On Homosexuality, Is Leviticus 20:13 All That Christians Need to Know?

Were David and Jonathan Bisexual Lovers?

A new evangelical consideration of the biblical issues involved in homosexual behaviour including an utterly frank new appraisal of the love of David and Jonathan.

ARTICLE QUOTE: "We have to face the fact that Holy Scripture does describe David and Jonathan as being lovers, whether we like it or not. It is high time that we evangelicals faced up to this!"

Like it or not, it really is time that we evangelicals were bold enough to admit that David and Jonathan were plainly lovers, with a passion for each other exceeding their passion for women. I know that this makes some of us evangelicals feel uncomfortable but I think we should face up to what Scripture appears to be saying.

S omebody recently e mailed us to complain that UK Apologetics needs more material on the discussion of homosexuality. Well, we have about five articles on that specific subject (six now) and at least another twenty which touch on it in various ways, but the complaint is probably justified. Recently, I have given more thought to the biblical account of David and Jonathan and so this would appear to be an opportune moment to look at that. I have to say that I don't think my comments on David and Jonathan will meet with everybody's approval, but those comments come later in the article, so please bear with me - please let me appeal to the reader not to simply jump to that bit without absorbing the vital first part of the article..

Leviticus 20:13: 'If a man also lies with mankind, as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be on them.' (MKJ).

In the face of this Scripture, one questioner recently asked me, "how can some now say that homosexuality, in the modern age, might be acceptable. Even some Christians are 'softening' on this. Surely Leviticus is clear enough. Will you comment, please?"

Okay, we need to stand back a little and make certain logical observations.

First of all, if one consults the mosaic laws which the Lord gave to Israel which we find outlined in books such as Leviticus, we must note that we are dealing here with two different sorts of laws:

1. Laws which were only applicable to Israel.
The Lord chose Israel to be His special people and He offered them a special relationship with Him and so very many of these laws regulated that area of special relationship between the Lord and Israel. These laws, therefore, would include such things as the observance of the Sabbath, the various Holy Days, and the laws regulating the system of sacrifices. Also, various matters pertaining to the tabernacle, mainly applicable to the tribe of Levi. So these were laws for a particular people at a particular time: this is a simply unavoidable conclusion. The tithing laws would probably have to be included here since those laws presumed an agrarian, land-based society whose wealth was only involved in such things as crops, herds and flocks. In our day, certain multi-million dollar ministries have arrogantly claimed these tithing laws as a so-called "biblical" reason why people should support them. Frankly, they have no case and their weak arguments should be rejected by all.

2. Moral Laws which were the perfect laws for any people of/at any time.
These laws would obviously include the laws against fornication, adultery, yes homosexuality as well, as well as the laws against kidnapping, theft, murder, and so on. The Ten Commandments covered many of these areas but not all of them. It seems unquestionable that God would have any society of any time living by these moral laws, in any ideal situation, although the prescribed punishments could only be applied to an isolated community who sought to obey the Lord with all their hearts, and who had their own judicial system. In this sense, the Old Testament was utterly unique, a fact sadly misunderstood by the Presbyterian 'theonomists,' among others.

Leviticus 20:13 would clearly fall into the second group, while not being entirely disconnected to the first group. But let us be logical about this: Why would God ban homosexuality anyway? The answer is that God (as the designer of the human body), planned for His human creation to have large families with many children; God constructed men and women in such a manner that when a man regularly 'lies' with a woman, children are going to result - at least in most cases. Repeatedly, large families are considered as a blessing in the Bible. God intended for men and women to come together in a loving bond, partake of joyous sexual relations, and to produce children! Frankly, two men in a bed can never produce a single child! Yet there have always been a few people (less than 2% of the population by most estimates, although the modern 'coming out' sort of homosexuals continue to absurdly claim that their group is up to 10-12% of the populace), who would prefer to 'lie with' members of their own sex. Since God is our designer, He had a perfect right to tell the Israelites to simply apply capital punishment to these people, as indeed, also to murderers, astrologers and prostitutes!

So Leviticus tells us enough for us to see that homosexuality, in common with practices such as prostitution, bestiality, astrology and kidnapping does not meet with God's approval. In the New Testament, enough is said (mostly by Paul the Apostle) for us to say that such things must continue to be rejected as any possible part of the Christian life, though we will undoubtedly continue to witness such things in the unbelieving/ungodly community.

However, there are rather a few further points which we really must note here (and I continue to be alarmed that certain fundamentalists at times seem to be unaware of some of these):

a. Today, human societies set laws - not God.

