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Gay Pride sermon

July 22nd, 2011

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).

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