Gay Pride sermon

faith-pride-logo-11I see that this year’s Gay Pride celebrations in Belfast includes a service in All Souls’ Church, Elmwood Avenue, where the preacher, Andrew McFarland will look at “compelling reasons” to believe that David and Jonathan were in a same-sex relationship. The spurious arguments used to arrive at this conclusion are well-known and have been answered convincingly by scholars like Robert Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburg Theological Seminary.

In an article published a few years ago, Gagnon successfully answers the various attempts to make the Bible say the opposite of what the plain reading of Scripture teaches with regard to homosexual practices. The whole article is worth a read, but here is the section on the relationship between David and Jonathan.

Homosexualist interpretations of David and Jonathan mistake non-erotic covenant/kinship language for erotic intimacy. For example:

The statement that “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1) can be compared to the non-erotic kinship language in Genesis 44:31 (“[Jacob’s] soul is bound up with [his son Benjamin’s] soul”) and Leviticus 19:18 (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”). It can also be compared to formulaic treaty language in the ancient Near East, such as the address of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal to his vassals (“You must love [me] as yourselves”) and the reference in 1 Kings 5:1 to King Hiram of Tyre as David’s “lover.”

Similarly, the remark in 1 Samuel 19:1 that Jonathan “delighted very much” in David can be compared to the non-erotic references in 1 Samuel 18:22 (“The king [Saul] is delighted with you [David], and all his servants love you; now then, become the king’s son-in-law”) and 2 Samuel 20:11 (“Whoever delights in Joab, and whoever is for David, [let him follow] after Joab”).

When David had to flee from Saul, David and Jonathan had a farewell meeting, in which David “bowed three times [to Jonathan], and they kissed each other, and wept with each other” (1 Sam 20:41-42). The bowing suggests political, rather than sexual, overtones. As for the kissing, only three out of twenty-seven occurrences of the Hebrew verb “to kiss” have an erotic dimension; most refer to kissing between father and son or between brothers.

In 1 Samuel 20:30-34, Saul screams at Jonathan: “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse [David] to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?” Here Saul is not accusing his son of playing the passive-receptive role in man-male intercourse with David (cf. 2 Sam 19:5-6). Rather, he charges Jonathan with bringing shame on the mother who bore him by acquiescing to David’s claim on Saul’s throne.

When David learns of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan he states of Jonathan “you were very dear to me; your love to me was more wonderful to me than the love of women” (2 Sam 1:26). The Hebrew verb for “were very dear to” is used in a sexual sense in the Old Testament only two out of twenty-six occurrences and a related form is used just three verses earlier when David refers to Saul as “lovely,” obviously in a non-erotic sense. Jonathan’s giving up his place as royal heir and risking his life for David surpassed anything David had known from a committed erotic relationship with a woman; but there was nothing sexual in the act. As Proverbs 18:24 notes (in a non-sexual context): “There is a lover/friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

The narrator’s (narrators’) willingness to speak of David’s vigorous heterosexual life (compare the relationship with Bathsheba) puts in stark relief his (their) complete silence about any sexual activity between David and Jonathan. Put simply, homosexualist interpretations of the relationship between David and Jonathan misunderstand the political overtones of the Succession Narrative in 1 Samuel 16:14 – 2 Samuel 5:10. Jonathan’s handing over his robe, armor, sword, bow, and belt were acts of political investiture, transferring the office of heir apparent to David (1 Samuel 18:4). The point of emphasizing the close relationship between David and Jonathan was to stress the view that David was not a rogue usurper to Saul’s throne. Rather, he was adopted by Jonathan into his father’s “house” (family, dynasty) as though he were Jonathan’s older brother. Neither the narrator(s) of the Succession Narrative nor the author(s) of the Deuteronomistic History show any concern about homosexual scandal, because, in the context of ancient Near Eastern conventions, nothing in the narrative raised suspicions about a homosexual relationship. (For further discussion, see Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 146-54; Markus Zehnder,“Observations on the Relationship between David and Jonathan and the Debate on Homosexuality,” Westminster Theological Journal 69.1 [2007]: 127-74).

23 Replies to “Gay Pride sermon”

  1. Thank you very much for the publicity for our inaugural event. I’d like to clarify that the event in All Souls’ is not a service as such. There will be no hymns, just two talks by two speakers.

  2. Hi Stafford,

    The text of my talk is now online at http://faithandpride.org/2011/07/27/jonathan-loved-david-andrew-mcfarland/

    The gist of my argument is that we can clearly see that David and Michal had a relationship, and the relationship between David and Jonathan is described in the same way, so it is reasonable to assume that David had a relationship with them both. It is only when we look at David and Jonathan through prejudiced 20th century eyes that we can’t see the plain teaching of the scripture.

