The Bible and Homosexuality

“Since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through people in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words…”

-Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), no.12, 1965

“It is the task of exegetes to work toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory study the judgment of the Church may mature.” (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, no. 12, 1965).

Does the Bible offer guidance on sexual matters?

Sacred Scripture, to which we must certainly look for guidance, instructs us on the central thrust of our Christian lives and provides basic norms for moral conduct. However, we cannot expect detailed and clear-cut answers to all the complex questions of sexuality in the twenty-first century.

Some biblical words or phrases, derived from languages and civilizations very different from our own, have become obscure in meaning and application after the passage of several thousand years. Certain scriptural passages, which reflect the primitive thought of their particular time, may even seem totally inadequate for today’s changed circumstances.

Knowledgeable commentators assist us to understand the Bible in the context of its concurrent history and in light of ancient local cultures. Critical studies also help separate the revealed and lasting message of Scripture (e.g., God as Creator, sex as blessing) from historically or culturally conditioned concepts (e.g., creational process, psychosexual make-up).

Thus, a more flexible interpretation has been given to the chapters of Genesis on creation, in view of the scientific awareness of evolution. Similarly, a less literal approach is being applied, by various scholars, to biblical references on homosexuality, due to modern multidisciplinary research.

How often do the Scriptures mention homosexuality?

Homosexuality is neither a prominent topic nor a major concern of the Bible. The earliest ethical codes of the Hebrew Scriptures make no mention of It. The Ten Commandments state nothing about it. The prophets never refer to it. The four Gospels do not record any disapproving comment by Jesus on the subject.

Homosexuality, even when considered, rates very little attention. Scriptural citations, besides the controverted story of Sodom (Gen. 19:1-29), include just five definite passages (Lev. 18:22; Lev. 20:13; Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10), only one of which pertains to women (Rom. 1:26). The references are quite short, twice interrelated, and contextually subordinated to other important biblical themes.

Hence, the excessive response to homosexuality by some religious people obviously reflects a personal prejudice rather than the basic thrust of God’s word.

Is there a biblical word for "homosexual"?

The term “homosexual,” despite misleading English texts, does not actually appear in any of the original languages of Sacred Scripture. The concept has no equivalent in biblical words, either Hebrew or Greek, contrary to certain attempted interpretations. In fact, the first use of the expression “homosexuals,” as one word for two distinctly separated nouns, never occurs in an English translation until 1946, with the publication of the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament.

Similarly, neither “sodomite” nor “sodomy” is employed by any scriptural writer. Yet both terms can be found in some English Bibles. At times “sodomy” has even been used as the translation for entirely different sexual acts, such as fornication and bestiality, which are thus mistakenly understood in regard to same-sex behavior. Sodomy, i.e., anal intercourse, is in fact also practiced between persons of opposite gender.

What does Scripture say about homosexual orientation?

Biblical authors had no concept of sexual orientation, whether heterosexual or homosexual, as we presently perceive it. Such a distinction presumes a recognition possible only with the advent of modern psychological analyses.

Ancient peoples possessed empirical data different from that currently available to contemporary researchers. They held an understandably inadequate view of personal psychological development. They lacked the sexological knowledge that now contributes to our theological reflections about human sexuality.

Therefore, scriptural writers, like many uninformed persons today, referred to homosexuality under the influence of primitive ideas about causes and characteristics. They did not think of it as a given orientation but as a distortion of one’s sexual make-up. Even into the nineteenth century, society believed homosexual people to be heterosexual individuals, who were either emotional midgets or deliberate perverts.

Consequently, Sacred Scripture never considers homosexuality in the sense of providing guidance for those who have a same-sex orientation to life. Indeed, the Bible makes no direct statement about homosexual persons living in a permanent and faithful relationship.

Doesn‘t God’s Word condemn homosexual acts?

Yes, the Scriptures clearly condemn homosexual activity in every reference to it. But the brief citations hardly warrant the overreaction characteristic of so many Christians.

In fact, according to various commentators, the Bible primarily prohibits homosexual conduct within the negative circumstances of same-sex abuse, that is, attempted rape by a dissolute gang (Gen. 19: 1-29), acts associated with pagan culture (Lev.18:22; Lev.20:13), lust as a consequence of idolatry (Rom.1:26- 27), and promiscuity, pederasty, or prostitution (1 Cor.6:9; 1 Tim. 1 : 10).

