(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). 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. When considered closely, these passages do not teach that David and Jonathan were sexually attracted to each other.

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.

“The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David” (1 Sam. 18:1). This Hebrew expression is “never once used in the Old Testament for a sexual or romantic relationship.”[1] 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 “loved” David (1 Sam. 18:3). This Hebrew term for “love” (ʾāhe) is never once used to describe same-sex attraction or homosexual acts.[2] 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).

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 made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself” (1 Sam. 18:3). Does this refer to the “covenant” of marriage? No. The term “covenant” (bĕrit) refers to a “treaty, alliance, pledge, or an agreement.”[3] Typically, it refers to a political agreement between parties. For instance, the author used the term to refer to a peace treaty between the Ammonites and the people of Jabesh (1 Sam. 11:1). Later, he uses the term “covenant” to refer to the (broken) political agreement to protect the Gibeonites (2 Sam. 21:2). The “covenant” between David and Jonathan is “the only unequivocal mention of a compact between two individuals in the OT.”[4] So, it is decidedly thin to see this as a same-sex marriage when it is the only usage of this term in the Hebrew Bible.

While the “covenant” is never explicitly defined, the context strongly implies that this was an oath from David to protect Jonathan’s family after the transfer of power. Later, David fulfils this promise: “[David] spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the oath of the LORD which was between them, between David and Saul’s son Jonathan” (2 Sam. 21:7).

“Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt” (1 Sam. 18:4). Jonathan didn’t strip naked in front of David. 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).

The covenant seems to have been political based on the fact that Jonathan removed his robe, armor, sword, bow, and belt. Moreover, “by giving his robe to David, Jonathan effectively passes over his badge of rank, acknowledging tacitly that David will succeed to the throne.”[5] The handing over of the robe was “tacitly handing over to him the right of succession.”[6]

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.

Furthermore, look at the context: David and Jonathan kissed “and wept together, but David wept the more.” This does not refer to a sexual encounter! It describes deep sadness and despair. The emotion expressed is sorrow—not erotic pleasure.

“I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; you have been very pleasant to me” (2 Sam. 1:26a). David referred to both Saul and Jonathan as “beloved and pleasant” (v.23, nāʿîm). This surely doesn’t suggest that David was in a same-sex relationship with Saul—a man who had repeatedly tried to murder him.

“Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women” (2 Sam. 1:26b). This is a poetic lament—not a love song. When he refers to the love of Jonathan, modern people are simply committing eisegesis when they read same-sex erotic love. The “love of women” may “also include [a] mother’s love for her children and that of a wife for her husband.” Moreover, this same Hebrew word is used of “Yahweh’s love for his people (cf. Isa 63:9; Jer 31:3; Hos 3:1; 11:4).”[7]


David and Jonathan were not sexually intimate. Indeed, this sexualized reading of the text finds no explicit support in the text—even though the Bible repeatedly shares the raw content about its main protagonists—even David (2 Sam. 11).

Quite frankly, it’s sad that interpreters can only see erotic attraction in this relationship, rather than the beauty of a loving friendship between two men. 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] Michael L. Brown, Can You Be Gay and Christian? (Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine Publisher, 2014), p.98.

[2] Ronald F. Youngblood, “1, 2 Samuel,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 706.

[3] Elmer B. Smick, “282 ברה,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 128.

[4] Elmer B. Smick, “282 ברה,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 129.

[5] David G. Firth, 1 & 2 Samuel, ed. David W. Baker and Gordon J. Wenham, vol. 8, Apollos Old Testament Commentary (Nottingham, England; Downers Grove, IL: Apollos; InterVarsity Press, 2009), 208.

[6] Ralph W. Klein, 1 Samuel, vol. 10, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1983), 182.

[7] 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.