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What Does the Bible Say About Homosexuality?

Frequently Asked Questions

These are among the questions we are asked most often, and this article is the most frequently read Bible FAQ on our Website.

The Bible

There are seven mentions of homosexual acts in the Bible1

Old Testament

The first mention in the Bible is in Genesis 19:1-13. The wicked men of Sodom attempted a homosexual rape of two messengers from God who had come to visit Lot. As a result of this and other widespread wickedness, God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in a storm of fire and brimstone.

The next two mentions are in Leviticus

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. (NKJ, Leviticus 18:22)

If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. (NKJ, Leviticus 20:13)

Life was harsh in early Old Testament times. The wanderings and struggle for survival of the Israelites did not permit prisons or rehabilitation. Anyone who deviated seriously from the norm was either stoned to death or exiled. The Old Testament prescribed the death penalty for the crimes of murder, attacking or cursing a parent, kidnapping, failure to confine a dangerous animal resulting in death, witchcraft and sorcery, sex with an animal, doing work on the Sabbath, incest, adultery, homosexual acts, prostitution by a priest's daughter, blasphemy, false prophecy, perjury in capital cases and false claim of a woman's virginity at the time of marriage.

Related article: What Does the Bible Say About Capital Punishment and the Death Penalty?

It must be emphasized that, according to the New Testament, we are no longer under the harsh Old Testament Law (John 1:16-17, Romans 8:1-3, 1 Corinthians 9:20-21). The concern with punishment is now secondary to Jesus' message of repentance and redemption. Both reward and punishment are seen as properly taking place in eternity, rather than in this life.

In the Old Testament,, homosexual activity was strongly associated with the idolatrous practices of the pagan nations surrounding Israel. In fact, the word "abomination," used in both mentions of homosexual acts in Leviticus, is a translation of the Hebrew word tow' ebah which means something morally disgusting, but it also has a strong implication of idolatry2. Thus, many Bible scholars believe the condemnations in Leviticus are more a condemnation of the idolatry than of the homosexual acts themselves3,4. However, that interpretation is not certain.

Related article: What Does the Bible Say About the Old Testament Law?

New Testament

Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, but He did condemn all forms of sexual immorality:

What comes out of you is what defiles you. For from within, out of your hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile you. (TNIV, Mark 7:20-23)

The apostle Paul, in one of his letters to the Corinthians, wrote the verses most often quoted on this subject:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (NIV, 1st Corinthians 6:9-11)

This verse has been translated in as many different ways as there are different versions of the Bible, so we have to look at the original Greek to see what Paul was really saying. The word translated here as "male prostitute" is the Greek word malakos which literally means "soft to the touch." However, it was used metaphorically to refer to a catamite (a boy kept for sexual relations with a man) or to a male prostitute in general. The word translated here as "homosexual offender" is the Greek word arsenokoites which means a sodomite, a person who engages in any kind of unnatural sex, but especially homosexual intercourse5. Some believe this use of arsenokoites referred specifically to the men who kept catamites6, but that is not certain.

There are two other New Testament mentions of homosexual acts, in Romans 1:25-27 and 1 Timothy 1:8-10. In this passage from Romans, again in the context of idolatry, Paul mentions women who "exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones," which might apply to lesbian acts:

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator-- who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (NIV, Romans 1:25-27)

Issues and Questions

As with many Bible topics, there are uncertainties and different opinions about how the Biblical evidence should be interpreted. The challenge of accurate interpretation is to determine what message was originally intended and how it was understood by people of that time. That involves a lot of specialized knowledge of the original Biblical languages as well as the culture and issues of the time. The Bible often speaks of sexual matters in euphemistic and vague terms, and there is a lack of understanding of how the people of several thousand years ago used and understood those terms.

The traditional interpretation of Bible teachings is that homosexual acts of all kinds are serious sins. But in recent years, a number of questions and issues have been raised which challenge the traditional interpretation:

Our answers to these questions tend to be strongly influenced by our personal feelings about homosexuality. But, if we are sincere about using the Bible for guidance, we must not assume that the Bible passages on homosexuality support our own conservative or liberal viewpoints. Instead, we must put aside our own ideas, feelings and fears and prayerfully seek the truth.

Sexual Orientation is not a Sin

There is a tendency to confuse homosexual tendencies and feelings with acts of homosexual intercourse because the English word "homosexuality" is often used to describe both.

However, regardless of how we interpret the Bible's teachings about homosexual acts, it is important to note that the Bible does not condemn people for having homosexual tendencies. It is certain actions that are prohibited by Bible teachings, not tendencies or feelings.

A boy or girl who discovers homosexual feelings should realize that, like other interests and feelings, it may be only a passing phase that will fade away in time. Meanwhile, he or she should avoid becoming obsessed with the feelings or indulging in any kind of sexual activity.

A homosexual Christian man or woman is presented with great challenges, and great strength is often achieved by learning to deal with great challenges. Perhaps God has some special mission in mind for that person that is best accomplished outside the restrictions imposed by traditional marriage and family duties.

Miscellaneous Topics

Are Homosexual Relationships Mentioned in the Bible?

It is sometimes said that the friendship between David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:3-4, 2 Samuel 1:26) was an example of a homosexual relationship. The relationships between Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1:14) and between Jesus and John ("the disciple Jesus loved" in John 13:23; 19:26; 21:7; 21:20) are also mentioned.