Scriptural concerns about such immoral behavior, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are just as valid today. We too do not condone sexual violence, pagan orgies, indulgence of self, and exploitation of others.

Aren’t you watering down the biblical principles on homosexual morality?

Statements about homosexual conduct do not occur in specific sections on moral principles. Rather they appear within contexts where the main focus of attention seems directed otherwise, where the primary subject seems something different.

Thus, the attempted rape by the citizens of Sodom is only one immediate example (Gen. 19:4-1 1) of their other widespread sinfulness (Gen. 13: 13; 18:20). Indeed the punishment of the inhabitants remains subsidiary to the saga of Abraham, whom God hears on behalf of the city (Gen.18:22-33) and whom God remembers by saving his nephew Lot (Gen. 19:29).

Similarly, same-sex abuses are prohibited by the Hebrew Testament (Lev. 1 8:22; Lev.20: 13) to ensure the separateness of Israel from its pagan neighbors (Lev.18:3,24; Lev.20:7,22-26). God’s chosen people are called to resist any possible identification with idolatrous heathen practices. Because the general context stresses Israel’s differentness as an important issue of the legislation, the particular condemnations themselves may not easily be transferred from one historical or cultural setting (e.g., avoidance of gentile abominations) to another social framework (e.g., love in homosexual relationships).

Even St. Paul in his Roman epistle does not directly consider homosexual acts by themselves. Rather, he writes, within the context of pagan society, primarily about its inexcusable idolatry leading to sexual chaos, of which samesex lust is ‘one illustration. Thus the Gentiles wrongfully “exchanged” (Rom.1:23,25) the true God for false idols. In consequence, both their women and their men “exchanged” (Rom. 1 :26-27) true conjugal relations, i.e. marital behavior natural to them, for improper sexual practices, i.e. same-sex activity contrary to their given (heterosexual) nature. Because the heathens rejected their dependence upon the Creator (Rom. 1 : 1 8-23), God in wrathful punishment abandoned them (Rom. 1 :24,26,28) not only to sexual confusion (Rom. 1 :26-27) but also to other bodily excesses (Rom.1:24) as well as to further disordered relationships (Rom. 1 :28-3 1).

Other Pauline letters only twice mention same-sex abuses (1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10), each time within catalogues derived from contemporary literature. Both loosely structured lists of pagan vices lack any clear logic about either the choice or the order of the particular sins named. The first catalogue even appears in a section concerned with litigation against fellow Christians before heathen courts. Obviously, homosexual acts receive no more emphasis in the Christian Scriptures than within the Hebrew bible.

Doesn’t Scripture provide a basic homosexual ethic?

Lot’s uncensored offer of his virginal daughters to the lecherous and violent men of Sodom (Gen. 19:8) makes the Genesis story rather suspect for the development of sexual ethics.

The Hebrew requirement of the death penalty for actions such as homosexual offenses (Lev. 20:13) casts similar doubt on the book of Leviticus as a guide for Christian morality.

Paul’s example of the sexual chaos (Rom. 1:26-27) which flows from disbelief in God (Rom. 1:18-23) seemingly offers little insight for genuine homosexual persons who do not worship false idols but remain devout followers of our Savior.

Likewise, the Pauline condemnation of exploitative same-sex misbehavior (1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10) does not necessarily imply opposition to homosexual love, any more than his injunction against adultery (1 Cor. 6:9) signifies criticism of every heterosexual relationship, or any more than his judgment on drunkenness (1 Cor. 6:10) indicates an objection to all wine-drinking.

Why are many Christians so hostile to homosexual persons?

Hostility toward gay/lesbian people sometimes stems from mistranslations of original biblical texts and/or misinterpretations of their actual meaning. Severe anti-homosexual bias, however, primarily derives from an unnatural and unhealthy fear or anxiety, which is far removed from any genuine understanding of God’s word.

The Gospels offer absolutely no foundation for any kind of religious bigotry. Rather the Bible calls all of us to overcome our hardheartedness, spiritual arrogance, and self-righteous attitudes. St. Paul himself, after the passage most often quoted against homosexuality (Rom.1:18-32), immediately adds: “No matter who you are, if you pass judgment, you have no excuse. In judging others you condemn yourself, since you behave no less sinfully than those you criticize” (Rom. 2:1).

