The Bible on Gay and Lesbian (Homosexual) Sex

The Bible on Gay and Lesbian Homosexual SexThe church’s historical stance on gay/lesbian sex is mostly right, but not 100% right. The error that crept in is an easy mistake to make unless you know Greek.  I will partly break with tradition here, yet the tradition is mostly right with a single significant error.

Therefore, please don’t read this article if you aren’t open minded

Let’s dive in.

There are three possible sexual combinations when you have two genders:

  • Male/Female
  • Male/Male/
  • Female/Female

Obviously no one has a problem with (married) male/female sex, so we’ll ignore it.  Equally agreed upon is the fact that all sex belongs inside marriage, and marriage in the Bible is only ever between men and women (by definition).  We’ll examine male/male and female/female sex after a quick word on Clarity.

 

Clarity in Biblical Exegesis

One of my biggest rules for theology is this: never base doctrine on verses that aren’t clear.

There are some verses in the Bible which talk about gay (male/male) sex but aren’t perfectly clear if they are condemning it or something else. These verses are:

  • Genesis 19:1-38
  • Judges 19:1-30
  • Jude 6-7

Nevertheless, I have written a brief synopsis of those passage and outlined why they aren’t clear.  However, because they are unclear I recommend you don’t read my synopsis.  I have included it here only for completeness.

 

Click here to expand my synopsis. (Not recommended because these verses aren't clear)

Genesis 19:1-38 &

To save space, I won’t quote the entire passage.  Lot has invited two men (angels as we discover later) to stay with him. 

Genesis 9:4-9

4 Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter;

5 and they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them.”

6 But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him,

7 and said, “Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly.

8 “Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

 9 But they said, “Stand aside.” Furthermore, they said, “This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them.” So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door.

I am a great fan of clarity.

This verse isn’t clear.

The LGBT community will argue that Sodom’s sin here is rape, not desiring to engage in gay sex.    The trouble is, the passage isn’t clear on what exactly the sin is.  Depending on your belief, you can read it either way (rape or gay sex being the sin).

I do not base doctrine on verses that are unclear, especially when I can go to verses that are clear. Therefore, I won’t comment on this passage because it’s less clear than some other Biblical passages.

 

Judges 19:1-30

This is nearly exactly like the event in Genesis with Lot, only with a more disturbing outcome.  A man and his concubine were traveling and invited to stay the night with an “old man” of a city they were passing. 

Judges 19:22-25

22 While they were celebrating, behold, the men of the city, certain worthless fellows, surrounded the house, pounding the door; and they spoke to the owner of the house, the old man, saying, “Bring out the man who came into your house that we may have relations with him.”

23 Then the man, the owner of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my fellows, please do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not commit this act of folly.

24 “Here is my virgin daughter and his concubine. Please let me bring them out that you may ravish them and do to them whatever you wish. But do not commit such an act of folly against this man.”

25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and brought her out to them; and they raped her and abused her all night until morning, then let her go at the approach of dawn.

Again, you could argue that the sin here is rape, not gay sex.  They were looking for the man, but settled for the concubine; a woman.  No indictment of male/male relations is given. 

Again, you could say the “do not act so wickedly” referred to gay sex.  However – like Genesis – it’s definitely not the clear intent of the man’s words.  Certainly, rape would be a wicked act. 

 

Jude 6-7

Now, the unclear New Testament passage.

Jude 6-7

 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

I simply don’t see a clear indictment of male/male sexual activity here.  There is a way to read that passage that way in the English, but in the Greek it’s hard to make the case. The word translated “strange” is the Greek word “ἑτέρας ” (heteros), which is actually the root of the “hetero” part of heterosexual.

Honestly, I don’t see a clear argument against male/male sexual relations in this verse.

 

Male/Male Sex

Okay, so it’s time to talk about the “clobber passages”.  (The LGBT community calls them that because Christians use them to “clobber” them over their sexual practices).  Basically, they are the verses in the Bible where homosexuality is clearly discussed.

There are several passages in the Bible that talk about it.

TO BE CLEAR: the following ONLY applies to male/male sexual relations.  Ironically, the Bible treats male/male relations very differently than female/female sex.

