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Does the Old Testament Condemn Homosexuality?

Atheism can critique Christianity's social impactThe Sodom and Gomorrah story is where many Christians point when arguing that God rejects homosexuality. That’s a lot to place on just six verses. Let’s look at them:

All the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them [literally: so that we can know them].”

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

“Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. (Gen. 19:4–9, NET Bible)

There are a couple of interpretations of this story beyond the typical conclusion that homosexuality is so bad that it gets your town destroyed.

We’re so familiar with to “know” in the Bible meaning “to have sex with” that we forget that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. The Hebrew word in question is used 947 times in the King James Version, most of which have nothing to do with sex. For example, “When you eat from [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5), “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:22), and so on.

If that’s the interpretation, what might the townspeople have wanted to know? Bob Price suggested that the idea of supernatural visitors wouldn’t have been too surprising within that culture. It was a violent time, and any military advantage for their town would have been helpful. Angels could have provided important information.

What to me undercuts this is Lot’s response, “Don’t do this wicked thing,” which isn’t in keeping with a request for knowledge. But if we conclude that gang rape is commonplace for this community, why is this godly man still living there? The story leaves this unclear.

Let’s consider a second interpretation: if the townsmen were homosexual, why would Lot have offered them his daughters? Perhaps instead they were simply violent bullies who wanted to use rape for domination or humiliation. Isn’t this how rape is sometimes used in prison?

(That Lot volunteered his virgin daughters as if they were merely expensive possessions raises other issues, but let’s not go there.)

One unambiguous conclusion is that gang rape is bad. Okay, no disagreement there. But what critique does this give of a loving homosexual relationship? If good/harm is the factor to use in evaluating actions, that makes rape bad and the loving relationship good.

Next time: Does the Old Testament Condemn Homosexuality? (2 of 2)

Acceptance without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western religion,
rejection without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western science.
— Gary Zukav

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Related posts:

The first post in this series is here: Homosexuality v. Christianity

Related links:

About Bob Seidensticker
  • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

    Good post. I agree with you that there is precious little in this passage to suggest that the inhabitants of Sodom experienced same-sex attraction. The analogy to gang-rape or prison-rape is quite apt. Actually all rapes are usually about power or domination as opposed to attraction.

    However, since the concept of identifying as homosexual or heterosexual appears to be a very recent phenomenon, it is difficult to pin any Bible passage on talking about homosexual attraction – they would instead be talking about practice.

    I must also point out that the story of Sodom is not usually the first place Christians will go to find Bible verses that oppose homosexuality. Since the Sodom account is descriptive as opposed to prescriptive, it is a weak example, especially when many argue that it was lack of hospitality as opposed to sexual activity that angered God. The more common verses offered are in Romans 1 and Leviticus.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Good point about Leviticus and Romans. I was doing things in more or less chronological order. Leviticus is for Monday, and then the New Testament’s take on gaeity on Friday.

      What do you think of the phrase in Rom. 1:24 “Therefore God gave them over …”? Does this mean that they wouldn’t have done homosexual things without God’s intervention? If so, what kind of crime is that?

      • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

        Regarding Romans 1:24 I would see it as being a poetic/natural justice, sort of along the lines of “that which you worship, you become”.

        But also there is a sense of God removing his restraining hand. Sometimes we are prevented from doing evil things, not because we don’t have the desire, but because coincidences conspire to interrupt us from our evil intentions. A sovereign God could easily be acting through such coincidences and there is a sense in these verses that God allows them to do such things, it seems for as much as anything, because they are so determined to do them.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          My read was that this paralled the hardening of Pharoah’s heart–that is, making someone do something bad when he was about to relent and be good. One difference in that story, of course, is that it was designed to be a demonstration of God’s power (too bad for Pharoah and the Egyptians, I guess), and we don’t have that here in Romans.

    • Retro

      Actually all rapes are usually about power or domination as opposed to attraction.

      Explain to me how the virgin daughters being raped would have been preferable to the foreign men being raped.

      Spare me the line about ancient customs of hospitality, we’re talking about basic morality here. Why offer to give ANYONE up to be raped?

      Also, what’s your opinion about the very similar story in Judges 19?

      Judges 19:22-24 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.”

      The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.”

