Did King David and Jonathan have a same sex relationship?
Some claim that King David and Jonathan were gay. In other words they believe the David and Jonathan friendship was homosexual. They refer to 1 Samuel 18:1-3 which says twice that Jonathan loved David. They believe that the David and Jonathan kiss in 1 Samuel 20:40-41 indicates that they were homosexual lovers. But was Jonathan gay? Was King David gay? When 2 Samuel 1:25-27 says, “Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women,” it is claimed that this proves Jonathan and David were gay. Therefore, the question that this article addresses is, “Did King David and Jonathan have same sex relations?”
David and Jonathan Friendship — 1 Samuel 18:1-4
The first reference to the friendship of David and Jonathan is found in 1 Samuel 18:1-4.
Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. Saul took him that day and did not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. 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 Samuel 18:1-4 (NASB)
Jonathan Was Knit to the Soul of David
Here we are told that the souls of Jonathan and David were knit together and that Jonathan loved David in verses 1 and 3. The Hebrew word for “knit” is qasar, which refers to “bind, knot, conspire, and league together.” This word occurs 44 times in the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures and is usually translated as “bind, conspirators, or conspired.” Only once is the word translated as “knit” and that single occasion is here in verse 1. This is an important fact which reveals that “knit” is not the best translation. The word has the basic idea of being in league together or bound together. This word needs to be understood in the context of the passage, specifically in the context of verse 3. Verse 3 tells us that David and Jonathan made a covenant of mutual support. Qasar normally implies a cooperative effort or a commitment to work together.
Jonathan Loved David
Verse 1 says that Jonathan loved David. The Hebrew word translated as “loved” in verse 1 is aheb. It is the general Hebrew word for love. It occurs 210 times in the Old Testament. It is used to refer to the love between Abraham and his son Isaac (Genesis 22:2), between Rebbekah and her son (Genesis 25:28), between a husband and a wife (Genesis 24:67), and God’s love for humans (Deuteronomy 10:15). The word is also used to refer to love for a dish of food (Genesis 27:4) and our love for God (Exodus 20:6). In the context of 1 Samuel 18:1, 3 this word is best understood as friendship love. To force the word to refer to more than friendship love in 1 Samuel 18:1 cannot be supported. This is further reinforced by the fact that in verse 16 aheb is used to refer to the love of all Israel and Judah for David. In verse 20, aheb is used to refer to Saul’s daughter, Michal’s, love for David. They were not married (v. 21-22). In verse 22, aheb refers to the love of Saul’s servants for David. Obviously, aheb has a broad meaning and cannot be arbitrarily limited to sexual love and or a desire for sexual relations.
In verse 3, the Hebrew word translated as “loved” in verse 1 is ahaba. It is a variation of aheb that has a stronger emphasis. It occurs only thirty-seven times in the Old Testament. But the word has the same meaning as aheb. J. Carl Laney summarizes the meaning of verse 3 with these words,
The covenant of friendship referred to in verse 3 was a unilateral (binding on one party only) covenant in which Jonathan committed himself to David with complete disregard for self. The gifts given by Jonathan served to ratify the covenant and honor David. As David proved himself faithful as court musician and armor bearer, he was soon elevated to a prominent position of leadership in the military (18:5).
Homosexual Love in the Bible
Throughout Scripture heterosexual and homosexual physical acts are referred to as “to know.” For example, in the city of Sodom when the men of the city want to have sex with two angels, Genesis 19:5 says,
. . . and they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them.” Genesis 19:5 (NASB)
It occurs in Genesis 19:8. The term “have relations” refers to sexual activity. Judges 19:22 is another example,
While they were celebrating, behold, the men of the city, certain worthless fellows, surrounded the house, pounding the door; and they spoke to the owner of the house, the old man, saying, “Bring out the man who came into your house that we may have relations with him.” Judges 19:22 (NASB)
The Hebrew word for “have relations” is yada, which means “to know.” Yada is the normal word for sexual relations in the Hebrew Scriptures. Another Old Testament expression for sexual intercourse is “went in to her.” It is descriptive and occurs eight times in the Old Testament (Genesis 29:23; 30:4; 38:2, 18; Judges 16:1; Ruth 4:13; 2 Samuel 12:24; Ezekiel 23:44). But the most common expression is “have relations,” which comes from yada. But neither term occurs in 1 Samuel or 2 Samuel. Neither term is ever used for David and Jonathan’s relationship. Finally, aheb is never used “to express homosexual desire or activity.”
