Homosexuality in the Hebrew Bible

There are a number of passages in the Hebrew Bible that have been interpreted as involving same-sex sexual acts, desires, and relationships.[1][2][3] The passages about homosexual individuals and sexual relations in the Hebrew Bible are found primarily in the Torah[1] (the first five books traditionally attributed to Moses)[4] and have been interpreted as referring primarily to male homosexual individuals and sexual practices.[1]


The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and its traditional interpretations in Judaism and Christianity have historically affirmed and endorsed a patriarchal and heteronormative approach towards human sexuality,[5][6] favouring exclusively penetrative vaginal intercourse between men and women within the boundaries of marriage over all other forms of human sexual activity,[5][6] including autoeroticism, masturbation, oral sex, non-penetrative and non-heterosexual sexual intercourse (all of which have been labeled as "sodomy" at various times),[7] believing and teaching that such behaviors are forbidden because they're considered sinful,[5][6] and further compared to or derived from the behavior of the alleged residents of Sodom and Gomorrah.[1][5][8][9][10]

Genesis 19Edit

Sodom and GomorrahEdit

Genesis chapters 18 and 19 are concerned with the immorality of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and the judgement that must be imposed. The New International Version (NIV) of Genesis 19:4–5 reads:

Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them."


In Genesis 19:5 the Hebrew word "yada" is translated "relations" in the New American Standard Bible and most often "know" in the KJV and many other translations, occurs frequently in the Old Testament, and usually simply means to know someone or something in a non-sexual way. About a dozen times it is used as a euphemism for knowing someone sexually, as in Genesis 4:1, and Genesis 38:26. The common interpretation is that Lot offered his virgin daughters to the crowd as a means to sexually appease the crowd and protect his visitors from being raped. Most traditional commentators interpret this to refer to the homosexual nature of the people in the crowd, especially in the light of the parallel story in Judges 19.[11][12][13][14] However, others see it as referring to Sodom's inhospitable attitude in seeking to interrogate the visitors.[15][16]

Jewish viewsEdit

Most Jewish views regard the sins of Sodom to be "failing to practice hospitality", and even though same-sex activities are condemned most harshly in Leviticus, the opinion that Genesis 19 might refer to any other sexual act other than with Lot's daughters is alien to most ancient Jewish tradition. See documentation at Sodomy.

The Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo (20 BC – 50 AD) described the inhabitants of Sodom in an extra-biblical account:

As men, being unable to bear discreetly a satiety of these things, get restive like cattle, and become stiff-necked, and discard the laws of nature, pursuing a great and intemperate indulgence of gluttony, and drinking, and unlawful connections; for not only did they go mad after other women, and defile the marriage bed of others, but also those who were men lusted after one another, doing unseemly things, and not regarding or respecting their common nature, and though eager for children, they were convicted by having only an abortive offspring; but the conviction produced no advantage, since they were overcome by violent desire; and so by degrees, the men became accustomed to be treated like women, and in this way engendered among themselves the disease of females, and intolerable evil; for they not only, as to effeminacy and delicacy, became like women in their persons, but they also made their souls most ignoble, corrupting in this way the whole race of men, as far as depended on them. (133-35; ET Jonge 422-23).[17]

The Jewish historian Josephus (AD 37 – c. 100) used the term “Sodomites” in summarizing the Genesis narrative:

About this time the Sodomites grew proud, on account of their riches and great wealth; they became unjust towards men, and impious towards God, in so much that they did not call to mind the advantages they received from him: they hated strangers, and abused themselves with Sodomitical practices” "Now when the Sodomites saw the young men to be of beautiful countenances, and this to an extraordinary degree, and that they took up their lodgings with Lot, they resolved themselves to enjoy these beautiful boys by force and violence; and when Lot exhorted them to sobriety, and not to offer any thing immodest to the strangers, but to have regard to their lodging in his house; and promised that if their inclinations could not be governed, he would expose his daughters to their lust, instead of these strangers; neither thus were they made ashamed. (Antiquities 1.11.1,3) [18] — c. AD 96)

The Book of the Secrets of Enoch, evidently written by a Hellenistic Jew in Egypt before the middle of the 1st century, states (10:3) that the Sodomites committed "abominable lecheries, namely one with another" and "the sin against nature, which is child-corruption after the Sodomitic fashion, magic-making, enchantments and devilish witchcraft."

