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The Sin of Sodom was Homosexuality … Right?

While on a business trip to Japan in the 1990s, I came across an interesting brand of bath salts. In bold letters across the top of the bag was the word “Sodom.”

Salt, Sodom—yes, I see the connection, but that’s not the happiest image to attach to your brand.

So what ought we think of when we think of Sodom?

On a recent Stand to Reason podcast (“The Bible and Homosexuality,” 9/2/12), Greg Koukl unsurprisingly thinks that the point of the Sodom and Gomorrah story recounted in Genesis 19 is that homosexuality is bad—bad enough, in fact, to get your city destroyed.

He kicks around an alternative possibility, that poor hospitality was really the sin of Sodom. Remember that Lot offered hospitality to the two visiting angels, but the men of Sodom threatened their safety.

Koukl rejects this option. And if the sin isn’t lack of hospitality, it must be homosexuality. Apparently, there are just two possibilities.

He concludes that “the scripture speaks clearly on this … don’t twist what it says.” I agree, both that the issue wasn’t hospitality and that we mustn’t twist the scripture to make it say what it doesn’t.

Koukl looks to other parts of the Bible for their interpretation. One cross-reference is in the book of Ezekiel. In chapter 16, the faithlessness of the Jews is portrayed with Jerusalem being analogous to an adulterous wife. Other cities are likened to wicked sisters, and one of these is Sodom.

What are wicked Sodom’s crimes?

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen (Ezekiel 16:49–50).

If homosexuality were Sodom’s crime, wouldn’t this be the only thing on the list? Instead, we have arrogance, lack of concern for the needy, and unspecified “detestable things.” This gives no tangible support for the Homosexuality Hypothesis.

In fact, it’s pretty clear from the Genesis story itself that homosexuality wasn’t the issue.

1. Lot makes this clear. Lot was a resident, and he understood the townspeople. If the men were all gay, he’d know it, and he wouldn’t bother offering them his daughters as a substitute, which he does in Gen. 19:8.

(As an aside: is it just me, or is it weird for the most godly man in the city to offer his daughters as if they were property? And if this is unthinkable today, why would it be an option thousands of years ago? Or does morality change with time?)

2. An all-gay city wouldn’t be sustainable. “All the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house” (Gen. 19:4). So “all the men” were gay? How could there be children if all the men were gay? Such a city would simply die out. And why wouldn’t that be an option for God? Just give Sodom a few decades and let the population fade away.

3. Seriously? A city with all men gay? Homosexuality wasn’t studied when it was taboo, but we now know that only a few percent of society is homosexual. Anyway, why would godly Lot stick around if the city was so detestable? Perhaps for literary purposes?

4. Can we assume that there were no women? There is no evidence that this is an all-male city. “All the men” makes clear that this is not everyone, and so some must’ve been left behind. The straightforward interpretation is that all the men came to Lot’s house, that the women stayed at home, and that the women were mothers, wives, and daughters as in any ordinary city.

5. We have a better explanation. Gang rape is less about pleasure than about humiliating or establishing dominance. That the local men wanted to bully or dominate the visitors seems a better explanation than that they were just eager for sexual pleasure.

As we study the story, however, let’s not dismiss the violence. No one can question that there was significant evil in Sodom (fictive or not) when visitors are threatened with gang rape. But what was the sin of Sodom? This is a story of attempted rape. Yes, it was homosexual rape, but the homosexuality isn’t highlighted as the crime.

Koukl is right that we shouldn’t twist the story, but he seems to be the one with the agenda. Only with a desire to find anti-gay messages in the Bible can we imagine one in the Sodom and Gomorrah story.

What’s also clear is that this has nothing to do with the loving, monogamous, homosexual relationship that is the subject of today’s discussion of same-sex marriage.

(Tomorrow is election day, and Washington’s Referendum 74 is a big deal. If it passes, it will be the first same-sex law in the U.S. directly put into effect by the citizens.)

Every time you see a rainbow,
God is having gay sex
(seen on a bumper sticker)

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Dorfl

    “they did not help the poor and needy”

    I’m a bit unclear about how the poor of Sodom were helped by the city being nuked around them, but I suppose it was part of god’s ineffable wisdom.

    • JohnH

      They clearly weren’t suffering or needy any more after that and their material condition was equal to everyone else.

