Luke’s Gay Apocalypse: “Two Women Grinding Together,” pt. 1

Luke’s same-sex couples appear in Jesus’ discussion of a final separation which is often called the rapture. This is a separation of people who are acceptable to God and those who are not. As I said previously, whether or not you believe in this final separation, or whether or not you believe the Bible, doesn’t matter with regard to the significance of the passage. What is important is that Luke 17:34-35 teaches that sexually active gays and lesbians are not automatically consigned to perdition.
          I tell you, in that night,
          there shall be two men in one bed;
                the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
          Two women shall be grinding together;
                the one shall be taken, and the other left.
           (Luke 17:34-35, KJV)

Two Women Grinding Together

The second mention of same sex-couples is “two women grinding together.” A literal translation is “two [women] grinding on the same [place].” While the word “women” does not appear in the passage, we know that it is women who are grinding because the Greek word “grinding” (alEthousai) is a feminine participle.

When I researched this, I knew that I couldn’t simply import slang sexual meanings from English into a two-thousand-year-old text. Such anachronisms are totally unacceptable, as has been pointed out. So I looked for the Old Testament antecedents.

“There shall be two women grinding together.” In the Hebrew Bible, “grind” is used as an acceptable euphemism for sexual intercourse  in at least four places: Job 31:10, Judges 16:21, Isaiah 47:2-3, and Lamentations 5:13.  I will discuss three of them here. Job uses “grind” as a euphemism for sexual intercourse when he defends himself against his pious accuser-friends.

Grind: Job 31:10

The Book of Job is written in Hebrew poetry. Hebrew poetry does not rhyme, but is written in couplets that are usually parallel thoughts using the same number of words.  Job contains these couplets:

          If mine heart have been deceived by a woman,
                or if I have laid wait at my neighbor’s door;
          then let my wife grind unto another,
                and let others bow down upon her. (Job 31: 9-10, KJV)

The second line of verse 10, “let others bow down upon her” is an acknowledged euphemism for sex. For the first line, “let my wife grind unto another,” some translations supply a word like “grain” for supposed “clarification.” Many translations simply render it “grinding” (NASB, NRSV, NAB, NJB). Other translations strive to communicate the meaning of the metaphor instead of rendering it literally word-for-word. For example, the 1535 Coverdale Bible reads, “O then let my wife be another man’s harlot, and let others lye with her,” which is less literal but quite a bit clearer.  The Talmud understood this instance of grind in the Book of Job as a euphemism for sex.

(The various renderings of Job 31:9-10 illustrate the difficulty Bible translators have when they translate sexual language in the face of the church’s culture-based desire for decency and propriety in the sacred scriptures. In the culture of Biblical times, grinding was a polite, acceptable euphemism, just as making love is acceptable for us today.)

Samson Grinding in Prison: Judges 16:21

The second use of “grinding” as a euphemism for sexual intercourse is in the story of Samson. Samson was a powerful warrior and a notorious womanizer. After Delilah’s betrayal and his resulting capture, Samson was made a slave by the Philistines. Near the end of his life, the Book of Judges reads, “the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house” (Judges 16:21, KJV). The Jewish Talmud understood “grind” sexually, here as well as in Job.

“Grind” means nothing else than [sexual] transgression, and thus it is stated: Then let my wife grind unto another. It teaches that everyone brought his wife to him in the
prison that she might bear a child by him [who would be as strong as he was]. (1)

Captured and blind, Samson was “put out to stud” for the wives of Philistine nobles who wanted offspring who would inherit Samson’s legendary strength. Once more we see that “grind” with the meaning of sexual intercourse was neither lewd nor obscene. It was the ordinary way that ordinary human beings spoke. It was the language of the common (koine) people. Jesus’ statement that “in that night…two women will be grinding together” is clearly an acceptable, thoroughly Biblical euphemism.

Grind: Lamentations 5:13

A third Old Testament example of “grind” as a euphemism for sexual intercourse is in the Book of Lamentations. Lamentations is a book that expresses Israel’s horror and despair over being conquered by the Babylonians. The book mentions, for example, mothers boiling and eating their own children during the siege (Lamentations 4:10; 2:20). Lamentations 5 describes the brutality of Babylon’s conquering soldiers. “Our enemies rape the women in Jerusalem and the young girls in all the towns of Judah. Our princes are being hanged by their thumbs, and our elders are treated with contempt,” (5:11-12, NLT).

