[Back to Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Catholic Handbook]

Matt 19:3-13

Matt 19:3-13: Its Invalid Use as an Anti-Gay Text

by Paul Halsall

I posted this earlier on the Catholic Internet list, but it has wider usefulness.

I suppose I should add that in my view the Bible is polyvalent. The original [anti-gay] interpretation of Marida [the person to whom I was responding] is feasible, given her epistemological predilications, but it is not, as she seems to imagine, definitive.

I was also happy to have the chance to discuss what has become a classic anti-gay proof-text lately, ever since the utility of the classic Lev 18:22, Gen 19, Rom 1;26 and various references by St. Paul have been eviscerated as "anti-gay" texts by a multitude of scholars, gay and straight.

As I try to show here the Gen 1:27/Matt 19:4-6 nexus of proof-texts does not work either.

Paul Halsall



A contributor uses the passage from Matthew 19:4-6 as an anti-gay text. Here is the passage:

Matt 19:4-6 "And He answered and said unto them, 'Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female (differentiation?) and said for this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and >shall cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh...."

To anyone who has ever done any biblical studies, it is clear that this is not "antigay" or "pro-heterosexual", as proof-textors like to pretend.

1. The passage is not about sexual differentiation, it is about marriage and divorce - the whole passage runs from Matt 19:3-12 - the same passage which contains Jesus approbation of non-physically-reproductive individuals. Let us take a close look.

2. What Jesus [or in fact whoever wrote Matthew] does here is quote of Gen 1:27 and Gen 2:24. The NY text is word for word the text used in the Septuagint, the Greek Version of the NT. [It is highly unlikely, by the way that Jesus actually used the Septuagint!].

3. In Gen 1:27 human sexual difference is releated to physical reproduction [see Gen 1:28]. Clearly it is: although as we shall see, Jesus, along with St. Paul, does not see this as a primary value in his eschatological perspective.

4. Gen 2:24 presents a quite different rationale for the creation of Eve. It is to cure Adam's loneliness. [Gen 2:18-24]. The "reason" for "becoming one" flesh in Gen 2:24 is *not* sexual differentiation, as the excerpted quote by Marida makes it seem, but as a cure for loneliness, and a reference to the notion of Adam's Rib.

5. Those who try to elevate heterosexuality to an article of faith typically emphasis Gen 1:27 [human sexual differentiation for reproduction] and de-emphasis Gen 2:24 [human companionship to cure loneliness]. One can see why.

6. Now back to Matt 19:3-12. Jesus is answering a question specifically about men and women. Jesus, who was much stricter on divorce than Jewish law, cleverly makes a new connection, in the manner of Rabbinic teachers. He connects Gen: 2:24, about companionship, with Gen 1:27 about reproduction. Let me note that the "and said" in Matt 19:5 does not denote a consequence, as Marida's translation, given above, implies, rather its introduces the second of two quotes which Jesus is about to bring together in his *specific* discussion of marriage. Here I give the NRSV version which makes this clear: Matt 19:3 Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?" 4: He answered, "Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning `made them male and female,' 5 and said `for these reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together let no one separate." Note the punctuation here: these are two passages which Jesus is about to base his statements on this *specific* situation on. The second is not a consequence, at least textually, of the first.

Since *at this point* Jesus is dealing specifically with the relationship of married people, he locates that relationship in divine dispensation, and contrary to an entire tradition of treating marriage as a property contract, dramatically reinterprets it as a matter of companionship. Given the awful treatment a divorced and "used" women might face in his day, Jesus move here was to defend women in society. But he goes on *immediately* in the text to make it clear that marriage is a this-worldly institution, and he discusses with approbation "eunuchs". He is clearly not talking of physical eunuchs here [or Origen was right], but is talking of those who do not participate [some "from their mother's womb" - i.e. naturally] in the common round of physical reproduction. Given that Rabbinic teaching had been that a Jew without a wife was not a man, the revolutionary sexual ethic put forward by Jesus, can clearly be seen.

7. So this passage far from stating that sexually reproductive relationships are the only norm, actually represents Jesus insistence that *even* marriage must be conceived of in terms of companionship and valued for this reason. The passage has nothing to do with condemning homosexuality.