Full Disclosure: In preparation for my debate in Houston with James White on the topic “What Is Biblical Marriage?”, I reached out to several scholars on this subject for assistance. One of those scholars was Dr. Jennifer Grace Bird whose study in this area will soon be published in her upcoming book, Biblical Marriage: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.
In fact, she was so gracious to not only spend an hour on a Zoom call with me to discuss the subject, but she also sent me PDFs of specific chapters from her book-in-progress to help me craft my response.
For that I am very, very grateful.
So, this article includes some information that she so graciously shared with me from her own research.
Specifically, the fact that Biblical marriages [so called] never appear to be examples of loving devotion. Nor do we ever read of any romantic or passionate expressions of love between these Biblical couples.
Now, you might be tempted to suggest that the Song of Solomon fills the gap, but keep in mind that the romantic relationship in that text is not between a married couple. In fact, there are verses that suggest that the woman’s family is concerned for her reputation for engaging in a physical/romantic relationship with a man who is not her husband.
So, the reason why we never find any examples in the Bible of romantic, loving or passionate language between married men and women is precisely because – as we shared in the previous article – these Biblical marriages were not about love, or romance or passion. They were quite simply about a man needing to take a woman so he could procreate with her and grow his legacy and expand his wealth and property as a man in his patriarchal society.
Women were property. Their job was to have babies, cook food and keep the house in order for the man who had wars to fight, flocks to tend and crops to harvest.
Now, this is not to suggest that we cannot find any examples of romantic, loving or passionate language in the Bible. We do find wonderful examples of two people expressing their devotion and sincere love and soul-connection to one another several times in the Scriptures.
But, those examples are most often between people of the same sex.
Seriously. Let’s ponder that for a moment. The Bible primarily provides examples of caring, devoted, soul-connected love between people of the same sex. Not from people who are married.
In fact, the Bible never provides us any examples of this type of love between married couples.
So, what are the examples of same-sex love and devotion in the Bible?
First, from Ruth and Naomi. They are both women. They are mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Their loving devotion and deeply heartfelt commitment to one another is so profound, and so beautiful, that many heterosexual Christian couples will quote them in their wedding ceremonies without any sense of irony:
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” [Ruth 1:16]
The point is this: We never read any man saying this to his wife, or any wife saying this to her husband in the Bible. We only read it between two women; two same-sex individuals, and that should tell us something. It should tell us that people in Biblical times had no problem with expressions of deep, devoted and committed love being expressed between people of the same sex.
But Keith, Ruth and Naomi weren’t gay! They weren’t have lesbian sex! How can you point to this as an example of same-sex relationships being celebrated in the Bible?
Because you don’t have to have sex to be in love with someone, and that’s what so many Evangelical Conservatives don’t seem to understand. You can love someone – deeply, sincerely and profoundly love them – without having sex with them.
If you’re a heterosexual man married to a woman, your love for her didn’t start out with sex. In fact, your love for her began with attraction, and then with infatuation, and then you fell in love with her, and maybe later you wanted to hold her, and touch her, and kiss her. That is love and it’s no different than the love felt, expressed and enjoyed by same-sex couples. Love is love.
So, no, I’m not suggesting that Ruth and Naomi were lesbians. But I am pointing out that their devotion and love for one another – as two women – is one of the only examples we have in the Bible of deep, soul-connected love between two people; a love that we all recognize as being beautiful enough to quote in our heterosexual wedding ceremonies without a second thought.
Our next example is the beautiful love between David and Jonathan. In this case the word “love” is used and it’s expressed as the kind of love that is “more wonderful than the love of women.”
Here’s the first example in 1 Samuel 18:1-4:
“As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.”
Just for a moment, imagine this was a story between a man and a woman. The man meets the girl and it’s love at first sight. Immediately the soul of the man was knit to the soul of the girl. He loved her as his own soul. As soon as they’re alone, he pledges his heart to her because he loved her as he loved his own soul and then he stripped down before her and gave her everything he owned.
Would you read that story and say, “Meh, they’re just really good friends”? I doubt it. Especially if this was your own son or daughter. You’d recognize right away that these two were deeply in love, or at least extremely infatuated with one another.
And that’s exactly what happened when Saul, Jonathan’s father, found out about the love his son shared with David. Listen for the innuendos peppered throughout Saul’s response here and see if it doesn’t sound a lot like how a Christian father would respond to his son at the dinner table when he found out his son was gay:
“Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you?” [1 Sam. 20:30]
The reaction here reveals that Saul considered his son “perverse” and that he blames the mother for making his son “soft” or unmasculine. Saul heaps shame on Jonathan, and on his mother, for the love shared between his son and David.
Again, it’s unlikely that David and Jonathan engaged in homoerotic physical sex; that would have been something too extreme for men in that culture. But, if we could go back in time and look at the way David and Jonathan behaved around one another we would no doubt have seen them holding hands or kissing one another. Those practices are still common to this day in Middle Eastern cultures, even between heterosexual male friends.
In fact, the kisses between David and Jonathan are described for us here:
“Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.” [1 Sam. 20:41]
But, we know that there was a love shared between David and Jonathan that went way beyond mere friendship. It was, in the words of David, a love that surpassed the love he had known with women, as David says in 2 Samuel 1:26
“I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women.“
Again, my point is not so much that David and Jonathan were gay lovers, although that’s not entirely out of the question, but that the Bible never reports any similar language of love and devotion between married couples; only from same-sex relationships.
Do you see this? It’s proof that “Biblical Marriage” was not where ancient Jewish people most often experienced deep, loving, devoted and passionate soul-connection.
So, because marriage was not a likely source for those sorts of relationships, many of them found that heart-binding, soul-sustaining love-bond through friendships – outside of marriage.
Marriage in the Bible wasn’t intended to meet anyone’s emotional need for love or human connection at the level we imagine it was. It was nothing like the sort of healthy, mutually-affirming and life-fulfilling relationships we aspire to today in our own marriages – whether heterosexual or homosexual.
No one today should be turning to their Bibles for guidance on what marriages today should look like, or how they should be defined or what standards they should adhere to. Biblical marriage was sub-par compared to what we think about marriage today. So much so that the only examples of love and heartfelt devotion we can find in the Scriptures come from outside the marriage relationship, and, ironically, not from heterosexual couples, but almost exclusively from same-sex relationships.
So, the Bible not only doesn’t condemn the expression of sincere love between same-sex couples, it actually celebrates it.
Our next article in this series will examine the evidence about gender we find from the Creation story in Genesis.
If you’d like to catch up on this series, here are the previous articles published so far:
Why James White Cannot Admit Slavery Was A Sin
The 6 Genders According to the Talmud and Biological Science
Why Biblical Marriage Was Always A Contract Between 2 Men
Keith Giles is the best-selling author of the Jesus Un series. He has appeared on CNN, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and John Fugelsang’s “Tell Me Everything.” His latest book, SOLA MYSTERIUM: Celebrating the Beautiful Uncertainty of Everything is available now on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.