That Old, Old Problem: Two Men in One Bed

In that night, there shall be two men in one bed;
the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.

The sexual implications of Luke 17:34 have long been seen. But what is true in recent history was true in the past, as well. When it comes to two men in one bed, people are unable to name the thing, and had to express their objections indirectly. After all, there are things you simply can’t mention in polite company.

Many divines have discussed the closeness of the couple in verse 34, assuming the bed reading, emphasizing their intimacy and the resulting lesson that the coming of Christ will divide close friends and family members from one another.

Others seem to have felt uncomfortable with the intimate, close proximity of two people who could have been either a man and woman or two men.

They say, “It’s a Couch, not a Bed.”

Three people wrote briefly about their preference for couch instead of bed: Henry Jones Ripley (1842), Henry Charles Fox (1875), and John Hale Murray (1881).

Henry Jones Ripley

In his 1842 commentary on the gospels, Henry Jones Ripley asserts a symbolic interpretation for “in that night” instead of a literal night, writing, “The darkness of night is used as an emblem of distress, of most dangerous times.” Note that there is no distress or danger implied in the Luke passage; those meanings are simply asserted. Second, he writes: “In one bed; rather, on one couch, sitting or reclining together.”

With these two interpretations Ripley has obscured one clear and possible meaning, but since he gives no explanation for these interpretations, we can’t know, for certain, why. I nevertheless believe he wanted to avoid the implications of two men, in one bed, at night.

Henry Charles Fox

Henry Charles Fox echoes Ripley’s preference for couch, but he is quite emphatic in both
his declaration and the reason.

The passage, “Two men shall be in one bed,” is a rendering  perfectly allowable, but for the fact that it is entirely contrary to Eastern customs. It should be, “Two men shall be on one couch,” i.e., seated together at a meal.

Fox not only wants to disallow the bed reading, but he would specify what they are doing as well—eating dinner.

His reason for wanting to disallow the bed reading is evidence that he saw the problem of two men in one bed in the context of the Great Separation. Unless someone can come forward with Fox’s evidence that two men in one bed “is entirely contrary to Eastern customs,” then I suggest that his assertion recognizes that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are the appropriate Old Testament antecedents for Luke 17:34. Fox seems to have clearly understood that the categorical prohibitions against male homosexual relations in Leviticus (“they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them“) were in contrast to the “one shall be taken, and the other shall be left” teaching of verses 34-35.

Fox hides the tension between the requirement for a double-execution in Leviticus and the teaching in Luke that some make it and some don’t. He insists on a rendering that obscures the discrepancy from the eyes of the reader. κλίνης, after all, can be rendered either couch or bed.

John Hale Murray

John Hale Murray echoed this preference for couch in his book, A Help for English Readers to Understand Mis-Translated Passages in Our Bible. Murray offered the following correction for our “mis-translated passage.”

“Luke 17:34. ‘Two men shall be in one bed,’ should be ‘on one couch,’ that is,
sitting together at meal.”

Murray follows Fox in specifying both the couch and the activity.

Jeremiah Markland

In addition to these nineteenth-century divines, an eighteenth-century interpreter saw the sexual implication of verse 34 as well. The comment of classical scholar Jeremiah Markland shows his awareness of how the presence of two men in such close proximity could be interpreted, even if κλίνης were rendered couch. His awareness is subtly telegraphed by a tag line which clarifies his point at the end of the comment. Some time before his death on July 7, 1776, Markland wrote about Luke 17:34.

This regards rich men: two men lying upon one couch; at supper, I suppose.

Markland was a poet with a penchant for irony, and understood the power of words that come at the end of a sentence: “At supper, I suppose.” The ironic skepticism is the same as someone saying in response to a seriously questionable election results, “The people have spoken—I suppose.”

I’m sure that arguments can be mounted against the following assumption, but my guess is that wherever couch is preferred to bed, or wherever the activity in the bed or on the couch is specified, the clarification that is being offered is the alleged “misunderstanding” that the “two in one bed” are two men.

The problem presented by verse 34 has been around for a very long time. For centuries, generations of clergy and Bible study leaders have had to clarify what “two men in one bed” does not mean, wasting precious minutes of preaching and discussion time.

“Can’t someone figure out a way to get us out of this mess?”

[To read all the posts on the gays and lesbians in Luke 17, click here.]

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About Ron Goetz

Author, Widower, Grandpa, Son.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Gay Christians, Homosexuality, Luke 17:34-35, Rapture, Two Men in One Bed and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to That Old, Old Problem: Two Men in One Bed

  1. Ken says:

    I believe that you (and those who oppose same-sex sexually activity) misinterpret the Leviticus passage (“a man shall not lay with a man as a man lays with a woman”).

