If David and Jonathan were gay, why were they not put to death?

by Robert Gonzalez
(Queens, New York, USA)

Jonathan and David

Jonathan and David

Thanks for such a great question about David and Jonathan. Today when people read the Bible, they tend to read into scripture their own view from the twenty first century, instead of thinking about the ancient context and what scripture meant to the people who first heard it.

So when people read Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, where we are told that a man should not lie with a man, people assume it's talking about being gay. They further assume that God demands the death penalty for gays. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are the verses people so often misinterpret because they ignore context.

"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." -Leviticus 18:22

"If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." -Leviticus 20:13

These verses should not be read as isolated texts. They were give in a context which helps us understand what they mean. To understand Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, we need to look at the context to see if it's talking about homosexuality or if it's talking about something else.

What is the context?


A. The historical context: When we look at history in the ancient near east, we discover that the inhabitants of the land God called Canaan, what the Romans called Palestine and what we call Israel, worshiped false gods like Molech and his fertility goddess consort Ashtoreth.

This worship consisted of shrine prostitutes, men (and sometimes women) offering themselves sexually to men in an effort to get the false gods, Molech and Ashtoreth, to bless their fields, flocks and families with increase. This false worship of Molech and Ashtoreth is what Moses and God were talking about in Leviticus 17:7, 18:22 and 20:13.

B. The religious context: When we look at Leviticus, we find that chapter 18 is in the context of forbidding the worship of false gods. Scripture warns against worshiping false gods.

"After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances... I am the LORD your God." -Leviticus 18:3-4

God says: Don't do like the heathen in Egypt where you came from and don't do like the heathen in Canaan, where you're going.

"And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to (Molech), neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD." -Leviticus 18:21

Notice that God places the man with man prohibition in the context of Molech worship. God warns against worshiping Molech, whose fertility goddess consort was Ashtoreth. Ashtoreth worship involved same sex activity to provoke the gods to make their fields, flocks and families fertile.

"Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you:" -Leviticus 18:24

"(For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;)" -Leviticus 18:27

God warns that following the customs of the heathen will get them cast out of the promised land, just like God cast out the heathen before them.

"Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones." -Leviticus 20:2

"And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name." -Leviticus 20:3

"And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not:" -Leviticus 20:3

"Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people." -Leviticus 20:5

How many times does God have to mention Molech in the context of same sex activity, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, before people get the connection?

"And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them." -Leviticus 20:23

"And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine. " -Leviticus 20:26

God says: You Israelites are mine. You do not belong to the pagan gods of Canaan or the people who serve them. You are mine.

If David and Jonathan were gay,
why were they not put to death?


The death penalty in Leviticus 20:13 was NOT for being gay. It was for idolatry - using same sex activity to worship false gods. Remember that Satan worshipers use sex between opposite sex folks to worship Satan. Yet no one is dumb enough to suggest that all heterosex is sinful. Gay orientation or being in a gay marriage are not the same as using sex to worship false gods. Things different are not equal.

Why did David call Jonathan
his brother?


In opposite sex relationships in the Bible, a wife is sometimes referred to as a sister or a spouse, not meaning a biological sister but a sister in the sense of being a female, a spouse, a wife.

"Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?" 1 Corinthians 9:5, KJV

"Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck." Song of Solomon 4:9, KJV - see also Song 4:10, 4:12, 5:1, 5:2

"I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women." 2 Samuel 1:26, KJV

When David refers to Jonathan as his brother, he doesn't mean a biological brother. He is referring to Jonathan as his spouse, using the same kind of reference that a man would use in referring to a female spouse. David refers to Jonathan as his brother in the sense of being a male, a spouse, a husband. Jonathan was David's spouse.


* * * Robert's Original Question: "Not advocating the death of someone because they are gay; Jesus said "A new command I give you, love each other." A christian should love everybody because Christ loves us. But in that time in the old testament, the penalty for being gay was death. My question is: If David and Jonathan were Gay, why were they not put to death? Thank you for taking the time out to respond."

Helpful links to more information


How do you interpret Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, man should not lay with man?

What is an abomination in the Bible?

Are lesbians treated the same as gays in the Bible?

Does Romans 1:26-27 condemn homosexuals?

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From, If David and Jonathan were gay,
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Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano's David and Jonathan, 1505-1510, from the National Gallery, London, is in the public domain.


This page revised November 14, 2014


Comments for If David and Jonathan were gay, why were they not put to death?

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Mar 20, 2012
When our hearts are filled with love
by: Kevin S.

I’m usually the guy that likes to cling to theological truths on any Biblical subject and sidestep the emotional aspects. However, as a gay man I can not read the story in 1 & 2 Samuel about David and Jonathan without being moved by the overwhelming love that emanates from the pages of scripture.

Even the emotional inadequacy of the English language cannot inhibit the power of David and Jonathan's verbal exchanges of affection. A friend who is not gay recently commented that when he first read the account of David and Jonathan, his first impression was that their relationship was much more than friends. He eventually convinced himself that his first impression could not be correct because at that time he was sure a romantic relationship between two men was a sin.