The devastation is completed in verse 13: “They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood,” (KJV). Young men and children are sexually assaulted. There seems to be a common unwillingness on the part of Protestant translators to clearly render the obvious sexual violation here. Catholic translators of the Douay Rhiems version, on the other hand, made the meaning clearer: “They abused the young men indecently: and the children fell under the wood.”  “Taking young men to grind” refers to the rape of the young male population, which was a humiliation often inflicted on defeated enemies and had nothing to do with sexual orientation. Man-on-man rape is a well-documented phenomenon in the history of military conquest, even if most non-academics don’t know about it.

Contextual Negativity and Personal Shock

The negative contexts of these Old Testament occurrences does not negate the the fact that in Luke 17:34-35 Jesus teaches that non-celibate lesbians are acceptable to God. In fact, it’s unpleasantness may actually reinforce my thesis.  I have demonstrated that “grind” was an acceptable euphemism, fit for use in the Bible, yet it may have carried negative connotations for various reasons. Even if it had had negative connotations in the popular mind, Jesus nevertheless teaches that lesbian love-making is a non-issue when it comes to who is acceptable to God and who is not. Jesus frequently made the Other the heroes of his stories.

Jesus said, “Two women shall be grinding together.” This reference to love-making will undoubtedly cause consternation for some people. It seems shocking that Jesus would use what sounds to us today like gutter language when referring to lesbian love-making. Some will say, “Paul says, ‘it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret’” (Ephesians 5:12, KJV).

The idea of Jesus uttering the words “women grinding together”can be very uncomfortable. It certainly was for me. Even though the Old Testament evidence confirmed my hypothesis, it was difficult for me to hear that lanuage coming from the mouth of Christ.

But when you remember that there is earthy language throughout the Bible, in both testaments, we get an understanding that the church’s demand for regal, solemn, respectable language is not a Biblical demand. Our personal and cultural expectations are not necessarily in sync with the scriptures. What sounds like earthy language today were, generally speaking, acceptable Biblical euphemisms.

Solomon’s love poem, the Song of Songs, is well known for its graphic descriptions of romantic love. First century Israel did not have the clinical, scientific nomenclature for sexual matters that we have today, but they did have acceptable ways to discuss these things among adults.

No, Jesus Christ was not using gutter language when he mentions “two women grinding together.” The Old Testament books of Job, Judges, and Lamentations contain the Biblical use of the metaphorical grind. Jesus used the ordinary, acceptable language of his day to refer to lesbian love-making.

So, in order, we have

  1. The story of the destruction of Sodom (vv 28-32)
  2. Two men in one bed on the night of the separation (v 34)
  3. Two women grinding together on the night of the separation (v 35)

The gay theme of Luke’s Small Apocalypse is beginning to really take shape. But it’s not over yet.

(1) Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah, Folio 10a

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Go To:

The Q Apocalypse: “Two Men in One Bed”

[To read the entire series on "Luke's Gay Apocalypse" and the gays and lesbians in Luke, click here.]

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About Ron Goetz

Lay leader, intellectual, struggler, disciple, writer, activist. Husband, father, grandpa, friend, son.
This entry was posted in Homosexuality and the Bible, Luke 17:34-35, Rapture, The Q Apocalypse, Two Women Grinding Together and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Luke’s Gay Apocalypse: “Two Women Grinding Together,” pt. 1

  1. Lizzie says:

    Wow, I really would have thought that “grind” was just, like, with a mortar for grain, and the “in one bed” was just sleeping as many farm folks did with sharing a place to sleep. Normally I’d be a bit cynical with importing popular mindsets, but your arguments are pretty convincing (and awkward lol). Thanks.

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  2. Hill says:

    This is pretty good. Some may point out that the Hebrew Scriptures never EVER come out against female on female sex, so they may note lesbian sex is immaterial in the homosexuality discussion. It is my belief that with the multiple wives that a lot of men had, the potential for menage a trois pretty much made outlawing lesbian sex (or a man being with more than one of his wives/mistresses/concubines at the same time) unrealistic. Just one more reason I think the Hebrew Law is all human and 0% God.

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  3. Rob says:

    Fascinating. On checking a literal translation (Young’s) I see it mentions only “grinding at the same place together”. No literal mention of grain.

    The author’s addition of the phrase “at the same place together” is more perplexing, through not in any apparnet way pertinent to your thesis. It might be purposed to suggest the kind of apparent randomness soldiers describe when reporting their survival (left behind) while the soldier right next to them is killed (taken away). But then it suffice to say “grinding together” – - is this just a case of poor writing, or is some important, additional meaning embedded in “at the same place? On the face of it, it appears to be redundancy: if two people are grinding together, whether in sexual union or nearness to one another during a coffee preparation ceremony, they would seem to necessarily be at the same place! Is there any case where two people could be grinding grain together and NOT be at the same place?