The Story of Sodom

[Download PDF Version]

The story of Sodom remains the most familiar and influential biblical passage traditionally associated with homosexuality. The account has had a profound effect upon the same-sex fears of Christendom for 2000 years. Although the ruins of the burned city have long disappeared, its glare still ignites an abhorrence of homosexual love and enflames a phobic animosity toward gay/lesbian issues.

Why was Sodom destroyed?

Neither the actual narrative (Gen.19:1-29) nor any preceding reference (Gen. 13:13; Gen.18:20) ever clearly specifies the exact character of the crimes of Sodom, Gomorrah, and the other Cities of the Plain. Indeed, absolutely no evidence exists that same-sex abuses were present in the region prior to the Genesis tale. In fact, the story itself does not totally demand that the immediate sin of the Sodomites was sexual, let alone homosexual, in nature.

It appears rather unrealistic to believe that “all the men of Sodom, both young and old, without exception” (Gen.19:4) were sexually aroused by Lot’s visitors. It seems more reasonable to think that the two strangers were considered possible spies for neighboring enemies.

The proper interpretation depends on the significance of the Sodomites’ demand “to know” Lot’s guests (Gen.19:5). The Hebrew word yadha, often used elsewhere throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, has no definitive sexual meaning, despite the translation in some English Bibles. The verb means “to observe, recognize, get acquainted” in 928 instances and “to have heterosexual intercourse” on only 15 occasions. In fact, an entirely different Hebrew verb shakab describes homosexual relations elsewhere in Scripture (Lev.18:22; Lev.20:13).

Many of today’s biblical scholars have increasingly favored an interpretation of the controverted text as an example of gross inhospitality rather than as an argument against homosexual acts. However, even if the attempted crime were definitely sexual in character, the passage could only condemn the violence of homosexual rape, indeed a terribly repugnant expression of inhospitable feelings. Yes, the townspeople acted as an evil and wicked group, here obviously intent on serious abuse of others, but clearly punished for many additional offenses as well.

How is Sodom later referred to?

The twenty-one later references to Sodom in the Hebrew Scriptures do not even mention homosexual acts but rather specify inhospitality, pride, or idolatry (e.g. Wisdom 19:13-14; Sirach 16:8-9; Isaiah 1:10ff.). St. Paul, after his own verses on same-sex abuses (Rom.1:26-27), makes no allusion to them in his single citation of Sodom (Rom.9:29). Jesus himself supports an identification of the city with inhospitality when he denounces the unfriendly reception of his disciples (Matthew 10:14-15; Luke 10:10-12).

Inhospitality at Sodom also seems plausible from the deliberately parallel account of the outrage at Gibeah (Judges 19:1 to 21:25). Here the same Hebrew word yadha occurs, when the men demand “to know” a male guest (Jg.19:22). Commentators have overwhelmingly interpreted the identical action as an inhospitable request rather than as a homosexual proposal. The visitor himself makes it clear that the townspeople intended to kill him (Jg. 20:5).

Furthermore, no reference to Sodom is given at any of the biblical passages, whether Hebrew or Greek, which prohibit same-sex vices (Lev. 18:22; Lev.20:13; Rom.1:26-27; 1 Cor.6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10). Yet such an allusion could have been obviously made if in fact scriptural writers commonly believed that the city was destroyed for homosexual acts.

But doesn’t the offer of Lot’s daughters prove a sexual context?

Not really. Lot suggested his daughters as a possible diversion or appeasement to avoid violating the welcome of strangers in his home. Due to the unfortunately sexist character of primitive times, the honor of women in the family was of less importance than the sacred duty of hospitality. Lot emphatically declared, “These men are my guests, whom I must protect under my roof!” (Gen.19:8b).

Incidentally, as a knowledgeable resident, Lot considered the Sodomites to be heterosexual in orientation. Otherwise, he would not have offered them virginal females (Gen.19:8a). In fact, two of the men of Sodom were betrothed to Lot’s daughters (Gen.19:14).

