The “sin” of Sodom and Gomorrah

I’m going to do a brief breakdown on why the Sodom and Gomorrah text in Genesis and its “partner” in Jude is not about homosexuality at all.

I think it’s best to start with the text in Ezekiel. If anyone needs an explanation as to why the cities were destroyed, look no further: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it” (NRSV, Ezekiel 16:49-50).

There is nothing in this text which eludes to homosexuality. And there is a stark difference between homosexuality as a definition and sexual immorality. As I stated in one of my earlier blogs, our English word, homosexuality, didn’t even step onto the scene until the late 19th century. By this time there were already several English translations of Scripture; the most famous being the King James Version which was created in 1611; two hundred years prior to the word homosexuality even existing. The word that was there was sodomite. This is important because the connotations that this word now carries to us in the 21st century are much different than what it would’ve meant to the Ancient Near Eastern audience (Boswell).

What it would’ve looked like to Ancient Near Easterners is exactly what is described in the Ezekiel text. It is clear throughout the Old Testament and in the Genesis version of the story that Sodom and Gomorrah were infamously known and destroyed because of their inhospitality. In our era of safety and individualism this is almost unthinkable. But, in the Ancient Near East, hospitality determined someone’s very survival.

The men in Sodom wanted to gang rape the angel visiting Lot. This was to humiliate the guest and the host (Lot); since Lot himself was a foreigner staying in the city. The word Sodomite, therefore,  would be associated with violence, humiliation, and inhospitality. The men of the city had no innate desire for same-sex partners nor were they seeking a loving and consensual relationship…obviously. They were trying to make these foreign guests humiliated by violently forcing them into a non-consensual sex act; which is degrading–and which also supports the idea and concept that the city and the people in it where inhospitable and abominable. Even if there were frequencies of violent gang rape occuring, this would only speak to violent gang rape and sexual immorality in and of itself. This has nothing to do with homosexuality; where someone is attracted to and desires a committed, monogamous, partnership with someone of the same sex. This is the desire for the gay Christian and there can be no comparisons to this and the story in Genesis about Sodom. Case closed.

The only time in Scripture where any sexual reference to Sodom and Gomorrah is used is in Jude in the New  Testament. The author states, “…just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire” (NASB, Jud 7:7).

The Greek words for strange flesh in this passage are: sarkos (flesh; body) and heteros (other; different; another). If the author were emphasizing the homosexual aspect of this in Jude, they certainly do a pretty vague job. This is an obvious reference to going after angelic (other; different) flesh. Remember, the men in the city weren’t trying to rape other men in the instance recorded in Genesis; which Jude is referring back to. If they were, and if this were an ongoing issue in Sodom, the author could have additionally added and used words in Greek like, same flesh or male flesh. Instead, the author chooses the word, heteros, denoting the differences between the men living in Sodom and their angelic victims/ travelers. In addition, there are perfectly good Greek words for men–Anthropos or Aner–neither of these are used nor are they ever mentioned about Sodom and Gomorrah throughout the rest of Scripture regarding the desire of the men in Sodom and any made up idea that they were wild homosexuals on a rampage to have sex with other men; something to be noted and taken seriously. This would, again, directly support the reference in Ezekiel regarding the cities’ indulgent and violent behavior in their inhospitality. What is emphasized, rather, in Jude, is the sexually immoral aspect; not the homosexual aspect, and indulgent behavior. On the contrary, Jude makes no explicit references to homosexuality at all.

The next time you think of the word Sodom, hopefully this will help put things in perspective. Even the Ancient Near Eastern audience would never have associated this word with homo-eroticism or any homosexual activity. But, this is what we have done to the word and this, in turn, has directly affected the LGBT community. Ironically, our misuse of this word has made us treat this community similarly as the Sodomites treated foreign guests, but within our own churches.