(1 Sam. 18:3-4) Were David and Jonathan gay?

CLAIM: David states that Jonathan’s love was “more wonderful than the love of women” (2 Sam. 1:26). Jonathan also “loved” David (1 Sam. 18:3), stripped in front of him (1 Sam. 18:4), and “kissed” him (1 Sam. 20:41). The text even tells us that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David” (1 Sam. 18:1). Were these two a couple?

RESPONSE: David had multiple wives and concubines (2 Sam. 5:13) and a lust for naked women like Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). Moreover, Jonathan was also married to a woman (2 Sam. 9). This doesn’t fit with the narrative that David and Jonathan were attracted to each other. Additionally, these passages do not teach that David and Jonathan were sexually attracted to each other, when considered closely:

A close look at the proposed passages

Jonathan “loved” David (1 Sam. 18:3). This Hebrew term for “love” (ʾāhe) is never once used to describe same-sex attraction or homosexual acts.[1] The term used for sex is the Hebrew word “know” (yāḏaʿ). The “covenant” that they make is one of loyalty—not lust. Later, we read that this covenant refers to protecting each other from their enemies (1 Sam. 20:16).

Like a Rorschach test reveals our inner thoughts rather than objective reality, a sexualized reading of this text says more about the interpreter than the text itself. It’s sad that interpreters cannot recognize what genuine love looks like between two friends, but rather, seek to understand love through the lens of a hyper-sexualized reading of Scripture.

Moreover, throughout this book, many people “love” David, including Saul (1 Sam. 16:21), all Israel (18:16), Michal (18:20), and all of Saul’s servants (18:22). Does this imply that everyone in Israel had sexual lust for David?

Jonathan stripped in front of David (1 Sam. 18:4). Jonathan didn’t strip himself of all his clothes (1 Sam. 18:4). He merely stripped himself of his robe. This is in contrast to how Saul “loved” David (1 Sam. 16:21), but David rejected Saul’s clothes for battle (1 Sam. 17:38-39).

David and Jonathan “kissed each other” (1 Sam. 20:41). We shouldn’t project our cold, Western view of physical affection back onto this ancient Near Eastern culture. It was common for men to greet each other with a kiss at that time. Consider just a few examples:

  • Isaac “kissed” his own son Gen. 27:26).
  • Laban “kissed” his nephew Jacob (Gen. 29:13).
  • Laban “kissed” his grandchildren and daughters (Gen. 31:55).
  • Esau “kissed” his brother Jacob (Gen. 33:4).
  • Joseph “kissed” his brothers (Gen. 45:15).
  • Jacob “kissed” his grandsons (Gen. 48:10).
  • Joseph “kissed” his dead father (Gen. 50:1).
  • Moses “kissed” his brother Aaron (Ex. 4:27) and his father-in-law Jethro (Ex. 18:7).
  • Samuel “kissed” Saul (1 Sam. 10:1).
  • Absalom “kissed” everyone who approached him (2 Sam. 15:5).
  • David “kissed” an old man Barzillai (2 Sam. 19:39).
  • Joab “kissed” Amasa (2 Sam. 20:9).
  • In the NT, believers should greet one another with a holy kiss (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:13),

Men at this time expressed brotherly love in different ways. There are cultures today where men walk down the street holding hands, but this is not a sign of sexual attraction.

Second, look at the context: David and Jonathan kissed “and wept together, but David wept the more.” This does not refer to a make out session (!!), but to affection for each other during a time of sadness and despair. The emotion expressed was sorrow—not erotic pleasure.

“The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David” (1 Sam. 18:1). OT scholar Michael L. Brown asserts that this Hebrew expression is “never once used in the Old Testament for a sexual or romantic relationship.”[2] In fact, this Hebrew expression (nep̱eš niqšerāh benep̱eš) is very close to the phrase used in Genesis 44:30 (nep̱eš qešûrāh benep̱eš). Genesis 44 describes a father’s love for his son: Jacob’s love for his son Benjamin.

Jonathan’s love was “more wonderful than the love of women” (2 Sam. 1:26). A.A. Anderson notes that the “love of women” may “also include [a] mother’s love for her children and that of a wife for her husband. The Hebrew ‘love’ may denote even Yahweh’s love for his people (cf. Isa 63:9; Jer 31:3; Hos 3:1; 11:4).[3]

Conclusion

David and Jonathan were simply not sexual lovers, but close friends. It’s sad that interpreters cannot see the beauty of same-sex friendship, and can only see erotic attraction. A sexually erotic interpretation of David’s friendship with Jonathan is a case of reading Scripture through a hyper-sexualized lens, rather than reading our sexuality through a Scriptural lens.

[1] Youngblood, R. F. (1992). 1, 2 Samuel. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel (Vol. 3, p. 706). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[2] Michael L. Brown, Can You Be Gay and Christian? (Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine Publisher, 2014), p.98.

[3] Hubbard, D. A., Barker, G. W., Watts, J. D. W., & Martin, R. P. (1998). Editorial Preface. In 2 Samuel (Vol. 11, p. 19). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.