David and Jonathan: Were They Just Friends?

by Troy Lacey on June 21, 2024

The opening sentence of a blog by SMU (what started as a Christian university) conveys the LGTBQ+ perspective on one of the great friendships recorded in the Bible:

The story of David and Jonathan is one of those great mysteries of homoerotism in the bible. Since this infinity between the two happens prior to the philosophical era, it is difficult to describe or contend if the relationship between these two men was carnal or amicable. This essay identifies challenges in the text, the role King Saul played, and how the relationship amid David and Jonathan is queer. This is further supported by exegesis of the text and accounts from other scholars.1

So what “exegesis of the text” supports their view? (Hint: they have confused eisegesis, reading into the text, with exegesis, letting the text actually say what it intends).

How Not to Read Scripture

First, they dwell on and imagine David’s statement about the uncircumcised Goliath (1 Samuel 17:36) to be a phallic reference. But what was the main physical distinction between Jewish males and Gentile males—circumcision! And if a foreigner dwelt in Israel and wanted to keep the Passover, he also had to be circumcised (Exodus 12:48). This was a covenant and religious reference, not a sexual one. Goliath was an enemy of the state and, even more serious, disdained God’s ability to enable any Israelite to kill him (1 Samuel 17:45–47).

Goliath was an enemy of the state and even more serious, disdained God’s ability to enable any Israelite to kill him (1 Samuel 17:45–47).

Second, they read into the covenant between Jonathan and David (1 Samuel 18:3, 20:14–17) that it was like a marriage covenant, but Scripture states that Jonathan promised to protect David from his father and wanted protection for himself and his family from David when he was made the next king of Israel. Jonathan and David agreed that if David was made king and Jonathan was still alive, he would be second-in-command (1 Samuel 23:16–18).

Last, they read into Saul’s angry outburst at Jonathan when he realized that Jonathan had protected David (1 Samuel 20:30) by claiming that Jonathan had chosen the son of Jesse to his “own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness.” The blog states that in “further dialogue between Saul and Jonathan an assumption can be made that David and Jonathan engaged in some sort of carnal activity based upon the commentary Saul utters toward his son in 20:30.” But more likely, this most extreme insult was meant to (falsely) insinuate that Jonathan was illegitimate and thus not fit to inherit the kingdom.

Covenant of Friendship or Sexuality?

In 1 Samuel 18:4, we read that Jonathan gave David his clothes, armor, and even his sword and bow. But rather than being read as “sensual disrobing,” we must realize that nowhere does the text say that Jonathan stripped himself entirely. “The significance of this gift was that Jonathan recognized that David would one day be king of Israel. Rather than being envious or jealous, Jonathan submitted to God’s will and sacrificed his own right to the throne. Second, in 1 Samuel 19:1–3, we read of Jonathan’s loyalty toward and defense of David. King Saul told his followers to kill David. Jonathan rebuked his father and recalled David’s faithfulness to him in killing Goliath [which temporarily forestalled Saul’s jealousy and anger].”2 And as stated earlier, this covenant was for mutual protection from David’s enemies (Saul) and Jonathan’s future enemies (once David became king).

First Samuel 18:1 says that Jonathan loved David. The Hebrew word translated as “loved” in verse 1 is אהב (‘ahav). It is the general Hebrew word for love. It occurs over 200 times in the Old Testament. It is used to refer to the love between Abraham and his son Isaac (Genesis 22:2), between Rebekah and her son Jacob (Genesis 25:28), and even God’s love for humans (Deuteronomy 10:15).

This same word is also used to refer to Isaac’s love for a dish of wild game (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 [‘ahav] is used to refer to the love of all Israel and Judah for David. 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.3

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 [or that they “knew each other”], 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).4

So one should ask the question, why did the author of 2 Samuel 11 highlight David’s adulterous sin with Bathsheba (and David’s murder of Uriah) yet ignore this (alleged) sexual sin with Jonathan? Especially when elsewhere in Scripture (notably Genesis 19 and Judges 19), the sexual sin of sodomy is made clear? “Since the Bible overwhelmingly refers to homosexuality [and all other sexual sin] as a sin and wants us to not engage in this sin (Genesis 19:1–26; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; [1 Kings 14:24;] Romans 1:22–28; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10 [Jude 1:7]), why would God select David to become the king of Israel [and even call him a man after his own heart (1 Samuel 13:13–15)]? The point is that . . . David and Jonathan’s relationship was simply one of close friends. It was not sexual.”5

God Commands Us to Love One Another

It seems that whenever love is discussed in Scripture, liberal critics (or liberal “Christians”) have to equate love with sexual desire or sexual acts. But in the vast majority of cases, except when expressly discussing a married couple, love is what is called in the New Testament either brotherly (phileo) or sacrificial love (agape), although both words can be used interchangeably. That being the case, perhaps these two Greek terms for love could best be described as “brotherly sacrificial love.” This is true for most of the examples in both the OT and NT. Brotherly love includes friendship, especially among fellow believers (Proverbs 18:24, 27:9; Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1; 1 Peter 1:22, 3:8; 2 Peter 1:7). But it can extend to nonbelievers (Leviticus 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:14; Luke 10:25–37).

Likewise, believers are also called to exhibit sacrificial love (Matthew 5:43–48, 22:36–40; Luke 6:27–35, 14:12–14; Romans 13:10, 15:2; 1 Corinthians 10:24). Although we are called to be like Jesus, we cannot do this on our own initiative—it is the Holy Spirit who enables us (Titus 3:4–6).

Therefore, the Bible gives us an example of how love should look among Christians in 1 Corinthians 13. Although this passage is often read at weddings, it is more about self-sacrificing, brotherly love than romantic love (although both kinds within the bonds of holy matrimony are applicable).

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4–7)
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.

And does not that kind of love also resemble the kind that David and Jonathan had? A self-sacrificing, patient, and “look out for the best interests of your friend” kind of love? May we love one another like that, as the Spirit leads us!


  1. Queer Bible Hermeneutics, “1 Samuel 18–23: The Queerness of David and Jonathan” May 9, 2016, https://blog.smu.edu/ot8317/2016/05/09/1-samuel-18-23-the-queerness-of-david-and-jonathan/.
  2. Got Questions, “What Was the Relationship Between David and Jonathan?” accessed June 6, 2024, https://www.gotquestions.org/David-and-Jonathan.html.
  3. NeverThirsty, “David and Jonathan — Same Sex Relationship in the Bible?” accessed June 6, 2024, https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-qa/qa-archives/question/david-and-jonathan-same-sex/.
  4. Lee Grzywinski, “Were David and Jonathan in a Homosexual Relationship?” Montclair Community Church, February 21, 2023, https://montclair.church/2023/02/21/were-david-and-jonathan-in-a-homosexual-relationship/.
  5. NeverThirsty, “David and Jonathan — Same Sex Relationship?”


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