A Homosexual Activist Asks: What About David and Jonathan?

John C. Rankin

Some years ago, I cannot place exactly when, a homosexual activist called me on the phone. In our conversation, he said that the Bible is clear in profiling David and Jonathan as homosexual lovers. In his 1895 trial for homosexuality in England, Oscar Wilde made exactly the same argument.

I gave some background on the texts in question, and then said the answer could be made definitive by looking at the LXX Greek rendering for the Hebrew term “love” as used for David and Jonathan. As I pulled my LXX off the shelf, live on the phone to look it up, I did not yet know the exact answer. I had what I thought was an educated guess, but it proved to be wrong. Let’s walk through the territory.

First, as Saul’s son, Jonathan knows he will become king after his father if Saul succeeds in killing David. But he loves David very much, knows David is anointed by Yahweh, and honors the covenantal law reality ahead of his own personal ambitions. After David kills Goliath, we read in 1 Samuel 18:1-4:

“After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself [“his nephesh”]. From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father’s house. And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.”

First, the homosexual argument is that the “love” they shared was a homosexual love, and when Jonathan took off his robe and tunic to give to David, there may have been sexual overtones involved. But, of course, Hebrew usage is always defined by context. David is being raised up to be king in service to the Messianic lineage, thus, the very suggestion of an ordained homosexual relationship contravenes the whole biblical storyline.

Second, this is a classic covenant between two Hebrew men in the sight of Yahweh. The NIV says Jonathan “became one in spirit” with David. The Hebrew term in use is qashar, a word that means to “be bound with” for the sake of an agreement to do something. When used in other contexts, it means to “conspire.” Then the very language of berith, or to cut a “covenant” is also used – again, the idea of an agreement for moral purposes. The giving of the robe, tunic, sword, bow and belt is Jonathan’s acknowledgment that Yahweh has called David to be the king, not himself. It is Jonathan’s recognition of the Davidic covenant. Thus he gives his royal garments as a signal of that recognition, and David receives it and pledges to honor Jonathan’s lineage as a result (since Jonathan will not become king, the two men eviscerate pagan blood-letting practice in contests for the throne where genocide is often committed against blood lines, and as we also see observed in the Bible).

Nothing remotely erotic. As well, Jonathan’s father Saul, knows exactly what is happening as he learns of it, saying, “No one tells me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse” (1 Samuel 22:8). Had he suspected any homosexual activity, he could have had David put to death, rationalizing it as his fault, and thus sparing Jonathan. Saul does not submit to the Law of Moses, but as a dictator, he is not averse to misusing it.

Third, the verb for “love” used in the text is ahav, an all-purpose and very common word in Hebrew. If the ahav that Jonathan has for David has any sexual connotations, then the context would indicate it, but it does not.

So, live on the phone, I looked it up the LXX. The Greek has many words for love, as noted earlier, and I told the homosexual activist that if the word for love were eros, he would be right – an erotic or sexual love. I thought it would be philos (love of friends) or possibly philadelphia (brotherly love).  The Septuagint does not have 1 Samuel 18:1-5 in the text, but this language of the love between Jonathan and David is found in three subsequent texts which the LXX does have. In 1 Samuel 19:1, we read:

“Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan was very fond of David …”

In 1 Samuel 20:16-17, the text says:

“So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, ‘May the LORD call David’s enemies to account.’ And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.”

And finally in 2 Samuel 1:19-27, as David laments the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, he says in vv. 25-26:

“How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights. I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.”

In the 1 Samuel 19 verse, the Greek word for “fond” comes from the root airo, which means “to raise up, to exalt.” Jonathan exalted David ahead of himself, he honored him as the covenant king to be. Nothing remotely erotic.

In 1 Samuel 20, the Hebrew ahav for “love” is rendered by the Greek agape – the covenant keeping “love of God,” wholly distinct from eros. And eros is never used in either the LXX or Greek New Testament – only in classical pagan Greek. Thus, if the pro-homosexual argument is right, we should see eros in use here in the LXX. Instead, we see the opposite with agape. I was happily surprised it was agape, but should not have been – philos or philadelpia are not strong enough terms for covenantal love.

Then, in the text of 2 Samuel 1 we see the same use of agape. When David speaks of his love for Jonathan being “more wonderful than that of women,” the homosexual eisegesis assumes an alleged contest between a male erotic love for a man, and a male erotic love for a woman – as though Jonathan and David were bisexuals, with David saying that his “homosexual” love for Jonathan is superior to any “heterosexual” love he could have for a woman.

Instead, David is lamenting the loss of a “brother” in the covenantal faith, who like him acknowledges Yahweh as King, he who also boldly rejects his father Saul’s pagan definition of kingship while still being a faithful son, and affirms David’s anointing to be the next king. And part of rejecting any element of paganism necessarily means rejecting homosexuality.

As I completed the phone call, the homosexual activist – having been searching in the Bible for a justification of homosexuality – acknowledged what the text truly says about David and Jonathan. Many such hurting people are looking for God’s love in a way that affirms their broken sense of identity. Not so the Bible – the Lord Jesus affirms our humanity, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, heals the brokenness and thus we can be fully born again.