In the light of the above statement, it is obvious that Christians have no right to execute homosexuals, or, for that matter, to execute psychics, mediums, thieves or 'ladies of the night.' Christians do not exist as an isolated community in the wilderness who must (necessarily) set and uphold their own judicial system.

b. "All have sinned."

Since the Bible always refuses to 'grade' sins, except for 'sins of ignorance,' it therefore follows that homosexuals are no more evil than killers, burglars, adulterers or embezzlers. Interestingly, the apparently severe penalty for homosexual acts (Lev. 20:13) was no more severe than the prescribed punishments for adultery, incest, or for cursing one's parents. Even a man who carelessly had sex with his wife while she was having a 'period,' was to be "cut off from among the people." [Read the entirety of Leviticus 20, at least from verses 9 to 21]. Since one imagines that many such incidents would rarely be reported, it becomes obvious that it was the deterrent value of these laws which was most significant. These laws 'set the tone' for any people who would approach the holiness of God, though they would never reach such a standard, of course. While the people would fall short time and again, it was essential for them to understand something of God's supreme holiness, a holiness which means that God cannot live with sin.

c. Revelation is progressive.

Biblically, revelation is progressive so Christians must now apply the law of Christ, primarily regarding their personal and congregational moral conduct, but they should also apply the law of love when looking at society in general, rather than continually being over-judgmental. For true believers, Christ wants us to approach such moral matters through the perfect standards demonstrated in the sermon on the mount; this standard far exceeds the society-only standards given to Israel in the wilderness. I continue to be very disappointed that some Christians are not very discerning in this area. Some Christians continue to insist that obedience to the Ten Commandments is their entire duty, apparently in complete ignorance of the higher standards of the 'sermon on the mount' and the law of Christ. Let us never forget that the Pharisees already had the Ten Commandments which they upheld to the letter.

d. The precedent of the Jerusalem Conference.

When the Jerusalem Conference met in about AD49 or 50 - surely under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit - and decided what moral and behavioural standards should apply to the non-Israelites who were coming to Christ, we read the following:

Acts 15:28: For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these necessary things:
Acts 15:29: that you abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which, if you keep yourselves, you shall do well. Be prospered. (MKJV).

The word translated 'fornication' here can be best summed up as 'sexual immorality.' The Greek word is 'porneia.' It would cover sexual lust from an idolatrous base, including such areas as incest, adultery and fornication. In short, sexual lust and sexual exploitation was to be seen as the enemy but certainly not sexual expression in a normal, faithful, loving and non-promiscuous relationship. Now, it is certainly true that the average normal, healthy male is probably never too far away from sexual lust, but God wants such men to bring those feelings under control through marriage. Marriage would satisfy the normal and usual passions of probably 93% of men and women.

The Love of David and Jonathan.

When, many years ago , I read about the love which David and Jonathan had for each other, I knew it would only be a matter of time before all sorts of things would be claimed for this. On the one hand you now have the homosexual lobby who insist that they were homosexual lovers, that is, in the very fullest possible physical sense, and, on the other hand, you have the usual fundamentalists who scream back that "this was just brotherly love." Without question, to my mind, both are certainly wrong although the former position, I believe, is stronger than many of us have been prepared to admit.
First of all, to insist that this was "just brotherly love," clearly turns the Scripture on it's head; if their huge affection for each other was "just brotherly love," why would Scripture record the following:

"I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women." (2 Samuel 1:26).

If the Scripture is prepared to openly admit that the love between this pair, "was wonderful, passing the love of women," why do a few resolutely claim that this was just good, strong, brotherly love?? The Scripture itself seems utterly clear that this went beyond brotherly love! Surely we must all admit that there was an element of passion in this love! Even from the beginning of their friendship, that passion seems to have been present,

"That same day, when Saul had finished speaking with David, he kept him and would not let him return any more to his father's house, for he saw that Jonathan had given his heart to David and had grown to love him as himself. So Jonathan and David made a solemn compact because they loved the other as dearly as himself. And Jonathan stripped off the cloak he was wearing and his tunic, and gave them to David, together with his sword, his bow, and his belt." (1 Samuel 18:1-4).

