Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


The Social Network, The King’s Speech, and the “Homosexuality” of King David

posted by Mark D. Roberts

Yes, there is a connection between these three topics. The connection is friendship. Please allow me to explain.

social-network-poster-5.jpg

The Social Network, which recently won the Golden Globe award for the Best Motion Picture (Drama), tells the story of the founding of Facebook, the social networking website that now has 500 million uses. Or, one might say, the movie focuses on the legal battles surrounding the founding of Facebook. Or, more significantly, the film tells the ironic story of friendship. Why ironic? Because, on one level, The Social Network is all about Facebook, which is all about friends: having them (lots of them), connecting with them, etc. Yet, on another level, The Social Network paints a dreary picture of failed friendship. Former friends now interact only across the table in legal depositions as they sue and countersue. Genuine friendship has been replaced by drunken and drug-induced ecstasies and sexual intimacy without emotional intimacy or mutual commitment. To the extent that The Social Network truthfully depicts the values of today’s culture, it sounds the death knell for real friendship.

Conversely, The King’s Speech artfully captures an extraordinary friendship between a king and a commoner. This movie, which won the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival People’s Choice award, tells the story of the relationship between Britain’s King George VI (who is also Prince Albert, Duke of York) and Lionel Logue, an uncredentialed speech therapist who tries to help the prince/king overcome his stammering. In the context of this most unlikely relationship, the two men develop a deep, lasting friendship, in spite of the cultural forces that would disallow such mutual affection and commitment.

What does this have to do with the homosexuality of King David? A few days ago, on January 9, 2011, BBC radio in England featured a program that was supposed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. In the context of this program, the playwright, Howard Brenton, who said this about King David: “David is in love with Saul’s son Jonathan. To the secular reader, the story of David’s and Jonathan’s love is obviously homosexual, the only gay relationship in the Bible.” As you might expect this comment lit a firestorm of controversy.

It is true that the Bible speaks of a powerful love between David and Jonathan, the prince of Israel. (Note the unexpected prince/commoner friendship, not unlike The King’s Speech. When he knew Jonathan, David was not the king or from a royal family.) Jonathan “loved [David] more than his own soul” (1 Sam 18:1) and “took great delight in David” (1 Sam 19:1). As they realized that their friendship was coming to an end, David bowed before Jonathan and “they kissed each other, and wept with each other” (1 Sam 20:41). After Jonathan died, David said, “My brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” (2 Sam 1:25).

You can see why Howard Brenton would say, “To the secular reader, the story of David’s and Jonathan’s love is obviously homosexual.” In a sense I would agree with him, though the biblical evidence for their homosexuality is sorely lacking. The Hebrew word for the “love” between David and Jonathan, for example, is the same word that describes love within a family or the love of God. It was not uncommon in the culture of the Old Testament for men to kiss each other in obviously non-sexual contexts (such as Joseph’s reunion with his brothers; Gen 45:15). Meanwhile, the language for sexual intimacy, the language of knowing, does not get used for David and Jonathan. You only find that kind of thing if you project it into the text. Yet, if one does not pay attention to the cultural context of the biblical story, if one projects our cultural experience into the story, then one might very well see homosexuality in the relationship between David and Jonathan, such as Brenton does.

What this points out, I believe, is not only that people tend to force their own values and wishes into their reading of Scripture. It also testifies to our impoverished understanding and experience of friendship, especially male friendship. In my radio interview on this subject with Hugh Hewitt, he rightly pointed out that men on the battlefield can develop deep, loving friendships. That surely helps to make sense of the relationship between David and Jonathan.

But there is also the sad fact that, in our culture, if someone says a man loves a man, we assume this is a sexual relationship because we have so little experience of non-sexual loving friendship between men. Our secular culture just cannot conceive of deep love between men that isn’t homosexual. In fact, if The Social Network shows us something about the culture in which we live, and I believe it does in a striking way, then we are drowning in friendlessness even as we are adding hundreds of friends on Facebook.

P.S. If you like this blog post, please click the “Like” button at the top of this column so you can tell your friends on Facebook. LOL :)

P.P.S. Thanks to Hugh Hewitt for interviewing me and giving me the opportunity to make the connection between The Social Network, The King’s Speech, and David’s “homosexuality.” 