More obscure sources include the Testament of Benjamin, which warned, "that ye shall commit fornication with the fornication of Sodom", (Concerning a Pure Mind, 9:1) and references in the Testament of Naphtal, (3.5) and the Testament of Isaac. (5.27. Ch. I.909)

Byzantine periodEdit

It is argued that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah had never been interpreted as relating to one single particular sin, until Byzantine emperor Justinian the Great instituted two law novellizations, in the 6th century.[19][20][21] Regarding the Corpus iuris civilis, Justinian's novels no. 77 (dating 538) and no. 141 (dating 559) was the first to declare that Sodom's sin had been specifically same-sex activities. Regarding the death penalty, Justinian's legal novels heralded a change in the Roman legal paradigm by introducing the concept of not divine punishment for homosexual behavior. Individuals might escape mundane laws, however divine laws were inescapable.

Justinian's interpretation of the story of Sodom would be forgotten today (as it had been along with his law novelizations regarding homosexual behavior immediately after his death) had it not been made use of in fake Charlemagnian capitularies, fabricated by a Frankish monk using the pseudonym Benedictus Levita ("Benedict the Levite") around 850 CE, as part of the Pseudo-Isidore where Benedictus utilized Justinian's interpretation as a justification for ecclesiastical supremacy over mundane institutions, thereby demanding burning at the stake for carnal sins in the name of Charlemagne himself (burning had been part of the standard penalty for homosexual behavior particularly common in Germanic antiquity, note that Benedictus most probably was Frankish), especially homosexuality, for the first time in ecclesiastical history in order to protect all Christianity from divine punishments such as natural disasters for carnal sins committed by individuals, but also for heresy, superstition and heathenry. According to Benedictus, this was why all mundane institutions had to be subjected to ecclesiastical power in order to prevent moral as well as religious laxity causing divine wrath.

During the Roman Republic and pre-Christian Roman Empire, homosexual behavior had been acceptable as long as the adult male citizen took the penetrative role with a passive partner of lower social status. Laws regulating homosexuality were directed primarily at protecting underage male citizens. Those who committed a sex crime (stuprum) against a freeborn male minor were penalized by death or a fine, depending on the circumstances. Letters written to Cicero suggest that the law was used primarily to harass political opponents, and may have been applied also to citizens who willingly took the passive role in sex acts (see Sexuality in ancient Rome and Lex Scantinia).

Leviticus 18 and 20Edit

These chapters of Leviticus form part of the Holiness code. Leviticus 18:22 says:

Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination.

and Leviticus 20:13 states:

If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

It is widely argued that the things condemned in these chapters are "deemed wrong not simply because pagan Canaanites indulged in them, but because God has pronounced them wrong as such."[22] (Hilborn 2002, p. 4; cf. Issues in human sexuality, para. 2.11; Amsel). This was also the interpretation taken in the rabbinic interpretations in the Mishnah and Talmud,[23] which also extended this to include female homosexual relations, although there are no explicit references in the Hebrew Bible to this.

Various counter-arguments have been suggested: Loren L. Johns writes that these texts were purity codes to keep Israel separate from the Canaanites and that as Jesus rejected the whole purity code they are no longer relevant.[24] Mona West argues that "These verses in no way prohibit, nor do they even speak, to loving, caring sexual relationships between people of the same gender", speculating that these laws were to prevent sexual abuse.[25]

Other Christian theologians hold that the New Testament classifies ceremonial and dietary laws as typological in nature and fulfilled in Christ (Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:16; Hebrews 9:10), and thus abrogated as to their religious observance "according to the letter," while the moral law is seen as upheld. (Romans 13:9; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10) [26][27][28][29] Such theologians have said that this abrogation does not extend to homosexuality, which remains in their interpretation as one of the few sins unconditionally condemned. They believe there is no evident provision of marriage being given in the Bible to sanctify it.[30][31][32]

Books of Samuel: David and JonathanEdit

David and Jonathan,
"La Somme le Roy", 1290; French illuminated ms (detail); British Museum

The account of the friendship between David and Jonathan was recorded favourably in the Books of Samuel (1 Samuel 18; 20; 2 Samuel 1) and although most scholars have always interpreted it as referring to platonic, some have argued that it refers to romantic or sexual love.

