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:
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
- The story of the destruction of Sodom (vv 28-32)
- Two men in one bed on the night of the separation (v 34)
- 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
[To read the entire series on “Luke’s Gay Apocalypse” and the gays and lesbians in Luke, click here.]