Perhaps worryingly, Jonathan's act of disrobing was symbolic of his complete and utter submission to David and his willingness to serve his needs. Some have suggested that this act of disrobing could only have concluded in Jonathan standing completely naked before David (permissible since both were men). This act would be one of showing complete surrender, submission and vulnerability before David, yet still not necessarily having any sexual connotation. David confides that he has "found grace in Jonathan's eyes," a phrase which normally refers to romantic or physical attraction. Throughout the relevant passages, David and Jonathan consistently affirm and reaffirm their love and devotion to each other, and Jonathan is willing to betray his father, family, wealth, and traditions for David. The Scripture also records regular kisses between the two. Now, certainly, middle eastern men both then and now, do normally kiss upon greeting, however, since this was such a normal thing, one wonders why the Scripture even mentions it unless this was not the normal thing but went beyond it. However, it must be said that both men were clearly involved in heterosexual relationships, David was already married to Jonathan's sister (Michal), and Jonathan already had a son of about 5 or 6 years of age. However, it seems that the romantic, heterosexual lives of both men were 'on hold' at that point. Nobody can truthfully rule out the possibility that - whilst under great emotional stress - a desire for physical intimacy with each other did suddenly flare up in two men with possibly very lusty appetites!

While we all understand that Saul was bitterly jealous of David, we cannot deny that one particular reproach from Saul to Jonathan does sound something like a father's reproach for a son who has embarked upon a somewhat dubious relationship,

And Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, 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 confusion, and to the shame of your mother's nakedness? (1 Samuel 20:30).

The "choosing" (Hb: bahar) may indicate a permanent choice and firm relationship, and the mention of "nakedness" (Hb: erwa) could be interpreted to convey a negative sexual nuance, giving the impression that Saul saw something sexually indecent in Jonathan's and David's relationship. Moreover, "confusion" (Hb: bo-sheth) has regard to shame or idolatrous confusion. Of course, Saul might have suggested this only in order to hurt and injure Jonathan, yet this verse might be considered as pretty good evidence (even if not finally conclusive), of what Saul was inferring, even if his inference was groundless.

Probably most totally unbiased readers would now believe that David and Jonathan indeed shared a form of romantic love, but, as Christian believers, we would all believe that any such passions were probably physically unconsummated, except for hugs and kissing. So this was a strong love, beyond brotherly love, and clearly involving passion and a loving committment. But it was possibly not fully 'homosexual love' as that term is now used, although, if we are to be utterly honest about this, that cannot be totally ruled out.
Is it not possible that this story is simply telling us that whereas men and women would normally always 'fall for' members of the opposite sex, there would always be a few, comparatively rare, occasions when women would develop a strong passion for other women, and men for other men? Why should we seek to deny something which, as we all know, does sometimes happen, though rarely? The biblical text seems to present us with this fact as being something very noble and decent and not as something which is reprehensible, therefore, one believes, probably no unnatural intimate physical acts took place between the two, yet the two seem to have loved each other with a passion exceeding their passion for the women in their lives, at least exceeding their passion for the women in their lives at that current moment. Indeed, the text seems determined to represent the love between David and Jonathan as an example of the purest of true loves. As J.P. Fokkelman once noted, they appear to be enacting their own version of the Song of Songs: 'Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging fire.' (Song of Solomon 8:6). (Fokkelman, J.P., Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel. Vol. II: The Crossing Fates. I Sam. 13-31 and II Sam. 1, 1986).

Many of our old Sunday School teachers might squirm at some of these comments but I don't think that we evangelicals should go on denying something which the biblical text seems to be so honest and clear about.

So could David and Jonathan even be described as "lovers"? Certainly! But probably only in the older fashioned, purer way - not in the modern way in which "lovers" partake of full sexual experience. Also, might not this love and passion be comparable to, and even a picture of, Christ's love for His Church?

More About Modern Homosexuality

Modern western men have a huge virility problem caused by the drastic, but not yet fully explained, lowering of the average male sperm count in the western world! This had been suspected for some time but in 1992 a Danish doctor, Dr Niels Skakkebaek, confirmed it when he decided to analyse the results of all the studies of sperm production that had been conducted since the 1930s. The results of his research shocked him but there can now be no serious doubt that the average western man has a far lower sperm count than his grandfather would have enjoyed. In the light of this, effeminacy among men might be expected to be an increased tendency. Various possible causes have been put forward to explain the problem but probably few of them confirmed, all one can say is that in the light of all the data available, it might be considered that indications of bisexual or homosexual tendencies among modern western men should be expected to be much more common than they once were. For any wanting a more in-depth consideration of the modern male sperm crisis, we would recommend a reading of Mike deHavilland Parker's article on this subject which is here (however, we would not suggest a reading of Mike's article to any who are easily offended by strong, clear use of the words and terms pertaining to the sexual process).

