informs us about God. The same is true of sex. By “nature” Paul is referring to the material structures of creation. Just by observing our sexual organs and how they function, we can perceive the creator’s purpose for our sexuality, and it’s obvious that the purpose is for heterosex, not homosex. The purpose of human sexuality is so evident and obvious, that one must suppress the obvious truth to engage in it, just as they do for idolatry.—256-7,264
Paul shows a downward spiral from idolatry to homosexuality, but by no means does he mean to imply that only idolaters can be homosexual or that homosexuality is only caused by idolatry (an interpretation some, such as Dale Martin, have used to argue that the homosexuality we see in the Christian West is different from what Paul had in mind, and that this passage is irrelevant to modern homosexuality). Paul makes it clear in Romans 5:11-21 (also 7:5,7-23) that sinful passions did not originate with idolatry, but with the Fall. What Paul is doing in Romans 1 is trying to explain why homosexuality is so rampant among Gentiles: because the same self-delusion required to worship idols rather than true God is at work in their hearts so that they are also deluded regarding the purpose of human sexuality. He is not saying that every homosexual is first an idolater. “He is speaking in terms of collective entities, not individuals, and in terms of wide-spread effect, not origin.”—285-6
Paul is obviously referring back to Genesis as is evident from his references to “ever since the creation of the world” (1:20), the “Creator” (1:25). The use of “females” and “males” (1:26-27) reflects the same style of Genesis and words of the LXX. There are six significant words that are shared between Rom 1:23 and Gen 1:26. Even the combination of birds-animals-reptiles in Rom 1:23 appears in Gen 1:30. Also significant is “the lie,” (1:25) “shame” (1:27), “knowledge” and “sentence of death.” These intertextual clues make it clear that Paul is drawing on the creation account to determine the appropriate expression of human sexuality.—290-1
Paul often harkens back to the creation story for his sexual ethic (1 Cor 6:16 cites Gen 2:24; 11:2-16 harken back to Gen 1-2).—293
Why did Paul mention female homosex first? It was universally regarded as immoral, even by those who supported male homosex (see Pseudo-Lucian, Affairs of the Heart, 28). Clearly he found it more shocking as indicated by “even their females” (1:26). By mentioning lesbians first, his readers would be nodding in agreement. Then he would bring up the more controversial claim that male homosexuality was equally wrong.—301-2
1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10
The key to understanding these texts is understanding what arsenokoitai and malakoi refer to.
Some claim the meaning can’t be known, that they refer to something other than same-sex intercourse, or that they refer to a very specific type of same-sex intercourse that is unlike the same-sex intercourse practiced today.—306
Malakoi literally means “soft-ones,” but is used specifically to refer to “effeminate males who play the sexual role of females.” Arsenokoitai literally means “male-bedders.”—306
Malakoi has a wide range of meanings. It can refer to decadent living, a fondness for gourmet food and fine clothing, too much attention to one’s hair and appearance, too much heterosex, cowardice, and penetration by another male.—307
Since Paul places this in the context of sins that will exclude one from the kingdom, he can’t have in mind someone who pays too much attention to their hair. He must have a narrower meaning. Since the term is sandwiched between two sexual sins, Paul is referring to the sexual connotation of the word.—308
Philo used malakia two times in the context of speaking of passive homosexual partners (Spec. Laws 3.37-42). He also uses malakotes to refer to the feminizing process of passive homosexual partners (Abr. 135-7)—308-9
Martin contends that arsenokoites refers to men who exploit other men for sex. This qualification is unlikely in light of the Levitical background which was an unqualified prohibition against all same-sex behavior. David Wright has argued that arsenokoites was coined by Hellenistic Jews by conflating two Greek words that appear in both Lev 18:22 and 20:13: arsenos (male) and koiten (bed). Support for this comes from the fact that the rabbis used miskab zakur to refer to homosex, which are the two Hebrew words from these same texts. Arsenokoites would be a straight Greek translation of this Hebrew phrase.—314-5
The fact that arsenokoites appears with malakoi strengthens the case. With the latter referring to the passive partner, the former would highlight the active partner. Every time the arsenokoit- word group appears in a context that gives clues to its meaning, it always refers to homosex.—316
Hippolytus uses the term in his description of the Gnostic “Naasene” myth, in which the serpent tricks Eve into committing adultery with him, and he “approached Adam and possessed him like a boy, which is also itself contrary to the law. From that time on, adultery and arsenokoitia have come into being” (Haer. 5.26.22-23).—318
In Preparation for the Gospel (6.10.25) Eusebius quoted Bardesanes, a 2nd or 3rd century Christian, as saying, “From the Euphrates River [eastward]…a man who is derided as a murder or thief will not be the least bit angry; but if he is derided as an arsenokoites, he will defend himself to the point of murder. [Among the Greeks, wise men who have male lovers are not condemned.]” The last sentence does not appear in some witnesses, so it may not have been original to Bardesanes, or if it was intended as a comment by Eusebius, it may not have been original to Eusebius either. But the fact remains that this makes it clear that arsenokoites was understood to refer to male-male sex.—319
Arsenokoitia is grouped together with porneia and moicheia (adultery) in Origen, Theodoret of Cyrrhus (~A.D. 450), a pseudo-Cyrilian homily (of Alexandria), Nilus of Ancyra (~A.D. 410), and John of Damascus (where arsenokoitia is directly linked to Lev 20:13).—320
The early translations of 1 Corinthians understood arsenokoitai to refer to homosexuality. In Latin it is translated “masculorum concubitores,” which means “men lying together with males.” In Syriac it is translated “those who lie with men.” In Coptic, “lying with males.”—322
There is no other sexual sin that Paul limits to exploitive forms, such as fornication, adultery, or sex with prostitutes. And if he had exploitive sex with young boys in mind, he could have used the technical term for that, paiderastes.—325
Romans 1 makes clear why Paul opposed homosex. It was the gender of the participants, not the age disparity, exploitative nature, idolatry, etc.—327
If Paul is condemning the passive partner (the one who would be exploited), then surely he cannot be restricting his condemnation of arsenokoites to those who exploit other men for sex. The condemnation is not for exploitive forms of homosex, but non-exploitative forms because the participants are willing and thus without excuse.—329
Ch 5 – The Hermeneutical Relevance of the Biblical Witness
What do these Biblical texts condemning homosex have to do with the church today?