    Andrew

  3. The Hebrew word used for Jonathan’s love for David according to the Old Testament Hebrew-English Lexicon means ‘to have affection for’ and can refer to affection for a family member or a friend. In fact Scripture uses it to describe a whole number of relationships including pure friendship e.g. Proverbs 18 vs24; Proverbs 27 vs6; Isaiah 41 vs8. To imply that Jonathan had a sexual relationship with David is reading into the text your own supposition.As Gagnon points out on no occasion does the narrator ever refer to sexual intercourse between David and Jonathan. The verbs sakab (to lie) and yada (to know) are never employed. If the narrator is so clear about David’s heterosexual prowess (2 Samuel 11 vs2-5) why is there silence about any sexual activity between David and Jonathan.

  4. “It is only when we look at David and Jonathan through prejudiced 20th century eyes that we can’t see the plain teaching of the scripture.”

    It is only when you look at David and Jonathan through prejudiced 20th century eyes that you can’t see the plain teaching of the scripture.

  5. @D. Howard Gilpin
    “To imply that Jonathan had a sexual relationship with David is reading into the text your own supposition.”

    I feel moved to ask whether you have actually read A. A. McFarland’s text? As far as I can see, he does not refer anywhere – or even imply – that Jonathan and David were in a sexual relationship. That appears to me, to be your inference. Perhaps you are too het up about this subject and are arguing against something that has not in fact be put forth.

    To me this shows your own prejudice, and failure to read the plain words of scripture without the prejudice of the 21st-century.

  6. I have read the text and it is clearly stated that Jonathan and David were a couple in the same way that David and Michal were. It also states their relationship was much closer to marriage than it was to friendship and that David spoke of Jonathan as if he were his spouse. Quoting in conclusion ‘If we could say all of that about a relationship between a man and a woman, we would have no trouble seeing them as a married couple. Jonathan loved David.’ If this is not implying a sexual relationship between Jonathan and David can you tell me what it is implying?

  7. @Michael Carchrie Campbell

    I believe that Mr Gilpin was refering to Andrew’s above post which implies that David’s relationship with Jonathan is spoken of in the same way as his relationship with Michal. If he was not implying by this that David’s sexual relationship with Michal is spoken of in the same way as his relationship with Jonathan but rather that the text is simply stating that David had a (Platonic) relationship with Jonathan then the whole discussion is mute. If language still means anything then I think that Mr Gilpin’s inference is perfectly logical.

    I think we would all do better to listen to oneanother with a greater spirit of humility and gentleness than often happens in these forums. Lets not just label everyone with whom we disagree ‘prejudice’ and take time to understand where they are coming from.

  8. I have read A. Mcfarland’s text and he clearly states that Jonathan and David were a couple in the same way that David and Michal were. He also states their relationship was much closer to marriage than it was to friendship and that David spoke of Jonathan as if he were his spouse. Quoting A. McFarland in conclusion ‘If we could say all of that about a relationship between a man and a woman, we would have no trouble seeing them as a married couple. Jonathan loved David.’ If this is not implying a sexual relationship between Jonathan and David can you tell me what it is implying?

  9. @D. Howard Gilpin

    You ask “why is there silence about any sexual activity between David and Jonathan.” But why don’t you ask about the silence regarding sexual activity between David and Michal? Sex does not make, or define, a relationship. You don’t need to know that two people have had sex to know that they are a couple.

  10. But if the claim is that David and Jonathan were very close friends who loved each other as brothers but not sexually, then that’s just the traditional interpretation of the passage, isn’t it? So I don’t see what you’re claiming to add to the traditional view in that case.

    Is the talk supporting the traditional view of a non-erotic friendship between David and Jonathan, or is it not? If so, why bother making it; if not, what is it supporting?

  11. @SK

    If a man and a woman were as close as David and Jonathan, and in the same way that David and Jonathan were, we would have no difficulty seeing them as a couple. We wouldn’t be looking for evidence of a sexual relationship to prove that they were a couple.

  12. I don’t understand how that answers the question. Are you claiming that David and Jonathan had a sexual relationship or not? Or that they may or may not have done and we can’t know? Or that it’s irrelevant whether they did or not?

    Basically I don’t understand what point you are trying to make with the talk. Could you explain?

  13. Isn’t that (‘it is not relevant’) begging the question? After all, the whole point of disagreement is that some Christians think that Biblically speaking it is relevant, and others think that it isn’t.

    So if you want to use David and Jonathan as evidence that it isn’t relevant, you can’t do it by starting with the assumption that it isn’t relevant.

    (Besides which, I’m always slightly flummoxed by the idea that you could use David for a model of good relationship practice in any department.)

  14. @SK

    There may be Christians who get hot under the collar about whether or not David and Jonathan had sex. I’m not one of them. My talk was about the relationship between David and Jonathan.

