In this section, we will examine biblical precedent for same-sex marriage. Prior to searching, it would be prudent to lay some groundwork, starting with the definition of the word “marriage.” The modern concept of marriage is this: a couple with a government-issued license, making vows before a minister, priest, rabbi, other clergyman, or a justice of the peace. Such a concept of marriage is relatively modern, and does not match the biblical concept of marriage.
Perhaps the most important difference between biblical marriage and its modern day counterpart is that, in biblical times, government did not regulate marriage. There was no such thing as a marriage license, nor did the government care who married whom, or how many spouses a person had.
The early concept of marriage was this: two people made a covenant1 with each other. Regardless of whether they did this of their own accord, or through a matchmaker, or at the insistence of their families, the marriage began with the agreement or covenant between the two. Some time afterward, there would be a feast for public recognition of the agreement, and a contract2 would be signed by both parties, putting in writing what they had already promised to each other. After this was done, and only then, would the couple live together and be intimate with each other. Prior to the signing of the contract, the couple was spoken of as betrothed or engaged, but this had a meaning different from today’s concept of betrothal or engagement. Their betrothal was as morally binding as the marriage itself, and could only be broken by divorce, even though no contract had been signed and no sexual activity had occurred.
An example of this can be seen in Matthew 1:19, with Joseph and Mary. At this point in their relationship, they were only betrothed. They had not moved in together, had not signed a contract, had not had a marriage feast, and had not had sexual contact. All they had was the agreement they had made with each other, their covenant. But when Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, he thought she had been unfaithful, and decided not to marry her, but instead to divorce her privately. (The King James Version says “put her away.” The Greek word is ἀπολῦσαι apolysai, and it means divorce.) Even though they had none of the things that would make a modern marriage binding, they were considered married, simply on the basis of their agreement with each other! So for a biblical definition of marriage we have simply one thing: a covenant. When two people make an agreement between themselves that they will live their lives together as a couple and be faithful to each other, then, biblically, they are married. They may choose to sign a contract, they may choose to have a ceremony and reception, they may choose any other forms of public recognition, but none of those are required biblically for the marriage to be binding.
One final point before we search scripture for examples of same-sex marriage: We’ll be using primarily the King James Version of scripture, with corrections to translation errors provided by the Hebrew and Greek texts. It needs to be understood by the reader that words that appear in italics in the King James Version are not found in the Hebrew or Greek text, but were added by the translators. Sometimes those added words help clarify a concept, and adding an occasional article (a, an, the) or preposition is a valid part of translation. Literal word-for-word translation is usually impossible and rarely desirable. For example, let us take the Hebrew word ובמשכנותיך uv’mish’k’noteicha. Even though it is only one word in Hebrew, it is impossible to translate it into English with less than four words. It means and in thy tabernacles.
But sometimes the added words of the translators do us a disservice. Sometimes they completely change the meaning (which is often what they intended to do.) For example, look at Colossians 1:19 in the King James Version. Notice that the words the Father are in italics. Other translations may have the word God where the King James has the Father. But the Greek text mentions neither. The verse in Greek says For all the fullness was pleased to dwell in Him. By inserting the Father or God, the translators changed the meaning of what Paul wrote. Not only is that not helpful, it’s sinful! (Rev. 22:18-19)
In I Samuel chapter 18, Jonathan met David and loved him immediately. Verse 1 tells us that the soul of Jonathan was knit, or intertwined, with the soul of David. Lest we think of this simply as something spiritual, let us look at the meaning of soul. There is an erroneous conception that the soul is similar to, or synonymous with, the spirit. Some preachers try to turn us into a sort of trinity, claiming that we are made up of three parts, that is, body, soul and spirit. But the scripture does not say this. We know from Genesis 2:7 that God formed our bodies out of the dust of the earth. It then says in the same verse that He breathed into our nostrils the breath of life, i.e., spirit, and man BECAME a living soul. (In Hebrew, Greek and some other languages, the words for wind and spirit are the same.) So the formula isn’t
BODY + SOUL + SPIRIT = MAN,
BODY + SPIRIT = SOUL.
Therefore, when the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, it was not simply a spiritual thing; it was physical as well. Jonathan loved David with body and spirit.