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  4. Rob says:

    One more comment: Young’s states the two men were sharing a couch, not a bed. I am under the impression from a book containing a brief history of the development of household furniture that couches would not appear in the western world as furnishings distinguishable from and independent of beds for another 1,500 years or so. I realize this writing originates in the eastern world (from our perspective), but this nonetheless makes me wonder if the translators were trying to steer their thoughts and their readers to something more innocent sounding than what they encountered in the manuscripts.

    Rob

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    • Ron Goetz says:

      Rob, the NASB agrees with Young’s: “There will be two women grinding at the same place.” And the greek word for “grain,” muloni, appears in Matthew 24:41 but not in Luke 17:35.

      Later on I’ll be documenting translator bias regarding verses 34-35. So the answer is a definite “Yes.” “Translators were trying to steer their thoughts and their readers to something more innocent sounding than what they encountered in the manuscripts.” That precisely true. Is it okay if I quote you?

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  5. John Meunier says:

    Ron,

    This is clever, but would be more persuasive if it dealt more squarely with counter-arguments.

    For instance …

    Your retelling of the order of Luke 17 leaves out some details. The story of Sodom (which I assume you don’t actually think is about homosexuality) is not the first example Jesus uses. The first is Noah. If we go back to verse 26, then your gay theme is less plausible.

    But beyond that, let’s look at the verses you cite themselves.

    I’m confused by your inclusion of Isaiah 47 in your list, when I can’t find a single translation that renders it as anything other than a reference to grinding grain.

    My Jewish Publication Society Hebrew Bible also reads both Job 31:10 and Judges 16:21 differently than your one Talmudic scholar. The sexual reading of Judges depends on a sexual reading of Job 31:10 – as your Talmudic scholar quotes it. But if you read Job 31:10 as subjecting the woman in two ways – as a servant grinding grain and a sexual slave – then both of these fail to do the work your theory requires. One Talmudic reference does a lot of work for your overall theory.

    I can’t find any translation other than the D-R (including the more recent Catholic New Jerusalem) that reads Lamentations the way you do. Even the KJV does not help your case here. My JPS Hebrew Bible translates it as carrying millstones.

    We also need to consider the instances of the word “grind” in both testaments that cannot possibly be pushed into a sexual meaning. There are also other references to the servants work of grinding grain that do not use the word “grind.” It turns out, the image of being forced or compelled to grind grain is a common one in the OT. It is a sign of low status or subjugation.

    Finally, we can look at the parallel text in Matthew 24 where the agricultural language is more explicit.

    I’m sure people with more education and knowledge than I have can point to other arguments.

    Taken all together, though, it is quite possible to argue that grinding grain is in fact grinding grain. In the end, there is a certain shock value in your argument, but you don’t really confront the counter-arguments head on. That hurts your cause.

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    • Ron Goetz says:

      Thanks for your feedback, John. Let me address your objections—head on.

      1) I mentioned the account of Noah because it immediately precedes “two men in one bed” and explains why generations of preachers have had to disavow the sexual implications of those two men when the Sodom story has reminded us of man-on-man sex.

      2) Including the Noah story does not weaken my argument. The story of Noah introduces the theme of judgment. The fact that the theme is judgment is central to my argument. You’ll remember that I wrote:

      “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.”

      I’m sure other themes can be seen in Luke’s Small Apocalypse. I emphasize two: 1) the generally accepted theme of judgment, and 2) the acceptability of non-celibate gays and lesbians during judgment.

      3) In my post I included a link to the commentary on Judges by Susan Niditch, professor at Amherst College. She writes, “As indicated by Job 31:10 and Isa 47:2-3, ‘grinding’ is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.” In her judgment, “grind” is a euphemism for sex.

      4) Even if Isaiah 47:2-3 cannot be conclusively argued to have high sexual content (which I nevertheless believe is the case), the sexual use of “grind” in Job, Judges, Lamentations, and even Isaiah, has definitely been acknowledged in academic circles.

      5) John, I don’t follow the logic of this comment: “But if you read Job 31:10 as subjecting the woman in two ways – as a servant grinding grain and a sexual slave – then both of these fail to do the work your theory requires.” I may be misunderstanding what you wrote. I don’t understand how you acknowledge the possibility that Job 31:10 includes the woman used both as “a sexual slave” and “a servant grinding grain,” and then say that that usage fails to support my thesis. It actually goes a long way to supporting it—demonstrating the antecedents, the close Biblical connection between grinding grain and sexual grinding.

