Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality: Positive Homosexual Depictions in the Bible
When I read the Bible, I was prepared for all the anti-gay content. Given how often I heard about such content, I almost believed that that was nearly all the Bible discussed. (Turns out only six places even mention homosexuality.) However, I was not prepared to encounter the positive examples of homosexual relationships. Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality addresses the two most prominent examples.
The clearest example is found in 1 Samuel, namely in the love demonstrated between Jonathan and David. As mentioned in this Bible book, Jonathan loved David “as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1-4). Given how affectionate these two are with one another, it’s impossible to see this relationship as anything but romantic and not mere friendship. Furthermore, the sadness David expresses at Jonathan’s passing cements this read on these two: he sees Jonathan’s love for him as “passing the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:26)—basically, he could love him in ways a woman never could.
By why is there no explicit acknowledgment or denouncement of this relationship? As Helminiak points out male-male sex was common in this era, so its presence was not particularly notable because the audience of the time would have recognized it without needing help (126). They also would have had no problem with it because it was accepted.
Also interesting, contrary to the way his name is often used to support disdain for progress with gay rights—in particular marriage equality—Jesus had no problem with homosexuality. He not only said nothing about us, his actions speak even louder. Both Matthew and Luke contain nearly identical telling of a particular event that demonstrates Jesus’ indifference to a homosexual relationship.
In these two similar accounts, Jesus heals a centurion’s male slave. But some people have argued that the wording might suggests the boy might actually be the man’s son. By examining in detail the words used to describe the slave, Helminiak is able to deduce that the boy is not the son of the centurion and he is a young slave. This distinction is also important, for given the wealthy standing of the centurion, Helminiak makes clear that the centurion clearly expressed romantic feelings towards the boy—otherwise, he would not have been so concerned with his well-being. Maybe he was just concerned about his property—the salve? Well, as Helminiak points out, older man often kept young slave boys for sexual purposes; therefore, his concern suggests that he was in love with him; otherwise, given his wealth, he could have afforded to go buy another slave (128-9). Rather than judge the centurion for this set-up, Jesus commends his faith and “returned the young man to the centurion in good health” (129).
Given how opinionated Jesus is often shown to be, he would have commented on the relationship had he deemed it “wrong.” If he didn’t have a problem with it, why should we? Of course, modern readers will find the age difference troubling; however, as Helminiak makes clear, people were “lucky” to reach 40; therefore, people matured faster, so, emotionally, the difference between a man and a “boy” would not be as pronounced as we would understand them to be today. Therefore, this is not a depiction of child abuse as we would understand it. Other abuse—given the slavery—perhaps, but, during that era, this practice was so accepted it was not even commented on—Even Paul counsels slaves to be obedient several times over. Jesus observes genuine feeling passing between the centurion and his slave as a positive example of one male caring for another. Thus, an acknowledgment of a positive homosexual relationship—why else would the authors have kept the account in these two Gospels?
Based on all he discusses in his book, Helminiak asserts that we need to pay closer attention to what the Bible says, especially in regard to homosexuality, if we are to use it to pass judgment on others. As he points out time and again, the Bible often does not state what so many people claim it does about homosexuality. That said, he feels that this does not mean that members of the gay community can lead their lives in any way they deem fit; rather, like straight people, members of our community can use the Bible as a moral guide—our sexuality should not matter (132).
At the end of the day, if the Bible does not really claim to denounce homosexuality, why should we?
You are assuming that the love between David and Johnathan and the Centurion and the slave were an expression of sexual love. Although there is no mention of Eros. There are many forms of love. When a mother loves her son, she doesn’t necessarily have sexual love for him or when a father loves his son, that is a different kind of love. When two straight men love each other It doesn’t have to mean it is sexual love. I think Jonathan and David have a deeper kind of love than sexual love which is why it is deeper than a woman’s love. I think the David and the Centurion has this kind of love. Perhaps a study of love in its various expressions, e.g., agape love, is useful in understanding this kind of love which is hard to find these days in men. Many men feel they have to be macho and thus prevent the vulnerability of being tender hearted toward each other.
Hi Mary, Thanks for the comments. True, there is no mention of Eros; however, we don’t know how much of the true story has been preserved. Therefore, I think it is reasonable to suggest that seeing romantic love there is posiible (though we can’t say for sure). I do appreciate your very important point that there are many levels of love–something that seems to have eroded, particularly among men. As this suggests, there are several ways to interpret male expressions of love. Given that–and also have prevalent homosexual sex between men was during the eras addressed, it’s certainly possible that Jonathan and David’s relationship incorporated a physical aspect.
You’re right. There are different types of love, but the story also says that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David. It sounds very strange to say that your soul is knit
to the soul of your mother or father or to your child. It’s more appropriate to say that your soul is knit to the soul of your lover. How would you feel if your family member said that to you ? If any of mine did, it would sound strange.
I would say it does sound strange, but this might be due to cultural differences, not to mention the differences in eras.
Hello 🙂 I am sorry but I would consider it far fetched to base anything on the few examples mentioned to support a positive view on homosexuality practice. It just does not have a good foundation as I see it. It might very much be that homosexual practice was common in the Ancient Near East. So was i.e. idolatry and other practices. Israel was commanded by God in the law to live differently, to not practice homosexuality or i.e idol-worship. David and Jonathan must have been very aware of this, as David loved the Lord and his commandments. I have the perspective that when God gives us direct guiding through a command, He does it to protect healthy relationships between us and Him, and between us and others. So even if it sounds harsh it has a loving reason behind it.
The NT is not silent about homosexuality either, even if Jesus does not mention it directly. What do you think of Paul’s view on homosexuality in the end of Romans 1 and in 1.Co 6:10 for example?
I want you all the best!
Having been raised in the gay community in Portland by my mom who identifies as a lesbian, and then becoming a Christ follower when I was 20, I have alot of personal experiences in my past that shape my views of The Bible, but I can’t get away from the fact that a human-based hermeneutic is not the way to approach the Bible. Have you ever read and or seen anything by Rosaria Butterfield? She was an English and queer theories proff who became a Christian. I trust that as a professor (and the fact that you have undertaken this whole “Bible Project” in the first place!) you are open to different points of view. Here’s a great video to start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkJZSeUGzWw
Here’s an interesting website
I’m interested in checking out any link you provide but this particular one does not work. Can you repost?