As romantic relationshipEdit

Jonathan's gifts to David, David's comparison of Jonathan's love to the love of women, the "covenant" the two made, and Saul's reaction have led some scholars to suggest that their relationship was a romantic or possibly sexual one.[24][33][34][35][36]

As platonic relationshipEdit

Biblical scholars have widely and traditionally interpreted this as a very close but non-sexual relationship (cf. Issues in human sexuality, para. 2.17). Some opponents of the theory that David and Jonathan's relationship was romantic believe that the stripping of Jonathan has a clear Biblical precedent, that of the stripping of Aaron of his garments to put them upon Eleazar his son (Numbers 20:26) in transference of the office of the former upon the latter; in like manner, Jonathan would be symbolically and prophetically transferring the kingship of himself (as the normal heir) to David, which would come to pass.[37][38][39] They also say that "stripped himself...even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle" indicates a limit, that of his outer garments and ending with “girdle, which means armor in 2Kings 3:21.[40]

Those who assert the opposing interpretation agree that a sexual relationship is not made explicit, and for many scholars the relationship is a "classical Biblical example" (Hilborn 2002, p. 2) of close non-sexual friendship, such as the friendship eloquently described by Gregory of Nazianzus in Oration 43, 19–20 as existing between him and Basil of Caesarea, when they were students in Athens.

Books of KingsEdit

Both Books of Kings (1 Kings 14:24, 15:12, 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7), refer to historical intervals when kadeshim ("consecrated ones") rose to some prominence in the Holy Land, until purged by Jahwist revivalist kings such as Jehoshaphat and Josiah.

The kadeshim were connected in some way with the rituals of the Canaanite religion. The Hebrew Bible consistently parallels the female equivalent, a kedeshah, with zanah, the word for a common prostitute. This has led to the inference that there may have been a sexual element to the rituals. The King James version systematically translates the word as "sodomites", while the Revised Standard version renders it, "male cult prostitutes". At 1 Kings 15:12 the Septuagint hellenises them as teletai – personifications of the presiding spirits at the initiation rites of the Bacchic orgies. There may have been a transvestite element too. Various classical authors assert this of male initiates of Eastern goddess cults, and in the Vulgate for all four of these references St. Jerome renders the kadeshim as "effeminati". The sons of Israel are forbidden from becoming kadeshim, and the daughters of Israel from becoming kadeshot, in Deuteronomy 23:17–18 their activities are identified as "abominations".

Book of RuthEdit

This book concerns the love between Naomi and her widowed daughter-in-law, Ruth. Naomi's husband and her two sons die and Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to return to their homes:

At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, but Ruth clung to her.

(Ruth 1:14; TNIV).

Instead of leaving Naomi, Ruth pledges to stay with her (Ruth 1:16–18). This relationship has therefore long been commended as an example of self-sacrificing love and close friendship (e.g. Issues in Human Sexuality para. 2.7). However, some have interpreted this relationship as probably sexual in nature. For example, Thomas Horner argues: "Whether there existed a relationship of physical love between Ruth and Naomi cannot be demonstrated. However, the right words are there."[36]: 20  The word Horner is primarily concerned with is the word translated as clung in Ruth 1:14, which is the Hebrew word "dabaq". This word is also translated in Genesis 2:24 as united "to his wife" and in Genesis 34:3 as drawn "to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the young woman". The context of these passages is one of romantic or sexual attraction.

Text from the Book of Ruth, specifically Ruth's "whither thou goest, I will go" speech to Naomi, is used in Jewish heterosexual wedding ceremonies.[41]