      6) Obviously there are far more instances of the non-sexual use of “grind” than there are of its sexual use. But I’m not doing a word study of all the Biblical uses of “grind.” For reasons of space and clarity, I decided not to include some of those Hebrew uses of “grind.” For example, the Bible uses “grind” literally in reference to flour, gold, and teeth, and figuratively when referring to the faces of the poor.

      7) I don’t recall suggesting that every use of the word “grind” be “pushed into a sexual meaning.” And I don’t, that would be silly.

      8 ) John, I ended this post with this: “The gay theme of Luke’s Small Apocalypse is beginning to really take shape. But it’s not over yet.” I uncovered evidence as strong, if not stronger, than the evidence from the Old Testament.

      Thanks for mentioning Matthew 24, John. I’m going to save my response on that for a post.

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      • John Meunier says:

        Ron, let me clarify my point about Job.

        As I understand what you wrote and what your sources say, we can interpret Samson as being forced into sex because “grinding” in Job 31:10 clearly is sexual. Both your sources link Judges and Job.

        But the argument that grinding in Job is sexual is far from convincing. The Old Testament is full of references to subjected people being forced to grind the grain of others. This is all by itself a degrading thing. Another degrading thing is being forced into another man’s bed.

        My point is that I do not see any convincing evidence that Job 31:10 proves that “grinding” was a common euphemism for sex as Niditch asserts. Maybe she argues this point in some other publication, but in the linked book she just cites Job 31:10 and Isaiah 47:2-3 and claims that they prove Samson was forced to have sex.

        Maybe there is an argument I do not know, but the claim about Job 31:10 appears to be assertion without any evidence.

        If Job 31:10 is not sexual, then there is no reason to believe Judges 16:21 is as well. Your sources say Job is the reason they interpret Judges as sexual. If you knock out Job and Judges, then there is not much reason to assume Jesus was making reference to lesbians.

        I have a feeling that you won’t find my critique persuasive, but I appreciate your engagement with my comments.

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  6. Wesley says:

    The obvious flaw in this is that Luke was written in Greek not Hebrew. The OT was written in Hebrew. By the time you are comparing Greek words from the OT with Greek words in the NT you are already dealing with a translation of the OT rather than original text, and thus there will be translation errors.

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  7. Ron Goetz says:

    Wesley, I didn’t mention the LXX (the Greek translation of the OT), so I didn’t make the comparisons you suggested. Also, for centuries Bible scholars have used the LXX when studying the OT, as well as when they study how the NT quotes the LXX instead of the Hebrew text. The NT writers often quote from the Greek translation of the OT instead of the original Hebrew.

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  8. Pingback: Homofile og lesbiske fjernet fra Lukasevangeliet « en transkjønna reise i tro

  9. Grant says:

    To my mind the whole discussion is specious. The concept of God of homosexual acts, by either gender seems to rely on a distorted view of God as a creator/designer. From Genesis we see God as a creator, and tracing through the order and the intricacy of creation we see that He has shown a great deal of wisdom in all His creation. His design of human anatomy very clearly shows that man has been designed for intercourse with a woman. To suggest that God allowed for sexual intercourse between two men or two women seems to me to be disparaging of God. He did not allow for this in His design of human anatomy.

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  10. Stuart says:

    Very good. I would submit to you that this is by far the most convincing case for the non-sinfulness of homosexuality I’ve ever read. However, after reviewing your work I am still on the fence about it.

    It seems to me that the word grinding is what the answer hinges on. Strong’s puts it as simply grinding a millstone, and gives no room for it to be sexual. However, Plutarch’s usage is powerful and compelling evidence. So there is certainly room for it to be both sexual and used in explicit reference to lesbians.

    However, I remain unconvinced for three main reasons.

    First, and the weakest of the three, is the Septuagint. Grind may have a sexual connotation in Hebrew, but doing theology in English can lead to missteps in the process. In the LXX, the verses you mentioned referencing grind in a sexual manner do not all have the same word used in Luke 17:35. It may be grind in English, and it may have a sexual connotation, but the Greek is not the same, so the parallel between the Old Testament usage of the word grind and this one seems weak to me. However, Plutarch suggests strongly otherwise, so this is really just a neutral hang up. While it remains neutral, I would rather default to tradition.

    The second reason is that of Matthew. You mentioned that, of course, the intended audiences and focuses are different. However, taking different theological concepts from those different focuses strikes me as shaky. Luke may not include “at the mill,” but I am very skeptical of any attempt to say that Luke left out “at the mill” in order to make a wholly different theological point. Matthew’s seems clearly to be that of mundane activity, and I cannot imagine Luke taking Jesus’ words and changing their meaning, especially in the context of the same speech.