Pederasty was in decline in the three centuries prior to Paul. Paul was aware of many forms of homosex. Mark Smith writes, “Paul probably did know of at least several different types of homosexual practices among both men and women. He used general language in Rom. 1, because he intended his proscription to apply in a general way to all homosexual behavior, as he understood it. In context, then, homosexual activity, in all its manifestations (as understood by Paul), is evidence of God’s judgment on human sinfulness.”
Is same-sex attraction genetic? Advocates today assume that people are born gay, and believe the scientific evidence demonstrates this. It doesn’t. Simon LeVay’s brain studies were flawed. Not all of the “gay brains” had a small hypothalamus, and not all of the “straight brains” had a large hypothalamus. Even LeVay admitted that his research couldn’t prove whether a smaller hypothalamus caused same-sex desires, or whether same-sex desires caused the hypothalamus to shrink.—396-9
Dean Hamer was looking for a gay gene. Out of 40 gay twin brothers, 83% had a particular genetic sequence on the X chromosome. But there was no heterosexual control group. A second study was done and found a 67% occurrence. It found the same marker among some in the heterosexual control group. Again, this cannot be the direct cause. We’re not even sure what this genetic sequence causes. It may not cause same-sex attraction, but personality traits that make it more likely for one to fail to conform to gender norms. A Canadian team tried to replicate Hamer’s results with a larger test group, but couldn’t.—399-403
Twin studies prove that same-sex attraction cannot be biologically determined. Since identical twins experience the same hormone bath in the womb and the same DNA, when one twin is gay, both should be gay 100% of the time. But both are gay in only about 10% of cases. In fact, non-identical twins are twice as likely to both be gay as identical twins, which can only be explained by environmental factors, not DNA. To rule out environmental factors, one would have to show that identical twins raised in different environments are both gay when one is gay. Four sets of female twins were found that met such a criteria, and in no case were both girls gay.—403-6
Hormones in the womb cannot cause same-sex attraction either. Adult homosexuals that are given testosterone don’t develop heterosexual desires, but a stronger sex drive for other men. Also, twin studies show that can’t be the cause.—407-8
Same-sex attraction is primarily due to gender nonconformity, gender insecurity, and socialization. When one is insecure in their own gender, they become attracted to others who possess the traits they want to see in themselves. Sexual abuse, physical abuse, perceived or actual rejection by one’s father or same-sex siblings, and other elements can result in same-sex attraction.—408-412
Cultural attitudes also affect whether or not same-sex attraction and behavior will manifest itself. Compare Greek culture to Hebrew culture. Even in New Guinea there are tribes that institutionalize pederasty. It’s also been demonstrated that urban areas have higher rates of homosexuality, and this is even after one has factored in the fact that homosexuals will move to urban areas for acceptance. If the environment is open to homosexuality and there are few negative sanctions for it, more will experiment with it.—413-7
Can someone change their sexual orientation? Yes. The studies abound with examples. Not all experience change, but a significant number do. In fact, 2% of the culture claims to be ex-gay compared to 4% that are gay.—418-429
The whole of the OT assumes that all relationships are opposite-sex. The Proverbs all talk about male and female relationships. Same for the Song of Solomon. The 10th command in the 10 Commandments is not to covet your neighbor’s wife.—438
Homosexual relationships are typically not monogamous and do not endure.–452-9
Homosexuality results in negative social and personal effects including earlier death, more sexual diseases, higher rates of suicide, depression, substance abuse, higher rates of pedophilia, etc.—471-485
Mark Smith, “Ancient Bisexuality,” 236-7.