He concluded that the scriptures could not be saying that they were romantically in love. My friend said that he had to disregard his first impressions to make the status quo fit. When I first read the story of David and Jonathan, I too thought it odd that the Scriptures were seemingly saying that these two men shared a passionate love for one another.

God looks on the heart not the outward appearance. When he looked into the hearts of two men, he saw an amazing love and commitment to one another. That commitment would last for many years until Jonathan’s death. The words of David about Jonathan after his death erupt from the text with such sorrow, hurt and passion, that anyone who has lost the love of their life will immediately empathize with David’s heart break. After losing someone I loved dearly, I read those words recorded in the Scriptures. No better words have ever been written to express the hurt I felt inside after losing my love.

To read the story of these to men and conclude they were just Old Testament “buddies” is both narrow minded and naïve; that kind of biased reading of the Word of God can only lead you to falsehood.

Those who force the Bible to fit their westernized, sanitized, 21st century culture will always miss the rich and extraordinary realities of the lives of the people of the Bible. They will equally fail to see God’s most amazing creation; LOVE.

Oh Yes, I could continue by writing volumes of exegetical truths, historical evidence and cultural proofs that David and Jonathan were more than buddies. However, there is no need to because Rick has already done that on this site.

The telling of the story of David and Jonathan in God’s word is loving, passionate and in-depth. No other place in the Bible spends so much time emphasizing thoughts, feelings and appearance with maybe the exception of Song of Solomon; which is also the story of love, passion and commitment. Do you think that’s a coincidence? I don’t! So there you have it, Kevin’s emotional assessment of 1 & 2 Samuel’s account of two men in love.


Aug 14, 2012
When was David married to his first wife?
by: Martin

I asked a friend of mine if David was single when he met Jonathan and his answer was No. Is he right?

Rick's comment: Hi Martin - No, your friend is wrong. David and Jonathan met in 1 Sam 17-18, when David was 15-17 years old and Jonathan was 13 to 15 years older than David - see 2 Samuel 5:4 and 2:10. Ishbosheth was King Saul's third son. Crown Prince Jonathan was Saul's firstborn son so he would have been 13 to 15 years older than David.

Neither David nor Jonathan was married then. According to the Bible, their only significant relationship at that time was with each other. The Bible indicates they enjoyed an intimate loving friendship for about ten years before Jonathan married a woman and sired his only son, Mephibosheth.

David around that time, also married several women, 2 Samuel 3:2-5. Keep in mind we're dealing with a different cultural environment in 1000 BC Israel. Men were allowed to have more than one wife or spouse. It was legal then and Jehovah Himself affirmed polygamy in 2 Samuel 12:7-8 and Deuteronomy 21:15-17 and 2 Chronicles 24:2-3. Please look up and read those verses. Great question - hope this is helpful to you.

Aug 08, 2015
Why weren't David and Jonathan put to death?
by: Kevin J

Many people overlook the strict rules of evidence under the Law. It would have taken at least two independent eyewitness who directly observed them to obtain a conviction.

The law was defined behaviorally, so the eyewitnesses would have had to directly observe them engaging in the specific activity named in the law, and they had to agree on every detail.

Circumstantial evidence, rumors, hearsay, even confessions were not admissible. Also, the penalty for perjury in a death penalty case was death.

As the kids say nowadays "pics or it didn't happen"

Jan 19, 2016
satanic ploy
by: david

The LORD GOD ALMIGHTY can never go back on his eternal word. he created man and woman for a purpose and not man for man or woman for woman. and as for this lie that david and jonathan were gay, is one of those false justification of homosexuality. in ancient israel its an abomination which I know someone of david's character will not commit.

Rick's comment: Hi David - As you grow in the Lord, you will learn many things. I hope you will learn early in your new life as a Christian, these important things.

1. Your opinion is irrelevant unless it agrees with what the Bible says IN CONTEXT.

2. Christians who read and study the Bible more than you are NOT engaged in a Satanic ploy simply because they disagree with you.

3. Genuine Christians read, believe, study, memorize and obey the Bible and they rightly divide the word of truth, 2 Timothy 2:15 in the old King James Version.

God bless you David, as you walk the path of His purpose for your life.

Jul 01, 2016
1 Samuel 20:41
by: Caleb H.

Love this site. It is really helping me with my search for the truth. I read a bit - a lot each day. What is your opinion/interpretation of 1 Samuel 20:41? I have read that it can be a sexual reference by using the Hebrew word "gadal" or "exceeded" (grew large).

Does it mean David cried more than Jonathan, or cried until he regained his composure, or physically "grew large"? I have read that some of the text may have been left out on purpose because of it's sexual reference.

Rick's comment: Hi Caleb - Gadal, here translated exceeded, means "to grow, to become great, to cause to grow, to make large in various senses, as in body, mind, estate or honor."

Obviously, the farm boy David, as Jonathan’s social inferior, was not making Crown Prince Jonathan grow in wealth, estate or social honor. The word gadal in this context, refers to overwhelming emotions or to becoming sexually aroused or both.

Because the Hebrew word can be accurately translated "became great, enlarged" some believe this verse refers to a sexual encounter between Jonathan and David. Whether that is an accurate translation of the word in this context, gadal at the least, indicates the overwhelming emotional commitment these men shared.