The verses are:

  1. Leviticus 18:22;
  2. Leviticus 20:13
  3. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
  4. 1 Timothy 1:9-10
  5. Romans 1:27

We’ll talk about each of them in turn

 

Leviticus 18:22

Context: the chapter begins in verses 1-5 with God saying He doesn’t want the Israelites to sin the same way that the Egyptians or Canaanites sinned.  In verses 6-19, God lists all the people for who you shouldn’t “uncover the nakedness of” (often a Hebrew idiom for sex). 

Now, let’s pick it up at verse 20

Leviticus 18:20-24

20 ‘You shall not have intercourse with your neighbor’s wife, to be defiled with her.

21 ‘You shall not give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the LORD.

22 You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.

23 ‘Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion.

 24 ‘Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled.

The prohibition on male/male sex is clear. 

It’s sandwiched between two other sexual perversions: bestiality and adultery.  Interestingly, these are the only three sexual practices for which the death penalty was proscribed.

The word translated “abomination” in verse 22 is “תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה” (toebah).  Some have argued that it simply means “ceremonially unclean”.  However, that’s not supported by the text or its usage.  It’s used over 100 times in the Old Testament.  Every single time it’s translated similarly. You can look at every place it’s used here; below is how it’s translated.

(In the NASB)

  • abominable (5),
  • abominable act (1),
  • abomination (39),
  • abominations (60),
  • detestable (2),
  • detestable act (1),
  • detestable thing (3),
  • detestable things (3),
  • loathsome (2),
  • object of loathing (1)

This word is used to describe the worship of idols, those who practice witchcraft, and other obviously immoral things.  It’s even used to describe God’s opinion of burning babies alive on an altar to the pagan god Molech in Jeremiah 32:35.  (Perhaps that’s why sacrificing babies in the fire – by “offering them to Molech” – is mentioned in verse 21.)

This word does not mean merely “unclean”.  There are two other words with are used through this passage to mean “unclean”; this doesn’t mean that.   In fact, in verse 27 says the defiling (or uncleanness) came from the abominations.

Leviticus 18:27

27 (for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled)

From this verse, I don’t see how male/male sexual relations could be okay in God’s eyes. 

 

Leviticus 20:13

I’ll copy/paste with a few extra verses for context, but it’s almost the same as the previous verse in Leviticus.

Leviticus 20:10-16

10 ‘If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

11 ‘If there is a man who lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

12 ‘If there is a man who lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed incest, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

13 ‘If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

14 ‘If there is a man who marries a woman and her mother, it is immorality; both he and they shall be burned with fire, so that there will be no immorality in your midst.

15 ‘If there is a man who lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death; you shall also kill the animal.

16 ‘If there is a woman who approaches any animal to mate with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

I want to point out: the penalty for all of these sexual sins is death.  Male/male sex is right in the middle of the list.  Despite God being super-clear and listing multiple instances of how they could happen, most of the sins in this passage boil down to adultery, bestiality, and male/male sex.

In both places the Torah mentions male/male sex, it’s placed in the same category of adultery and bestiality. Those are serious sins, and male/male sex in mentioned in the same breath (figuratively speaking).

The phrase “detestable act” is the same word used is Leviticus 18:22.  As I said before, this word is used to describe idol worship, practicing witchcraft, and even child sacrifices to pagan gods.   Again, male/male sex is counted among adultery and bestiality as the most serious sexual sins. (We know this because they were the only ones for which the death penalty was proscribed.)

Again, it can’t simply mean “ceremonially unclean”.  This word simply doesn’t mean that.  (Often Hebrew words have multiple meanings and can be taken different ways; that’s not the case here.)

Again: this only applies to male/male sexual relations The Bible takes a different approach to female/female sex, which we’ll examine that soon. 

 

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals,

10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

Many gay men say that this verse is mistranslated.  I agree, but not for the reason they say.  The word translated “homosexuals” is the Greek word “ἀρσενοκοῖται” (arsenokoites).  It means: “a male engaging in same-gender sexual activity“, or more properly:

733 arsenokoítēs (from 730 /árrhēn, “a male” and 2845 /koítē, “a mat, bed”) – properly, a man in bed with another man; a homosexual.

This word does refer to male/male sexual activity.  However, it does not refer to female/female sexual activity.  This word specifically – and only – means male/male sexual activity.  Therefore, homosexual isn’t an accurate translation because that would include female/female sex too. The ESV captures this accurately.