  • Jason

    Even if Genesis did make it clear that gay sex was the reason for destroying Sodom, that wouldn’t mean that anti-gay notions today are validated. Yes, Christians often find whatever they want in the Bible, but the bigger problem is that they are looking for moral guidance in an ancient text with ancient values to start with. Bob, you’re probably right about your interpretation of the story of Sodom, but there is no doubt that the Bible overall has a negative stance against same sex sex (not homosexuality, which implies a lifestyle and potential for permanent relationships). On this point I agree with the fundamentalists. But yes, the Bible is not anti-gay in the sens of being against a gay monogamous relationship. This notion is mostly foreign to the ancient world. The Bible is anti-casual sex, including gay sex. This issue of people as property is important. In the ancient world, sex was okay as long as you did it to your property, including your wife or your slave if you have one. Having sex with someone else’s property is adultery. Giving your daughter to someone to have sex with is like loaning your car to your neighbor. It’s okay as long as the men agree with it. The ancient world is vastly different in its attitude to sex, and this is why it’s crazy to look to the Bible for answers to these issues today.

    • J-Rex

      Great point about sex and property; I never really noticed that.
      Also, it can be frustrating because Christians often frame the debate on these things because they like to appeal to authority or tradition. They’ll reference something like this and you look at it and start to argue that no, this is not talking about the same thing, there’s more to it than that, etc. But you forget that even if it was talking about the same thing and if they were correct with the reference…it still doesn’t prove anything. You don’t care because you don’t think things are true just because someone said it was or just because people have always believed a certain way.

  • smrnda

    Something worth pointing out is that we should avoid bi-erasure when looking at the past since our notions of binary sexual identity are pretty recent. In different cultures (Greek and Roman, for example) men were free to have both heterosexual and homosexual relations. If it’s acceptable, people who might be slightly bi are going to be more likely to act on their desires, so a city might be able to have lots of men who want to have sex with men and still be having sex with women.

  • DrewL

    Last week we heard from Bob the armchair philosopher:

    Morality obviously changes—slavery was moral (that is, acceptance was widespread) and now it’s not, legal alcohol was immoral and now it’s not, and so on. But Leah asks if I see not change but improvement. Sure, morality changes, but can we claim that it’s improving?

    Society always sees the change as improvement—otherwise, why would it make the change?—but by what standard do we claim it’s an improvement?

    Why imagine that we were objectively wrong on slavery before and we’re right about it now? Sure, we think we’ve got it figured out … but different societies in centuries past thought that they had it figured out too, but they came to very different conclusions. “Morality” is a moving target.

    But today we get a snapshot of Bob the moral absolutist:

    No one can question that there was significant evil in Sodom (fictive or not) when visitors are threatened with gang rape.

    “No one can question…”? Bob the moral absolutist, I want you to meet Bob the armchair philosopher. You’re going to be surprised what people CAN question….

  • Richard S. Russell

    I noticed you skipped right over the questions of whether (1) there really were such places as Sodom and Gomorrah, (2) they were in fact destroyed by a rain of fire, and (3) God did it. True believers blithely take all this for granted and proceed directly to the question of what the citizens had done to deserve it, but since this exaggerated cautionary tale comes directly out of their Big Book o’Horrors, known to be riddled with lies, there’s no reason WE should do the same.
     
    BTW, how’s the prayer experiment coming along? Any twinges of freakspeak in your brain yet?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      The 40-day prayer experiment is over. As you might imagine, I’m no less an atheist.

      Did you hear about the Hawaii tsunami? That was the day after the experiment was over, and I’m vacationing here in Hawaii. The tsunami turned out to be quite small. God stilled the waters, some might say.

  • Anonymous

    Jude 1:7
    “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”

    In context and by translation, this “strange flesh” the author of Jude is talking about means either bestiality, or having sex with visitors from other nations.

  • fnorgby

    Not only is it weird that Lot offered up his daughters to the mob, he *lied* about them being virgins. Gen. 19 has him telling the mob that they “have never known man”, AND that their husbands didn’t believe the city was going to be destroyed. Since when do biblical “virgins” also have husbands? (saying nothing of the filthy things these girls did later).

    And for this — treating them as property AND misrepresenting the “goods”, Lot is the lone example of the “righteous man” in Sodom.

    • Niemand

      Maybe they’re not the same daughters? Say Lot has 4 daughters, 2 married, 2 not. He offered the two non-married ones and the married ones are the ones whose husbands are referenced later? That doesn’t make the whole “offering your kids for gang rape” thing any better, but would absolve him of dealing falsely with the lynch mob.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Hmmm. What’s the worse crime–having sex with your daughters (incest) or having sex with married women (adultery)?

        Lot did both!

        • Don Gwinn

          Dude, that’s not cool, bro. You don’t even know. He was SOOO WASTED!

