I preached on 1 Samuel 18 this past Sunday, and I received this question:
In today’s society, in corporate life, government, advertising and even some churches there is a push to accept homosexuality as a person being true to themselves and how they were made, which is not what the Bible teaches. Unfortunately, I’ve had individuals point me to 1 Samuel 18:1-3 and the relationship between David & Jonathan as an example of such a relationship. Would you please explain what the scriptures mean when it says that they were “knit together” and it speaks of Jonathan’s love for David and why this is definitely not an example of the Bible condoning a gay relationship.
This is a great question.
The Jonathan and David relationship has been used as a pro-homosexual argument for a long time. While the word used for “love” (Hebrew: אהב ahav) can be used to mean romantic love (as in Gen 24:67), it is also used of other relationships: parent and child (Gen 25:28 where it has a connotation of preference), a slave for a master (Ex 21:5), love for God (Ex 20:6), the love God’s people are called to have for each other (Lev 19:18), the love God has for His people (Deut 10:15), and human love of sin (Isa 1:23). It is also translated as “friend,” “like,” and “dear.” It is a very versatile word, just like our English word “love.” I love my wife. I love the Giants. I love soup. Please don’t take me to mean love the same way in each of these statements. The context needs to dictate what the word is communicating, and it is no different in the Bible. And the “knit to” of 1 Samuel 18:1 is very helpful in this regard to understand what it means for David and Jonathan.
The word for “knit” (Hebrew: קשׁר qashar), I believe, refers here to the covenant David and Jonathan make, which is previewed in 1 Samuel 18 and then detailed in 1 Samuel 20. In the Bible, qashar is used to speak of plotting together or joining together in league against someone. This is the only place the ESV translates the word “knit.” Here are some examples of how the word is used elsewhere:
And his servants qashar against him and put him to death in his house. (2 Chronicles 33:24)
His servants qashar a conspiracy and struck down Joash in the house of Milo… (2 Kings 12:20)
For our purpose here, It is most telling that it is the same word Saul uses to describe those who have joined David and Jonathan in a conspiracy against him:
…all of you qashar against me? No one discloses to me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse… (1 Samuel 22:8)
…why have you qashar against me, you and the son of Jesse… (1 Samuel 22:13)
The word is translated variously as “conspire,” “bind,” “tie,” “join,” “plot,” and “make a conspiracy.” This is a spot where translation contains interpretation. Using the words “knit to” (ESV) can be understood to imply that it speaks of the love they have for each other, and can make it seem as if a romantic love might be in view. I like the NASB here where it is translated “committed himself to.”
The issue is what the Bible does not say. It nowhere says there is any kind of romantic relationship between them. And of course, it does not say that there is not. But the burden of proof would be on proving some kind of homosexual relationship. They are nowhere said to have sex together, and the Bible doesn’t shy away from talking about sexual sin (see Gen 19:30-38) or about David’s sin (see 2 Sam 11). Of course, arguments from silence can never prove anything, especially a universal negative. “David and Jonathan were not homosexuals because the Bible doesn’t explicitly say so” in no way proves the point. But saying they were because they ahav each other very much and are qashar together is offering no proof at all in favor of a homosexual relationship.
I can speak from experience. I have a couple of very good male friends, and every time I talk to them or see them, we tell each other “I love you” when we depart from each other. One of them is not a Christian, so it isn’t only Christian love in view. I don’t see why the descriptions of Jonathan and David would need to point to homosexuality any more than these relationships I have do. In addition, that Jonathan “loved David as himself” no more implies a romantic relationship than the Leviticus 19:18 or Matthew 22:39 commands to love our neighbor as ourselves imply romantic love.
In addition, in 1 Samuel 20:41 where we are told David and Jonathan kissed each other (another verse often used as supposed proof of a homosexual relationship), the same word for “kiss” (Hebrew: נשׁק nashaq) is used in Gen 29:13, Ex 18:7, Ruth 1:9 and other places where men kiss men and women kiss women in a completely non-romantic way.
But here is the real point. Even if we assume that the Bible is describing Jonathan and David as romantically involved, that is not the same thing as the Bible condoning it. David committed adultery and then tried to cover it up by killing his lover’s husband. The Bible clearly does not condone adultery or murder. There is no good reason to believe the Bible is presenting David and Jonathan as homosexuals, but even if it does, that in no way changes the fact that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin just like adultery, fornication, or lust. Even if someone interprets their relationship as romantic, that does not further their argument that Christianity should accept homosexuality.