1 Corinthians 6:9 (ESV)

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,

I have heard two explanations from the gay rights camp in an attempt to explain this verse away. 

  1. It refers to male prostitutes
  2. It refers to men forcing other men (or teenage boys) into a non-consensual relationship; i.e. rape/pederasty. 

To answer point #1, we simply need to back up a few words:  The word translated “fornicators” is the Greek word “πόρνοι” (pornos).  It means:

4205 pórnos (from pernaō, “to sell off”) – properly, a male prostitute. 4205 (pórnos) is “properly, ‘a male prostitute‘ (so Xen., etc.); in the NT, any fornicator” (Abbott-Smith); i.e. anyone engaging in sexual immorality. See 4202 (porneia).

It means anyone engaging in wrong sexual practices, but it especially means a male prostitute. Why would Paul repeat himself here?

To answer objection #2, there’s simply no evidence for it.  We know it did happen in the culture of the time, but there’s no proof or evidence that’s what Paul is referring to.  Obviously rape is wrong, but there’s no evidence that Paul is referring to it here. 

That said, looking at the Biblical context in Romans, Leviticus, and the force of God’s condemnation in the Old Testament, I see no reason not to take the word at it’s plain meaning.  It literally means two men having sex, and says that is wrong.

 

1 Timothy 1:8-10

8 But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully,

9 realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers

10 and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching,

Again, the Greek word ” ἀρσενοκοῖται” (arsenokoites), which is the same word we just discussed in 1 Corinthians 6:9.  I see no reason to twist the plain meaning of the word here either. 

 

Romans 1:26-27

26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,

27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

I see no way to explain verse 27 other than the plain meaning.  This is especially true because there’s a Greek word here that often mistranslated to keep the Bible “clean”.  The word that’s translated “with” in the phrase “men with men” is the Greek word “ἐν ” (en).  It literally means “in”.

 

1722 en (a preposition) – properly, in (inside, within); (figuratively) “in the realm (sphere) of,” as in the condition (state) in which something operates from the inside (within).

The phrase is literally “men in men”, or perhaps “men inside men”; an obvious reference to the anal intercourse that gay men engage in during sex.  This is called an “indecent act” by Paul. 

 

Male/Male Conclusion

It seems to me that the Bible paints a consistent picture of male/male sex.  From God’s opinion, it’s wrong and a sin at least on the level of adultery and bestiality.

 

Female/Female Sex

You may have noticed that every scripture we’ve examined so far deals specifically – and only – with male/male sex.  Nothing in the Old Testament even mentions female/female sexual relations.  It’s just not there.  Further, the Rabbinic Sages were also completely silent on the topic.  In fact, the Jews didn’t even mention it until at least the end of the fourth century AD.  Even then, it wasn’t considered a serious sin (more a “slap on the wrist” type thing).

The New Testament is equally silent. 

There’s only one place that might talk about it, but the true meaning is frequently missed. 

Romans 1:26-27

26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,

27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

There’s a couple things to keep in mind.

  • First, I would like to point out that it does not say “women with women” here, even though “men with men” is used in verse 27.
  • Second, I would like to point out that – as we just looked at – verse 27 clearly refers to men engaging in anal intercourse. Remember context is important.
  • Third, and most importantly the Greek words used here make it practically impossible that verse 26 refers to female/female sex, but virtually certain it refers to women engaging in anal sex with men.

Let me explain.

 

The Original Gender of the Words

To start with, both men and women are mentioned, you just can’t tell in English.  In English, we only have the gender neutral word “they/them” for a third person pronoun.  Our word “they” does not convey gender.  However, the Greek word equivalent to our word “they” is “αὐτός” (autos); it can and does convey gender here.

So let’s look at the verse with gender included:

Romans 1:26

26 For this reason God gave them (Masculine pronoun) over to degrading passions; for their (Masculine possessive pronoun) women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,

(Note: you can double check me by looking at Romans 1:26 in an interlinear Bible)

Who is being given over?

Answer: The men. 

In fact, you could translate it something like this:

Romans 1:26 (my modified version)

26 For this reason God gave the men over to degrading passions; for the men’s women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,

Yes that’s awkward English (“the men’s women”), but it accurately conveys the gender of the original Greek.  Rendering the original gender of the word makes it clear that both men and women are involved here. 