Of course, none of the above excuses anything but it should surely be borne in mind in any careful and compassionate discussion of this subject. All one can say is that if a man - in his heart and soul - feels more like a woman than a man in his appetites, that fact alone is not a sin and probably cannot be helped in some cases, indeed, perhaps it cannot be helped in many such cases, however, the actual practising of homosexual acts, either between two women or between two men, is very definitely sin! But - even there - one needs to be reminded that heterosexual adultery too, as well as the promiscuous sexual behaviour (fornication) now no longer even questioned among so many young western people, is also very definitely sin!

Again, homosexuality is not the way God would have wanted it, he wanted to see heterosexual couples producing large families. Elsewhere, I have compared the modern aggressively 'coming out' and proud sort of homosexual unfavourably with the older sort. When I was a child there were always such people around and, in any particular neighbourhood, it was always pointed out to one where they lived, but they were no problem and always seemed able to find partners of suitable tendencies; they bothered no one. Such people seem a million miles from those who now demand all sorts of "rights" for homosexuals and, in the process, have made this tiny group absolutely loathed. Even worse, politicians now try to appeal to these people, to get them 'on-board.' Recently the leaders of the British Labour Party and Conservative Parties have even clashed over this, each insisting that it is their party which gives homosexuals the best deal. Incredible!! Of course, this is all about getting votes and shows that politicians seem to have fallen for the 'gay coming out' movement's ridiculous claims on homosexual numbers.

Modern society's determination to classify people either as "straight" or "gay" has also added to the problems; in fact, one in every 1,500 babies are 'intersex' babies, capable of being raised either as a boy or girl. These babies have ambiguous genitalia. They grow into adults with the characteristics of both sexes, suffer lifelong inner turmoil and many eventually come to see themselves as either homosexual or bisexual. But can these people be wholly blamed? It can be cruel to categorise people too quickly!


Practising homosexuality is not a godly lifestyle, but neither is theft, fornication, burglary, adultery, or the practice of astrology. One really 'hot' internet fundamentalist recently wrote,

"Homosexuals will burn for eternity, so is it not better to curb those bad thoughts and find yourself a nice, sweet wife?"

The implication there is that God has a greater loathing for one particular sin than most others but my Bible seems to tell me that God loathes all sin yet He will be compassionate and forgiving when receiving heartfelt repentance. That comment also assumes that people sinfully choose to be homosexual whereas many now believe that these things are set in the genes, apart from the cumulative affects of the deep dip in male sperm levels in the West over the last eighty years. Non-practising homosexuality in which either a man or woman has inwardly felt, perhaps even from childhood, to more truly belong to the sex opposed to the one in which they were raised, is no sin; there are probably medical reasons for these things, just as some are born with a predisposition to various illnesses due to hereditary factors beyond their control.

UK Apologetics believes that homosexuality is a tragedy for either a man or a woman. But we do not believe that God has a special loathing for these people, several of whom have counselled with us over the last few years. God loves all sinners and Christ died for all sinners. Make no mistake: choice, practising homosexuals will not enter the kingdom of God just as they are, but neither will any sinner. We all fall short and must continually - with God's help and strength - be rooting out these failings within ourselves, but some failings are not always entirely within our power to root out and we should take note of that.

Meanwhile, David and Jonathan were indeed 'lovers' - the Scripture is utterly clear about this! But they were possibly not 'lovers' in the way that the word 'homosexuality' now tends to depict. These were normal, strong, robust men who normally adored women, but who - during this period of time - were largely separated from the normal loving comforts of their women and apparently developed a huge passion for each other. Yet it was a decent, righteous and honest passion, containing no elements of any desire to exploit one another. But - the question might be asked (and probably should not be avoided), did either or both men achieve a sexual climax at any point during this period of their passion for each other? I think that that is quite likely although I might be wrong, but neither did this have to mean unnatural penetration. So this was an episode, possibly quite a long one at that, but it did not alter the overall godly course of their lives. Scripture refuses to be critical of David and Jonathan during the emotional and, one might say, confused turmoil of this episode in their lives just as Scripture refuses to condemn David when he entered the temple and ate the shewbread. Fortunately we all have a merciful God in Heaven who will listen willingly to the repentant prayers of His people. But, for sure, "just brotherly love" won't cover it - this was passion! There is no point in claiming that it wasn't.
Robin A. Brace, July, 2009.