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Allegedly anti-gay "clobber" passages in the Bible

A brief description of passages from
the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)

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About this essay:

There is a general agreement among the over 1,500 Christian denominations and sects in North American about what the Bible says. But there is a wide diversity of belief about what Bible passages meant when they were written. There is also disagreement on which passages were only intended for ancient Hebrews and early Christians during biblical times, and which are still valid today.

bulletThis essay gives a brief description of the "clobber" passages in the Hebrew  Scriptures (Old Testament) that have been used to attack homosexuals and homosexuality.
bulletSee a companion essay for the clobber passages in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)
bulletFor a much more detailed description of the clobber passages, see our section titled: "What the Bible says about homosexuality."
bulletIn this essay, we describe very conservative and very liberal interpretations of these passages. It is important to realize that there are many other belief systems about homosexuality that are intermediate between these two liberal viewpoints.

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Genesis 1: Be fruitful and multiply....

Genesis 1:27 & 28: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and  multiply, ..." King James Version.

bulletA common religiously conservative interpretation: Moses recorded God as saying that he created Adam and Eve in his own image as "male and female." Having created them capable of procreation, God blessed them and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. There is obviously a limit to the number of children that Eve could give birth to. One might safely assume that God's instruction to Adam and Eve were also binding to their children, grandchildren, even down to the present generation. Thus, God intended each human to pair up with a member of the opposite sex, and to procreate. There is no room in God's plan for same-sex marriage.
bulletA common religiously liberal interpretation: The creation stories in Genesis do not describe actual events and commands; they were copied and adapted from Babylonian myths by an unknown ancient Hebrew priest. The injunction to be fruitful and multiply may have had some validity in biblical times when the ancient Hebrews were continually under attack by neighboring tribes. However, today's world is overpopulated and is placing major strains on the environment. The command can hardly apply today.

Throughout most of its history, the Christian church has rejected this passage; it has valued celibacy as a higher calling than marriage.

God stated in Genesis 2:18: "It is not good for the man to be alone." For a homosexual individual, the only suitable companion is a person of the same gender. To say that gays and lesbians should not form committed relationships is to say that it is good for them to remain alone. This is a direct contradiction of God's statement; it implies that God is a liar.

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Genesis 2:23-24: About marriage:

"The man said, 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh'...For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh."

Typical interpretation:

bulletConservative Christians:  God created Adam and Eve to be heterosexual, expecting them to be fertile and to populate the world with humans. During the sexual act, their bodies unite, and symbolically rejoin as "one flesh." That is God's plan: for people of opposite genders to marry, raise children and have dominion over all the earth. Homosexual behavior is apart from God's plan, an attempt to distort and pervert what God intended from the beginning. If gays and lesbians cannot change (or do not wish to change) their sexual addiction, they must remain celibate in order to fit into God's planned intent for humanity.
bulletLiberal Christians: The first creation story in the Bible is seen in Genesis 1:1 to 2:3. It describes that God's stated plan was for humanity to "Be fruitful and increase in number." (NIV, Genesis 1:28). The second creation story appears in Genesis 2:4 to 2:25. It states specifically that a man will unite with his wife. (NIV, Genesis 2:24).

One must interpret these sayings carefully. They obviously do not apply to all people. For example:
bulletA significant portion of the population is sterile and thus cannot be fruitful and multiply.
bulletSome people, for any number of reasons, remain celibate throughout life and never marry or have children.
bulletSome women marry when they are beyond child-bearing age and are unable to conceive and give birth.
bulletSome people carry serious genetic defects and choose to not conceive in order to avoid creating a child who would have disastrous health problems.
bulletGays or lesbians are, by definition, not sexual attracted to members of the opposite gender, and thus are most unlikely to be able to form heterosexual relationships of one man, one woman.
bulletAbove all, they do not apply to most of the other seven marriage and family types mentioned in the Bible.

The Genesis texts can thus refer only to a majority of individuals, not to everyone. It is a general plan for society, but not universally applicable to all.

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Genesis 19: The story of Sodom and Gomorra:

This passage states that all of the people from the city of Sodom gathered around Lot's house and demanded that he send out two visiting angels so that the townspeople might "know" the angels. The word "know" probably implies that they wanted to have sex with the strangers. God later destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the behavior of the people of Sodom -- the Sodomites.

bulletA common conservative interpretation: Moses recorded God as destroying the city. R. Albert Mohler said: "The Genesis passage is very clear, that the sin of Sodom that brought on the destruction of the city was indeed linked to homosexuality." 1 This is a popular passage often quoted in conservative Churches because it so clearly condemns homosexual behavior.
bulletA common liberal interpretation: The sin of the men of Sodom was to humiliate their visitors by engaging in "an act of sexual degradation and male rape...These are acts of violence that are committed by parties seeking to show their hatred for those they are degrading. It is not an act of love or of caring" 2 The sin of Sodom was the intent to commit of mass rape. Rape is a crime whether committed on a person of the same-sex or opposite sex. It is a crime of power and control. Other biblical passages that mention Sodom clearly indicate that Sodom was punished for being unkind to its poor, widows, orphans, and strangers.