1 Samuel 18:3-4 tell us that Jonathan and David made a covenant, and that, to seal the covenant, Jonathan took off all the things he was wearing and gave them to David. The things he took off tell us a lot about the covenant itself. He took off his sword and bow and gave them to David, perhaps suggesting that he intended to protect David. But it went further than that. By taking off all his clothes, he signified a much deeper and more intense relationship. Had this not been the start of a physical, sexual relationship, Jonathan’s actions would have been considered bizarre indeed, by the standards of their day, or ours. (The Hebrew does list everything Jonathan would have been wearing, with the possible exception of a loincloth. A loincloth, however, was unlikely given the circumstances: They had just come from the battlefield. In battle, a soldier needed to be able to relieve himself quickly. This is part of the reason the army uniform worn was much shorter than the full-length robes worn in everyday life. A loincloth would have caused unnecessary hindrance to the process of urinating quickly in urgent circumstances.)
From that day, David moved in with Saul and Jonathan (verse 2) and did not live at home with his parents anymore, further indicative of the type of covenant they had made. (In biblical times, a man generally did not leave his parents’ home until he married, and sometimes not even then.) Although it was Saul who insisted that David move in, this is not something he would have done on his own. Living in the king’s house was reserved for family and a few servants. Although David was a national hero, Saul was not the type of man willing to share the fame. On the contrary, he was prone to jealousy. The last thing he would have wanted to do was call extra attention to David by having him live in the king’s house. But when Jonathan and David made a covenant, Saul was more or less obligated to invite David to move in.
At this point, we need to clarify something before going on: It needs to be understood that today’s concept of monogamy was not considered the norm in biblical days. Especially among royalty, polygamy was considered essential in order to produce many heirs, which would ensure that the throne would remain in the same family. Jonathan was the eldest son of the king and had a responsibility to produce at least one heir to the throne. He did so. The prophet Samuel had anointed David to be king. This placed the obligation of producing an heir upon him as well. King Saul was well aware that Samuel had anointed David, and he warned his son that as long as David lived, he (Jonathan) would never be king. This is why the relationship between the two young men bothered Saul so much. The very reason he had fathered Jonathan was so that his son would succeed him as king, and now Jonathan was thwarting that purpose by becoming involved with the only man who threatened that royal succession!
Saul sought a way to get rid of David. Because David was anointed and also very popular, it would have been inadvisable for Saul to attempt to kill him outright (not that he didn’t try). Rather, he preferred that the Philistines do it for him. He reasoned within himself that if he got David to marry his daughter Merab, she would cause him enough distraction that he would fall to his enemies.3 But when the time came for David and Merab to make a covenant, she married someone else instead.4 (Although he expressed his lack of worthiness to marry Merab, David raised no actual objection to the marriage, so most likely Merab herself objected. Perhaps she did so because she cared about David and understood her father’s ulterior motive, or perhaps she was in love with the man she married.) Then Saul learned that another of his daughters, Michal, loved David. He decided to let her marry David, again for the sole purpose of causing him to fall to his enemies.5
When Saul told David that he would give him Michal, he went on to tell David that once he married her, he would be the king’s son-in-law “in one of the twain.” (1 Sam. 18:21b – King James Version) That phrase is very important. Let’s put it into modern English first: “through one of the two.” This seems to suggest that David would be Saul’s son-in-law through Michal instead of Merab. But notice that the words ‘one of’ are in italics. That means they are not found in the Hebrew text. In fact, they are not even hinted at in the Hebrew text. Adding them completely changed the meaning of the verse. What Saul actually told David was this:
ויאמר שאול אל דוד בשתיים תתחטן בי היום
Va’yomer Sha’ul el David bishta’yim titchaten bi ha’yom
And Saul said to David, “Today you will be my son-in-law through two.”6
That is, he would be the king’s son-in-law twice, through two of Saul’s children. With which of Saul’s children did David have a covenant? Only three of Saul’s children are mentioned: Jonathan, Merab and Michal. David made no covenant with Merab, who married someone else. He was about to make a covenant with Michal. The only other child of Saul with whom David had a covenant was Jonathan. Verse 21 proves that the covenant was a marriage covenant and that Saul recognized (but clearly didn’t approve of) the marriage.