Thus the townsmen, even if sexual in their demands, should not appear as primarily interested in same-sex pleasures. Rather they would have intended to humiliate the male visitors, who were to be treated like women and thereby demasculinizcd, according to the standards of a patriarchal society.

In the similar passage about Gibeah’s crime, the men accepted the male guest’s concubine, i.e. secondary wife, and raped her so repeatedly and violently that she died at daybreak (Ig.19:25-28; 20:4-5). Yet people have not reacted by condemning all heterosexual acts, although they become enraged at homosexuality when quoting the horrendous story of Sodom.

When did Sodom become associated with homosexuality?

The Sodom episode, which occurred about 2000 B.C.E., became clearly associated with homosexuality only as a much later interpretation around 100 B.C. Some Hebrew authors gradually read certain ideas back into the original account, first sexual allusions, and then homosexual references, as arguments against the widespread idolatrous pagan promiscuity of their own generation. Most Christian writers in general adopted the newly established Jewish explanation without further question.

However, various Church commentators still recognized the original understanding of Sodom’s crime primarily as inhospitality and secondarily, if at all, as sexual misbehavior. St. Ambrose of Milan, although he noted the carnal interest of the Sodomites, viewed the moral issue principally as inhospitable conduct (Patrology, Latin Series, 14:440). St. Isidore of Seville completely ignored any sexual implications of Sodom’s fate (Patrology, Latin Series, 83:647). St.Boniface of Germany defined sodomitical lust as adultery, incest, and promiscuity, without mentioning or implying any kind of homosexual abuse (Hadden and Stubbs, Councils, 3:359). Even the 1975 Vatican Declaration on sexual ethics did not use the Sodom text in its reference to homogenital actions (no. 8).

What does Sodom teach us?

Whatever explanations are accepted, the story of Sodom certainly illustrates how offensive God finds any of us when, like its inhabitants, we abuse and disregard other individuals. Yet, amazingly, some Christians have so inter- preted the passage as to encourage mistreatment and persecution of homosexual hitat who may have even accepted their given orientation honestly before God.

Society has subjected lesbian women and gay men to insult, brutality, and oppression for centuries. In the name of a traditional understanding of the sin of Sodom, many continue to repeat the most serious crime of the Sodomites, i.e., abusive conduct, by their inhospitable attitudes and behavior toward gay/lesbian people.

“So what was the sin of Sodom? Abuse and offense against strangers. Insult to the traveler. Inhospitality to the needy… In the many biblical references to the sin of Sodom, there is no concern whatever about homogenitality…”

(Daniel Helminiak, What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, p. 39, 1994)


From Homosexuality: A Positive Catholic Approach, Third Revised Edition

© 2003 New Ways Ministry. All Rights Reserved.

The Book of Leviticus

[Download PDF Version]

“You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Lev.18:22).

“If man lies with a man as with a woman, both of them commit an abomination; they must be put to death; their blood will be upon them” (Lev.20:13).

Where are the references to homosexuality in the Hebrew Scriptures?

References to homosexual behavior do not appear in Israel’s earlier “Covenant Code” (Exod.20:22 to 23:19) or “Deuteronomic Code” (Deut.12:1 to 26:15). Rather they occur only in the later “Holiness Code” (Lev.17:1 to 26:46), which is part of the priestly collection of religious laws for cultic purity.

The two allusions in the Code (Lev.18:22; Lev.20:13) are the sole items of legislation against same-sex activity. Interconnected and extremely brief, they concern only men, not women. No additional records exist, unlike the case of different sexual offenses, either of measures taken to enforce the prohibitions or of penalties ever actually inflicted.

As with all biblical materials, we need to examine the regulations within their own historical or cultural context regarding: (1) primitive views on homosexuality, (2) relationship to idolatry, (3) meaning of abomination, and (4) other Jewish prohibitions.

How does the book of Leviticus view homosexual orientation?

The phrase, “as with a woman,” which significantly appears in both verses, alerts us to ancient views on sexual orientation. The Hebrews could have had no idea of constitutional homosexuality or heterosexuality, which is a modern realization of the medical and behavioral sciences. They would have considered homosexual conduct as a deliberate perversion of heterosexual instincts.

The priestly tribe, in compiling the Levitical laws, thus condemned same-sex acts between men as though contrary to a given attraction to women. More importantly, the legislators adjudged such actions against the background of pagan cultic practices, which added the specific malice of idolatry or abomination.