Judges 19:14-29 appears to be a near exact copy of Genesis 19, in which a Levite plays the role of the angels. The mob accepted the offer of a woman to rape in place of the visitor. So, either the men in town were bisexuals, or they wanted to rape the Levite in order to humiliate him. The former is most unlikely, because male bisexuals are relatively rare. They total only about 3% of all male adults. Again, men raping a man is a crime of power and control. It has no connection with loving, same-sex behavior in a committed same-sex relationship, just as a man raping a woman has no connection with consensual opposite-sex behavior in a committed opposite-sex relationship.

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Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: An abomination

Leviticus 18:22 in the King James Version states: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." Leviticus 20:13 is similar, except that it adds the death penalty as punishment.

Although the original Hebrew clearly refers to male-male sexual activity, both the Living Bible and New Living Translation refer to a prohibition of "homosexuality." This would include sex between two women -- a behavior not mentioned anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures.

bulletA common conservative interpretation: These verses clearly condemn sexual activity between two males. As such, they are consistent with other passages discussed in this essay. No exception is given for consensual sex between two men or for sex within a loving same-sex relationship. All are an abomination to God.
bulletA common liberal interpretation: The Hebrew word "to'ebah" appears in both passages and is generally translated as "abomination." Some religious liberals interpret these passages as referring only to male Jews who engaged in same-sex behavior in Pagan temples. The term would better be translated as "ritually improper" or "involving foreign religious cult practice." Elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, the same word is used to ban wearing of clothing made up from two materials (like cotton-polyester in today's world), or having a tattoo, eating shrimp, eating pork, seeding lawns with a mixture of grass types, etc. None of the passages invoking "T'ebah" are valid for non-Jews today.

Rev. Jill Nelson commented that the passage "... is grounded in the old Jewish understanding that women are less worthy than men. For a man to have sex with another man 'as with a woman' insults the other man, because women are to be treated as property." 1

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Deuteronomy 23:17, etc: Sodomites and shrine prostitutes

Deuteronomy 23:17 in the King James Version states: "There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel." There are similar passages in 1 Kings 14:24, 15:12 & 22:46 and 2 Kings 23:7.

bulletA common conservative interpretation: Many Evangelicals prefer the KJV to the NIV translation of this verse. It condemns all male homosexual activity, and is thus applicable to all male gays today, whether they are engaged in casual sex or in a monogamous, consensual, committed relationship.
bulletA common liberal interpretation: The Hebrew word "quadesh" is translated in the King James Version here as "sodomite." Other Bible translations use the term "cult prostitute" or "shrine prostitute."   "Qadesh" literally "means 'holy one' and is here used to refer to a man who engages in ritual prostitution" in a Pagan temple. 2 Among Pagan religions in the Middle East, worship often involved ritual sex in the temple, "often with a sacred prostitute who was like a priest or priestess. This sacred sexual activity was believed to encourage the god(s) to bestow fertility on the earth and its creatures." [Typo corrected]. 3 Male shrine prostitutes would have sex with females; female prostitutes with males.

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bulletA common conservative conclusion: God's word repeatedly upholds one-man, one-women marriage as God's intent for relationships. It also repeatedly condemns same-sex behavior between two men and perhaps between two women as well.
bulletA common liberal conclusion: Genesis does mention the pairing off of one man and one woman into a marriage-like relationship. But this is only one of many possible marital or family relationships. There are a total of eight types mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures. Genesis 19 definitely condemns rape. But this is unrelated to consensual same-sex sexual behavior. The phrases in Leviticus only apply to Jews engaging in same-sex activity in Pagan temples. The references to sodomites in Deuteronomy etc. is a clear error in translation. Again it refers to ritual sex in Pagan temples.

There is nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures that condemns same-sex committed relationships or same-sex marriage.

With the almost complete absence of dialogue between religious conservatives and others on these topics, the massive gulf over homosexuality and the Bible -- and about the morality of same-sex sexual behavior -- will probably not be resolved in the foreseeable future. One promising exception to the lack of meaningful dialogue is a book by the North Como Presbyterian Church in Roseville, MN in 2005. 4

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Companion essay:

bulletAnti-gay "clobber" passages in the Christian Scriptures

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Fred Tasker, "What does the Bible say about homosexuality?", Philadelphia Inquirer, 1997-JUL-13. The article was based on an earlier survey of religions opinion of 6 theologians and religious leaders covering the range from conservative to liberal thought. Included were R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Seminary and Jill Nelson, pastor of the Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church.
  2. "Deuteronomy 23:17," Whosoever, at: http://www.whosoever.org/
  3. "Free to be gay: A brief look at the Bible and homosexuality," Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, at: http://www.ualberta.ca/
  4. "Ordination Standards:  Biblical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives," by the Ordination Standards Task Force of North Como Presbyterian Church. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.

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Copyright © 2006 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2006-NOV-25
Latest update: 2008-MAY-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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