Whether or not you believe in the rapture, and whether or not you even believe the Bible, there is nevertheless something very significant for gays and lesbians that is located smack-dab-in-the-middle of one of the main passages used to support the notion of the rapture. “Practicing” gays and lesbians are not automatically disqualified for heaven.
Two Couples in Luke’s Gospel: One Gay and One Lesbian
Luke 17:20-37 is sometimes called “Luke’s Small Apocalypse.” (1) There are two little verses just before the climax of Luke’s Small Apocalypse which are really quite extraordinary. Luke 17:34-35 are used in support of the doctrine of the rapture, and refer to two same-sex couples, two gays and two lesbians.
I know that most people concerned with these issues believe that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality. Well, technically, he didn’t, at least not as an abstract category. But he did mention four gays and lesbians–flesh and blood, living, breathing homosexuals. Jesus illustrates a key moment in “God’s Countdown to Judgment” by using as his examples 1) two men in one bed and 2) two women grinding together 3) at night. And half of the gays and lesbians (one member from each of the couples) are acceptable to God. And from what I read, the lesbian couple is in the middle of making love. Thus, acceptability to God has nothing to do with their celibacy.
Some of you are already pulling out your Greek testaments and interlinear Bibles ready to do battle. Some of you will quibble with my use of the King James Version. That’s fine. I understand the translation options for “two men in one bed.” And if those few words were all I had to go on, my case would be fairly weak. That is not, however, all there is.
Proper Exegesis: Look at the Context
Look at the context. Immediately before the mention of two men in one bed is a lengthy discussion of the destruction of Sodom. Now I don’t believe the sin of Sodom was homosexuality. But there are many today who believe that it was, and I think most of the Jewish believers in Luke’s audience may have believed it as well.
Jesus knew that by recounting key details of Sodom’s destruction, his audience would have man-on-man sex on its mind. Jesus intended for us to understand that the “two men in one bed” were gay. It is no accident that for more than a hundred years every minister preaching on the rapture from Luke 17 has had to disavow the sexual content of verse 34.
“Just because two men are sleeping in the same bed doesn’t mean something bad is going on. I used to sleep with my brothers when I was young, and we weren’t gay. Also, it was common for travelers in ancient Israel, as well as for poor laborers, to share the same bed.”
Why has that disavowal of the sexual content in Luke 17:34 been necessary for the tens of thousands of sermons preached on the rapture? Very simple. Jesus deliberately mentioned Sodom details like Lot and his wife so that his audience would realize that the two men in one bed were gay.
Proper Exegesis: Studying Old Testament Antecedents to Understand the New Testament
If you are familiar with the rules of proper Bible exegesis (interpretation), you know that one key practice for interpreting a passage in the Greek scriptures is to look for its antecedents in the Old Testament. For example, if you wanted to explore the meaning of “the Son of Man” in Matthew, you would study the occurrences of “the Son of Man” in the Old Testament. (2) You may be able to tell where I’m headed with this.
I’ve only found two Old Testament references to two men laying together.
Thou shalt not lie with a man, as with a woman: it is abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)
If a man lie with a man, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)
By clearly alluding to the Levitical prohibitions against male homosexuality, followed immediately with his declaration that ”one shall be taken, and the other left,” Jesus declared his own acceptance of gays and lesbians, and that gays and lesbians are not automatically rejected by God.
Before rushing to deny the sexual content of Jesus’ remarks, it seems more responsible to follow some of the proper procedures for doing exegesis. Proper exegesis includes, among other things, 1) looking at the passage in context and 2) looking at Old Testament antecedents.
When I return to Luke’s Small Apocalypse I will discuss the surprising evidence I uncovered regarding the two women “grinding together.”
1) Matera, Frank J. New Testament Theology: Exploring Diversity and Unity. WJKP, 2007. p 92.
2) Matthew 8:20, cp. Psalm 144:3; Isaiah 51:12; Jeremiah 50:40; Daniel 7:17.
[To read the entire series on "Luke's Gay Apocalypse" and the gays and lesbians in Luke, click here.]