    If this passage were referring to same-sex sexual activity per se, it would have been paired with a prohibition against female-female sexual activity as well as male-male sexual activity (most other general purity requirements had equivalent prohibitions for men and women: e.g., male nocturnal emissions paired with female menstruation). The fact that it does not leads to one of two conclusions. Either (a) God is opposed to gay sex but not lesbian sex (seems unlikely to me), or (b) this is about something other than sex per se, such as temple prostitution, in which the offerer (the Israelite priest) and the recipient (the priest of a male deity) were both male.

    This seems to me to be a much simpler way of interpreting the text that does not require the kind of anachronistic projections of modern day understandings of homosexuality into biblical times that you have been employing in these argument. And for the same reason, it is a stronger argument in favor of full inclusion in the church of gay and lesbian people.

    Like

  2. Scott F says:

    Why are we not to assume that having one bed per person/couple was not affordable in 1C Palestine and that, as poor did through out time, beds were shared, even by men, when necessary. It may have been officially forbidden in places but common enough in practice that Matthew’s audience would not have blanched at the idea or taken it as a sexual reference.

    It is a sad comment on the feverish imaginations of the self-righteous.

    Like

    • Ron Goetz says:

      I’ve been studying this passage for a long while, and I’ve seen unsupported assertions that the two people in verse 34 were 1) wealthy, 2) poor, 3) reclining at supper, and 4) asleep. I say “unsupported” not to impugn the ideas, but simply to note that there is nothing within the text itself to give us those details. In this and other cases, finding the O.T. corollaries is a legitimate and wise way of exploring the meaning of the passage. As I’ve said elsewhere, the Levitical prohibition against a man laying with a man as he would with a woman is the only O.T. antecedent for this verse.

      BTW, I’m not clear on your last line: “It is a sad comment on the feverish imaginations of the self-righteous.” Can you clarify?

      Like

  3. rjwalker says:

    I’m still unconvinced that this bit of scripture means what you think, but I do not rule out the possibility.

    Reading this post, a thought occurs to me regarding the “Beloved Disciple.” My understanding is that the Greek used for the “love” is the agape version, and IIRC, in one passage, the philos version we translate as love — most definitely not the eros word.

    I think many of us have a tendency to take Bible passages, and that whole era, at face value – to assume that they were all somehow more pure and less clever than we are today.

    So I find myself wondering, in those 4 John passages, could the writer have been, in the immortal words of Peter Paul and Mary, “laying it between the lines?”

    Like

    • Ron Goetz says:

      From what I’ve read, and from what I’ve read in scripture, I believe a lot is laid “between the lines.”

      I’ve wondered recently about the Greek-speaking scribes who copied the scripture. Literate, well-educated, possibly intellectuals–who made a living copying scripture for their customers. They would have been familiar with all the Greek classics and philosophers, having copied them for their patrons. Were they all converts to Christianity? You don’t have to be a Christian to copy a manuscript, you know.

      Like

  4. Dave says:

    As another nail was put in the KJV, the word of God does not say “two men in a bed” the original doesn’t say it and the KJV added it as it does to many verses.

    To promote the word of God as accepting homosexuality is a contradiction in the word of God and God is not the author of confusion. You either accept the fact or you don’t but don’t try and make it look like God accepts it when the word says otherwise.

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    • Ron Goetz says:

      Dave, because of how Greek works, the phrase can be translated “two in one bed,” “two people in one bed,” or “two men in one bed.” I encourage you to read the other discussions I’ve posted that discuss the phrase.

      If there were no tensions in the Bible, different ways of putting scripture passages together, different perspectives among the biblical writers, there would be no debate or conflict over the meaning of scriptures.

      Say what you will, I am convinced that Luke 17:23-37 demonstrates that non-celibate gay and lesbian believers are acceptable to God.

      Like

      • Erik S says:

        It’s interesting that you know that the original Greek does literally state, “two on bed”, which, sure can be interpreted, two people or the way King Jame translated – two men – and if two men, then the men should be gender neutral, therefore 2 people would be more accurate. Knowing the context, this text isn’t about homosexuality but the end times. You are using one particular translation (KJV) as opposed to NIV or ESV or NASB, but use KJV to push your agenda on what isn’t said in the original. Wow. You can’t take interpretation of the text that’s so far reaching to teach other that this text is about homosexuality.

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      • Ron Goetz says:

        Erik, I have said repeatedly, over many years, that if my thesis depended on a single verse I would be dead in the water.

        Please click on “Gays and Lesbians in Luke” in the banner area, or click https://biblethumpingliberal.com/gays-lesbians-in-luke/

        Once you’re in that index, these bulleted items will be most helpful to see the entire case.