Why is Leviticus opposed to homosexual acts?

The purpose of the same-sex prohibitions (Lev. 18:22; Lev.20:13), contained within a longer series of cultic regulations, is made clear at the beginning of each chapter (Lev. 18:3-5; Lev.20:7-8) and at the end of each chapter (Lev. 18:24- 30; Lev.20:22-26). The laws are principally directed against pagan customs, such as (homosexual) religious prostitution, routinely found among the Egyptians and Canaanites. The Israelites, as God’s chosen people, are not to defile themselves with similar sexual idolatry.

The priestly writers of Leviticus meant to intensify the distinctiveness of the Hebrew race, as a nation set apart from its foreign neighbors. The authors also wished to emphasize the holiness of the Jewish tribes, for whom the unclean, i.e., homosexual, rites of heathen countries were an abomination.

Primitive peoples lived in a world where a sense of worship permeated almost every aspect of their existence. Thus the pagans indulged in homosexual religious orgies as well as heterosexual fertility cults. They felt that all such activities became suffused with some sacred mystical quality supposedly relating the persons to their male and female gods. The Israelites condemned these ritualistic practices, such as “a man lying with a man,” as forms of detestable idolatry, by which the Gentiles worshipped their many false deities rather than the one true God.

According to commentators, the Hebrews in the Book of Leviticus also rejected adultery, incest, and bestiality, primarily as an assertion of Jewish differentness. However, such sexual behaviors remained under universal condemnation, because, unlike homosexual acts, all three were severely prohibited by further moral codes of the Bible for many additional reasons than Hebrew distinctiveness.

Isn’t homosexuality called an abomination?

No. The Bible does not consider homosexuality in and of itself an abomination. Yet improper emphasis on this term in the Hebrew Scriptures has often magnified a personal phobia toward gay/lesbian people.

In fact, Sacred Scripture calls many things, besides pagan homosexual practices, abominable, hateful, loathsome, or detestable, depending on the English translation. Examples include the eating of sacrificial food after the second day (Lev.19:7) and the wearing of pants by a woman (Deut.22:5). The Bible even considers certain creatures abominable (Deut. 14:3); for example, camels, hares, shellfish, eagles, ostriches, gulls, storks, and more (Lev. 11:4-47; Deut.14:3- 18).

The main Hebrew word for abomination, transliterated as toebah, commonly signifies activities or objects ritually unclean, like eating pork, rather than inherently evil, like murdering someone or stealing property. The expression principally refers to practices that were either actually associated with or simply reminiscent of pagan cultic rites. The reference certainly cannot justify present-day mistreatment of lesbian/gay individuals, who, according to Carl Jung, are “endowed with a wealth of religious feelings” far removed from idolatry.

But still aren’t homosexual acts condemned?

On the one hand, the Hebrew Scriptures likewise condemn, sometime with apparently equal severity, certain sexual activities that we no longer consider wrong. On the other hand, the same scriptures permit different sexual practices which we no longer deem acceptable.

For instance, marital relations during the menstrual period (Lev.18:19; Lev.20:18) are prohibited within the same chapters that forbid homosexual offenses (Lev. 18:22; Lev.20:13). Nudity is judged reprehensible even in the presence of one’s family. Celibacy as a state in life is thought abnormal. Yet polygamy and concubinage are regularly allowed among the Hebrews.

If people interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures with absolute literalness, they would not eat rabbit or ham (Lev.11:6-7), crabs, oysters, clams, shrimp, lobster (Lev.11:10-12), or any rare meats (Lev.17:10-14; Lev.19:26). They would neither cut their hair (Lev.19:27) nor wear fabrics of blended materials (Lev.19:19). Men would not clip their beards (Lev.19:27), and women would not don male attire (Deut.22:5).

Likewise every financier would observe the veto of lending money at interest (Lev.25:37). Farmers would crusade against the crossbreeding of cattle and would never plant two kinds of crop in a single field (Lev.19:19).

Finally, we would permit the slavery of different races (Lev.25:44-45) and the merciless slaughter of innocent citizens (Num.31:17; Deut.20:16-17). We would endorse the death penalty not only for adulterous persons (Lev.20:10) but also for Sabbath workers (Num.15:32-36) and even for stubborn or rebellious children (Deut.21:18-21).

