The Bible and Homosexuality: Some Old Testament Passages

The Biblical passages specifically referring to Homosexuality

These passages are examined below in their order of importance to us.   One commentator[1] has noted that if we focus exclusively upon the biblical texts that seem most relevant to the issue at hand, however, we allow the issue to define our approach; we need to come at the issue not just by asking what the bible tells us about homosexuality, but also what the bible tells us about who God is, what Jesus has done, what the role of the church is, and what we expect to happen next.  Please bear these considerations in mind as we examine the specific texts before us, and the debate around them.

Genesis 19 and Judges 19 are the best-known and most frequently referred-to texts relating to homosexuality.  As they are both lengthy narratives I haven’t included them here, but the various versions all convey essentially the same facts; in both instances overnight hospitality is offered to a traveller, then the men of the town besiege the home where the traveller is staying, and demand that the guest is handed over so that they might ‘know’ him.  In both cases women are offered instead.  In the Genesis account (Sodom) the virgin daughters of Lot are not accepted as a trade, and the guests (angels in disguise) render the townspeople harmless for the night by striking them blind.  The next day the town is destroyed by God[2].  In the Judges story (Gibeah) the host offers his virgin daughter, and the traveller (a Levite) offers his concubine to the importunate townspeople; the concubine is thrust outside and they rape her until dawn.  She is then dismembered and her body used to illustrate the iniquity of Gibeah.  This sparks a civil war, leading almost to the destruction of the tribe of Benjamin.

While some go so far as to say that homosexual actions are not mentioned in these stories at all, they are not convincing.  Usually the argument runs that the word ‘know’ does not imply sexual activity, but refers to the suspicion of the townspeople towards strangers, and their desire to interrogate the visitors.  Against this, most commentators[3] set the offer (refused in the one story and accepted in the other) of women as substitutes for the men – hardly satisfactory if the intent was to glean information from them.  The abuse of the Levite’s concubine confirms that their intent was sexual violation.  It also shows us that specifically homosexual sex was not their objective.  Most commentators go on to say that while the attempted rape was homosexual it is not, therefore, a blanket condemnation of homosexual behaviour – any more than the offer to substitute a young woman should be seen as condoning giving up our daughters to sexual violence!  Clearly gang rape is condemned, and it is very likely that the homosexual nature of the rape was seen to add to its abhorrence, as homosexual rape was sometimes used to humiliate conquered enemies in ancient near eastern cultures.  Very few serious biblical commentators among liberals or conservatives look to the Sodom story or to the Gibeah parallel for a biblical perspective on homosexuality.

Sodom in the Scriptures:  This is confirmed by the way in which other bible writers refer to Sodom; Isaiah links Sodom’s judgement to injustice and arrogance; Jeremiah to false prophecy and Idolatry, as does Ezekiel, who also specifies pride, wealth, lack of compassion, and ‘doing abominable things’.  Amos talks of her oppression of the poor and needy, Zephaniah of her taunting and boasting, and, in Matthew, Jesus compares her fate to those of the cities who have rejected the Gospel.  In Luke he talks of her as an example of the suddenness of God’s judgement. In 2 Peter, Sodom is an example of God’s judgement upon those who are “licentious”, “lawless”, “who indulge their flesh in depraved lust, and who despise authority.”  In Jude they are again an example of God’s judgement and are described as indulging in sexual immorality and “pursuing unnatural lust” or, more literally “going after other flesh”.  As conservative commentator Richard Hays points out[4], the Jude reference could hardly be a reference to homosexual desire; to go after “other (Greek = hetero) flesh” is precisely what homosexuality is not.  Given that immediately before the Sodom and Gommorah reference, Jude alludes to the Genesis 6 story of angels seeking intercourse with human women, it seems more likely that the next verse is a reference to the men of Sodom seeking intercourse with angels – distinctly ‘other’ flesh!   Jude also mentions ‘sexual immorality’ and Peter talks of ‘licentiousness’, and ‘depraved lust’, but these terms don’t point specifically towards homosexuality, though they may include it.  Similarly, Ezekiel may have had in mind the ‘abomination’ of homosexuality (see on Leviticus 18 and 20 below) but neither does he specify it, and probably wanted to imply a wide range of abominations rather than fix upon one.  So we can see that the biblical writers only sometimes saw sexual sin as one among the many sins of Sodom, and when they did it was not specifically homosexual sin that was in view[5].

It is not until Philo, a Hellenistic Jew around the time of Christ, that Sodom came to be associated specifically with homosexual sin, and it was from Philo that the early Church Fathers took most of their cues in discussing both Sodom and homosexuality.  This tradition may be venerable, but it is not biblical.  We may not take the sins of Sodom to include homosexuality per se.  Homosexual gang rape, is condemned, and is clearly a sin, but it cannot be made into the pretext for a blanket condemnation of all homosexual activity any more than the condemnation of heterosexual rape can be made the pretext for rejecting all heterosexual activity.

Deut 23.17-18, 1 Kings 14:24, 15:12, 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7 and maybe Job 36.14 all refer to what was probably temple prostitution.  There is considerable controversy among the scholars as to whether the prostitution was, in fact, associated with idolatry, and again, more argument as to whether or not it was homosexual prostitution[6], but all agree that it is prostitution that is referred to.  Again, these texts are not especially relevant to our discussion as we cannot generalise from homosexual prostitution (idolatrous or not) to all homosexual relationships any more than we can generalise from heterosexual prostitution to all heterosexual relationships.  What is condemned here is prostitution, not homosexuality.

[1] (Redding 2000)

[2] If you aren’t familiar with the story, you need to know that God’s destruction of Sodom (and the sister city of Gomorrah) was not specifically because of the actions narrated in the Genesis 19 story, but that he had already decreed it’s destruction because of their many sins.  The events of the final night were final evidence of those sins, but not the complete cause of God’s wrath.

[3] eg (Scroggs 1983) (Hays 1996)

[4] (Hays 1996, 381)

[5] “…for Rabbis of this [post-biblical] period, Sodom symbolised evil in general, pride and economic violence most particularly, and, only in one possible instance, homosexual lust.” (Scroggs 1983, 81)

[6] (Scroggs 1983, 71)


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