Jonathan Stripped Himself
In 1 Samuel 18:4, the NASB states that Jonathan stripped himself of his robe and gave it and his armor, sword, bow and belt to David. That is, Jonathan did not strip himself naked. Both the verse and the Hebrew word “stripped” also supports this conclusion. The Hebrew word for “stripped” is pasat. This Hebrew verb is in the Hithpael tense and must be understood as removing clothes and not as stripping oneself naked.
Now why did Jonathan do this? R. Bergen author of “1, 2 Samuel” in the New American Commentary series makes this comment about Jonathan’s gift to David,
This was understandable because David and Jonathan had much in common; they were both courageous and capable young warriors who possessed profound faith in the Lord. Both had initiated faith-motivated attacks against militarily superior Philistines that had resulted in great victories for Israel. Jonathan, like his father Saul (16:21), “loved” (Hb. ‘ahab; v. 3) David. That love inspired him to make a covenant with David, one that was expressed with extravagant gifts to the new celebrity. In a single day David had acquired the finest sword in the Philistine army as well as one of the finest swords in Israel’s armory; he had been permitted to wear the king’s clothing in the time of conflict and was given princely clothing in times of peace. The fact that Jonathan gave David the garb and armaments originally reserved for the heir to Saul’s throne clearly possesses symbolic meaning and thematic significance.
In summary, Jonathan loved David as a friend and gave David the garments intended for the heir to King Saul. While 1 Samuel 18 does not tell us, it is clear that God orchestrated this since David would eventually be the king of Israel. These two men were becoming fast friends.
Jonathan Loved David — 1 Samuel 20:17
The next significant passage is 1 Samuel 20:16-17.
So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the LORD require it at the hands of David’s enemies.” Jonathan made David vow again because of his love for him, because he loved him as he loved his own life. 1 Samuel 20:16-17 (NASB)
Verse 16 refers to a covenantal relationship that Jonathan made with David. The covenant is described in verses 12-15. The covenant was with the house of David. Jonathan voluntarily gives the throne to David (v. 16-17). Jonathan would be subservient to David in his future reign. Also, David would protect Jonathan’s family (1 Samuel 20:16-17; 23:16-18).
The Hebrew words for “love” in verse 17 is ahaba. It is a variation on the basic Hebrew word for love, aheb. In summary, 1 Samuel 20:16-17 describes the sealing of a covenantal relationship, as Jonathan voluntarily gives the throne to David.
Jonathan Loved David — 1 Samuel 20:40-41
The next question to be addressed is, “How should we understand 2 Samuel 20:41 where we are told about a David and Jonathan kiss?”
Then Jonathan gave his weapons to his lad and said to him, “Go, bring them to the city.” When the lad was gone, David rose from the south side and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed three times. And they kissed each other and wept together, but David wept the more. 1 Samuel 20:40-41 (NASB)
What happened in this passage is explained in 1 Samuel 20:18-23. Jonathan had agreed to give David a sign that would indicate if David was safe or in danger by how Jonathan shot his arrows. These verses reveal that David was no longer safe as Saul was planning to put him to death. Consequently, the two men exchanged kisses of parting sorrow.
Today it is common for men to exchange a kiss on the cheek as a greeting, as a farewell, an expression of joy or sorrow, and to seal an agreement. Kisses between men and between women were also common in ancient times (Genesis 45:14-15; Ruth 1:9; 1 Samuel 10:1; Acts 20:37). There is no sign or hint of a homosexual relationship in these verses. Those who want to see same sex behavior in this passage have chosen to embed that viewpoint in these verses. Non-sexual kisses have always been common in eastern cultures and other parts of the world from ancient times to the present.
Were David and Jonathan Homosexual Lovers? — 2 Samuel 1:25-27
The last major passage about David and Jonathan is 2 Samuel 1:25-27. Verses 25-27 are the final verses of a lament over Saul and Jonathan (v. 17).
How have the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan is slain on your high places.