        Two Men in One Bed at Night

        • “Two Men in One Bed” (Luke 17:34)
        • “That Old, Old Problem: Two Men in One Bed

        Two Women Grinding Together at Night

        • “Two Women Grinding Together” — O.T. Hebrew
        • “Two Women Grinding Together” – Sumerian, Latin, and Greek
        • “Two Lesbians without a Mill”

        The Solution to Numerous Exegetical Problems

        • The Q Apocalypse and the Criteria for Acceptability
        • Two Men, Two Women: Concrete Language vs Abstract Language

        Erik, also check this link:

        https://biblethumpingliberal.com/2012/05/31/why-it-took-2000-years-to-discern-luke-17s-gay-theme/

        ONE MORE THING:

        Here is a partial list of versions which use the rendering “two men” in verse 34:

        • American Standard Version
        • Amplified Bible
        • Young’s Literal Translation
        • Darby
        • King James Version
        • Douay Rheims
        • Peterson
        • New Life Bible
        • Moffatt
        • Phillips
        • English Revised Version
        • Webster’s Bible Translation
        • Emphasized Bible
        • Weymouth
        • Bible in Basic English
        • Wesley’s New Testament

        All the translators and translation teams involved in these versions were far better Greek scholars than I am.

        Like

    • Mike Maple says:

      +The verse is simply talking about two men ,both dead and in the graves, one coming forth to the resurrection of the blessed, and one coming forth to the resurrection of damnation. Hence, one taken( to heaven) and the other left for a thousand years until the second resurrection. It’s simple if you just let scripture interpret scripture.

      Like

  5. Steve Sherman says:

    If Leviticus has a prohibition against homosexuality, then it is sin. If gays are acceptable to God, then how are they made acceptable to God ? By faith in Jesus Christ, and His shed blood on the Cross and given His life through the Resurrection. If gays love Christ, they will obey His commandments. Similarly, if liars, and covetors and lusters, etc, etc love Christ, they will obey His commandments. Of course, no one does that perfectly, or even close. But someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit will be driven away from those things … given time and prayer. By His strength and not our own.

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    • Ron Goetz says:

      Steve, I have repeatedly committed a sexual sin for which I have never repented.
      If you believe that we are obligated to follow the laws in Leviticus, then you must respond in obedience to my unrepentant disobedience.

      “If a man lies with a woman during her monthly period and has sexual relations with her, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it. Both of them must be cut off from their people.” (Leviticus 20:18)

      Are you prepared to apply the laws of Leviticus against all sexual sin, or do you choose between sexual sins you are willing to apply? Are you prepared to teach and preach against married couples having sex during the wife’s monthly period, and threaten such couples with excommunication or shunning?

      I have discussed Paul’s cancellation of the entire O.T. Law in numerous posts. If you’re interested you can check out the banner area that reads: Paul Abolishes the Law.

      Today, we are guided by the Law of Love, the Law of the Spirit, by our conscience, etc.

      Like

    • Steve, you are awfully self-righteous. Who on earth are you to say who is acceptable or unacceptable to God, the Creator of this world, and all of the universe? Taking an old book, even one as interesting as the Bible, and standing over others, using it to condemn people, and to say what is acceptable to God, I think it makes Jesus shake his head in sadness for the arrogance and idiocy of men. You mention being filled with the Spirit, which is a worthy goal and a good way to live. I think you should focus on yourself, and not use the Bible to bash other people with. Jesus only bashed the pharisees and temple money changers with biblical scripture, never ordinary folks. I suggest that you read the whole book of Leviticus, and if you can take every commandment in there and follow it, then you are welcome to do so, but do not pick and choose, and then condemn anyone with it. God, the Creator of All is bigger than all of us, and certainly much bigger than even the best of books. God makes some people gay, some straight, and some bi. This is the way it is. If you don’t want to have sex with men, then don’t. But don’t assume that doing so makes one unacceptable to God. For in itself that is a really small minded and stupid thing to assume. How can God not accept what she herself has created?!?!

      My younger brother is gay, and he prayed every day for 6 months that God would take it away. And God never did. My brother still has a strong faith in God, even though one church in particular condemned him for something he had no choice about, his sexual orientation. I know that he has the Holy Spirit in his heart, life and mind, and yes, he still has attraction to men. I think that you should speak on what you know, and leave gay people alone. One thing for sure, Jesus never condemned gays, period. I don’t think you should either.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Troy Dempsey says:

    This is silly. I’ve taken two years of Greek. The word for men is not there. The greek is: δυο (the number 2) επι (upon) κλινης (bed or seat) μιας (the number one) so it literally says, “two upon one bed”. There aren’t any Greek grammar rules that would add “men” to the translation. At best all you could do is say that because it doesn’t specify the sex of the “2” then it could… theoretically… be two men. Very, very week proof text. Proof of the Bible accepting homosexuality this is not… at all… it’s not even close.