      These two similar stories sound much more like variations of the same urban legend to me than they do actual history.

      What’s the purpose of these two stories? What value is there in reading these two stories?

      Lot is called righteous in several places in the Bible, so someone please explain to me what lesson are we to learn from righteous Lot’s example?

      • RandomFunction2

        To all,

        If even the chosen people could not follow basic moral rules due to “ancient customs”, then why insist that modern people should absolutely follow Christian sex ethics as if they were more enlightened? They had their customs, we have ours.

        Karl Rahner made that point with respect to contraception. He said: if the chosen people in the OT could be collectively mistaken about universal natural norms, then it’s thinkable that modern societies are collectively mistaken about the wrong of contraception. And it’s invincible ignorance. So even if contraception turns out to be intrinsically evil, some people are not to blame for resorting to it in good faith. It is the spirit of the time.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          On the topic of contraception, why wouldn’t the Christian just respond that following the word of God is always the correct path?

      • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

        Retro,
        In my answer to this, I am going to describe the cultural views of the day, which were not the teachings of the Bible, but pretty much universal attitudes towards women at that time. I hope you can allow such an explanation without letting indignation about their attitudes get in the way of understanding the meaning of the story.

        Wives and daughters were considered as property of the male head of the house. So what Lot was doing was giving up something that was “his” instead of letting a visitor be abused. Te fact that they were virgins is important because it shows that they were his (ie not the possession of a husband) and valuable.

        • Retro

          I am going to describe the cultural views of the day, which were not the teachings of the Bible, but pretty much universal attitudes towards women at that time.

          I see. If it’s a bad thing, the Bible doesn’t actually teach it, it’s merely the cultural views of the day.

          However, if it’s a good thing, then the Bible is actually teaching it.

          I think I see how it works…

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          I see. If it’s a bad thing, the Bible doesn’t actually teach it, it’s merely the cultural views of the day.

          However, if it’s a good thing, then the Bible is actually teaching it.

          I think I see how it works…

          Well, if you want to make a case that the chattel-hood of women was not a cultural view of the time that preceded Biblical records and extended beyond the reach of Biblical tribes, then go ahead.

          Otherwise, I can take it that you find my explanation reasonable.

        • Retro

          Well, if you want to make a case that the chattel-hood of women was not a cultural view of the time that preceded Biblical records and extended beyond the reach of Biblical tribes, then go ahead.

          I’m not arguing that this wasn’t the cultural view of the times. I’m just wondering why the Bible goes along with them.

          Otherwise, I can take it that you find my explanation reasonable.

          But that’s the problem here Karl, you don’t really have an explanation for why God seems to be nothing more than a product of these cultural views. God always seems to agree with the times when the Bible was written. I see nothing transcendent about the God of the Old Testament.

  • RandomFunction2

    To all,

    The first several books of the Bible are among the ugliest and un-spiritual religious texts ever written. Of course there is some good stuff in them, but it is far from enough.

  • Bob Calvan

    Bob,,
    So are you saying the text reads
    It is ok to have sex with the male visitors.. But it is not ok to gang rape them?

    • Retro

      It is ok to have sex with the male visitors.. But it is not ok to gang rape them?

      Apparently, it seems that it’s not OK to be homosexual, but it’s perfectly OK to gang rape women.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      The text makes clear that rape is bad. Maybe some qualifications are necessary–only rape of visitors is bad?

      IMO, the text says nothing about a consensual homosexual relationship, which is the issue on the table in our day.

  • Bob Calvan

    Where is gang rape perfectly ok?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      The offering of the virgin daughters in the Sodom and Gomorrah story–that would be OK (since the godly Lot offered it), but the rape of visitors would not be.

  • Retro

    Where is gang rape perfectly ok?

    Where is Lot ever rebuked for offering his daughters up to be raped? Isn’t Lot called righteous because he was willing to do this?

    Would you ever be called righteous if you knowingly and willingly gave a child over to a pedophile?

  • Bob Calvan

    So niether you or Bob answered my question…
    Side note..Could it be Lot knew the Sodomites had no interest in Females and they were perfectly safe? But is your argument ( the text is teaching) homosexuality is approved but homosexual gang rape is not.. Try and answer my question…

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I already answered your question; I guess it just wasn’t the answer you were hoping for. The story says that Lot offered his daughters and encouraged the mob to rape them. Lot isn’t rebuked and we know that he’s a godly man, so presumably this was the proper action.