What can we conclude about the Levitical laws?

Obviously, individuals must never rashly lift prohibitions from the Hebrew Scriptures out of their specific cultural context and historical circumstances. Many of the laws are particular expressions of primitive concerns rather than absolute principles of biblical morality.

Fundamentalists, who insist on following ancient Judaic regulations, unfortunately often become selective and inconsistent in their choice of scriptural references. They completely ignore some verses, which seem archaic and embarrassing, and relentlessly quote other passages, particularly about homosexuality, which reinforce the ignorance and prejudice of society.

The Catholic Church, unlike some leaders and members of the conservative right, no longer approves the Hebrew death sentence for same-sex offenses. Vatican Congregations avoided any citation from the Book of Leviticus in the Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics (1975) and Educational Guidance in Human Love (1983) as well as in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994/1997). As a concerned Christian community, we do not consider homosexuality a damnable abomination but rather a God-given context for living the Law of love.

“There is an unusual tendency to interpret strictly those few texts where homosexual acts are condemned, whereas Scripture itself is used more flexibly in other areas” (Dutch Bishops, Homosexual People in Society, p.15, 1979).


From Homosexuality: A Positive Catholic Approach, Third Revised Edition

© 2003 New Ways Ministry. All Rights Reserved.

The Pauline Epistles

[Download PDF Version]

“God therefore has abandoned them to shameful passions. Even their women exchanged natural intercourse for practices contrary to nature (para physin). And likewise the men gave up natural relations with women and burned with lust for each other…” (Rom.1:26-27).

“Do not deceive yourselves… Neither morally dissolute men (malakoi) nor male sexual practitioners (arsenokoitai)…will inherit the kingdom of God…” (1 Cor.6:9; cf. 1 Tim.1:10).

Where does St. Paul discuss homosexuality?

St. Paul, the only Christian biblical writer to mention the subject, alludes to homosexuality, not directly but parenthetically, within three letters to new Christian converts. These lived at the pagan Gentile communities of Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus, where St. Timothy was bishop. The cities were notorious for their multiple sexual activities. They were rampant with promiscuity and prostitution, as the inevitable concomitants of heathen idolatry.

Paul refers to their same-sex behavior with only two short verses (Rom. 1:26- 27) and two obscure words (1 Cor.6:9; 1 Tim.1:10). His Jewish background probably colors his Christian outlook, through the influence of the Hebrew laws of Leviticus.

Paul, in condemning homosexual conduct, above all reacted to the historical or cultural scene that he encountered. He denounced the sordid and dehumanizing dimensions of same-sex practices as he observed them in the Greco- Roman world.

How does St. Paul regard homosexual orientation?

St. Paul could have had no knowledge of constitutional homosexuality or heterosexuality as genuine affectional orientations already determined by early childhood. Hence, he would have perceived and criticized same-sex behavior as a perversion of sexual attraction to the opposite gender.

St. John Chrysostom emphasizes this idea with a commentary on the words “exchanged” and “gave up” in St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans: “Notice how in the passage Paul…observes that the women ‘exchanged natural intercourse’ (Rom. 1:26). No one can claim, Paul points out, that women came to this because they were precluded from lawful [hetero]sexual activity… Again Paul indicates the exact same thing about the men. He says that they likewise ‘gave up natural relations with women’ (Rom.1:27)…charging that they had legitimate [heterosexual] enjoyment and abandoned it…” (Patrology, Greek Series, 60:417).

Moreover, St. Paul does not refer to a genuine homosexual love but to a perverted heterosexual lust, so fierce that copulation with the opposite gender could no longer satisfy desires. Thus he views homosexual acts as sinful liaisons sought by dissolute heterosexual people solely for their pleasurable diversion.

St. John Chrysostom again points out this Pauline idea of consuming desires: “Notice how emphatically Paul phrases his comments. He says not that the persons had fallen in love and felt drawn to one another by romantic passion but that they ‘burned with lust for each other’ (Rom.1:27). You can see that such craving stems from a greed which will not remain within its usual [hetero- sexual] bounds…” (Patrology, Greek Series, 60:417-418).