Remember, it’s the men who were given over to “degrading passions”.

(That’s important.)

 

Penile Penetration is Required

The Greek word translated “function” is the Greek word “χρῆσιν” (chrésis). According to Strong’s Concordance, it means:

5540 From chraomai; employment, i.e. (specially), sexual intercourse (as an occupation of the body) — use.

Chrésis means intercourse; intercourse.  Not outer-course (referring to non-penetrative sexual activity), but intercourse (referring specifically to penetrative sexual activity).  Chrésis requires sexual penetration to be applicable. 

Without penetration, it’s not chrésis.

Period.

I’m not the only one who thinks this either. The following quote is from David J. Murphy, who has a PhD. in Classics and taught Latin and Greek for many years.

When it refers to one person’s sexual activities with another person, though, chresis is assigned to the man, who was expected to penetrate someone and thus, “use” that person—a woman, a boy, a male slave. Early Christian writers as well speak of the husband’s having “use” of the wife (Clement, Stromateis 3.11.71.4; Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 110; Athenagoras, Legation 32.1). As far as I have found in the sources, chresis as sexual activity always is associated with penetration.

I do not know a case where the penetrated partner is said to have sexual “use” of the penetrating partner. It is not surprising, then, that David E. Frederickson has found no case where chresis refers to female homoeroticism (“Natural and Unnatural Use in Romans 1:24-27,” in Homosexuality, Science and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture, ed. David L. Balch, Grand Rapids 2000, 197-222: 201).

On the other hand, this symmetry between the chresis phrases within v. 26b makes problems for the “lesbian” interpretation. What is supposed to happen in “chresis against nature” if we have two females? If neither penetrates the other, there is no chresis

Source (emphasis added)

Two women cannot engage in penetrative sex because they simply don’t have the anatomy required to do so. 

That means that Paul cannot be referring to female/female non-penetrative sex here because women can’t have chrésis (sexual penetration/intercourse) because they lack the required equipment (a penis).

As we’ve already covered, verse 27 was specifically about anal intercourse (though in the context of male/male sex). 

This asymmetry between v. 26b and v. 27 reflects typical gender expectations, in which Paul looks at the penetrative act from the point of view, first, of the penetrated female, and then, from the standpoint of the penetrating male. Only the male has use “of” the other partner. In other words, in “natural chresis,” the females start out being penetrated by males, and they do not have “use” of anyone. In “unnatural chresis,” the females again are penetrated by males, and again they do not have “use” of anyone. They have only switched the orifice they presented for penetration.

Source (emphasis added)

This well agrees with the context of verse 27 talking about anal sex.

 

More Greek Evidence

Verse 27 opens with “in the same way” or “likewise” depending on your translation, then speaks about men engaging in anal sex. The Greek word that’s translated “in the same way” or “likewise”, is “ὁμοίως” (homoiós). 

Romans 1:26-27

26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,

27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

“Homoiós” is an adverb, and adverbs describe or modify verbs.  Therefore, it describes what someone is doing.  (Our English word likewise lacks this specificity centered on action; you can use it to say: ‘Bob is hungry, likewise so is Jane’ which requires no action.)

Homoiós is used 31 times in the Bible, and every single time it refers to similarity of action.

Since verse 27 begins with homoiós, we can be sure that the same action that was performed in verse 27 (anal sex) is also being performed in verse 26.

I might translate homoiós here as “doing the same thing”. 

 

Yet more Greek Evidence

Further, the Greek at the end of verse 26 supports the anal interpretation vs the lesbian interpretation.  Here’s the verse in the ESV, which is slightly more literal in this passage than the NASB I’ve been quoting.

Romans 1:26 (ESV)

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;

The word translated “contrary” is the Greek word “παρά” (para).  It’s where we get our English word “parallel”, and it means:

3844 pará (a preposition) – properly, close beside. 3844 /pará (“from closely alongside”) introduces someone (something) as very “close beside.

3844 (pará) an emphatic “from,” means “from close beside” (“alongside”). It stresses nearness (closeness) which is often not conveyed in translation. 3844 (pará) is typically theologically significant, even when used as a prefix (i.e. in composition). 3844 (pará) usually adds the overtone, “from close beside” (implying intimate participation) and can be followed by the genitive, dative, or accusative case – each one conveying a distinct nuance.