      The story gives no reason to pretend that the mob had no taste for women, so no: the daughters would not have been perfectly safe.

      The story makes clear only that rape is bad. In other words, it says nothing that the gay marriage opponent can use today (even if a biblical argument were relevant in the public square).

      • RandomFunction2

        Hi Bob S,

        Actually, homosexuality in biblical times and homosexuality today mean quite different things. When Leviticus prohibits “homosexuality”, it really targets ritual sex within pagan religions.

        Likewise, at the time of Paul’s writing, the idea of a romantic monogamous homosexual relationship was not in the air.

        However, the Bible is against homosexuality for deeper reasons. In biblical anthropology, there is an essential difference between males and females, something that is rooted deeper than in social conventions, that pertains to the core of either sex, their identity. And the two sexes are seen as complementary. A man is for a woman, and a woman is for a man.

        So it’s not just that some verse somewhere would state “homosexuality is a sin”. It’s that homosexuality is incompatible with how the authors of the Bible viewed how human beings are made and what they are for.

        But of course, it’s nonsense, and that nonsense has caused immense suffering among atypical people who just wanted to be accepted.

    • Retro

      Could it be Lot knew the Sodomites had no interest in Females and they were perfectly safe?

      Then it was a totally meaningless gesture then, and there’d be no point in including it in the story.

      (Don’t forget, Lot’s uncle was Abraham who was praised for being perfectly willing to sacrifice his son… I think I see a theme…)

      If Biblical morality praises and justifies the willingness to sacrifice children, then why bother looking any further to see what it says about other issues like sexuality?

  • Bob Calvan

    Also a side note..That the mobs desire to have sex with the two men, lead to their being blinded, and killed the next day..Point is they were killed for their homosexuality. They never even touched the two angelic men..They just wanted them..Homosesuality is an abomination to the Lord. As taught in the old and new testament..The new testament says no homosexual will inherit the kingdom of God. They must repent of this sinful action to be saved.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Down, boy. This was ritual abomination. That may well be enough to condemn homosexuals from a Jewish standpoint (as well as those bastards who sow fields with two kinds of grain or eat shrimp), but Christians have turned their back on the ritual abominations.

      Point is they were killed for their homosexuality.

      Point is, it doesn’t say that. The mob demanded that visitors be turned over them for rape. That’s what it says; let’s not try to read in a Conservative wish list that’s not there.

      • Retro

        Point is, it doesn’t say that. The mob demanded that visitors be turned over them for rape.

        Bob S is absolutely right on this, and the BIBLE backs him up.

        Bob Calvan, if you read the very similar story in Judges 19, you’ll see that the only real difference was that the mob actually DID rape the woman.

        Judges 19:22-25 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.”

        The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.”

        But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go.

        As an important side note: No where is the Levite ever condemned for turning his concubine over to the mob.

        As another important side note: In retaliation for the rape and death of this concubine, in Judges 20 we learn that the Israelites ended up killing all of the Benjamite women.

        Since the Benjamite tribe would become extinct without women, in Judges 21 we learn that the Benjamite women were replaced by killing all of the people living in Jabesh Gilead except for the female virgins. These captured virgins were then given to the Benjamites for wives.

        Don’t take my word for it, read it for yourself.

        Read these horrifically crazy stories and then please explain to me why we should pay any attention at all to the Bible when it comes to morality?

        Would you ask a rapist for dating or marital advice? Would you ask a pedophile for parenting advice? If no, then why in the world would you look to the Bible for moral advice?

  • RandomFunction2

    To all,

    Actually, we don’t know. The Sodomites may have been killed for their rape AND for homosexuality. The narrative is unclear, it does not allow us to pin down the specific cause of God’s wrath.

    • Retro

      Good point RF2.

      Maybe the question to ask is: What DIDN’T God kill people for?

      • RandomFunction2

        Hi Retro,

        I would not have enjoyed living in biblical times. God used to kill people for quite trivial reasons. Someone was even killed because he TOUCHED the ark of the covenant to prevent it falling. Another problem was collective fault and collective punishment, a nonsensical view of justice.

