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.

 

 

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6 comments

  1. Jason · July 12, 2016

    I agree with this but the men of Sodom didn’t know the Angels were angels??? How could have Jude used a different term/word?

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    • erinmytires · July 12, 2016

      He couldn’t and that is entirely the point. Jude is often used in tandem with the Genesis story of Sodom and Gomorrah to prove homosexual lust in the town. This is not the case. The inhospitable behavior of the men and the desire to humiliate the foreign visitors was what they were actively involved in and destroyed for, among other things mentioned in Ezekiel. Jude is underscoring the debased behavior of the men and simply highlights that the visitors were angels and not men.

      There is no other instance in Scripture besides Jude that references any sexual immorality occurring in the city. Therefore, it’s imperative that we understand what Jude actually says about the Genesis reference. Thank you so much for your question/comment!

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  2. azkris10 · July 12, 2016

    While this is a popular new interpretation, the analysis is lacking. Theologian Kevin DeYoung, in his book, “What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality” dispels the plausibility of this interpretation. Of course, in the context of the entire Bible, if one is being intellectually honest, one would have to concede that even IF the traditional interpretation of this passage and others (such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, Romans 1:21-27) could be dismissed or revised, no where in scripture is homosexual behavior described as a positive practice.

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    • erinmytires · July 12, 2016

      This is not a new interpretation. This is THE correct one. There’s a difference. Just because it’s newer, doesn’t mean it’s incorrect. And there are a plethora of heterosexual, protestant scholars such as Dr. James Brownson, Dr. Mark Achtemeier, etc., who would vehemently disagree with DeYoung’s view.

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  3. James King · December 1

    Hey Erin,
    Unfortunately, this is not an exegetically robust analysis of the topic. There are many more references to Sodom and Gomorrah than what you have mentioned here. Additionally, you have read so much context into the text that this is not so much exegesis as it is eisegesis. Further, your interpretation of Scripture on this topic is not only dangerous but it is utterly incorrect. Not only is this a “new” interpretation as mentioned above, but you are contradicting the apostolic witness and interpretation of the early church fathers. I would recommend you do more biblical research as while your hermeneutic is palatable, it is not scholarly by any means. I do not say this in a facetious manner in anyway (please believe me), it is just a matter of fact. Lovingly, I exhort you to repent sister, and return to sound doctrine. You are leading people astray and ultimately to their eternal destruction.

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    • erinmytires · December 11

      I see only an opinion stated. You do not present any scriptural evidence for rebuttal whatsoever. Again, as stated before, just because something is “new,” does not mean that it is incorrect. I’m also not concerned about my hermeneutic, or many scholars for that matter, being palatable or not. I only care about glorifying God and speaking the truth. Jesus was also not concerned with what was palatable or not; scholarly or not. Also, early church fathers do not trump Christ. May the peace of Christ be with you!

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