Some commentators insist a sexual relationship between Jonathan and David is impossible because they view Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as universal prohibitions of male-male sexual activity.

Three thousand years after the fact, no one can prove or disprove a sexual encounter based on the use of gadal in this passage. Yet, based on the other Hebrew words used throughout the Jonathan and David story and the great emphasis the Holy Spirit places on their loving relationship, the trajectory of the textual evidence points toward this relationship being far more than a political alliance, far more than a close, nonsexual friendship.

Jul 04, 2016
RE: Caleb H.
by: Kevin S.

Caleb, I just wanted to add the point that made the most impact on me when I first tried to understand the story of Jonathan and David. As Rick pointed out, none of us was there 3000 years ago to be able to define the relationship they had, whether friend, romantic and/or sexual. It's equally true that the text telling the story is full of other indicators that it was a loving partnership and possibly sexual.

In a court of law we would refer to that as the "preponderance of the evidence". In other words, the evidence favors the assertion that it was much more than a friendship.

But for me, the fact that there was an eyewitness, 3000 years ago, who makes the accusation that they were having a romantic/sexual relationship, seals the deal. That witness was King Saul, Jonathan's father.

At dinner, he tells Jonathan that he has been told or has heard, of their SEXUAL relationship. That accusation is made in the form of a Hebrew idiomatic expression, conveying a crude sexual slur against Jonathan's manhood, about his intimate relationship with David.

"Thou son of the perverse and rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thy own confusion of thy mothers nakedness." - 1 Samuel 20:30

King Saul was essentially accusing them of a sexual relationship. So while all of us who debate this issue some 3000 years later, are dissecting Hebrew words and linguistic structure in the text, there is one very important, very credible piece of forensic evidence, an eyewitness account.

And that trumps all the intellectual and circumstantial evidence. I'm sure Rick can elaborate on this, since the facts I stated are originally from his study and research.

Rick's comment: "Then Saul’s anger [aph] was kindled [charah] against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse [avah] and rebellious [marduwth] woman, do not I know [yada] that thou has chosen [bachar] the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, [bosheth] and unto the confusion [bosheth] of thy mother’s nakedness [ervah]? For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die." 20:30, 31.

Saul’s vehement accusation, ‘Do not I know, yada,’ in this context, conveys the idea of discern, perceive, find out. Saul confronts Jonathan about his romantic, emotional, intimate sexual relationship with David, characterizing it as shameful confusion. Saul uses Hebrew idiomatic expression to convey a crude sexual slur against Jonathan’s manhood and ties the slur to Jonathan’s intimate association with David.

Eugene Peterson, in The Message paraphrase, interprets it this way. "Saul exploded in anger at Jonathan: You son of a slut! Don’t you think I know that you are in cahoots with the son of Jesse, disgracing both you and your mother?"

In the Bible "uncovering someone’s nakedness" is a euphemism for having sex. Thus, in Leviticus 18:6-17, scripture tells us 15 times ‘thou shalt not uncover’ someone’s ‘nakedness.’

When Saul assails Jonathan with a sexual euphemism about the shame of his mother’s nakedness, ervah, Saul is accusing Jonathan of a sexual relationship with David.

Ervah refers to nudity in which the genitalia are visible, implying shameful, sinful exposure. It comes from the Hebrew root arah, used of sexual offenses where one’s genitals are uncovered.

Saul is not characterizing Jonathan's mother, Queen Ahinoam. His vicious slur characterizes Jonathan’s behavior with David. Saul’s angry outburst indicates more than fear that Jonathan will never be King.

By referencing Jonathan’s "confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother’s nakedness" Saul’s furious tirade accuses Jonathan of sexual intimacy with David. Saul is saying that Jonathan and David enjoyed a sexual relationship with each other.

More info on Jonathan and David is in eBook, Gay Christian 101, for $7.99 USD.

Jul 05, 2016
Thanks!
by: Caleb H.

Thanks guys. Kevin and Rick I so appreciate all of your comments throughout this site. You guys are so smart! After reading the articles, I always try to read all of the comments as well. Some bring fear/distress to my spirit, but your guys' comments always bring me peace!

Jul 05, 2016
Caleb's comments
by: Kevin S.

Caleb, I think the most important outcome of all the commenting and conversations that occur here is confidence that the Bible doesn't condemn being gay and that gay Christians need to be an active part of the body of Christ.

Those of us who have come to understand the words of the Scriptures need to be vocal about exactly what the "Bible says". We need to educate when the opportunity arises. For too long the Church has propagated status quo theology. In fact, that theology is apostasy, and it excludes a specific group - gay Christians, from fellowship.

So let's be the MESSANGERS of Biblical truth. While these truth enhance our lives, they are given that we share them with others; therein is the purpose God gives that knowledge. In 2009 I came across GayChristian101.com and Rick.

Through this site and his book I've come to a place of realizing the harmony between my faith in Christ and who I am as a gay man. From that first day until this one, I continually share the knowledge I've learned. I hope you will continue to study and share what you learn.

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