        At the same time, the Israelites were not very bright, because though they knew that such a quick-tempered god was around watching them, they were quick to turn to other gods.

        And as you said, gross crimes went unnoticed by the biblical god or if he bothered to notice, he punished it in the wrong way…

        • Retro

          Someone was even killed because he TOUCHED the ark of the covenant to prevent it falling.

          That’s correct, but you didn’t even have to touch it. God killed people just for looking at the ark (1 Samuel 6:19).

          At the same time, the Israelites were not very bright, because though they knew that such a quick-tempered god was around watching them, they were quick to turn to other gods.

          Doesn’t make any sense does it? The only way to make any real sense of these stories is that they were all made up as cautionary tales.

          If you read fairy tales, they don’t make much sense either if you take them as actual historical events.

          I don’t care if people still want to read fairy tales for their own amusement. I don’t care at all as long as they don’t try and make laws out of them.

          What are they going to do next, repeal the freedom of speech and make laws against calling people a “fool”?

          IMO, someone’s homosexuality is none of our business, it’s between that person and whatever God they personally believe in, and Christians should mind their own business and worry about their own damn sins.

          And as you said, gross crimes went unnoticed by the biblical god or if he bothered to notice, he punished it in the wrong way…

          Or He punished the wrong people…

  • RandomFunction2

    To all,

    As others have stressed, it is quite unsettling that Lot is considered to be “just” by God while he has handed over his daughter to the mob for rape. I don’t think that part of the Bible comes from God. A more plausible source is Satan.

  • Bob Calvan

    Retro
    The Story in Judges 19.. I snot the dicussion. Different event ..

    Point is:
    That the mobs desire to have sex with the two men, lead to their being blinded, and killed the next day..Point is they were killed for their homosexuality. They never even touched the two angelic men..They just wanted them..Homosesuality is an abomination to the Lord. As taught in the old and new testament..The new testament says no homosexual will inherit the kingdom of God. They must repent of this sinful action to be saved.

    • Retro

      Homosesuality is an abomination to the Lord. As taught in the old and new testament.

      And so are dozens and dozens of other things. Why do Christians single out homosexuality?

      Remove homosexuality from the Sodom and Gomorrah story and God still would have destroyed them all simply for their violence. It didn’t take much to be killed by God back then. God even killed people for nothing more than simply looking at a gold covered box…

      • Retro

        …and Lot’s wife, who wasn’t a homosexual or commit any violence was killed for simply looking back.

        Given this, how is homosexuality any more of a sin than any other sin?

        You still commit sins Bob Calvan, and a homosexual is no more or less of sinner than you are.

        • RandomFunction2

          But it’s convenient to blame homosexuals for “sins” that ordinary Christians would not even consider committing. They feel better after that.

    • RandomFunction2

      To Bob C,

      It’s funny that you mention 1 Corinthians, because at best, the text only speak of male homosexuals (not of lesbians), and at worst the text speaks of pedophiles. And at any rate, homosexuality then meant something quite remote from homosexuality today.

      Remember that the word “homosexual” did not even exist before the 19th century. Before that, people had no concept of homosexuality as a sexual orientation. There were only homosexual ACTS. When you read “homosexual” in the Bible, it’s an awkward translation.

      But do you at least agree that sins like adultery, theft, murder, lying, violence, hating one’s parents, greed, cowardice, etc. are far worse than homosexuality??

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Point is they were killed for their homosexuality.

      You’re just going to repeat this evidence-less claim and hope that it fares better a second time around? No attempt to back it up with evidence? That the Sodomites were killed for being savage bullies and rapists explains things better than trying to work in your own particular bias in this situation.

      I snot the dicussion.

      I’ll agree with you there. I think.

  • Bob Calvan

    Retro asked:

    “..But do you at least agree that sins like adultery, theft, murder, lying, violence, hating one’s parents, greed, cowardice, etc. are far worse than homosexuality?”

    Well Murder is worse than homosexuality. But homosexuality is a perverted act and severely depraved sin.

    Leviticus 18:22
    You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.

  • Retro

    Bob Calvan, why did you only quote Leviticus 18:22?

    Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death.

    Since you say we should still be following these rules, do you also think we should be following the punishments too? Why or why not?

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