  • J.L. Schafer

    Mark, thank you for this thoughtful post. What you said about friendships among men, I believe, is true for friendships of all kinds, including nonromantic relationships between men and women. I was raised to believe that the only possible close relationship between a man and a woman was a romantic one culminating in marriage, and that all other cross-gender friendships were verboten. That view is challenged in the new book by Dan Brennan, Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions. The book is controversial, but the insights are deep and challenging. Dan argues that the Church has been infected with the Freudian teaching that the desire for intimacy is merely a drive toward a physical, sexual union. The desire for friendship is much deeper than that. Understanding this can open the door to friendships of all types, and it can renew the marriage relationship as well. We don’t have all the answers, but there is certainly a whole lot for the church to learn about sexuality and friendship.

  • Evan

    Arrrrgh, Mark, you take me back to 1974, when the chairman of the Religion Department at my university “explained” David and Jonathan’s homosexuality to our class. I realize that you just hit the highlights, but he went into detail, even carefully recounting the episode in which “Jonathan strips himself naked” and gives all his clothing and equipment to David, etc.
    There I was, a freshman at eighteen, totally unschooled at that point in Hebrew, having to make sense of this. I asked two questions, (which I learned to stop doing in short order):
    First, wouldn’t having the king be an open homosexual (his public lament, etc.) and engaging in sex acts that were “abominations” under the Law of Moses cause an uprising? The professor explained that it was indeed difficult for Israel to accept, but David was just so popular and so successful, and also able to execute anyone who spoke out, that everyone just “went along with it.” I left that alone, but there seemed to be a lot wrong with that explanation, not the least of which were two almost-successful coup attempts by David’s sons. Later, I considered David’s adultery and how that was handled by Nathan and others, but that did not occur to me at the time.
    Second, I said, “I love my brother. Does that make us homosexuals?” The professor sort of smirked and asked back, “Well, I don’t know. Does it?” Lest the sterile environment of the written transcript mislead the reader, let me assure you that it was asked with facial expression and tone of voice that clearly translated into “Well, I don’t know. You mean to say you are having sex with your brother the way David and Jonathan did, eh?” The class laughed and I was outraged. But I quickly realized how this would play out when it came time to give me a grade so I quickly replied that I was not and left it at that.
    And it did not stop there. “The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved”? Yeah, you know how THAT ended up as well.
    So you are spot on, Mark. “Agape (or phileadelphos) between men=homosexual acts between men” in the establishment media and the elite academia, with no exceptions. The members of the 101st Airborne who said that they loved the other members of their outfit were no doubt shocked to learn that this made them something other than a “Band of Brothers.” What a shame.

  • Laura Schutze

    The interpretation of scripture is one thing if you refer to scholarly examination of the languages in which it was written, and another if you refer to haphazard understanding of it by a person who’s life experience has led them to react to a passage off the cuff, or simply believe what makes them comfortable. In arguments about scripture I most often see these two paths presented as one in the same, which puzzles me for lack of logic. It is helpful to me to know that the word for “love” used here was not the same as the word used when a character of the Bible “knows” somebody (in the biblical sense, i.e., sexually.) That should have strong bearing on how we see the story of David and Jonathan.

  • Mike P.

    It gets worse than this. Some say that the following passage is overtly homosexual:
    “But the lad knew not any thing: only Jonathan and David knew the matter….[And] as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of [a place] toward the south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times: and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded. And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, The LORD be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever. And he arose and departed: and Jonathan went into the city.” (1 Sam 20:39,41-42)
    The gay way to interpret this is as follows: “Exceeded” means ejaculated, and when David and Jonathan swear on their seed, that means they are literally swearing over their spent seed that’s on the ground.
    Also heard that Ruth and Naomi are lesbians. Where that comes from I have no idea.
    Also heard that when Paul condemns gay sex in Romans and Corinthians, it is only in the context of idolatry, and only when it is heterosexuals doing it, since it is only unnatural for heterosexuals to have gay sex, not homosexuals. Likewise, when homosexuality is condemned in Leviticus it is only in the context of idolatry and pagan fertility rites. (I tried to ask whether child sacrifice was only condemned in that context, since it appears in the same passage — no reply.)
    Also heard that the sin of Sodom was rudeness, not homosexuality. (That was from Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land”, which glorified “free love”.)
    It’s so stupid to try to make the Bible justify homosexuality or gay marriage. It just doesn’t. There’s no concept of gay marriage anywhere in the Bible. Words of Christ in Red says, “‘God created humankind male and female,’ and ‘for this cause a man leaves father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and the two become one flesh’.” Likewise, Paul says “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” — the idea that a man would touch a man or a woman a woman in that way never enters Paul’s mind — “but to avoid fornication, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.” I.e., no gay marriage.