Note the following verses that the King James Version and other English Bibles have mistranslated in relation to the marriage of David and Jonathan:
I Samuel 20:30 –
ויחר־אף שאול ביהונתן ויאמר לו בן־נעות המרדות הלוא ידעתי כי־בחר אתה לבן־ישי לבשתך ולבשת ערות אמך
Vayichar af Sha’ul bihonatan vayomer lo ben na’avat hamardut halo yadati ki vocher atah l’ven Yishai l’vosht’cha ul’voshet ervat imecha
“Then Saul’s anger burned toward Jonathan, and he said to him, you son of the perversion of rebelliousness!
Don’t I know that you are choosing the son of Jesse to your own shame and the shame of your mother’s ______*?”
*_____ There is no polite English word for the one King Saul used. He used a graphic and vulgar term for genitalia.
I Samuel 20:41 –
הנער בא ודוד קם מאצל הנגב ויפל לאפיו ארצה וישתחו שלש פעמים וישקו איש את־רעהו ויבכו איש את־רעהו עד־דוד הגדיל
Hana’ar ba v’David kam me’etzel hanegev vayipol l’apav artzah vayishtachu shalosh p’amim vayishku ish et re’ehu vayivku ish et re’ehu ad David higdil.
“The boy went, and David came up from the south, and fell on his face to the ground,
and they bowed three times, and kissed each other, and wept with each other,
until David experienced an erection*.”
*Hebrew: הגדיל higdil: became large, was made large; euphemistically, an erection
In 2 Samuel, 1:26, David expressed his love for the late Jonathan. It is important to understand that when David referred to the love of women, the only possible love he could have been referring to was sexual love. It was considered highly improper for a man to have a platonic friendship with a woman. Men and women usually didn’t even speak to each other in public. Even a husband and wife would not speak to each other in the street. (Some Chassidic Jews still observe this custom.) Since David would not have had any platonic relationships with women, he could only have been referring to sexual interaction. This is a further indication of the sexual nature of his relationship with Jonathan, since it would not make sense to compare a platonic relationship with a man to a sexual relationship with a woman. David clearly preferred the love of Jonathan. Nowhere in scripture will you find David expressing such love for a woman. Although he lusted after women (suggesting he was bisexual), married more than once, and fathered children, he never expressed such love for any of his wives.
Having found one example of same-sex marriage, let’s look at another:
In Daniel 1:3, we meet Ashpenaz, chief of the Babylonian eunuchs. He was put in charge of the new eunuchs brought in from Judah, the princes and chief young men who had been castrated in fulfillment of prophecy (II Kings 20:18; Isaiah 39:7). Among these were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. All four were eunuchs.
Before going on, we need to discuss the concept of eunuchs and the effect of castration. Were eunuchs capable of sexual function? There is no set answer to the question. It depends upon when they were castrated. Boys castrated before puberty, as was sometimes done to keep their singing voices from changing, would not develop sexually and would have no sexual function. They would still have normal desire for physical and emotional closeness, but could not function sexually. Those castrated after puberty would be sterile, but would most likely retain some sexual function and desire. This can be seen in the case of cats. A male kitten castrated before puberty does not develop sexually, and usually will not display any of the behaviors of adult male cats, such as spraying to mark territory, and mounting other cats. Male cats castrated after puberty will often continue to spray and to mount other cats, but will be sterile.
(Note that in Bible times, male eunuchs were not permitted to marry women, since heterosexual marriage carried with it an expectation of procreation, but as we shall see, were permitted relationships with men.)
What about Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? The prophecy spoke of the young men of Judah, not boys. The fact that Daniel and the others were able to speak for themselves and stand up for themselves indicates they were at least in their teens. So it seems fairly evident that these young men were castrated after, or at least during, puberty, and would, therefore, retain some sexual function. We have no information from scripture about the personal lives of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But scripture does give us some clues as to Daniel’s personal life.