    The third reason is the context and thought process of the whole passage. Given the mention of Sodom and Gomorrah, it would seem that your outline of Jesus’ point fits. However, this isn’t recounted in Matthew, and the final sentence in Luke doesn’t fit with your model. In Luke there are five “clauses” Jesus recounts, and your contextual analysis fits with only the middle three. If grinding is referring to lesbian intercourse, then the reference to Lot, the two men in a bed, and the two women grinding all fit into a sexual narrative of sorts. However, the reference to Noah and to the two men in a field seem to fall as outliers. They don’t quite fit.

    The reading of the passage should truly begin in verse 20. Jesus is asked about the Kingdom. He then says that there will be no signs of it, and people will not be able to point it out. He then compares it to lightning. Then the first clause: Noah. The people were eating, drinking, and making merry, when suddenly they were wiped out. The second clause is Lot. They were eating, drinking, buying, and selling, when suddenly they were wiped out. The third and fourth clause could either be sexual or mundane. The men could be sleeping or having sex, and the women could be grinding a mill stone or having sex. Given that in the fifth clause, the two men in a field are participating in a mundane activity, it would seem to me that the passage reads much more smoothly as a warning. The mention of Sodom and Gomorrah is important, but all five clauses seem to be saying that people will be participating in mundane, or everyday, activities when the “days of the Son of Man” come upon them suddenly.

    However, this is not enough to say unequivocally that the context forbids grinding as a sexual term. But comparing the passage to its parallel in Matthew convinces me (for now) that it does not refer to a sexual action. In Matthew there are only three clauses, but they all represent mundane activities. It seems to me that this clearly supports the case for a parallel interpretation of Luke.

    I thank you for your work. It was really a pleasure reading, and it is quite convincing. As I am right now, I cannot say you are unequivocally incorrect, but I do remain unconvinced and I think that a different interpretation fits the text much much more sufficiently.

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    • Ron Goetz says:

      Stuart, thanks for your careful consideration of what I’ve presented. Few people take the time to consider the case as carefully as you have.

      The broad theme of the passage is judgment, so there is no problem with the lack of sexual material in the account of Noah. What Noah, Lot, and the four gays and lesbians have in common is the theme of utter normality. No reasons are given for God’s judgment in any of the sections, which has always been a puzzle for interpreters. The reason no reason is given for judgment is because the exact opposite is the lesson of the passage. It is designed to actually eliminate a popular reason: homosexuality.

      The third pair — two men in a field — are not original to Luke. They were borrowed from Matthew by a later copyist. and do not appear in the earliest mss. So I don’t discuss them here.

      Given the complexity of the synoptic problem, I don’t think it can be determined whether Matthew or Luke was written first, or how much interaction occurred before the text settled in their present form. Thus, it can’t be determined whether Matthew added the word “mill” or Luke deleted it. At this point, I can only proceed with the text in its present state.

      I accept the two-source syoptic hypothesis, with Q and Mark as the sources used by Luke and Matthew. As reconstructed by Kloppenborg, Luke’s small apocalypse is devoid of numerous later additions which have obscured the meaning of this passage for two millenia. Please check out my post on the Q Source: http://biblethumpingliberal.com/2011/06/11/q-apocalypse-criteria-acceptability/

      It is significant to me that Mark and Matthew each have one apocalypse (Mark 13 and Matthew 24), while Luke has two (Luke 21 and 17). Very significant. And Luke’s small apocalypse is what I call “Luke’s Gay Apocalypse.”

      Some Q scholars believes that the Q Apocalypse in Luke 17 was the last material to accrete itself to the Q tradition. I believe the careful parallel structure of Luke’s small apocalypse (the descriptions of the days of Noah and Lot) and the parallel structure of the two couples has been carefully crafted in a literary manner, and may or may not reflect the actual words of Jesus. The passage does, nevertheless, reflect a very early account of Jesus’ acceptance of gays and lesbians.

      The ambiguity of the passage, that is, the fact that it can be easily interpreted non-sexually as well as sexually, was deliberate. I’m sure you are aware of the persistent controversy surrounding Jesus’ perceived softness on immorality seen in the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11). Some early church fathers objected to the inclusion of the passage. Similarly, if the Luke 17 passage had not been ambiguous, it would have been eliminated quite early by scribal copyists. The fact that the passage was peppered through with Jesus sayings that offered numerous easily grasped and less controversial preaching points helped get the original gay themed material to “get past the censors.”

      It was solution of the synoptic problem and the likelihood of the Q Source that made “Luke’s Gay Apocalypse” more discernible.

      Stuart, thanks again for your careful reply.

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