I won’t go full Greek language geek on you because I’ll lose 90% of my readers.  You just need to know in this verse it’s in the accusative case, with the following additional nuance of meaning.

  1. properly, of place, at, by, near, by the side of, beside, along;
  2. 2. beside, beyond, i.e. metaphorically,
    1. equivalent to contrary to:

The primary meaning of the word – even in the accusative case – is “very close beside”, with the added nuance of “contrary to” (in the accusative case).  So it primarily means “very close beside”, but the additional meaning of “contrary to” is tacked on.

 

Putting it all together

Let’s look at the verse again with all of this understanding. 

Romans 1:26-27 (My modified version)

26 For this reason God gave the men over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural penile penetration for that which is very close beside (and contrary to) natural,

27 and doing the same thing also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men in men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

Again, we are talking about penetrative intercourse of something that is “very close beside” natural penetration.  Further, it’s confirmed in the next verse which says “in the same way” (homoiós = “doing the same thing”) followed shortly by “men in men”. 

Sounds like anal intercourse to me. 

Further, the early church fathers agreed

The early church fathers Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius, and Augustine all understood the unnatural act as being non-coital intercourse, that is… anal sex.

(Emphasis original.)

Clement said this in Paedagogus. Likewise Tertullian in On the Military Garland (c. 201-211), Athanasius in Against the Nations, and Augustine argued it many times over several decades; notably in On Marriage and Concupiscence, On the Good of Marriage, and Against Julian.

Again, the bible is completely silent on female/female sexual acts.

It simply doesn’t mention them, and neither did the Jews’ Rabbinic Sages until a few hundred years after Christ died.

 

Brief aside: Why does Paul mention this?

You might ask why Paul mentions anal sex.  To answer that question, I’ll quote from another article on the anal interpretation of Romans 1:26

It was common in antiquity for women to have anal or oral sex with men, often to avoid pregnancy or to preserve the hymen and thus, technically, their virginity. Trying to explain how Genesis 24:16 is not redundant when it recounts that Rebecca, future wife of Isaac, was a virgin and “had not known man,” Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish, ca. 250 C.E., could say, “The daughters of the gentiles had been careful to protect the virginity of their vaginas, but they were quite free with themselves at other orifices. But this one [Rebecca] was ‘a virgin’ as to the vagina, and ‘no man had known’ her under any other circumstances either” (Midrash Rabbah Genesis LX:V 2.B, translated by Jacob Neusner). These gentile girls are like Rebecca because, technically, they are virgins. They keep their hymen intact. They are unlike her because they find ways to “know” men anyway.

Source.

That jives well with my research on the topic. In that age, women often engaged in anal sex either to avoid pregnancy or to technically preserve their virginity by ensuring the hymen wasn’t broken.

 

One Final Point on female/female Sex

Disclaimer: The following is anecdotal at best, not necessarily my opinion, and only included for completeness because it came up so much. 

The most common way to describe sex in the Bible is “he went into her”.  In my research, I have found time and again that according to the ancient mind, sex required penile penetration.  If there wasn’t a penis in a vagina (or anus), it wasn’t sex in their view. Perhaps that’s why any mention of female/female sex is absent: because – in their mind – it wasn’t considered sex.

But again, that’s anecdotal at best and not necessarily my opinion; I’m merely including it here for completeness because it came up so often in my research.

 

Conclusion

Male/male sex is roundly condemned as a sin that’s as serious as adultery and bestiality. 

Female/female sex is nowhere condemned, or even mentioned in the entire Bible.  God is completely silent on the topic, despite clearly condemning male/male sex at least five times.  God even goes out of his way in Leviticus to say women couldn’t have sex with animals.  Yet even with all this specificity, He never condemns female/femalesex.

Make of that what you will.

I should also reiterate that all sex belongs inside marriage, and marriage is only between men and women  Just in case you thought I was in favor of lesbian “marriage”. (which I’m not. Marriage by definition is only between men and women.)

 

(P.S. I have a suspicion to why God condemned male/male sex while being silent on female/female; but that will have to wait for another day/article.)

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