    Like

    • Ron Goetz says:

      Troy, a person doesn’t need two years of koine Greek to know that the word “men” doesn’t appear in Luke 17:34. All a person needs to do is use an online interlinear Greek-English to know that. And I have acknowledged that the word does not appear. If you had read my posts just a bit more thoroughly, you wouldn’t suggest that my case is so “week.”

      By the way, in your several comments you have suggested that my case is “week” no less than three times. “Week” refers to a seven-day period. I believe the word you are looking for is “weak.”

      In Luke 17:35, the word “women” does not appear either, but it is embedded in the feminine participle “grinding.” Using the principle of poetic parallelism (which is quite common in the Bible), then it makes good sense to see two men paralleled with women in a passage that is so carefully constructed as poetry. (Check out the parallelism in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc.)

      Troy, I have said repeatedly, over many years, that if my thesis depended on a single verse I would be dead in the water.

      Please click on “Gays and Lesbians in Luke” in the banner area, or click https://biblethumpingliberal.com/gays-lesbians-in-luke/

      Once you’re in that index, these bulleted items will be most helpful to see the entire case.

      Two Men in One Bed at Night

      • “Two Men in One Bed” (Luke 17:34)
      • “That Old, Old Problem: Two Men in One Bed

      Two Women Grinding Together at Night

      • “Two Women Grinding Together” — O.T. Hebrew
      • “Two Women Grinding Together” – Sumerian, Latin, and Greek
      • “Two Lesbians without a Mill”

      The Solution to Numerous Exegetical Problems

      • The Q Apocalypse and the Criteria for Acceptability
      • Two Men, Two Women: Concrete Language vs Abstract Language

      Troy, also check this link:

      https://biblethumpingliberal.com/2012/05/31/why-it-took-2000-years-to-discern-luke-17s-gay-theme/

      ONE MORE THING:

      Here is a partial list of versions which use the rendering “two men” in verse 34:

      • American Standard Version
      • Amplified Bible
      • Young’s Literal Translation
      • Darby
      • King James Version
      • Douay Rheims
      • Peterson
      • New Life Bible
      • Moffatt
      • Phillips
      • English Revised Version
      • Webster’s Bible Translation
      • Emphasized Bible
      • Weymouth
      • Bible in Basic English
      • Wesley’s New Testament

      All the translators and translation teams involved in these versions were far better Greek scholars than I am.

      Until you have read my entire case, and the long discussions I’ve had with many critics, I don’t think you are in a position to make such confident judgments on how “week” my argument is.

      Like

  7. Timm says:

    Luke 17:34-35

    34-35 “On that Day, two men will be in the same boat fishing—one taken, the other left. Two women will be working in the same kitchen—one taken, the other left.”

    Why did you twist the words around? Did you write your own Bible? That’s a pretty pathetic way of starting a cult movement. Do you know how many /Bibles there are in the word. Did you think nobody would have it in them to look up the scriptures for themselves?
    You’ve rewritten scriptures to suit your own sickening desires that God clearly said He hates, but you probably rewrote all those other scriptures you disagreed with too.
    I feel so sorry for you and I forgive you, but God will not if you don’t change your ways.

    [Edited for length]

    I can’t believe you’d take what are original laws were modeled after in the United States and twist them and rewrite them to your own advantage like a bunch of cowardly selfish and lower than dirt acting people.
    Your a failure at being a cultist loser. Find a new profession.
    Oh, did I mention that “I forgive you”? Yeah, ignorance hits us sometimes and so I’m trying to be understanding. Nobody except God is perfect and so yeah, I forgive you.

    Like

    • Ron Goetz says:

      Timm, your comments are mistaken, and without evidence.

      1) You failed to explain where you believe I have twisted the words of the Bible.

      2) Where did you get the idea that I have ever intended to start a cult movement?

      3) I nearly always cite verses chapter and verse, and note the translation I am using.

      4) You suggest that I write to suit my “own sickening desires.” What are you talking about?

      5) What verse do you believe I have “rewritten”?

      6) Comment: “Cowardly selfish and lower than dirt acting people.” Not a very cogent argument, Timm.

      7) Comment: “Cultist loser. Find a new profession.” Hmmm. I interpret the Bible different from you, and this makes me the leader of a cult. Very odd.

      8) I appreciate your concluding words of forgiveness.

      Like

  8. Troy Michael Detzel says:

    Luke 17:34 .. man with two spirits or two personalities. I noticed how the verse doesn’t say a bed it says one bed. The use of numbering signifies that the un literal accusation or verse is of numbers. Two spirits in one man. Meaning a double spirit.

    Like

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