Doesn’t St. Paul call homosexuality unnatural?

No, St. Paul does not state that homosexuality in and of itself is unnatural.

He does say that, at least for those naturally attracted to the opposite gender, same-sex practices are “contrary to nature” (Rom. 1:26). Whether he also would have felt that homosexual acts are unnatural, for those naturally attracted to the same sex, remains an unanswered question. People have frequently reacted with repugnance toward lesbian women and gay men because of this very brief biblical phrase.

However, only a few chapters later in the same epistle, Paul describes God grafting a wild olive branch, i.e. the Gentiles, onto a cultivated tree, i.e. the Jews, as contrary to nature (Rom.11:24). Because Paul utilizes the identical Greek phrase in each instance (para physin, literally “against nature”), the words do not necessarily denote moral degeneracy. Paul would certainly never portray God as doing anything morally repugnant.

Furthermore, in using the term “nature,” Paul does not always make a clear distinction between essential character and accepted custom. He writes, for example, that “it is disgraceful by nature for a man to have long hair” like a woman (1 Cor.11:14). Paul here signifies behavior that is unusual or unexpected from a traditionally heterosexual point of view, and he possibly has the same idea in mind when referring to homosexuality.

But aren’t homosexual persons excluded from God’s kingdom?

Two Greek words, transliterated as malakoi and arsenokoitai, appear on the list of people excluded by St. Paul from God’s kingdom (1 Cor.6:9). The second of these terms also occurs in a later catalogue of the godless for whom laws are formulated (1 Tim. 1:10).

Scriptural scholars disagree over the exact meaning of both words and provide a great variety of possible translations. Obviously, despite its use in some Bibles, the simple word “homosexuals” is an inadequate rendition of either noun. Gay/lesbian persons, who remain committed to Christ, are neither unworthy of heaven nor irreligious lawbreakers because of their given affectional orientation.

The first word (malakoi, literally “soft”) probably refers to loose individuals, who are morally weak and sexually unrestrained. The second word (arsen + koitai, literally “males” + “beds”) seems to mean either debauched pederasts or male prostitutes. The latter apparently offered their sexual services to women as well as to men.

The malakoi and the arsenokoitai are not even necessarily homosexual in their basic make-up. Paul condemns them for their sexual indulgence of self and others. Nevertheless, unlike some modern preachers, he does not single them out for special censure as more shameful than other sinners named in the same catalogues.

Significantly, Paul himself did not use several readily available Greek phrases, which described people given to general homosexual practices, apart from such abuses as pederasty and prostitution. Conversely, other Greek writers never employed the two Pauline terms as a designation for homosexual persons, either before or after the Apostolic period. In fact, no Christian commentator interpreted or cited the words in reference to homosexuality until the early Middle Ages.

Still doesn’t St. Paul condemn homosexual acts?

Paul also condemns certain other practices that are widely accepted and even sanctioned today. He forbids women to speak in church (1 Cor. 14:34-35) or to act as teachers (1 Tim.2:11-12). He orders women to cover their heads at services (1 Cor.11:5-13) and considers men with long hair disgraceful (1 Cor.11:14). Paul urges the submission of slaves to their masters, instead of exhorting Christians to free all their slaves (1 Cor.7:21-24; Eph.6:5-7; Col.3:22-24; 1 Tim.6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10; Philemon 10-18). He justifies the subordination of women to men, as a time-bound reflection of a sexist culture and patriarchal society (1 Cor.11:3-9; Eph.5:22-24; Col.3:18; Titus 2:5).

Such teachings have been seriously reexamined in an effort to fulfill the liberating Gospel of Jesus, Paul’s references about homosexuality are being submitted to similar scrutiny, especially in light of his primary emphasis against sexual abuse and in view of our current knowledge of psychosexual development.

“Our knowledge of psychology and the make-up of the human person is vastly different today from Saint Paul’s… He was indeed harsh with heterosexuals engaging in homosexual activity… He spoke out strongly against homosexual activity where associated, with orgiastic pagan ritual sacrifices… Current biblical scholarship has been of tremendous help in bringing these and similar texts into a total cultural context…”

(Archbishop Rembert Weakland, Who Is Our Neighbor?, 1980).


From Homosexuality: A Positive Catholic Approach, Third Revised Edition

© 2003 New Ways Ministry. All Rights Reserved.

