The Bible provides a test to decide whether sex
between men (including male-male penetration)
and sex between women is good or bad.  It is the
no-harm test.

You ask
Does the activity cause harm or not?  
This test is based on Romans 13:9-10,
summarized as
If you love (act for the welfare of)
your neighbor, including not harming your
neighbor, you then fulfill (meet all the
requirements of) the Old Testament

A more positive expression of no-harm is to say
that people should act with caring love.  However
the concept of
caring love is a rather fuzzy one
love can have a number of meanings,
ranging from friendship to erotic love.  It therefore
seems clearer to say and require
do not cause
any harm

neighbor is any person you come into
contact with.  In a sexual relations context,
means the person you are having sex
with and any third party, e.g. the partner of that
person.  Of course, as well as not harming your
neighbor, you should not harm yourself.

no-harm test is supported by the Golden
Rule, i.e.
Treat people the same way you want
them to treat you
(Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31).  
If you do this, you will not harm others.

no-harm test is also supported by Paul’s
teaching that we can do anything provided that
what we do is beneficial or helpful (to ourselves
and others) and that we are not enslaved by
what we do (I Corinthians 6:12).

It is considered that sex between men
(including male-male penetration) and sex
between women pass the
no-harm test in
circumstances where no one is harmed by
the activity.  This includes casual or
recreational sex.

It is acknowledged that a man’s penetrating
actions contravene the non-penetration
command (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) and its
cultural bases (the main purpose of sex is to
have children, and men should not act like
women when having sex).  Nevertheless, the
penetrating actions still meet the underlying and
continuing requirements of the non-penetration
command, ie. no harm to the participants or to
the community (except for its cultural basis).
if a man does not harm himself, the other
man or any third party (e.g., a partner), then
male-male penetration is okay.

If there is no harm (physical, emotional,
mental or relational), the
no male-male
texts can be set aside as no
longer applying; just as the
pro-slavery texts
have been set aside as no longer applying

because slavery harms people.

As the New Testament criticisms of male-male
penetration (Romans 1:27, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and
1 Timothy 1:10) are based on the Old Testament
non-penetration command,
the New Testament
criticisms can also be set aside as no longer

Some people might argue that this test is invalid
because it allows clear biblical requirements to
be ignored.  However the test is consistent with
Jesus deliberately working on the Sabbath,
contrary to one of the 10 Commandments.  This
commandment says that people shall not do any
work on every 7th day (the Sabbath)
1.  However
Jesus healed sick people and picked grain
(which counted as work) on the Sabbath.  He
agreed with people working on the Sabbath by
lifting a sheep out of a pit.  So Jesus set aside
and ignored the Sabbath commandment when no
harm (and good) was done
2.  Similarly he
declared all foods clean (contrary to the Old
Testament law) because no harm was done by
3. These actions of Jesus validate the use
of the test.  (Note that in each case the command
still exists – Jesus said that he did not come to
change the Old Testament law
4 – it’s just that
we don’t always need to follow it if no harm is
done.  This applies to other commands also, e.g.
those covering not planting mixed crops
5 and not
charging interest on loans

It might be noted that Paul goes further than
Jesus in this respect.  In Romans 7 and 8 he
says that Christians don’t have to follow any of
the Old Testament laws (they have been
released from those laws
7).  Instead they must
live in accordance with the Spirit
8, based on love
of God, love of other people (including not
harming them) and the words of Jesus.

1 Exodus 20:8-11      2 Matthew 12:1-14  Luke 13:10-16
3 Mark 7:18-19          4 Matthew 5:17-20
5 Leviticus 19:19        6 Exodus 22:25  Leviticus 25:36,37
7 Romans 7:6            8 Romans 8:1-9

The no-harm test applies also to male-female
penetration (straight sex) and non-sexual
activities too.  For example, the system of slavery
fails the
no-harm test.

Some people might argue that incest would be
allowed by using this test.  But this wouldn’t be
so because incest causes harm.  In Old
Testament times, a woman (mother, daughter,
etc) was considered to be the property of a man
(father, uncle, etc).  Therefore a man having
incestuous sex with her would be defiling
someone else’s property.  While these
views are not held today, harm would still be
caused by sexualizing the relationships of the
family members (emotional or physical abuse) or
if inbreeding leading to birth defects results.

One could argue that the
no-harm test is flawed
because it requires an individual to decide
whether some action is harmful or not (as
opposed to a sacred document telling us what is
harmful).  A counter argument is that this is
beneficial because it overcomes the problem that
what is harmful in certain circumstances may not
be harmful in other circumstances*.  So it is
better for individuals to work it out for themselves.

* For example, it could be argued that male-male penetration
would have failed the
no-harm test in Old Testament and New
Testament times because people of those times would have
thought that the men or the community was harmed by such

In practice, many or most harmful actions are
obviously so. Where some action is not obviously
harmful, persons could ask whether the way they
are, or will be, treating another person is how
they would like that person to treat them,
including with respect and dignity. If the answer
is no, then it is harmful.

We don’t know why the biblical
no-harm test was
not applied in Paul’s time to the
no male-male
texts and the pro-slavery texts other
than to say that it would not have been
practicable to allow male-male penetration or to
stop slavery in the culture of the day or for some
time after.  It was finally possible to stop most
open forms of slavery in the 19th Century and
the attitude to male-male penetration is currently
slowly changing.

Therefore despite the Biblical prohibition and
criticisms, if a man wishes to indulge in
penetration (anal intercourse) with another man,

he can do so with a clear conscience
provided that he does not harm
himself, the
other man or any third party (e.g. a partner),
physically, emotionally*, mentally or relationally,
directly or indirectly.

* Emotional harm would include, among other things, harm to
a person’s honor or rights.

Further, this test applies to men having any
form of sex with men and also applies to sex
between women
. The test applies both to sex
in a loving monogamous relationship and to
casual or recreational sex. The participants pass
the test if they act with caring love and do not
cause any harm.

An important benefit of not causing any harm is
that it is one of the keys to having
eternal life.  
Jesus said that if you love God and love your
neighbor [not harming your neighbor], you will
have eternal life (Luke 10:25-28).

Finally, not harming others is a foundational
principle of the Bible, like love.

Author: Colin Smith
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