Daniel 1:9 –
ויתן האלהים את־דניאל לחסד ולרחמים לפני שר הסריסים
Vayiten ha’Elohim et Daniyel l’chesed ul’rachamim lifnei sar hasarisim
“Now God had brought Daniel into favor and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.” (KJV)
In this verse, we find that a certain relationship existed between Daniel and Ashpenaz, chief of the eunuchs. (His name was mentioned in verse 3.) To determine the exact nature of that relationship, we’ll need to dig a little deeper than the English translations, which actually tell us only a little. The King James speaks of favor and tender love. The Hebrew words are חסד chesed and רחמים rachamim. Let’s look at chesed first. This word has more than one possible translation. The most common is mercy. It may also be translated as grace or favor. The scriptures that say ‘His mercy endureth forever’ use a form of the word chesed.7
What about rachamim? This word also has more than one meaning. Additionally, it is plural, which has more than one connotation in Hebrew. Let’s deal with that aspect first, before determining the meaning. In Hebrew, using the plural can be a way of emphasizing greatness or importance. Indeed, there are some Hebrew nouns that have no singular form, but are always plural: Heaven, water, life, and face are words that have no singular form in Hebrew, but are always plural.8 In addition, God, when referring to the true God, is usually plural in Hebrew, not because He is more than one, but in order to emphasize His greatness. Rachamim is plural, not because it is more than one, but because of its greatness, intensity or depth.
So what does it mean? There are two common meanings for the word rachamim. One is similar to the meaning of chesed, that is, mercy or grace. The other is love. (More on that in a moment.) How would a reader determine which meaning is intended? From context: Since the word chesed was also used, for rachamim to have the meaning of mercy would be redundant. It being plural would be even more redundant. Therefore, rachamim would default to its alternate meaning, love. But what kind of love? English is poor in that we only have one word for love, and must use other words to differentiate between types of love. The love between spouses is not the same as love between parents and children. The love between parents and children is not the same as love between friends. And yet, we have just the one word, love. Some languages, including Hebrew and Greek, have more than one word for love. For example, the passage in John 21 where Jesus kept asking Peter “Do you love me?” is much more significant if read in Greek: Peter was answering Jesus with the wrong word for love, embarrassed by the fact that Jesus was using a far more powerful word for love. Peter was basically answering, “Yes, I like you!”
Words in Hebrew are formed from root words, usually made up of three letters. Any words having those three letters, in that same order, would have related meanings. For example, most people are familiar with the word שלום shalom, which means peace or well-being. The root letters are ש־ל־ם SH – L – M. Any word with ש־ל־ם, in that order, regardless of other consonants or vowels added, would have a related meaning. The root letters of rachamim are ר־ח־ם R-CH-M (the final im of rachamim make it plural, and are not part of the root). There are a number of Hebrew words that share these root letters, including two organs of reproduction. This fact indicates that when rachamim is used to mean love, it has a definite physical, sexual aspect to it.
At this point, we would like the reader to notice who was responsible for Daniel and Ashpenaz having a sexual relationship: According to verse 9, it was God who put them together in their relationship. Now God has no vested interest in people committing fornication, and the fact that rachamim means sexual love, and not just sexual activity, indicates to us that this was meant to be a life-long relationship between the two. And what do we call a life-long committed sexual relationship between two people? Marriage. No other romantic interest or sexual partner or marriage was ever mentioned in connection with Daniel in the Bible; Ashpenaz was the only one.
We have two examples of same-sex marriage from scripture. But what rules should govern these marriages? It is true that scripture does not give us rules specifically governing same-sex marriages. Does that mean we are free to make our own? Not necessarily. Notice again in 1 Samuel 18 that King Saul didn’t seem to draw any distinction between David’s marriage to Jonathan and his impending marriage to Michal. Although Saul didn’t approve of the first marriage, he still recognized it as a marriage. Therefore, it seems evident that the instructions given in the Bible for opposite-sex marriages were also meant to be applied to same-sex marriages.
1 בְּרִית – b’rit
2 כְּתוּבָּה – ketubah, “something written.” Broyde, Michael and Jonathan Reiss. “The Value and Significance of the Ketubah.” Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, XLVII. 2004.
3 1 Samuel 18:17
4 1 Samuel 18:19
5 1 Samuel 18:20-21
6 At least one English version, rather than adding words to change the meaning, mistranslated the word “two” as “the second,” again to imply that Saul meant through Michal instead of Merab. That translation is also incorrect, as the word for “two” does not mean “second” in Hebrew.
7 לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ – l’olam chasdo
8 שמים מים חיים פנים – shamayim, mayim, chayim, panim – heaven, water, life, face