  1. ^ a b c d Gnuse, Robert K. (May 2015). "Seven Gay Texts: Biblical Passages Used to Condemn Homosexuality". Biblical Theology Bulletin. SAGE Publications on behalf of Biblical Theology Bulletin Inc. 45 (2): 68–87. doi:10.1177/0146107915577097. ISSN 1945-7596. S2CID 170127256.
  2. ^ Frontain, Raymond-Jean (2003). "Introduction". In Frontain, Raymond-Jean (ed.). Reclaiming the Sacred: The Bible in Gay and Lesbian Culture (2nd ed.). New York and London: Harrington Park Press. pp. 1–24. ISBN 9781560233558. LCCN 2002068889.
  3. ^ Palmer, Randall; Winner, Lauren F. (2005) [2002]. "Protestants and Homosexuality". Protestantism in America. Columbia Contemporary American Religion Series. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 149–178. ISBN 9780231111317. LCCN 2002023859.
  4. ^ Dever, William G. (2001). "Getting at the "History behind the History"". What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel. Grand Rapids, Michigan and Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans. pp. 97–102. ISBN 978-0-8028-2126-3. OCLC 46394298.
  5. ^ a b c d Mbuwayesango, Dora R. (2016) [2015]. "Part III: The Bible and Bodies – Sex and Sexuality in Biblical Narrative". In Fewell, Danna N. (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Narrative. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 456–465. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199967728.013.39. ISBN 9780199967728. LCCN 2015033360. S2CID 146505567.
  6. ^ a b c Leeming, David A. (June 2003). Carey, Lindsay B. (ed.). "Religion and Sexuality: The Perversion of a Natural Marriage". Journal of Religion and Health. Springer Verlag. 42 (2): 101–109. doi:10.1023/A:1023621612061. ISSN 1573-6571. JSTOR 27511667. S2CID 38974409.
  7. ^ Sauer, Michelle M. (2015). "The Unexpected Actuality: "Deviance" and Transgression". Gender in Medieval Culture. London: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 74–78. doi:10.5040/9781474210683.ch-003. ISBN 978-1-4411-2160-8.
  8. ^ Gilbert, Kathleen (September 29, 2008). "Bishop Soto tells NACDLGM: 'Homosexuality is Sinful'". Catholic Online. Archived from the original on 30 September 2008.
  9. ^ Robinson, Gene; Krehely, Jeff; Steenland, Sally (December 8, 2010). "What are Religious Texts Really Saying about Gay and Transgender Rights?". Center for American Progress. Retrieved March 30, 2021.
  10. ^ Modisane, Cameron (November 15, 2014). "The Story of Sodom and Gomorrah was NOT About Homosexuality". News24. Retrieved March 30, 2021.
  11. ^ Homosexuality, by James B. De Young
  12. ^ Keil and Delitzsch, Gn. 19:6–11
  13. ^ John Gill, Gn. 19:8
  14. ^ "A Reformed Response to Daniel Helminiak's Gay Theology, by Derrick K. Olliff and Dewey H. Hodges". Reformed.org. Retrieved 2014-03-11.
  15. ^ D S. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Tradition, p. 8
  16. ^ John J. McNeil, the Church and the Homosexual, p. 50
  17. ^ The works of Philo a contemporary of Josephius Page 528
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-12-16. Retrieved 2009-12-31.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ Gisela Bleibtreu-Ehrenberg, Tabu Homosexualität – Die Geschichte eines Vorurteils ("The taboo of homosexuality: The history of a prejudice"), 1978, p. 188, 190–196, 202
  20. ^ Deacon Maccubbin (1994): Sin and the Sodomites
  21. ^ See also the extensive documentation at Sodomy
  22. ^ Hasbany, Homosexuality and Religion, p. 50,51
  23. ^ cf. Babylonian Talmud Yoma 67b
  24. ^ a b Homosexuality and the Bible: A Case Study in the Use of the Bible for Ethics, Loren L. Johns
  25. ^ The Bible and Homosexuality Archived 2010-09-23 at the Wayback Machine, Mona West
  26. ^ "Westminster Confession Of Fait Chapter Xix. Of The Law Of God". Reformed.org. Retrieved 2014-03-11.
  27. ^ John Gill, Mt. 5:17; Col. 2:16
  28. ^ Charles C. Ryrie, "The End of the Law," Bibliotheca Sacra 124 (July–September 1967):246
  29. ^ Theonomic Ethics and the Westminster Confession by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
  30. ^ Gagnon, Why the disagreement over the Biblical witness on homosexual practice? Archived May 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ "Homosexuality and the Old Testament, P. Michael Ukleja". Faculty.gordon.edu. Retrieved 2014-03-11.
  32. ^ "That Which is Unnatural" Homosexuality in Society, the Church, and Scripture by Joseph P. Gudel -ICR
  33. ^ Vasey, Michael (1995). Strangers and Friends. Hodder and Stoughton. p. ?. ISBN 0-340-60814-5.
  34. ^ The construction of homosexuality, David Greenberg, p. 113
  35. ^ Homosexuality and Civilization, Louis Crompton
  36. ^ a b Horner, Thomas Marland (1978). Jonathan loved David: homosexuality in biblical times. Westminster John Knox Press.
  37. ^ The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 146-54; http://www.robgagnon.net/NewsweekMillerHomosexResp.htm, Prof. Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon
  38. ^ Markus Zehnder, “Observations on the Relationship between David and Jonathan and the Debate on Homosexuality,” Westminster Theological Journal 69.1 [2007]: 127-74)
  39. ^ Thomas E Schmidt, “Straight or Narrow?”
  40. ^ Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
  41. ^ Card, Claudia (1995). Lesbian choices. Columbia University Press. p. 26.