  • http://carm.org Thomas

    God is love & just!

    • Richard S. Russell

      In ancient Rome, god was Jove and lust.

      I think they had the right idea.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        :-)

        • http://christiananswers.net Thomas

          There’s only one true God. Others are false god.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          “What can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence”
          – Christopher Hitchens

        • Richard S. Russell

          That’s so true, Thomas. We have it on the very highest authority:

          (1) Kush points out that all the stuff you hear about this so-called supreme being, God (alias Yahweh, Elohim, Allah, Ahura Mazda, etc.), is simply a fraud perpetrated by people who ought to know better.
          (2) Don’t believe a word of it.
          (3) Kush is the one and only original supreme being.

          —The Sacred Book of Kush, Chapter 4

        • RandomFunction2

          To Bob the broken (yet fabulous) atheist,

          Hitchens borrowed his dictum from Euclid.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          RF2: Thanks. I’ll update my notes. Euclid is a more impressive authority than Hitchens (impressive though Hitchens is).

  • Paul D.

    Sodom is mentioned in Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Matthew, and they all say the sin of Sodom was inhospitality and injustice — nary a peep about homosexuality.

  • jose

    That whole story is hysterical it’s so fucked up.

    - First the people in the city tell Lot to give them the angels so they can rape them.
    - Lot offers them his daughters instead.
    - The angels tell Lot to grab his family and go because this whole place is getting nuked.
    - While escaping the onslaught, God randomly kills Lot’s wife.
    - After escaping, the daughters get Lot drunk and they rape him.

    And these guys think Grand Theft Auto is inappropiate?

    • baal

      Well, they raped him to continue the family blood line. That’s noble of them, right?

      I once went looking for bible verse that were anti-gay and, at the time, had recently heard that Sodom = source for Sodomy. I was more than a little annoyed when the bible didn’t have lots of sodomy in Sodom and Gamorrah was more of the same – nothing on point. You have to couple the cities being ‘wicked’ and then gay = wicked to get there.

  • Bob Jase

    No matter what the supposed sin of Sodom was there s no evidence given in the bible as to Gommorrahs people being guilty of anything other than being a convenient target for a pissy god.

  • Don Gwinn

    Let me play Homophobe’s Advocate for a minute:

    Could one not argue that the story of Sodom clearly condemns the men of Sodom for threatening to rape the angels, but does not condemn Lot for offering his daughters for rape, and that shows that it was the man-on-man action that made one rape wrong while the other was, at worst, the lesser of two evils? Unless you argue that it was the hospitality problem–in which case, you have to stipulate that he owed his daughters a LOT less protection than he owed the strangers, which might well have been the case in that place and time. Hospitality was a big deal.

    But there’s more; elsewhere in the Bible, one man raping one woman is treated as unremarkable. It’s often a crude form of betrothal and even marriage, especially in Abraham’s merry clan of weirdo con men. So again . . . if it’s OK for Abraham’s hillbilly clan to go around raping women they encounter in the field, does that not imply that heterosexual rape is OK by Yahweh? Given that, if the homosexual rape in Sodom is the great crime of Sodom, then it could very well be the gayness that put Yahweh over the edge.

    Then again, maybe it was the public nature of the act. Maybe Yahweh looked at it like a modern bluenose looks at a Pride Parade. It was OK with Yahweh what you did behind closed doors, but, you know, don’t go all flamboyant and flaunt your sissy boyfriend in public where children and decent people can see.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Don:

      that shows that it was the man-on-man action that made one rape wrong while the other was, at worst, the lesser of two evils?

      I could see that–a man being raped was worse than a woman being raped. That was simply because men were the important citizens and women … well, I guess they were property. Hurting a man is worse than hurting a woman. Again, I conclude: the sin was rape. Nothing here informs us about God’s views on a loving homosexual relationship.

  • RandomFunction2

    To Bob the broken atheist,

    In addition to your interesting analysis, I would like to add that there is no biblical evidence that gay believers will go to hell. The Bible, though it presents homosexuality as a less-than-ideal lifestyle, says nowhere that the punishment of homosexuality is eternal hell. When Paul says that “homosexuals” will not inherit the kingdom of God, there are two things to bear in mind:

    1) This is a mistranslation. What Paul had in mind were paedophiles. In Paul’s time, there was no concept of a romantic, egalitarian, monogamous homosexual relationship.

    2) There is no evidence that Paul believed in eternal hell. In 1 Corinthians 15, the text is not clear, but suggests that Paul may have believed in annihilation for the enemies of God.

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