  15. @Andrew McFarland

    It seems to me you’re hanging your hat on leaving ‘relationship’ and ‘couple’ undefined. In your paper there are the ‘signs of a relationship’ but I can’t see we’re ever told what a ‘relationship’ is. Nor are we told, if a ‘relationship’ does exist between them, what the significance of this is. You do end with the rather tendentious assertion ‘what greater affirmation of same-sex relationships could you want?’, but absent an argument in support of your conclusion I’m inclined to disregard it.

    Next we have the parallel with David and Michal. And here you seem to believe you have your opponents on the horns of a dilemma. If David and Michal were in a ‘relationship’ then so too were David and Jonathan and if David and Jonathan were not in a ‘relationship’ then neither were David and Michal. Your failure to define your terms notwithstanding, there are at least several other problems with the parallel, one of which will do for now.

    In Old Testament Israel marriage had a very definite meaning, one of covenant and sexual union. It was predicated on the created order and had also similarities within the Ancient Near East. We know that Michal was given to David to be his wife and such language is never used of David and Jonathan. There is a covenant between David and Jonathan but there is no indication that this was the marriage covenant (which would be an absurdity at any rate). Your parallel involves a fatal equivocation. And if you mean the ‘signs of a relationship’ to be the necessary conditions for a, as yet undefined, ‘relationship’ then you will also need to show that given the different covenants in view, they are both sufficient to be in a ‘relationship’.

    Two book recommendations;

    Marriage: Sex in the service of God by Christopher Ash
    Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible by David Instone-Brewer.

  16. @Andrew

    I don’t leave ‘relationship’ and ‘couple’ undefined: ” I believe there was more to David and Jonathan than friendship. I believe that not only did they love each other, but they were in love with each other. I believe that David and Jonathan were a couple. I believe that they were in a relationship.”

    Do you believe that David and Michal were in a relationship? Do you believe that they loved each other? Is it any of your business whether they had sex or not?

  17. @Andrew McFarland

    I don’t leave ‘relationship’ and ‘couple’ undefined: ” I believe there was more to David and Jonathan than friendship. I believe that not only did they love each other, but they were in love with each other. I believe that David and Jonathan were a couple. I believe that they were in a relationship.”

    Nothing of which is a definition of a ‘relationship’.

    Now you might say ‘being in love with each other’ is a definition of ‘being in a relationship’. But this amounts to chasing the problem in circles, exchanging one ambiguity for another. At the very least, if it is to function as a definition, it is inadequate in it’s present form, since it seems possible for two people to be ‘in love’ without being in a ‘relationship’ or for a ‘relationship’ to exist without its participants being ‘in love’.

    Which raises another issue, you draw a distinction between loving someone and ‘being in love’ without telling us what that difference is. We’re simply to take it as read that there is such a distinction; moreover, that it is applicable to two males in Old Testament Israel.

    Do you believe that David and Michal were in a relationship?

    That’s not a question I have to answer since I’m not the one saying they were.

    Do you believe that they loved each other?

    We know that Michal loved David, we’re not told if David loved Michal.

    Is it any of your business whether they had sex or not?

    My argument is not predicated on whether or not they had sex. Your taking the relationship between David and Michal and using it as a test case for David and Jonathan. But you’ve failed to account for important facts. Facts which militate against your conclusion. In terms of the created order marriage is the covenanted sexual union of one man and one woman, added to which are the ceremonial and contractual rituals of an Ancient Near Eastern tribal society. The covenant between David and Jonathan was not of the same kind. So at a rudimentary level the relationship between David and Michal is not equivalent to the relationship between David and Jonathan. It is for you to show otherwise.

  18. @Andrew

    Michael and I share our lives together. I have publicly stated that I love Michael. Because of that love we have formed a covenant together.

    Do you acknowledge that we are in a relationship? If not, what more evidence would you need?

  19. Well, the terms of the covenant spring to mind — not all covenants are equivalent, just as not all relationships are equivalent (I have relationships with my professional colleagues, with my parents and siblings, and with my friends, but these are not all equivalent relationships — some of them share some features, but in other ways they are dissimilar).

    You can’t just say ‘in a relationship’ and leave it at that without specifying what type of relationship. There are lots of different type of relationship — lovers, parent/child, sibling, professional, friends, patient/carer, sporting rivals, academic collaborators…

    You can’t just say ‘in a relationship’ and assume people will know what you mean by ‘relationship’, and you can’t just say ‘a covenant’ and assume people will know exactly what type of covenant you mean (well, it’s clear what type you mean, but it’s not clear what type of covenant the author of that bit of I Samuel meant, or that it’s the same type of covenant David shared with Michal).

  20. @Andrew McFarland

    Who was talking about you and Michael?

    It’s clear you’re involved in an exercise in self-justification. Faith and ‘Pride’, Christian and gay. This seems to be skewing your judgement. Your argument is bunk, and the additions through comments here and your blog have done nothing to improve it. The nodding dogs at All Souls may lap it up, the whiff of liberalism too hard to resist, but if you insist on making a public argument you’re going to have to do better because so far it does not stand up to scrutiny.

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