Same-Gender Relationships

[Download PDF Version]

The Holy Bible, despite heterosexist assumptions and homophobic prejudice, approves and even praises multiple variants in human relationships. Indeed the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures exhibit a positive view of same-sex love, without genital expression, at noteworthy moments in biblical history.

What are the examples of same-gender relationships in Scripture?

Ruth, a direct ancestress of Christ, was different from her sister-in-law Orpah when faced with identical circumstances. Ruth made an extraordinary pledge not only to share her life with Naomi but even after death to lie inseparably by her side. “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord’s just punishment come upon me, if I let anything, even death, separate me from you!” (Ruth 1:16-17; cf.4:15,16-17).

Jonathan, immediately after the defeat of Goliath, “became deeply attracted to David and loved the youth as dearly as his own life” (1 Sam.18:1). David in turn asserted that Jonathan’s love was for him “more wonderful than the love of a woman” (2 Sam.1:26). The two men openly made a lifelong pact together, even met later in secret despite parental objections, embraced and kissed and wept shamelessly upon separation (1 Sam.18:3 to 20:42). Ever afterwards David remembered their truly unique bond because of its intense physical passion and great emotional tenderness (2 Sam.9: 1-13; 21:7).

Jesus himself cherished a very special love both for his friend Lazarus (Jn.11:3,5,36) and for the apostle John (Jn, 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20). Jesus also affirmed the close same-gender relationships of others, such as the pagan Roman centurion, who was more than ordinarily concerned for his sick male servant (Mt.8:5-13; Lk.7:1-10). Finally, St. Paul manifested a strong intimate attachment to such men as Timothy (2 Tim.1:4; 4:9,21), Titus (Tit.1:4; 3:12), and Onesimus (Phm.8-21).

Are there examples of same-gender relationships in Church history?

A brief survey of subsequent Christian history reveals further examples of devoted same-sex relationships: St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, St. Sergius and St. Bacchus, St. Brigid of Ireland and St. Darlugdach, St. Anselm of Canterbury and Gilbert Crispin, St. Bernard of Clairvaux and William Thierry, St. Hildegard of Bingen and Richardis von Stade.

St. Gertrude of Nivelles, according to her biographer, “was bound familiarly to St. Modesta in divine friendship… They were always lovingly together in their hearts and minds…” (Acta Sanctorum, March, II:590). St. Gregory Nazianzen preached about his association with St. Basil the Great: “We became everything to each other… We shared the same desires, the same goal…Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper… We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit…” (Patrology, Greek Series, 36:519,522).

Other Church figures asserted the positive value of gay/lesbian sensibilities and gave homosexual love a profound Christian expression. St. Paulinus of Nola described his passionate affection for Ausonius in poetry of exquisite tenderness: “In whatever world I am found, I shall hold you fast, Grafted onto my being, Not divided by distant shores or suns…”(Corpus Scriptorum [CSEL], 30:41-42).

St. Aelred of Rievaulx, who undoubtedly was homosexual, idealized same-sex attachments: “It is a great consolation in this life to have someone to whom you can be united in the intimate embrace of the most sacred love…with whom you can rest, just the two of you, in the sleep of peace, away from the noise of the world, in the kiss of unity, with the sweetness of the Holy Spirit flowing over you…” (De Speculo Caritatis 3:109-110).

In the light of such scriptural and historical examples, we begin to grasp the full dynamics of “natural attraction and desire” in the lives of predominantly homosexual persons, as noted in 1979 by both the Dutch and English/Welsh hierarchies. We come to appreciate their “deeper need…for stable friendships…and abiding relationships…rather than genital expression,” as the U.S. bishops stated in 1973 in Principles to Guide Confessors in Questions of Homosexuality. Thus, we learn to perceive lesbian women and gay men as really quite ordinary people like ourselves.

“Love between two persons, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected… When two persons love, they experience in a limited manner in this world what will be their unending delight when one with God in the next… To love another, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to have entered the area of the richest human experience…”

(Cardinal Basil Hume, Note on the Teaching of the Catholic Church, 1995).


From Homosexuality: A Positive Catholic Approach, Third Revised Edition

© 2003 New Ways Ministry. All Rights Reserved.