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
You have been very pleasant to me.
Your love to me was more wonderful
Than the love of women.
How have the mighty fallen,
And the weapons of war perished!”
2 Samuel 1:25-27 (NASB)
The important part of this passage is David’s statement “Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women.” Homosexual advocates claim that “love of women” reveals that David and Jonathan were making love like men do with women. Therefore, when David said Jonathan’s love was “more wonderful then” David was referring to sexual activity. The major problem with this view is that the Hebrew word that is used for both words translated “love” in verse 26 is ahaba, which is derived from aheb. That is, this “love” is the common Hebrew word for love, with some intensity.
But the major problem with this view is that the Hebrew word for sexual love is dod and not aheb or ahaba. The Hebrew word dod is the primary word for sexual foreplay and intercourse in Hebrew. Of the 61 times the word appears in the Old Testament, 32 times it appears in Song of Solomon. It is the only word used for love in the fourth chapter of the book which describes foreplay and sexual intercourse between Solomon and his wife. Dod appears in Song of Solomon 4:10 and 16. In verse 10, the Hebrew word dod appears in the plural. That is, Solomon’s wife is engaged in different activities that is commonly called foreplay today. She is doing different things to simulate him.
How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
How much better is your love than wine,
And the fragrance of your oils
Than all kinds of spices!
Song of Solomon 4:10 (NASB)
In appears once in Song of Solomon 4:16 in the singular. That is why the NASB translates dod as “Beloved.”
Awake, O north wind,
And come, wind of the south;
Make my garden breathe out fragrance,
Let its spices be wafted abroad.
May my beloved come into his garden
And eat its choice fruits!”
Song of Solomon 4:16 (NASB)
A more accurate translation would be “Lover.” He is a sexual lover involved in foreplay in verse 10 and sexual intercourse in verse 16. It should be noted that she refers to him as “Beloved” or “Lover.”
This lengthy explanation of dod reveals that David’s statement, “Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women,” is not a reference to sexual activity between David and Jonathan.
2 Samuel 1:25-27 is better understood as a very strong friendship commitment between two men. The word aheb is used in Psalm 109:4-5 for friendship. Proverbs 17:17 tells us that there are friends whose love is better than that of a brother.
A friend loves at all times,
And a brother is born for adversity.
Proverbs 17:17 (NASB)
This helps us understand that the David and Jonathan friendship was a covenantal love. Jonathan was better than a brother. Therefore, the question must be asked, “Since when must love between two people always refer to genital contact?”
Dale Ralph Davis in his commentary on 2 Samuel writes,
It is utterly wrong-headed to read the idea of homosexuality into this text. The comparison between Jonathan’s love and a wife’s love is not at the point of sexuality but at the point of fidelity. Matthew Henry saw this long ago:
He had reason to say that Jonathan’s love to him was wonderful; surely never was the like, for a man to love one who he knew was to take away the crown over his head, and to be so faithful to his rival: this far surpassed the highest degree of conjugal affection and constancy.
Jonathan was totally devoted to David becoming king of lsrael. 
Finally, just because Scripture states that two men loved each other, does not mean that they engaged in sexual activity with each other—homosexual activity. Love does not always mean sex. In fact, the saints in heaven will not engage in sexual activity between one another. The higher form of love in heaven will not include sex. There is a higher form of love that is not sexual. We must remember that love between a husband and wife is multifaceted. It involves love that flows from God to our hearts, a friendship love, and a physical love, that was designed by God.
Further, since the Bible overwhelmingly refers to homosexuality as a sin and wants us to not engage in this sin (Genesis 19:1-26; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:22-28; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10), why would God select David to become the king of Israel? The point is that God would not do that. David and Jonathan’s relationship was simply one of close friends. It was not sexual.
1. J. Carl Laney. First & Second Samuel. Moody Press. 1982. p. 61.
2. Ronald F. Youngblood. 1, 2 Samuel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Zondervan Publishing. 1992. vol. 2. p. 706.
3. Robert D. Bergen. “1, 2 Samuel.” The New American Commentary. B&H Publishing. 1996. vol. 7. pp. 199-200.
4. Dale Ralph Davis. 2 Samuel. Focus on the Bible. Christian Focus Publications. 1999. p. 26.
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