In modern Western culture we associate touching, kissing and the word "love" with a sexual relationship. But that was not at all the case in Biblical era culture. Most Bible scholars say these relationships were no more than close friendships. That is especially clear in the case of Jesus and John - the word translated as "loved" was the Greek word agape, which means kindness and respect rather than romantic or sexual love.

Should a Christian oppose Gay Marriage and Partnerships?

There is no mention of same-sex marriages or partnerships in the Bible, either for or against. 

Some Christians are strongly opposed to legalizing what they view as sinful behavior and a perversion of God's plan for marriage and distinct gender roles (Genesis 2:24, 3:16-19, Leviticus 20:13, Mark 10:6-9). Other Christians view equal civil rights for gays and lesbians as a requirement of Bible teachings that we must act with kindness and respect for all people and avoid judging the moral choices others make (Matthew 22:37-40, Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 14:10-14, James 4:11-12 ).

Can Homosexual Men and Women be Ministers or other Clergy?

The only mentions of qualifications for clergy are in 1 Timothy 3:1-13, and homosexuality is not mentioned there. All of us, including clergy, are imperfect and sinners in our own ways (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8). The question seems to be whether homosexuality should disqualify a person from ministry while other sins (e.g., evil thoughts, greed, deceit, envy, arrogance and folly, Mark 7:20-23) do not disqualify a person. There are obviously different opinions.

Will Homosexuals go to Heaven?

The Bible does not make any distinction between homosexual people and anyone else in this regard. We are all sinners in our own ways (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8), and the Bible says God will forgive any sin if a person sincerely repents and also forgives other people.

Related articles: What Does the Bible Say About Salvation?, What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness of Sins?

Does God Hate Homosexuals?

That is a slogan used by some hate groups, but it does not come from the Bible and it is not consistent with Bible teachings (Genesis 1:31, Psalms 145:9, Matthew 5:43-45, John 3:16, Romans 5:8).

How Should I Treat a Gay or Lesbian person? Should I Shun a Gay or Lesbian Person?

Ironically, homosexuality also poses a challenge for heterosexual Christians. We may let feelings of contempt or fear lead us into the sin of self-righteousness. But Jesus and other New Testament leaders taught by word and example not to be self-righteous or shun or discriminate against those we consider to be "sinners" (Matthew 9:10-13, Luke 7:36-48, 18:9-14).

Further, Jesus told us to eliminate the sins in our own lives rather than passing judgment or looking down on others. For if we judge other people harshly, we will, in turn, be judged harshly:

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (NIV, Matthew 7:1-2)

Christians have a responsibility to correct matters of wrongdoing among themselves (Matthew 18:15-17), but this should always be done fairly and with compassion. We are never to take upon ourselves the task of judgment that belongs to God alone (Matthew 22:37-40, Hebrews 10:30, Romans 14:10-13, 1 Corinthians 4:5).

James makes it clear that we must treat others with mercy, not with judgment (criticism or condemnation) or partiality (prejudice or discrimination):

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (NRSV, James 2:8-13)

As Christians, we must remember that all of us are sinners in our own ways (Romans 3:21-24, 5:12, 1 John 1:8). Despite that, God loves all His children (Genesis 1:31, Psalms 145:9, Matthew 5:43-45, John 3:16, Romans 5:8). We cannot afford to let our feelings or fears about homosexuality blind us to Jesus' commandment to "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:36-39).

Of course, society has a legitimate right and duty to take legal action against those sexual offenders, homosexual or heterosexual, who use coercion or who prey on children or the disabled.

Church Doctrine

Here is a sampling of official church positions on homosexuality from the three largest denominations in the United States:

Roman Catholic:

Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
From Catechism of the Catholic Church, (c) 1994, United States Catholic Conference, Inc., http://www.nccbuscc.org/catechism/text/index.htm

Southern Baptist:

We affirm God's plan for marriage and sexual intimacy - one man, and one woman, for life. Homosexuality is not a "valid alternative lifestyle." The Bible condemns it as sin. It is not, however, unforgivable sin. The same redemption available to all sinners is available to homosexuals. They, too, may become new creations in Christ.
From Position Statements, Copyright (c) 1999 - 2001, Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, http://sbc.net/default.asp?url=position-statements.html

United Methodist:

Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching, we affirm that God's grace is available to all. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn their lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.

Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for homosexual persons. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting their rightful claims where they have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law. Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against gays and lesbians. We also commit ourselves to social witness against the coercion and marginalization of former homosexuals.
From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church--2000, ¶161G, 162H. Copyright 2000 by The United Methodist Publishing House, http://www.umc.org/abouttheumc/policy/

1 The male prostitutes of pagan temples are mentioned in Deuteronomy 23:17-18, 1 Kings 14:23-24, 15:12-13, 22:46, 2 Kings 23:6-8, but it is not certain whether or not they engaged in homosexual acts.
2 Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
3 Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row, & Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). Harper’s Bible Dictionary (1st ed.), (402). San Francisco: Harper & Row.
4 H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer & D. J. Wiseman, Ed., New Bible Dictionary (3rd ed.) (479). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
5 Strong, J. (2001). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
6 Donald Senior, ed. (1990). The Catholic Study Bible. New York, NY, Oxford University Press, footnote to 1 Corinthians 6:9.
7 Achtemeier, et al. (402) and H. Marshall, et al. (479)

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