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 commandments.
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 because 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.
Your neighbor is any person you come into contact with.
In a sexual relations context, your neighbor 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.
The 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
The 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.
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). So, 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 penetration 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 applying.
Some people might argue that this test is illogical
because it allows clear biblical requirements to be
ignored. However the same test was used by Jesus in
relation to working on the Sabbath. One of the 10
Commandments 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 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 them 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 6.)
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
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 property 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
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.
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. 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 penetration
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
Further, this test applies to men having any form of
sex with men and also applies to sex between
women. The participants pass the test if they act with
caring love and do not cause any harm.
* Emotional harm would include harm to a person’s honor or rights.
Author: Colin Smith