  • Bill Goff

    You are certainly correct in asserting that there is no biblical evidence tha David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship. Those who believe they did are reading their own cultural situation back into Scripture. However I believe that those who believe that homosexuality and same sex sex acts are necessarily (by definition) a sin are also reading their cultural situation into Scripture. That’s of course the subject of a book length discussion, not a blog response.
    However one may think about same sex relationships, it is sad that men and women are generally not allowed to express affection to members of the same sex in our culture without others thinking that they are gay. One exception that comes to mind is football. The most same sex affection I see expressed between men is in NFL games, particularly at the conclusion of the games when there is a lot of hugging.

  • Rob the Rev

    Why are all you people afraid of gay and lesbian people?

  • Rob the Rev

    Bill Goff @ “One exception that comes to mind is football. The most same sex affection I see expressed between men is in NFL games, particularly at the conclusion of the games when there is a lot of hugging.”
    Gee Bill, what’s all that slapping on each others ass all about?

  • Mordred08

    I really liked the “David and Johnathan as lovers” interpretation back when I was a Christian. It gave me something in the Bible I could relate to, seeing as most Christians I knew associated gay and bisexual people like myself with the irredeemably evil Sodomites in Genesis. Fortunately, I found enough issues with Christianity that I left the whole thing behind and didn’t need to justify it to myself anymore.

  • Nick

    It’s bothersome that people try to shut down conversation by ascribing motives of fear and/or hatred to those who do not accept a certain perspective on homosexuality. It is entirely possible to love gay people and still think that homosexual practice is not the ideal expression of sexuality, any more than is adultery.
    There is a very good book called ‘The Friend’ by Alan Bray, which notes that passionate relationships between men were once understood quite differently. Knights were buried side by side, and the letters of St Anselm are reasonably well-known.
    That said, the Bible has little enough to say on the subject. Even allowing for what seems to be a misreading of the Sodom story, nothing is unambiguously approving of gay relationships. It seems unlikely that David and Jonathan was such a relationship as Howard Brenton (not unreasonably) identifies it. There were ancient cultures more accommodating; Sparta famously had a crack squad of gay lovers, but then Sparta also left female babies on hillsides.
    As for sport, the physicality of masculine expression is so closely related to the sexual impulse that some people, usually non-sportsmen, mistake it for sublimated homosexuality. In fact, it more likely explains why so few athletes are openly gay; to bring sex into the tightly-wound atmosphere of an all-male domain risks introducing a major catalyst for destabilisation.
    (And, just to pre-empt one possible line of criticism, I am gay).

  • Ben Kirby

    I lived for many years in a culture different from the United States. There was hugging (abrazos) and in some situations men kissing men, but not in a homosexual context. I believe that to read a homosexual relationship in the Biblical text here is reading something into the text that is not present.

  • LetoAtreides

    Mark, I appreciate your sensitive and insightful article. Our culture’s increased focus on sexual fulfillment has ironically led society to a separation from intimacy. Facebook has come about in a time when there are few healthy outlets for relationships between people. Biblical perspetives on intimacy have been lost by our American culture particularly. Within the Christian church, people are projecting current cultural perspectives in to their interpretations of Biblical text while omitting the historical context. Long held and scholarly understanding of the Bible is being discarded seemingly on a whim, even by some “scholars”. Perhaps these times will ignite a whole new creative energy to bring the gospel in more loving and intuitive ways to people who have not been receptive? For those who cannot see intimacy as anything more than sexual, my hope is for them to look beyond that and get the bigger picture.

  • Mathew Varkey

    You have correctly depicted the decay of our culture where we find it difficult to even comprehend treu emotional bonding and love between friends.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Markangelo

    As an irish man all I could think about during that Brit Propaganda film was; his brother Ed was bi, his other inbred brother was so flame they axed him out of history & you’re trying to tell me George VI was not in a homosexual relation with that speech pathologist,
    his daddy substitute !!! DAVID by Michaelangelo

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